glossary
weapons and artillery
 
 
Fighter
Tank
Zeppelin
Mines
Gas
Barbed Wire
Shrapnel
Bayonet
Colt Machine-Gun
Maxim Gun
Lewis Gun
Ross Rifle
Lee Enfield
Mauser
Howitzer
Mortar
Minnie or Moaning Minnie
Stokes Gun
Silent Susan
Whizzbang
Mills Bomb
Stick Bomb
 
 
  Fighter  
 

A fighter referred to an airplane plus a machine gun. At first, in 1914 and early 1915, enemy pilots waved at each other because "observer planes" were not armed. Then they threw stones or took potshots with a rifle or pistol, which was not very effective at the speeds they were traveling. When machine guns were taken into the air an observer fired while the pilot flew and it was often difficult to coordinate the two. The fighter became a reality when the pilot could fly and fight simultaneously. This happened when Dutch designer Anton Folker who was working for the Germans, invented a plane that fired bullets through the propeller - in other words the machine gun's stream of bullets was synchronized with the spinning propeller blades. For a time, Folker's invention gave the Germans mastery of the air.
 
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Tank
 
 

Tank was the code name given to armoured fighting vehicles that moved on caterpillar tracks. The name was used as camouflage, so that the enemy would not, through spies, anticipate their appearance in September 1916. Armed with cannons and machine guns, tanks were the British and French answer to the heavy machine guns and barbed wire used by the Germans. The tank could crawl across No-Man's-Land, crush the barbed wire, and gun down or roll over German machine gunners. The first tanks were used at the Battle of the Somme by the British, in an attack where Canadian troops played a key role, on September 15, 1916. The first tanks were very slow, very big, and vulnerable to enemy field guns.
 
 
Zeppelin  
 
 

A zeppelin was an "airship" with a rigid metal frame and a huge balloon containing hydrogen (which is lighter than air).The Germans used zeppelins as long-distance transport and as bombers. They could fly farther and higher, and carry a much larger payload, than any aircraft of the time. The raids by zeppelins over England created great panic among the civilian population. The answer to the zeppelin was the incendiary bullet, invented during the war, which contained phosphorus. Phosphorus ignited when exposed to air and in turn ignited the highly flammable hydrogen, exploding the zeppelin. Aircrafts with Lewis guns using incendiary bullets destroyed a great many zeppelins.
 
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Mines
 
 

Mines were areas dugout under enemy positions. Tunnelers would tunnel, sometimes hundreds of yards at great depths under enemy positions, place large amounts of explosives there and explode the mine.
 
 
Gas  
 
 

Gas was used in various ways to kill, maim, disable, or inconvenience troops. The first massive use of poisoned gas was initiated by the Germans in the Ypres salient in April 1915 against Algerian, French and Canadian troops. The gas used here was chlorine and it destroyed the victim's lungs, and either killed or disabled, often for life. Mustard gas, phosgene and chloropicrin, as well as tear gas and nerve gas were also used. The answer to gas was the invention of the gas mask. However, the Germans often used tear gas (which made the gas mask impossible to wear) and then mustard gas, which blinded or killed the person who had removed his gas mask. The answer to the gas mask was new types or combinations of gas. Gas was delivered either by cylinders - the valve had to be opened when the wind was blowing in the right direction - or by gas shells fired by howitzers and mortars.
 
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Barbed Wire
 
 

Based on an agricultural invention of the 1870s and used as fence in American and Canadian prairies (primarily for cattle ranching), barbed wire was used in the war in special forms - often inch-thick with razor-sharp barbs. Laid out in yard-wide or sometimes mile-wide swaths, it was staked with metal to the ground to trap and stop enemy infantry. Caught in barbed wire, or "funneled" through gaps in a barbed-wire barrier, infantry could be gunned down by machine guns. Barbed wire proved to be an almost insuperable obstacle to ground troops until, in late 1916, highly sensitive detonators became available. Field guns could now fire shrapnel, which would explode at precisely the right height to slash through and fragment barbed wire.
 
 
Shrapnel  
 
 

Shrapnel was invented by Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel in 1784. It contained 200-300 heavy metal bullets. When it exploded over the target - usually infantry - it scattered the flesh-fragmenting bullets at high velocity. Shrapnel shells were usually fired by field guns, with ranges of up to 10,000 yards. Shrapnel was deadly if one was caught out in the open or if it exploded over a trench.
 
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Bayonet
 
 

A bayonet was a long sword-like attachment at the end of a rifle, used for close-in fighting, to stab or disembowel the enemy.
 
