Technology of war

World War One was mainly fought from trenches. This can be explained by changes in weaponry and military technology. During World War One, existing weapons gave the advantage to the defending army. Defensive weapons like the machine gun were much more effective than attacking weapons like the rifle and bayonet.

As the war progressed new weapons like poison gas and tanks were introduced to try and break the stalemate of trench warfare.

Civilians were not immune from advances in military technology. Germany used new aircraft and airships called Zeppelins, to bomb British cities. In the waters around Britain, Germany targeted any ship, naval or merchant, by using submarines called U-boats.

Machine gun

  • This weapon could fire up to 600 bullets per minute.
  • Very heavy and manned by up to three men, it was used as a defensive weapon.
  • Trenches were essential in protecting soldiers from machine gun fire.


  • Big heavy guns which fire large shells designed to cause maximum damage to enemy fortifications like trench systems, dug-outs and barbed wire.
  • In World War One, soldiers zig-zagged their trenches to limit the effects of a blast.
  • The constant noise of explosions and fear of death by shell-fire caused some men to suffer a form of nervous breakdown known as 'shell shock'.
  • The use of artillery caused over 60 per cent of deaths on the battlefield during World War One.


This war was the first in which chlorine and mustard gas were used.

  • The German army was the first to use chlorine in 1915 at Ypres.
  • When breathed in it burned the lungs. Despite its fearsome effects, gas never proved a decisive weapon.
  • It needed light winds, but light winds could change and blow the gas back towards where it came from.
  • Counter measures like gas masks were quickly developed to minimise the effects of gas attacks.


Tanks were developed in order to break the deadlock and as a way to cross no-man’s land. It was believed that they would change the course of the war. They were first used at the Battle of the Somme. However, they often broke down, got stuck in the mud and ran out of fuel. They were used more effectively at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917.


They were more used for spotting the enemy and for gathering intelligence. Later in the war, fighter planes were fitted with machine guns. Heavier planes were developed that dropped bombs on the enemy. By 1918, planes had been developed that could drop bombs on Berlin.

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