The Number One Infantry Weapon in WWI
Birth of a New WeaponIn the summer of 1914, the airplane was less than eleven years old. Aviation was a fledgling technology that fascinated many but still generated skepticism when it came to practical applications. Most airplanes of the time were slow, flimsy contraptions with barely enough power to lift a single pilot and perhaps one passenger. While numerous countries had shown an interest in military aviation, the concept of using airplanes to wage war was still a fairly radical idea. All that changed during the course of World War I.
Early in the war, military strategists realized that aircraft could be very useful for spyingon enemy troop movements. Thus, the reconnaissance plane was born—a tool that all sides in the war used to varying degrees. These aircraft typically carried a pilot and an observer with a camera, who would photograph troop positions on the ground. The use of aircraft for reconnaissance grew rapidly during the first few months of the war and played an increasingly crucial role in achieving victories. Such aircraft proved vital to the British and French forces during theBattle of Mons and the Battle of the Marne, for example.
Fighter PlanesAs aerial reconnaissance became more common, so did the need for ways to stopenemy observation planes. One way was by firing upon them from the ground, which was ineffective until guns could be better adapted for the purpose. The other way was to develop a means for one aircraft to attack another. The first such attempts were made using the observation aircraft themselves, as pilots and observers attempted to shoot at other planes using rifles and even pistols—a method that quickly proved hopeless. Some pilots tried throwing hand grenades, bricks, or even long ropes with grappling hooks at planes below them. The ideal solution was the machine gun, which could fire a continuous stream of bullets, significantly increasing the chance of hitting a target.
Machine guns tended to be large and heavy, however, and only a few were small and light enough to be practicable for use on an airplane. Another problem was that firing sideways seriously decreased accuracy, while firing forward meant that the airplane’s propeller would be in the way. The problem was not solved until mid-1915, when a Dutch aircraft designer named Anton Fokker developed the “interrupter gear,” a timing mechanism that synchronized the machine gun with the moving propeller blades.
On August 1, 1915, German pilots Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann became the first pilots to shoot down another aircraft using Fokker’s new method. This development gave the Germans a strong advantage for several months until French and British designers succeeded in adapting the device for their own use about one year later.
BombersBombing was an obvious offensive tactic for use in air warfare, but different countries approached the concept in different ways. Russia was the first to develop an airplane specifically for this purpose: the Murometz, a large four-engine airplane that Igor Sikorsky had developed in 1913 as a passenger plane, was adapted for use as a bomber in 1914 and was used successfully throughout the war.
Germany took a different approach to bombing by using lighter-than-airdirigibles, or zeppelins, to drop bombs on targets as far away as London and Paris. The slow-moving zeppelins, which had a long range and could carry a relatively large cargo of explosives, reached the peak of their success early in the war, during 1915. As the war continued, the giant airships became increasingly vulnerable to the rapidly improving capabilities of fighter planes: the zeppelins were filled with hydrogen, so only a small spark was necessary to cause the entire ship to explode in flames. As a result, Germany turned more and more to using airplanes as bombers.
Myths and Realities of Air WarfareAs the war went on and airplane technology improved, large battles in the sky became an ever more common occurrence, and fantastic legends and stories grew around great air aces, such as Manfred von Richthofen (the “Red Baron”) and Eddie Rickenbacker. These men came to be seen by the public as modern-day knights, fighting a more exotic and elegant war than the grotesque nightmare happening on the ground below.
The truth was quite different. Newly recruited pilots were often sent into the skies with only a crude understanding of how to fly (typically less than five hours training). As the war progressed, it actually became unusual for a new pilot to survive the first few weeks of his duty. Due to this lack of experience, pilots not only fell victim to enemy aces but also succumbed regularly to bad weather, mechanical problems, or loss of control due to pilot error. It was also common for pilots simply to become lost and then run out of fuel over enemy lines. Most of those who were shot down lost their lives not in spectacular dogfights but after being shot from behind without ever having even been aware of their attackers. Although parachutes had been invented decades before, pilots from some countries—Britain in particular—were not allowed to carry them, because military leaders believed their use to be cowardly.
