Allies At the outbreak of World War I, Great Britain, France, and (until it dropped out of the war late in 1917) Russia. Japan played a minor Allied role; Italy joined in 1916, and the United States joined in April 1917.
amphibious assault An attack in which ground forces are transported to the battlefield by ships and are deposited on shore by various landing craft. The land action of most amphibious assaults is supported by naval artillery bombardment from battleships or other warships.
annexation The formal act of incorporating one political unit or nation into another.
ANZAC Acronym for the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps; also used to refer to a member of that corps. More familiarly, ANZAC troops were called “diggers.”
armed neutrality The U.S. policy, initiated on February 26, 1917, of arming merchant vessels and taking other military steps—short of war itself—to protect American commerce.
armistice A cessation of hostilities, or formalized truce, during which a definitive peace treaty is drafted, negotiated, and signed.
army In the language of military organization, an army is the largest administrative and tactical unit into which a national army is organized.
artillery Used as both singular and plural, artillery is the generic term for any large-caliber weapons, such as cannons, howitzers, mortars, and so on. Also the combat arm that uses such weapons.
automatic weapon Any firearm that continuously fires as long as the trigger is squeezed and as long as it is supplied with ammunition. A machine gun is an automatic weapon.
Big Four, The Principal Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States; Georges Clemenceau, premier of France; David Lloyd George, prime minister of Great Britain; and Vittorio Orlando, premier of Italy.
biplane Aircraft with two sets of wings, one above the other in double-decker fashion, in contrast to a monoplane, which has only one set of wings.
Black Hand Popular name for a secret society, founded in 1909, consisting of Serbian military officers and dedicated to the overthrow of Austro-Hungarian rule throughout the Balkans. The Black Hand sponsored the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, thereby triggering World War I.
black powder An easily ignitable explosive resembling gunpowder. It was widely used during the American Civil War but, for most purposes, had been replaced by high explosives during World War I.
blockade The use of military forces, especially warships, to forcibly intercept goods and persons attempting to enter or depart from a particular place or an entire nation.
Boche Familiar, derisive term for a German soldier or soldiers. Used especially by the French.
booby traps Explosive devices triggered by some form of human contact and hidden in apparently innocuous places, such as houses.
bootlegger One who made, smuggled, or sold liquor during Prohibition. The term originated not in the 1920s but in the nineteenth century, and came from the practice of hiding a whiskey flask in the upper part of one’s boot.
bridgehead A forward position seized and held by troops advancing into enemy territory as a foothold for farther advance.
cantonment A group of temporary billets for troops.
capital ship The largest and most powerful warship of any given era in naval history. The capital ship of World War I was the battleship.
carrier pigeon A pigeon trained to carry messages in a small capsule fastened to the bird’s foot.
Central Powers In World War I, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and, later, Bulgaria.
Chancellor Appointed directly by the kaiser, the chancellor was, in effect, prime minister, the highest civilian official in the German government.
combat-loaded An amphibious attack force is combat-loaded into ships—that is, loaded by unit and with all necessary equipment so that the force can be landed in good order, without having to take the time to assemble, and 100 percent ready to fight.
conscription The concept and process of inducting personnel into the armed forces on a compulsory basis.
convoy system A method of grouping together supply, passenger, or merchant ships in formations that may be readily defended by warship escorts.
counterattack An offensive response to an enemy attack. It is not merely a defense against attack.
counterbattery fire An artillery assault directed specifically against the enemy’s artillery, with the object of knocking it out.
counteroffensive Aggressive action in response to an attack, as opposed to merely protective or defensive action.
crossing the T Classic naval battle maneuver in which one maneuvers one’s fleet so that it is perpendicular and broadside to the enemy. In this way, more guns can be trained on the enemy, who, in turn, cannot bring as many of his guns to bear.
demilitarized zone A region declared neutral and in which no troops or armaments are permitted.
demobilization The process by which a nation disbands a military force, typically after the end of a war.
