World War I was a deadly conflict as shown by the 38 million military and civil casualties it caused. The large number of casualties was caused, in part, by the development and use of new weaponry that took place during the war. The following weapons either made their debut in World War I or had a dramatic effect on the major battles of the war: machine gun, tank, poisonous gas, airplanes and submarines.
The machine gun would come to transform warfare in World War I upon its introduction into the war effort. The first machine gun was created 30 years before the start of World War I in 1884 by Hiram Maxim. This “Maxim Gun” though was not widely used before the start of World War I, but similar designs of the “Maxim Gun” would come to dominate the battlefields of World War I. For example, in 1912, the United States Army only issued four machine guns per regiment but by 1919 the number increased to 336 machine guns per regiment.
The machine gun allowed soldiers to rapid fire bullets at the enemy at a rate of 400 to 600 rounds per minute. This allowed defenders the ability to dominate the battlefield and cause the death of advancing enemy soldiers. Early forms of the machine gun were heavy and required small teams of soldiers (3-5) in order to fully operate, making them ideal for defensive positions on the battlefield. The gun would easily overheat or jam with continuous use in the heat of battle and result in the weapon not operating at all. As the war progressed, models with water and oil cooling mechanisms were produced but they could still overheat relatively quickly with repeated use. To combat this effect soldiers would group machines guns together on the battlefield to try to ensure continuous firing even if one or two of the guns jammed. As well, soldiers, in desperation, would sometimes use their urine to try to cool the gun when the water or oil cooling systems failed.
The machine gun would eventually be used as a weapon on many different types of vehicles during the course of the war. For examples, some submarines and ships used machine guns and airplanes were outfitted with machine guns in the first examples of aerial dogfights in battle.
In all, the machine gun was a devastating weapon that was a major contributor to the casualties produced by World War I. The war led to the machine gun being developed and used in the battlefield in a number of new and deadly ways. All of the major countries involved in World War I would come to develop their own versions of the machine gun.
|Hiram Maxim||Inventor of Machine Gun|
|Bergmann MB 15 nA||Germany|
|Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)||U.S.|