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Map 12: Trench Warfare

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     Trench warfare on the Western Front

In most military conflicts throughout history, mobility, boldness, and the advantage of surprise are crucial for victory. But World War I began in an unusual period where defensive technologies were often more effective than offensive ones. As a result, the Western Front devolved into a style of trench warfare that would never again be used on such a large scale — the development of tanks and air power had rendered trench warfare much less effective by World War II. This illustration shows the kind of elaborate trench systems that the French, British, and German armies constructed across hundreds of miles of the Western Front. In front of the trenches was barbed wire, an innovation developed in the American West a few decades earlier. It helped slow advancing troops who tried to charge across the no-man's land between the two sides. Then came two lines of wide trenches where soldiers would keep watch; these were connected by narrower trenches used to rotate soldiers in and out of the front lines. Further back were trenches for communications, first aid, and the storage of supplies. At the very back would be the artillery, guns powerful enough to send massive shells deep into enemy lines. Poor sanitation, constant shelling, and the lack of adequate shelter made life miserable for soldiers who had to endure life in the trenches.


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