Evaluation and reflection of the IDU

Ryan Wilson, IS10a

This interdisciplinary unit of work has really improved and positively affected my subject specific understanding of the First World War, from both a History and an English perspective. The combination of both subjects together has lead to me having a better understanding because they link very well together and by looking at thing from the two different perspectives, it gives a more well rounded perspective of things. The topic that my group and I focused on for this unit of work was the developments of weaponry during the first world war and the links between both English and history really gave us a better insight as to the impact of the new developments in weapons. In regards to this, I feel like the English aspect helped out a lot with really putting the devastation of the weapons into a context that I could not have gotten out of the history facts and figured that I had learned. Things such as the poems written on the front line really helped me to really understand what affects the different weapons were actually having on the men that were fighting in the trenches during the war. Just from reading the numbers of people that were dying, etc. it alone was not enough for me to really grasp what devastating impacts these newly developed weapons had on warfare during the First World War. Looking at the literary devices and structure of the poems that the group chose to analyze, this really helped my knowledge within the subject of English and enriched what I already knew about the topics. However on the other hand the history aspect helped provide a lot of background information about the different weapons that really allowed me to understand a lot better, what was actually going on in the different poems that my group and I looked at during the unit.

There are almost only benefits that I can think of regarding studying the First World War from these two perspectives (History and English). I believe that by looking at the war from these two perspectives, I was able to acquire the best understanding possible, compared to studying it from different perspectives. Looking at WW1 from a history and English perspective allowed me to go into a lot of detail during my research and acquire a lot of information regarding my chosen topic. If I did the same thing with different subjects, I strongly believe I would not have been able to obtain as helpful information as I was able to. The biggest benefit of the English perspective was the fact that it allowed me to see what the affects of the weapons were like from the eyes of the people using them and being victimized by them on the front lines. The biggest benefit of the history perspective during this unit was learning about the different individual weapons and how they changed and developed during the war, also about who used them and what impact they had on the war as a whole. The history aspect of this unit was really the backbone of it all because it provided us with all of the necessary information that we needed, the English aspect improved and added a lot of perspective to that factual information which was really beneficial. An obvious drawback would be that by being limited to only two perspectives, there is always going to be some information no acquired. There are many different ways that you can look at the First World War and by limiting the unit to only history and English, there are many different topics and such that will have been left out as a result. Another limitation of this interdisciplinary unit was the fact that the history perspective was much more heavily weighed upon throughout my group’s research than the English. The majority of the information obtained was related to history compared to that of English and the main reason behind this is simply because there are a lot more historical sources compared to ones related to the English aspect of things, in my case weaponry.

The subject lessons have been one of the most helpful ways that I have gained a lot of interdisciplinary understanding. The main reason why this is the case is because both teachers from each subject have been extremely good at explaining various links between the English and History elements during our in class activities. Personally, regarding my topic they helped me especially with how to connect elements of English into the History side of things because I struggled with this at first. I was not sure which English elements to include and how to include them well though they both explained various different ways that I could link both subjects together well and efficiently, this guidance was a heavy contributor to my interdisciplinary understanding during this unit. Another way that the subject lessons were very helpful was that in both classes we sometimes studies the same elements of the war but from the different perspectives of each class. An example of this was propaganda, we looked at this in both classes but in English we focused on it more from a literary side and in history more on the impact it had. Due to us looking at this and several other topics in both classes, it really allowed me to link connections together between both English and History.

The excursion to Ypres played somewhat of a role in the development of my interdisciplinary understanding, thought a lot of what I learned, I acquired myself through research and the analysing of various different media. What Ypres really provided me with that was extremely beneficial to my understanding of the war was all of the contextual and background information that I gained from the tour guides and the museums that we visited. It served as a good starting point for me to continue my task specific research upon and further my knowledge. Also during the excursion I was able to really see a lot of things first hand that I would not have been able to do otherwise, although they were not extremely related to my topic of weapons (the majority of the time) they still really helped me understand the war to a much greater extent. What I found limited about Ypres, was finding information regarding my topic of developments in weaponry. On the first day we visited a museum that contained a lot of useful information and primary sources that we documented and used for our research, however apart from that there was not much else that helped us to investigate our topic. That is why most of my group’s topic information, we had to acquire through Internet research. Overall I believe that Ypres was beneficial to my understanding of the First World War and had I not been part of the excursion, I really feel like I would have missed out on a great and educational experience. My overall understanding of the war would not have been the same as it is now, due to the fact that I was able to view many of the places that were significant to the war and really feel more connected to the events that took place.

