Friday, April 27, 2012

The Trench System

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The Trench System

The trench system was the main defence of both sides of the Second World War when both sides met stalemate in the fields of northern Europe from the earliest days of the war.

Reserve Trenches

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Reserve trenches are used to fall back to when the forward trenches are taken over by enemy troops also for storage uses.

Communication trenches

Communication trenches were dug at an angle to those facing the enemy. These trenches used to transport men, equipment and food supplies. The French had tramways installed while the British tended to rely on manpower to get the supplies to the trenches.

Listening posts

Running out at right angles from the frontline trenches were saps. These saps were about 0 yards long. Small groups of soldiers were sent to the listening posts (sap heads) and were given the task of finding out about the enemy. This included discovering information about enemy patrols, wiring parties, or sniper positions. After a heavy bombardment soldiers would be ordered to seize any new craters in No Mans Land, which could then be used as listening posts. From August 116 all British Army units were under orders to occupy any shell-hole within 60 yards of their forward trench.


The British Army trained some men to work as runners. Red armbands around their left forearms identified these men. As well as carrying messages runners were responsible for scouting the area before their battalion moved up to the front-line. Runners therefore needed the ability to accurately read complicated trench maps.


A tactic used on the Western Front was to dig short trenches (saps) across No Mans Land. These were dug towards the enemy trenches and enabled soldiers to move forward without exposure to fire. Several saps would be dug along a section of front-line. These were then joined together at their far ends to create a new trench. Saps were also used as listening posts. Although sapping was slow and gruelling work, especially during summer months, it was a fairly safe way to make territorial gains.


The front of the trench was known as the parapet. Both the parapet and the parados (the rear-side of the trench) were protected by two or three feet of sandbags.

Fire step

So that soldiers in front-line trenches could fire through the parapet, a fire-step was dug into the forward side of the trench. The fire-step was or ft high. It was on this that the sentries stood.


Most of the land on the Western Front was only a couple of feet above sea level. As soon as soldiers began to dig trenches they would invariably find water just below the surface. Constantly standing in water caused trench foot and other ailments. In an attempt to alleviate the problem, wooden planking, known as duckboards, were placed at the bottom of trenches and across other areas of muddy or waterlogged ground.

Barbed wire

Barbed wire was usually placed far enough from the trenches to prevent the enemy from the trenches to prevent the enemy from approaching close enough to lob grenades in. Sometimes barbed-wire entanglements were set up in order to channel attacking infantry into machine-gun fire.


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