The online tool for teaching with documents, from the National Archives

New Technology in World War I

Seeing the Big Picture

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

World War I witnessed rapid technological advances that affected the outcome of the war – as well as how wars were waged for many years to come. Match the documents up according to six new military technologies used in WWI:

  1. Tanks
  2. Chemical warfare or Poison gas
  3. Fortified trenches (including barbed wire, concrete, etc.)
  4. Airplanes (Airplanes were used in war before, but WWI was the first major conflict in which their use was widespread.)
  5. Machine guns
  6. Submarines

Making your matches will reveal an excerpt of an American soldier's letter. Read his eyewitness account to learn what it was like to be in the war, surrounded by these new weapons.

Click on the orange "open in new window" icon for a larger view of each photograph or document.


Name:
Class:

Worksheet

New Technology in World War I

Seeing the Big Picture

Examine the documents and text included in this activity. Consider how each document or piece of text relates to each other and create matched pairs. Write the text or document number next to its match below. Write your conclusion response in the space provided.

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Culminating Document

Letter from Wayne to Folks

7/1/1918

An American soldier named Wayne, serving in France during World War I, sent this letter to his “folks.” It exposes a great deal about his personal experience and the larger conflict in which he was a participant—from machine guns to rations; from the Red Cross to the Marines; from the front lines to the trenches; from illness to death. He offered a detailed eyewitness description of war and its atrocities, using language reflective of the time and conflict, including referring to German soldiers as “Huns” and a single German soldier as “Fritz.” 

Text adapted from “Teaching Difficult Topics with Primary Sources” in the November/December 2011 National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) publication Social Education.
This primary source comes from the Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I).
National Archives Identifier: 6050582
Full Citation: Letter from Wayne to Folks; 7/1/1918; 3d Bn Replacements & Casualties June 18, 1918 Index Sheet 202 - 12.3; Records of Divisions, 1917 - 1920; Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/wayne-to-folks, November 28, 2021]


Letter from Wayne to Folks

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Letter from Wayne to Folks

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Conclusion

New Technology in World War I

Seeing the Big Picture

Answer the following in preparation for a class discussion:

  1. The new military technologies used in WWI could destroy more lives and property much faster than in previous wars. Based on the American soldier's letter that you read after making your matches, what it was like to be in the war, surrounded by these weapons?
  2. What impact do you think this more destructive warfare had on the people fighting and the places where the war was fought?
  3. In your opinion, which technology probably had the biggest impact on later wars after WWI? Was this a good development or would the world have been better off without it?


Your Response




Document

Front view of the two-man tank manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. Ford Motor Company.

ca. 1918

The full description for this photograph reads; Front view of the two-man tank manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. Ford Motor Company.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 533687
Full Citation: Photograph 165-WW-313A(4); Front view of the two-man tank manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. Ford Motor Company.; ca. 1918; American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/tank-ford-view, November 28, 2021]


Front view of the two-man tank manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. Ford Motor Company.

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Document

Tank Crossing Trench

1914 -1918

The original caption for this photograph reads: A tank going over a trench on its way into action. It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 16579436
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-0834; Tank Crossing Trench; 1914 -1918; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/tank-crossing-trench, November 28, 2021]


Tank Crossing Trench

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Document

Tractor Hauling Bombing Plane into Position

8/29/1918

The original caption for this photograph reads: A small motor tractor getting a huge R.A.F. bombing machine into position on an aerodrome 207th Squadron R.A.F. Ligescourt. Somme Campaign.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 16581120
Full Citation: Tractor Hauling Bombing Plane into Position; 8/29/1918; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/tractor-bombing-plane, November 28, 2021]


Tractor Hauling Bombing Plane into Position

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Document

British Scout Plane and Remains of a Five Engine German Gotha Plane. Cologne, Germany.

2/11/1919

The original caption for this photograph reads: Occupation of Germany. One of our small scouts in front of the remains of a 5 engined Gotha.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs .
National Archives Identifier: 16579189
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-0758; British Scout Plane and Remains of a Five Engine German Gotha Plane. Cologne, Germany. ; 2/11/1919; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs , ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/scout-plane-gotha-plane, November 28, 2021]


British Scout Plane and Remains of a Five Engine German Gotha Plane. Cologne, Germany.

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Document

Scene in the interior of a submarine

1914 -1918

The original caption for this photograph reads: Submarine interior. Foremost torpedo tubes.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 16581484
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-1817; Scene in the interior of a submarine; 1914 -1918; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/interior-submarine, November 28, 2021]


Scene in the interior of a submarine

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Document

Italian Submarine Leaving Venice on an Expedition

1914 -1918

The original caption for this photograph reads: With the Italian Navy. Italian submarine leaving Venice on a 'stunt.'

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 16577783
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-0321; Italian Submarine Leaving Venice on an Expedition; 1914 -1918; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/italian-submarine, November 28, 2021]


Italian Submarine Leaving Venice on an Expedition

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Document

Personal Experience of World War I from Cpl. Eugene S. McLain

1918

In this World War I account, Corporal Eugene McLain describes parts of the war as "exciting." He was glad he had the experience, but was "also glad when it ended. Because honestly it is Hell."

This document comes from a collection of "Personal War Experiences" that WWI servicemen were asked to write after their return from the front during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The men were personnel of the 36th Division – known as the Lone Star Division, formed from the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard – of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).

