World War 1 Trench Warfare Thesis

Pages: 11 (3554 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

¶ … trench warfare used during the war, including strategies, weapons, and conditions in the trenches. Trench warfare reached its height in World War I, and the trenches were horrific for the soldiers who had to fight in them. They had to live in these hellholes as well as fight in them, and living in them was tremendously miserable.

Initially, trench warfare was not the order of the day when World War I began. At the beginning of the war, both sides deployed mounted cavalry units on horseback, but weapons like the machine gun made these outmoded tactics ineffectual and impractical. The Germans dug the first trenches of the war in 1914 on the Western Front of the war, forcing the Allied American and British forces to dig in, too. These were the first trenches of World War I, and the method of digging in to repress attacks would continue until the war ended in 1918. It is important to remember that the trenches were not straight; they were dug in a zigzag pattern so that attackers could not attack the entire trench from the side. Thus, soldiers inside the trenches could only see about 30 feet to either side.

The Weapons

World War I was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." Increasingly technology gave soldiers weapons never thought of before, from machine guns, to tanks, airplanes, artillery pieces, and even chemical weaponry. All of these weapons demanded new and different fighting techniques, some that had not been anticipated in previous wars.Download full
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TOPIC: Thesis on World War 1 Trench Warfare Assignment

In the beginning of the war, before the United States became involved, many of the weapons were French-made. These included a rapid-firing French 75mm gun and a 155mm Schneider howitzer. A historian notes, "While the 75 was a very light piece with limited power, the 155mm Schneider had no trouble destroying enemy trenches with its 130 lb shell" (Grotelueschen 10). Soldiers in the trenches used regulations rifles and bayonets, while the artillery supported and defended their positions. Author Grotelueschen continues, "American infantry battalions were to be supported by machine guns, light mortars, and 37mm cannons, [...] German stormtroopers based their attacks on the coordinated use of the most powerful infantry weapons available, primarily light machine guns, but also flamethrowers and grenade launchers" (Grotelueschen 79). Flamethrowers were some of the most devastating weapons in the war, and machine guns, although primitive by today's standards, were weapons of mass destruction during this land-based war. Another historian notes the Maxim machine gun had enormous firepower. He writes, "The Maxim Gun could fire 400-600 rounds of small-calibre ammunition per minute. Each gun had the firepower of about 100 rifles" (Simkin). Several other types of machine guns were used by both sides throughout the war.

In the air, World War I was the first war to benefit from air warfare, and the planes, which quickly developed into fighters and bombers, were a major weapon by the end of the war. They were quick, could deliver bombs more effectively than slow moving balloons or dirigibles, and they could support the men on the ground by attacking advancing enemies and spotting positions.

Tanks also made their appearance during World War I. The first tanks were developed in the late 19th century, and they were really based on tractor designs. Two British inventors created what would become the modern tank in 1915; it was called the Killen-Strait Armoured Tractor. It was slow, heavy, and could only carry three people, but it was very effective in clearing fences, covering open ground, and maneuvering over rough terrain. Eventually, tanks would become faster, lighter, bigger, and more effective, but the first tanks helped defend the Allies and made a difference in the war (Simkin).

Chemical warfare was some of the most devastating weaponry in the war, and after the effects were known, treaties banning the use of chemical weapons were established. Poison gas was actually first used by the French against the Germans in 1914, but the Germans took it far further and developed several different types of poisonous gasses, including chlorine and mustard gas. Another historian notes, "The effects of chlorine gas were severe. Within seconds of inhaling its vapour it destroyed the victim's respiratory organs, bringing on choking attacks" (Duffy). In the wake of chlorine gas development by the British, the Germans developed mustard gas, even deadlier than chlorine. Author Duffy continues, "Mustard gas, an almost odourless chemical, was distinguished by the serious blisters it caused both internally and externally, brought on several hours after exposure. Protection against mustard gas proved more difficult than against either chlorine or phosgene gas" (Duffy). The Germans used more gas than any other country. They used at least 68,000 tons; the French used about 36,000 tons and the British used about 25,000. It is estimated that nearly 90,000 casualties of the war were due to gas attacks (Duffy).