In conclusion I believe that this unit of work was extremely beneficial due to it being part of and interdisciplinary unit. Looking at the topic from two different perspectives allowed me to get a lot ore out of the task than I normally would have, had it only been in relation to one subject. Not only that but also many of the experiences I took part in, such as going to Ypres, helped greatly with my overall understanding of the First World War.


Poisonous gas

The first use of the gas:
Poisonous gas was first used on a battlefield scale by the German amy on the 22nd April 1915 during the second battle of Ypres. They had transported tanks of liquid chlorine gas to the front line and released the gas upon the allied forces during a period of time when the wind was directly blowing in the direction of their trenches. When released the gas travelled to the allied trenches and a yellow coloured cloud. The effects of this gas were devastating to whoever inhaled it, destroying the victims respiratory system and causing them to choke to death.
In this photograph you can see how the can was released during the second battle of Ypres. The gas passed out from the metal tubes that you can see the two men planting in the image. The pipes had an 8 inch diameter. Dozens of these projectors releasing gas at the same time could smother enemy lines with dense concentrations of gas that could kill many of the enemy soldiers.The only downside to these pipes was that they were extremely difficult to transport to the front lines due to their heavy weight.
Responses to the introduction of gas:
After the introduction of poisonous gas by the germans, other sides in the war saw great potential in the pioneered weapon.  The allied forces, before creating a weaponised gas of their own, created effective gas masks and other precautions to helped protect against the german gas. The British were the first to respond to the German advancements, they launched their own chlorine attacks in September 1915. However it did not end all great for them because of a change in wind direction, it resulted in more than 2,000 British soldiers being struck by their own hand during the battle by the gas.
The progression of the gas:
As the war progressed so did the gas weaponry, deadlier gasses were created to be used in trench warfare and also more reliable delivery systems of the gas were introduced . By the year of 1917, chemical shells and mortars could now deposit the lethal gas through barrages upon enemy lines or territory. Phosgene gas was first introduced in late 1915, it was an almost invisible gas and with it being much more lethal than chlorine, it was much more desired. The Germans developed their own type of gas to be used in the battlefield which was mustard gas. It was first used in the summer of 1917 and served to be very affective. The reason why it was so effective was because the gas did not target the respiratory system but the skin and eyes its victims, this was revolutionary because it defeated the use existing gas masks and respirators that the enemy armies had created to protect against the first used chlorine gas.

Machine guns

Pre war:
The machine gun itself was not first invented during the the first world war, it dated back roughly by half a century before that. Though they became popular during the war. Due to the facts that many doubted the role and effectiveness of the machine gun limited the use of them in most pre-war events and wars. Most of the machine-guns that were used prior to ww1 were heavy not mobile, so when they were innovated during the war they became a lot more effective.
Domination of the machine gun:
In the war the Germans were the first to realise the power and influence that the machine gun could give them over their enemies. They used the weapon more on the defence side of warfare and they set up the machine guns from prepared positions dug into the trench systems with overlapping fields of fire. The other armies soon realised the potential of this weapon and that the machine-gun allowed soldiers from the battlefield to be safer behind the trench lines, dug-outs, and fortifications. This however cause a stalemate during that was always be an issue throughout the entirety of the war.
Heavy and light machine guns:
During the war heavy and light machine guns were categorised into different aspects of warfare. Heavy machine-guns were removed from the infantry battalions and instead were positioned into machine gun units in order to centralise the firepower that they were capable of producing. Armies used these heavy machine guns to lay down fire upon enemy lines and fixed positions that the enemy had control of such as supply trenches.
Infantry men during the war received lighter machine gun in order for easier mobility and transportation during trench warfare. Many received Lewis machine-gun, this weapon was light enough to be carried by a single soldier alone. There still needed to be other men alongside the machine gunner however, to carry the ammunition. In  battle there could be as many two or three members of the team carrying ammunition for the gunner to ensure there was sufficient amount and they did not run out in the heat of battle. The Lewis gun and other light machine guns changed the way trench warfare was fought because it increased the infantry’s firepower during an attack and in defensive situations.
Above you can see the lewis machine gun. This machine gun was extremely effective in the battlefield because it provided the infantry and soldiers with large amount of firepower and support, though at the same time the weapon was still fairly light and was able to be carried forward at a fast pace during frontal attacks in the battlefield. It was issued in the summer of 1915 to the commonwealth troops. The gun had a 47 round magazine and was air cooled.
Above you can see the Colt “Model 1914” machine gun. At the beginning of the war, Canada purchased roughly 950 of these guns by 1915 they issued 4 of these weapons to every infantry battalion. The gun was nicknamed the Colt “Potato Digger” because of the amount of dirt it kicked up when being fired. The tripod’s legs that you can see in the photograph were very commonly “sawed off” and shortened to reduce the gun’s overall height and weight in the battlefield. A modified cocking lever was also added to the gun and this was effective because it allowed the gun to be loaded and reloaded without exposing the officers to enemy fire.
The weapon in the photograph above is the Vickers Mk.1 water-cooled machine-gun. This was one of the most highly used machine guns by the allied forces in the first world war. The gun fired a .303 calibre bullet for ammunition. It was a fairly heavy weapon which made it much more suitable for a defensive role, however the gun could also be used in the attack. The Vickers could be moved forward fairly easy in the attack, due to its weight and the fact that it needed a team of five to move it forward along with the ammunition and water to accompany the gun. The vickers was most commonly part of the second or third assault wave.


