The World War II might be the bloodiest war in the history of mankind, but nothing affected Europe politically, socially and economically more than the WWI. Initially originated from the Balkans, the World War I lasted for four years from 1914-1918. It took millions of lives and costed countries billions and billions of dollars.
Do you know, many nations are still paying off debt they took during the World War I including Britain, Germany and United States. The British government paid their last installment of a loan in 2015.
But, the war also bought new possibilities. After the war, new industries like car and aircraft witnessed a boom. While new inventions in the field of medicine and armament were also registered, it all came at a price.
Below are 18 facts about World War that you should know. This article is divided into two sections; the upper section has detailed facts, while the lower section has smaller, yet intriguing facts.
Table of Contents
8. Most Successful Fighter Pilot of WWI
Manfred von Richthofen (in the cockpit) with other members of Jagdstaffel 11, 1917 Image Courtesy: German Federal Archive
Known as the “Red Barron”, Manfred von Richthofen was the most successful fighter pilot in the entire German Luftstreitkräfte (Air Force). He was also a popular figure among civilians. Widely considered as ace-of-aces, Manfred von Richthofen is officially credited with 80 successful air combat missions.
His French counterpart, Colonel René Fonck was the most decorated allied aviator in the First World War. During his illustrious career, he claimed 75 confirmed air victories and won numerous honors and awards.
7. Explosions on the War Fronts were Heard From Extreme Distances
Near the end of WWI, when the fortifications were needed impromptu, the landlines became the first choice for both sides. A group of specialized soldiers, dig tunnels and covertly penetrate enemy defenses to plant mines and detonate them at the appropriate time. They are an extremely potent weapon.
One such mine explosion occurred in 1917 at Messines Ridge, Belgium, where more than 408000 kg explosive was detonated in 19 tunnels at the same time. Several reports emerged that these explosions were heard 230 km away in London. The Messines detonation remains one of the most deadliest non-nuclear explosions in the history.
6. Every Week, 12 million Letters were Delivered to the War Front
The British postal network played a crucial role in improving the morale of English soldiers during the World War 1. From Britain, it took just over two days for a parcel or letter to reach a battlefront in France. Every week, more than 12 million letters from family and friends were delivered to soldiers.
It’s been estimated that by the end of the World War I, about 114 million parcels along with 2 billion letters have had been delivered and received successfully.
5. Causes of World War 1 Remain Controversial
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife moments before their assassination in 1914 Image Courtesy: Europeana Collection
To this date, the underlining causes of the war remain highly controversial. Experts in this matter are considering various socio-political, economical and territorial factors to understand exactly what caused the two rival powers to declare war on each other.
The meteoric rise of nationalism in Europe, a complex system of alliances at that time, ongoing arms race and decline of the Ottoman Empire are few other important long term factors that contributed to the conflict.
4. War Work Turned Many Women Skin Yellow
During the war, when almost every capable man went to the war zone, they were replaced by million of women in factories and farms. Long hours of work, poor sanitation and exposure to hazardous chemicals, especially in munition factories made them prone to fatal diseases, including toxic jaundice and anemia.
The principal source of toxins was TNT or Trinitrotoluene (common explosive), which can damage liver and cause discoloration of the skin when there is a direct contact. About 400 cases of jaundice were registered during the WWI, all of which were female munition makers, also known as ‘Canary girls’.
3. Plastic Surgery Owe its Emergence to the WWI
There is a popular proverb in English that says “Necessity is the mother of invention” and rightfully so, many groundbreaking inventions in the history of mankind occurred due to their need. One such invention took place in the World War I, when Sir Harold Gillies, the father of modern plastic surgery designed and implemented modern techniques to restore facial injuries of soldiers.
After working with the famous French surgeon Hippolyte Morestin on skin grafting, Gillies formed a specialized facial injury ward at the Cambridge Military Hospital, which was later upgraded to a hospital.
2. The Bloodiest Battle
The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive took place on the upper regions of the River Somme, France in 1916. It was perhaps the largest battle of the WWI since more than 3 million soldiers from either side were involved.
While both German and French armies sustained heavy losses, the magnitude of British losses were through the roof. The British Army lost about 60,000 soldiers in a single battle. In total about one million soldiers were killed.
1. The Aftermath
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors in 1919 by Willam Orpen
The end of WWI bought several major political, economical and cultural changes in almost every continent. It all started with the fall of four largest empires in Europe, namely, Ottoman, German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian. It was followed by blockade of Germany and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed between Germany and all the allied forces, including Britain, France and the United States. The treaty demanded that Germany, officially accepts sole responsibility for the war, which they did eventually.
In the east, fall of the Russian empire in 1917 triggered nationwide revolutions, which ultimately led to the formation of the USSR.
Few Quick Facts
10. The World War I has many names. From its onset in 1914, it was called the First World War or simply the World War. In many instances, the WWI was also called “the war to end all wars” due to its devastating outcome.
9. In 1914, Germans massacred more than 150 innocent civilians in Aerschot, a city in Belgium. It is believed that these executions were a part of German war tactics known as Schrecklichkeit or German “terror” towards civilians in the occupied regions during the WWI. Much similar tactics were used in France, Poland and Russia in later years.
8. About 33% of total military deaths in this war were caused by a massive outbreak of pandemic influenza also known as the Spanish flu. Out of all, the U.S troops were affected the most.
7. The WWI tanks had genders. Yes, you heard it correctly. During the early stages of the war, British forces used to classify their tanks as “males” and “females”. Male tanks are staked with cannons while female tanks generally carried heavy machine guns.
For example, the female version of the Mark I tank had five machine guns, whereas the male version had one missile launcher and three heavy machine guns.
6. Manufactured by the British in 1915, “little Willie” was the first ever prototype tank developed during the WWI. While it was never actively used in any battle, Little Willie played a crucial role in the further advancement of military technology. It is also the oldest surviving tank and is currently preserved in the Tank Museum, Bovington, England.
5. German troops were the first to employ flamethrowers in the World War. The modern man-portable flamethrowers have two main components – a backpack and a modified gun. The backpack has two cylinders, one with compressed gas (nitrogen) and the other carries flammable liquid such as napalm.
German flamethrowers on the Western Front , 1917. Image Courtesy: German Federal Archive
4. The Battle of Verdun was one of the longest and bloodiest battles in the World War I. Fought between the German and French armies on the Western Front from late February to mid December 1916, it claimed more than 300,000 lives. The battle resulted in decisive French victory.
3. More than one million troops, from India participated in the First World War. In fact, they outnumbered the British soldiers on numerous battle fronts in West Africa and Middle East. The Indian Army was also deployed in large numbers in the Mediterranean region.
While there is no official death toll, it is generally believed that as many as 70,000 Indian soldiers died during the War. In 1942, Field-Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army claimed that the British Empire “couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army”.
2. In January 1917, the British intelligence and cryptanalysts intercepted and deciphered a diplomatic message also known as Zimmermann Telegram from the German Foreign Office to Mexico suggesting a military alliance between the two nations. The message urged Mexico to declare war on the USA.
The British, however, refrained themselves from disclosing the contents of a message to the Americans instantly. Instead, they waited weeks before revealing the message to gain the crucial U.S support. Angered by this, America declared war on Germany in April 1917.
1. The World War I was without a doubt one of the deadliest wars in the human industry. It included more than 70 million soldiers from European, Asian and American nations. The total death toll reached 10 million soldiers, while nearly 7 million civilians also lost their lives.
German Revolution in 1918 Image Courtesy: German Federal Archive
Unsettled issues, public anger, political and economical instability caused by WWI triggered the Second World War which took more lives and drained economies of belligerents.