James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 16) online

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calibre from 37 mm. (one and a half
inches) to a little more than six
inches. The most famous and the
best loved was the French 75 milli-
metre gun, a marvel of rapidity and
accuracy. Remembering the length
of the metre it is seen that this gun was
just under three inches in calibre. Its
projectile was simply a giant rifle
cartridge in shape and a trained crew
could fire twenty shots a minute, with
almost the accuracy of a rifle. In the
larger guns as the 155 millimetre and
the howitzers, powder and shell were
inserted separately.


While the explosive shell is not a
modern invention, solid shot were the
principal reliance in the wars of a
century ago. Even in the Civil War
guns fired principally solid shot, though
. mortars generally used shell. A shell is
simply a hollow projectile containing
an explosive which is detonated either
by a fuse cut to burn a certain number
of seconds, or else is exploded by contact
when it strikes some object, throwing
the pieces in all directions, killing men
and destroying houses or fortifications.
The charge in the shell is not of powder
but of some one or other of the so-
called "high explosives," that, is, ex-
plosives which are quickly converted
into great quantities of gas. Such an
explosive can not be used as a propelling
charge, as it would burst the gun.
The concussion when a shell bursts is

Shrapnel of which so much was heard
in the earlier years of the war is also not
a modern invention. A shrapnel shell
is filled with powder and about 250
bullets. By an ingenious contrivance it
explodes at an arranged time after it
leaves the gun and sprays the vicinity
with bullets. It was chiefly because of
the extensive use of shrapnel that the
contending armies adopted the metal
helmet. It would turn a shrapnel
bullet, though of little use against a
rifle or a machine gun.

The modern machine gun is enor-
mously more effective than the Catling
gun of the Civil War, or the mitrail-


leuse used in the Franco-Prussian war,
but it can hardly be said to be a new
invention. Mortars and hand grenades
have been greatly improved but they
are old. The grenade goes back almost
to the invention of gun powder, though
for a time it almost went out of use.
The mortar has always been used more
or less. The great use of both in this
war grew out of its stationary character
for long periods.

Three instruments of war attracted
much attention. These were poison
gas, liquid fire and the tank, which
were among the surprises of the war
and all of them created more or less
consternation. None of these however
is absolutely new. There is a record
of the use of poison gas, in this case
the fumes of sulphur, over 2300 years
ago in one of the wars between the
Spartans and the Athenians, and there
are many instances of the use of
sulphur or similar substances during
the Middle Ages. These "stink-pots"
were a part of the equipment of many
besieging armies. Compared with the
poison gases employed in the Great
War they were almost harmless, but the
difference is in degree of deadliness
not in kind or intention.


First may be considered the machine
gun which was used more extensively
than ever before, though it is not a new
weapon. The first true machine gun
was invented by Dr. Richard J.
Catling, a physician with a mechanical
turn of mind. Though Southern born,
Dr. Catling was not a. secessionist
and his gun was used to some extent
by the Union forces in the Civil War.
By present standards it was clumsy
and slow. It consisted of a number of
barrels bound together, and by turning
a crank each of these in turn was
supplied with a cartridge. This gun
was adopted in Europe and some were
used in the Franco- Prussian War.
Improved models were used in the
Spanish War and in the Russo-
Japanese contest.

A decided step in advance was
taken by Sir Hiram S. Maxim, Amer-
ican born but a British subject, who


utilized the force of the recoil, to
continue the firing. This gun was
effective in the Boer War, where it was
able to fire 500 shots a minute. With
certain changes it became the Vickers
gun and was the standard British gun
during the war, though several other
types were used. There were two
difficulties with the earlier types of
machine guns, namely, weight and the
tendency of the barrel to become red
hot after firing a few minutes. The
Benet-Mercie, the joint invention of an
American and a Frenchman, met the
difficulty by providing extra barrels
to replace the one which had become
heated. Other inventors used a water
jacket surrounding the barrel. This
added so much weight that the gun
could -not be fired from the shoulder,
but required a rest of some sort,
usually a tripod.


