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Trench Warfare During WWI: Definition, Facts & Conditions

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  • 0:02 Trench Warfare
  • 1:07 Facts
  • 2:07 Conditions
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will cover a method of ground fighting that occurred mainly in World War I called trench warfare. The lesson is followed by a quiz that will test your understanding.

Definition of Trench Warfare

Picture having to spend your life in a dark, cold, and dirty sewer system. You can't see much through the darkness, you're constantly wet because of the water that's flooded the tunnels, and you're in danger due to dirty conditions, lack of visibility, and disease-carrying rats. Now imagine that the tunnel is also filled with other people who want to harm you.

Sounds terrible, right? Clearly, this isn't a life anyone would choose to live voluntarily. It is, though, very similar to the life soldiers faced when fighting in World War I (WWI).

While armies in World War I didn't exactly fight in closed-off sewer systems, they existed in similar conditions due to a system of fighting known as trench warfare. Trench warfare was a method of fighting where opposing armies fought from and defended their territories using a system of dug out trenches or ditches. In other words, opposing armies would be facing each other and have their own system of trenches, and in between each system of trenches would be an open piece of land called no man's land.

Facts About Trench Warfare

Systems of trenches could be miles wide across a countryside so that no enemy could get around them, or they could span up to 300 yards long - that's up to three football fields in length! Trenches would typically be dug around 12 feet deep, but could be smaller or deeper depending on the country digging them. The space between two sets of enemy trenches varied, but often could range up to several hundred yards as well.

Each army spaced out their trenches in rows. The first (or front) row of trenches was guarded with barbed wire and was known as the front-line trench from which soldiers would fire. Each row after that would be for extra protection, a place to house communications, sleeping quarters, or where the reserve soldiers would stay to await for orders. Finally, at the end of an army's trenches is where you would find the heavy artillery (e.g. cannons). These cannons were capable of firing ammunition great distances that could reach the opposing side's trenches.

Conditions of Trench Warfare

Imagine for a moment having to do something you really can't stand doing. Now take that and multiply the pain and frustration that it causes by 100 - that's almost close to the types of conditions soldiers had to fight in during WWI! Since the trenches soldiers fought in were 12 feet deep, they often had to stand up on a firing step in order to see over the trench. This sometimes left soldiers exposed to sniper fire.

If that wasn't bad enough, a soldier couldn't expect to capture the other side's territory and complete his mission if all he did was stay put in the trench all day. There always came a time when soldiers were ordered to go 'up and over' a trench wall and travel across no man's land to get to the other side's trenches.

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