Part 3: To what extent did the role of new technology determine the outcome of the Great War?
World War I saw both a number of technological advances in weaponry and machinery and innovative new strategic and tactical approaches to fighting on the front lines. On the one hand new technology – such as submarines (German U-boats), Zeppelins and poison gas, made the war a total war and led to heavy losses on both sides and determined the Allied victory of the war. However on the other hand, we can argue that the way the Allies managed the war led them to their victory in 1918.While the weapons they used in WWI seem primitive now, in the early 1900s the weapons that were developed during the war revolutionised warfare, and it was the first time that such weapons were seen during battles.
An Account of the German Use of Gas at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915:
All the scientific resources of Germany have apparently been brought into play to produce a gas of so virulent and poisonous a nature that any human being brought into contact with it is first paralyzed and then meets with a lingering and agonizing death. – Sir John French, British Army Commander-in-chief
The widespread use of poison gases of different variations had many people calling the First World War “The Chemist’s War”. The French were the first to use poison gas as a weapon, against German soldiers, in which they used tear gas in August 1914. The following year the Germans used Chlorine Gas – one of the first types of poison gas introduced; used to suffocate enemies. It was made available in April of 1915 and was the only gas available until the development of Phosgene in December 1915. Arguably, the most lethal gas that was introduced was what is commonly known as “Mustard Gas” due to it’s yellowish colour. It was used during the Second Battle of Ypres by the Germans. It is highly toxic, even in small quantities. It caused internal blistering when exposed to skin and temporary blindness.
However with increasing use of poison gases, counteraction measurements were taken and soldiers began using gas masks. In the short run and during the course of battles they were effective, however as a whole poison gas as a weapon did not really determine the outcome of the war.
Throughout the course of the war the British and the Germans were naval rivals, one trying to out power the other at sea. Perhaps the most significant incident regarding German U-boats (submarines), was that of it’s involvement in the sinking of the Lusitania, May 7th 1915. The loss of American lives on this boat was one of the factors that contributed to American involvement in the war. German U-boats were also devastating for the Allies, as the Germans often used them to attack merchant ships and sank tons of vital materials and shipping.
In the case of German U-boats, they were a significant part in making the war a Total War and was also responsible for lengthening the war. It weakened the Allies between the start of their naval campaign until the end of their naval campaign.
Zeppelins and bomber aircrafts
Technological developments made it possible for aerial strategic bombing. Civilians were targeted and in 1916 the British launched a series of bombing raids in Germany. This action was reciprocated by the Germans in 1917 carrying out 27 raids on the British.
As a whole, strategic bombing played little military significance, however the development of such aircrafts meant that civilians were targeted and the war was being brought to the home front as well. Making this war a total war.