Life in the Trenches
There was nothing glamorous about trench life. World War 1 trenches were dirty, smelly and riddled with disease. For soldier’s, life in the trenches meant living in fear. In fear of diseases (like cholera and trench foot) and of course, the constant fear of enemy attack. Trench warfare WW1 style is something all participating countries vowed never to repeat and the facts make it easy to see why. Photo- British troops sitting in a dug out trenches in WWI.
So what happens in trench warfare? During trench warfare, opposing armies conduct battle, at relatively close range, from a series of ditches dug deep into the ground. Trench warfare becomes necessary when two armies face a stalemate, with neither side able to advance and overtake the other. Although trench warfare has been employed since ancient times, it was used on an unprecedented scale on the Western Front during World War I. What was the construction and design of trenches like? In the early days, trenches were little more than foxholes or little ditches, with the intent to provide a measure of protection during short battles. As the conflict continued, however, it became more obvious that a more elaborate system was needed for the war. The first major trench lines were completed made in November 1914. By the end of the year the trenches stretched 475 miles (764.44 Km). Starting at the North Sea, running through Belgium, through Northern France and eventually ending in the Swiss frontier. The construction of a trench was usually determined by the local terrain, and most were built according to a basic design that was used often. The front wall of a trench, known as the parapet, averaged around ten feet high. Lined with sandbags from top to bottom, the parapet also featured two to three feet of sandbags stacked above the ground level. This provided protection, but also obscured a soldier's view.
A ledge, also known as the fire-step, is built into the lower part of the ditch and also allowed a soldier to step up and see over the top (usually through a peep hole between sandbags) when he was ready to fire his weapon. Periscopes and mirrors were also used to see above the sandbags as a precaution of being shot. Hell on Earth
There were millions of rats in ww1 trenches. A pair of rodents could produce as many as 900 young a year in trench conditions so soldier’s attempts to kill them were futile. Around. 80,000 British Army soldiers suffered from shell shock over the course of the war. That’s approximately 2% of the men who were called up for active service. World War 1 trench warfare was so intense that 10% of all the soldiers who fought were killed. That’s more than double the percentage of fighting soldiers who were killed in the Second World War (4.5%). In the end, the high grounded German forces were getting angry at the allied forces which were holding the ground, so the Germans introduced chemical warfare. With poisonous gases which spread throughout the lower ground and that was where the Germans followed the gases after and used their artillery and cavalry was used to wipe out the rest of the allied forces on the ground that were going to defend still. Although a lot of us think primarily of the Great War in terms of life and death in the trenches, it is said that the soldiers in the trenches were only a small proportion of the whole army actually serving in that country. The trenches were the front lines, training establishments, stores, workshops, headquarters, and all other elements of the 1914-1918 Above: example of front-line trench setup and features.
Image source: http://www.historyonthenet.com/WW1/trenches.htm Accessed 26/06/14 While the trenches were the front lines and the area between the allied and enemy fortresses was called no-man’s land, there were still other forms of warfare that were developed. The storm trooper concept came into play during this conflict around the time of 1918. According to http://www.johnsmilitaryhistory.com/stormtrooper.html , this was during the time of the German forces adding more strength with more than 150 to 208 divisions and 13, 832 artillery being included to the already million troops that were shipped over with 3, 000 artillery pieces. Chemical warfare became the hand that the Germans dealt the allied forces with when they couldn’t break their lines. According to the field post letter of Major Karl von Zingler, the first chlorine gas attack by German forces took place before 2 January 1915: "In other war theaters it does not go better and it has been said that our Chlorine is very effective. 140 English officers have been killed. This is a horrible weapon ..." And if not many of the British troops had not fled, they all would have died in the trenches where they stood. In what had become known as the “gentleman’s war”, (Conflict in the Modern World: Origins of World War 1 & 2 VEA 2008) A gentleman’s war refers to the conduct of combat, loosely applying to the times of the 17th through to the 19th centuries, in which battles were orderly fought in a fashion akin to a turn based strategy game in which one side will take fire and the other will wait and then take their turn. This was classified as a coward’s approach to warfare. Artillery was a major form of defence and this can be described as having a rapid effect involving shock and dislocation which may well involve ruse and deception. Artillery guns played a prominent part in the trenches especially in the battles of the Somme and Verdun. The most used guns for the British were the 12-inch Howitzers and for the Germans was a gun called Big Bertha; a gun which was a 420mm howitzer used to destroy fortifications, especially at the Battle of Liege in 1914. Naval defence played a massive role in WWI as for the Allies the most important use of battleships was to support the amphibious invasion of Gallipoli in 1915.The First World War showed just how vulnerable modern battleships were to cheaper forms of weaponry. In 1914 SM U-9 (a German U-boat) sank 3 British armored cruisers in less than an hour. There was no real decisive clash between battle fleets in World War 1. Also cavalry/horses were used largely for holding off large forces of infantry. When war broke out in Western Europe, both Britain and Germany had a cavalry force that each numbered approximately 100,000 men. Such a number of men would have needed a significant number of horses but probably all senior military personnel at this time believed in the supremacy of the cavalry attack. In August 1914, no-one could have contemplated the horrors of trench warfare - hence why the cavalry regiments reigned supreme. Very many British senior army positions were held by cavalry officers. In conclusion – World War 1 will go down in history as the war that was fought from the trenches; however it has gained this notoriety as a result of the uniqueness and safety that the trenches provided allied forces. While all of the combined defence forces contributed to the overall conflict, the challenges of fighting in the trenches will go down in history as one of the most horrific for all those concerned. 1,211 Words
Photo: 9th Lancers returning from the Front, Premont, Aisne, 13 October 1918. From the American First World War Official Exchange Collection at the Imperial War Museum, copyright image IWM Q72605.
Image source: http://www.1914-1918.net/lancers.htm
Photo: Australian troops in the advance trenches, ca. 1917
Image Source: http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ww1/2013/11/15/constables-on-the-front-line/
1914-1918.net, (2014). In the trenches of 1914-1918. [online] Available at: http://www.1914-1918.net/intrenches.htm [Accessed 23 Jun. 2014]. About.com 20th Century History, (2014). Why Was There So Much Trench Warfare in World War I?. [online] Available at: http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwari/a/Trenches-In-World-War-I.htm [Accessed 16 Jun. 2014]. Historylearningsite.co.uk, (2014). Horses in World War One. [online] Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/horses_in_world_war_one.htm [Accessed 26 Jun. 2014]. Johnsmilitaryhistory.com, (2014). Stormtrooper Tactics of World War I. [online] Available at: http://www.johnsmilitaryhistory.com/stormtrooper.html [Accessed 24 Jun. 2014]. Wikipedia, (2014). Chemical weapons in World War I. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_weapons_in_World_War_I [Accessed 24 Jun. 2014]. WW1 Facts, (2014). Life In The Trenches | WW1 Facts. [online] Available at: http://ww1facts.net/the-land-war/life-in-the-trenches/ [Accessed 23 Jun. 2014]. WW1 Facts, (2014). Ships | WW1 Facts. [online] Available at: http://ww1facts.net/war-at-sea/ww1-ships [Accessed 26 Jun. 2014].