Below is a list of some interesting facts about World War I:

1.    To date, World War I is the sixth deadliest conflict in world history.

A German trench occupied by British Soldiers - Circa 1916

A German trench occupied by British Soldiers - Circa 1916

2.    Despite the unsanitary conditions experienced in the trenches, still close to 2/3 of the deaths in World War I occurred in battle.  A large percentage of the remaining deaths were the result of the Spanish flu.

3.     In all, more than 35 million civilians and soldiers either died or were wounded during the war.

4.    A total of 30 countries were involved in the war, 65 million men, of which almost 10 million died.  The Allies lost about 6 million while the Central Powers lost approximately 4 million. 

5.    Germany was the first to use flamethrowers during this war.

6.    Russia had the largest army in World War I – 12 million troops.  More than 9 million of them were killed, wounded or went missing in action.

7.    The first prototype tank (built in 1915) in World War I was nicknamed ‘Little Willie’ and was capable of carrying a crew of three.  Its fastest speed was only three miles per hour.

8.    Artillery and other arsenal were so loud, they could sometimes be heard as far as 140 miles away.

Sergeant Stubby from World War I

Sergeant Stubby from World War I

9.    Canines were used in World War I as messengers (often carrying orders to the front lines in a capsule attached to their body) and to lay down wires for the telegraph. 

10. The 48-ton howitzer used by the Germans was referred to as Big Bertha.  This ‘wonder weapon’ was capable of firing a 2,050 lb. shell a distance of 9.3 miles.  Assembling the howitzer required a crew of 200 men for six or more hours.

11.  Originally, tanks were called ‘landships’.  After British attempts to disguise em as water storage tanks, they began using the code name ‘tanks’. 

12.  Rittmeister von Richthofen was the most successful fighter of World War I – shooting down a total of 80 planes.  The most successful fighter pilot for the Allies was France’s Rene Fonck, who shot down a total of 75 enemy planes.

13.  Approximately one month after Woodrow Wilson was sworn in for his second presidential term, the U. S. declared war on Germany (April 6, 1917).  The irony is that Wilson’s campaign slogan for this second term was ‘He kept us out of war’. 

14.  During World War I, Congress found it necessary to increase the size of the Army and passed the Selective Service Act (or draft).  By war’s end, 2.7 million men had been drafted and 1.3 million had enlisted voluntarily.

WWI Victory Garden Poster

WWI Victory Garden Poster

15.  Herbert Hoover was appointed to as US Food Administrator during World War I and was the first to encourage Americans to plant Victory Gardens.  With more than 20 million Americans planting their own garden, food consumption in the United States dropped by 15%.

16.  The cost of the war to the United States was in excess of $30 billion.

17.  The term ‘dogfight’ was first used in World War I.  Pilots occasionally had to turn off their plane’s engine to prevent it from stalling.  When they restarted the engine (midair), it sounded like barking dogs.

18.  Thousands of soldiers were disfigured and disabled in WWI.  Some facial damage could be repaired with reconstructive surgery, but those suffering the most horrific disfigurement would wear masks.  As a result, some of the soldiers remained in nursing homes for the balance of their lives.

19.  World War I is the first time submarines made a large impact on the military. 

20.  Following WWI, four empires collapsed:  German, Russian Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian.

21.  The war officially began on July 28, 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Ferdinand (heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne) and his wife.  The group of terrorists responsible for his assassination was known as ‘Black Hand, Sarajevo’. 

22.  The United States did not join the war until the last year and a half.

23.  The network of trenches dug during WWI covered an estimated 25,000 miles.  They stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland, known as the Western Front.

24.  Trenches dug by the Germans were far more elaborate and were built to last.  They included bunk beds, cupboards, water tanks with faucets and electric lights, to name a few things.

25.  During WWI, German U-boats sank a total of 6,596 ships. 

26.  Germans were the first to use tear gas against enemy troops.  The first tear gas grenade was shot in August of 1914.  Their first attempt to use tear gas against the Russians in January of 1915 failed when the cold air caused the gas to turn into a liquid.  Three months later (April of 1914), the Germans became the first to use poisonous chlorine gas.

27.  A total of 1.2 million soldiers on both sides were gassed during the war.  Close to 100,000 of them died horrible deaths.