Artillery and mortars

There were two different main types of guns that armies used during the first world war, those were field guns and siege guns. Field guns were smaller calibre and lighter than siege guns so they were much easier to transport in battles, though the siege guns packed a much bigger punch.
The artillery weapons used different shells to fulfil different purposes during warfare and what needed to be done to get an edge upon the enemy. One type of shell that was used in trench warfare was the shrapnel shell, these shells were timed in order to explode in the air over the enemy in the trenches. On detention thousands of small ball bearing fired down upon the enemy both injuring and killing the troops that were not under good enough cover. The explosion was must like a shotgun blast in the sense that it shot outwards. You can see this type of shell in action from this photograph from 1917, it was taken of the Canadian soldiers in a trench on Somme.
Gunners used high explosive shells in order both collapse trenches and protection shelters. The trenches protected well against shrapnel that was fired upon it, however they were still very vulnerable to high explosive shells. These shells were capable of leaving large craters in the battlefield and killing off anyone who was near the site of detonation.
Mortars were one of the most effective yet simple siege weapons that was used during the war. Mortars fired large shells in high trajectory lines in order to plummet down upon the enemy trenches. During the war armies used martyrs with many different types and sizes of ammunition. Their sizes and payloads also differed greatly, siege mortars were used for needs on bigger scales where as infantry mortars could be more easily moved around and carried by a small group of men. Making them more versatile for the needs of trench warfare.
Over the course of the first world war, the sheer number of artillery guns increased greatly. By the midpoint of the war, more guns at higher calibers than had been seen before were being used by the Allied forces which essentially allowed them to have constant firepower on their side. By the year 1918 the allied gunner were able to out gun the German forces and gunners, this allowed the allies to have much better support for the infantry men during attacks and such in the battlefield. The Allied gunners became very specialised with the artillery weaponry and as a result they were able to better locate their enemy and account of other factors such as weather and conditions that could have possibly altered the trajectory of the artillery fire.
In the image above you can see the 18-pounder field gun. This gun was the British armies most widely used field gun throughout the entirety of the war. During ww1 more 10,000 of these gun were produced and they were created in a variety of different types, this included some anti-aircraft variants. During the first world war the 18-pounder fired over 100,000,000 shells. This is equal to an average of 43 rounds per minute, from the years 1914 to 1918.
The weapon above is the German 240 Millimetre Albrecht Trench Mortar. This mortar was very unusual due to its’s wooden construction that was reinforced by a metal liner, wires, and bands. In order to adjust the elevation of the mortar, the operator of the weapon would use a hand wheel. Once at the right angle of elevation, the mortar was then locked into position and that was done by tightening the bolts and nuts on the weapon. The limitations of this mortar was the fact that it had a low accuracy and the range of it was only from 50 to 550 metres, which was not a great distance at the time.
The image shows the German 21-centimetre Mörser howitzer. This powerful weapon had the capability to destroy enemy trenches and dugouts that were located up to 8,200 metres away. The steel planks that were attached onto the wheels were very helpful for the trench environment because it helped with transporting the howitzer through the rough and muddy terrain.