Overall Importance of the Air WarOn the whole, aerial warfare cannot be said to have played a fundamental role in World War I, as it did in World War II. Bombing served more as a psychological weapon than a practical one, and the technology necessary to cause the kind of massive damage that bombing would be able to inflict in the near future had not yet been developed.
On the other hand, World War I itself encouraged the rapid improvement of the airplane, both in general and specifically as a weapon. During the four years of conflict, the overall stability and safety of flying improved tremendously, as did the power, speed, and maneuverability of the newest designs. Moreover, the war fostered the general public’s respect for aviation and spawned a new generation of pilots and aircraft designers, who would go on to take human flight to the next level after the war.
Most nations had very new army recruits. There was not enough or time or officers to help these recruits learn speed and accuracy with every shot under all circumstances. The average rate of fire for these weapons with new army recruits was about eight to twelve rounds per minute with a possible range of around 4,600 feet or 0.87 of a mile, (In Moody, it would be about the distance from C.V.S. in Moody to Jack's in Moody). Though it could shoot this far without any thing stopping the bullet it would not be an accurate shot. An accurate shot could only be made at a range of about 1900 feet or 0.36 of a mile. (In Moody, it would be about the distance from Moody Park to Freds.)
The rifle was mostly used by soldiers in the infantry on the front line in order to shoot long range and by snipers. Snipers could hide themselves and accurately shoot rifles over long ranges. Snipers were valued soldiers. They worked day and night, targeting any moving object behind enemy lines. If a sniper was taken prisoner he could expect no mercy, on either side.
The rifle was the most used weapon because the rifle is a good offensive weapon. Rifles are long range weapons and do significant damage to moving targets. Bayonets could also be attached to rifles to make them a dual weapon. When ammunition ran out in close range combat, the bayonet could be used for self -defense and offensive battle.
Inefficiencies Lead to Improvements
The inefficiencies of the rifle led both sides to do extensive research in order to produce better rifles. The most notable improvements to rifles were making the bore of the gun smaller and adding bolt-action. These improvements allowed rifles to fire multiple rounds from a spring-loaded clip inserted into a rifle magazine.
Surprisingly over the course of the war, improvements were not made to rifles. It wasn't until after the Great War that these inefficiencies of the rifle were corrected. During the war, the chief concern of nations was ensuring that their nation had the money, supplies, and people to keep up a high level of rifle manufacturing. Research and development during the war was devoted to other weapons such as artillery, mortars, grenades and poison gasses.
Vocabulary to Know
ammunition: the bullets or shells shot from a weapon
bayonet: a large jagged knife that attached to the end of a rifle barrel in order to turn the rifle into a thrusting weapon
bolt action: when a sliding rod or bar shoves a cartridge into the firing chamber of a weapon
bore: the hollow part inside a gun barrel or other tube
clip: a device that is used to store multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit to be inserted into a magazine
defensive battle: a defense; when a nation or group of nations attempt to protect their territory from attack or invasion
defensive weapon: a weapon - usually having a short range - made or adapted for protecting a person by causing serious injury or death to the attacker
front line: the place where fighting is done face to face in a battle
inefficiencies: the inability to do something in the best way possible; when something valuable (ex. time, money, lives, ammunition) is wasted in the process of doing something
infantry: Infantry is the branch of an army that fights on foot — soldiers specifically trained to engage, fight, and defeat the enemy in face-to-face combat; and thus bear the brunt of warfare, and suffer the greatest number of casualties
magazine: the cylinder part of a weapon that holds a clip of ammunition; used to speed up the process of loading and reloading a weapon because several rounds of ammunition can be loaded at once, rather than one round being loaded at a time
manufacturing: producing a large amount of one product in a factory using machines, an assembly line, and division of labor
offensive battle: an invasion; when a nation or group of nations initiate an attack with the intent of taking over territory from the nation they are attacking
offensive weapon: a weapon - usually having a long range - made or adapted for attacking another person and causing serious injury or death
range: the distance something has covered or reached
rate of fire: the amount of bullets or ammunition a weapons can fire without having to reload
rifle: a gun, esp. one fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved barrel intended to make a bullet spin and thereby have greater accuracy over a long distance.
sniper: a gunman who's job is to pick of targets on the opposing side in a battle because he is an expert at shooting accurately over a long range
standard issue: the basic supplies given to everyone in the armed forces when they become a soldier