Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

HIS 382: World War I: Digitized Documents

Air Warfare


At the beginning of the First World War, airplanes were seen solely as reconnaissance vessels, but by the end of the war, they would play a crucial role. The American Escadrille, also known as the Lafayette Escadrille, was composed of American aviators who volunteered for combat duty with the French Air Force before the United States entered the war.


The use of balloons in warfare had been occurring since the eighteenth century. During World War I, balloons provided an optimal vantage point from which to direct field artillery.

Eddie Rickenbacker

Eddie Rickenbacker, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, was an American fighter pilot who participated in World War I. The Lafayette Escadrille was composed of American aviators who volunteered for combat duty with the French Air Force. A skilled mechanic and flyer, Rickenbacker downed his first German plane on March 29, 1918. He earned the Medal of Honor for attacking seven German planes and downing two of them.

Land Warfare

First Ypres (1914)

The First Battle of Ypres, fought between October 13 and November 22, 1914, was a result of Germany's drive to seize the ports of Belgium and northern France. The First Battle of Ypres marked the last major battle in which maneuverability played a pivotal role and also ushered in the era of trench warfare. Before its end, the French and British combined would sustain casualties of over 116,000 men, while the Germans would see casualties in excess of 130,000.

Gas and Flame

World War I witnessed the emergence of new technology. Two new weapons, chemical artillery shells and flamethrowers, played a significant role in World War I. The Germans first utilized chemical warfare at the Second Battle of Ypres (See “Ypres” for an eye-witness account) on April 22, 1915. The Germans used primarily three different types of gasses: chlorine, mustard, and sneezing gas. During World War I, chemical warfare would be responsible for 500,000 casualties. Using compressed oxygen, and later nitrogen, to propel flames up to seventy yards, flamethrowers were used to shock soldiers, especially new recruits. First implemented by the Germans at Bois de Malancourt, flamethrowers were ineffectual weapons after their initial shock wore off.


The Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916) was an attempt by the Allies to force Turkey from the war by capturing the Dardanelles. Although Winston Churchill considered it an excellent plan, the Gallipoli Campaign would eventually result in the greatest evacuation of British troops until the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. Part of the faulty planning consisted of not taking into account the terrain, which gave a distinct advantage to the defending Turks. One man who would discover this difficulty first hand was Major John Gillam.


The Second Battle of Neuve Chapelle and the Second Battle of Ypres witnessed the effective implementation of three new weapons: massive artillery fire, wire, and chlorine gas. In the Second Battle of Neuve Chappelle, the British used massive artillery fire to soften up the German position, but when the British attempted to capture the city, the places where the artillery fire had not been thorough enough to destroy the barbed wire, the British could not advance and were slaughtered by German machine gun fire. In the Second Battle of Ypres, chlorine gas was used by the Germans in an attempt to breat the French lines, but even with this new weapon the Germans could not break the lines.


The First Battle of the Marne (September 5, 1914-September 10, 1914) was one of the bloodiest encounters of World War I. Both the Germans and the French sought to deliver a quick, decisive defeat to the other. The German's Schlieffen Plan, and France's Plan XVII brought the opposing armies into contact. When the Battle of the Marne occured, the French had already suffered over 67,000 casualties. Although the Germans claimed victory, the Battle of the Marne put an end to both sides' hopes of a quick decisive victory.

Mesopotamian Theater (Kut)

With the entrance of the Ottoman Empire into World War I in October of 1914, Mesopotamia became an active theater. Although they experienced some initial success, the British army in Mesopotamia would face enormous adversity.


Employing over 850,000 American combat soldiers, the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, conducted in southeastern France, was the final and most important campaign fought by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The AEF outnumbered the German troops eight to one, but the Germans held strong defensive positions. From the beginning of the campaign on September 26, 1918 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the AEF would suffer 117,000 casualties, while the Germans would suffer 100,000. The Meuse-Argonne Campaign was instrumental in ending WWI. Through the efforts of the AEF, the Germans found themselves outflanked and decided that they could not win the war.


