Trench Warfare Ww1 Essay Introduction

Trench warfare is perhaps the most iconic feature of World War I. By late 1916 the Western Front contained more than 1,000 kilometres of frontline and reserve trenches. Enemy attacks on trenches or advancing soldiers could come from artillery shells, mortars, grenades, underground mines, poison gas, machine guns and sniper fire. Soldiers in the trenches endured conditions ranging from barely tolerable to utterly horrific. Exposed to the elements, trenches filled with water and became muddy quagmires. One of the worst fears of the common Western Front soldier was ‘trench foot’: a gangrene of the feet and toes, caused by constant immersion in water. Trench soldiers also contended with ticks, lice, rats, flies and mosquitos. Diseases like cholera, typhus and dysentery thrived because of vermin, poor sewage and waste disposal, stagnant water, spoiled food and unburied bodies.

If the Western Front was a breeding ground for disease then the territory between its opposing front lines – ‘no man’s land’ – was a veritable nightmare. Chewed into mud and craters by shell fire, strewn with barbed wire, discarded rubbish, bodies and body parts in all stages of decomposition, the soldiers dreaded it. One English officer toured ‘no man’s land’ and reported:

“I climbed into the field, which of course consists of shell holes, and had a look ’round. Along by the high banks of the trenches thousands of tins are lying: bully beef, jam, soup, cigarette, sausage, etc. Bits of iron and bits of shell are everywhere, and here and there are fuses, our own and the enemy’s (since this ground was once in German hands). I found a dugout that had got lost and took some crockery out of it. Corpses had been uncovered so I had some men out to rebury them. Every shell that falls here disturbs some wretched, half-decayed soldier. Farther back on the other side of the German wire, all smashed to bits, there were a dozen dead men, two of them lieutenants. I got a party of men and buried the poor fellows. They were all blackened, and the hands were almost fleshless. Over each man’s mount we stuck a rifle and bayonet, with his cap on the rifle butt.”

Trench warfare itself was not an invention of World War I. It had been called into service in the American Civil War (1861-65) the Boer War (1899-1902) and elsewhere. It was the scale and the industrialised nature of World War I that transformed battle and made trench warfare the norm, rather than an occasional strategy. Soldiers once equipped with bayonets and barely accurate rifles now found themselves with heavy artillery, machine-guns capable of 400 rounds per minute and precision-firing small arms. Yet for all these advances in weaponry, the armies of World War I were largely formed as they had been a century before: mostly infantry (foot-soldiers) with some cavalry (soldiers on horseback). Regardless of size or strategy, they were largely defenceless against this new firepower, particularly when advancing. Generals who had no effective tactical solutions soon resorted to trench warfare, where they could at least hold position. Contrary to popular opinion, there were very few generals who deliberately butchered soldiers by ordering futile charges against machine-guns and heavily defended positions. Manpower was not so plentiful that any general would consider wasting soldiers in pointless attacks. The blunders of the Western Front were more commonly caused by an age-old military error: underestimating the strength of the enemy’s men or overestimating your own.

The Western Front itself was not one long trench but a complicated trench system. Both the Allies and the Central Powers relied on a three-trench network, each running parallel to the enemy and connected by communications trenches. This pattern is visible in an aerial photograph of a trench network (see picture) which shows German trenches on the right, Allied trenches on the left and ‘no man’s land’ between them. Having multiple lines of trench allowed soldiers to retreat, if the frontline trench was overrun or destroyed by the enemy. Reserve trenches also provided relative safety for resting soldiers, supplies and munitions. Trenches were usually dug in a zig-zag pattern rather than a straight line; this prevented gunfire or shrapnel from being projected along the length of a trench, if a shell or enemy soldier ever landed inside. Other common features of Western Front trenches were dugouts (underground shelters or offices) and ‘bolt holes’ or ‘funk holes’ (sleeping cavities, hacked into trench walls). Most digging and maintenance work in the trenches took place at night, under cover of darkness, so soldiers often spent daylight hours huddled and sleeping in these small spaces.