There were at least a dozen different
guns in use by one or other of the
belligerents, as the Schwarzlose used
by the Austrians; the Hotchkiss and
the Chauchat, used by the French;
the Fiat used by the Italians and the
Spandau and Maxim used by the Ger-
mans. However there were only two
distinct lines of development. The
light machine gun, air-cooled, was
simply an automatic rifle fired from
the shoulder until it became too hot.
The heavier gun, generally water
cooled, was fired from a fixed position,
though it could be moved by one man.
Both used clips or belts of cartridges
with one exception, again the invention
of an American.

This was the Lewis gun invented by
Col. I. N. Lewis. The ammunition
is contained in a round flat magazine
containing forty-seven cartridges, but
a fresh magazine can be quickly
inserted. Both light and heavy guns
of this type were produced and it was
found to be especially useful on
airplanes. It was largely used by the
Allies. It was unaffected by the
weather and seldom got out of order.

Before the War the Germans saw
dimly the value of the machine gun,
and had a larger supply than any

other belligerent, according to report,
50,000 Maxims. Even they did not
foresee the importance this weapon
was to assume. Guns were used on
airplanes, and against airplanes in
both attack and in defense. The
Germans built many inconspicuous
forts (pill-boxes) in which one or more
guns were placed, or else "nests,"
somewhat less elaborate. Oftener a
gun or two in an old shell hole, behind
a log or a rock, or concealed simply
by vegetation, took heavy toll of the
advancing opponents. The gun could
be swung around. The ground could
be sprayed with bullets. The machine
gun is largely responsible for the
unprecedented quantity of ammuni-
tion used in this war.

When the United States entered
the War the regulation equipment of an
infantry division was fifty machine
guns. At the end it was 260 heavy
guns and 768 automatic rifles. Several
different guns were issued to American
soldiers, but the guns with which all
the American infantry would have been
equipped but for the sudden end of
hostilities were the Brownings both
light and heavy.


Soon after the discovery of gunpow-
der the hand grenade was invented.
It was simply a metal container filled
with powder and slugs and provided
with a fuse, which was hurled at the
enemy. In the close quarters allowed
by the weapons then existing they
were deadly, and specially picked regi-
ments grenadiers were later organ-
ized to use them. As muskets were im-
proved the opportunities for use were
lessened and the missile went out of
use, though the name of the special
regiments persisted.

In the close fighting of the Russo-
. Japanese war the grenade was revived
to a limited extent, and a few appear
to have been used in the Balkan wars.
With the exception of Germany the
Western Powers ignored this revival
of an old weapon. The Germans in
their desire to be prepared for any
emergency provided themselves with
considerable numbers, and when trench



fighting was established, were able to
work havoc upon the Allied lines. In
return British soldiers improvised gren-
ades of jam tins which they filled with
old nails, bullets or slugs, inserted
fuses and threw them toward the
trenches of the enemy. As might be
supposed they were not very satis-
factory. Sometimes the fuse went out,
or became separated in the flight
through the air. Sometimes the fuse
burned too rapidly and the grenade
exploded before it had been well
started on its journey. Occasionally an
overcautious thrower cut his fuse too
long and the spark could be extin-
guished by the enemy after it had
fallen, or there might even be time
to return the missile to its source.


The French quickly manufactured
satisfactory grenades and many grena-
diers were specially trained. The
British later developed the Mills gren-
ade, which was about the size of a
lemon. An internal fuse could be set
alight by a percussion cap, but a
safety pin prevented explosion until the
missile had left the hand of the thrower.
The shell of these grenades was
marked by grooves so that it would
fly into numerous pieces. Such gren-
ades could be used only when the
throwers were protected by trenches or
other defenses.

