Weird Weapons And Other Surprising Objects From The First World War


During the First World War, the Allies and the Central Powers employed modern weaponry and firepower on an unprecedented scale. Both sides also developed new protective equipment in response to changes in military tactics and technologies.

However, some of the weapons and equipment were surprisingly basic in construction and intent, incorporating materials and designs reminiscent of earlier periods of warfare. Their superficial simplicity is in stark contrast with their inherent modernity as items shaped by the unique conditions of twentieth century warfare.

  • Gauntlet dagger

    A gauntlet dagger - sometimes known as a 'punching' dagger.
    A gauntlet dagger - sometimes known as a 'punching' dagger.
    WEA 790

    This gauntlet dagger – sometimes also known as a ‘punching’ dagger – is designed to be worn on the bearer’s arm like a glove during close quarter combat.

  • Face mask

    A type of face mask worn by British tank crews to protect their faces and eyes from hot metal fragments inside the tank.
    A type of face mask worn by British tank crews to protect their faces and eyes from hot metal fragments inside the tank.
    EQU 2153

    This type of face mask was worn by British tank crews during the First World War. It was made of leather and metal chain and was designed to protect the wearer's face and eyes from ‘splash’–hot metal fragments ricocheting inside a tank created by the impact of bullets on a tank’s exterior.

  • Trench club/walking stick

    A trench club although it was probably used mainly as an officer's walking stick.
    A trench club although it was probably used mainly as an officer's walking stick.
    WEA 3068

    This weapon is made from a naturally gnarled piece of wood, and is weighted with lead and fitted with iron spikes. It was probably used mainly as an officer's walking stick.

  • Body armour

    The British Army never officially issued body armour to its troops but different types were produced for sale.
    The British Army never officially issued body armour to its troops but different types were produced for sale.
    EQU 3893

    The British Army never officially issued body armour to its troops. In Britain, many types of body armour were commercially produced and purchased by relatives for men serving overseas. This armour – designed and manufactured in France – was available in England from 1916. The collar and waistcoat offered reasonable protection against shrapnel, but could worsen injuries caused by smaller, high velocity projectiles that could embed the metal squares into the wearer’s body.

  • 'Flechette' (aerial dart)

    Between 1914 and early 1916, ‘flechettes’, or aerial darts, were dropped from aircraft onto troop and cavalry formations below.
    Between 1914 and early 1916, ‘flechettes’, or aerial darts, were dropped from aircraft onto troop and cavalry formations below.
    AIR 307

    Between 1914 and early 1916, ‘flechettes’, or aerial darts, were dropped from aircraft onto troop and cavalry formations below.

  • Anti-gas fans

    These fans were used to clear out gas residue that collected in shell-holes and craters after a gas attack
    These fans were used to clear out gas residue that collected in shell-holes and craters after a gas attack
    FEQ 493

    Over 100,000 of these fans were issued to British troops on the Western Front during the First World War. Invented by Mrs Hertha Ayrton, a civilian scientist, they were used to clear the gaseous residue that collected in shell-holes and craters after a gas attack.

  • Trench periscope

    Trench periscopes allowed soldiers to see above the trench without being exposed to enemy fire.
    Trench periscopes allowed soldiers to see above the trench without being exposed to enemy fire.
    OPT 387

    Trench periscopes, consisting of an angled mirror extended beyond the top of a trench, allowed soldiers to see above the trench without being exposed to enemy fire. This ‘pocket’ periscope was collapsible for easy storage and transport. It was not standard issue and had to be individually purchased.

  • Anti-gas 'helmet'

    This British anti-gas hood is an early example of attempts to combat the effects of poison gas.
    This British anti-gas hood is an early example of attempts to combat the effects of poison gas.
    EQU 3812

    This British anti-gas hood is an early example of attempts to combat the effects of poison gas, which was first used on a major scale in 1915 to try and break the stalemate on the Western Front. However, as chemical weapons developed, so did protective equipment and this model was eventually replaced by more advanced filter respirator masks.

  • German trench club

    Trench raids meant soldiers were involved in combat up close and raiders often carried clubs.
    Trench raids meant soldiers were involved in combat up close and raiders often carried clubs.
    WEA 2163

    Trench raids required soldiers to engage in close quarter combat. Raiders often carried trench clubs, such as this cast iron German example, and other specialised handheld weapons.

  • British trench club

    A British trench club sometimes referred to as a 'knobkerry'.
    A British trench club sometimes referred to as a 'knobkerry'.
    WEA 2134

    This British trench club, sometimes referred to as a ‘knobkerry', was made by attaching a metal head onto the handle of a standard entrenching tool.