Sparked by the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, World War I was the most devastating world wars in history. The war that lasted for four good years and claimed the lives of more than twenty million people, including 113,000 United States soldiers and another more than twenty million wounded. This war that took place in the early 20th century saw the use of the most advanced military weapons at that time, including poisonous gas, new weapons, and trench warfare. According to history, the superpower nations had tension way before the death of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The European countries couldn’t stand each other because of their desire to dominate Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy joined forces against France, Russia, and Great Britain. America, on the other hand, had vowed not to get involved with the fights in the European countries, but during Woodrow Wilson’s term, things got out of hand. In their bid to deliver weapons to Britain, the boat carrying US soldiers was submerged by the Germans. Here are the top ten facts about World War I that you probably didn’t know about.
1 Women Took Over the Roles of Men
As the war escalated in 1914, many men joined the military to fight. This created a gap in the work sector that was previously occupied by men. Before the war, women worked and had their lives on domestic duties. When the war broke out, there was a high demand for weapons on the battlefield. To meet the demand, women were forced to work in the manufacturing industries. Some women worked as conductors, guards, police, firefighters, bank tellers, and clerks. Those who worked on munitions factories faced health hazards due to a lack of proper protective measures while handling chemicals. An estimated 400 women died from chemical exposure.
2 World War I Led to the Birth of Plastic Surgery
During the First World War, soldiers went to the battlefields armed with deadly weapons but with no protective gear. This exposed them to injuries from gunshots and poisonous gases. Those who participated in trench warfare suffered facial injuries. This is because they buried their bodies inside the trenches and left their heads exposed and at the mercy of gunshots and shrapnel. The war survivors with facial injuries faced new challenges. Having a disfigured face.
On seeing the face disfigured soldiers, Harold Gillis embarked on a healing journey to fix them. Having studied medicine at Cambridge, Harold used his skills and expertise to fix the injured soldiers. His first success was on Lieutenant William Spreckley. The reconstruction process took three years to heal completely and marked a significant milestone in the medical industry. Many other soldiers had their disfigured faces reconstructed.
3 Motor Ambulances Were Used During WWI for the First Time
Motor ambulances date back to the 19th century. However, their widespread use became evident in the 20th century during World War I of 1914-198. The high number of injured soldiers on the battlefield called for the need to use motor ambulances. Initially, horse wagons were used to transport the injured soldiers to the hospitals. However, the journey was agonizing to the patients because of the rough roads that made the trip unbearable.
In October 1914, the British Red Cross appealed for ambulance funds and raised enough money to buy 512 ambulances. Despite the high cost of motor vehicles during that time, the Red Cross was able to buy more than one thousand ambulances in January 1915. By the end of the war, the Red Cross had dispatched 3,446 motor vehicles to help the wounded servicemen.
4 16,000 British Troops Refused to Fight
Being in the military means you have to abide by the rules and commands. However, during the First World War, more than sixteen thousand British soldiers went against the norm and said no to fight. As the war progressed, many fighters were killed, and there was a need to recruit more to replace the lost soldiers. To meet this demand, men were forced to train and go to the battlefield. In the process, some men refused to fight because of various reasons, including religion.
This group of men was referred to as conscientious objectors, and this was punishable by law. Those who refused to fight were forced to appeal before the public, but most courts were strict and tough to challenge. Most men ended up joining other parts of the war, for example, the medical part by rescuing and helping the wounded soldiers. However, some ultimately refused to participate and were either killed or sent to prison for refusing to prioritize “matters of interest to the nation.”
5 A Pigeon Saved More Than 500 US Soldiers
This is another interesting fact about the First World War. During the war, the only means of communication was through radio calls. However, they were not very reliable as they depended on wires which were often sabotaged by the enemies. Setting up the wire lines was another hard task. It was for this reason that the American Army employed the services of a pigeon. An average homing pigeon could run fifty miles per hour, making it the fastest means of communication at that time. However, pigeon too was a risk means of communication as they became a target and seen as an enemy.