depth charge An explosive weapon launched or otherwise jettisoned from a surface ship and set to detonate at a given depth to rupture the hull of an enemy submarine.
dirigible Word derived from the Latin dirigere, meaning “to direct” or “to steer”; it describes a steerable airship—that is, a zeppelin.
diversionary attack An action intended to divert and distract the enemy, draining off his resources, while a principal attack or other action is launched elsewhere.
doctrine of war A set of principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of particular objectives.
dogfight Term generally used for air-to-air combat between fighter aircraft.
dollar-a-year men Prominent U.S. citizens, typically industrialists and financiers, who volunteered their services to the war effort for the nominal salary of $1 a year.
double envelopment Tactic executed by forces moving around both flanks of an enemy to attack those flanks or objectives to the rear of the enemy.
doughboy The familiar name for American infantrymen in World War I. The origin of the term is obscure, but most authorities believe that it gained currency before World War I in the 1860s, when the large buttons on army uniforms were thought to resemble “doughboys,” bread dough that has been rolled thin and deep-fried.
dreadnought A revolutionary new style of battleship, bigger, faster, and more heavily armed than conventional battleships. The prototype of this class of vessel was HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1906. Through the end of World War I, the term dreadnought was used as a synonym for any modern battleship.
élan (or élan vital) Term coined by the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941) to describe a “life force” he believed the French people possessed in abundance. The term was enthusiastically appropriated by French military planners.
emplacement A prepared position for one or more weapons or other pieces of equipment to afford protection from hostile fire.
enfilading fire Gun or artillery fire that rakes the enemy with gunfire in a lengthwise direction. This is also called “raking fire.”
entente An agreement between two or more nations for cooperative action. Somewhat less binding and more limited than a full-scale alliance.
ersatz A German word, also borrowed into English, meaning “replacement” or “substitute”; it is a synonym for “artificial.”
feints and demonstrations Diversionary attacks by relatively small forces intended to decoy defenders away from the main attacking force.
field commander Military officer at the front lines who actually executes the strategy and orders of top command, headquartered in the rear.
field of fire The area that a weapon or group of weapons may cover effectively from a given position.
fire-step Platform built into the forward wall of a trench from which soldiers can take aim and fire over the rim of the trench.
flapper Label for the “liberated” young woman of the 1920s, whose interests were unabashedly worldly and whose inhibitions were few or none. The origin of the term is obscure but may refer to the wild flapping gestures associated with such 1920s dances as the Charleston.
flight The basic tactical unit in the Army Air Service, consisting of at least four aircraft.
forage For an army, to live off the land of the enemy, appropriating whatever food and supplies can be stolen.
Fourteen Points The principal terms that President Wilson set forth in January 1918 as the basis for a satisfactory and enduring peace.
Freikorps Collective name for German paramilitary groups, privately organized and without government sanction, formed by veterans after World War I chiefly to fight the incursion of communist forces in Germany.
frontier For Americans, frontier connotes the borderland between settled country and the wilderness; in Europe, however, the word denotes the border and border region between nations.
garrison A body of troops stationed in and assigned the defense of a fortress or fortified town.
Gatling gun A predecessor of the machine gun, having a cluster of barrels that are fired in sequence as the cluster is crank-rotated; it was patented in 1862 by Richard Jordan Gatling (1818–1903).
Gendarmes In France, members of the national police force; in Belgium, circa 1914, a national police force with specific paramilitary duties.
grand sherif The chief magistrate of Mecca when that place was controlled by the Ottoman Turks.
ground attack Use of aircraft against military personnel and other targets on the ground. When the ground attack is made in coordination with assault by ground troops, it is also called “close air support.”
high-explosive (HE) rounds Artillery shells employing powerful explosives that do their damage primarily by generating an intense blast wave rather than by creating shrapnel fragments.
howitzer Any short cannon that delivers its shells in a high trajectory. The word is derived from an old German word for “catapult.”
incendiary shell An artillery shell loaded with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.
isolationism National policy of refraining from involvement in political affairs beyond the nation’s borders.
jazz Highly improvisational form of music primarily developed by African-Americans who combined European harmonic structures with African rhythmic complexities. These are, in turn, overlaid with European and white American dance and march rhythms and with elements borrowed from the blues tradition. The word is probably derived from a slang term for sexual intercourse.
