What Happened in the Trenches?


Quick Answer

The armies on both sides of the First World War lived and died in the elaborate trenches they constructed on the Western Front. Advances in weaponry without commensurate advances in mobility trapped the opposing forces in their respective trench systems until the development and use of the armored tank in the last year of the war.

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Full Answer

The daily routines of entrenched soldiers fighting for the Central Powers were similar to those of the Allies. Before dawn, soldiers were rousted from sleep and commanded to firing posts designed to guard against an enemy attack. At daybreak the two sides commenced shelling across the "no-man's land" between opposing trenches. A breakfast truce persisted throughout the war. This mutual understanding between troops on both sides allowed for a brief period of calm and nourishment before the day's chores were assigned. At dusk the manning of firing posts, known as the "stand-to," was repeated to guard against attacks at twilight. Once night fell, raids and surveillance activities were conducted under cover of darkness.

Death and disease were common in the trenches. Lethal gases were developed and used by both sides. Rats and lice multiplied and spread disease, fouled water caused dysentery, and muddy and wet conditions caused trench foot, which sometimes required amputation. Constant shelling and sniping contributed to symptoms of shell shock. It has been estimated that one-third of all casualties on the Western Front occurred in the trenches.

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