Soldiers did not spend all or even most of their time in frontline trenches. Unless a major offensive was imminent, the roster had most men spending six days in the trench system and six days well back from the front line. Only two or three days of this six-day rotation was spent in the frontline trench itself; the rest was spent in reserve or support trenches. The duties of a trench soldier varied widely. Maintenance – digging new trenches, repairing old ones, draining water, filling sandbags, building parapets and unfurling barbed wire – was never-ending (some soldiers’ accounts tell of more back-breaking labour than actual fighting). Food supplies in the trenches were adequate until late 1915, after which shortages and interruptions to shipments created problems. Meat was in short supply so most soldiers relied on ‘bully beef’ (canned corned beef). Bread took 6-8 days to reach the trenches so was invariably stale; a common substitute was ‘hardtack’, a flavourless biscuit that stayed fresh for years but was so brick-hard it had to be soaked in water or soup. By 1917 food was so scarce that some units were fed with whatever could be scrounged locally. One Allied regiment was given a watery soup brewed from grass, weeds and thin strips of horsemeat.

1. Trench warfare was used extensively on the Western Front by both sides, after the Battle of the Marne in 1914.
2. At its core, trench warfare was a form of defensive warfare intended to halt enemy assaults and advances.
3. Trench systems were extensive and complex, intended to hinder an enemy assault while allowing for fallback positions.
4. This type of warfare was difficult and dangerous, both because of the fighting and the adverse conditions in trenches.
5. The area between the trenches was dubbed ‘no man’s land’ and was strewn with mines, craters, mud, unexploded ordinance, barbed wire and countless bodies.

© Alpha History 2014. Content on this page may not be republished or distributed without permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Trench warfare” at Alpha History,, 2014, accessed [date of last access].

Trench Warfare In Ww1 Essay

World War 1 is perhaps best known for being a war fought in trenches, ditches dug out of the ground to give troops protection from enemy artillery and machine-gun fire.

The trenches spread from the East to the West. By the end of 1914, trenches stretched all along the 475 miles front between the Swiss border and the Channel coast. In some places, enemy trenches were less than thirty yards apart.

Although trenches spread for many miles, their appearance varied. Upon looking more closely, one could see that each army's trench line was actually a series of three trenches. These three lines connected at various points by small, twisted trenches. These three lines were called front, support, and reserve trenches. The front line trenches usually measured six feet and had a zigzag pattern to prevent enemy fire from sweeping the entire length of the trench. Between the two opposing front lines laid, an area called "No Man's Land" that measured from 7 yards to 250 yards in width. This area was littered with barbed wire, tin scrapes, and mines to reduce the chance of enemy crossing. The other two trenches (support, and reserve) were constructed to easily move supplies and troops to the front trenches.

Trenches varied from six to eight feet in height. After wet rainy days trenches would get filled with water. In these trenches, there was a need for extra support, wood boards, and sandbags were placed on the side and on the floor for extra support and a safe area for walking.

In spite of the fact that the trenches protected the soldiers, they stood no chance against the diseases. Body lice were among one of the diseases that travelled among the trenches the most. Body lice caused frenzied scratching and led to trench fever. Fifteen percent of sickness was from body lice. Trench foot was another disease found in the trenches. After hours of standing in waterlogged trenches, the feet would begin to numb, change colour, and swell, and this would soon result in amputation....

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

The Mark I Tank’s Role in Changing Trench Warfare

1516 words - 6 pages During the First World War, 1914 to 1918, the “Western Front” referred to a series of trench lines that ran from the Belgian coast, to the Alps. The Western Front was a direct result of the stagnation. Both the axis and allied sides “dug in” and settled down to a war of attrition, with little movement over three years. Born from the need to break the domination of trenches and machine guns over the Western Front, Britain designed the world’s...

The horrific effects of trench warfare during WWI can be attributed to the clash of outdated military tactics and devastating modern weaponry.

