WW1 weapons changed warfare in 1914, ushering in a new era of firepower like the world had never seen. No other time has seen such rapid progress in firearms design as in the late 19th and early 20th century. In appreciating the weapons used in WW1, it goes hand in hand to appreciate the scale of misery and destruction unleashed.
WW1 weapons are the closest ancestors to modern military weapons. And, some of the weapons used in WW1 remained in service longer than you might think. Learn about 5 of the top WW1 weapons that you can find at gun auctions near you.
5 WW1 Weapons for Collectors to Appreciate
Weapons of WW1 signal the debut of a new era in warfare – and brutality. The destructive power of WW1 weapons is, both, impressive, and sobering. WW1 weapons enabled armies to serve-up destruction and death on a scale that was never before seen. In total, the war claimed around 20 million lives, and nearly 23 million military personnel wounded.
In considering the Great War’s impact on the history of military warfare, you must consider the weapons by which it is defined. It is the first war in history to standardize the utilization of fully automatic firearms – defining the priority with which the military continues to place on automatic weapons. The weapons used in World War1 include such groundbreaking design innovations as forever change the means by which wars are fought and won:
1. Lee-Enfield Rifle
When the war broke out, in 1914, The Lee-Enfield Rifle was one of the most popular WW1 weapons for militaries all over the globe. The British Army adopted the Lee-Enfield as standard issue rifle in 1895 and remained in service until 1957. The Lee-Enfield is a bolt-action repeater rifle that was originally fed by a fixed mag and then moved to a removable magazine.
In WW1, a design variation shortened the barrel, making it easier to use in trench warfare. The rifle retains a reputation for extreme reliability and accuracy. The SMLE variant of the Lee-Enfield is still seen in combat, to this day, in several Asian and African former-British colonies.
2. M1903 Springfield
In 1914, the Model 1903 Springfield was the United States standard issue rifle. The M1903 Springfield remained standard issue for the United States Army and Marine Corp all the way through WW1. It wasn’t until 1936 that the US Military replaced the M1903 with the M1 Garand.
The M1903 Springfield is a bolt action rifle that uses a 5-round magazine, and remained in service as a sniper rifle, once the M1 came along. However, by WWII, the M1903A4 variant was the only model still in service for snipers. The US Army officially decommissioned the M1903 from active use in 1975 with the end of the Vietnam War.
3. M1895 Browning machine gun
The Gatling Gun and Maxim Gun pave the road for John Browning’s M1895 machine gun, affectionately called “the potato digger.” At the start of the war, the Maxim Gun is the most widely used machine gun in the world. By the turn of the 20th-century, the Maxim had been widely adopted by European militaries, but, in small quantities.
The United States turned to John Browning’s “potato digger” M1895 machine gun design, and Colt as a manufacturer. Browning’s machine gun was air-cooled and recoil-operated, incorporating several design improvements on the Maxim Gun. By the time WW1 breaks out in 1914, the US military has extrapolated the M1895 into several variants – like the M1915 Vickers and Lewis Gun.
The improvements made to automatic weapons design, in the years before WW1, set the stage for a different and more brutal type of warfare than had ever been seen. The Maxim Gun fires up to 600 rounds per minute, in a time where military tactics still called for troops to charge on horseback, with swords drawn. From ground soldiers to their military commanders, the destructive power of these WW1 weapons taught the world hard lessons at the cost of many lives.
4. Lewis Gun M1914
Among the variations extrapolated from the M1895 Browning machine gun, the M1914 Lewis Gun is the first model lightweight enough to be called a “light machine gun.” The Lewis Gun adapts the design of the Maxim Gun and Browning machine gun – but without the unnecessary bulk and weight.
The Lewis Gun was designed by Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, three years before the First World War, in 1911. The Lewis Gun provided a unique benefit among WW1 weapons, in the guns relatively lightweight design (weighing roughly 10 pounds) which provided for easy mobility.
At the time, the Lewis Gun was the only machine gun on the battlefield capable of being transported and fired with minimal effort. The 1914 model of the Lewis Gun used a circular drum magazine, aka as a dish magazine, that fed cartridges into the firing chamber with adjustable recoil spring. The Lewis Gun is accurate up to about 650 yards and fires at an average rate of 550 rounds per minute.
It was relatively late in the war that the United States finally joined the British Empire and most other European armies, in adopting the Lewis Gun. The Lewis Gun was more expensive and time-consuming to manufacture than the Vickers Gun. In fact, a single Lewis Gun took as much time to manufacture as six Vickers Guns.
5. Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
The United States Military produced the Lewis Gun between its adoption in 1917 and the debut of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in 1918, which continued to see active service until the mid-20th-century. The BAR came too late in 1918 to make a name for itself in WW1, as the war came to an end in the same year. But, in WW2, the BAR sees more service than the Lewis Gun in WW1.
In the last year of the Great War, the value of light machine guns was fully realized in the deployment of the Browning Automatic Rifle. Unlike the Lewis Gun, a single soldier could reload and fire the BAR. Reloading the magazine was much faster than the Vickers Gun, Lewis Gun, or the French Chauchat Gun. In all practical senses, the BAR signifies a new age of automatic firearms.
Find WW1 Weapons at the Next Auction
In WWII, along with the BAR, Thompson Submachine Gun – and other automatic weapons – define a new age of automatic military fire-power. And, by the time WWII breaks out, the lessons from WW1 are well ingrained in every one of the world’s militaries. But, the next war will see just how far the limits of destructive weapons can stretch.
Stay tuned for more gun guides and resources on collectible, antique WW1 weapons. If you want to add some classic WW1 weapons to your personal collection, check out the inventory for upcoming gun auctions. And, share this article with other military history buffs in your social media community.