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Finding Neverland Blog Archive

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Story of World War 1 (Part 7)

Emergency military hospital

Health effects

The war had profound consequences in the health of the troops. Of the 60 million European soldiers who were mobilised from 1914 to 1918, 8 million were killed, 7 million were permanently disabled, and 15 million were seriously injured. Germany lost 15.1% of its active male population, Austria-Hungary lost 17.1%, and France lost 10.5%. In Germany civilian deaths were 474,000 higher than in peacetime, due in large part to food shortages and malnutrition that weakened resistance to disease. By the end of the war, famine had killed approximately 100,000 people in Lebanon. The best estimates of the death toll from the Russian famine of 1921 run from 5 million to 10 million people. By 1922, there were between 4.5 million and 7 million homeless children in Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the subsequent famine of 1920–1922. Numerous anti-Soviet Russians fled the country after the Revolution; by the 1930s, the northern Chinese city of Harbin had 100,000 Russians. Thousands more emigrated to France, England, and the United States.

In Australia, the effects of the war on the economy were no less severe. The Australian prime minister, Billy Hughes, wrote to the British prime minister, Lloyd George, "You have assured us that you cannot get better terms. I much regret it, and hope even now that some way may be found of securing agreement for demanding reparation commensurate with the tremendous sacrifices made by the British Empire and her Allies." Australia received ₤5,571,720 war reparations, but the direct cost of the war to Australia had been ₤376,993,052, and, by the mid-1930s, repatriation pensions, war gratuities, interest and sinking fund charges were ₤831,280,947. Of about 416,000 Australians who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded.

Diseases flourished in the chaotic wartime conditions. In 1914 alone, louse-borne epidemic typhus killed 200,000 in Serbia. From 1918 to 1922, Russia had about 25 million infections and 3 million deaths from epidemic typhus. Whereas before World War I Russia had about 3.5 million cases of malaria, its people suffered more than 13 million cases in 1923. In addition, a major influenza epidemic spread around the world. Overall, the 1918 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people.

Lobbying by Chaim Weizmann and fear that American Jews would encourage the USA to support Germany culminated in the British government's Balfour Declaration of 1917, endorsing creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A total of more than 1,172,000 Jewish soldiers served in the Allied and Central Power forces in World War I, including 275,000 in Austria-Hungary and 450,000 in Czarist Russia.

The social disruption and widespread violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War sparked more than 2,000 pogroms in the former Russian Empire, mostly in the Ukraine. An estimated 60,000–200,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities.

In the aftermath of World War I, Greece fought against Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal, a war which resulted in a massive population exchange between the two countries under the Treaty of Lausanne. According to various sources, several hundred thousand Pontic Greeks died during this period.

Ground warfare

World War I began as a clash of 20th-century technology and 19th-century tactics, with the inevitably large ensuing casualties. By the end of 1917, however, the major armies, now numbering millions of men, had modernised and were making use of telephone, wireless communication, armoured cars, tanks, and aircraft. Infantry formations were reorganised, so that 100-man companies were no longer the main unit of manoeuvre; instead, squads of 10 or so men, under the command of a junior NCO, were favoured.

Chemical Weapons in WW1

Artillery also underwent a revolution. In 1914, cannons were positioned in the front line and fired directly at their targets. By 1917, indirect fire with guns (as well as mortars and even machine guns) was commonplace, using new techniques for spotting and ranging, notably aircraft and the often overlooked field telephone. Counter-battery missions became commonplace, also, and sound detection was used to locate enemy batteries.

Germany was far ahead of the Allies in utilising heavy indirect fire. The German Army employed 150 mm (6 in) and 210 mm (8 in) howitzers in 1914, when typical French and British guns were only 75 mm (3 in) and 105 mm (4 in). The British had a 6 inch (152 mm) howitzer, but it was so heavy it had to be hauled to the field in pieces and assembled. The Germans also fielded Austrian 305 mm (12 in) and 420 mm (17 in) guns and, even at the beginning of the war, had inventories of various calibers of Minenwerfer, which were ideally suited for trench warfare.

