…and the new technology of WW1

One of the saddest facts about World War I is that millions died needlessly because military and civilian leaders were slow to adapt their old-fashioned strategies and tactics to the new weapons of 1914. These new technologies made war more horrible and more complex than ever before. Zeppelins, a new type of rigid airship, brought the war home to people far from the front with their terror raids.

This was the first war conducted from the air, as well as on land and at sea. The first successful aeroplane flight had been in 1903. In WW1, planes were initially used only to observe enemy troops.

Zeppelins were used by Germany to bomb civilians, as in the raid on Camberwell in 1917. They were made of canvas and wood, later aluminium, and were essentially a kind of powered hydrogen balloon – which made them hard to steer and very vulnerable to fire.

The British forces also had airships – used especially for protecting shipping. However, one airship design promoted by a local engineer did not meet with success. Alfred John Liversedge, who lived in Herne Hill until 1915, was commissioned by the Royal Navy to work on a large rigid airship. The project was cancelled when it seemed unlikely to be ready before the war ended.

The tank was another new weapon, developed to break the stalemate on the Western Front. They were initially called ‘landships’, but were code-named ‘tanks’ to keep their production secret from German intelligence networks.

The most feared weapon of mass destruction of its day was poison gas, first used by the Germans during a surprise attack in Flanders (Belgium) in 1915.  Gas was released from large cylinders and carried by the wind into nearby enemy lines.

Perhaps the most significant technological advance during World War I was the development of the machine gun. This weapon was originally invented by an American, Hiram Maxim, in the 1880s but developed rapidly during WW1.