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The Great War
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New Weapons of War
Peter Simkins
"The nature of modern artillery fire and the effects of machine gun fire… were surprising in the degree to which they affected the battle.

"But, I think, that one must point out that the British, the French, and others had gone to war with relatively modern weapons: quick firing artillery pieces, machine guns. Whether they had enough of them, is not the question here. They did have machine guns, and they did have modern bolt action rifles, and there were aircraft at the Front. So to say that modern war took them by surprise is not strictly accurate.

"It's a question of degree rather than modernity.

"It's the intensity – the overwhelming nature of the modern weapons in the degree of destruction; the effects they had on men's ability to remain above ground in the battlefield without suffering horrendous casualties – I think this is what surprises.

"The combination of artillery fire and the machine gun inevitably, in 1914, made soldiers on both sides seek cover. In a sense, however big your unit was, the modern firepower simply made you seek cover to remain a coherent force on the battlefield. Therefore, you look to a drainage ditch, or hole in the ground; and at night, you dug the link between these two. You scrape a foxhole; you try to hold this with your skimpy force, particularly if you have a small army like the British. And over a period of days, if you weren't being attacked physically by some sort of oncoming infantry, you would elaborate the system a little more.

"This was going on – on both sides – in late 1914, in November, early December. They're not trenches in the sense of the great elaborate systems of the later period of the war. But you've got the first scrapings, if you like, a single line on both sides."

 
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