 
Colt Machine Gun  
 
 

This gas-powered automatic or self-powering machine gun was invented by John Browning in the early 1890s and manufactured by Colt in the U.S. It was powered by a lever that catches the pressure of the gas in the barrel (created by the explosion of the bullet) to load and fire the next bullet. The Canadians were first equipped with the Colt, but switched to the more modern Maxim gun.

 
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Maxim Gun
 
 

The Maxim gun was a self-powered, heavy machine gun invented by American Sir Hiram Maxim in 1883. The recoil from each bullet fired powered the gun to load and fire the next bullet; it fired up to 600-700 bullets a minute at a range of several thousand yards. The Maxim gun used "belts" to feed it bullets, and ideally needed a crew of two to eight men to operate. This gun revolutionized warfare by making cavalry and infantry attacks across open ground virtually suicidal. This created the need for trenches, and in turn caused the stalemate of the Western Front. The French version was called the Hotchkiss, the German the Spandau, and the English the Vickers.
 
 
Lewis Gun  
 
 

The Lewis gun was an air-powered portable machine gun, or machine rifle, invented by an American military man, Isaac Newton Lewis, in 1912-1913 and widely used by British and Allied forces. It fed the gas-pressure in the barrel (caused by the explosion of the bullet) through a tube-and-piston device under the barrel back to the loading and firing mechanism. The Lewis jammed easily, but for much of the war it was virtually the only mobile rapid fire weapon. A "Lewis Section" would consist of a man carrying the gun, and firing it when he put it down, and several men carrying canvas bags filled with drums of ammunition. The Lewis gun gave one man, briefly, huge fire power, and was an essential tool for the many men who heroically attacked German pillboxes, trenches and strong points. The Canadians made very effective use of the Lewis gun.

 
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Ross Rifle
 
 

The Ross rifle was an accurate but very delicate Canadian-designed and manufactured target rifle that was issued to the Canadian Expeditionary Force under explicit instructions of Samuel Hughes, then minister of Militia and Defense. In combat it was a deeply, tragically flawed weapon: fired rapidly, it jammed; exposed to mud, it jammed. In early 1916 it was replaced by the British-designed, British-made Lee-Enfield, one of the most reliable infantry rifles.
 
 
Lee Enfield  
 
 

The standard British infantry rifle was the Lee Enfield. It fired from 100 to 125 rounds as rapidly as possible. The Ross rifle, on the other hand, jammed from the twenty-fifth to the fiftieth round. After 1916 the Canadians used the Lee-Enfield. Those units not dependent on Sir Sam Hughes, such as Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, started with the Lee-Enfield and refused to use the Ross rifle.

 
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Mauser
 
 
The Mauser was the standard German infantry rifle used by both riflemen and snipers. The bullet had a velocity of just under 3,000 feet per second and it could kill at 1,000 yards.
 
 
Howitzer  
 
 

The Howitzer fired shells that weighed about 100 pounds at very long ranges (from several miles to seventy or more miles). Like the mortars, the howitzer fired at a steep angle and the gunners needed complex calculations and information to know how to target it. The howitzer was ideal for obliterating trenches, and the people in them.

 
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Mortar
 
 
A Mortar was a small Howitzer, needing one or two men to operate it.
 
 
Minnie or Moaning Minnie  
 
 

Minnie or moaning minnie was the allie's nickname for the Minenwerfer, a German mortar that threw a 50-pound bomb about 450 yards. The bomb would go heights of up to 500 feet and as it arced down, made a loud whine or moan. The Moaning Minnie was also called a Football, a Rum Jar, or Christmas Pudding.

 
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Stokes Gun
 
 
The Stokes gun was the British equivalent to the Minenwerfer or Moaning Minnie.
 
 
Silent Susan  
 
 

A silent Susan was a German high velocity shell. It was deadly because it was so quite.

 
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Whizzbang
 
 
A whizzbang was the Allied description of a light shell that was fired from a small field artillery gun (for eg. the British 18 pounder, the French 75 (millimetres), the German 77 (millimetres)). The term is onomatopoeic, and was applied to the explosion. Owing to the short range and low trajectory, whizzbangs arrived as soon, if not sooner, than anyone heard them.
 
 
Mills Bomb  
 
 

A Mills bomb was a British grenade named after its inventor. It was serrated on the outside like a pineapple, to form shrapnel on explosion. One pulled the pin and threw it.

 
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Stick Bomb
 
 
The German equivalent of the Mills bomb, the Stick bomb was bigger and had a stick handle.
 
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Note: Many of the above definitions are taken directly from The Long Trail,What the British Soldier Sang and Said in the Great War of 1914-1918. By John Brophy and Eric Partridge.
 
 
 
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