Other grenades were used. Some
contained toxic gas, others phosphorus
which produced a dense smoke, while
still others were designed to cause
fires. Then there was the offensive
grenade made of water-proof paper
which was carried by advancing troops.
It would kill by concussion within a
radius of about ten feet from its point
of explosion and had no metal to fly
back toward the thrower. Many
grenades were manufactured to be shot
from rifles. By this method they
could be sent further, and more
accurately than by hand.


Another important weapon was the
trench mortar, of which the most
successful type was the Stokes, the


invention of an English civilian. This
was simply a steel tube the closed end
of which rested upon the ground. Two
legs were attached near the muzzle,
and the mortar could be inclined at
any desired angle, as the butt and the
legs formed a tripod. A light charge
of black powder or other slow explosive
could throw a shell filled with high
explosive a considerable distance. Three
and four inches were the most popular,
but some were larger. The Germans
were fond of Ifhese minenu-erfer, and
had large quantities of them. The
French had a trench mortar using
compressed air as a propellant. These
mortars were useful not only against
trenches and machine gun positions
but also against barbed wire. Shells
containing gas, oil, and chemicals were
also used with deadly effect.

The service rifles of the contending
armies differed little from those used
in previous wars of the twentieth
century. The number required for
modern armies is so great that there
must be a large reserve, and large
facilities for continued production.
Unless the ammunition is interchange-
able, no improved piece is likely to
be adopted in war time. For this
reason it was not possible to arm all
American troops with the new Spring-
field which the War Department ex-
perts believed to be the best gun in the
world. Several manufacturers were
producing Lee-Enfields for the British
army, and advantage was taken of their
facilities to produce this rifle, though
bored to receive the regular American


When news of the appearance of the
tanks in the Battle of the Somme was
given to the world, the invention was
hailed as the most brilliant new idea of
the war. The value of the tank was
great, and in a sense the idea was new,
but any one who in his youth fought
over some of this same territory with
Caesar, was not so certain. He seemed
dimly to remember that the great
captain, certainly as great as any
leader developed in the recent struggle,
used something similar. Search of


Smoke pots being set off by Lieutenant Colonel B. C. Goss, Chemical Warfare Service, in the Argonne Forest
near Beaucamp, Meuse, France, October, 1918. It was a curious development that was manifested when belliger-
ents who for long had been perfecting a smokeless powder for rifles and artillery, had to turn their attention
to devising fresh means of producing smoke-clouds to mask advance or hinder attack. U. S. Official


This is a picture of German barbed-wire entanglements beside the Vesle River. The enemy used especially
constructed manganese wire which required a very strong two-handled cutter to sever. Under cover of night
parties of wire-cutters did their work, and fire-shells would reveal both destroyers and builders of entanglements
at work, as offensive or defensive tactics were adopted by either side. Times Photograph.



This was one of the earliest kinds of tanks used by the British in the great drive for Cambrai.
It was capable of containing a dozen men, and its armor plate was about five-eighths of an
inch thick. Some of the later types were much superior.

his half-forgotten texts brought a
certain satisfaction.

Farfetched though the comparison
may seem to be, there were three
instruments of warfare used by the
Romans which accomplished what the
tank was expected to do. There was
"aries," the battering ram, protected
by a heavy roof, which was rolled
forward to breach the walls. There was
"testudo," the tortoise, composed of
interlocked shields which protected
the assailants of a walled town until
they could reach the breached wall.
There was " turris, " the tower, as high
as the walls, which was rolled forward
until the occupants could attack the
besieged from above. These were all
probably as effective against ordinary
defenses in their day, as the tank in this.


No one can say who invented the
tank, and the question is likely to
remain a subject of controversy. This
much seems to be certain. Mr. H. G.
Wells, the versatile British author,
suggested the idea of a movable fortress
in a story which attracted the attention
of military men. Colonel Crompton,
Royal Engineers, began to work upon
this idea. Lieutenant Macfie of the
Navy suggested the "caterpillar tread "
common on American tractors. Colonel
Swinton, and Naval Constructor d'Eyn-


court worked
to develop
the idea,
while at the
last Sir Wil-
liam Tritton,
of Fo s t e r ,
Tritton and
the construc-
tors, worked
out many of
the practical
de tails. It
seems how-
ever that the
French had
with the idea,
before the
British be-
gan, though they did not use them until
after the British had demonstrated
their usefulness.