28.  The United States supplied the following (estimates) to France as a means to support the Allies:

  • 70,000 horses and mules
  • 50,000 trucks
  • 27,000 freight cars
  • 1,800 locomotives

29.  World War I was the first time machine guns were widely used.  This weapon was patented in the US in 1884 by Hiram Maxim.  The water-cooled machine gun weighed almost 100 pounds and could fire an average of 450 to 600 rounds per minute.  Most of the machine guns used in World War I were based on Maxim’s design.

Hello Girls

A group of Hello Girls

30.  The French used a weapon the German soldiers referred to as the “Devil Gun’.  This 75mm cannon was accurate up to four miles.  The commanders of the French military claim it is the reason they won the war.

31.   American women – known as the ‘Hello Girls’ – served as telephone operators for Pershing’s forces in Europe.  It wasn’t until 1979 that the US Army recognized their service and awarded the war medals and veteran benefits to the few remaining survivors. 

32.  Millions of World War I soldiers suffered from what is known today as posttraumatic stress disorder.  Some of the men recovered, but for others, it remained a lifelong conflict.

33.  Close to 13,000 Native Americans served in World War I even though the United States government did not officially grant them citizenship until 1924. 

34.  The skill of the Germans to intercept and solve Allied codes came quickly to a halt when the Choctaw tribe members were utilized.  The tribe members were able to use their complex language, making it impossible for the Germans to translate.  They were the first of the Code Talkers.

35.  An estimated 200,000 African Americans served in World War I.  Only 11 percent of them were in combat forces.  The remaining 89% were assigned to labor units, cargo loading and assisted with building roads and digging ditches.  They trained separately and were placed in segregated divisions.

36.  One of the few divisions of African Americans who experienced the front lines during the war became known as ‘The Harlem Hell Fighters’.  The French recognized their heroism by awarding them the French Croix de Guerre (a medal given to soldiers from Allied countries who exhibited bravery in combat).  The United States for the most part ignored their deeds.

37.  More than 500,000 pigeons were used in World War I to carry messages from the headquarters to the front lines and back.

38. Two contrasting Christmases during WWI:

  • Christmas Eve 1914:  Soldiers from both sides of the front sang Christmas carols to one another. 
  • Christmas Day 1914:  Troops throughout the Front (approximately two-thirds) declared a truce.
  • Christmas 1915:  Both sides were ordered to shoot anyone attempting a repeat performance.

    alvin york

    Alvin Cullum York

39.  Alvin Cullum York is the most decorated American soldier of WWI. 

40.  The first battle fought by US troops in World War I took place on November 2, 1917 at Barthelemont, France.

41.  The British had a staggering loss of 60,000 men in one day during the Battle of Somme.  This was more men than the United States lost during the entire war from its armed forces and National Guard combined.

42.  The Treaty of Versailles imposed extreme sanctions on Germany, driving the country into a deep recession.  Some feel this set the groundwork for World War II.

43.  After the war was over, Britain suffered as a result of their high debts, high unemployment and experienced a period of slow growth.  France suffered since the majority of the loans it made to the czarist of Russia were never repaid.  They also suffered rampant inflation and the majority of the country was in ruins.

44.  A new era of warfare emerged during World War I.  While air power was the most significant development, tanks also offered a new era of offensive war. 

45.  Women’s emancipation was accelerated by WWI.  When the women took over the traditional male jobs, they proved they could perform the tasks just as well as men.  In 1918, British women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote in the British parliamentary elections.  America followed two years later, passing the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote.

46.  One of the most significant population shifts of the 20th century occurred during WWI when African Americans migrated from the South to the North.  People like Henry Ford were recruiting black people to work in their factories.

Harold Gillies

Harold Gillies

47.  Medical advances were greatly hastened during the First World War.  Physicians became more experienced (and therefore learned more) in wound management and setting bones.  Skin grafting was first pioneered during this time by English doctor Harold Gillies.  Because of the large scale of casualties who needed care, physicians and nurses began to see the benefits of specialized care and professional management.

48.  Some historians feel WWI served as a catalyst for the most important consequence (though startling) - the transformation of Russia into the Union of the Soviet Socialist.  This transformation gave birth to the world’s first communist state and thus, ushered in a new phase in world history.

49.  Five nations became independent as a result of World War I.  They are Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. 

50.  With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies were able to extend their influence in the Middle East.  Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine were declared ‘mandates’ under the League of Nations with France taking control of Syria and Britain taking control of the remaining three.