World War I

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How did technology affect World War I and its outcome?

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World War I came at the time of massive technological advancement. Consequently, technological advances such as the heavy machine gun, long-range artillery, poison gas, airplanes, the armored tank, and the radio greatly impacted the outcome and course of the war. One issue that led to the stalemate and massive casualties,...

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World War I came at the time of massive technological advancement. Consequently, technological advances such as the heavy machine gun, long-range artillery, poison gas, airplanes, the armored tank, and the radio greatly impacted the outcome and course of the war. One issue that led to the stalemate and massive casualties, especially on the Western Front, was that military tactics had not kept up with this technology.

Many of the military tacticians and generals were eager to adopt these new technologies but did not understand how to effectively fight a war that involved them. Some were still using tactics from the Napoleonic wars which proved disastrous in the face of new weapons. Charging en masse against machine guns and over barbed wire, led to a massive amount of casualties. For instance, the first day of the Battle of the Somme saw 57,470 British casualties.

In the face of such high casualties, the opposing armies got bogged down in a quagmire defined by fortified trenches separated by a deadly no man's land. It is unclear if these new technologies, and the high numbers of casualties that they caused, lengthened or shortened the war. Since they resulted in the stalemate on the Western Front, they may have prolonged the war by stopping the successful movement of the opposing armies which may have led to a decisive victory early on. On the other hand, the high levels of casualties that they caused may have compelled opposing leaders to finally make their armistice in the autumn of 1918 when they otherwise would have held out longer.

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Technology ultimately led to a stalemate on the Western Front that lasted from the end of 1914 to the summer of 1918. Machine guns made killing fields between the trenches and made large-scale offensives very costly. This turned the war into a war of attrition, which Germany, outnumbered by the Entente, would ultimately lose. Both sides measured advances in terms of meters instead of kilometers, and by 1918, both sides were sick of the huge losses in the name of small gains.

Technology also placed civilians on the front lines of the war. Large pieces of artillery could shell Paris from miles away, killing civilians who did not view themselves as combatants. Air raids from blimps and early bombers terrorized civilians in major cities. This would foreshadow even more destructive attacks in World War II. German submarines attacked shipping and troop transports, though the most notorious attack by a German submarine was the attack on the Lusitania in 1915. While these attacks did not have a direct role in the German armistice, they did serve as propaganda material against the Central Powers. Britain also cut the transatlantic cable early in the war to ensure that only Entente-friendly news reached the United States, a power that both sides coveted for men, money, and material early in the war.

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World War I was interesting because it took place at a point of massive technological advancement. Over the course of the war, tanks and airplanes were being designed—inventions that would have been considered wild figments of the imagination only years earlier.

On the Western Front, the Allies began using machine guns and artillery fire to more effectively attack their opponents. When superior technology from the other army matched this, development continued, eventually forcing the use of poison gas. Soon, tanks and airplanes were developed well enough to make an impact, and the Allies broke through, defeating the opposing armies. Later, this technology would be co-opted for the Axis powers in World War II, with Germany building better planes and smaller and faster tanks, but in the meantime, it saved the day in World War I.

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Technology had a major impact on the way that World War I (WWI) was fought and somewhat of an impact on the result of the war.  Technology helped turn WWI into a war (at least on the Western Front) of murderous trench warfare.  Eventually, though, technology in the form of tanks helped to break up the stalemate.

Two major new technologies were machine guns and rapid-fire artillery.  These inventions made it much easier for an army to fight defensive battles.  Because armies became so adept at defending, it was very hard for attacking armies to break through defensive lines.  This meant that WWI became a stalemate that was fought between entrenched armies.  The machine guns and artillery wreaked a horrible toll on soldiers who tried to attack entrenched enemy positions.

With the stalemate, armies turned to poison gas to try to gain an advantage.  This was another new technology that made the trench warfare in WWI so murderous and so horrible for the soldiers.  However, the poison gas did not really do anything to help determine the outcome of the war.

The only technology that had a major impact on the result of the war was the tank.  Tanks helped break through the stalemate on the Western Front.  Eventually, tanks helped the Allies defeat the Central Power.  They are the only technology that had an important impact on who won the war.

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