WWI & How It Changed Warfare


Alexander Atkinson, History Correspondent

The anniversary of WWI is coming up, that is if you follow the assassination version of how it started, and on June 28th, all it took was a sandwich to ignite the deadliest, first ever, worldwide war. Known as the “war to end all wars” and also the “great war,” WWI was long, confusing, and generally recognized as the first war using modern weapons and technology. This was the last of the “Gentleman’s Wars,” because those who did not change to the new ways died. Countries, like France, that kept cavalry, were beaten by German Maxim guns. The Russian government did not adapt to the needs and wishes that their people required and that spurred a revolution (see my previous article for more details). The whole war involved their armies, adapting to modern warfare. It was one where there is no glory in charging the enemy with swords and bayonets ready, only complete annihilation.

WWI started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed. Gavrilo Princip was part of a plot to kill him via grenade while he was going down a road in an open vehicle during a parade. The plan failed and injured one of Ferdinand’s men. The Archduke was upset and decided to see him that very day in the hospital. Princip was getting a sandwich at the local cafe when he saw Ferdinand’s car coming down the street.  Princip saw that he had another opportunity to assassinate the duke and he took it. He was successful and also killed his pregnant wife. This ignited the war, which truly began when Germany, Austria-Hungary’s ally, invaded France, Belgium, which was a British ally, and Russia almost consecutively.

When the war began, both sides were polite towards one another. At night, no one would attack. Everyone would meet out in No Man’s Land and trade food, play cards, find the wounded, and retrieve the dead. On December 25, 1914, there was a Christmas truce between the German regiment and Irish Regiment.  

Unfortunately, the war started to become worse, with the Maxim gun being used and the charges becoming suicidal. Improvements in artillery made it the number one man-made killer of the war. Gas was introduced and became a deadly tool as well. Tanks were also created, leading to large “landships” of death to kill all in their path. The battlefield became more of a hellscape and less of a glorious thing than it was in the past. Cases of PTSD started to show up and people were shell shocked. As weapons evolved, so did the tactics. There was more coordination than just charging the enemy, more night attacks and strategies, even more defenses.

This changed the ways we viewed war and how we react to it. It was the end of the “Gentleman Wars.” It was the first modern war.