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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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.
See more weird weapons and intriguing items from the First World War in our book Weird War One.