Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare

7th Aug 2020

Close Combat in World War I

Trench warfare was harsh, brutal, and deadly. If traveling over broken ground filled with barbed wire, landmines, and machine gun fire wasn’t enough, on the rare occasion that you got to the enemy’s trench, the combat was vicious. Soldiers used clubs with nails imbedded in them, rifle butts, pistols, and knives, anything they could get their hands on. Bayonets (600851) were used to great effect as well. Special knives soon developed to aid in storming the trenches. Many had a form of brass knuckles built into the handle to give soldiers a more powerful punch while still allowing them to have a knife in their hands (403244). Some models did away with a blade altogether and attached something reminiscent of an ice pick, allowing for an even deadlier punch that skewered your opponent (403246). As both sides began mounting night raids into the enemy’s trenches, fighting took on an even more ferocious level. The darkness confused and terrorized men on both sides and made brutal hand to hand combat more frantic and horrifying.

Members of the Triple Entente – which comprised primarily of France, England, Russia and later the United States and other smaller powers – on the Western Front, France and England, devised a scheme to dig mine shafts under German lines in order to set explosives and blow up German trenches during the battles of Ypres. German troops began counter shafts to try and intercept the French and English ones and when the two shafts met, bitter fighting broke out between the miners. The same weapons used in trenches were used again in the mines; however, fire arms were soon discarded. When fired, the sound from the guns going off shattered ear drums and disoriented everyone as the sound became concentrated in the narrow tunnels. Clubs and specialty knives soon took prominence and men fought tooth and nail for their very survival.

Ultimately, hand to hand combat, although brutal and ferocious, was not what had the ability to take the trenches. Once the tank came on the battlefield, it quickly rolled over enemy trenches without anyone able to stop it. Ironically, considering tanks helped win the war on the Western Front, most countries invested very little in the production and advancement of tanks. It wasn’t until Hitler unleashed his panzer army in World War II that the true potential of the tank was realized.

by Alex Smith, MRL staff writer