1. Roughly 3,000 men died between 5AM (when the treaty was signed) and 11AM (the official end of the war) on Armistice Day. People were, in fact, livid that so many footsoldiers’ lives had been sacrificed for what was seen as some mere symbolic timing.
2. When the order came in that hostilities would cease at 11AM, artillerymen on both sides reportedly increased their rate of fire. Many allied divisions staged attacks in this time, wanting to punish the Germans for every second they could.
3. In fact, casualty rates increased on Armistice Day after 5AM for this very reason.
4. Henry Gunther was the last American casualty of the war. He had been demoted to a private for complaining in a letter back home, and became obsessed with regaining his rank before the war ended. Against his comrades’ advice, he began a solo charge across No Man’s Land. The German troops, aware that the end of the war was imminent, tried to wave him away. He came too close, firing at them, and was shot down with a burst of machine gun fire. He died at 10:59AM, less than 60 seconds before the end of the war. (He was posthumously re-awarded his rank of sergeant).
5. The explosion of the Mines of the Battle of Messines killed more people than any other man-made non-nuclear explosion in history. After months of tunneling, and to start the battle, the British detonated 455 tons of ammonal explosives underneath German lines on June 7, 1917. Roughly 10,000 German soldiers died immediately, and the explosion was heard in London and Dublin.
6. Speaking of explosions, the Halifax Explosion was an accidental collision between two ships in Halifax harbor on December 6, 1917. One of the ships was full of high explosives. The blast was recorded at about 2,900 tons of TNT. The results were tremendous and nightmarish. The bottom of the harbor was briefly visible, since the water underneath had vaporized. A small tsunami washed ashore and killed hundreds.
The temperature reached about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The pressure wave snapped trees in half, bent iron supports, demolished buildings, and killed 1,900 people. A 90-mm gun (about 20,000lbs) was launched 5.6 kilometers away. Halifax also opened a center for treating eye injuries, since people in the city ran to their windows when they heard the explosion. The pressure wave burst the windows and pushed shards into their eyes, resulting in hundreds of blindings.
7. Women working in chemical and explosives factories became known as “canaries” since working with toxic substances and TNT gave them jaundice and turned their skin yellow.
8. Hundreds of soldiers were executed for cowardice. They were, in fact, suffering from PTSD, which wasn’t heard of at the time. WWI was a new frontier for almost everyone, and nobody realized it was important to rotate troops from the frontline every few weeks.
This resulted in soldiers’ literally losing their wits from the uninterrupted artillery bombardment. Effects of constant exposure included intense fatigue, tremors, temporary blindness or deafness, drooling and other facial muscular malfunctions, and memory loss. Here’s some WWI soldiers showing signs of shellshock. (Note: the video begins with some graphic facial wounds as well).
9. WWI was the testing ground of weapons soldiers had never dreamed of facing. Gas attacks would render you dead in minutes, leaving you drowning in fluid within your burning lungs. Soldiers claimed they were more afraid of gas than anything else, and that’s what gas was: a weapon of fear. Officers had no control over their troops once gas hit, and soldiers would sometimes murder each other in the trenches over the last gas mask.
The method of implementing it was primitive, though. At first, troops would wait until the winds were blowing across the battlefield away from them, roll out large barrels of noxious chemicals, and open the barrels, letting the wind carry the fumes across the ground in thick clouds to the other side. Sometimes the wind changed direction without warning.