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Trench Warfare In 1914

Info: 2250 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 19th May 2017 in History

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World War I began in 1914 and lasted up until 1918; the war involved two sides which were entitled the “Central Powers” and the “Allies”. The Allied powers consisted of: France, the British Empire, the Russian Empire, Italy, United States, Japan, Romania, Serbia Belgium, Greece, and Portugal. The Central Powers consisted of: the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. Many factors led up World War I such as nationalism, imperialism, and the assassination in Sarajevo. The Western Front was quickly lined with trenches producing a stalemate for most of the war. With the introduction of these deadly trenches it soon brought new devastating tactics such as poison gas, hand grenades, tanks, and heavy mortar attacks. [1] During World War I trench warfare had significant and lasting effects on soldiers due to the devastating and horrid conditions.

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Over two hundred thousand men died in the trenches during World War I. [2] Trench warfare was first started during the development of rapid firing small firearms and artillery strikes. With these new developments it made infantry charges a lot less effective and impracticable, thus bringing stalemate to both sides. Trench warfare was a type of fighting were soldiers on both sides stayed in trenches to avoid enemy fire. The soldiers built their beds into the side of the trenches. They dug holes in the ground to use as bathrooms. In order to get around in the trenches they needed to walk on boards to keep from sinking in the soft soil. If a solder should lift his head above the trench he would risk being shot by an enemy sniper. The trenches that were constructed were made in a zigzag pattern, never being in a straight line, and were approximately twelve feet deep. By being dug in a zigzag pattern it made it so it was not possible to see more then ten feet down the trench. The reason being was so that if the trench was infiltrated with enemies the enemy would not be able to gain access to the hole trench, but rather only one point Another reason for the zigzagged trenches was to compress a bomb or bomb shell if it landed in the trench.

Death within the trenches was a continuous cycle that never ended, even with the absence of any raids that were launched by the enemy. Nonstop artillery attacks were set out by the enemies directed at the trenches brought unsystematic death to men that were either relaxing in the dugout and laid flat down in the trench. [1] New soldiers that had never been in trenches were often killed due to curiosity while looking over the trenches into “no mans land”.

Millions of rats infested trenches of World War I. With so many rats infesting the trenches they were eventually classified into type types of rats, the brown rat and the black rat. The rats could grow up to the size of a cat by crawling into the corpses of dead bodies and eating their internal parts, completely changing the dead soldiers’ appetence. [2] Soldiers, becoming exhausted and afraid of the rats, tried many different ways to kill them such as hitting them to death, shooting them, and even using the bayonets at the end of their guns. Rats could produce up to nine hundred offspring a year which would later on spread infections within the trenches and contaminate foods.

Lice were among many of the other problems faced in trench warfare. Lice would breed and lay eggs in fine seem of the soldiers clothing, causing them to start to itch. Although clothes were washed from time to time this did not stop the spread of lice eggs. As soon as the clothes were washed the eggs would still remain hidden in the seams and hatch because of the steamy weather. Trench Fever was a diseased caused by the lice. The disease first started off with excruciating pain and then progress into a high fever. To recover from Trench Fever soldiers had to be sent away from the trenches to recuperate, which took around twelve weeks. It was not until the end of the war until lice were finally identified as the cause of Trench Fever. Another diseased cause by trench warfare was Trench Foot. The cause for Foot Fever was the unhygienic conditions of the trenches and the cold, wet ground. If it got worse enough the foot many times, would have been amputated. By 1915 the sanitary conditions of trenches improves and the cases of Trench Foot went down. [1] 

The soldiers were under heavy watch by snipers and enemy look outs during the day which required them to keep their heads down and limit activity. When nightfall arrived men continued on with their assigned duties, once done they were aloud to go and concentrate on more personal issues. Soldiers would writer letters home, write diaries and read books to cure their boredom in the trenches.

No synopsis of trench warfare can skip generalization of the deadly smell in the trenches in which the soldiers first encountered when they got to the trenches for the first time. There were thousands upon thousands of dead bodies lining the battlefield rotting giving off a horrible stench. For instance, two hundred thousand bodies lay out in “No Mans Land” after the Battle of Somme. The feet were told to give off the most horrific smell of all, because men most times, did not have shoes that were in good condition, if they had a pair at all. Areas designated for the soldiers to go to the bathroom were overflowing, consequently giving off a horrible order. Soldiers who had not been able to have the comfort of bathing themselves would give off a reeking smell of dried sweat. The smell of creosol and chloride of lime, used as disinfectants, stained the disgusting air. Include the smell of cordite, the persistent aroma of poison gas, rotting sandbags, heavy mud, cigarette smoke and cooking food… even though it overwhelmed the newcomers to the trenches, many of the men soon got use to it. Along with these few examples consisted the smell of gun powered, poisonous gas, cigarette smoke, cooking food, mud, and rotting sandbags all of which turned the smell of the air into a common enemy for both sides. [1] 

