Trench Warfare In WW1 Essay, Research Paper
World War 1: The Life in Trenches
World War 1 is perhaps best known for being a war fought in trenches
(Grolier 94), ditches dug out of the ground to give troops protection
from enemy artillery and machine-gun fire. In Erich Remarque’s novel
All Quite on the Western Front that is exactly how he described trench
warfare. Remarque showed World War 1 as a war fought in trenches,
which he depicted well leaving out only a few minor details.
The trenches spread from the East to the West. By the end of 1914,
trenches stretched all along the 475 miles front (Grolier 94) between
the Swiss border and the Channel coast. In some places, enemy trenches
were less than thirty yards apart (Stewart 40).
Although trenches spread for many miles, their appearance varied.
Upon looking more closely, one could see that each army’s trench line
was actually a series of three trenches. These three lines connected
at various points by small, twisted trenches (Stewart 40). These three
lines were called front, support, and reserve trenches. The front
line trenches usually measured six feet and had a zigzag pattern to
prevent enemy fire from sweeping the entire length of the trench.
Between the two opposing front lines laid, an area called “No Man’s
Land” that measured from 7 yards to 250 yards in width. This area was
littered with barbed wire, tin scrapes, and mines to reduce the chance
of enemy crossing. The other two trenches (support, and reserve) were
constructed to easily move supplies and troops to the front trenches.
Trenches varied from six to eight feet in height (Simkin). After wet
rainy days trenches would get filled with water. Soldiers called these
“Waterlogged tr! enches.” In these trenches, there was a need for
extra support, wood boards, and sandbags were placed on the side and on
the floor for extra support and a safe area for walking (Simkin).
In spite of the fact that the trenches protected the soldiers, they
stood no chance against the diseases. Body lice were among one of the
diseases that traveled among the trenches the most. Body lice caused
frenzied scratching and led to trench fever (Simkin). Fifteen percent
(Simkin) of sickness was from body lice. Trench foot was another disease
found in the trenches. After hours (Simkin) of standing in waterlogged
trenches, the feet would begin to numb, change color, and swell, and this
would soon result in amputation. There was one way to cure trench foot
without amputation, and that was to dry feet and change socks regularly
(Simkin). During the winter of 1914-15, over 20,000 men in the British
army were treated for trench foot (Simkin). Whale oil was used to oil
the soldiers’ feet because it was much easier to take off their boots.
Ten gallons of whale oil (Simkin) was used at the front lines.
With the dead and dying soldiers, rats were not far behind. Rats varied
in sizes. Rats could produce around 880 offspring in one year (Simkin).
Rats that could not find food in trenches resorted in eating human flesh.
A large rat could devour wounded and unprotected soldiers.
They are bigger than any rats I’ve ever seen–like small dogs. They are
a hazard to all of us, for they attack the wounded as well as the dead.
None of the wounded men want to sleep, for they fear a regiment of rats
will make short order of them. Although I am healthy, the rats come
close at night, smelling the food supplies I keep with me. If ever
there was a true hell on earth, it is here in the trenches (Grolier 94).
The trenches however did protect them from small explosions and gunfire.
The German trench system was more elaborate and, according to some
reports, better build and maintained. This was due to the fact that
for long periods the German army was on the defensive, and needed
an environment which would enable their men to resist the massive
bombardments and assaults of the allies (Winter 129)
When soldiers thought that the trenches would protect them from harm,
they were in for an unsuspecting surprise. Throughout the war, the
allies used five million tons (Simkin) of artillery shells against
the enemy. In the first two weeks of a battle, the British with other
allies managed to shoot 4,283,550 (Simkin) shells at the German defenses.
The trenches never protected soldiers from shell shock. Soldiers who
exposed themselves to continuous amount of shellfire produced a number
of symptoms. These symptoms included tiredness, irritability, and
lack of concentration, headaches, and eventually mental breakdowns.
About 80,000 men (Simkin) of the British suffered from shell shock.
Remarque showed how World War 1 was fought in trenches. He displayed
the soldiers spending most of their time in the trenches even if they
were not on the front line. Remarque revealed how soldiers based their
life around trenches and forgot about home life.
Furthermore, Remarque explained trench warfare in an interesting way.
He showed how the soldiers’ spent their time as well as their lives
in the trenches. The soldiers’ friendship with each other as well as
However, Remarque missed a few essential elements. He failed to give a
description of the soldiers’ belongings packed with them on their trip
through the trenches. Remarque did not explain the tacit agreements
between the enemies.