World War I - Weapons and Technology

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Though they may seem primitive today, the weapons and technology used during World War I completely revolutionized the way wars were fought. These weapons and technologies also had a significant impact on the outcome of the war. From the use of machine guns and bolt-action rifles, to the popularization of grenades, poison gas and finally tanks, World War I set the stage for all wars that followed it. This war also helped troubleshoot many of the problems with these technologies, helping streamline warfare for years to come. In Part 6 of our series on WWI, learns more about the weapons and technology used during the First World War.


Mainly, soldiers used bolt-action rifles. These were capable of firing approximately ten rounds per minute. Machine guns were used by large powers, however were only useful in stationary battles as they were larger and less mobile. Heavy siege guns such as Germany’s Big Bertha also were important in the battles of World War I.


Grenades had already seen battle before World War 1. In fact, the earliest appearance of grenades was way back in the eighth century in the Byzantine Empire. However, in the years before the First World War, the use of these explosives was on the rise. In fact, shortly before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot dead, the moment that started the war for many, a hand grenade had been used in another attempt on the Archduke’s life.

Home-made Grenades

Early on, the demand for grenades was so high, that many were encouraged to improvise and make their own grenades. British soldiers used what they called Jam Tin Grenades. Just as the name implies, they were built with the tins that held the soldiers’ rations, such as jam. However, repeated incidents with these improvised grenades, as well as the appearance of manufactured ones such as the Mills Bomb, led to a decline in their use. The British Army adopted the Mills Bomb in 1915.

poison Gas

One of the biggest innovations during World War 1 was the use of poison gas. In fact, the widespread use of different poisons even had many calling the First World War the chemists’ war. The French were the first to use gas during the war. In August 1914, they used grenades filled with tear gas to combat the Germans. In 1915, the Germans began to use chlorine, the first gas considered lethal. Mustard Gas became a significant source of dread for soldiers, as simple exposure to it could burn flesh and cause massive blisters. However, as the use of various gases increased, soldiers became more prepared to confront them. It has been estimated that only about four per cent of the deaths in the war can be attributed to gas.


The first use of the tank took place during World War I as well. The British and the French led the way in developing tanks, while the Germans focused on anti-tank weapons. Initially tanks had been brought in as a solution to the stalemate caused by trench warfare on the western front. The first appearance on the battlefield was in 1916. The British rushed them into combat, and consequently many were plagued with reliability issues. The heavily bombed out terrain proved difficult to navigate, and only the most mobile tanks were successful. Nevertheless, the appearance of tanks increased throughout the war, as the issues with earlier models were addressed. In the end, British and French tanks played a significant role in the Allied victory.