With the advent of trench warfare, the use of artillery proved problematic. Traditional artillery could not deliver the explosive at a steep enough angle to inflict damage. To solve this dilemma, the three major powers involved in World War I developed mortars, which had the added advantage that they could be fired from the safety of the trench.


The Battle of the Somme was a massive engagement which occurred in northern France in 1916. Lasting from July 1 to November 19, the Battle of the Somme incurred 57,470 British casualties and a comparable number of German casualities on the first day of the battle alone. It was during the Battle of the Somme that tanks first made their appearance on the battle field. While the British did have some success in the battle, the overall outcome was negligible. The Barrle of the Somme did prove that if one was willing to accept the losses, it was possible to break strong defensive lines.


Tanks first came into being furing WWI. General E.D. Swinton, who is given the credit of developing the first tank, saw the new weapon as an effective means of defeating strong defensive points, which were becoming prominent during the First World War. The First Lord of the Admirality Winston Churchill secured the approval of the British government for the development of the tank. Tanks could negotiate barbed wire, ditches, and especially trenches. The first effective tank was the Mark I, which was first used in combat in September of 1916.


The Battle of Tannenberg, which occurred from August 22, 1914 to August 29, 1914, rendered the Russian Army ineffective for the remainder of the war, allowing the Germans to concentrate on the western front. The German Army under Paul Von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff surrounded and defeated the Russian Army commanded by Alexander Samsonov, who would later committ suicide. The Germans, who lost 20,000 men, captured 90,000 Russian soldiers.

Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare had become a fixture in World War I by the end of 1914. Faced with a static front line, both the Allied and the Central Powers dug in. At the beginning of the war, Trenches were no more than crude ditches dug solely for the purpose of avoiding frontline fire, but by the end of the war, they would be complex structures stretching across the Wester Front.


Wire became a fixture of modern warfare during World War I. It was implemented to impdes enemy advances.

Psychological Warfare

Psychological Warfare

World War I witnessed the advent of large-scale psychological warfare. Psychological warfare is divided into three types: white, gray, and black. White psychological warfare is blatantly subversive and from a clear origin. Gray psychological warfare has no stated origin. Black psychological warfare attempts to come under the auspices of a credible source.

Psychology of War

Psychology of War

World War I left many questioning why the war had occurred. John T. MacCurdy harkened back to the ideas of Wilfred Trotter, a social psychologist, for the answers. Trotter claimed that three different types of herd life dominated the interactions of peoples: those who united for aggression, those who united for protection, and those who united for productiviity.

Sea Warfare


By the beginning of 1916, Germany was cut off from the ocean by the British navy. The attempt by the German Navy to break this naval blockade resulted in the Battle of Jutland. On May 31, 1916, the Germans under Vice Admiral Franz Hipper lured the British Fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, into an encounter near the peninsula of Denmark that projects into the North Sea. By the end, the British had lost 6,096 men as well as fourteen ships. The Germans had lost 2,551 men and eleven ships. The British losses were greater, they were able to continue the blockade.


After their defeat at the Battle of Dogger Bank as well as Britain’s continual naval blockade of Germany, on February 4, 1915, the German government declared the waters surrounding Great Britain a war zone. On May 7, 1915, the S.S. Lusitania came under fire by a German submarine and was sunk, killing 1,201 passengers, over 100 of which were Americans. This event nearly brought the United States into direct military conflict with Germany. It was later proved that the Lusitania was carrying 4,200,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, a claim which the Germans had made in justifying their attack on the vessel.


The potential of submarines became clear during World War I. While all the participatory nations already possessed submarines by 1914, the Germans relied heavily on U-boats due to Britain's naval blockade of Germany. The German submarines were extremely effective weapons. In May of 1915, German U-boats sank fifty-two ships. One of these ships was the Lusitania. After 128 Americans lost their lives as a result of the Lusitania incident, the United States nearly allied themselves with the Allies against Germany. In 1916, the invention of hydrophones and depth charges put an end to a submerged submarine's invincible status.

© 2016 McGovern Library, Dakota Wesleyan University

Contact us: McGovern Library | Ph. 605.995.2618 | Fax 605.995.2893 | 1200 W. University Ave, Mitchell, SD 57301