The First World War called for an enormous amount of material. The armies had to be equipped and fed. The battles would not have been possible without the manufacture on an industrial scale of arms and other strategic products. Only through the total mobilisation of all available resources was it possible to keep the huge war machinery going.
The First World War marked the end of the “long nineteenth century”. The monarchic empires were replaced by new political players. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy disintegrated into separate nation states. The Republic of German Austria was proclaimed in November 1918, and Austria was established as a federal state in October 1920. The years after the war were highly agitated – in a conflicting atmosphere of revolution and defeat, and political, economic, social and cultural achievements and setbacks.
The Austro-Hungarian army committed various types of war crimes, ranging from the use of illegal warfare agents and inhuman treatment of prisoners of war to brutality towards civilians. Villages and towns were burnt to the ground, hostages were taken and shot, there was forcible deportation, internment, forced labour, mass executions, rape and pillaging. The Habsburg military courts also sentenced tens of thousands of people to death. It only took a careless comment, a spurious suspicion or a denunciation for an innocent civilian to end up on the gallows.
While some of the front soldiers experienced the “storm of steel” as the apotheosis of their own masculinity, most soldiers suffered on account of their physical and/or mental injuries. The destructiveness of modern mechanical warfare and the mental strain caused by the days and weeks in the trenches, the constant noise of the artillery and the sight of seriously wounded and mutilated comrades produced not only an army of war wounded but also masses of soldiers suffering from war neurosis.
In the years and decades before the First World War there were many innovations in arms technology with the result that the entire war machinery and with it the strategic and tactical considerations had to be fundamentally rethought. The artillery, with its powerful arsenal of guns, mortars and howitzers, epitomised the dominance of “fire power”. It was the prototype of industrialised mechanical and mass warfare and responsible for a larger number of casualties than any other type of weapon.
Millions of people fled during the war from the fighting and the marauding soldiers. The situation was particularly dramatic in ethnically heterogeneous regions on the eastern front. Apart from the invaders, local soldiers also attacked minorities. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were deported far away from the front and behind the lines, in some cases because they were seen as untrustworthy “internal enemies” and in others to exploit them as forced labourers.
The Imperial Arms Industry had to struggle with some problems at the beginning of the war, which in the course of time would be solved, however, new and quite severe problems ensued.
Hand grenades, mortars and howitzers were particularly used when the enemy could not be hit with direct fire. Despite the fact that the military knew of this area of application the industrial production in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of this weapon only began one year after the beginning of the war.
Among all the different branches of weapons of World War One, the machine gun held a prominent position. Thousands and thousands of soldiers were killed in the blaze of gunfire. Yet the full military potential of these automated guns was only to become apparent in the course of the war.
Artillery and infantry were amongst the most important branches of the armed services in World War One, but they unfolded their full potential only in cooperation with each other. In this military union the artillery had to support the forward pressing infantry.