Trench Warfare

Trench Life

            Life in the trenchs of WWI was a miserable disease filled life for soldiers on both sides of the Great War. Rats, mice and body lice abound through all trenchs. They were always wet or at least damp and promoted sickness and rot. This wetness was on of the main torments of the commmon trench soldier in WW1 as it promoted trench foot. Beside all this they suffered from lack of food and proper supplies, cold and rain, and of course the fear of the enemy.

         A soldiers time would be spent something like this...

     15% front line        10% support line         30% reserve line       20% rest        25% other (hospital, travelling, leave, training courses, etc.)

WWI Timeline-

June 28,1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo.
July 28,1914: Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
July 31,1914: Russia announced mobilization of army.
August 1, 1914: Germany declared war on Russia.
August 3,1914: Germany declared war on France.
August 4,1914: Germany invaded Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany.
August 6, 1914: Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.
September 15, 1914: First trenches of the western front were built.
December 15, 1914: Unofficial Christmas Truce was announced.
February 4, 1915: Germany blocked the sea using submarines.
April 25, 1915: Battle for Gallipoli was started.
May 23, 1915: Italy declared war on Germany.
August 5, 1915: Warsaw was captured by Germany.
December 28, 1915 : Allies started evacuation of their troops from Gillipoli.
February 21, 1916- December 18, 1916: Battle of Verdun was fought. Over 1 million casualties were reported.
May 31, 1916: Naval battle of Jutland was fought.
December 31, 1916: Rasputin was murdered.
February 1, 1917: Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare.
March 15, 1917 : Russian Revolution.
April 6, 1917: USA declared war on Germany.
April 16, 1917: France launched unsuccessful offensive on Western front
July 31,1917: Battle of Ypres was started.
December 5, 1917: Armistice between Russia and Germany was signed.
December 9, 1917: Jerusalem was captured by Britain.
March 3, 1918: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed.
July 15, 1918: Second Battle of Marne was started.
October 28, 1918: Mutiny in German Army.
October 30, 1918: Turkey signed armistice.
November 9, 1918: Kaiser William II abdicated
November 11, 1918: End of World War I.

Trench Foot

        Trench foot is the result of damp and cold constently being on the feet and legs of soldiers causing infection in their skin. Soldiers had wet, cold feet almost constantly without being able to change or dry their feet. These constant conditions caused the skin on and around their feet to turn blue or red and gradually go numb and loose all feeling. If the soldiers left their condition untreated to long it could turn gangrenous and have to be amputated.

Trench Foot Picture

          Soldier's feet after trench foot often had to have parts of or the entire foot removed to prevent the spread of infection to the rest of their body. 

Methods of Trench Warfare

               Trench warfare was often as or more brutal then other methods of disease since it often resulted in hand to hand combat or infected limbs and death from infection after being wounded from schrapnel.       

              Methods of Trench Warfare-

              - Raiding- Often in groups of up to 30 men, they would sneak over at night or early morning hidden by camoflauge. The goal of the raids was generally to capture Axis soldiers or equipment. Soldiers used pistols or bayonets for the hand to hand combat, as well as trench knives, brass knuckles and home made clubs and maces.

              - Forward Attacks- Before attacking the enemy trench head on, they would first barrage the enemy trench and important communication areas with heavy artillery fire to confuse the enemy and prevent them from calling for reinforcments from elsewhere. This artiliery fire went on for days to fatigue the enemy. Then, they stormed over their trench and engaged the waiting enemy head on in a charge.

             -Snipers- Sniper fire was an important part of trench warfare and could provide a large advantage. One of the snipers main strategies was to crawl out into the no-mans land in between trenches wearing camoflauge and wait there all day. Some also used distractions to trick the enemy into raising his head or fake trees and dugouts above the trenchs to provide a better shot.

             -Gas Attacks- Adding poisen gas into bombs produced deadly results for both sides in WW1. The most lethal of these gases is Mustard gas, since it was amost odorless and took up to 12 hours to take effect. It caused internal and external bleeding as well as stripping the mucas membrane off their bronchial tubes causing them to choke and be in terrible pain. It also caused large, painful blisters and blindness. Altogether it took generally around four or five weeks to die from Mustard Gas.

Types of Trenchs

          Most trenches were set up nearly the same. They would have three layers of trenchs front-line, support and reserve.  The front-line was where they were fighting from, with the no-mans land right in front of it. Behind that was the support. This was where the machind gun nests were situated above. Beihind that was the reseve trench that was the last row. All three are connected to each other by a communtication trench.

             Trench Diagrams-


Causes and Effects of Trench Warfare

           Trench Warfare began as a way of holding a position in a war for an indefinite period of time. It resulted in a new technique in fighting where soldiers lived in and fought from the trenches, leaving only to raid the enemy trenches. This trench warfare brought breeding groung for disease and sickness, along with many amputations from the heavy artiliery fire.


          I think that trench warfare is one of the most ridiculous and ineffective methods of fighting ever developed. It was slow and hazardous, with many injuries self inflicted because of the close quarters that the men had to fight in. The unsanitary conditions and perpetual wetness caused disease and pestilence through out both armies. Most men if shot in the leg or arm had a less then 25% chance of surviving, any wounds to the chest and it was almost certain you would die.

            Aside from the obvious sanitary problems, I say it was ineffective because the only ways to defeat someone in a trench was to either barrage them with artillery fire until they either died or gave up unless they stormed the other trench after the artillery fire, which could and often did result in massive casualties during the foray across the no-mans land in between the trenches.

            It must have had some strong points though, or at least been preferable over the way they fought previously, or why would they do it. Trench warfare has had many historical accounts written about it, by many famous authors. One of these authors was George Orwell, writer of great books like Animal Farm, and Down and Out in Paris and London. In a book, Homage to Catalonia, he recalls his time in the trenches of the Spanish civil war almost fondly.

            I think that Trench warfare, though not the most effective, was an important part of WWI and formed many strategies that led to the development of new weapons and technologies for WWII and other wars to come. Its use of tunneling, artillery, bombs, camouflage, hand to hand combat, and snipers made it one of the most brutal types of fighting. The complex and intricate systems of tunnels and trenches baffled the new soldiers, leaving them speechless when as they regard its morbid beauty.

The food in the trenches was pretty shady though. They had less and less as the war went on and more and more the soldiers depended on the local surroundings for food rather then the army. One of the most common foods was Maconochie. Maconochie contained sliced turnips and carrots in a thin soup. They did receive a supply of rum. Each division (20,000 men) received 300 gallons. Rum was given to the soldiers after an offensive attack and during cold weather.  The French and German armies weren’t stingy with it and supplied their soldiers with daily amounts of alcohol.

One last problem with the trenches was…RATS! Yes, rats. Trench rats to be exact, big ones. They would eat badly wounded men, or even medially wounded men if they couldn’t defend them selves. The large amount of corpses plus the rats prolific way of reproducing meant that as long as there are trenches there will be rats that will eat people's wounded parts and dig their way into the corpses as soon as they died. Those filthy buggers stole the food right out of the sleeping men’s pockets.

So, my point is, these trenches were bad because they were full of rats and pestilence.