How Trench Warfare in WWI Changed War By: Courtney Shea and Korey Collazo

As a 9th grade class at The Springfield Renaissance School, we have been studying World War I, from the Alliance System, to causes of the war and the military strategies used; if it was a big factor in the war, we covered it. World War revolutionized warfare, as we know it. The type of warfare used in WWI was not only dangerous with thousands of soldiers mercilessly killing everyone in their way- bystanders and other soldiers- but it was also a big part of beginning the process of warfare reformation. The war’s use of trenches was a big change from the way the Revolutionary War was fought just 135 years earlier, and a little over half of a century earlier the way the Civil War was fought. Trench warfare is one thing that made World War I different from past wars; it is in part what made the war so talked about. The trenches had both good and bad conditions and states of living, they had various safety controls and they used specialized techniques in order to kill large amounts of their opponents at a time.



Lifestyle in the Trenches

The lifestyle of the trenches varied from decent to ruthless in just a matter of miles. According to BBC, “…nearly 9 out of every 10 soldiers in the British Army, who went into the trenches, survived.” These numbers were shocking due to the heavy artillery fire, disease rates, and low rationale. Being that every soldier had a total of 4 inches of space in the trenches, it’s a wonder so many people made it out alive. Nevertheless, even those who made it home after war weren’t the same people they were when they left.



Schedules in the Trenches

While in the trenches, soldiers were kept in a very strict schedule.

A timeline with series of photographs illustrating a soldier’s typical day on the frontline

(BBC. “How did so many soldiers survive the trenches?” BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3kgjxs,accessed on October 23, 2014.)

Chores included anything from refilling sandbags, to repairing the duckboards or draining the trenches. Draining the trenches helped eliminate trench foot, and therefore kept the army stronger. Contrary to popular belief, most battalions only spent about 5 days a month in the trenches. But, they were still very busy when they weren’t on the front line.



Soldier Split Up

Soldiers were often rotated out of different regions to help sustain morale. This kept the soldiers from getting too comfortable, something you never want happening in the middle of a war.

Aerial view of a typical trench system showing that soldiers spent just 15% of their time the firing line

(BBC. “How did so many soldiers survive the trenches?” BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3kgjxs,accessed on October 23, 2014.)

In doing this, it made the trenches safer, kept the soldiers on their toes and allowed each solider to learn how to complete tasks done in every vicinity. This technique, used mainly by British troops, was a big factor in almost 90% of armed forces going home to their families after the war. However, every system has its flaws. In this case, if a soldier was put in the wrong sector at the wrong time, the chances of death increased dramatically.



Safety of the Trenches

The trenches were made as safe as possible for those fighting. With a life to death ratio of almost 9:1, they accomplished the task of prioritizing soldier safety. Each “shelter” had thousands of “dugouts” built into the front of the system to protect the soldiers from bad weather and enemy shell fire. There was also the Firing Trench. According to BBC, a source used a lot throughout our research, this was a “7 foot deep ditch at the front of the system [that] provided cover for the most exposed troops. Dug in clever ‘zigzag’ sections to minimize damage, only a small area would be affected if it was attacked by enemy forces or hit by a shell.” This system was another factor of low death rates. With only small areas being affected, it made repairs quicker and casualties lower. There was also a Dressing Station. This was where they “provided immediate medical treatment to the seriously injured, who were then moved back behind the lines. On the Western Front, more than 92% of the wounded men who were evacuated to British medical units, survived.” Other than the ones already mentioned, there was also support trenches, which were dug 200-500 feet behind the firing trench and were used as a second line of defense. The reserve trench; used to store supplies and offer comfort for those going to the frontlines, and the communication trench; used to connect the entire network of trenches, which helped soldiers travel quickly, and kept things moving.



Casualties

The British army had an 88% return rate when it came to World War I, but returning didn’t mean unharmed. From treatable and untreatable injuries, to post traumatic stress disorder (shell shock), almost no one went home the same. Hundreds of thousands died and millions were wounded. These wounds ranged from “take some time off, it may leave a scar,” to “you’ll never walk again,” some even worse. “It was only chance – a cruel twist of fate.”



Fighting

At the beginning of World War I, they used only three weapons: a rifle, a bayonet and grenades. The British used tanks that would break down once they ventured into ‘No Man’s Land,’ not by artillery, but from getting stuck in the mud. The Germans were the first to be equipped with machine guns. Sources say “In 1914 when the war began, the English were given 2 machine guns per battalion, the Russians 8, and the Germans 6. At the end of the war when the Americans had joined in, each soldier’s artillery was given a machine gun.” Mortars (compression powered tube-like figures that shot out little bombs), were used to destroy dugouts, and cutting wires in preparation for attacks. Artillery was rarely successful, but when it was, the opposing army went haywire. Gases were supposed to change warfare for the “better.” They were used to “completely annihilate the rivals,” when in reality, they blew back towards whoever launched it, killing them. They soon began wearing gas masks to protect themselves. One thing that revolutionized trench warfare was its use of barbed wire. They laced the land in front of the trenches with it, protected those inside to a certain limited extent.



Tactics of Trench Warfare

Fighting in trenches was dull, repetitive, and very predictable. About 100 men would run into barbed wire and machine guns and attack. The opposing army would defend their trench. Then, they’d switch. Attack, defend, and defend, attack. A never-ending system that usually resulted in a stalemate- a draw, like on the western front. Although trench warfare was not the most efficient form of fighting, due to its lack of results, it is still a staple of war history, one that will always be talked about.



How World War I Changed Warfare: Trench Warfare

Trench warfare changed how people fought war. Although war is no longer static enough to support the major use of trenches, and they were not completely effective, they were what made World War I different. It is the reason tanks, aircraft, and gases are used in wars today. World War I was also the first war to supply every soldier a machine gun, mainly because of trench warfare. Compared to The Civil War, and the Revolutionary War, where the opposing sides stood parallel to each other, firing their muskets, then charging, World War I stood out. It was different than its predecessors. Not only were tactics and battlefields different, but the advancements in technology skyrocketed during World War I, while not much technological improvement had been made during the other two examples. World War I may not have been “The War That Will End All Wars” as predicted, but it most definitely was the war that changed all wars.

See A Video Here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3kgjxs#zs43d2p




CITATIONS:

(Pbs.org. “The trenches: symbol of the stalemate.” Pbs.org.http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/chapters/ch1_trench.html, accessed on October 23, 2014.)

(El Azhary, Salma, Hana El Safoury, Aziz Ezzat. “The Weapons and Tactics used in the Trenches. Google Sites. https://sites.google.com/site/worldwar1class6/life-in-the-trenches/the-weapons-and-tactics-used-in-the-trenches, accessed on October 23, 2014.)

(BBC. “How did so many soldiers survive the trenches?” BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3kgjxs, accessed on October 23, 2014.)

(About education. “Trenches in World War 1”About education. http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwari/a/Trenches-In-World-War-I.htm, accessed on October 23, 2014.)

(Encyclopedia Britannica. “Trench warfare.” Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/604210/trench-warfare, accessed on October 23, 2014)

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