Military Technology of the First World War

Development, Use and Consequences

By Wolfgang Fleischer

Pen & Sword, 2017

This title is a rarity amongst the centenary offerings so far – a First World War book written by a German! Military Technology of the First World War (or (‘Militärtechnik des Ersten Weltkriegs’) was actually published in Germany in 2014; the author is a historian at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden. Thankfully Pen & Sword have seen fit to translate the book and for this we should be grateful as it is a fine publication.

The book is split into ten clear chapters. Fleischer first examines the ‘Administration of Scarcity’, in other words the war economy and how industry in Germany was mobilised to produce armaments. One chapter cover trench warfare and geology, including the construction of dugouts, bunkers and gun emplacements, and naturally the development of mining and counter-mining. The other chapters look at the technological advances in several weapons – the machine gun, artillery (with a separate chapter on trench mortars), tanks, chemical warfare, flamethrowers, motor vehicles, and aircraft. However although they might be expected, naval developments (in particular submarines) do not feature. Each chapter is comprehensively illustrated and accompanied by personal accounts from men who had used the weapons.

Whilst Fleischer does dedicate some space to British and Allied technology (the development of the tank can hardly be mentioned without it!), it is likely that most readers will already be familiar with a lot of what he mentions, from the abundance of books on these subjects already available in the UK, and readers should not embark on reading this book thinking that they will learn a great deal more about British machine guns, for example. The key selling point of the book is the detailed description of technological advances from the German perspective, and how these weapons were used and refined during the course of the war. The strength of this book is not only in the detail (examples of fire plans and fuse specifications, anyone?), but also in the hundreds of superb photographs and diagrams, the majority of which I would hazard a guess will be have not been seen before by UK readers.

In some areas the text does not ‘flow’ particularly well, and I suspect that some of Fleischer’s prose may have been lost in translation; for example the ‘shell scandal’ being labelled as the ‘cartridge scandal’. Additionally the book does end rather abruptly with no conclusion or summary of the impact of developing technology on the course and conduct of the war, and unfortunately there is no index. However these are minor gripes and I can heartily recommend this book to anyone with a particular interest in the development of German technology during the war.

Buy this book from Amazon here:
Military Technology of World War One: Development, Use and Consequences