Before air strikes became a major part of any war in the 20th century, wars were mostly fought and decided either on land or at sea. World War I was fought on land, since the main purpose for Germany was to take over land. As a result, trench warfare was the main method both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers used to attack as well as defend their territories.
What is Trench Warfare?
Trench warfare is a war tactic where both sides build or dig deep trenches, so that troops can take cover while shooting at the enemy troops. The trenches were as much as twelve feet deep. They needed to be huge to contain the large number of soldiers who had to hide in them during battles. Trenches consisted of multiple levels and contained wide paths that soldiers would use to move from one trench to another.
In order for troops from each side to be able to shoot at their enemy, the trenches of both sides had to be facing each other. The ground in the middle was full of mines and covered with barbed wires. This middle area was called the “No Man’s Land” and was usually between 50 and 250 yards long.
Both sides built trenches that went on for about 25,000 miles. As a result, neither side was able to make much forward progress. The trenches that started at the North Sea and ended in France prevented any army from advancing, leaving everyone stuck where they were for nearly three and a half years from late 1914 to early 1918.
The three ways of making trenches
- Entrenching: This method was straight forward and the most tiring for the soldiers. They had to dig the long tunnel in the ground to create the trench that would protect them. It did not take much time to achieve the goal, but after they were done, most soldiers were already too exhausted for the battle that had not begun yet!
- Sapping: Saps were short trenches dug into No Man’s Land toward the enemy trenches. This was a relatively safe method because it kept the soldiers out of fire. On the other hand, it took a very long time.
- Tunneling: This method was the safest, smartest, and hardest of them all. The soldiers dug a tunnel underground where the trench would be. Then, they would remove the top layer of the soil to uncover the tunnel creating the trench.
Soldiers’ roles in the trenches
While they were in the trenches during the war, the soldiers were either on the front fire line, moving supplies and maintaining the trenches, or resting. The soldiers rotated or took turns in these three different roles.
Living in Trenches
Naturally, the soldiers had to live in the trenches to be always prepared during the war. Imagine a huge number of people having to live in a hole they dug in the ground. It was neither comfortable nor easy. The soldiers had to deal with all types of things that lived in the trenches from rats and frogs to lice and other insects. These horrible conditions made the soldiers often sick with what was known at the time as the “trench fever.”
Soldiers were also directly exposed to whatever weather they had to fight in. When it rained, the mud would cover everything including their weapons. Weather made it very difficult for them to do the main thing they came for, fight! Many soldiers fighting under these circumstances lost their feet and their lives to diseases, not enemy fire.
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