WWI Trench Warfare Lesson for Kids: Explanation & Facts

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Learn why soldiers dug trenches to be safe from artillery and machine-gun fire during the First World War. This lesson also covers the parts of a trench system, including the different types of trenches and a definition for 'no man's land.'

Why Trenches?

There are a lot of movies and TV shows out there that involve the use of guns. Usually when the shooting starts, someone starts yelling 'Get down!' or 'Take cover!' and everyone drops to the ground to hide from the bullets.

In the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, trench warfare was based on exactly the same idea. The soldiers were getting shot at and they wanted to find cover. So they dug deep trenches, long, deep holes in the ground that they could climb into to protect themselves from the bullets.

Trenches and Guns in WWI

World War I wasn't the first time that soldiers dug trenches for protection. But trenches really became important in WWI because people started making much better guns. Two important types of guns in the First World War were:

  • Machine guns - A machine gun can fire a lot more bullets than a regular gun and in less time.
  • Artillery - Armies in the First World War also had much better artillery, big guns like cannons that fire huge bullets.

Guns this big could stop any group of attacking soldiers.

The machine guns and the artillery made it impossible for soldiers on either side to attack the enemy head-on. The enemy could shoot all the attacking soldiers on every side.

Because the guns in World War I were so powerful, neither side could win by attacking. But they weren't going to just go home, so they stayed put. They dug deep trenches to protect themselves from the machine guns and the artillery. Then they stayed in those trenches, sometimes for years.

The Trench System

Because so many soldiers lived in the same trenches for so long, eventually they built up whole systems of different trenches. On each side, the very front trench had a few soldiers with machine guns. In front of this trench was a bunch of barbed wire. The machine guns and barbed wire would stop any enemy attack.

Behind the front trench were several more trenches. This was where most of the soldiers lived. These trenches also had dugouts, or caves dug deep underground. During an artillery bombardment, the soldiers could hide in the dugouts and be safe.

There were smaller trenches, called communications trenches, to connect the front line to the trenches behind it.

A photograph of a trench system. Notice the zigzag pattern of the trench.

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