Sidebar content in here.
Warfare at the beginning of the 20th Century
There had been little change in tactics in land warfare since the Napoleonic wars. At the beginning of the twentieth century, commanders still placed a great importance on the role of the cavalry, soldiers on horseback, as an offensive weapon. This, despite the failure of the French cavalry in attacking strong Prussian defensive positions during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.
In addition, there was increasing emphasis on mass infantry attacks, the more so as most countries had introduced conscription and were amassing large armies in preparation for future conflict. The German army increased from 500,000 in 1900 to one and a half million in 1914. The railway brought faster and more efficient transport of troops, weapons and supplies.
There had been greater change in weapons in the second half of the nineteenth century as technological progress was applied to the needs of warfare. The light field gun, based on the French 75 mm gun, was standard equipment and could fire up to 20 shells a minute. The breech-loading rifle remained the standard weapon for the infantryman together with the bayonet, which was to be used for close quarters fighting.
The machine gun, capable of firing up to 600 rounds a minute and used as a mobile reserve of fire for infantry, was in common use. It greatly strengthened the position of defenders and was capable of inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.
At sea, there were more rapid developments in the second half of the nineteenth century. Defensively, the use of armour-plating produced vessels protected by steel more than a foot thick and was followed by bigger guns, up to 15 inches in diameter, and the invention of the rotating, armoured gun-turret which enabled fire to be directed ahead and astern, rather than simply at the broadsides.
Navies were dominated by the ‘Capital Ship’ or huge battleship. The most significant development was the building of HMS Dreadnought, completed in 1906. It was the first of the ‘all-big-gun’ ships with a firing range far in excess of any existing battleships. It was also the first large warship powered by steam turbines making it two knots per hour faster than its nearest rival.
The submarine was developed at the very beginning of the twentieth century. The first British boats were completed in 1902 and the first German in 1906. Some British Royal Navy men called it a ‘damned un-English’ weapon because it attacked unseen, sneaking up on its victim.
There was no sign of air warfare in 1900. The aeroplane was only invented
in 1903. nevertheless there were tremendous advances in the next decade.
The English Channel was crossed by the Frenchman Louis Bleriot in 1909
and three years later the British set up the Royal Flying Corps. No
other country began the First World War with a properly trained air
|©2005 Nick Hardcastle. All Rights Reserved|