Corporal McLain's account includes derogatory terms used more frequently at that time. He calls German soldiers "Huns," and refers to his American Indian comrades as "redskins." He wrote "...Believe me those redskins didn't have any mercy on them." McLain was referring to Company E of the 36th Division, which fought alongside Company D (to which Corporal McLain belonged). During WWI, American Indians were integrated into numerous divisions of the AEF. A few units, however – like Company E of the 36th Division – were all American Indian. More than 12,000 American Indians served in the armed forces of the United States during WWI. In the army, their many roles included serving as gunners, snipers, patrol workers, messengers, scouts, medical personnel, radio operators, as well as code talkers.

Transcript

Experiences of a Soldier of Co. D.
132 M.G. Bn. American E.F.

Luckily or unluckily I haven't had but a few days experience on the front but I can say a great deal on that. It was on the night of Oct. 7 that we went up on the line & we surely had some exciting times we went up as we thought very quietly but the Huns were on the watch & before we had arrived at our destination we were fired on by machine guns. Luckily only one man was touched and he was only hit on the helmet.

The next morning we were awakened & started after the Infantry we were assigned to & then the barrage set in & it excited me a whole lot as it was the first shells that had been fired over me & I



couldn't tell if they were Bosh or not. But it didn't take me long to tell the difference when a J.I. can hit close to me.

Well we advanced over the hill & the Infantry came in contact with some Huns. & Believe me those redskins didn't have any mercy on them. After taking up our positions we stayed thru 2 or 3 days.

On Oct. 11 the 72 brigade went over & the formation was excellent in the sector I could see. & They went several kilometers before they stopped. In the afternoon we begin to follow. & It is nice to look at the way those Germans were dug in & the way they were fixed.
Then we hiked 2 days & one night & had a day or 2 rest. Plenty eats & felt rather like taking too them again. But we never got the chance for some days.

Well we stayed around on the line untill Oct 27 & another drive was made. Luckily I was where I could see all & It was rather exciting untill some Hun across the river decided to fire a few barrels & he kept me down untill it was over & then some.
Well I am glad it is over because when a six inch shell bursts about 10 ft. from you it sounds like a 14 in. & It really excites a fellow.



I am glad I have had the experience & also glad it is finish. Because honestly it is Hell.

Eugene S. McLain.
This primary source comes from the Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), 1848 - 1942.
National Archives Identifier: 77417784
Full Citation: Personal Experience of World War I from Cpl. Eugene S. McLain; 1918; McLain Eugene S. Cpl. 132nd M.G. Bn. CO. D 36th Division 1918, 236.33.61; Records of Divisions, 1917 - 1920; Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), 1848 - 1942, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/wwi-mclain, November 28, 2021]


Personal Experience of World War I from Cpl. Eugene S. McLain

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Personal Experience of World War I from Cpl. Eugene S. McLain

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Personal Experience of World War I from Cpl. Eugene S. McLain

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Document

Americans Receiving Machine Gun Instruction from British Instructor. Near Moulle, France

5/22/1918

The original caption for this photograph reads: Americans receiving machine gun instruction from British instructor. Near Moulle, France.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.
National Archives Identifier: 16578949
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-0684; Americans Receiving Machine Gun Instruction from British Instructor. Near Moulle, France; 5/22/1918; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/machine-gun-instruction, November 28, 2021]


Americans Receiving Machine Gun Instruction from British Instructor. Near Moulle, France

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Document

Chemical Warfare Service - Drills- Schools - Gas mask drill at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey

1/1919

The original caption for this World War I photograph reads: Gas mask drill and Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 - 1952.
National Archives Identifier: 26423932
Full Citation: Chemical Warfare Service - Drills- Schools - Gas mask drill at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey; 1/1919; Chemical Warfare Service - Drills- Schools, 1917 - 1918; American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 - 1952, ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/recruits-prepare-gas-mask-drill, November 28, 2021]


Chemical Warfare Service - Drills- Schools - Gas mask drill at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey

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Document

French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium

This primary source comes from the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
National Archives Identifier: 530722
Full Citation: French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, . [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/french-soldiers-making-a-gas-and-flame-attack-on-german-trenches-in-flanders-belgium, November 28, 2021]


French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium

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Document

Barbed Wire Gate to Trench. Ypres salient and area. Cambrin

9/16/1917

The original caption for this photograph reads: Barbed wire gate in a trench to check the enemy if he made a successful raid. Cambrin. Ypres Salient and Area.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs .
National Archives Identifier: 16580840
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-1495; Barbed Wire Gate to Trench. Ypres salient and area. Cambrin ; 9/16/1917; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs , ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/barbed-wire-gate-trench, November 28, 2021]


Barbed Wire Gate to Trench. Ypres salient and area. Cambrin

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Document

Abandoned German Front Line Trench on the Flanders Field

6/11/17

The original caption for this photograph reads: Battle of Flanders. Scene in the old German front line.

It comes from a series of photographs depicting military activities during World War I that were taken by British photographers and acquired by the U.S. War Department.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs .
National Archives Identifier: 16580232
Full Citation: Photograph 165-BO-1191; Abandoned German Front Line Trench on the Flanders Field ; 6/11/17; British Photographs of World War I, 1914 - 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs , ; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/abandoned-german-trench, November 28, 2021]


Abandoned German Front Line Trench on the Flanders Field

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