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Lecture 7

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Western University
History 1810E
Margaret Mc Glynn

History 1810E Monday January 27 Lecture 7 Gas, Bombs, and Submarines Outline: I. Gas II. Tanks III. Strategic Air Power IV. Unrestricted Submarine Warfare V. Modern War? “Lions being led by donkeys” • There were certain generals who were very bad and shouldn’t have been in command (eg. Turner in your readings from last week) • However, there were lots of good commanders as well with good ideas and who were willing to try new things and innovate to get better results o The problem was that it took people a few years to reach this level of command o eg. Arthur Curry (next week) 1. Gas • The First World War took place between the boundary between the old world and the new world • It was the first major war in which the most modern elements of technology could be put to use on the battlefield • Gas was introduced by the Germans as a “war winning weapon” o Gas was the technology (in their view) that would allow them to sweep the enemy from the battlefield and win the war in a single strike • Chlorine was used in Ypres o Soldiers described it as smelling like a mix of pineapple and pepper o Later gasses were odourless (made them more dangerous because you couldn’t detect it) o Chlorine affects the lungs, and in the worst cases, the victim is asphyxiated (the lungs are unable to take in oxygen) • Later gasses were more lethal (you needed to breathe in a lot of chlorine to be infected) o You could be perfectly normal for hours before it started to take affect • Mustard gas was another widely used gas o It was most dangerous as a liquid but was also a gas o It creates fluid-filled blisters on the skin (typically where your clothing rubs) that are very painful o You could also get internal blisters if you inhale it while it’s a gas • After the Germans used gas in April 1915, all sides started to use gas o New, more lethal gases were being invented o By 1917, everyone was using gas on all sides • Gas transformed the war into a nightmare where everyone was wearing gas masks (even the horses) • Gas was seen as a way to avoid big battles on land o The idea was that you could wipe out your enemies from a long range • However, gas as a battlefield weapon was largely a failure o Initially it created a lot of panic, but once soldiers learned about it and were trained with how to deal with it, it was relatively easy to defend against (the gas masks were fairly effective) o Writings from soldiers showed that they weren’t very worried about the gas (they were more afraid of an artillery shell or machine gun bullets)  They know that gas doesn’t kill many people as a whole  All sides had only a small percentage of casualties as a result of gas attacks (it wasn’t a military fear) 2. Tanks • The argument was that if people like Haig weren’t so opposed to the battle tank, they would have been used effectively o Huge gains would have been made, thousands of lives saved, the war would have been won much sooner • The tanks in used in 1917 weren’t very threatening (Mark I tank was the main model) • They were about 25’ long, and almost impossible to steer (big treads that wrap around the sides) • It was essentially a steel box, and the heat inside could be unbearable (it wasn’t uncommon for the crew to pass out) • It could only move 3.7 miles/hour • They couldn’t use wireless radio because the vibrations were too big, so they had to use carrier pigeons to communicate with others • It could only get you somewhere if it was in a straight line, overhead • It was virtually impossible to see out of it • The biggest danger wasn’t to the enemy, but of tanks running over their own infantry • They couldn’t go over anything that was ‘heavily shelled’ (basically the entire Western front) • They could be put out of action by shell fire (they were very visible and it wouldn’t be hard to hit an enemy tank) • They used flags to signal what they were doing o eg. a red, white, and blue flag would signal you were coming out of battle, which meant the enemy knew exactly what you were doing • Tanks would frequently end up in the trench • They didn’t have the technology to make this a useful weapon until the 1930s when they made smaller combustion engines that could move it more quickly across the battlefield 3. Strategic Air Power th • The airplane was arguably the most important new machine of the 20 century • At the time of the First World War, the airplane was a symbol for the “modern” o It was first fl
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