How Trench Warfare Began

How Trench Warfare Began

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The war on the Western Front in World War One began with the German invasion of Belgium, a stipulation of the Schlieffen Plan. Constructed by Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen in 1906, the Plan outlined the stages of an offensive against France. Desperate to avoid fighting on two fronts, against the French and Russia, the Schlieffen Plan envisaged a swift six-week campaign against the former to allow for the focus of forces against the latter,

The initial attack

German forces attacked through Belgium and pressed into France.

Having clashed first with the French, on 23 August the German right encountered the 68,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force.

Dan Snow takes an emotional journey through the key battlefields of the Western Front, from the memorial parks at the Somme to the formidable defences around Ypres.

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The Anglo-French forces fought the Germans to a standstill but it soon became apparent they were in severe danger of being overwhelmed by weight of numbers and retreated towards Paris. German commander Alexander Von Kluck held off at first, choosing instead to make good the losses inflicted on his force at Mons. When he did pursue the Allies, he caused almost 8,000 casualties among the British rear-guard at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August.

Soldiers pose for a photo in a trench. Credit: Commons.

During the BEFs exhausting retreat to the River Marne, a distance of some 250 miles, the tiny British force remained in contact with both the French and enemy forces. Discipline and courage saved the BEF from total annihilation.

As the British retreated southwards, the Germans followed, leading them away from Paris. They had been denied the rapid capture of the capital, a key stipulation of the Schlieffen Plan.

German military planning had faltered.

The exhausted Allies turned to face the Germans at the River Marne in front of Paris on 6th September 1914. By the time the battle ended, on 12th September, the Allies had successfully pushed the Germans back across the river. Both sides were exhausted and had incurred huge casualties.

But Paris was saved and German military planning had faltered.

A French trench in north-eastern France. Credit: Library of Congress / Commons.

In the wake of the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the Germans were forced to retreat to the River Aisne.

Helmuth von Moltke, commander in chief of the German army, was replaced, his nerves shot by the strain of command. His replacement, Erich von Falkenhayn, halted the German retreat and ordered that they take up defensive positions on the ridge overlooking the the river.

Falkenhayn ordered that his forces hold the territory they occupied in France and Belgium. He therefore gave the command to dig in.

The Allies, realising the German retreat was over, recognised they could not break through this line, which was defended by large numbers of machine guns. They also began to dig trenches.

Trenches of the 11th Cheshire Regiment at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, on the Somme, July 1916. One sentry keeps watch while the others sleep. Credit: Ernest Brooks / Commons.

Advances in Trench Building

At this stage, neither was equipped for trench warfare. Early trenches were often shallow and ill-suited to long-term habitation. British commander Sir John French was fond of saying that in these conditions, ‘a spade was as useful as a rifle.’

Individual trenches were slowly expanded into gargantuan trench networks with underground barracks and supply stores.

Dan talks to Richard van Emden about his new book - Missing: the need for closure after the Great War. It is the story of one woman’s relentless search for her missing son’s body. Richard also looks at the bigger picture: how long should the nation search for its dead and the mistakes made identifying the dead, when exhumation parties were under such intolerable pressure.

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Soldiers complained that this kind of warfare was more strenuous than earlier mobile battles. A battle in the open would generally only last for a day or so, trench battles went on for several days inflicting relentless stress and fatigue.

The swift turnarounds of victory and defeat, typical of the early battles of movement, were over.

How Trench Warfare in WWI Changed War By: Courtney Shea and Korey Collazo

As a 9 th grade class at The Springfield Renaissance School, we have been studying World War I, from the Alliance System, to causes of the war and the military strategies used if it was a big factor in the war, we covered it. World War revolutionized warfare, as we know it. The type of warfare used in WWI was not only dangerous with thousands of soldiers mercilessly killing everyone in their way- bystanders and other soldiers- but it was also a big part of beginning the process of warfare reformation. The war’s use of trenches was a big change from the way the Revolutionary War was fought just 135 years earlier, and a little over half of a century earlier the way the Civil War was fought. Trench warfare is one thing that made World War I different from past wars it is in part what made the war so talked about. The trenches had both good and bad conditions and states of living, they had various safety controls and they used specialized techniques in order to kill large amounts of their opponents at a time.

