How did the failure of Germany's Schlieffen Plan to quickly defeat France affect the future course of the war?
This German soldier was one of the many casualties of the fighting during World War I. Massive offenses and new military technology combined to produce extremely high casualty rates.
The enormous casualties suffered on the Western Front were due in part to the destructive power of modern weapons. Two significant weapons were the rapid-fire machine gun and the long-range artillery gun. Machine guns mowed down waves of soldiers. Artillery allowed troops to shell the enemy from more than 10 miles away. The shrapnel, or flying debris from artillery shells, killed or wounded even more soldiers than the guns.
Efforts to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare led to the use of poison gas. Early on, the French used tear gas grenades, but by 1915, the Germans began employing poison gas on a large scale. Even though the Allies condemned the use of poison gas, both sides developed and used different kinds of poison gases. Poison gas blinded or choked its victims or caused agonizing burns and blisters. It could be fatal. Though soldiers were eventually given gas masks, poison gas remained one of the most dreaded hazards of the war.
One British soldier recalled the effects of being gassed:
I suppose I resembled a kind of fish with my mouth open gasping for air. It seemed as if my lungs were gradually shutting down and my heart pounded away in my ears like the beat of a drum…. To get air into my lungs was real agony.
—William Pressey, quoted in People at War 1914–1918
Poison gas and machine guns are two examples of the military technology that killed and wounded so many. These British machine gunners wear gas masks during the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916.
Poison gas was an uncertain weapon. Shifting winds could blow the gas back on the soldiers who launched it. As both sides invented masks to protect against gas attacks, it became less useful.