WWI: The Trenches of World War One

Updated on April 24, 2020

Map Of The Western Front WW I

Western Front (World War I), 1914 From the History Department of the US Military Academy West Point
Western Front (World War I), 1914 From the History Department of the US Military Academy West Point | Source

World War I The Western Front

From 1914 until 1918, the world was at war; The Great War, as it was known at the time, was the most horrific and bloodiest war that the world had ever witnessed. Millions of young men were wounded or lost their lives fighting in the name of their countries.

The Western Front, which stretched over 400 miles from the North sea at Belgium to the French border with Switzerland became the main focal point of the war after both sides dug themselves into trenches.

Trench warfare changed peoples thinking of the war, before the soldiers dug themselves in, it was thought that the war would be over quickly and that the soldiers would be back at home with their families by Christmas.

A war fought in trenches meant that it was extremely difficult to make progress in battle, taking ground from an enemy who were dug in would be almost impossible because as soon as there was any sign of attack from an enemy trench evasive action was immediate and effective. Machine gun fire, heavy shelling and counter attack meant that any of the attacking forces rarely made any progress.

WW I Alliances

Germany's Allies (The Central Powers)
Britains Allies (The Allied Powers)
The Austrian-Hungarian Empire
The Ottoman Empire
*Italy initially had a treaty with Germany, but recanted and secretly allied with the Allied Powers* **United States joined the Allied Powers in 1917 after the country could no longer stay neutral**

German Trenches WW 1

German troops fighting off a French attack during the First World War.
German troops fighting off a French attack during the First World War. | Source

German Trenches WW I

German trenches were luxurious compared to the British trenches. German trenches were built for endurance and were well furnished for the soldiers who had bunk beds, furniture, cupboards, water tanks with faucets, electric lights, and doorbells.

WW I Trench Warfare

The soldiers who fought in the trenches of the war often said that it was the closest thing that man could create on earth that could compare to the damnation of Hell. Men living in cramped conditions with death, illness and disease all around them.

It is difficult to describe the smell that the soldiers endured from day to day in the trenches, it was a stagnant bitter cocktail with many sources that some said was the true smell of death.

Rotting corpses from soldiers who had fallen in battle, mixed with the acrid cordite from shell and gunfire. The soldiers latrines or toilets were open pits offering an aroma of raw fresh human waste; Cooking smells from the trench kitchens, rather than improve the smell mixed in with the other sources and added to the putrid stench. Men smoking and going unwashed for many days at a time also contributed.

It was a smell that the men who survived the trenches would never ever forget.

Trench Foot WW 1

A severe case of Trench Foot, which would lead to amputation
A severe case of Trench Foot, which would lead to amputation | Source

Strange deaths of WW 1

Some Western Front soldiers suffered fatal internal injuries or heart failure caused by shell percussion. They were found dead without any bleeding or obvious wounds.

World War One Conditions In The Trenches

Rain was another enemy, rain turned the trenches into mud holes, the men fighting in the trenches had their feet constantly in the mud or in the muddy puddles it became a major problem for them, so much so that many of them began to show symptoms of Trench foot, a debilitating infection that could result and often did result in amputation of toes or even the whole foot.

Disease was rife in the trenches too, rats and lice were epidemic and aided the spread of disease and infection, house flies, horse flies wasps and bees were just some of the many flying insects that soldiers had to cope with and of course there were slugs, snails, maggots and other creatures sharing living space with the soldiers.

Explosions and gunfire, screams from wounded and dying men and watching friends and fellow soldiers killed on a daily basis also took a mental toll on many of the young men, shell shock became another problem for the fighting soldiers, constant tiredness, dizzy spells, lack of concentration and sever depression were just some of the symptoms of shell shock which if left unnoticed would eventually turn into a full mental breakdown.

Soldiers suffering from shell shock would be removed from the front line and sent to a hospital in the UK, most never made a full recovery before the war ended and were given an honorary discharge from the army on medical grounds.

Canadian Soldiers "Going Over The Top" WW 1

Troops  "going over the top" at the start of the Battle of the Somme in 1916
Troops "going over the top" at the start of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 | Source

Heavy Artillery Fact

Cannons and artillery were often extremely loud. In 1917, the explosives used to destroy a bridge in France could be be heard over 130 miles away in London.

WW I Trench Warare Fact

The greatest single loss of life in the history of the British army occurred during the Battle of Somme, when the British suffered 60,000 casualties in one day. More British men were killed in that one WWI battle than the U.S. lost from all of its armed forces

Fighting In The Trenches Of World War One

No matter which side that you were fighting on in the trenches you always knew when there was going to be an attack from enemy lines and that you would have some time to prepare for it coming.

The attacking forces would start with a heavy bombardment of artillery fire for at least an hour, which was to try to break down the enemy defense, although it rarely worked out that way, The attacking soldiers would then be ordered to "Go over the top," climb out of the trenches and march toward enemy lines with bayonets fixed to their guns.

As the soldiers marched toward the enemy trenches another bombardment of heavy artillery would follow to try and hamper the enemy from fighting back.

The problem was though that the heavy artillery fire rarely broke down the enemy defenses and really only served to give the enemy warning that an attack was underway.

When the artillery fire stopped, The defending soldiers would emerge from their trenches and open fire on the attacking units, this more often than not ended in a bloodbath for the attacking forces who would be forced back to their own trenches.

Flanders Field Cemetery And War Memorial

Flanders Field American War Memorial and cemetery, "Lest We Remember Them"
Flanders Field American War Memorial and cemetery, "Lest We Remember Them" | Source

Almost eleven percent of the population of France was killed or wounded during The Great War. About 116,000 Americans were killed, even though the US was only in the war for about 7 months.

Trench Warfare WW 1

World War One was a horrific tragedy that left its mark on the world, when the war ended in 1918, a whole generation of young men had been lost, and the land was scarred forever by the heavy bombardments.

Young men fought and young men died in the trenches whether from gunshot, shrapnel from artillery fire, illness disease or infection and young men were wounded in battle and had to go through the rest of their lives with missing limbs.

The world leaders agreed that a lesson had been learned about the futility of war and that a war on this scale should never be allowed to happen again.

Although the world leaders were resolute on world peace war broke out again just 21 years later in 1939.

© 2013 Jimmy the jock


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    • jimmythejock profile imageAUTHOR

      Jimmy the jock 

      2 years ago from Scotland

      The Battle Of Hazebrouck; 29th Division in an action known as The Defence Of The Nieppe Forest.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is brilliant. Thank you so much. Definitely using your site for assignments later on in the year. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Bianca Murray 

      5 years ago

      this is cool :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      yo brah this is whack

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 

      6 years ago from Warwick, NY

      What a beautiful hub, because it reminds us to be grateful to men that gave so much to our country. It is unimaginable what they went through and a tragedy that should be studied by every generation, and never be forgotten.

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 

      6 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Excellent piece, makes you realise just what people suffer in war, and then you wonder for what?

      If I not mistaken we actually shot soldiers with shell shock as cowards.

      Well done.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Sir John French, the overall British commander on the Western Front was ousted in 1915 by Sir Douglas Haig (don't be vague), whose wife Dorothy Maud was a lady-in-waiting at court. Haig's claim to fame as a military man was limited to cavalry operations and managed to 'squeeze in' a cavalry charge against the German front line with the result that nearly all the men involved were mown down. He didn't get the nickname 'Butcher' just for wiping out half the male population of the north and north west in the 'Pals' battalions.

      He was well rewarded with a knighthood (Order of the Thistle) for his 'population control' methods, just as Goering thought he ought to be rewarded for slum clearance around the East End of London.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I couldn't resist an additional comment: if every general who uttered the words "the war will be over by Christmas" -- in any language-- were thrown out of the military, there wouldn't be enough left to fight the next battle.