Lifestyle in the Trenches

The lifestyle of the trenches varied from decent to ruthless in just a matter of miles. According to BBC, “…nearly 9 out of every 10 soldiers in the British Army, who went into the trenches, survived.” These numbers were shocking due to the heavy artillery fire, disease rates, and low rationale. Being that every soldier had a total of 4 inches of space in the trenches, it’s a wonder so many people made it out alive. Nevertheless, even those who made it home after war weren’t the same people they were when they left.

Schedules in the Trenches

While in the trenches, soldiers were kept in a very strict schedule.

(BBC. “How did so many soldiers survive the trenches?” BBC.,accessed on October 23, 2014.)

Chores included anything from refilling sandbags, to repairing the duckboards or draining the trenches. Draining the trenches helped eliminate trench foot, and therefore kept the army stronger. Contrary to popular belief, most battalions only spent about 5 days a month in the trenches. But, they were still very busy when they weren’t on the front line.

Soldier Split Up

Soldiers were often rotated out of different regions to help sustain morale. This kept the soldiers from getting too comfortable, something you never want happening in the middle of a war.

(BBC. “How did so many soldiers survive the trenches?” BBC.,accessed on October 23, 2014.)

In doing this, it made the trenches safer, kept the soldiers on their toes and allowed each solider to learn how to complete tasks done in every vicinity. This technique, used mainly by British troops, was a big factor in almost 90% of armed forces going home to their families after the war. However, every system has its flaws. In this case, if a soldier was put in the wrong sector at the wrong time, the chances of death increased dramatically.

Safety of the Trenches

The trenches were made as safe as possible for those fighting. With a life to death ratio of almost 9:1, they accomplished the task of prioritizing soldier safety. Each “shelter” had thousands of “dugouts” built into the front of the system to protect the soldiers from bad weather and enemy shell fire. There was also the Firing Trench. According to BBC, a source used a lot throughout our research, this was a “7 foot deep ditch at the front of the system [that] provided cover for the most exposed troops. Dug in clever ‘zigzag’ sections to minimize damage, only a small area would be affected if it was attacked by enemy forces or hit by a shell.” This system was another factor of low death rates. With only small areas being affected, it made repairs quicker and casualties lower. There was also a Dressing Station. This was where they “provided immediate medical treatment to the seriously injured, who were then moved back behind the lines. On the Western Front, more than 92% of the wounded men who were evacuated to British medical units, survived.” Other than the ones already mentioned, there was also support trenches, which were dug 200-500 feet behind the firing trench and were used as a second line of defense. The reserve trench used to store supplies and offer comfort for those going to the frontlines, and the communication trench used to connect the entire network of trenches, which helped soldiers travel quickly, and kept things moving.

The British army had an 88% return rate when it came to World War I, but returning didn’t mean unharmed. From treatable and untreatable injuries, to post traumatic stress disorder (shell shock), almost no one went home the same. Hundreds of thousands died and millions were wounded. These wounds ranged from “take some time off, it may leave a scar,” to “you’ll never walk again,” some even worse. “It was only chance – a cruel twist of fate.”

At the beginning of World War I, they used only three weapons: a rifle, a bayonet and grenades. The British used tanks that would break down once they ventured into ‘No Man’s Land,’ not by artillery, but from getting stuck in the mud. The Germans were the first to be equipped with machine guns. Sources say “In 1914 when the war began, the English were given 2 machine guns per battalion, the Russians 8, and the Germans 6. At the end of the war when the Americans had joined in, each soldier’s artillery was given a machine gun.” Mortars (compression powered tube-like figures that shot out little bombs), were used to destroy dugouts, and cutting wires in preparation for attacks. Artillery was rarely successful, but when it was, the opposing army went haywire. Gases were supposed to change warfare for the “better.” They were used to “completely annihilate the rivals,” when in reality, they blew back towards whoever launched it, killing them. They soon began wearing gas masks to protect themselves. One thing that revolutionized trench warfare was its use of barbed wire. They laced the land in front of the trenches with it, protected those inside to a certain limited extent.