Each morning after breakfast each man would be inspected by a superior commander. Once inspection was done thee commanders would then assign each soldier their daily chores, except for men who had a medical excuse or various excuses. [2] Many chores within the trenches consisted of refilling the sandbags, repairing the trench boards that lined the floors in the inside, and draining the trench of an access of water. Especially after rain downfall the trenches consumed a lot of muddy rain water; this made the trenches very weak and the walls unstable. To solve this problem men were assigned to use the pumping equipment, if the damage was too bad then a group of men would be told to actually repair the trench.

With the arrival of dusk the cycle of “stand off” was started to protect the trenches from any attacks during the night in the dark. During this time the trenches become enlightened with activity as men executed various activities. Although the enemy would always be on the look out and it was still fairly dangerous maintained and supply activities were performed To get their rations of food, the soldiers would be sent to the back of the lines to gather the little food they were given. In addition soldiers would be assigned fire step duty. Fire steps were mounds of dirt used to boost up the soldiers to peer over the sandbags. A man was generally expected to be on duty guarding for attacks for two hours. The reason men were only expected to serve two hour shifts would be because the commanders didn’t want to risk a man falling asleep while on duty. If on fire step duty and a soldier were to fall asleep then the penalty would be death by firing squad.

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The system in which the trenches were made had a specific order in where they were placed and why. The Allied had a main system of four different types of trenches. The first lines of trenches were located 50 yards to a mile from the German front line of trenches, often called the attacking or firing trenches. [1] Positioned in the rear, the front trenches were the support trenches, which were usually several hundred yards away. The support trenches had the job to provide the front trenches with more men and supplies. Behind the support trenches contained another line of trenches called the reserved trenches. The reserve trenches were several hundred yards away further behind support trenches. The meaning for the reserve trenches was for it to be supplied with men and emergency supplies incase there was an invasion of the first two rows, the front and support trenches. The fourth type of trench, the communication trenches, was used to transport messages, men, and supplies between the various trenches. To attach the bunkers and gun storages the trenches often had underground networks to join them to the communication trenches. The trench system in which the Germans adopted was a lot more “glamorous” so to speak. The Germans built complex and more refined tunnels and trench structures. [1] Some living quarters within the trenches could be over fiftieth under the ground. The trenches in which the Germans occupied consisted of electricity, beds, toilets, and needs in which was the total opposite of the Allied trenches.

To break the deadlock of the war British came up with idea of a tank and started to develop plans to make them to break the stalemate of the war. During the Battle of Somme tanks were first used but only in limited numbers. Tanks, at first, were shown to be unreliable and ineffective largely because there was poor strategic and tactical planning. Some of the bad strategies involved were that the tanks were being spread too thinly on the ground. Also huge shell explosions made big holes within the ground and it created a great problem for the tanks of the time, they were still in the early stages of development and not that maneuverable. [1] Towards the end of World War I more improved concepts of tanks and strategy’s made them able to get through enemy lines and become an important component of war.

Although trench warfare brought many negative aspects into World War I, it also had a few positively out looked specifics as well. The more modern idea, at the time, of open field fighting was soon lost due to the trenches. Men’s lives wouldn’t be simply washed away in open field combat where they lined up waiting for their lives to be taken. Although gruesome, trenches gave the men somewhere to sleep, eat, and have cover from open fire. After World War I the tank’s design continued to get better and began to bring back the more mobile part of war once known before trench warfare. The use of tanks is still used up to this day with improved designs and tactics.

The devastating conditions of trench warfare proved to be a major catastrophe in World War I. The construction of these huge holes in the earth was a long and very heavy labor required job. Conditions in these unsanitary trenches were infested with rats and lice which killed off two hundred thousand men alone in the Great War. [2] The feet were told to give off the most horrific smell of all, because men most times, did not have shoes that were in good condition, if they had a pair at all. Diseases plagued through the trenches from soldiers to soldier from lice and the wet cold floor of the twelve foot pits.

Stand-off and other agonizing duties made life in the trenches hell on earth. The small rations of food were given to them and gave them barley anything, just enough to survive. A combination of air attacks, mortar bombardment, and tank invasions soon overcame trench warfare. [3] On the battlefield water was often found and depended on from contaminated water that collected in shell-holes and other hollow spaces which caused dysentery.


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