Methods of Warfare in 1st World War

What methods of warfare were used in World War 1 and how did they change over the duration of the War? German Plan: In 1914 when war was declared Germany soon thought of a plan that they thought would win them the war known as the Schlieffen Plan which was soon put into action. The plan was if they could send all their troops through Belgium into France and take France within a matter of weeks before the Russian army was mobilised they could send all their troops to face Russia when Russia’s forces had fully mobilised. And so have a better chance of defeating Russia.

Germany estimated it would take six weeks to conquer France and Belgium leaving them time to move their troops to the Eastern Front before Russia was fully engaged in the war. French Plan: In 1914 when war broke out the French followed their Plan 17 which was to send all their troops charging across the frontier and attack deep into Germany forcing the German soldiers to surrender. And so the French launched an attack on German forces in Alsace-Lorraine, the French troops were cut down by German machine gun fire and artillery, within 12 days 200,000 French troops had been killed forcing them to abandon the plan and retreat to Paris.

British plan: In order to help out the French Britain created a small force they planned would help the French troops stop the Germans and so England sent the British Expeditionary Force (150,000 professional trained, well equipped troops) in 1914 to France in order to hold off the German forces and to hopefully help beat back the German troops. Unfortunately in September 1914 the BEF were pushed back to Marne where they and the French stopped the German advance and pushed them back to the River Aisne.

It was here where both sides dug themselves in in trenches leading to a large stalemate between both sides. Trench Warfare: During the First World War trench warfare was the most common type of warfare used, due to the fact that tanks had only recently been created and aircraft were not very developed. The trenches stretched from the sea at Ostend all the way to the Alps. These trenches caused a stalemate due to the fact that taking an enemy’s trench was extremely difficult because they were well defended by many machine guns that would kill any incoming infantry.

Machine were large, heavy guns that were devastatingly effective as defensive weapons as they could fire eight bullets per second killing platoons of soldiers in minutes if they went over the top. During the war artillery caused the most casualties as they often destroyed enemy positions and killed the soldiers within them. Even though the enemy would just go deep into the trenches underground where they would be safest from the bombs. Artillery guns were very inaccurate at the beginning of the war but by the end of the war artillery was more powerful and much more accurate.

A key weapon used to drive enemies out of the trenches was poison gas. The gas could be in a grenade that could be chucked into a enemy trench or fired in an artillery shell or even dropped by plane. The gas tended to be chlorine causing soldiers to struggle to breathe or mustard gas that blinded or killed its victims. Lastly the trenches were very unhygienic, full of dead bodies and gunge of mud and blood on the floor. This meant bacteria and infections spread very quickly and so diseases were common which took the lives of many soldiers on both sides.

Land Warfare: Before the war Land warfare was only infantry and artillery but British inventors in 1914 thought of the idea of the tank, which they took to generals, but was rejected as though it would be impractical but Churchill disagreed and funded the project. Tanks were first used two years later in the Battle of the Somme; they advanced ahead of the infantry crushing the enemies’ defences and then spray the enemy with machine gun fire. Seeing this the British morale was boosted as they thought Tanks could lead to the breakthrough that will win them the war.

Unfortunately the tanks were very slow, not very maneuverable and unreliable as many tanks broke down before they reached the enemy. The first real success for tanks was at Cambria in 1917 where they easily broke through enemy lines but the infantry behind couldn’t keep up. By the end of the war both forces were using armor piercing machine guns and adapted field guns to destroy tanks meaning tanks weren’t as invincible as they thought they were at the beginning of the war. Air warfare:

In 1914 planes had only recently been invented and so at first they were very simple and used to fly over enemy targets or trenches etc, and take pictures, which they would then take back to head quarters. When planes were seen taking pictures enemy aircraft would try to shoot them down, at first the pilot would fire pistols and rifles from their planes at their enemy as they hadn’t though of a way to shoot in-between the propeller without hitting and braking the propeller.

It was not until April 1915 they had fixed this problem by fitting a machine gun that was synchronized so that bullets missed the propeller and by 1918 spectacular dog fights were taking place in the air with more advanced airplanes with more advanced weapons that played a large part in slowing down the German advance. So in four years the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps had gone from having 37 planes to 23,000 planes but really the air war was little compared to the war at land and sea.

Sea Warfare: Lastly before the war Britain had the largest fleet of advanced ships in the world that belittled the German fleet. Throughout the war there were very few battles on the sea. British Ships were used more for blockading German ports and supply lines hoping this would cause Germany to run out of resources and surrender. The only major sea battle was the Battle of Jutland where the British fleet lost 14 ships but destroyed 11 German ships and successfully maintained the blockade.

Throughout the war Germany used its U-boats to destroy merchant ships and allied war ships, at first the U-boat would warn the ship it was about to be attacked but this convention was abandoned later in 1915. To stop the losses of Allied ships, Britain created: Q-ships that looked like merchant ships but had heavy guns on board; Mines to stop U-boats going through the English channel; Depth charges that sometimes when dropped hit U-boats and destroyed them; Convoys to protect merchant ships and Long-Range aircraft to protect the convoys.