World War I Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare

Trench warfare was used much during World War I, especially on the western front.

The trench system first started when the Germans needed protection. Once the Allies realized that they couldn't break through the German line, they, too, dug trenches. After a little while, this way of fighting spread. Because the Germans were the first to claim a spot for their trenches, the Allies were forced to stay in the worst conditions.

The Trench System

The trenches that were in the front were called the front-line trenches. These were usually six feet wide and seven feet deep. Since no one is seven feet tall, they needed a way to get out and a way to fire at the enemy while still being in the trench. The fire-step was created so that you could get out and fire over the edge. It was about two or three feet high and stood in front of the parapet (the front of the trench).

On top the parapet, large sandbags would sit. These were used to absorb bullets or shell fragments.

Trenches were not constructed in straight lines. This was so that if an enemy invaded the trench they couldn't shoot straight down the trench.

Soldiers constructed dug-outs in the sides of the trenches to protect themselves from the weather and enemy fire.

Mini trenches were constructed in front of the front-line trenches into No Man's Land. These were called saps. They stopped roughly thirty yards in front of the front-line trenches and were used as listening posts.

Reserves were placed in trenches behind the front-line trenches called support and reserve trenches. These would hold men until they need more at the front-line. These three rows of trenches usually covered between two hundred and three hundred yards of ground.

Communication trenches were the trenches that connected all of the trenches. They were used to transport men, equipment, and supplies.

No Man's Land

No man's land is the area in between two opposing trenches. This area could be anywhere from 500 yards to only 50 yards. It had barbed wire protecting the front-line trenches. This could be as much as one hundred feet of barbed wire.

Often times, the area could be covered in broken military equipment and could contain a large amount of bodies.

Soldiers always had a difficult time crossing No Man's Land. They would be out in the open and could easily be shot. They would also have to watch out for shell-holes that were usually filled with water.

Full-scale attacks almost never happened in No Man's Land. However, men were sometimes ordered to go out into No Man's Land so that they could spy on the enemy. They often had to take control of a shell-hole and get as much information as they could.

Trench Life

There were some regulars when it came to living in a trench: death, rats, chores, and the smell. The soldiers had very little time to rest and were constantly exhausted. They got used to it and would eventually grow numb. So numb that if one of there friends died or a bomb went off next to them, they wouldn't even flinch.


Death was very common even when everyone was needed to fire at the opposite side. Often times, there were random deaths that were brought by shellfire from the enemy. Many unconscious men were covered by dirt and later died.

Snipers took down new men who were on their first day. Newbies peered over the edge of the trench far too often and were quickly shot down.

Aside from enemy fire, diseases took many lives. Approximately one third of the deaths were from a disease.


There were millions of rats that infested the trenches. There were two types of rats: the black rat and the brown rat.

The brown rat was a rat that was both disliked and feared. This rat would feast on dead bodies, disfiguring them by eating eyes and livers. Brown rats could grow to the size of a house cat. The men would try anything to rid themselves of these rats including firing at them, beating them to death, and stabbing them with a bayonet. Unfortunately, this did not work and the rats would constantly contaminate food and spread infections.


Chores were a daily thing that every man had to endure. They would have to refill sandbags and drain the trench.

The trenches would often be full of water, especially after rain. This would make the walls of the trench misshapen and likely to collapse. Because of the misshapen trench, the men would also have to repair the trench so that the walls don't cave in.


The smell in a trench would be absolutely horrendous. There would be the smell of rotting corpses, sweat, and blood. You would also be able to smell creosol or chloride of lime which were used to prevent infections and diseases. There was also poison gas, sandbags, cigarettes, and cooking food. It was not uncommon to have an overflowing latrine which would add to the smell.

Many men would grow used to the stench but it would seem to suffocate newcomers.


There were a lot of new weapons during World War I that were very hard to fight, especially while in a trench. One of these was poison gas.

Poison gas was one of the worst weapons ever created. It was a painful gas that would attack areas of your body that were moist which includes your eyes, mouth, and lungs. This gas was heavy so it would sink into the trenches. Whenever someone came in contact with this gas, they would get blisters and start to vomit. There would be internal and external bleeding.

This gas was so horrific that it was outlawed and no one has been using it since.

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