Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I don't get trench warfare

I know a little bit about WWI, especially the clothes, but I realised (while watching Downtown Abbey yesterday) that I have no clue how trench warfare works. Surely the idea isn't just to dig these elaborate trenches and then lob bombs at each other for months? It seems really dumb.

There must be a better explanation. Hugh? Stuart?


Stuart said...

No, you've got the gist of it. I think the second paragraph of the Wikipedia article on 'Trench Warfare' sums it up pretty well, especially the first sentence.

"Trench warfare occurred when a revolution in firepower was not matched by similar advances in mobility, resulting in a grueling form of warfare in which the defender held the advantage."

It's always felt a bit like some clever chap thought 'you know, they've got these machine guns, what? And if we dug holes, they couldn't shoot us, what? And when they ran out of bullets, our cavalry could overrun them, what?


Between machine guns and artillery, there really wasn't much room for people, as far as I can see. There's a good reason we haven't returned to it since.


A notable counterpoint to that would be the tunnels used by the Vietcong, which were extensive, complex, and reasonably effective. Actually, I have a book to finish reading with interviews with men on both sides who fought in those tunnels.

The Wikipedia article on 'Stormtrooper' makes interesting reading. There were plenty of attempts at bypassing trench warfare during the war. I especially like the last reason listed for the failure of the German 'Operation Michael', though: "The capture of British stores which contained large quantities of alcohol - "not for lack of German fighting spirit, but on account of the abundance of English drinking spirit!""

In conclusion, drawn from 'The Long Trail', by Brophy and Partridge, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne:

"We're here, because we're here, because we're here, because we're here..."

Pure coincidence, but I'm reading 'A Farewell to Arms' right now.

lissla lissar said...

Cripes, how idiotic. So, you both sit there shelling each other, and then someone (someones, plural) tries a sortie and gets shot or gassed or cut with razor wire, and then retreats, and you sit and shell each other again.

The trenches just seem like such an IMMOBILE form of defense. After you've basically built crappy semi-underground horrible housing you're going to want to hold on to it. I know it was the last war when horses were really used, and they were slaughtered.

The VietCong did hidden trenches, right? All underground and with tiny hidden entry and exit holes?

And now I have 'Horse Soldier' and 'Vimy' playing in my head simultaneously.