10 Facts about WWI Trenches

In two of my novels, I created scenes set in WWI trenches. To make them as realistic as possible I needed to understand trench layouts and the nomenclature involved. I found a few diagrams on various sites and in one of my non-fiction books.

(1) There are front line trenches and support trenches as well as interconnecting alleyways – called communications trenches.

(2) Artillery is in behind, firing over the heads of their troops.

(3) All trench lines zigzagged in part to prevent explosions from rippling sideways – and hence wounding or killing more soldiers – for more than a short distance.

Trench layout 1

The second diagram (source: Vimy Ridge 1917, Osprey Publishing) sets out the concept of a platoon attack against its objectives.

(4) Troops are deployed in waves. Note the planned 1st Wave and 2nd Wave troop deployment.

(5) riflemen and bombers in front (1st line),

(6) rifle bombers and Lewis gunners in behind (2nd line)

(7) and finally moppers up (3rd line) charged with the responsibility of guarding the entrances to dugouts and communications trenches.

Source: Vimy Ridge 1917, Osprey Publishing
Source: Vimy Ridge 1917, Osprey Publishing

A third photo – also taken from Vimy Ridge 1917, Osprey Publishing – is an artist’s depiction of a German trench. It would have been critical in battles like Vimy Ridge for attacking troops to know something of the layout of German trenches.

German trench

Apparently German trenches were often better established than British and French ones and had more reinforcing structure.

(8) Troops sheltered in the deep dugout, the entrance of which we can see at the top right, during preliminary bombardment. Months of rain often left trenches waterlogged.

(9) Two men on the ledge operate a Maxim gun; one man firing the other feeding ammunition. They stand on what’s called the fire step. Two other men carry boxes of ammunition to resupply the machine gun which is capable of firing 500 rounds per minute.

(10) The dead man was likely in charge of sighting the Maxim gun, a task requiring him to look over the parapet.

Perhaps more than you wanted to know about trenches!

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20 Responses

  1. Cannot for the life of me imagine the atmosphere – my grandfather served through from 1914-1918 when he was killed just before peace. He told my grandmother that the bravest were the young new lieutenants who risked being shot from the enemy and at times from the men they were urging to follow them over the ramparts. Terrible.

    1. So true, Smorgasbord! And somehow more compelling since we know someone who was involved like your grandfather and mine. Brings the war very close to home which is one of the reasons I write about WWI.

      1. I know a lot refused to go over the top knowing the would be shot of insubordination or Cowardliness.
        To them that was an easier way to go.

        1. Many thanks for stopping by, Jeremy. Having read so much about WWI, the sheer horror of it, day after day, month after month would have been impossible for so many to endure. Perhaps the real cowards were the generals who designed a war involving such slaughter.

  2. I found the post fascinating. War is horrible , and the more we know so we don’t see it as a glossy action adventure the better. Smorgasbord is right… just cannot even imagine how they felt!

  3. Thanks so much for this post. I was wondering if the line which has ‘see note A’ written by it has a name?

    1. Thanks for your question, Emma. Unfortunately, I don’t have information on ‘see note A’. And I’m not sure at this point whether I can find the diagram again.

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