Also, the enemy could intercept the information from the bird easily. Many of them were killed except for one named Cher Ami. Cher Ami was part of the 600 pigeons used by the American Army for communication during the war. Trapped by the German lines, the American troops were running out of supplies, and the number of casualties kept rising. With no means of communication, major Whittlesey used Cher Ami as his last resort and last pigeon they had as the Germans killed the earlier sent pigeons. Cher Ami flew against all the odds and delivered the crucial message to the base. The artillery stopped, and the lives of 500 American soldiers were saved. The bird survived the war but died in 1919.
6 Soldiers Used a Piece of Cloth to Protect Against Poisonous Gases
One of the deadly war weapons used during the First World War was poisonous gases. These gases were lethal and maimed thousands of soldiers in a matter of minutes. The troops had no proper defense mechanisms to protect themselves. To elevate the situation and soldiers, the fighters used a urine-soaked piece of cloth to cover their mouths. Despite the efforts to protect them from the poisonous gases, more than ninety thousand people died from the poison, and many others lost their lives after the war due to the adverse effects of the gas.
7 Tanks Were First Used During World War I
Tanks are armored vehicles that combined military fires with protection to attack the enemy. Armored vehicles date back to the 18th century. They were manufactured in top secrecy and were known as the land ships. It was until the First World War that these tanks became of high demand by the British soldiers. The first tank to be used in the war was known as Little Willie. It was twelve feet long and weighed fourteen tons. It also had a capacity of three soldiers and traveled at three miles per hour, and the speed could drop to two miles an hour on rough ground.
To add, it was unable to cross trenches. Lieutenant Walter G. Wilson and William Triton worked on improving Little Willie to a more advanced armored vehicle. They extended its length, thus helping the tank grip on the ground more firmly and lowered its center of gravity to give it more stability. This tank was named Mark I. This type of vehicle was able to cross the widest trenches. The tanks operated in secrecy until September 1916 when newspapers were allowed to report the use of tanks in France.
8 Germans Used Zeppelins
In a bid to scare away British soldiers in the trenches, German soldiers raided cities in Britain using Zeppelins. Aircraft at that time was new, and Zeppelins came in handy. They were able to carry up to 2 tons of bombs and travel at a speed of 85 miles per hour. This type of military weapon was made of steel and filled with hydrogen making it lighter than air. The German soldiers attacked their enemies unannounced and rage havoc. The first batch of airships left Germany on October 1, 1916, and headed towards Britain’s capital loaded with deadly bombs.
However, the effectiveness of this weapon didn’t last as long as the British soldiers’ devised ways of sabotaging it. The British soldiers launched the use of anti-craft guns. A shot from these guns ignited the hydrogen gas in the Zeppelins, sending them into flames. The 51 Zeppelins used in World War I killed 557 and injured more than a thousand others. It is also estimated that the Zeppelins dropped a total of 5,806 bombs.
9 World War I Led to Food Rationing in Combatant Countries
The war not only disrupted the lives of civilians but also caused hunger. Men went to war with horses that were relied on in the agricultural sector, especially in Britain. This led to a decrease in food production while the need for the same food escalated. A large portion of the food was sent to the soldiers in the front line, leaving civilians hungry. It is estimated that Britain used to send 30 million kilograms of meat every month to its soldiers on the battlefield.
As the war advanced, the supply of food was severely affected. Germans sank ships ferrying food to Britain, and the same case was applied to Germans. Long queues for food were standard in Britain and France. In Germany and Hungary, on the other hand, civilians died of hunger. In the later stages of the war, Britain introduced food rationing so that all people could get food. This made the rich understand how it felt to go hungry, and the poor understand how it felt to get enough food.
10 British Soldiers Used Cloth Caps
At the start of the war in 1914, the British soldiers went to the battlefield donning cloth caps that were made of khaki-drab wool. The Canadian troops also used this type of cap. The design of this cap was appealing to soldiers on parade but was not fit for soldiers in the war front. It left ears and the face exposed to harsh cold during winter and deadly gunshots. This made Britain manufacture a more advanced helmet in early 1915. This led to the introduction of Brodie helmets. This type of helmet was made from steel and was capable of protecting the head from artillery injuries. The shortcomings of the Brodie Helmet continued to improve as the war progressed.