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[Detail] A French officer and his British ally at the front read the New York Times.

Military Technology

During World War I, many of the previous instruments of warfare were improved upon, and new weapons were created that caused massive destruction. The War of the Nations featured numerous “weapons of deadly effectiveness.” The Germans developed “Big Bertha,” a huge cannon, capable of hurling 1-ton projectiles used in battering the Belgian fortress of Liege and French towns and fortifications. The French answered with a monster cannon. The United States also introduced heavy artillery pieces, the largest used on the Western Front in the last days of the war.

The airplane became one of the most celebrated weapons of warfare. First used for reconnaissance, the airplane became involved in aerial dogfights and bombing missions as the war progressed. Zeppelins were also used in bombing missions. In September 1916, 12 Zeppelins raided London, killing 28 and injuring 99 people. Training did not keep up with the rapidly developing aerial technology, however, as illustrated by the photograph showing model airplanes being used for target practice.

The tank was first introduced by the British on the Western Front in an attempt to break the deadly stalemate. The Germans quickly produced tanks of their own, as did the French. The use of tanks in the war logically resulted in the development of tank traps.

Chemical warfare was the most horrific weapon employed during World War I. Poison gas was used by the Germans at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915 and on the Eastern Front against the Russians near Baronvitsky. It was later used by the Allies. Numerous pictures appeared in the press showing soldiers and civilians wearing gas masks.
Examine some of the pictures of the changing technology of war listed below.

Read the essay on “The Increasing Power of Destruction: Military Technology in World War I.” Use information from the essay and the photographs you examined, as well as your own ideas, to answer the following questions:

  • What new methods of warfare prompted the British writer H. G. Wells to fear for humanity?
  • What methods were used in attempts to break the stalemate along the Western Front?
  • How did the war promote the development of new technology?
  • What restrictions, if any, should be placed on using weapons of mass destruction during wars?
  • How did the firepower of super cannons and aerial bombings affect civilians?
  • What measures should be taken during war to protect non-combatants?
  • Why do some historians consider World War I one of the most horrific conflicts in human history?