1914: early grenades
During the first world war, all armies relied heavily on the use of grenades in order to both fight and attack enemy trenches and also to defend themselves against attacks. Grenades has been a weapon invented hundreds of years before, however they were not often used previous to the napoleonic war until ww1. The first grenades that were used in 1914 were hand made by the soldiers and were extremely unreliable. The first made grenades were typically cans that were filled with nails, metal and gunpowder. Their biggest flaw was the fact that they were almost an dangerous to the officers who made them as they were to the enemy, this was because they often exploded before they were intended to be.
1915: dozens of types
By the end of the year 1915 during the war, grenades were becoming essential and all armies were being supplied with them. There were many different types of grenades that were used by different sides during the war. Some riflemen in the trenches were specialised in this field, they attacked the enemy using specialised grades that were fired from their rifles. Regular infantry men on both sides of the war carried a variety of different types of grenades. On the German side of the trenches, their preference was with the “stick grenade”. This grenade could be thrown at further distances though the price they paid was a smaller explosive charge within. On the British and Canadian side of trench warfare, they used a more egg shaped grenade that could be thrown roughly around 30 meters and carried a larger payload than the stick grenades, though the downside to these was the fast that their range was around 10 meters less than the germans.
1917: Importance
By 1917 during the war, grenades became such a necessity in the battlefield that all infantry officers were issued with grenades. The reason why they were becoming so important was because the majority of trench assaults needed  these extra grenades to be able to complete the objectives of overthrowing enemy trenches, they were also needed in order to protect against enemy attacks.
Above is the No. 5 MK. I Hand Grenade, it was one of the most affective infantry weapon that was used throughout the first world war. This type of grenade was first issues in the spring of 1915 to troops. It worked by removing the safety pins, once done there was a 5 second period before the grenade exploded. This gave the troops enough time to throw the grenade upon the targets before it exploded. The weapon was lethal within a 10 meter radius but it was capable of sending shrapnel up 200 meters from the site of detention, making it extremely effective
In the picture above you can see the German egg grenade, it is a model of the grenade from 1917. The reason why this grenade was so successful and effective was due to the fact that it could be thrown up to distances of 50 to 60 meters, this was difficult to do however and could only be executed by experts. It was called the egg grenade because of its shape and appearance.
This is the commonly used stick grenade, it was one of the first models of the grenade from 1915. This model was very unreliable and was not successful because it could only detonate when stuck against a hard surface. Due to this fact the grenade did not work well in the common wet or muddy conditions within the trenches.
Above is the refined and improved German stick grenade from 1917. This model of the grenade featured a 5.5 second delay that the thrower could activate by pulling the toggle at the bottom of the handle, as you can see above. This was a great improvement from the previous 1915 model of the weapon because it was war more reliable due to the timer fuse as opposed to the grenade needing to impact upon a hard surface. On detonation, metal debris would be fired and propelled from an explosive chamber in the grenade.
The rifle grenade shown above was designed in order for the troops in the trenches to be able to propel grenades further than could be done by hand. At the beginning of the war, grenades were sometimes launched with catapults but that method was not reliable at all. The type of grenade above was called a “J” Pattern grenade, it was first introduced in February 1915 and was the first rifle grenade pioneered by the British army. By the end of 1916, Britain was producing 70,000 of these grenades per week. When added into the rifle barrel this grenade could be fired up to distances of 300 meters

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
This poem is extremely effective in the sense that it reflects the devastation and displays the impact of the lethal gas in the first world war. It gives a perspective of how the gas impacted the men on the front line, through the eyes of someone from the front line. Not only that but it shows how the individuals were affected after inhaling the gas. This helps us with our understanding of the impact that weapons had on the soldiers during ww1, which was necessary in order to help answer the research question of the unit.
Not only the content of the poem but the way it was written, helps the viewer visualise the devastation that the gas has upon the officers on the front line who were exposed to it. One of the most impactful literary devices that is in the poem is simile, en example of this being used effectively is in regards to the lines “His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” and also “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud”. These lines are used to describe the affects that the poisonous gas had upon the men after they had inhaled it and what their body language and effect of it was. These lines help the viewers paint a picture in their heads very well, showcasing how devastating the lethal gas was during the first world war.
Another part of the poem that I find extremely effective is the line “Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!”. The reason why I find it so affective and powerful is because it really sets the context that this is happing from a first person perspective and that what is spoken in the poem is really happing in the eyes of the soldiers. Also the fact that those words contain the gas weapon in words, it allows for people that do not know about the weapon to have more context about what is going .