Recovered Writing, PhD in English, World War I Literature, Presentation on Weapons and Tactics, 31 January 2008

This is the forty-sixth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

During my second semester at Kent State University as a PhD student, I was a member of Professor Robert Trogdon’s World War I Literature seminar. Professor Trogdon created a terrific syllabus of readings and facilitated insightful discussions. While we focused on the prose and poetry surrounding or focused on WWI, I found it to be a uniquely suited class for thinking about the history of science and technology in early 20th-century literature. My greatest success in this class was my final paper on H.G. Wells’ “The Land Ironclads” and the invention of the British tank, which I continued writing after the class and eventually presented in shortened form at SLSA and published in the prestigious Wellsian journal. The essay included below is a paper that I wrote for a presentation on the weapons and tactics of World War I. This early research in the class and my previous reading of H.G. Wells led me to pitch “The Land Ironclads” essay idea to Professor Trogdon.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Robert Trogdon

World War I Literature

31 January 2008

WWI Literature Presentation – Weapons and Tactics

            The Great War illustrates the disconnection between the vast technological developments at the turn of the century and the implementation of those new technologies in the waging of war. Whereas the new weaponry of the Great War would go on to be used in innovative ways in World War II, the overall strategies employed, particularly on the Western Front, was that of attrition. However, there was certainly a number of innovations, and the networks of war making and technology fed into one another, which eventually produced new weapons and tactics that left an ineradicable mark on history.

The most recognizable aspect of the First World War is trench warfare. The Western Front stabilized early in the war after the Allies and Central forces were unable to outflank one another. This stalemate initially prompted a breakdown in imaginative thinking regarding strategies to breakthrough, which resulted in enormous losses. Essentially, troops in forward trenches would charge forward toward the exposed “No Man’s Land” while their artillery fired on enemy positions. Aside from the uneven terrain due to artillery craters, these front line soldiers encountered a new impediment to crossing to the enemy lines: barbed wire. It was first patented by Joseph Glidden in 1874 in the United States. In use, it was stretched parallel to the front trenches of each side to prevent advances from the other side. Soldier caught in the barbed wire were gunned down and left to die hanging.

Germany revealed its first advantage early in the war through the extensive use of machine guns, which they had stockpiled in the years leading up to the war. The first machine guns used in First World War were typically tripod mounted, and were water, oil, or air cooled (predominantly the first). Despite their weight, a crew of several soldiers could easily setup a machine gun quickly from a defensible position, or it may be hidden within a secure enclosure. These machine guns had a theoretical sustained rate of fire of up to 600 rounds per minute, but firing was often limited to controlled bursts rather than continuous use due to the possibility of overheating. The first self-powered, force recoil machine gun was patented by Hiram Maxim in Britain in 1883. The British had access to the Maxim oil-cooled gun and the Vickers water-cooled gun, both in .303 British caliber, but their numbers were limited, because, “the British army high command could see no real use for the [machine gun that Maxim] demonstrated to them in 1885; other officers even regarded the weapon as an improper form of warfare” (“Machine Guns” par. 9). However, the Germans had no such qualms about the use of machine guns, and they made an almost identical copy called the Maschinengewehr 08 (MG08) that fired 7.92x57mm Mauser rounds. At the outbreak of war, Germany had “approximately 12,000 MG08s…available to battlefield units” (“Maschinengewehr” par. 5). Due to the weight of the gun, it’s cooling requirements, and heavy consumption of ammunition, the machine gun was originally a defensive weapon. German soldiers more than aptly demonstrated its defensive capabilities to the Allies during the first phase of the war. Later, machine guns were adapted to mobile platforms such as carts, tanks, airplanes, and ships.

Artillery served a central offensive role in trench warfare. It served a clearing function by cutting through barbed wire defenses in No Man’s Land, though with lackluster success. Additionally, it supported infantry soldiers by first attempting to weaken the enemy’s defenses and ability to return fire, and leading the way during advances past enemy lines. However, this didn’t always work out as planned, which was evidenced by the Allied losses at the battle of Verdun after their 1.5 million shells left only “superficial” damage to Germany’s well fortified deep trench system (Robbins 56).

There are three types of artillery: guns, howitzers, and mortars. Guns are very large, long barreled machines that fire a large projectile. Howitzers are shorter range artillery weapons with a short barrel, and fire a smaller projectile. And finally, mortars are easily conveyed by troops in trenches and fire small projectiles nearly vertically that fall down onto the enemy. Initially, these used shrapnel rounds to attack troops, but later in the war there was a shift to high explosive rounds.

