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Cavalry

(738 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Cavalry The combat arm of the land forces that fought primarily on horseback. The increased firepower of the infantry had since the middle of the 19th century forced the cavalry into playing a diminished supporting role in military campaigns. Paradoxically, the size of the cavalry forces maintained by the European Powers rose continually throughout the period. At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all states uniformly modified the tactics and weapons of their mounted troops, creating a largely standar…

Steel Helmet

(503 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Steel Helmet Metal head covering worn by soldiers as a protection against blows, shrapnel, and small-caliber bullets. From 1915 onward, the high proportion of head injuries in positional warfare led the European armies to develop the steel helmet. In 1915, the French Army equipped its soldiers with a steel helmet made of light sheet steel, the so-called Adrian, which afforded only a little protection. The British Army followed suit shortly thereafter with the Mark I helmet. The typical flat design…

Vivat Ribbons

(248 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Vivat Ribbons Dedicatory and commemorative ribbons, imprinted with verses, that were distributed on special informal, court, business, or military occasions. Vivat Ribbons were usually narrow cloth ribbons from 30 cm to as much as 3 m long, and about 3–12 cm wide. First appearing in 18th century Prussia, they eventually spread to the rest of Germany as well as Austria-Hungary. Vivat Ribbons commemorating the First World War tended to measure about 40 cm × 6.5 cm. They were typically printed on the shiny side with Vivat followed by the date, and then the occasion. To this would be…

Flamethrower

(468 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Flamethrower Weapon designed for tactical attacks against military targets by means of a stream of fire. Flammable oil is sprayed from a pressurized container through a tube and automatically ignited upon leaving the tube. The development of flamethrowers began in Germany shortly before the First World War. The Germans produced heavy-duty stationary flamethrowers with a capacity to hold 100 liters of fuel oil, which had a range of about 50 m, and small, portable units with a fuel reservoir of 10 …

Assault Battalions

(304 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Assault Battalions Army formations that were raised specifically to be used in trench warfare and as training units. Beginning in 1916, the Germans deployed assault battalions primarily on the Western Front. France, Russia, and Austria-Hungary also fielded assault troops from 1917. The first German unit of this type, “Assault Battalion Rohr,” was organized in 1915 and initially comprised two pioneer companies. Its success led to the creation of 16 more assault battalions of this type, with infantry and pioneers p…

Mines

(208 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Mines Stationary defensive weapon. Mines are containers filled with explosives and equipped with a fuse that are laid for the purpose of destroying human and material targets. A distinction is generally made between land mines and naval mines. The development of mines capable of being easily transported began in the early twentieth century. During the First World War mines quickly came to play a significant role as a defensive weapon. Deployed in mine fields, as individual devices or dummy mines,…

Infantry

(964 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Infantry A branch of the armed forces; infantry is the term for foot soldiers. The infantry served as the main branch of the armed forces in the World War. Despite the increased firepower of the infantry, the concept of war held by the European armies originated in the dogma of the superiority of the offensive over the defensive. Tight formations of battle-hardened riflemen swarming over open terrain was the basis for the attack methods of the German infantry Once the infant…

Tank

(1,187 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Tank Originally a code name that is still being used in some countries today for a heavily armored fighting vehicle. Already prior to World War I, plans had been drawn up in Europe to develop an all-terrain armored fighting vehicle. Although armored cars had been developed, and the tracked vehicle concept was well, no known, no true armored fighting vehicles had been developed before the war. However, with the onset of positional warfare the question arose of how to achieve an operational breakth…

Big Bertha

(279 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Big Bertha Name popularly given to the 42-cm mortar on a wheeled carriage developed by the Krupp Company, and named after the eldest daughter of Friedrich Alfred Krupp. Commissioned by the Prussian general staff as a howitzer with the aim of destroying the modern fortifications located in Belgium and France along the line of the planned Prussian advance. In 1909 Krupp proposed the 42-cm short naval cannon 12/16, with the cover-name Gamma Device, often also referred to as dicke Bertha (BB). This platform gun was transported by rail and fired 930-kg shells up to a distance o…

Assault Troops/Stormtroops

(322 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Assault Troops/Stormtroops Small, well-equipped, and well-armed combat force, most often of platoon strength. A German assault unit ( Stosstrupp) was a diverse group of soldiers that were required and qualified to carry out limited objective operations. Assault or shock troops were armed with rifles, hand grenades, light trench mortars and flamethrowers, as well as light machine guns. Frequently they were accompanied by signal troops and combat engineers. As a rule these formations were commanded by experienced o…

Dumdum Bullets

(219 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Dumdum Bullets Bullets having their lead core left uncovered at the point (semi-jacketed bullet), or having an unjacketed, but cylindrically bored point (hollow-point bullet). Owing to their construction, the bullets have a somewhat reduced power of penetration. At a short distance, however, they produce large wounds that heal with difficulty. The bullets are named after the Indian town of Dum Dum, where a munitions factory first produced semi-jacketed bullets for the British forces in the 1890s. …

Combat Engineers

(819 words)

Author(s): Gross, Gerhard P.
Combat Engineers A branch of the army providing technical assistance to the armed forces in combat. European armies had been equipped with combat engineer units – often called “Pioneers” – since the mid-19th century. Their primary mission was the construction of entrenchments, roads, and bridges. Like the other branches of the army, the combat engineers of the German Reich were trained for mobile warfare. The goal was to create a modern, technological, battle support force to provide direct reinforcement in combat. Following the lessons of…