Much of the combat involved trench warfare, in which hundreds often died for each yard gained. Many of the deadliest battles in history occurred during World War I. Such battles include Ypres, the Marne, Cambrai, the Somme, Verdun, and Gallipoli. The Germans employed the Haber process of nitrogen fixation to provide their forces with a constant supply of gunpowder despite the British naval blockade. Artillery was responsible for the largest number of casualties[213] and consumed vast quantities of explosives. The large number of head wounds caused by exploding shells and fragmentation forced the combatant nations to develop the modern steel helmet, led by the French, who introduced the Adrian helmet in 1915. It was quickly followed by the Brodie helmet, worn by British Imperial and US troops, and in 1916 by the distinctive German Stahlhelm, a design, with improvements, still in use today.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

—Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum est, 1917

The widespread use of chemical warfare was a distinguishing feature of the conflict. Gases used included chlorine, mustard gas and phosgene. Few war casualties were caused by gas, as effective countermeasures to gas attacks were quickly created, such as gas masks. The use of chemical warfare and small-scale strategic bombing were both outlawed by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and both proved to be of limited effectiveness, though they captured the public imagination.

The most powerful land-based weapons were railway guns weighing hundreds of tons apiece. These were nicknamed Big Berthas, even though the namesake was not a railway gun. Germany developed the Paris Gun, able to bombard Paris from over 100 kilometres (62 mi), though shells were relatively light at 94 kilograms (210 lb). While the Allies also had railway guns, German models severely out-ranged and out-classed them.
Trenches, machine guns, air reconnaissance, barbed wire, and modern artillery with fragmentation shells helped bring the battle lines of World War I to a stalemate. The British and the French sought a solution with the creation of the tank and mechanised warfare. The British first tanks were used during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. Mechanical reliability was an issue, but the experiment proved its worth. Within a year, the British were fielding tanks by the hundreds, and they showed their potential during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, by breaking the Hindenburg Line, while combined arms teams captured 8,000 enemy soldiers and 100 guns. Meanwhile, the French introduced the first tanks with a rotating turret, the Renault FT, which became a decisive tool of the victory. The conflict also saw the introduction of Light automatic weapons and submachine guns, such as the Lewis Gun, the Browning automatic rifle, and the Bergmann MP18.

Aircrafts in World War 1

Another new weapon, the flamethrower, was first used by the German army and later adopted by other forces. Although not of high tactical value, the flamethrower was a powerful, demoralising weapon that caused terror on the battlefield. It was a dangerous weapon to wield, as its heavy weight made operators vulnerable targets.

Trench railways evolved to supply the enormous quantities of food, water, and ammunition required to support large numbers of soldiers in areas where conventional transportation systems had been destroyed. Internal combustion engines and improved traction systems for automobiles and trucks/lorries eventually rendered trench railways obsolete.


Germany deployed U-boats (submarines) after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, the Kaiserliche Marine employed them to deprive the British Isles of vital supplies. The deaths of British merchant sailors and the seeming invulnerability of U-boats led to the development of depth charges (1916), hydrophones (passive sonar, 1917), blimps, hunter-killer submarines (HMS R-1, 1917), forward-throwing anti-submarine weapons, and dipping hydrophones (the latter two both abandoned in 1918).[87] To extend their operations, the Germans proposed supply submarines (1916). Most of these would be forgotten in the interwar period until World War II revived the need.


Fixed-wing aircraft were first used militarily by the Italians in Libya on 23 October 1911 during the Italo-Turkish War for reconnaissance, soon followed by the dropping of grenades and aerial photography the next year. By 1914, their military utility was obvious. They were initially used for reconnaissance and ground attack. To shoot down enemy planes, anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft were developed. Strategic bombers were created, principally by the Germans and British, though the former used Zeppelins as well. Towards the end of the conflict, aircraft carriers were used for the first time, with HMS Furious launching Sopwith Camels in a raid to destroy the Zeppelin hangars at Tondern in 1918.

Manned observation balloons, floating high above the trenches, were used as stationary reconnaissance platforms, reporting enemy movements and directing artillery. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, equipped with parachutes, so that if there was an enemy air attack the crew could parachute to safety. (At the time, parachutes were too heavy to be used by pilots of aircraft (with their marginal power output), and smaller versions were not developed until the end of the war; they were also opposed by the British leadership, who feared they might promote cowardice.)

Recognised for their value as observation platforms, balloons were important targets for enemy aircraft. To defend them against air attack, they were heavily protected by antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly aircraft; to attack them, unusual weapons such as air-to-air rockets were even tried. Thus, the reconnaissance value of blimps and balloons contributed to the development of air-to-air combat between all types of aircraft, and to the trench stalemate, because it was impossible to move large numbers of troops undetected. The Germans conducted air raids on England during 1915 and 1916 with airships, hoping to damage British morale and cause aircraft to be diverted from the front lines, and indeed the resulting panic led to the diversion of several squadrons of fighters from France.