Tactics of Trench Warfare

Fighting in trenches was dull, repetitive, and very predictable. About 100 men would run into barbed wire and machine guns and attack. The opposing army would defend their trench. Then, they’d switch. Attack, defend, and defend, attack. A never-ending system that usually resulted in a stalemate- a draw, like on the western front. Although trench warfare was not the most efficient form of fighting, due to its lack of results, it is still a staple of war history, one that will always be talked about.

How World War I Changed Warfare: Trench Warfare

Trench warfare changed how people fought war. Although war is no longer static enough to support the major use of trenches, and they were not completely effective, they were what made World War I different. It is the reason tanks, aircraft, and gases are used in wars today. World War I was also the first war to supply every soldier a machine gun, mainly because of trench warfare. Compared to The Civil War, and the Revolutionary War, where the opposing sides stood parallel to each other, firing their muskets, then charging, World War I stood out. It was different than its predecessors. Not only were tactics and battlefields different, but the advancements in technology skyrocketed during World War I, while not much technological improvement had been made during the other two examples. World War I may not have been “The War That Will End All Wars” as predicted, but it most definitely was the war that changed all wars.


British transport passing the Malplaquet memorial to the south of Mons during the retreat

The Armies that marched off to war and clashed in August 1914 operated on essentially 19th century doctrines, large units of riflemen were screened by cavalry and supported by artillery. However unlike any war before all the Armies were now equipped with the new technologies of aircraft, machine guns and could deploy and be re-enforced more quickly using the new European railway systems. No large scale conflict had ever been fought before with these new tools of war. In addition Armies now consisted of millions of men not 10s or hundreds of thousands as was the case in the previous century.

The British, French, Germans, and Russians that marches off the war in August 1914 all assumed that the War would be over in a few months if not weeks. No one anticipated a struggle that would endure over 4 years.

Sweeping manoeuvres exposed the cavalry and infantry to the killing power of modern weapons. Such weapons, especially artillery and machine guns as well as accurate rapid-fire rifles proved devastating, especially when used against the tactics field commanders employed in the initial phases of the War. Field operations by 1916 had, after the loss of millions, been fundamentally changed. The professional armies of 1914 were devastated and were replaced by conscripted replacements.

No Man’s Land: Trench Warfare

During World War I, trench warfare was a defensive military tactic used extensively by both sides, allowing soldiers some protection from enemy fire but also hindering troops from readily advancing and thus prolonging the war. Trench warfare was the major combat tactic in France and Belgium. Trenches were often dug up to 12 feet deep and stretched for miles. For stability, some trenches included wooden beams and/or sandbags. Even during lulls in the fighting, death occurred almost daily in the trenches due to a sniper’s bullet or the unsanitary living conditions which resulted in many diseases such as dysentery, typhus and cholera. Other diseases caused by the poor conditions were trench mouth and trench foot*.

*Trench mouth was an infection of the mouth due to overgrowth of certain oral bacteria. The condition was made worse by poor oral hygiene, smoking, malnutrition and psychological stress. To prevent trench foot, a fungal disease caused by exposure to wet and cold, soldiers frequently added wooden planks in the trenches to keep from having to stand in water.

Barbed wire and explosive mines—as well as bullets and grenades—were essential weapons used to hinder infantry advances across “No Man’s Land,” the bleak landscape between the trenches of the opposing sides.

New offensive weapons were implemented during the war including tanks and poison gases*.

*Tanks, armored against artillery fire, were capable of rolling over barbed wire as well as crossing treacherous terrain.

Chlorine was one of the poisonous gases used in World War I. It was damaging to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and produced symptoms ranging from irritation to blindness and death.)