Poison gas, which was first used in the Great War, is another offensive weapon employed throughout the conflict. Simply put, poison gases are chemical agents tailored to kill, maim, and/or serious disable enemy soldiers. The first use of poison gas (excluding early forms of tear gas) took place at Ypres salient on 22 April 1915 when the Germans utilized favorable winds to carry 150 tons of chlorine gas to the French lines. The gas of choice in the war initially was chlorine, which was easily produced, but difficult to release. That problem was solved through the use of canisters and later shells. Chlorine gas breaks down tissues, particularly in the lungs, when it dissolves in water producing hydrochloric acid. The common cause of death by chlorine gas is asphyxiation due to the destruction of lung tissue and the accumulation of fluid. A poison gas arms race developed after the use of chlorine. As one side developed protections in the form of masks and breathers, the other side would redouble its efforts in creating a more deadly chemical that circumvented those protections. Other well-known gases developed during the Great War include the toxic, mucous membrane irritant phosgene, the paralyzing hydrocynanide, and the blistering agent dichlordiethyl sulphide, or mustard gas (Hartcup 102 and 106). Both sides of the war developed poison gas, delivery systems, and protections, and these agents were used throughout the war.

Poison gas, artillery, machine guns, and barbed wire promoted an unimaginative solution to the war through attrition. These weapons were employed without a retooling of the methods of warfare in an age of intense technological development. However, three technologies provided the promise for new ways of seeing and thinking about warfare at the turn of the century: tanks, airplanes, and submarines.

Motorized tractors in warfare were considered as a possibility following the development of petrol-based engines. However, the first image of the modern battle tank was envisioned by H.G. Wells in his 1903 short story, “The Land Ironclads,” which reveals the battle potential of mechanized warfare in a thinly veiled bourgeoisie triumph over the simple proletariat. Appropriately enough, the British were the first to develop a tank for deployment in the Great War. Unfortunately, its strategic potential was limited by planning and numbers when first unleashed on the Western Front on 15 September 1916 at Flers Courcellette (Hartcup 86). This first model of British tank is described as, “cumbersome and unreliable,” and, “whose movements as yet inspired more awe than fear amongst those Germans who observed it” (Robbins 56).   Germany developed approximately twenty tanks in response, but there was only one reported tank battle between British and German tanks during the war (Hartcup 91).

Another new technology used in the war were airplanes. They were initially used for aerial reconnaissance, but their role evolved as the conflict progressed. The number of aircraft produced increased during the war, and they were outfitted with two means of attack: machine guns and bombs. Both of these involved major engineering work. Machine guns, mounted on the fuselage of the aircraft had to be synchronized with the propellers so that bullets would pass between the rotor blades as the plane was in flight. Bomb delivery evolved from hand dropping shells and grenades to mechanically releasing heavier bombs, which necessitated the invention of bomb sighting mechanisms. Furthermore, the development of air to ground warfare precipitated the inauguration of air-to-air combat. The airplane didn’t have as central a role in operations as in World War II, but it was seen as the future well before the Great War in H.G. Wells’ 1908 novel, The War in the Air.

A third and final major weapon in the Great War is the submarine. The German Unterseeboot or U-boat is an underwater submersible with a diesel power plant for continuous underwater operations, and it was equipped with a deck gun, torpedoes, and (optionall) mine laying capability. Without detection mechanisms early in the war, Germany was able to declare the waters around Britain a war zone and thereby effectively wage unrestricted warfare. However, this position was relaxed momentarily following the diplomatic fallout after the RMS Lusitania sinking by U-20 on 15 May 1915. Later, Germany shifted to unrestricted submarine warfare beginning on 1 February 1917, which precipitated the United States’ involvement in the Great War.

These are only a sampling of the technology, weapons and tactics utilized in the First World War. Others include flamethrowers, grenades, improved infantry rifles and bullets, British Q-ships, new battleships, the battlecruiser, improved naval guns, naval mines, and zeppelins. There are two final points that I would like to make about these technologies and their uses. First, the technology at the turn of the century influenced the war, and the war influenced the development of new technologies. And second, these technologies left a lasting mark on the physicality of future technologies as well as the human bodies engaged in their use from 1914 to 1918.

Works Cited

Duffy, Michael. “Machine Guns.” 3 May 2003. 30 January 2008 <;.

—. “Maschinengewehr.” 3 May 2003. 30 January 2008 <;.

Hartcup, Guy. The War of Invention: Scientific Developments 1914-1918. New York: Brassey’s Defense Publishers, 1988.

Robbins, Keith. The First World War. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984.

Wells, H.G.. “The Land Ironclads.” Selected Stories of H.G. Wells. Ed. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Random House, 2004.

—. The War in the Air: And Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908.

