Trench Warfare


Key Facts

From November 1914 until March 1918 there was stalemate on the Western Front as both sides stuck to their trenches for protection

Between the two opposing sets of trenches was No Man's Land which any attacking troops had to cross

Both sides used thick belts of barbed wire to protect the trenches. Troops caught up in the wire became easy targets for the enemy machine gunners and snipers

In an attack the soldiers had to get out of their trenches, pass through their own barbed wire, cross No Man's Land, go through the enemy barbed wire and into their trenches. This proved almost impossible

No Man's Land and the trenches quickly became very muddy. This was because of the wet climate in France and Belgium and because the heavy guns destroyed the drains so water could not get away

The mud was so thick that men disappeared into it and were never seen again

Corpses lay all around the battlefield and this encouraged rats and lice

These two forms of vermin spread diseases such as Trench Fever and Weil's Disease

The mud and the cold caused many soldiers to suffer from trench foot

The mud got into wounds and caused many of them to go gangrenous

At night soldiers were sent out on raids across No Man's Land to capture a few Germans and bring them back as prisoners of war to be interrogated by Military Intelligence

Also at night soldiers were ordered to repair trenches, barbed wire or sandbags. This meant going out into No Man's Land where the greatest danger was. Sometimes the enemy would fire up flares which would show the Germans exactly where everyone was and the machine guns would rattle

Trench food was monotonous comprising tinned Irish Stew, tinned vegetables and tinned bully beef

The Generals' Headquarters tended to be many miles behind the trenches. A cause of much resentment to the front line soldiers

Read pages 40 - 41 and answer these questions

What was the difference between British and German trenches?

What caused mud and why was it a major problem?

What other problems did the soldiers face in the trenches? ( a common exam question)

What was the impact of these conditions on some soldiers?

Shell shock or neurasthenia was a common condition caused by exposure to long term heavy shelling. The victims became disoriented, they shook violently and found it difficult to carry out their military duties. Some even wandered away from the trenches or got lost in No Man's Land

Treatment depended very much on rank. Officers were sent to army nursing homes such as Craiglockhart in Edinburgh where with good food, rest, clean surroundings and an early form of counselling they recovered.

Non officers were not so lucky. Some were subjected to electric shock treatment to force them to recover their nerve. Others found wandering from or in the battlefield were charged with cowardice, quickly tried and shot at dawn.

Document Exercise
How typical is source C of conditions in the western front?



Trench Warfare - Help Sheet
Question 1 --- page 40, source A
Question 2 --- Key Facts

Question 3 --- pages 40-41, sources D,E, and F
Question 4 --- page 41, source H



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