Category: trench warfare

Found the French next to us most cheery and looking wide awake. They had an awful contraption called a “piège à Boches”, so arranged that any German jumping in was impaled and caught in barbed wire. This French division has been in this part of the line since mid-October, and their little pathetic groups of graves just behind parts of our trenches, mark places where snipers are active.

They apparently have some facetious Germans opposite Givenchy now.
One of them shouted across to the Welsh Regt. “Is there anyone there from Swansea?”
Several answered “Yes”, whereupon he hurled a hand grenade across, with the remark – “Then you can divide that among you, you blighters.”



In this aerial photo, a portion of an old reserve trench is visible near the Somme River, on the western front, in France.

By 1918 this kind of trench system had fallen out of use by both sides on the Western Front and trenches like these were abandoned.

I wonder what the theory behind the trench layout is, especially the crenellations. Providing blind corners to hide/fire round if the enemy gets in the trench, or a mortar explodes in it? Increasing the field of fire from the forward sections? More men per linear length of front? Civil engineering issues?

That crenelation in the front line trench is what’s called a traverse and there’s a few reasons trench systems were built with them. 

Primarily they’re defensive and they reduce casualties to the defenders. They provide an obstacle for the main killer on the battlefield, artillery. It stops blasts from travelling far when a shell hits and does the same for the deadly shrapnel or shell splinters.
When an enemy does get into a trench they also provide for a useful defensive barrier for defenders as well as stopping an enemy from firing down the entire length of a trench, called enfilading. 

Small, sharp traverses like that were mostly done on the very front line trench, where an enemy’s bombardment would be heaviest. But as you can see below, pretty much every trench had some level of traverse.

For a quick breakdown of a trench network.

1. Front line trench, also known as a firing trench. Has the most obvious traverses as soldiers here are going to need the most protection. Not usually held in huge numbers, but varies depending on a ton of factors. Connects to support trenches with numerous communications trenches to facilitate easy movement.

2. Support trenches. Usually one, but sometimes more lines of trenches close to the front line trench. Usually has large dugouts, machine gun posts and other supporting troops. Often has baffles or dead ends built into it to confuse enemies.

3. Communication trenches. How everything and everyone gets into and out of the front lines.Fewer of these ones connecting the reserve trenches and support trenches.

4. Reserve trenches. Where reserve troops are held, in case of an enemy attack or in preparation for an offensive operation. Also where battalion headquarters and support units such as field kitchens were located.

Troops of the 31st French Infantry Regiment undertaking a reconstruction of the attack on the Bois des Buttes,  18 September 1917.

Australian Pioneers laying duck boards near Zonnebeke 5 October 1917.

A bombed out German shelter near Hanebeek during the Third Battle of Ypres – 20 September 1917.

A happy looking soldier of the 1/6th North Staffs, with French soldiers in a trench. Neuville St Vaast, February 1916.

Exchanging addresses during the relief. 1/6th North Staffs and 50th French Infantry, Neuville St Vaast, February 1916.

That’s pretty cute.

A group of French soldiers chop timber for use in trench construction in Aisne, 1915.

French infantrymen making knife rest barbed wire obstacles during early 1915.