The first tanks were heavy, slow and
cumbersome. They waddled along un-
der the power of their gasoline engines,
but were difficult to steer. Their heavy
armor was proof against bullet, shrap-
nel, or grenades, but not of course
against artillery. Their power was
sufficient to break through the strong-
est barbed wire, to smash the concrete
machine gun nests the Germans had
constructed, and to push down the
walls of houses. They could cross a
trench not more than six feet wide
and climb out of shell holes unless
very deep and with steep sides. These
first tanks carried everything before
them and if the British had waited
until a large number had been con-
structed before springing the surprise,
they would have been more effective.


Later, smaller tanks carrying crews
of only two men were developed both
by the British and the French. Because
of their speed (about twelve miles
an hour) they were called whippet, or
mosquito tanks. The large tanks
carried one or more small calibre guns,
but the smaller carried only one machine
gun. They were particularly useful in
pursuing retreating infantry, and on


occasion did
deadly execu-

The Ger-
mans, using
a captured
British tank
as a model,
built a small
number of
large tanks.
says in his
book that the
army could
not spare the
men neces-
sary to build
large num-
bers, and


A tank that was captured in 1918 on the Western Front. The enemy affected to scoff at
the usefulness of this grotesque machine but copied captured models. The closing months
of the tanks' brief history found them used by both sides in increasing numbers.

seems not to have valued them highly.
Those which were sent to the battle
front were distinctly inferior both to the
British or the French types. They were
very heavy, but neither material nor
workmanship was good.


The use of body armor was of course
a revival of the practices of the Middle
Ages. In fact armor has been occasion-
ally used almost to the present day. In
the Revolution, in the Napoleonic Wars
and even in the Civil War and the
Franco-Prussian War, breast plates
were used to some extent. The
helmet, or "tin hat," as it was dis-
respectfully called by the wearers, was
almost universally used during the
latter part of the World War. The
French were the first to issue them to
their soldiers, and all the other belli-
gerents followed. They would hardly
stop a bullet fired at ordinary rifle
range which struck squarely, but they
turned thousands which struck oblique-
ly, and they were an effective protection
against shrapnel bullets and small
pieces of bursting shell. Heavier hel-
mets protecting the neck also were
provided for aviators.

Other experiments in body armor
were made and some breastplates and
guards for the arms and legs were
produced, but they interfered with the

movements of the wearers, and were
not liked for that reason by the Allied
soldiers. The Germans issued com-
plete sets of body armor to many
soldiers particularly machine gunners
in fixed positions.

In spite of the greater range of
modern projectiles, in no recent war
has there been so much hand to hand
fighting. For this reason the use of the
bayonet was greater, and there was
also a great development of the trench
knife. This was a knife with a blade
nine or ten inches long, and with a
heavy corrugated handle which pro-
vided protection for the fingers, and,
on occasion, could also be used as a
weapon itself.


As mentioned above, the use of
suffocating gases in warfare is old, but
the methods of distribution were new.
In spite of the Hague Convention
forbidding the use of gas, which the
German delegates had signed, the
General Staff determined to use it late
in 1914, and the first trial was made at
the second Battle of Ypres, April 22,
1915, the story of which is told in
another chapter. In this case the gas
was chlorine discharged from cylinders
through nozzles led under the parapet
of their trenches. Driven by a gentle
wind it rolled along the intervening


space, struck the Turcos and the
Canadians and almost opened the
road to Calais.

The French and English were forced
not only to find means of protecting
themselves, but also to retaliate in
kind. Various other gases were used
before the end of the war, some of them
much more deadly than chlorine, as,
for example, phosgene and the dreaded


There were ten principal parts in a double-protection
mask: a knapsack, metal canister containing the
neutralizing chemicals, hose, flutter valve, face-piece,
eyepieces, harness, body guard and angle tube.

