WWI Technological & Medical Advances...

WW1 caused a financial meltdown in Britain, yet its resolve and inventiveness didn't waiver. In fact often the British can be relied upon to be considerably discerning and inventive with the modest of modest resources. At the turn of the 19th century Britain was a financial superpower. WW1 was though the world's first global war and cost in every respect more than any before it. What is astounding is that in one 24-hour period in September 1918 the cost of bullets fired in that single day would be nearly £4m [in 1918 Sterling value].

It was that need to advance the Western Front [which in some respects was an evolving stalemate], that looked at the explosives and the types of charges used. Most were highly volatile and unstable in configuration. HMS Vanguard was lost in Scapa Flow due to such instability with the then spontaneous combustion of Cordite with the resultant explosion and loss of 843 men. The Mines at Messines Ridge heard 140 miles away in 10 Downing Street came about with creating more powerful yet more stable T-ammonal. For obvious reasons others shall remain unlisted, but the advancement was considerable throughout the War making the shipping and air arsenals far safer, yet more effective. 

One of the side effects of the use of TNT was the handling of it, even with a modest level of personal protection, the contact over a period of time caused the workers [mostly women], to develop toxic jaundice. Noted by the endearing term, they were called 'Canaries'. The development of highly complex, indirect fire mortars, mines, bombs and other technologies [including grenades], was fenetic. This wasn't just about rate-of-reaction, range or lethality, but the subtle development of control of the energetic emanations to achieve other effects such as dispersal of fluids and gases. The Germans developed not just Chlorine gas attack munitions but others more deadly. In 2014, near a boundary between Passchendaele and Moorslede, 200 German Army bombs were found, in which each contained the chemical weapon of Mustard Gas. It was the largest collection of Chemical Weapons ever found in Belgium. These were the early variant Mustard Gas (called LOST after the German Scientists Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf), which is Bis (2-chloroethyl) sulfide.

The shrapnel was dire. Prior to WW1, the approach to dealing with casualties fell to stretcher-bearers as porters. Given the trenches, the head was a major injury site. To that end Surgeon Harold Gillies developed the world's approach to facial reconstruction and plastic surgery that is the foundations of modern techniques. This wasn't the only medical first; a US Army Doctor Captain Oswald Robertson vexed over the problem of effective blood transfusion and how it could be stored for a more than a short while and transported to where it was needed. The problems were many fold, but the biggest was the rapid aging and ultimately clotting was a key part. He finally developed the techniques, also the cornerstone of today's blood banks approach, by inventing the use of Sodium Citrate to prevent the coagulation and ice cooling - thereby giving the blood in bottles a shelf-life of around three to four weeks. In March 1918 Gordon R. Ward proposed that Blood Plasma, which makes up 55% of Total Blood Volume, could be used as a substitute for Blood Transfusions, he also postulated the importance in battlefield medicine of maintaining balance in a key part of Blood Plasma called Serum Albumin. His work led to kits being developed for WW2 that had distilled water and dried plasma for long shelf-life, rapid creation of usable Blood Plasma. Blood and Plasma bags didn't replace bottles until the 1950s [Carl Walker & W.P. Murphy Jr.]. Prior to WW1, Saline solutions were coming of age and the British physician and physiologist Sydney Ringer is the acclaimed inventor. His work proved vital on the battlefield and was further developed. Gordon R. Ward saw the importance of this and through his work it led to refinements throughout the War. Alexis Hartmann was to lactate this and invent his globally acclaimed Ringer's Lactate or Hartmann's solution - which provides an effective solution for acidosis - critical on the battlefield or any other high blood-loss injury or surgery.

The Western Front soon demonstrated this porterage approach to casualty evacuation was producing poor outcomes. So the idea was born of the First Responder; that is an expert stretcher-bearer who can stop bleeding, can apply field dressing, can do CPR and above all has the right procedural approach to these maladies to enable the casualty to be then moved and rapidly evacuated to a field hospital or more advanced care. This is one of the greatest medical legacies of the War and changed commerce, public service and military practice across the globe. Another was prosthetics and the pioneering work Sir Robert Jones did to rehabilitate the injured WW1 service personnel [he was the British Army's expert on Orthopaedics]. Prior to this most limb-damaged were confined to sanatoriums in wheelchairs or ignored in some form.

Another invention was the long bone stabilising Thomas Splint, invented by the uncle of Sir Robert Jones who was Hugh Owen Thomas. This dramatically reduced blood loss, hence significantly reduced mortality and increased the healing rate in compound fractures. An invention that has gone on globally to do the same to this day.

