The Story Of Trench Warfare In WWI

The use of trenches in battle was widespread in WWI. Opposing sides would construct deep trenches and utilize them to hide from the enemies. Trenches often covered many miles of land, making it very challenging for the enemy side to move forward. The Western Front during the war used trench lines extensively in battle.

By the end of the first year, trench lines were so prevalent that they began from the North Sea and extended through Belgium and France. Neither Central nor Allied Powers managed to advance much during the first three and a half years of war.

Construction of the Trenches

Soldiers constructed the trenches manually, often excavating into the ground. Though doing so helped them to speed things up, it left them vulnerable to attacks from their enemies while they were excavating. Other times, they used another method by lengthening a trench on one end, in a process known as sapping. This was a more reliable and risk-free method, but the duration was longer. The best and safest way to construct a trench was to dig up a tunnel first but take off the roof when it was done, but it was also the slowest.

The Land between Enemy Trenches

The deserted land between trenches from opposing sides was famously known as “No Man’s Land”. It was a dangerous zone fraught with land mines and barbed wires. “No Man’s Land” covered around 50 to 250 yards.

A Typical Trench

One could expect a trench to be of twelve feet depth below ground level. Also, a ridge and barbed wire fence were often constructed on top of the trench. Trenches were strengthened with sandbags or wooden planks. The bottom of the trench was protected by boards made of wood, known as “duckboards”. Their purpose was to keep soldiers’ feet from getting soaked in the water collected there.

Activities in the Trenches

Soldiers had a few stages to alternate between when they worked in the trenches. The stages were: front line, support, and rest. They could be fighting the enemies in the front line, mending the trenches, staying on guard, transporting essential supplies, or keeping their weapons clean.

Level of Cleanliness

Trenches were generally not places that were spick and span. In fact, the level of cleanliness of trenches was so low that it was disturbing and caused many soldiers to fall sick. Many pests abounded in the trenches, including but not limited to rats and lice. The rats fed on anything in sight, and would even nibble on sleeping soldiers. Lice also caused severe itchiness and led to an illness known as Trench Fever.

Besides that, there was the problem of wet and cold weather. Wet weather caused the soldiers’ feet to become infected with what was known as Trench Foot. If Trench Foot went untreated, their feet might even have to be amputated. The severe cold also led to frostbite and death due to hypothermia.

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