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Military Technology of the First World War

Wolfgang Fleischer
Translated from German by Geoffrey Brooks

It's a hefty hardcover book, definitely not for those with limited upper body strength, the author is a historian and works at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum, Dresden. If like me your poorly remembered German just about stretches to obtaining alcoholic drinks and tasty foodstuffs you'll be glad to know it's been translated for the linguistically challenged, however as you go deeper certain phrases or turn of phrase just doesn't seem to come across well, in my opinion. Whether that's due to my ignorance of the finer points of the Queen's English or whether some technical terms just don't translate well, I'll leave for you to decide.

As it's from the Imperial German Army's perspective it's crammed full of photographs that I've never seen before and uncovered a whole new perspective on the war that I'd never considered before.

After the introduction Command in Crisis, the first chapter deals with strategic resources and the German governments attempts to deal with it titled “The Administration of Scarcity“, it hints at one of the perennial problems of a landlocked nation with only limited access to the necessary logistical materials needed to wage all out war in the twentieth century.

The next Chapter deals with possibly the most emblematic weapon of the First World War; the Machine Gun, not only does it cover the various models the Germans used it also shows their tests of captured weapons, including plans to equip whole units with captured Lewis MG's.

Chapter three then covers the German's strategic approach to Trench Warfare and comprehensively covers Infantry Trenches, Fortifications and design of weapon positions the section on obstacles this chapter is very illuminating, and if you were ever an Assault Pioneer or (heaven forbid) a Sapper, you'll be engrossed. The portion regarding their attitude to tunneling operations and how the geological situation was considered highly important and how the local geology affected the selection of positions and defensive structures was revealing.

Chapter four deals with the Artillery and its title 'Rise of the Artillery' shows how the status and use of this arm changed throughout the war as it's importance changed. The various types and developments of the German Artillery arm are comprehensively covered.

Chapter five covers Tanks, both the initial German reaction and then attempts to both counter the threat of Allied tanks and then develop and produce their own Tank variants, including the use of captured models, again this was very interesting to me as my own Grandfather was a member of the Tank Corps.

The German attitude and use of the new Chemical weapons is covered in chapter 6 is highly detailed even giving all the various markings for the different shells used, it also covers the various delivery methods and in what strategic setting each would be used. While most of us believe that the development of chemical weapons and the first use was a specific German wartime effort, this covers pre-war developments including the fact that the French were leaders in this field having developed and actually used Tear Gas rifle grenades prior to the war. Indeed the first use, albeit ineffectively, was by French Pioneers against German fixed positions, the first use of artillery delivered chemical weapons were of an irritant type which actually started in October 1914 by the Germans, this did prove again quite ineffective. It covers in great detail the further development and the tactical deployment.

Now we come to my favourite chapter, seven, which details the various short range weapons used in the immediate battle area titled 'From the Catapult to the Mortar' it comprehensively covers the wide array of these type of weapons used by the German Army. It shows how the German Staff's interest was piqued by the siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, unlike our Army Mortars were considered Pioneer equipment instead of a weapon system and as such were manned by Pioneers.It displays all the various types employed and like all the other chapters is lavishly illustrated. For an old Mortarman it was very enjoyable, even though some of the pictures look like they've came straight from a Medieval Siege Train.

In chapter eight we come across the Flamethrower, here it's described how the first variants were actually developed from Fire Extinguishers and explains the German development. Again these were designated Pioneer equipment and it covers their deployment, again with numerous illustrations of the “Totenkopf“ Pioneers using the weapon system. It lists the total number of German Flamethrower attacks and gives a comparison table for the various marks and types the Germans employed.

Chapter nine covers the often forgotten logistical sinews, without which any campaign quickly comes unstuck, here we are introduced to the Germans logistical muscle. And in those one arena it appears that the Germans were slow to grasp the strategic lesson of standardisation and commonality of parts.

The final chapter covers the one arm of all combatants which truly came of age in the First War, military aviation. Not only did the development of aeroplanes rapidly increase from the flimsy reconnaissance models of the early years to the strategic bombers, air superiority and ground attack models all in wide use by the end of the war, but the strategic employment and understanding of their capabilities rapidly spread. The development and different types in use by the German Flying Corps is well documented from prior to the war up to the deployment of multi-engined bombers making raids on enemy cities It does cover the German airship efforts as well and examines their part in the Air campaign.

There is an extensive bibliography, if anybody wishes to try and decipher any of the original source material helpfully provided at the rear. Throughout it is well illustrated with photographs, line drawings and illustrations, not surprisingly the German women working in German munition factories look almost exactly the same as the pictures of British women working in munition factories at the same time and some of the propaganda examples match our propaganda in both it's message and style of delivery. Needless to say apart from the uniform differences and questionable facial hair choices the German soldiers look just like the Tommy Atkins, Poilu's and Doughboys on the other side.

It's an excellent and illuminating reference work full of interesting details, for those seriously interested in the period I would say it's a must have. Definitely a five out of five Mushroomheads from me.

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