Essay: Trenches in World War I

One hundred years ago the world shared one thing in common, experiencing the world’s first war. Many factors that go into the war or had an influence on it had their own specific role. Trench warfare was a common type of fighting where both troops would build their own trenches in order to protect themselves from their enemy on other side separated by no man’s land. Trenches were a key part of the battleground during World War I and became the home and final location for millions of soldiers. Trenches were necessary for American troops survival in World War I because they were an effective form of protection and defense, and were built to prevent injuries and/or deaths.
Trenches were known as a form of survival for the soldiers in World War I because it was a successful system of fighting that allowed soldiers to defend themselves and attack the enemy without getting hurt. ‘The main type of fighting used during World War I was trench warfare’ (McCrackin, ‘Trench Warfare During World War I’). Trenches were used not only to defend a soldier’s own position in the war but also to make a step forward into the enemy’s trench. Trench warfare slowed down an enemy’s advance and made it harder for them to attack our troops. Looking back it may seem like trenches were one of the worst places and situations a soldier could reside in because of the living conditions, but it is important to look beyond those facts. Living in the trenches for as long as the soldiers lived proved to be unsanitary, for example many of the soldiers had to live with rodents like rats, lice, and frogs that literally ate and killed them alive. And the weather conditions didn’t help the situation either. Heavy rainfall in the trenches caused a infection called ‘Trench Foot’ that could lead to a soldier’s foot to be amputated. The extreme cold conditions also lead to many deaths in the trenches. However, the trenches proved to secure the soldiers from the enemy. ‘They were holes dug by soldiers to protect themselves from the enemy. With modern weapons, even a shallow hole could sufficiently protect soldiers from the enemy’ (Cheng, ‘Front-Line: Trenches’). These ditches became an essential part of the war that let soldiers
These men could only rely on the earth as a form of safety from the outside. Leaving the trench, even if it just meant looking outside, could cost a soldier their life. Trenches were designed in order to protect soldiers from outside threat known as no man’s land. ‘Often those who went ‘over the top’ and into no-man’s land could not be brought back to safety if they were injured’ (McCrackin, ‘Trench Warfare During World War I’). In these trenches soldiers could walk from one position to another without the fear of being killed unlike the on the outside where there was no guarantee of surviving or death.
During the war advancements toward trenches were made that helped improve the working conditions like adding extra support lines to the trenches. The three most common trench lines included in these trenches were called the front-line, the support line, and the reserve line. These additional trench lines provided more support to the front position when needed. Each one had a specific duty where soldiers would spend from roughly four days in and rotate afterwards. ‘To some extent this is accurate, at least until about 1916, although the trench-systems were far more sophisticated constructions with not only communication-trenches but often entire additional defense-lines towards the rear, to act as a stop should the front-line system be overrun’ (Haythornthwaite, 76). The extra lines made it more difficult for the enemy to break the lines of their trenches and further advance in attacking our soldiers and also provided an escape when one line could have been taken over by the enemy.
Trenches were built in a unique design, often referred to a zigzag pattern. The reasoning behind the zigzag pattern was to reduce the effects of the attacks made by the enemy and to prevent the whole trench from being ruined. ‘Zigzag patterns were created to minimize damage. Only a small area would be damaged if it was attacked by enemy forces or hit by a shell’ (Wilde, ‘World War One: The Trenches’). Trenches were dug six or seven deep below ground to shield troops and allow the troops to fire their weapons. The deeper the trench the more coverage soldiers had from air raids, bombs, and enemy troops and the trench could hold more soldiers and supplies. ‘All trench systems consisted of several parallel lines of fortifications. A forward trench line was adjacent to ‘no man’s land, the unoccupied ground separating the two sides and had the greatest vulnerability to enemy attack’ (Heyman, 43). Other attributes to the trenches included barbed wire, boardwalks, alarm bells, and sand bags that prevented the sides from collapsing. Certain spaces were also included as well in the trenches for first aid posts, communication equipment, and headquarter posts. These posts offered immediate medical treatment when the soldiers were injured. ‘On the Western Front, more than 92% of the wounded men who were evacuated to British medical units survived’ (Snow, ‘How the Trenches Kept Men Safe’). Constructing the trenches was difficult and took a lot of hard work but an important key to survival and had to be built carefully.
Infantry such as trenches were a necessity and an effective part of keeping our soldiers alive during World War I. In a time where mechanical warfare was just arising, trenches were the best form of warfare that applied a strategic way of fighting. ‘Trench warfare took its toll on many, but the ones who survived would have to say it was the part of any war that worked, and gained success’ (‘Trench Warfare,’ n.d.). The outcome of World War I may have been far different if trench warfare wasn’t practiced and applied the way it was.

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