In 1915, the Germans used poison gases against the Allies fighting in the trenches on the Western Front. To protect soldiers from chemical warfare, gas masks were developed. Great Britain made one of the first types of masks capable of minimizing the deadly impact of these gases on their troops.

Though considered a novelty when the war began, aircraft were used by both sides for reconnaissance, allowing personnel to observe enemy troop positions, to direct artillery fire and to photograph enemy lines. By the end of the war, the concepts of aerial combat and aerial bombing had come into being.

History Of Trench Warfare

If you check the history of trench warfare, you will realize that initially, there were no trenches. It all started out by digging up foxholes so that troops could entrench their tools. However, soon the troops realized that by digging deeper holes, they would be able to stand in them and protect themselves. So, this led to individual soldier digging deeper foxholes. Soon, these foxholes were connected to one another by means of crawl trenches. And, this led to the construction of more permanent trenches.

The soil that was dug out from the trenches was used to make elevated parapets on either side of the trenches. In addition, even firing positions were made, so that soldiers could fire and then duck down.

The first time trenches were used were in the 17th century when a military engineer from France named Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban developed a system of excavation to attack fortresses. Initially, these excavations were made to lay siege on the enemy and this continued until firepower technology improved and small arms and cannons were invented. It was during the American Civil War that a network of trenches were dug and used and gave rise to trench warfare.

However, it was during the First World War when trench warfare was used extensively. Some of the network of trenches used to run up to 1.6 kilometers, or 1 mile. There were up to 4 lines of trenches. These trenches were dug in a zigzag manner so that if an enemy soldier was standing at one end of the trench, he would not be able to fire for more than a couple of yards along the length of the trench. The network of trenches was used to deliver food, ammunition, mail, orders from the superiors and also supply fresh troops. The trenches housed command posts, supply dumps, first aid stations, latrines as well as kitchens. There was even place made in the trenches for putting machine guns and firing at the enemies. There were dugouts in the trenches that were used by many soldiers when they were faced by bombardment.

While trench warfare was used extensively during the First World War, it was also used by Japanese, North Koreans and Chinese during the Second World War. Then, in modern times, trench warfare has been used during the Iran Iraq War and also in the Persian Gulf War by Iraq, who not only built defensive trenches, but also berms and ditches.

When the Schlieffen Plan failed, it led to the development of trench warfare during the First World War. Germany was fighting the war on 2 fronts, the Eastern and Western fronts, and this meant that the small German army would have to be divided. This led Count von Schlieffen, who was the Chief of the General Staff in Germany, to come up with a plan to solve this problem. More..

What Is Trench Warfare

You may have heard of trench warfare, which was used extensively during the First World War. However, you may not know what is trench warfare. So, here is a brief explanation on trench warfare and how it was used during the First World War.

Trench warfare is a kind of defensive strategy which involves digging emplacements and occupying them, so that the enemy troops cannot take over the territory. This kind of warfare results in a war of attrition where a stalemate results since both sides do not allow one another to gain advantage. In addition, it leads to high number of casualties and wounded soldiers.

There were many reasons for the development of trench warfare. First, firepower improvements did not make it logical to allow a full frontal attack. The weapons developed during the First World War were more accurate and lethal compared to the weapons used previously. Hence, a frontal attack would lead to the soldiers dying. As a result a more defensive strategy was required. This led to digging of trenches. In addition, the supply network also improved, and this allowed the soldiers to stay entrenched for longer periods of time. All supplies and reinforcements could be delivered to the trenches with the help of trucks or trains that could approach the trenches from the rear.

The trenches used to be fortified with barbed wires on the outside and elevated soil parapets. In addition, sandbags were placed to give added protection from artillery barrage. In some places, the walls were fortified with sandbags or cement. Once the soldiers moved into a trench, it was very difficult to dislodge them as reinforcements used to be brought from the rear.

The open vacant land between enemy trenches was known as No Man's Land. This was the land on which charges were done. However, since there was no protection for the charging soldiers, they were vulnerable and could be easily shot.

