Weapons of the First World War: Guns


The rifle was the most commonly used weapon during World War One. Almost every soldier in every army was issued with a rifle. While every major country fighting in World War One had their own rifle design, bolt-action rifles were the most prevalent. These weapons were capable of firing multiple rounds from a spring-loaded clip inserted into a rifle magazine. The most skilled soldiers could fire 15 rounds per minute, but the average was closer to 8-12 shots.

The rifle could also be used by a specialist marksman, called a sniper. The range of the rifle was up to 1400m, although the accuracy decreased after 600m. Nevertheless, sniper rifles could be deadly for soldiers in opposing trenches.

Another feature of the rifle was the bayonet. A bayonet is a sword like blade that can be attached to the front of a rifle. This was used for one on one or close combat fighting. The bayonet could also be used for simple tasks like cleaning mud from boots or opening tin cans.


The revolver or pistol is a small handheld gun that was traditionally issued to army officers. Pilots and tank operators were also issued with pistols because of the cramped conditions. A rifle was too large and impractical, meaning the pistol was the only weapon suitable for these situations.

There were three types of pistol in general use: revolvers, clip-loaded automatics and the ‘blow-back’ models (where expanding propellant gas caused the gun to reload by forcing the bolt back when fired).

As with rifles, each country had their own specific design. The most famous World War One pistol was the German Luger. The Luger had a seven-round magazine loaded via the pistol butt.  The Luger was reliable and accurate, although new weapons were being produced during the war, it wasn’t enough to meet the increasing demand. It was always a popular trophy when captured by Allied troops.

Machine gun

The machine gun was a very powerful weapon, capable of devastating the enemy. The machine gun was primarily a defensive weapon due to its size and weight. It required a crew of four to six soldiers to operate the weapon. The machine gun could fire 400-600 small-calibre rounds per minute. It was estimated that just one machine gun could have the same firepower as 60-100 rifles.

However, the early machine guns would rapidly overheat. Cooling mechanisms were needed to keep the machine guns in working order. Machine guns would also jam in hot conditions, or if used incorrectly my inexperienced soldiers. Despite their immobility and technical problems, the machine gun was still a very powerful and deadly weapon.


The flamethrower is a weapon that spreads fire by launching burning fuel. Primarily used by the German army in the first half of the war, the flamethrower could be very effective over short distances and it certainly had a fear factor attached to it.

The German’s had two types of flamethrower. One was a small and lightweight weapon that could be carried by one man. This was capable of sending forth the burning fuel up to 18 metres. There was also a second larger model that required more than one soldier to operate it. This larger flamethrower had twice the range of the handheld model and could also fire continuously for 40 seconds.

The flamethrowers were also dangerous for their users. Aside from needing the care not to set oneself on fire, the gas tanks required to fuel the weapon could explode at any time and became particularly targeted by the opposing troops.


Niall Doonan
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Niall Doonan

Hi, my name is Niall. I've been fascinated by history since I was very young and I loved my history lessons at school. I know how important it is to make history accessible and interesting for all ages. I like to surround myself with ideas and learning. I studied English Literature at university and I've worked as an English teacher in Hong Kong. Reading, writing and running make me happy.