Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front by Stephen BullThe First World War was one of the costliest conflicts in history, much of it fought over a narrow and bloody swathe of France and Flanders. At the outbreak of war, it was anticipated that conventional battle would bring a quick resolution, but four years later, strategy, tactics and the material of war had changed almost beyond recognition. For most of that time, the two sides had been locked in the stalemate of trench warfare, a battle conducted along a Western Front of over 400 miles, in which almost 3 million men were killed.
In this anniversary edition, World War I trench expert Stephen Bull provides a complete picture of trench warfare on the Western Front, from the construction of the trenches and their different types.
Trench warfare is a type of land warfare using occupied fighting lines largely comprising military trenches , in which troops are well-protected from the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery. Trench warfare proliferated when a revolution in firepower was not matched by similar advances in mobility , resulting in a grueling form of warfare in which the defender held the advantage. The area between opposing trench lines known as " no man's land " was fully exposed to artillery fire from both sides. Attacks, even if successful, often sustained severe casualties. With the development of armoured warfare and combined arms tactics, emphasis on trench warfare has declined, but it still occurs wherever battle lines become static. Field works are as old as armies. Roman legions , when in the presence of an enemy, entrenched camps nightly when on the move.
History of the Trenches
Both the The Triple Alliances and Triple Entente built trenches across the Western Front to provide shelter while making it extremely dangerous for the enemies to attack the front line. The trenches were built in a zig-zag pattern, allowing for less damage and casualties if the trenches were ever bombarded.
Trench warfare began in September when both sides in the conflict dug in to take cover and hold their ground. By November there was miles of trenches from Switzerland to the North Sea. The enemy trenches were generally around 50 to yards apart. The typical trench was dug around twelve feet deep into the ground. There was often an embankment at the top of the trench and a barbed wire fence. Some trenches were reinforced with wood beams or sandbags. The bottom of the trench was usually covered with wooden boards called duckboards.
Trench warfare characterized much of the fighting during World War One, particularly along the Western Front. Trench systems were complicated with many interlinking lines of trenches. The artillery line was where the big field guns were located. They were used to fire shells at the enemy. The noise from a barrage of guns was deafening. The communication trenches were used to move between the front and rear trenches.