2349 words - 9 pages OutlineThesis Statement: The horrific effects of trench warfare during WWI can be attributed to the clash of outdated military tactics and devastating modern weaponry.I. IntroductionII. What is trench warfareIII. What was effected by trench warfarea. what was gainedb. what was lost1. lives2. land3. resources4. communicationIV. When trench warfare was used...

Conditions at the frontlines were destructive for soldiers in WW1 discuss

1002 words - 4 pages "Conditions at the front lines were destructive for the soldiers in WW1"DiscussThere is no question that conditions in the front lines in WW1 were destructive for the soldiers. WW1 took the greatest toll on human life of any war until that time.I believe that the conditions in the front lines were particularly destructive and devastating to the men for many reasons. New techniques used in


1277 words - 5 pages TRENCH WARFARE BY JESSICA DAVISTrench warfare in WW1 was one of the most important parts of War. Trenches were a relatively sheltered place for men, with both Allied and opposing armies using the technology available in 1914-18 to build the safest, structurally sound trenches as possible. Trench...

Analysis on WWI source - the play "Journey's End" by R.C. Sherriff.

891 words - 4 pages These excerpt are taken from the source I have chosen to evaluate, a 1929 play called "Journey's End". It was composed by a British author R.C. Sherriff who joined the war at age eighteen. He served as a captain in the East Surrey regiment from 1914 until the end of the war.This makes the play a first hand account, so it would be useful to historians studying the soldier's experience of trench warfare. Again, because Sheriff was...

Trench Warfare Research and Source Analysis

2535 words - 10 pages Section 1a)Trench Warfare was a method of fighting the Germans were forced to employ against the French after the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. Count Alfred Von Schlieffen, a German military strategist developed a plan for the...

Australia's Change In Tech Over Time

1163 words - 5 pages Defences History "“ Before the Australian colonies federated in 1901, each of them had a small force of regular soldiers and militiamen. Each colony also had a small navy consisting of only 2 or 3 very small boats. In 1902, the new federal government united the small armies of the colonies to form the Commonwealth Military Forces. (Now ARES) In 1903, the government began forming the navies of the colonies in to a single navy, later called...

Are the generals of ww1 donkeys?

1247 words - 5 pages SHOULD THE GENERALS OF WW1 BE REMEMBERED AS "DONKEYS"? Frankie Tucker 9AAfter the major conflict of WW1, the quality of the generals has been questioned and defended by historians. Some think they were stubborn, uncaring and sent their troops into certain death to gain minimal land - supporting the view that they were donkeys leading lions. However other historians argue that, yes mistakes were made, but there had never...

The Difference of Warfare between World War 1 and World War 2

1367 words - 5 pages World War Warfare was one of the greatest examples of technological advancement and strategic challenge, with the introduction of inventions such as the aircraft and the tank the battlefield transformed from attrition as scene in the early years of the war to decisive by the end of the war. Naval Warfare World War 1 While the naval war is usually known for only little attention in histories of World War I, the Royal Navy's blockade of Germany...

World war 1 notes on the reasons for stalemate on the western front

565 words - 2 pages The reasons for stalemate on the Western Front?WW1 started as a war of quick lightning thrusts and high mobility, but degenerated into an astonishingly protracted war of static battle lines. The Western Front was the name given to the line of trenches stretching from the Belgium coast to Verdun. Following the Battle of Marne...

"When war begins, people often cheer. The sadness comes later." Use a variety of literary sources to analyse the attitudes to war in the period 1914 - 1918.

1711 words - 7 pages When war was declared in 1914, many young British and German men rejoiced. They greeted the news enthusiastically. With the rush to enlist, their patriotic and nationalistic attitudes were clearly on display. At this time, the reality of war was overridden by the romantic notion that this war would simply be a 'good ole biff'. Aroused by the overwhelming sense of mateship and duty, men rushed to enlist in their thousands. Almost everyone...

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “Trench Warfare Ww1 Essay Introduction”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *