Trench Warfare

Canadians in the trench enjoying some rest and refreshment.

What is a trench?

  • Interconnected lines of defensive earthworks that are dug into the ground that offer infantry a place of protection from bullets, artillery, and shrapnel.
  • Trenches are dug in a zig-zag or toothed layout so that an enemy cannot shoot down the entire length of an invaded trench (enfilade).
  • The landscape between enemy trenches was called “No Man’s Land” and often had barbed wire that acted not only as another barrier for attacking infantry, but also directed attackers into areas covered by machine gunners.


Trench layout and features (Courtesy of JBulera8271).
German trenches on the Aisne River, France.
  • “Saps” extended into No man’s land from the front trench; they functioned as listening posts and jumping off points for attacks.
  • Trenches became elaborate, with some defences having a front trench, multiple support trenches, and reserve trenches. Some also had deep dugouts that allowed troops to rest or shelter from heavy artillery attacks.
  • Mines were also dug deep under enemy trenches, then filled with explosives and set off in order to break through defenses.
  • Nasty conditions in the trench included wet and unsanitary surfaces, sniper fire, trench raids, huge populations of rats, cave-ins, et cetera.
“They were twelve days in which world history wavered between two courses and the Germans came so close to victory that they reached out and touched it between the Aisne and the Marne.”
Barbara Tuchman
Author, historian (1938-1988)

To play an online game that is a realistic illustration of life in the trenches, please click here: Over the Top

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