War crimes

On 19 August 1915, the German submarine U-27 was sunk by the British Q-ship HMS Baralong. All German survivors were summarily executed by Baralong's crew on the orders of Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, the captain of the ship. The shooting was reported to the media by American citizens who were on board the Nicosia, a British freighter loaded with war supplies, which was stopped by U-27 just minutes before the incident.

On 24 September, Baralong destroyed U-41, which was in the process of sinking the cargo ship Urbino. According to Karl Goetz, the submarine's commander, Baralong continued to fly the US flag after firing on U-41 and then rammed the lifeboat - carrying the German survivors - sinking it.

Chemical weapons in warfare

The use of poison gas, as a weapon, was introduced by Imperial Germany on 31 January 1915 during the Battle of Bolimov, and was later subsequently used by all major belligerents against enemy combatants throughout the war. It is estimated that the use of chemical weapons employed by both sides throughout the war had inflicted 1.3 million casualties. For example, the British had over 180,000 chemical weapon casualties during the war, and up to one-third of US casualties were caused by gas and mustard. The Russian Army reportedly suffered roughly 500,000 chemical weapon casualties in World War I. The use of chemical weapons in warfare was in direct violation of the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, which prohibited their use.

Austro-Hungarian soldiers executing men and women in Serbia

Poison gas was not only limited to combatants but also civilians as civilian towns were at risk from winds blowing the poison gases through. Civilians rarely had a warning system put into place to alert their neighbors of the danger. In addition to poor warning systems, civilians often did not have access to effective gas masks. An estimated 100,000-260,000 civilian casualties were caused by chemical weapons during the conflict and tens of thousands of more (along with military personnel) died from scarring of the lungs, skin damage, and cerebral damage in the years after the conflict ended. Many commanders on both sides knew that such weapon would cause major harm to civilians as wind would blow poison gases into nearby civilian towns but nonetheless continued to use them throughout the war. British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig wrote in his diary: "My officers and I were aware that such weapon would cause harm to women and children living in nearby towns, as strong winds were common in the battlefront. However, because the weapon was to be directed against the enemy, none of us were overly concern at all."

Genocide and ethnic cleansing

Armenians killed during the Armenian Genocide. Image taken from Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, written by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. and published in 1918.

Armenians killed during the Armenian Genocide

The ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Empire's Armenian population, including mass deportations and executions, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is considered genocide. The Ottomans saw the entire Armenian population as an enemy that had chosen to side with Russia at the beginning of the war. In early 1915, a number of Armenians joined the Russian forces, and the Ottoman government used this as a pretext to issue the Tehcir Law (Law on Deportation). This authorized the deportation of Armenians from the Empire's eastern provinces to Syria between 1915 and 1917. The exact number of deaths is unknown: while Balakian gives a range of 250,000 to 1.5 million for the deaths of Armenians, the International Association of Genocide Scholars estimates over 1 million. The government of Turkey has consistently rejected charges of genocide, arguing that those who died were victims of inter-ethnic fighting, famine, or disease during World War I. Other ethnic groups were similarly attacked by the Ottoman Empire during this period, including Assyrians and Greeks, and some scholars consider those events to be part of the same policy of extermination.

"Rape of Belgium"

The German invaders treated any resistance—such as sabotaging rail lines—as illegal and immoral, and shot the offenders and burned buildings in retaliation. In addition, they tended to suspect that most civilians were potential "franc-tireurs" (guerrillas) and, accordingly, took and sometimes killed hostages from among the civilian population. The German army executed over 6,500 French and Belgian civilians between August and November 1914, usually in near-random large-scale shootings of civilians ordered by junior German officers. The German Army destroyed 15,000–20,000 buildings—most famously the university library at Louvain—and generated a wave of refugees of over a million people. Over half the German regiments in Belgium were involved in major incidents. Thousands of workers were shipped to Germany to work in factories. British propaganda dramatizing the "Rape of Belgium" attracted much attention in the United States, while Berlin said it was both lawful and necessary because of the threat of "franc-tireurs" like those in France in 1870. The British and French magnified the reports and disseminated them at home and in the United States, where they played a major role in dissolving support for Germany.

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