One of the defining aspects of the first world war is that, like today, technology advanced to meet current needs. That was definitely the case in a time when cars were still not prevalent, horses were still used in combat, and things like machine guns and submarines were experimental and new.
The last two chapters of Hew Strachan's The First World War reminded me a bit of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was reminded of the manner in which the Borg collective adapted when attacked. In response, the crew of the Enterprise had to discover ways to adapt as well. One example from the book involved the deliver of chemicals to inflict pain on the enemy. German officer, Rudolf Binding seemed proud with his army's gas delivery:
...Our guns bombarded empty trenches; our gas-shells gassed empty artillery positions; only in little hidden folds in the ground, sparely distributed, lay machine gun posts, like lice in the seams and folds of a garment, to give the attacking force a warm reception...
The ability to adapt in a dangerous situation was and is always important, affecting both the offensive and the defensive war.
...Once armies had learnt countermeasures, gas was not a big killer in the First World War. However, gas shells meant that it could be used with precision. Bruchmüller fired tear-gas shells at the same time as phosgene, forcing enemy gun crews to take off their gas masks, to relieve the irritation to their eyes, and so expose their lungs...
On explosion they burst into millions of splinters, which flew out horizontally and caused hundreds of casualties.
...The biggest intellectual shift in making war between 1914 and 1918 was that the combined-arms battle was planned around the capabilities of the guns rather than of the infantry. On 20 November 1917 the British had attacked at Cambrai with 378 tanks; they achieved complete surprise, penetrating up to 4,000 years on a six-mile front...By November the Royal Artillery had perfected the techniques of predicted fire. It used microphones to record from different points the low-frequency sound waves following the firing of a gun in order to take a cross-bearing and locate the position of an enemy battery. Unlike aerial observation or the visual spotting of gun flashes, both also methods of immense value in identifying targets, sound-ranging could be used in bad visibility. Consequently, artillery could register its guns in advance of an attack without the preliminary bombardment that had squandered surprise in the past, particularly when the tanks could themselves take on the tasks of crushing wire and destroying enemy machine gun nests.
In all over 400 tanks took part in the attack on 8 August; by the 9th only 145 were fit for action. Mechanical problems were their principal defect, but the Germans also learnt to overcome what Ludendorff called 'tank fright'. Stiffer anti-tank defenses contributed to such high losses that never again in the war did more than 150 tanks go into action at any one time.
First, second and third lines of defence could be isolated from each other by curtains of fire, which moved forward or back according to plan, matching the type of shell to the nature of the target...Industrialised war enforced passivity, as one of Pershing's officers, Hervey Allen, found out: 'There is a faraway moan that grows to a scream, then a roar like a train, followed by a ground-shaking smash and a diabolical red light....Everybody simply shakes and crawls...A hunching of the shoulders and then another comes, and the thought - How long, how long? There is nothing to do. Whether you get through of not is just sheer chance and nothing more.'
this summer. Follow the link to my Fort Ticonderoga page for more.