Historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote, "Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great, but dead, general." In The Guns of August, Tuchman chronicles the follies and delusions that led to the start of World War I. Photos captured the senselessness, horror and bravery of trench warfare, the advent of airplanes as a weapon of war, and scenes of mass jubilation when the slaughter finally ended. In honor of this upcoming Memorial Day, we take a startling glimpse into the most violently transitional period in modern times.
1914 to 1918, Belgium: British troops in silhouette march towards trenches near Ypres at the Western Front.
Apr. 1, 1918: Navy sailors learn how to fight with firearms fitted with bayonets.
ca. 1914-1918: Far out in advance of his own lines, a British lookout spots indications of enemy activities across the plain. Alone in his pit of sandbags and barbed wire, he forms the first line of defense against raiders.
May 1918, France: U.S. soldiers participate in a staged photo to illustrate the ill effects of forgetting one's gas mask. Photo by Maj. Tracy Everts
ca. 1917, Cambrai, France: Soldiers maneuver a tank, or "landship," over a trench during the Battle of Cambrai just west of the French town.
Apr 1917, Newport, Rhode Island: Young soon-to-be sailors in physical-fitness training.
August 1914, London: Newspaper sellers advertise their wares with headlines about the stock exchange and martial law in Germany just prior to WWI.
December 1915, London: A recruiting campaign attacts recruits to Southwark Town Hall.
1918: A group of Italian engineers inspects an airplane in its hangar.
Hell breaks loose in Flanders, in one of the most graphic of all war pictures. This photograph of actual combat shows a British tank being wrecked by a shell and bursting into flames. Another tank is crashing through barbed wire, with British infantry accompanying. The ground is strewn with untenanted helmets and ownerless guns. Almost under the burning tank is a fallen soldier.
ca.1915, Serbia: A Serbian soldier gives one of his comrades a shave in a trench.
ca. 1915, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey: At Anzac, an Australian soldier brings a wounded comrade to the hospital.
1914-1918, France: German plane brought down back of American lines.
Date unknown, over Germany: An aerial dogfight over the Western Front.
Date unknown, New York City: Gun practice on a U.S. Navy boat. Photo: Bryette
Date unknown, Cambrai, France: A patrol of the North Lancs marches into the town.
May 3, 1916: An anti-aircraft gun crew and officers watch the approach of a Taube plane, with everything ready to fire.
This photogravure was published in Deutsche Gedenkhalle: Das Neue Deutschland in Berlin and Munich, ca. 1936. The book was compiled by General Von Eisenhart Rothe.
ca. 1914-1918, France: A company of Canadian soldiers go "over the top" from a trench.
Dec 1, 1916, Sydney, Australia: The torpedo-boat destroyer Torrens is launched.
Mar. 22, 1918, France: A U.S. Marine receives first aid before being sent to a hospital at the rear of trenches in Toulon Sector.
Apr 4, 1917: A sailor plays the bugle.
ca. 1917-1918, Camp Dick, Texas: A British sergeant offers bayonet-fighting instruction.
May 1917, Belgium: An Allied soldier bandages the paw of a Red Cross working dog.
1918: Men inspect a British airplane with folding wings.
1919, France: An American pilot from the 91st Aero Squadron stands next to his airplane.
April 1918, New York City: The movie star Douglas Fairbanks speaks to a huge crowd gathered in front of the Sub-Treasury building, in support of a third Liberty Loan to help finance the war effort.
ca. 1919-1920, London: Officers play cards on the balcony of the American Red Cross Hospitals for U.S. Officers after World War I at Lancaster Gate.
November 1918: Yanks and Tommies celebrate the armistice.
Nov. 11, 1918: The armistice announcement inspires a monster celebration. Thousands massed on all sides of the replica of the Statue of Liberty on Broad Street and cheered unceasingly. All photos: Corbis Images