An analysis of the trench warfare during the first world war

In the American Civil War, field fortifications emerged as an essential of warfare, with both armies employing entrenchments to an extent never before seen.

An analysis of the trench warfare during the first world war

Mail Summary Exactly years ago, on Dec. Three months of vicious and grueling fighting would follow, marking the first campaign in a long series of trench warfare offensives and counteroffensives that would shape the Western Front of World War I.

The series of battles and engagements that followed would later become known as the Race to the Sea, in which the Germans and Allies took turns attempting to flank each other to the north until they reached the North Sea.

With operational-level flanking maneuvers impossible, both sides dug in, creating a long line of opposing trenches and defensive works that reached all the way to the Swiss border. As a result, any progress on the Western Front now required direct assaults on strongly held enemy lines.

Given these conditions, the German General Staff reached the painful conclusion that a swift and decisive victory in the west was essentially impossible. Therefore, the Germans had to prepare for and implement a new strategy of attrition, whereby they — given their limited resources — would have to hold firm on one front and devote the bulk of their forces for an offensive on the other.

An analysis of the trench warfare during the first world war

The development of trench warfare in the west largely removed the possibility of mobile warfare, and the Germans could ill afford to waste precious resources, manpower and artillery shells in difficult and costly assaults on the Allied fortifications. The vast spaces in the Eastern Front, however, continued to allow significant flexibility, preventing a deadlock on the same scale as the one to the west.

Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, heroes of the Battle of Tannenberg, were using their considerable influence to request reinforcements for their planned eastern offensives.

Finally, German ally Austria-Hungary was pleading desperately for German help in the east after a series of military reversals inflicted by the Russians and Serbs — as well as the growing possibility of the Italians and Romanians joining the Allies — threatened to overwhelm it.

With Germany losing the war in the east and facing serious obstacles in the Western Front, the Germans went on the general defensive in France and Belgium while reserves streamed to the Eastern Front. With Germany now focusing on Russia in the east, the Allies had to relieve the pressure on their Russian allies by attacking the Germans in the west, if only to pin them down and prevent further reinforcements from going eastward.

Questions of national pride and prestige, as well as resources, also drove the French onto the offensive. In the early months of the war, the Germans had seized nearly all of Belgium and large areas of northern France — a region rich in coal and iron reserves vital for the war industry — and the Germans were only 60 miles from Paris.

They had to be driven back and French territory had to be restored.


By Decemberand especially after the grueling battles of the Race to the Sea, it was clear the French would have to be the ones to carry out a significant Allied offensive operation, with the British merely in a supporting role. The professional British Expeditionary Force, already very small at the outset of the war, had effectively ceased to exist.

The force had deployedtroops when fighting first broke out, suffering some 95, casualties by December The British would not be able to mount major operations in the west until Septemberand even then it only had a force of only six divisions.

The French 10th Army kicked off operations in the Artois region Dec. After participating in skirmishes and supporting other French forces in attacks, the French Fourth Army commanded by Gen. Fernand de Langle de Cary joined the attack on Dec. Approximatelytroops assembled for this attack with support from more than artillery pieces.

The German trenches and fortified lines were not as sophisticated as the ones that would cut their way through Belgium and France in the latter years of the war, but they were formidable nonetheless. Barbed wire was laid in front of the trenches, mutually supporting strongpoints were positioned to establish overlapping fields of fire and German artillery was installed to the rear to provide support.

With no ability to flank the German positions, the French had no choice but to plan a frontal assault. It was during the December punch and counterpunch that the horror of trench warfare became fully apparent to the soldiers on both sides.

Advancing French troops expected to find the enemy cut down, or at least suppressed by artillery fire, but instead discovered at a horrible cost that the German trenches were more than adequate to shelter the defending troops from the meager artillery available at that time.

Still, German troops packed en masse into the first trench line were vulnerable to direct hits, which would occasionally send a mass of torn flesh and mangled bones into the sky. This resulted in a quick shift of tactics to have a more dispersed and deeper line of defense.Although trench warfare has been employed since ancient times, it was used on an unprecedented scale on the Western Front during World War I.

Why Trench Warfare in WWI?

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In the early weeks of the First World War (late in the summer of ), both German and French commanders anticipated a war that would involve a large amount of troop movement, as each side sought to gain or defend territory.

Before World War 1, trench warfare was mostly used during the Civil War. However, with the wide use of artillery and new inventions like machine guns, trench warfare became a . Mar 27,  · Trench warfare reached its highest development on the Western Front during World War I (–18), when armies of millions of men faced each other in a line of trenches extending from the Belgian coast through northeastern France to Switzerland.

First World - A multimedia history of world war one first world a multimedia history of world war one Life in the trenches during the First World War took many forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to front. Trench Foot was more of a problem at the start of trench warfare; as conditions improved.

First World - A multimedia history of world war one first world a multimedia history of world war one Life in the Trenches. Life in the trenches during the First World War took many forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to front.

and trench warfare soon set in - and the expected war of movement. Trench warfare has become archetypically associated with the First World War of –, when the Race to the Sea rapidly expanded trench use on the Western Front starting in September By the end of October the whole front in Belgium and France had solidified into lines of trenches, which lasted until the last weeks of the war.

Trench warfare - Wikipedia