5 WTF Facts About World War I – The Great War

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When you think about World War I, you probably picture machine gunners, gas masks, pointy little helmets, Snoopy mercilessly gunning down that Red Baron pizza guy … but as is so often the case, it turns out that history class presented us with an extremely narrow, kinda boring viewpoint for one of the world’s greatest conflicts. See, the Great War was also quite possibly the weirdest. That’s because …

#5. LANCES WERE USED ON THE SAME BATTLEFIELDS AS MACHINE GUNS

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Though it’s often considered the first modern war, World War I went down while most of humanity still took the word “horsepower” literally. A WWI battlefield was an odd and terrifying blend of the old and the new. Take Germany, for example, which had a reputation of being fairly high-tech at the time: Their army launched into the earliest battles of the war led by Uhlans — horse-mounted shock troops armed with 10-foot steel lances, then followed by the main units armed with machine guns and artillery.

This presumably inspired the Uhlans to ride faster

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The British were the first to introduce armored vehicles, in 1916 — the term “tank” was actually a code word intended to fool eavesdropping Germans into thinking they were discussing (inordinately deadly) water tanks.

Even then, the Brits relied heavily on horses to move artillery and supplies, drafting more than a million of them to slog through the muddy trenches of Belgium and France. By the end of the war — taking all sides into account — more than 8 million horses had died on the Western Front alone. But where’s their memorial, huh?

#4. LONDON WAS BOMBED BY GARGANTUAN GERMAN AIRSHIPS

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Remember The Blitz during World War II, when the Nazis bombed London for the better part of a year straight? Well, it turns out that was the big-budget sequel to an oft-forgotten original performance, which featured motherfucking Zeppelins.

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Germany’s airships were the only aircraft capable of making it across the English Channel and far enough up the Thames to rain hellfire on London, and from 1915 to 1917, that’s precisely what they did.

Problem was, though they undoubtedly looked metal as hell, the airships were basically just giant, floating bags of ludicrously flammable gas. While they initially operated at a higher altitude than the Brits could reach, improvements in anti-aircraft artillery soon transformed them into history’s biggest fireworks displays. And that’s when they were replaced by heavy bombers.

Said heavy bombers looked like this, by the way:

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Remember, the airplane was still a fairly new technology, so the first bombers were basically scaled-up biplanes with a big hole in the floor through which bombardiers dropped bombs. By hand.

#3. FRENCH TROOPS TOOK TAXIS TO THE BATTLEFIELD

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The Germans marched straight into Belgium and Northern France in August of 1914, opposed by only a small British force. German troops quickly reached the Marne River, just 35 miles east of Paris. German victory seemed imminent. Until General Joseph Gallieni (the military governor of Paris at the time) managed to strengthen the wavering Allied front lines by sending in waves of reinforcements.

Via taxi.

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That’s right: Gallieni hired 600 of the City of Light’s considerable battalion of cabs, and for the next 24 hours, a steady convoy of taxis carried carloads of French reserve troops to the battlefield the same way your drunk ass gets carried to the Taco Bell late Friday night.

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