40 Facts About World War 1 You Probably Didn't Know

40 Facts About World War 1 You Probably Didn't Know

World War I, often referred to as the Great War, spanned from 1914 to 1918 and reshaped the course of the 20th century. Its impact reverberated across continents, bringing about lasting political and cultural change. But, beyond the well-known stories and statistics, there are myriad lesser-known facts that provide fascinating insights into the world of a century ago. Here are 40 intriguing details you may not know about WWI.

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1. Unexpected Assassin

Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (thus sparking the war), was only able to do so because he happened to be eating a sandwich near where the Archduke's car took a wrong turn.

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2. First Use of Tanks

Tanks were first used in battle during WWI by the British at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in 1916.

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3. Wartime Plastic Surgery

WWI saw the first significant use of plastic surgery due to the devastating facial injuries from trench warfare.

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4. Pigeon Heroes

Pigeons played crucial roles in delivering messages. One famous pigeon, Cher Ami, saved nearly 200 men by delivering a critical message despite being injured.

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5. Glowing Wounds

Some soldiers reported their wounds glowing in the dark, a phenomenon later attributed to the bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens, which likely reduced wound infections.

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6. Author in the Trenches

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of "The Lord of the Rings," served during WWI and said it influenced his writings.

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7. Unbreakable Code

The Choctaw Telephone Squad used their native language as a code, which the Germans never broke.

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8. Deadly Spanish Flu

More U.S. soldiers died from the 1918 Spanish flu than were killed in battle during the war.

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9. Artificial Fog

To hide their movements, soldiers sometimes released large amounts of smoke to create artificial fog.

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10. War's Deadliest Day

The first day of the Battle of the Somme remains Britain's single deadliest day, with nearly 20,000 soldiers killed.

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11. Silent Night

On Christmas Day 1914, some German and British troops held an unofficial ceasefire, playing football and exchanging gifts.

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12. First Female Soldiers

Russia was the only nation to use female combat troops in frontline roles during WWI.

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13. The Lost Generation

The term "Lost Generation," popularized by Hemingway, originated from Gertrude Stein and referred to those who grew up during the war and suffered its traumas.

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14. Brief Naval Battles

Despite the massive naval arms race before 1914, there were very few direct naval confrontations between the major powers during the war.

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15. Rise of Plastic

The war accelerated the use of plastic materials as they became essential for various applications, from aircraft to medical equipment.

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16. Conscription Ages

In Britain, men between 18 and 41 were subject to conscription, with some exceptions.

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17. Not World-wide

Despite being called a "World War," over 20 countries remained neutral throughout the conflict.

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18. Dazzling Camouflage

Some ships were painted with bold geometric patterns, called "Dazzle Camouflage," to confuse enemy ships.

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19. First Air Raid

The first air raid on Britain was carried out by German Zeppelin airships, not airplanes.

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20. The Harlem Hellfighters

An African-American regiment, the 369th Infantry Regiment, fought valiantly for France and became one of the war's most decorated units.

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21. License to Kill

Soldiers could request a "white feather" to be sent to a man not in uniform as a symbol of cowardice. This led to public humiliation and, in many cases, enlistment.

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22. War and Fashion

Trench coats and wristwatches, now fashion staples, gained popularity because of their practicality during the war.

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23. Journalist Imprisonment

Edith Cavell, a British nurse and journalist, was executed by the Germans for helping soldiers escape occupied Belgium.

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24. Largest Cannon Ever

The German Big Bertha was one of the largest cannons ever used in warfare, able to launch 820 kg projectiles.

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25. The Red Baron

The most famous fighter pilot of the war, Manfred von Richthofen, was credited with 80 air combat victories.

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26. Youngest Soldier

The youngest known soldier to serve was only 12 years old – a boy named Sidney Lewis from Britain.

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27. Soccer in No Man's Land

Soldiers from both sides occasionally played soccer in no man's land during pauses in battle.

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28. Literary Officers

Many of the 20th century's greatest writers served in WWI, including Ernest Hemingway, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves.

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29. The Original "War to End All Wars"

WWI was optimistically referred to as the "war to end all wars," a sentiment echoed by President Woodrow Wilson.

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30. Airplanes' Limited Role

At the war's outset, airplanes were used mainly for reconnaissance. Their role as fighters and bombers developed as the war progressed.

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31. War by Many Names

Before being called World War I, it was referred to as the Great War, the World War, and even the War of the Nations.

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32. Tanks' Initial Name

Tanks were initially called "landships." The term "tank" was used as a code name to maintain secrecy.

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33. The War's Only Undisputed Ace

Belgian pilot Willy Coppens was the only pilot to become an ace solely by shooting down enemy balloons.

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34. A War of Innovation

Many technologies were developed or popularized during WWI, including sonar, drones, and mobile X-ray machines.

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35. Non-human Casualties

Over 8 million horses died during WWI, highlighting the extensive use and reliance on cavalry and transport.

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36. Expanding Female Workforce

The war led to a significant increase in the number of women in the workforce, taking roles traditionally held by men.

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37. Unexpected Peace Treaty Venue

The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

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38. A World War Baby Boom

After the war ended in 1918, there was a notable baby boom in several countries as soldiers returned home.

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39. Last Surviving Veteran

The last known combat veteran of WWI, Claude Choules, passed away in 2011 at the age of 110.

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40. A Delayed American Entry

The U.S. did not enter the war until 1917, three years after it began, despite the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

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From the tragic to the surprising, the Great War was a complex web of events, innovations, and individual stories. These lesser-known facts offer a fresh perspective on one of history's most profound conflicts.