Communications are vital and field telephones were largely the method of communication in the field and trenches. The signallers had to run cables which were vulnerable to munitions, not least those laying the cables! The Magneto Linesman Telephone [Mk 234 No. 100 -110]. This two-wire telephone was improved upon by Captain Fuller [later Colonel] and the Fuller Field Telephone was invented as a single-wire device [using earth as the return]. Mk1 and Mk2 Fullerphones were a key asset to communication as was the Sterling Ltd DIII Field Telephone. Even Heliographs were used for long-range day and night communications - but the enemy could readily deceive and send false information... The Generals were also banned from going over the top of trenches after too many losses! The experience to become a General was considered too significant to lose and vital for more effective communication, command and control.

The British-based inventor Guglielmo Marconi stepped up to the mark handsomely in developing long-range portable radio sets for all the units, ships and aircraft. Power and reach become vital components as did the quality and effectiveness of the receiver. Marconi made stunning advancements; as did the British company Sterling Ltd of Birmingham and others. The field radios initially available were a two to three man lift! The antennas also gave away position information as they were cumbersome. Modern warfare had come of age as the small Sterling Spark Transmitters and Marconi field radios now made it possible for more effective command and control - as too were the vital feedback of enemy position and movements plus supply needs. Direction Finding came of age and many advances were made both German and British. It was the work of the British Army Officer Sir Frank Adcock that produced the most globally-important stepping stone with his antenna configuration to achieve very good DF and smaller transmitting antennas. This work was later patented just after the War in 1919 [Patent No. 130,490]. This antenna structure was just that, a transmitting and receiving structure; a much smaller antenna that was considerably less visible; hence considerably hiding the command and control stations.

Camouflage came of age too in WW1 and the artist Norman Wilkinson [who was also a Royal Navy Reservist], invented the DAZZLE Camouflage patterns for marine merchant vessels to hide in plain sight. This was a rather odd block-contrasting effect and was somewhat colourful to protect food and supplies. It wasn't long before its use was tried on other assets. His pioneering designs are the foundations of modern disruptive patterns and materials. Next time your are in London, can you spot DAZZLE Camouflage on HMS Belfast?

The Germans came up with the most powerful land-based field guns - carriage mounted weighing in at over one hundred tonnes which seriously beat the Allies in engineering terms. The Paris Gun though was the most serious invention from Germany - a Field Gun able to bombard Paris from over 62 miles away [over 100 km range], using projectiles of 94 kg. These paved the way for some serious defensive guns that dominated WW2. Field inventions of the Lewis and Browning submachine guns and the Bergmann MP18. Tank advancement saw the French introduce the first rotating turret which became a key part of winning the War. The Germans [and copied by the Allies], saw the first use of the newly re-invented Flamethrower in WW1. The Imperial German Army used Flamethrowers in more than 300 battles in WW1 - usually in teams of six. In the Battle of the Somme, Royal Engineers Officer William Howard Livens invented and used a huge experimental Large Gallery Livens Flame Projector [a less than portable huge flamethrower]. He later invented the Livens Projector Mortar which was designed to deliver Incendiary Liquids. This was later adapted for Gas and Other Chemical Weapon delivery.

Passive Sonar made for a real advancement in the submarine warfare as did the deadly and demoralising Depth Charges. HMS R1 saw the first tactical realisation of a Hunter-Killer class of submarines [1917]. The use on HMS Furious, a carrier class of vessel, RAF Sopwith Camel aircraft made for an effective raid on Trondern in 1918 of the Zeppelin hangars. It also made for agile air control and reconnaissance, and the ability to deliver aerial bombardment was born.

Heinrich Hertz in the late 19th Century had shown radio waves were reflected by metallic objects and this effect was studied and developed further by James Clerk Maxwell. It wasn't until 1904 when German Inventor Christian Hülsmeyer was able to produce a prototype that was able to detect another object that had a special reflector to sound a bell. This he developed over the next decade into a workable Ship detection and avoidance system [it wasn't strictly RADAR as it didn't yield a measurement of distance for example). This was soon patented [Reichspatent No. 165546]. The ship had to have a cylindrical parabolic reflector on its mast and similarly a loop dipole antenna as part of its receiver - this would be periodically spun to discern in bad weather if any ships are nearby. This wasn't to advance in WW1 to ship or aircraft RADAR until WW2 and that came about largely due to Robert Watson-Watt joining the Meteorological Office in 1915 as he pioneered using radio waves to detect aircraft since they were being used to detect weather. This was made portable through the British invention of the highly stable Cavity Magnetron in 1940 by John Randall and Harry Boot at the University of Birmingham - thereby making the units small enough to be fitted not just on the ground but in the air.

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We have added a number of further pages and Picture Galleries to our website for you of The National Memorial Arboretum, the Ypres Salient, Flanders & The Menin Gate, Nord Pas de Calais, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Verdun and:



AREA17:  So that we may all remember those that served, those injured and those that fell for the peace and security of all...