Jerry Familiar, derisive term for a German soldier or soldiers. Used especially by the British.
jingoism Extreme nationalism characterized by a chauvinist and belligerent foreign policy.
kaiser The German equivalent of “emperor.” Phonetically, it reflects the classical Latin pronunciation of caesar, the ancient Roman title for “emperor.” The Russian word czar is another version of the Latin “caesar.”
littoral plain The flat region adjacent to the sea; the coastal region.
mine shafts In a military context, tunnels ending in a “gallery” under an enemy position. Often, these galleries were packed with explosives, designed to detonate directly under the enemy.
minelayer A ship either designed, modified, or simply used to lay explosive marine mines in patterns called “mine barrages.”
minesweeper Ship designed to locate and safely detonate explosive marine mines. Most World War I minesweepers were converted from fishing-type vessels, which worked two abreast, dragging a cable between them to snag the mooring lines of mines. The mooring line would be cut, and the mine would bob to the surface, where it could be safely detonated by gunfire.
mobilize To put a nation on a war footing, calling up reservists to active service and putting regular forces on high alert. In nations with compulsory military service, conscription is also commenced.
monoplane Aircraft with a single set of wings, either above or below the fuselage, in contrast to a biplane, which has two sets of wings, one above the other.
mutiny Any rebellion against constituted authority. In the case of the French on the Western Front, mutiny was a kind of collective strike or work stoppage rather than a violent rebellion.
no man’s land One of the most enduring phrases produced by World War I; it originally described the contested territory between the trenches of the opposing armies.
open city A city declared demilitarized during war and, by international law, that is therefore immune from attack.
over the top The act of advancing out of a trench (“over the top” of the trench) to venture into no man’s land for an attack on the enemy.
pandemic An epidemic of global scope.
peripheral fronts In World War I, all the colonial fronts, as well as the so-called Turkish Fronts (mainly the Dardanelles and Caucasus).
Pickelhaub The spiked helmet that was the traditional German headgear, used on parade as well as in combat. The American army copied this style from the Prussians for its dress uniforms during the late nineteenth century.
pincers attack Military tactic whereby an attacking force closes in on the enemy from two sides, so that the defending troops are “squeezed” as by a giant pincers.
poilu The World War I nickname bestowed on the French soldier; it translates, roughly, as “hairy one.”
Prohibition Popular name for the law enacted by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution forbidding the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages anywhere in the United States.
pusher configuration Aircraft design in which the propeller is behind the engine and creates a thrust that pushes the airplane forward.
Q-ship A warship disguised to look like a merchant vessel by hiding its guns and other weaponry. Its primary purpose was to lure submarines into ambush.
rear-guard action Combat conducted primarily to protect a retreating main force, which is always vulnerable at its rear.
regulars Members of a nation’s permanent, standing army, maintained in peace as well as war. They do not include reservists or auxiliary troops, who are called on exclusively in emergencies or time of war.
Reichstag The German parliament.
reparations Compensation (usually monetary) required from a defeated nation as a condition of peace.
rolling barrage In the context of a planned offensive, an artillery bombardment in which a “curtain” of artillery fire moves toward the enemy ahead of the advancing troops and at the same speed as those troops.
rout The disorganized withdrawal of a military force from the line of battle; it contrasts with a retreat, which is an orderly—and, therefore, militarily effective—withdrawal.
salient A battle line that projects into territory nominally held by the enemy.
scorched earth policy The practice of deliberately destroying crops, food supplies, and other facilities to prevent an invading enemy from using them.
scuttle To purposely sink a ship in a deliberate act of self-destruction, typically to prevent capture by the enemy.
separate peace An armistice or treaty of peace made between warring nations regardless of other alliances in force. In 1918, Russia, though bound in alliance with France and Britain, concluded a “separate peace” with Germany.