Other weapons used during the war included pistols, which officers always carried, trench mortars, used to fire straight down into trenches to cause as much damage as possible, grenades, and flamethrowers, which the Germans used heavily. World War I marked the development of many of the world's most devastating weapons, and they would change the way war was fought forever. They would also become much more streamlined and effective by the time World War II began. For example, tanks and armored vehicles changed rapidly, and artillery and aircraft changed drastically, too, becoming much more streamlined and effective.

Life in the Trenches

As can only be imagined, life in the trenches was utterly miserable. As historian Simkin notes, "Most of this area was rarely a few feet above sea level. As soon as soldiers began to dig down they would invariably find water two or three feet below the surface. Along the whole line, trench life involved a never-ending struggle against water and mud" (Simkin). This was only enhanced when it rained, making the trenches into muddy bogs that were almost inhabitable. If they could, many soldiers slept outside the trenches because they were so horrible.

Trench warfare was immensely debilitating to the men in the trenches, and the Allied commanders knew it. Historian Grotelueschen writes, "Pershing became convinced that the long periods of trench fighting not only were extremely costly in men and material, but that they also had a terrible 'resultant psychological effect' on Allied troops" (Grotelueschen 14). The trenches were terrible to live in because of the constant water, and the constant threat of attack, but they were where many of the soldiers died, and the remained buried under shallow layers of the trench bottom. Historian Simkin notes, "Many men killed in the trenches were buried almost where they fell. If a trench subsided, or new trenches or dugouts were needed, large numbers of decomposing bodies would be found just below the surface" (Simkin). Thus, the trenches became giant tombs as battles rearranged trenches and battlefields.

The men were outfitted with about 30 pounds of gear when they went into battle in the trenches. They carried "a rifle, two mills grenades, 220 rounds of ammunition, a steel helmet, wire cutters, field dressing, entrenching tool, greatcoat, two sandbags, rolled ground sheet, water bottle, haversack, mess tin, towel, shaving kit, extra socks, message book and preserved food rations" (Simkin). All of this gear made it difficult to cross empty areas of the battlefield known as "no man's land," and of course, they all became soaked through in the wet conditions in the trenches.

The constant barrage of shells from the enemy artillery was continual in the trenches. Unable to get away from the noise and fear of death, many men in the trenches developed "shell-shock." The early symptoms included irritability, tiredness, giddiness, lack of concentration, and headaches, and if allowed to continue, it could lead to a total mental breakdown, and the soldier having to leave the field of battle. It was a dangerous condition because it was difficult to recognize at first. After the war ended, the British Army guessed about two percent of its soldiers suffered from shell-shock, and that does not count members of the other armies that also suffered from the problem (Simkin).

Shell-shock was certainly a problem during the war, but there were a variety of other conditions and diseases that developed as men had to survive in the muddy trenches. Dysentery was common because of the living conditions in the trenches. Latrines were often close to the trenches and suffered from the same water problems as the trenches, and they could even drain into the trenches if improperly placed. There was little sanitation, and food spoiled quickly in the harsh conditions. Impure water in the trenches only added to the problem, as clean water was often hard to come by, especially when the trenches were under siege (Simkin).

Body lice were also a continual problem in the trenches. They burrowed into clothing and shoes, and left small red marks all over the body. Historian Simkin writes, "As well as causing frenzied scratching, lice also… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "World War 1 Trench Warfare" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

World War 1 Trench Warfare.  (2008, November 22).  Retrieved January 16, 2022, from

MLA Format

"World War 1 Trench Warfare."  22 November 2008.  Web.  16 January 2022. <>.

Chicago Style

"World War 1 Trench Warfare."  November 22, 2008.  Accessed January 16, 2022.