world war i: trench warfare

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On November 4, 1918, Wilfred Owen (b. March 18, 1893) was killed in action. Owen wrote some of the best poetry on World War I, with imagery that unflinchingly details the terrors of trenches and gas warfare. Imbued with confidence from mentor Siegfried Sassoon, much of his poetry also refuses to shy away from his feelings as a gay man. A mere five of his poems were published during his lifetime. When Owen died one week before the Armistice, he was only 25 years old.

Two armed German soldiers wearing heavy coats posing in a trench during World War 1, location unknown.

Source: University of Kentucky.

Hinterkaifeck Murders

The Hinterkaifeck murders are one of the most chilling and mysterious crimes in German history. The Gruber family was composed of Andreas, his wife Cazilia, their widowed adult daughter Viktoria, and her children, little Cazilia and Josef. They also had a maid named Maria Baumgartner in their employ (poor Maria only worked one day before she was killed; the previous maid had left because she believed the house was haunted). They lived on a little farmstead calledHinterkaifeck, around 40 miles from Munich.

Andreas reported some mysterious circumstances to neighbors in late March of 1922; he’d seen a set of footprints leading from the forest toward his farm, but none heading back. Even stranger, he heard footsteps in his attic and found a strange newspaper. A set of housekeys went missing. And then, on March 31, the entire family was murdered in the barn, one by one, with a pickaxe. They were found a few days later. It was determined that whoever had done the killing remained on the farm for awhile; the neighbors saw smoke from the chimney, and the animals were fed. While police initially believed the motive was robbery, they dismissed the idea when a large amount of cash was found in the house.

To this day, no one knows who murdered the Grubers. The Munich Police Department investigated for decades, but no suspect was never brought to justice. Some believe the killer was Viktoria’s husband Karl Gabriel, who’d been branded killed in action during trench warfare during World War I. Karl’s body was never found.

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New Guinea during World War I — The Battle of Bita Paka and the Siege of Toma,

While World War I typically brings up scenes of trench warfare from the Western Front. However World War I was fought by people from all over the world on battlefields all over the world. Before World War I, New Guinea was divided in two, the northern half controlled by Germany, the southern half British (administered by Australia). The islands of New Guinea were especially important for Germany because they were home to many supply and communications stations for the German East Asiatic Squadron, a fleet of cruisers which harassed Allied shipping in the Pacific and Indian Ocean throughout the war. 

As soon as the war began, the Australian government and military began planning for an operation to seize New Guinea. It would become the first independent Australian military operation and result in the first Australian casualties of the war. The operation was conducted by the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, consisting of 3,000 soldiers and sailors. Australia was quickly able to seize most of New Guinea without resistance, however at a radio station at a small village called Bita Paka on New Britain Island was a force of 61 German soldiers and 240 native police who were determined to fight.

On September 11th, 1914 a force of 500 Australian soldiers approached Bita Paka intent on capturing the radio station. There they were met by the German and native soldiers who fought a retreating skirmish, until eventually the settled into trenches and fortifications. The Germans had intended to draw the Australians into a trap, a  pipe mines which were to be detonated when the Australians advanced across a road. However the Australians were able to locate and disable the mine, foiling the German plans. 

With superior numbers, the Australians were able to quickly outflank and overwhelm the German lines. The Germans retreated 19 miles through the dense jungle to the village of Toma, hoping to hold out until the East Asiatic Squadron arrived with reinforcements. However, the Australians would follow them with a 12 pounder artillery piece and commence bombardment of the village.  Most of the native soldiers fled in panic, convincing the Germans to surrender. One German officer named Hermann Detzner escaped into the jungle with 20 native soldiers, where he spent the rest of the war in hiding.  At the end of the operation six Australian soldiers were dead and four wounded. The Germans suffered 1 German officer dead, 30 native soldiers killed, and 11 wounded. 

Hiram Maxim with his invention, the Maxim Gun, the first portable and practical machine gun. He invented it in 1883, and it soon transformed warfare. The Maxim gun was used in a number of conflicts, especially in European colonies, over the next decade or so, and led to more refined versions that influenced the terrible trench warfare of World War I.

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The Iran-Iraq war has been compared to World War I in terms of the tactics used, including large-scale trench warfare with barbed wire stretched across trenches, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, human wave attacks across a no-man’s land, and extensive use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas by the Iraqi government against Iranian troops.

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The “trench warfare” modified Gewehr 98,

During World War I the Mauser designed Gewehr 98 bolt action rifle served as the primary service arm of the German military.  However the experiences of trench warfare showed that the Gew 98 needed some improvements in order fit in with WWI combat.   One issue with Gew 98 was its magazine capacity.  At five rounds it was on par with the rifles used by many of its enemies, however it was outclassed by the ten round magazine sported by the British Lee Enfield.  

To improve the Gew 98, special kits were made to modify existing rifles in service.  The most important modification was the addition of a 25 round magazine.  To install the user simply removed the existing floorplate on the rifle and replace it with the extended magazine.  The magazine was a fixed magazine that could not be removed, rather it was loaded from the action using 5 round stripper clips.  Another improvement to the Gew 98 was the creation of a stamped sheet steel breech cover which was intended to protect the action from dirt, mud, and dust. The idea was inspired by the Japanese Arisaka, which utilized a similar device. While a good idea in theory, the cover had a tendency to rattle, creating noises which could give away a soldiers position to the enemy.  Often German soldiers who received the trench modifications did not attach the breech cover to their rifles.  The top picture shows a Gew 98 with the cover, the middle shows one without. The rarest model of the Gew 98 tench modification was a variant that came with a 2.5X magnification low light scope, which was made for use in marginal light (it did not work during night).

Despite the improvements the modifications saw mixed results with the average German infantryman.  Some liked the 25 round extended magazine.  Others, however, complained the magazine was too difficult to load.  As a result many who used the system only loaded the magazine with 10 rounds.  Yet others complained that the large magazine was too unwieldy in the tight confines of a trench.  Very few trench modification kits were produced or issued and once again the mainstay of the German Army remained the five shot Gew 98.

Source: Mauser Bolt Rifles by Ludwig Olson

Just want to remind everyone that Wonder Woman is set in World War I

Some clues:
-Trench warfare with the Brits in Doughboy helmets
-Germans using horses
-All the fashions in London, including Steve’s starched, high collar
-Airplanes look like flimsy prop planes
-Talking about the Kaiser, not about the Führer
-The British generals all have ridiculous moustaches

This black and white story is about trench warfare in World War I. The little diagram in the top right corner panel is great, especially the line showing where the safe zone starts.

(Heavy Metal issue #171, November 1997 - Page 79 Casino by Pahek)