shrapnel rounds Artillery shells designed to detonate in the air, showering personnel with deadly fragments.
slackers U.S. term for those who failed to volunteer for military service, who evaded the draft, who did not purchase Liberty Bonds or Liberty Stamps, or who otherwise shirked what was perceived as their wartime patriotic duty.
small-unit offense The skills and tactics required to enable soldiers to fight as a team on the level, typically, of the company (in World War I, 256 men) and the platoon (128 men).
smoke screen Heavy smoke purposely produced by ships (usually destroyers) to obscure the enemy’s view of ship movements.
soviet Any popularly elected legislative assembly. Soviets existed on local, regional, and national levels.
splendid isolation Term that describes British foreign policy during the last third of the nineteenth century, a policy ended when England concluded the Triple Entente with France and Russia in 1907.
staff officer Military officer attached to headquarters and typically acting as a liaison or link between top command and field commanders. Staff officers ensure that orders are executed and strategy is realized.
Stavka The Russian supreme military headquarters during czarist days, including the period of World War I.
strafing An attack on ground troops by machine guns fired from low-flying aircraft.
strategic bombardment Aerial bombardment on a large scale, typically directed at civilian targets, especially those involved in the production of war-related materiel. Such a program of bombardment is “strategic” because it is intended as a direct means of shortening a war.
strategic victory Term that describes attainment of long-term, overall objectives.
super dreadnought Biggest battleship class of the war. The British Queen Elizabeth, for example, displaced 31,500 tons, had 13-inch belt armor, mounted eight 15-inch guns, and cruised at 24 knots, compared with the earlier Dreadnought, at 21,845 tons, with 11-inch armor, ten 12-inch guns, and a top speed of 21 knots.
tactical bombardment Aerial bombardment of military targets at the front. Typically, tactical bombardment is on a relatively small or concentrated scale and is in direct support of ground operations.
tactical victory Describes the attainment of short-term objectives in a given battle. It is possible to attain a short-term objective at the cost of a long-term objective, and thereby lose a campaign or an entire war.
Tommy Familiar name for a British enlisted soldier.
torpedo A self-propelled underwater projectile equipped with an explosive charge. It can be launched from submerged submarines as well as from surface vessels and even aircraft.
tractor configuration Aircraft design in which the propeller is mounted in front of the engine, at the nose or on the leading edge of the wings. It creates thrust and lift by directly accelerating the air that passes over the plane’s wings, in effect pulling (like a tractor) the craft forward.
triplane Aircraft with three sets of wings, one above the other in triple-decker fashion. See also biplane and monoplane.
Triple Alliance Military alliance among Germany, Austria, and Italy, concluded at the end of the 19th century. (Italy denounced the Triple Alliance during World War I.)
Triple Entente Military alliance among France, Russia, and Great Britain, finalized in 1904, to counter the Triple Alliance among Germany, Austria, and Italy.
U-boat Abbreviation of the German Unterseeboot (undersea boat); synonym for submarine.
unity of command The concept of the Allied armies operating under the direction of a single final authority rather than wholly independently of one another.
unrestricted submarine warfare The naval war policy instituted by Germany during much of World War I; it gave German U-boat captains a mandate to torpedo Allied merchant and passenger craft without issuing any prior warning.
war of attrition War in which victory depends on wearing down the enemy rather than destroying him outright.
warm-water outlet, warm-water port In northern countries subject to frozen winters, a warm-water outlet or warm-water port is one open year-round.
Young Turks Mostly junior Turkish military officers, members of a military-political movement that overthrew the centuries-old rule of the sultans and sought to reform and modernize Turkish government and society.
zeppelin Named for its inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838–1917), the zeppelin was a hydrogen-filled airship constructed on a rigid frame and driven by propellers. Later, the zeppelin was called a dirigible.
zero hour The precise time scheduled for a project to be launched; the phrase originated during World War I to describe the hour appointed for the commencement of a battle.