First used in the Spring of 1915 by Germany against Canadian and Algerian troops. Both sides used gas to weaken the resistance of defending troops to an impending attack. Chlorine gas, used in the first attack burned the eyes and throat and destroyed the lungs. Without gas masks, a Canadian medical officer recognized the chlorine gas, ordered troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and put it over their face. Gas masks were the best defense against masks but other gases like mustard gas burned the eyes and skin as well as the lungs.
Submarines: This weapon came of age in World War One. Relatively small but could sink the biggest battleships. Very narrow, it was created as a stealth weapon to sink unsuspecting ships with long artillery shells called torpedoes. Using torpedoes or using mounted machine guns when they came to the surface, Germany used them to sink supply ships to France and England. German U-Boats were so effective that England had at one point only a three week supply of grain for its civilians at one time during the war. To counter the submarine both sides developed equipment that could detect sounds in water and therefore the distinctive sound of subs and sound sonar to find submarines and drop depth charges to destroy the sub or force them to the surface.
Tanks: An armoured vehicle with tracks instead of wheels. The British and French thought this was the breakthrough weapon of the war. Machine guns mounted at the front and sides it was supposed to go over trenches and scare enemy soldiers. The first tanks into battle in 1916 found their limitations quickly. Their speed was only 5.9 km/hr (British Mark I) so it could be out run by soldiers, the tracks did not work as well as expected so it did get stuck in deep mud and trapped in trenches it could not navigate over. By the end of the war they became faster and more effective but not to the point it was considered a major factor in the Allies breaking German lines in the summer and fall of 1918.
Airplanes: The invention of the airplane was only eleven years old when war broke out. They could only stay in the air for an hour but could reach speeds of 95 to 125 km/hr. The first military use was to scout enemy trenches and positions. Eventually pilots started shooting at each other and throwing objects to damage their propellers and send the planes down. They started to mount light machine guns on the airplanes in the rear of two seaters and the front of one seat planes. The first front mounts would accidentally shoot off their propellers but engineers in Germany figured a way to synchronise the gun and propeller to avoid the problem. From then on fighter planes and their pilots became the darlings of WWI media. Pilots who shot down 5 or more planes became known as “aces” and became heroes in the media for their daring in using the new invention and pushing them to their limits. They called them “knights of the air” and fought one on one instead the mass chaos in the trenches. It seemed a more humane and “manly” way to fight. Pilots though had a lifespan of 3.5 weeks as veteran pilots hunted down new pilots and as you went down you had the choice of jumping out to certain death or try to live through being burnt by the fuel explosion when the plane hit the ground.
Artillery: Artillery replaced cannons as the weapon to send large projectiles at the enemy. The shells built like a large bullet were more accurate than the balls and were built to send the shells farther. The biggest one was a German machine nicknamed “Big Bertha”. It could send its 1500 pound shell to targets up to 9 miles away. Artillery created the moon like landscape of the Western Front and destroyed whole forests. Accurate barrages could kill hundreds of soldiers but missing targets could prove costly to attacking infantry who assume a weakened defense.
Machine Guns: An effective defensive killing weapon and responsible for a huge number of deaths and injuries in the land war. Two to three soldiers could run a machine gun and hold back hundreds of attacking soldiers in No Man’s Land. For example the British Vickers Mark 1 could shoot up to 550 bullets per minute. They were nicknamed “coffee grinders” because they could ground into pieces anyone or anything in its range.