Life in the trenches was not easy. The dead soldiers were buried in the floor and walls of the trenches and this would cause an overpowering odor. In addition, the soldiers could not bathe or use latrines. Hence, there was an additional stench of feces and unwashed bodies. The food supplied to the soldiers in the front lines was not very good, and the soldiers were prone to infections, which killed a lot of soldiers, and lice. It was very stressful for the soldiers living in trenches as they were constantly under a barrage of artillery fire and this prevented them from sticking their heads out. Unfortunately, this led to many psychological problems among the soldiers and many were executed by firing squads for desertion and cowardice.

Trench warfare started as a defensive measure that the troops were forced to take due to the effectiveness of artillery, in particular the machine gun. While the battles were raging, troops had no cover and the only alternative for them was to dig trenches. This was meant to be a short term solution which ended up being a long term horrifying experience. While trench warfare was going on for a long time, right from the American Civil to the First World War, it had its disadvantages. More..

World War 1 Trenches 1914-1918

Trench warfare in World War 1 was a result of the inability of the belligerents to sustain any offensive strategy. Gains were measured in yards rather than miles. Technology of fire power was greatly advanced, but the technology of mobility lagged far behind. Before the first year of the war passed, the words  stalemate and attrition, in three languages,  were the topic at all general staff meeting. Trench was a synonym.

The western front was an approximately 100 mile north/south line that stretched from the North Sea coast of Belgium southward crossing into the north of France. A new line then snaked eastward across France to the Swiss border and was  heavily fortified. 

Much of the north/south line was exposed to the underground encroachment of the sea. As a result of that proximity, the ground had a very high water table. It is in this soil that the belligerents dug their trenches, and the shells of their big guns created a landscape of water filled craters and excavated trenches filled with water and mud.

Although there were battles on an eastern front where Austro-Hungarian forces faced the Russians, and in the far east British and French troops matched against Ottoman forces, trench warfare was not as expansive as on the western front. On the eastern front,  heavy snows discouraged digging trenches, and in Turkey, the area was so vast that trenching could not prevent attacks on the flanks and protection was sought behind ancient walls, sand dunes and rocks.

Germany began the war with an attack on neutral Belgium. Antwerp on the North Sea coast fell early to German power. British casualties were high.  A young British nurse, viewing the carnage in the trenches, wrote in her diary on October 16, 1914:

"No one knew why they were there or where they were to fire-they just lay there and were shot and left".

The German army swept through most of Belgium until they reached the city of Ypres and the line of trenches dug by two British divisions. Each side sought control of this Belgian city that influenced the defense of the English Channel and the North Sea.The British held, but suffered 130,000 casualties. This was a wake-up call for the home front dream that the soldiers would be home for Christmas.

Significantly, German forces held the high ground where they installed their trenches gaining a higher water table and a better view of the water logged Ally trenches.The German bombardment began in November 1914. It was indiscriminate and spared no civilians.

German Admiral Tripitz with unbelievable naivete wrote his wife about the Belgians: "It really is extraordinary how very unpopular we are".

Military trenches have a 2,000 year history. Roman soldiers built them around their camps as did Americans in their Spanish American Cuban campaign . They were used in medieval times to attack fortifications. However, they were not subject to attacks of poison gas, huge artillery shells and machine guns. That dubious honor was reserved for the infantry on the western front.

One British soldier was recorded by the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Center:

'We entered the trenches about midnight, we found them very uncomfortable, as there was only one dug-out for our company, and the officers were worse off than the men, for while they have a fire trench of their own, we have nothing. I spent six hours making myself a shelter in a communication trench, a sort of sofa with a waterproof sheet above it, cut out of one side of a five-foot trench. I worked most of the night throwing earth up to shield my bed, as the Germans were sniping at our parapet all day long. Meals were wretched, as we had nowhere decent to eat them, and we also lost our principal ration bag, containing tinned fruits and other joys'.

In the early autumn  of 1914, a line of opposing trenches were dug in Flanders that set a low bar  for the lives of infantrymen for the better part of five years. The trenches, relatively open to inclement weather conditions, housed and fed the opposing armies sometimes as little as 100 yards apart separated by belts of barbed wire that dotted an uninhabited no-mans land. Initially, there was a wire shortage. Some troops "requisitioned" agricultural wire from surrounding villages. Often that wire was not barbed. The home fronts rapidly addressed the shortage and hundreds of square miles were layered with new, heavily barbed wire. At first, the wire belts were laid every 5 to 10 yards, and then, later, even more dense concentrations were constructed. The British rule of thumb was to lay the wire 9 meters deep.

In 1915, the British and French High commands concluded that the trench stalemate could only be broken by mass attacks. They had noted that their Asian ally, Japan, had successfully employed this strategy in the Pacific.

Trenches on the road to Ypres

The belligerents were totally unprepared for hundreds of thousands of fighting men to remain immobilized, in squalid conditions, for months at a time. Ultimately, they developed a rotation system that would relieve front line soldiers for rest and relaxation (R & R) for short periods in rear, safer areas. When the United States forces entered Europe in 1917, their first taste of battle and trench warfare was their insertion into French or British lines as replacements during periods of troop rotation, or to fill depleted ranks. Both President Woodrow Wilson and General John Pershing objected to Americans serving under foreign command, and under a foreign flag. It would not be until September 1918 that Americans fought under their own command in the battle to destroy the German salient at St. Mihiel. The American troops followed Allied tanks and eliminated the German presence that had been entrenched there since 1914 behind a once impregnable Hindenburg Line.

Store rooms and dugouts were tunneled into the sides of the trenches. When available, corrugated metal served as a roof to protect against shrapnel blast. Steel helmets served a similar purpose although could not stop a direct hit from a bullet. The banks of the trench were packed with sand bags to protect against soil slides. The Germans built a system of sophisticated trenches that featured multiple defensive lines at depths that were inpenetrable from bombardment except by direct hits. The trenches were laid out in a jagged pattern to avoid attacks on the flanks. On the other hand, the Allies built trenches as though they were temporary and afforded only passing shelter from weather and bombardment. The trenches were considered death traps by the French. In 1917, numerous battalions rejected orders to march to the front line trenches. This was a mutiny by any other name. In that year, the news on other fronts was bleak. The Italian ally  was making no progress against the Austrians. The Russian government was collapsing and so were their efforts on the eastern front giving the Germany army breathing room. In the Near East, there was little progress to wrest Syria from the Turks despite some minimal successes from the revolting Arab tribes led by the irrepressible Thomas Edward Lawrence newly promoted to major with nary one day of military training. His fame as Lawrence of Arabia had spread from Cairo to London.

The front lines were connected to the rear through communications trenches that zig-zagged their way to the rear. There were also fall back trenches in the event of a retreat from the front line.

The stench of rotting corpses in the no-mans zone was pervasive. Rats invaded the trenches and fed on corpses. Lice infested the soldiers uniforms. One remedy was to lay an infested jacket over an ant hill. It was deemed easier to kill the ants then rid the garment of lice. Life in the mud was endless.

The trenches were referred to by the soldiers as "open graves". Death came in many guises. Shells from the big guns, small arms fire, bayonets in frontal attacks, poison gas,  disease, trench foot from the ever present water, and  life long chronic effects from "shell shock". By the end of 1916, the British had suffered 400,000 deaths. The German army sent its recruits into battle only after vaccination for typhus, diphtheria, and cholera.

The men in the trenches were forewarned that they were expected to "go over the top" after their big guns had extensively shelled the enemy forward trenches. By 1916, the Germans were constructing some very deep elaborate  trenches with a heavy emphasis on their machine gun squads. Some of these squads would, under the cover of darkness, occupy shell craters in no mans land, and surprise an attacking enemy force with devastating effect.

