HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The World War I soldier endured bitter cold, poison gas, enemy snipers and a grueling fight from the trenches.
The U.S. joined the Allies in 1917, making this year a big one for the WWI Centennial and a fitting time to honor the doughboys.
Here are our picks for must-haves on the battlefield in WWI, as described by retired Army Lt. Col. Ed Kennedy, a volunteer with the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum here in Huntsville.
1. Model 1918 Trench Knife. Big blade, with brass knuckles. This bad boy was considered a versatile trench weapon for close-combat fighting.
2. Trench periscope. Used by both sides, this device prevented head-shots from enemy snipers who frequently fired at anybody who went above the trench parapet.
The Trench Periscope allowed soldiers to see outside the trench without facing enemy sniper fire. (Tony Lombardo/Staff)
3. M1917 Gas Mask. Poison gas was one of the most feared weapons on the battlefield. The rubberized US gas mask was based off the British “small box respirator.” It included a rubber face mask with lens and a hose to a box filter, strapped to a soldier’s chest. Some soldiers wore the M2 French mask instead.
4. The M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (Caliber .30-06). Introduced later in the war, this John Browning-designed rifle, could fire from a 20-round box magazine. While it did not reach the front in large numbers in WWI, it was favored by troops and remained in the Army inventory through Vietnam.
5. Inflatable Pillow and Air Mattress. OK, this cushy-combo was really only used by officers – because they could afford it. This non-issue “camp gear” was heavy and bulky but gave officers a comfortable bed in the rear. It is unlikely it ever arrived in the trenches.
6. Olive Drab Wool Balaclava and
7. Fingerless Trench Gloves. These items were often sewn by women at home and mailed by the thousands to troops overseas. “Severe conditions on the Western Front” eventually prompted the issue of fingerless gloves to protect the hands.
8. Identity Disk. This precursor to the dog tag was the first time U.S. troops received issued identifiers. The disk was aluminum and contained the wearer’s name and service number.
Identity disks were a precursor to the dog tag. (Tony Lombardo/staff)
The Trench Watch was a practical way to tell time from the front. (Tony Lombardo/Staff)
9. Trench watch. Wrist watches at the time were considered effeminate for men, who preferred pocket watches. But the trench watch made practical sense – it could be worn on the wrist of soldiers who were already wearing a lot of gear. Pulling out a pocket watch to check the time no longer made sense. Trench watches included a cover to protect the face from hazards in the field.
10. 1910 Entrenching Tool. This early version of the entrenching tool could not fold, but it could still dig a trench. It’s inclusion on this list is a bit of a no-brainer here.
And now for a piece of equipment that soldiers truly reviled:
The M1915 Chauchat Automatic Rifle (8mm). Americans (who couldn’t speak proper French) called this hated weapon the “Show show.” This is “arguably one of the very worst designed infantry weapons ever." The French weapon was difficult to shoot and had a heavy recoil. Add on the straight-stock design, and it was quite painful to shoot. Finally, the open magazine welcomed a lot of dirt and mud, often causing jams.
The M1915 Chauchat Automatic Rifle was hated in the field. (Tony Lombardo/Staff)