    • watcher by night profile image

      watcher by night 

      6 years ago

      Hey, Jimmy, I noticed that you wrote a Kindle book on this subject and it certainly shows. Great research and very interestingly written. This also struck an extra chord with me because I recently wrote about the experiences of C. S. Lewis as a British soldier in the Battle of the Somme. Lewis wrote a short but powerful passage in his autobiography in which he talked about "horribly smashed men still moving like half crushed beetles..."

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Yeah! Congratulations, jimmy. I love it when history makes Hub of the Day-- especially a WW1 hub. Way to go!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Jimmy. This is an extensive overview of the Western Front.

      However some things have been left overlooked.

      1. Gas: gas attacks were inflicted by the Germans initially, and reciprocated by exploding gas shells over German trenches. Gassing left many soldiers unable to breathe, many died and many more were permanently blinded - that's a general look at the issue you could develop here in detail;

      2. Mining: towards the end of the war British sappers developed a form of warfare new to the Germans but which had been practiced as far back as the 100 Years War on the French fortifications - with a difference. Instead of the original undermining of castle or city walls, in WWI the mine shafts were dug first vertically and then horizontally, as 'faces' in coal mines, under the German trenches. When detonated, it was reported the explosions 'rattled tea cups in Downing Street'. The deep holes are still visible in the southern Belgian countryside. One effect of the mining was to demoralise the Germans to a great extent, leaving them wondering where the next attacks would be. However, mining could be counter-productive, with the Germans occasionally breaking into British tunnels and capturing the sappers, setting off the explosives under the British trenches.

    • JPSO138 profile image


      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I always love history not only about war but in general as well. This is an awesome hub, informative, educational and well written. Hubs like this encourages me to write more. Congratulations!

    • jimmythejock profile imageAUTHOR

      Jimmy the jock 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      Hub of the day, Oh My, I am honored and flattered, thank you Hubpages and to all of you who have commented today.....jimmy

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Congrats of HOTD Jimmy! :)

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      6 years ago from UAE

      Excellent post. Trench warfare was peculiar to WWI and caused heavy casualities

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      6 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      Thanks for researching and writing this informative Hub. Congratulations for having your article named Hub of the Day today (October 18, 2013). It's a well-deserved honor.

    • SamitaJassi profile image

      Samita Sharma 

      6 years ago from Chandigarh

      Great hub with lots of interesting facts.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I had a history minor as an undergrad, but I didn't really "get" WWI until I read "Fall of the Giants" by Ken Follett in recent years. Articles like this shine a light on the War to End All Wars. Over one hundred thousand lost in seven months? Amazing.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent historical Hub, Jimmy. The fighting in the trenches during World War I were truly hellish. This war was an example of war technology advancing so fast that it outstripped the understanding of the Generals as to how to fight it.

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Very interesting and well written hub Jimmy. My grandfather was a King's Own Royal Borderer at the start of the war. He served in France, then Gallipoli, back to the Western Front as a machine gunner and then to Iraq. I never knew him, but I often wonder about the things he saw and had to endure during those years. He was incredibly lucky to survive so long, but it must have been tough going. When I hit a rough patch, I just think that if he could come through four years of that, nothing I'm going through can be that bad!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Hey, Jimmy, great article. It's hard to imagine what life was like despite all the photos, movies, etc showing us. Maybe if we lived outdoors during the spring's rains, summer's scorching days, autumn's rains and winter's sub-zero blizzards for four and a half years in northern Europe whilst the ground randomly exploded, we might have a clue. But your hub, including the smells, is a good start.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      6 years ago from San Diego California

      World War I is a rarely discussed subject because it lacks the drama, glamour, and cast of evil villains of the second. Thanks for taking the time to bring us up to speed.

    • jimmythejock profile imageAUTHOR

      Jimmy the jock 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Graham for your visit and your awesome comment, you flatter me with your words.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Jimmy. Breath taking that's what I say. I know you have an interest in this subject As I do myself. This I think is the best and most informative hub I have read on these pages. There's nothing you could have added. It is incredible that the Germans had such luxurious trenches, obviously only in certain areas, whilst we had nothing but trench foot. Well done.

      Voted up and all.



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