The Human Cost of Artillery Warfare in WWI: A Look into the Australian War Memorial’s Collection
The Great War, or World War One, was a global conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918. It was one of the deadliest wars in human history, with an estimated 16 million military and civilian deaths. Among the deadliest weapons used during the war were artillery guns, which caused massive destruction and loss of life.
The Australian War Memorial holds one of the largest collections of Great War weapons, artillery, and artifacts in the world. The Memorial’s main exhibition areas feature a variety of artillery pieces, from small field guns to massive howitzers. However, most of the largest objects are stored away from public view, and few people have ever seen them up close.
Neil Oliver, a renowned historian, was granted unprecedented access to the Memorial’s artillery collection. His goal was to understand the human cost of artillery warfare in World War One, and to tell the stories of the soldiers who faced these deadly weapons on the battlefield.
One of the most impressive pieces in the Memorial’s collection is the German Krupp 420mm howitzer, also known as “Big Bertha”. This massive gun was capable of firing a shell over 12 miles and could destroy entire fortresses with a single shot. Oliver notes that the psychological impact of such a weapon must have been enormous, as soldiers knew that they were facing a weapon that could kill them from a distance they couldn’t even comprehend.
Another devastating artillery piece was the British 9.2 inch howitzer. This gun fired a shell weighing over 200 pounds and could destroy a house with a single shot. Oliver notes that the psychological impact of such a weapon was immense, both for the soldiers who had to face it and the civilians who lived in the towns and cities that were targeted.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of artillery warfare was the impact it had on the soldiers themselves. Oliver notes that many soldiers suffered from “shell shock”, a psychological condition caused by the constant shelling and bombardment. Soldiers who experienced shell shock often became physically ill, and many were unable to return to the front lines.
The physical toll of artillery warfare was also enormous. Soldiers who survived an artillery barrage often suffered from permanent injuries, including deafness, blindness, and loss of limbs. Oliver notes that many soldiers who survived the war were left with lifelong disabilities and were unable to return to normal civilian life.
In addition to the psychological impact, the physical toll of artillery warfare was staggering. According to the Australian War Memorial, during the First World War, artillery caused 70% of all battlefield casualties. Survivors of an artillery barrage often suffered from permanent injuries, including deafness, blindness, and loss of limbs. In fact, over 41,000 British soldiers suffered major limb amputations during the war.
Moreover, the constant exposure to the sound of artillery shells exploding caused severe hearing damage for many soldiers. It is estimated that up to 10% of all soldiers who served in the war suffered from some form of hearing loss. The use of gas shells also had a devastating impact on soldiers’ health. Exposure to mustard gas caused severe burns and blisters, as well as respiratory problems and blindness.
The physical toll of the war extended far beyond the battlefield. Many soldiers who survived the war were left with lifelong disabilities that prevented them from returning to normal civilian life. In the UK alone, over 41,000 soldiers were permanently disabled as a result of the war. These disabilities included loss of limbs, blindness, and severe facial disfigurement.
The impact of the war on soldiers’ mental and physical health was so significant that it led to the establishment of the first modern rehabilitation programs for veterans. The war also led to significant advancements in prosthetics and medical treatments for those who had suffered major injuries.
Overall, the human cost of artillery warfare in World War One cannot be overstated. It not only led to countless deaths and injuries on the battlefield but also left a lasting impact on the physical and mental health of survivors. The weapons of war changed the world forever, but it was the soldiers who faced them in battle who paid the ultimate price.
Despite the massive human cost of artillery warfare, it remained a crucial part of the Great War. Both sides used artillery to devastating effect, and many battles were won or lost based on the effectiveness of their artillery barrages. However, the human cost of this deadly weapon cannot be ignored. The soldiers who faced these weapons were often young and inexperienced, and they suffered unimaginable physical and psychological trauma as a result.
In conclusion, the Australian War Memorial’s collection of Great War artillery is a sobering reminder of the human cost of warfare. These weapons changed the world forever, but they also changed the lives of the soldiers who faced them in battle. Neil Oliver’s work offers a valuable perspective on the impact of artillery warfare on human lives, and reminds us of the need to work towards peace and understanding in our own time.