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What impact did new technology have on WW1?

There are lots of new technologies that only really came in to effect in WW1, I will go through each of them individually.

Machine Guns

The machine gun was a fairly simple device when general war began in August 1914. Machine guns of all armies varied heavily and decidedly ill-suited to portability for use by rapidly advancing infantry troops. Each weighed somewhere in the 30kg-60kg range - often without their mountings, carriages and supplies.

The 1914 machine gun, usually positioned on a flat tripod, would require a gun crew of four to six operators. In theory they could fire 400-600 small-calibre rounds per minute, a figure that was to more than double by the war's end, with rounds fed via a fabric belt or a metal strip.

The reality however was that these early machine guns would rapidly overheat and become inoperative without the aid of cooling mechanisms; they were consequently fired in short rather than sustained bursts. Cooling generally took one of two forms: water cooled and, increasingly as the war developed, air cooled. Water jackets would provided for the former (which held around one gallon of liquid) and air vents would be built into the machine gun for the latter.

Water cooled machine guns would still overheat relatively quickly (sometimes within two minutes), with the consequence that large supplies of water would need to be on hand in the heat of a battle - and, when these ran out, it was not unknown for a machine gun crew to solve the problem by urinating into the jacket.

Light machine guns were adopted too for incorporation into aircraft from 1915 onwards which enabled the pilot to fire the gun through the aircraft's propeller blades.In response to the increasing success of machine guns mounted on aircraft it was perhaps inevitable that machine guns should similarly be developed as anti-aircraft devices (in France and Italy), sometimes mounted on vehicles. Similarly machine guns began to be added to warships as a useful addition to naval armaments.


These were the new and upgraded versions of cannons. Never in the history of man, were there so many cannons used in one war alone. For four years the British had been using artillery and firing 170 million shells in that time. But Germany had a plan up their sleeve. For years, German scientists were developing the biggest artillery ever known. It was call the 'Big Bertha'. Big Bertha was so powerful it could fire at the heart of Paris from just under 75 miles away. The cannons weren't the only things that had been improved. The shells were upgraded as well. Instead of ordinary shells, new High-explosive shells were developed. The Shells were thin casings and were filled with tiny lead pellets. This was so effective, that artillery fire killed hundreds and thousands of men. It also blew the ground, which made hiding much more difficult.

Gas Grenades

These were highly toxic, and very effective weapons. The Germans had invented 3 main gas grenades. The first was Chlorine gas, which was used at the battle of Ypres in 1915, killing thousands. Second was Phosgene gas and third was Mustard gas. This burned the lungs of the inhaler leaving them to die in agony. Gas masks were issued to everyone in the country, but they weren't so useful and many people died. Although it is popularly believed that the German army was the first to use gas it was in fact first used by the French. In the first month of the war, August 1914, they fired tear-gas grenades (xylyl bromide) against the Germans. Nevertheless the German army was the first to look into the development of chemical weapons and the first to use it on a large scale.


Travel around WW1 was by train, horse or horse drawn vehicle was primary, but more miles were covered by foot miles at that time then anyting else. In 1914 the automobile was still in its infancy and aviation for mass transportation was pre-natal. By 1925 horsepower provided by horses was in serious decline.

Transportation greatly increased, as more troops were needed at battlefields and other places. British forces used everything from trains to lorries and even taxis. They transported 500 men in 1914; 250 taxis took the reserve troops to the Battle of Marne and thousands of lorries were used to transport troops to Verdun in 1916.


Tanks were giant blocks of metal that could carry 1-2 personnel and travelled at about 5 kilometres per hour. But scientists and developers kept making new and improved tanks and by 1918 the Anglo-American Mark 8th could carry up to 8 men, and at the same time fire 208 shells and up to 13,000 bullets. Although these tanks were powerful, they were not so reliable. Most broke down and a good example is the battle of Amiens. The British sent 525 tanks, and after four days, only 25 were left in working order. Rolls Royce also joined in the development of these tanks, by building their own armoured car! It could travel up to 88 kilometres and had 8mm machine guns.


During WW1, planes were armed with machine guns and weren't very accurate or effective, but everybody used them. Towards the end of the war they built bomber planes that could hold two to three bombs each. So, to have any effect, they had to build a lot of these types of planes.

There was about 70 different types of planes used during the war. Some of these are the Aviatik D.l, 5 different types of Junkers, Fokker E.L, Martinsyde G.100, and the Curtiss.

Later in the war zeppelins were used by Germany to do most of the attacking. The Germans would have huge fleets and at night they would attack London with them. But zeppelins weren't always used for attacking. They were used for transpiration too. After WW1 there was a famous Zeppelin called the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg was a huge zeppelin that carried several hundred people but unfortunately it exploded and crashed. There were very few survivors. This resulted in the end of these large airships being used for passenger service.

There was also one type of trainer plane that the US invented and let the allies use it. It was called the Curtiss JN-4.

Naval ships

At the end of 1916 a Shipping Controller was appointed by the British Government with wide powers to provide and maintain an effective supply of shipping. An extensive shipbuilding programme was started and it was decided that ships would be of a simple design. Orders were also placed for ships in the United States through the Cunard Steamship Co and a considerable number built in Canada. In the Far East, orders were placed for steamers built in Japan and also with British shipyards in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

All these ships were given names prefixed with WAR, but just after the United States entered the war in 1917, they used and took all ships being built and only a few were delivered bearing their original intended names. Many of these cancelled names were re-allocated to British built ships.

After the Armistice in 1918, many of the standard ships being built were sold to shipping companies and completed to their owner's specifications. Excluding orders to United States shipyards, 821 ships were ordered. 416 were completed to Government order, 279 were sold to private companies before completion and the remaining orders were cancelled.

Fourteen of these ships were lost in WWI, but they were lost in large numbers during WWII.

The Rifle

Despite advances in machine gun, mortar and grenade technology, all remained relatively bulky and heavy in comparison to the rifle, which remained the most crucial, ever-present infantry weapon throughout World War One.

The difficulty with these former weapons were their unwieldiness. While the infantry moved forward during a raid or attack the machine gun invariably proved impractical, both in terms of managing the machine gun itself but as much for the weight of the rounds of ammunition required to keep it serviceable.

As for the mortar, the fact that it was a one-shot weapon reduced its effectiveness. Grenades certainly had their role during a raid, but carrying buckets of supplies quickly proved tiring, and supplies generally ran out quite quickly.

This left the pistol and the rifle, both key weapons on the battlefield, although the pistol was used less as an offensive weapon than the rifle, and were generally issued to officers rather than regular soldiers.


In conclusion technology played an integral role in WW1 for numerous reasons including the fact that some battles, like the Somme, were fought around technology, in the Somme's case Artillery was the prime technology of choice.

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13y ago
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13y ago

Technical advancements were key to fighting in WWI. Key weapon improvemnts are: the machinegun, heavy artillery, howitsizers, grenades, mortars, and bolt action rifles. These weapons had a consequence, you had to fight from trenches.

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airplanes were the most different.

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Q: How was the technology in World War I?
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