When trench lines were established, there were a variety of tactics employed to destroy the line. One method employed sappers who dug tunnels under no-man's land and set off explosives under or near the enemy trench. Neither these efforts or massive frontal attacks and week long bombardments were effective. In 1915, the British and French High commands concluded that the trench stalemate could only be broken by mass attacks. The British and French had noted that their Asian ally, Japan, had successfully employed this strategy in the Pacific, but proved relatively ineffective against German trenches when gains were measured in short feet and yards.

The basic pattern followed by both sides was the frontal attack that relied on the rifle, grenade and trench mortar. The attack would be preceded by a creeping barrage that acted as an umbrella for their troops attacking the front lines of the enemy. It took several years of huge casualties, highlighted by five months at Verdun in 1916 of 600,000 combined deaths, to reveal the obvious. Massive frontal attacks by either side were ineffective. The German 5th Army could not budge the entrenched defensive positions and the ring of forts that formed the French salient  extending  into the German lines. In July of the same year, British troops overran the German trenches at the Somme only to be dislodged by a German counter attack.

United States General, John Pershing, landed in France in 1917. Despite experiences of his allies at Verdun, his core belief was  that massive attacks would bring the Germans out onto the field and defeated in open combat. This tactic to end the trench stalemate, and the companion belief that the war could not be won by attrition, was ultimately tested at Belleau Woods in June 1918. What price victory? It resulted in 9,000 United States casualties, and a permanent cemetery  for American dead. 

The major problem with the mass attack strategy was moving enough force across miles of no-man's land with the necessary communications to sustain advances,  coordinate and reinforce when the inevitable counter attack was mounted.

The actual attack starting from the trenches usually began and ended thusly:

Captain, with a raised hand: "Only a minute to go". The troops stand up. Short ladders are put in place to climb the trench. "Fix bayonets". The officer  drops his hand. They climb, charge into withering fire,  and whether or not the attack is successful the casualties are appalling.

BY 1918 , the Germans mounted four great offensive drives in an effort to break the  cycle of stalemate created by the trenches. They were able to enhance their numbers by bringing troops to the west from the eastern front when Russia withdrew from the war after their Bolshevik revolution. They concluded that barrages should be shorter, more intense and follow with a surprise attack. The long, several day artillery attacks eliminated the element of surprise. They trained special assault troops, "storm troopers", to attack front lines and when necessary bypassed the enemy machine gun nests to continue their advances. In the same year, General Pershing had used this by pass tactic successfully at St. Mihiel in combination with an overwhelming mass attack to beat the German enemy. The success of the Americans was deemed a vindication of the Pershing strategies.  

How did trench warfare worked in early stages of battle?

I am aware that soldiers spent significant amount of time pinned in trenches by enemy while simultaneously pinning that enemy in their own trenches with no man's land between them.

But how did those trenches got made? I would understand that the first army on the battlefield had opportunity to dug them up in relative peace but the opposing army had to dug them up while under fire, no?

Well, you technically asked two separate questions, so I'll answer them separately.

First: How did those trenches get made?

Simple. While trench warfare became infamous after WW1, military field works (such as trenches) have existed since the advent of large-scale war. Since ancient times, armies have dug trenches, established pickets, and erected barricades whenever they were encamped. At the start of WW1, soldier simply did what they've always done. They advanced towards the enemy until they were close enough to observe the enemy but not close enough to engage in combat, and then encamped in preparation for the battle the next day.

Prior to WW1, an army would then leave camp (usually in the morning), array themselves opposite of the enemy forces, and then they would advance towards each other, inevitably clash, and a victor would emerge.

But WW1 was different. This is because the technological advances in sheer firepower severely outpaced technological advances in combat mobility. Specifically, the improved rate of fire of WW1-era weapons like the Vickers machine gun and fast-firing heavy artillery like the French 75 compared to previous eras changed everything. Just imagine fighting against machine guns and artillery, but without modern armor like tanks or air support.

