‘Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.’ Ludendorff
In WW1 mass warfare went hand in hand with mass production. The challenges of a war on such a huge scale were a catalyst for the rapid innovation of new technology. All innovations can be categorised in two ways; completely new ideas or refinements of old ones. They include not just the end product but also innovation of processes that would occur when making end products. Most innovations were soon combatted with a counter innovation; these limited the extent to which the original innovations could be counted as significant. Whereas, for example, the atom bomb is regarded as the single most significant moment of WW2 and was a turning point there was no comparable innovation that was seen as a turning point for WW1. Here I analyse three of the more important innovations and assess their impact on the events of the war and afterwards.
First invented in 1837 (and patented in 1874) and used to pen cattle it was nicknamed the ‘Devil’s Rope’. Military leaders spotted the idea and realised that it could pen in men too. This was very much a refinement; the previously long strands of razor sharp wire were coiled up to make human access far more difficult. The also experimented with lengthened and sharpened points and then bunching them closer together. Thickets, sometimes 40 metres thick were strewn in front of the frontline on both sides. Barbed wire was significant and arguably one of the most influential innovations. Essentially because it made it so difficult to move the frontline forwards. ...
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...rgument that neither side believed it to be significant or worthwhile enough to use again; it would cause retaliation. More recently there have been accusations of use in Syria and Iraq.
In all 3 cases examined the opposing side quickly learnt how to copy, overcome and then to improve upon the innovations. What seems significant is how quickly an innovation could be replicated (the barrier to entry) and overcome. In the case of tanks, the innovation caused an arms race in production. Barbed wire became less significant because it could be overcome and gas became a threat that has rarely been used however tanks have experienced an accelerated evolution; they are now key component to modern warfare and are capable of tasks previously considered absurd such as travelling at 73 km/h or being able to float in water. There are over 120,000 tanks in the world.
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