Protect Your Online Privacy and Take the Battle to Facebook’s Turf

All of the recent explosive disclosures about the changes to Facebook‘s privacy policy–something that has been an ongoing and procedural erosion of our privacy (see here for a graphical representation of the changes) by acceptance of their terms of service and privacy policy changes–had begun to make me think strongly about quitting Facebook all together. It can be a time wasting website, and it can give you too much information about some folks who you don’t really want to know that much about. However, it allows you to reconnect with old friends, and more importantly, stay connected with professional colleagues. It is primarily for this latter reason that I have decided to stay on Facebook and take the fight to their turf. The reason that Facebook is so insanely popular is that it facilitates social networking and communication in a a very streamlined and generally snappy website. There are no other players on the near horizon that can do the things that Facebook does that I can switch to and bring all of my friends and colleagues with me. I have pitched my tent in the Facebook frontier, and I intend to fight for my tiny share of profile space and the inroads that I and my friends have made there. It is a good land with a lot of possibilities that I don’t want to give up on just yet. I know that we can use Facebook and protect ourselves, but we will have to be proactive and ever vigilant to the changes instituted by Facebook that may conflict with the way we want to use the service and the way Facebook may take advantage of us using their service. Also, I should note that I have no problem with Facebook making a buck off of my using their service, but I believe that I should not be made into a commodity rather than a potential consumer (via ads, add-ons, etc.). Give me respect as a person, and I will be happy to play ball. As it is now, Facebook sees me and my information as so much stuff to be bought and sold, so I am offering the following tactics (there’s some de Certeau for you guys in the know) to fight back against Facebook’s strategies.

  1. Suit up with an updated version of Firefox. Then, go to Preferences > Privacy > Uncheck all except Clear History when Firefox Closes. Click on Exceptions for Cookies and manually add the domains for the sites that you want to accept cookies from (Facebook might not be one of those sites you want to list).
  2. Yield a mighty sword: Install AdBlock Pro. Inside Firefox, go to Tools > Add-Ons > Search for AdBlock Pro and choose to install it. After installing and restarting Firefox, click on the ABP icon in your navigation bar and choose preferences. Click on Filters > Add Subscription > Choose EasyList to add, and then add Fanboy’s List. You will also want to manually add the following filters one-by-one:
    [Thanks to Andrew and pfc.joker’s comments on Lifehacker for these.]
  3. Store your gear when you’re not using it. When you’re not using Facebook, make sure that you logout. This is probably a generally good rule of thumb when it comes to other sites accessing cookies saved by your web browser.
  4. Secure your stable door. This is where you adjust your Facebook privacy settings. First, go to Account > Privacy Settings. Here, you need to go through each page and adjust the settings. Personal Information and Posts > Set to Friends Only for all. Contact Information > Friends Only (you can allow Everyone to add you as a friend or contact you, but hide your email addresses by setting to Only Me). Friends, Tags, and Connections > Friends Only. Search > Uncheck Allow Public Search. Applications and Websites > What Friends Can Share > Uncheck All. Applications and Websites > Instant Personalization > Uncheck Allow.
  5. Clean up your stable. This is where you cut the new “Connections” that enable the flow of information between you and your friends to companies that Facebook sells your info to. Navigate to your Profile > Info. You have to leave your basic info, but you want to remove all of your interests, likes, education, work info, etc. You may also want to go into your photos and profile pictures and delete anything that you don’t want circulated (this is just good sense). You can use your bio to include the parts about you that you want people to know about. I only include SFRA and IAFA in my Likes and Interests, because these are professional affiliations that I use Facebook for.
  6. Ride off on a new adventure. If you’re really fed up with Facebook, you can create a new account and reconnect with your friends. There is a procedure to follow for this that you can find on Lifehacker here. They also have a nice set of 10 privacy tweaks that will generally improve your privacy online here.
  7. There be dragons in every cave and a troll under every bridge. The important thing to remember is that for every new and creative way of protecting our information and online identity from exploitation, there are corporations out there looking for equally inventive ways to make a buck on the information that we make freely available. Even our browsing habits can be tracked according to the way we configure our web browser (read about a project by the EFF regarding this on Slashdot here). You have to educate yourself about how your software works, and how you can use it to be prepared for unexpected onslaughts against your privacy. Check in on the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read Lifehacker is good (even though its part of Gawker), and has some good info along with other wonderful things.
  8. Leave your own tips and favorite electronic privacy links in the comments, and let’s let Facebook know how we feel about their new policies before more of our online rights are eroded by big business.


I’ve been meaning to post updates to the site lately, but I’ve been bogged down with presentations among other things.  Last week I presented on “Weapons and Tactics” in World War I Literature, and this week I’m presenting on two essays by Judith Butler in Queer Theory.  Once I’m done with this stuff, I can turn my attention to the paper I’m writing for ICFA as well as Dynamic Subspace.  See you soon.