The thing is, many of the armies participating in WW1 were very poorly prepared for the advent of machine guns and fast-firing heavy artillery entering the theater of war en masse. The military doctrine of the nations that fought in WW1 had not caught up to advances in military technology. This is particularly evident when you observe that many WW1-era armies still fielded large numbers of cavalry, which were hitherto considered an integral part of warfare alongside infantry and artillery.

When the battle started, like it always did, the opposing armies soon found themselves suffering because the fundamental equation of war they relied upon had changed drastically. The most important discovery was that the cavalry had lost their traditional role, and could no longer compete against infantry armed with machine guns and fast-firing heavy artillery that could rain hell upon their positions. Artillery could even "outrun" cavalry from great distances away due to the advent of radio communications.

As a result, they retreated to their encampments, where they probably then realized being entrenched reduced the number of casualties. So they started moving the trenches as close as they possibly could, probably in tandem. Eventually, the trenches got so close that once they established the closest possible distance and could go no further, the zone between the two trenches became the no man's land. Once they advanced until they could go no further, they begun started to attack from the 'side' of the enemy trenches, in outflanking maneuvers. This series of outflanking maneuvers, especially between Germany and France, was called "the race to the sea". Eventually, the outflanking stopped because the trenches ran out of gaps between them to actually outflank. This was when the war of attrition that WW1 is infamous for began in earnest.

So you could make the assumption that trench warfare started because cavalry had failed in its role as a mobile shock force, and the lack of mobility on all sides resulted in trench warfare. It was only until tanks were invented to replace cavalry, and aircraft in the military became more prevalent, that trench warfare stopped being the norm. On an unrelated interesting note, this is why many tank/armored unis are referred to as cavalry units - because that was their intended replacement role.

Second: The hypothesis that the first army on the battlefield had the opportunity to dig trenches in relative peace, while opposing forces arriving later needed to dig trenches under fire.

This is true, to some extent. However, you assume all the battlefields were the same, when they were not. Trench-building was most dominant on the Western Front. Your hypothesis has one army arriving way ahead of the other. However, at least for France vs Germany, what really happened was that the opposing armies were mirroring each other from the beginning of the conflict. The battle was not decided from the onset, but the opposing Franco-German forces were already marshaled against each other. Yet, they realized frontal assaults were mostly futile. So, trench-style outflanking started, per the so-called "race to the sea".

But your hypothesis is certainly correct in some instances, for if the first army to arrive had the opportunity to fortify in relative peace, the opposing army would in fact have to dig trenches under withering fire. This occurred during the attack on the Ottoman Empire (the Gallipoli Campaign) which saw Commonwealth troops deployed that had to travel by sea before they landed on Turkey. In this case, the Ottoman defender was already entrenched, while the attacker certainly was not. The resulting amphibian landings proved disastrous, and the Gallipolli Campaign ultimately failed after 8 months of fierce-fought conflict.

Ellis, John (1977), Eye-Deep in Hell – Life in the Trenches 1914–1918, Fontana <--- (I really recommend this book btw)

Griffith, Paddy (2004), Fortifications of the Western Front 1914–18, Oxford: Osprey

Keegan, John (1999), The First World War, New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Broadbent, Harvey (2005). Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore. Camberwell, VIC: Viking/Penguin

  1.  [52]  If You Want Peace.
  2.  [52]  To Die By the Sword
  3.  [52]  An Opportunistic Strike
  4.  [52]  Champion the Cause
  5.  [52]  Land of Opportunity
  6.  [52]  Arms for the Poor ,  [52]  Walk Among Death ,  [52]  Memory of Honor
  7.  [52]  Trench Warfare
  8.  [52]  The House of the Chosen

If these scavengers truly wish to prove themselves, then we will let them.

The specter known as Malifis has overstayed its welcome. If we leave it be, it will no doubt turn to the House of the Chosen for anima. It is a threat. One that needs to be dealt with immediately.

Use this horn to signal the scavengers we've recruited. Let them act under their new banner.

Watch the video: Life in a Trench. World War I. History