U. S. Official

mustard gas. Some of the later gases
were more dangerous because they did
not sting and burn the throat and lungs,
as did chlorine. A man might be
fatally gassed wi thout realizing the fact.


In addition to the gases which killed,
large quantities of the so-called tear
gases were used. These were partic-
ularly irritating to the membrane of
the eyelids, and temporarily blinded all
who got the slightest touch. The tear
gases were more volatile, spread over
a larger area, and were also much


cheaper than the heavier poison gases.

The method of forcing from cylin-
ders was risky as a chance wind might
carry the deadly cloud back to the
points from which it had been dis-
charged. Besides if the wind was too
strong the cloud might be dissipated
before reaching the enemy trenches.
Soon the method of loading in shell or
grenades was adopted, and during the
latter part of the war the number of
gas shells fired approached the number
filled with high explosives.

The first means of protection adopted
were simply pads soaked in various
chemicals. These soon became useless
and the gas mask which covered the
entire head was devised. It was found
that charcoal made from the shells of
coconuts or other hardshelled nuts
had marvelous power of absorbing
gases. The air from outside was led
through a canister filled with a mixture
of carbon and cement granules. So
effective were the later masks that
the soldiers could move among bursting
gas shells almost without danger. The
dreaded mustard gas was both danger-
ous and powerful if it came in contact
with the skin and heavy gloves were
necessary to enable the men to avoid
danger. A large part of the gas dis-
charged, however, was intended to
produce smoke under cover of which
troops might advance, rather than to do
bodily harm.


The flame thrower introduced by the
Germans was an adaptation of an old
idea. We read in ancient history of
Greek fire which could not be extin-
guished, and of boiling fire poured
upon the heads of assaulting troops.
The flame thrower in this war was a
tank of oil discharged through a long
nozzle by pressure of compressed air.
By it the enemy trenches could be
sprayed with fire as by a garden hose.
Some of these tanks were stationary
but more were carried upon the backs of
selected men. No task was more
dangerous. At any moment an in-
cendiary bullet might pierce the tank,
and transform the bearer into a
writhing pillar of fire.



r AIR.

The extent of the use of aircraft in
this war is of course greater than ever
before. In fact any previous use is
negligible. The airplane had not reach-
ed an effective stage of development
at the time of any former war, and
almost the same may be said of
dirigible balloons, from which ex-
plosives might be dropped. Observa-
tion balloons have been employed more

with the other. The dirigible balloon
was, on the whole, a disappointment.
The cost in money and in man power
required for care and management was
greater than the results justified. The
observation balloon, on the contrary,
was of inestimable value.


The submarine, or more properly,
the submersible vessel of war was
likewise so important that it almost


Type of a single-seater French Nieuport fighting plane armed with two machine guns. The Lewis gun above is
fed from a drum containing 47 cartridges and is fired by pulling a string. Empty drums are quickly replaced.
The lower gun fires between the blades of the propeller, as engine and gun are geared together.

turned the war issue in favor of the
Central Powers. The effect upon
vessels of war was insignificant, for the
first submarines were built of plates so
thin that they could almost be pene-
trated by a rifle bullet, and they
carried no armament except their
torpedo tubes. A lucky shot from the
smallest piece of artillery generally
meant the end. Some of the later types
carried a gun or two, a few as large as
six inches, and also were built of thicker
plates. They were almost submersible
cruisers, but nevertheless the sub-


or less for over half a century. The
subject is so large that separate
chapters must be devoted to the
development and use of these vessels of
the skies.

It must suffice to say here that the
importance of the airplane was such
that its exclusive possession by either
side would easily have ended the
struggle in its favor. As it was each
struggled to improve existing models,
and to invent new devices with the
result that the advantage fluctuated,

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 16) → online text (page 3 of 51)