Weaponry Technology and Strategy by Senior Curator Cornish Led to the Modern Warfare of World War One Essay

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Senior Curator Paul Cornish looks at the developments in weaponry technology and strategy that led to the modern warfare of World War One, which was characterised by deadly new weapons, trench deadlocks, and immense numbers of casualties.1914 witnessed the clash of huge armies armed with deadly new weapons that had been developed during the ‘second industrial revolution’ of the late 19th century. Chief among them was quick-firing artillery, which could deluge soldiers with hails of deadly lead balls cascading from shrapnel shells. Meanwhile the bullets fired by rifles and machine guns had gained in range and accuracy and could cause horrible wounds. By the year’s end a million European soldiers lay dead. The armies were forced to seek the relative safety of trenches and dugouts. A new type of warfare had been born.
Trench warfare

Old weapons were revived or re-invented to wage trench warfare effectively. Mortars, which offered frontline troops a portable means of lobbing high explosive bombs into enemy trenches, began to proliferate. Hand grenades offered similar firepower on a smaller scale to individual soldiers. To the horror of many commanders, the grenade threatened to supplant the rifle as the infantryman’s chief weapon. Finally, the most primitive weapons of all, clubs and knives, were used in the grisly business of hand to hand combat during trench raids, or when ‘cleaning’ – to use the French Army’s euphemism – a captured position of enemy survivors.

But the armies also sought to break out of the trench deadlock. Innovations such as poison gas – initially released…