Ways on takeing a trench

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Vassili Zaitzev

Master Sergeant
Nov 25, 2005
Connecticut, United States
I would like opinion on how to take a trench in WWI. Be creative and realistic, i really don't want guys saying " nuke'em". Use weapons that were available in that time. If anyone knows how to take a trench without tanks, please tell me, I'd like to know.
Get rid of the incompetent British and French Generals whom created the mess and perpetuated it if you look at the Battle of Vimy Ridge the French and Brits had about 250000 casualties in several battles between 1914 and 1916 yet by using common sense and squad tactics like movement and fire the ridge was taken in 4 hours with less than 10000 casualtiies a small amount in 1914-18. How could this happen well the individual artillery pieces were all ranged and calibrated taking into account the wear of the barrels very rarely done in the First War making a creeping barrage an effective tool further each squad and platoon were briefed on there objectives down to the lowest rank another novelty for the Allies a further inovation of the battle was the determining of the German artillery locations by the use of microphones by which they were able to pinpoint German artillery by the sound of the shells it was the first effective use of counter battery fire in the war.
Read about a British method (no doubt copied by other countries) called "bombing down a trench". It consisted of tossing a bunch of grenades into the next section of trench and then rushing it right after they'd gone off. Most of the time the opposition would make tracks in the other direction before the grenades went off. Worked very well as long as you had enough guys and grenades.

However, the real trick was getting in the trench in the first place. It wasn't that the generals were incompetent (some were, no doubt) but most were just not ready for the war they ended up fighting. The learning curve was steep, and sometimes fatal, for all concerned. It is interesting the various methods used to overcome the static nature of the warfare. Stormtroopers and rushes were the German method (after a short but violent shelling of the enemy positions) while the Allies, especially the British, used Deus Machina (sp?) or Tanks to storm the wire. Interestingly, both sides realised the detrimental nature of shelling. It could turn up the ground so violently that crossing the torn up space became a greater impediment than the opposition.

Both methods were developed later in the century with more powerful Armored Equipment and better Infantry weapons. More reliable AFV and higher volume, reliable weapons as well as specialized weapons made static warefare obsolete. For the time being anyway.
The Australian General Monash, devised a plan to shell the German trenches with smoke and gas at the same time for a couple of days before the attack. On the day of the attack, the trenches were shelled with smoke, the Germans believing it was another gas attack donned their gas masks, thereby reducing their vision and communications. The Allies were then able to capture the enemy positions relatively easily.
Loomaluftwaffe, thanks for the official "attaboy".

The digging a tunnel under the trench was tried. A bunch of times. I think, but am not positive, it was at Messines (sp?) Ridge. I believe there were something like 15 mines under the German trenches. The British detonated them and blew a ton of guys to smithereens. The explosions were so loud they were heard back in England.

However, same problem existed with the torn up ground. Talk about a big shell hole, these were the Grandmother of all holes. The offense bogged down pretty quickly. Interesting point, two of the mines didn't explode. Nobody thought it was a good idea to go down and find out why. They were abandoned. Then, in the late 50s, early 60's, in the middle of a Thunderstorm, one of them took a bolt of lightning and "BOOM". The other one is still there.

Interestingly, there were several other mines detonated throughout the war by various sides, amongst them being a mining during the Somme. There was also a hill in Eastern France that was pretty much a warren of tunnels, counter-tunnels and craters where mining went on throughout the war. By the end of the conflict, about a third of the height of the thing had been blown away.
The British and French generals were well behind the learning curve in WW1 and after Verdun and the Somme became like deer in the headlights sending men over moving at walking pace through no mans land with 60lb packs is pure stupidity ask any gravel technician( infantry). These Generals even took along time to see the the use of airplane. Battles were fought on sand tables and the troops were never really permiitted use their own discretion in a battle it was march at such a pace behind the creeping barrage with guns that were firing blind rather then take your time a little movement under covering fire with detailed plans for each squad as for their objectives rather then marching a division in lockstep across no mans land against fixed fortifications
Good point about the Civil War history. Funny thing is, some of them definitely did read it. Von Schliefen once called the American Civil War, "Two armed mobs chasing each other around the country" (which always struck me as a funny visual- something out of a Rodger Rabbit venue) but didn't miss the viability of trains in moving equipment and personel around a theatre of operations. They used it very successfully 5 years later in the Franco-Prussian war in which the Prussians mobilized and attacked the French (using troops that were, in some cases, reserve formations) at the same time the French army was still mobilizing. The French were so far out of it that there were still guys wandering around the country, trying to find their units, when the war of manuver ended.

The problem with the Generals being incompetent really gets more press than it deserves. True, they sent men over the top with 60-80lbs of equipment in long lines (making perfect targets for the machine gunners) and seemed to spend less time actually on the battlefield than pushing pins in maps. But all wars, successful and unsuccessful, start with planning. The failure to adapt gets the press, the problems the Generals faced, does not.

To start, they were dealing with probably the most difficult problem in military science. How to attack a fortified postition without a flank that is held by well trained, vetran troops. Other than fighting in Cities, that is probably about as bad a problem as your going to get. Local superiority in numbers, superior training, superior morale are all musts for this situation. Also, achieveable objectives, overwhelming firepower, reserve formations in close proximity, as well as suprise. All are required. It ain't easy, no matter what anybody thinks. In truth, even thinking about how to get it done is enough to give me a headache. Glad that isn't my proffession.

Another point about WW1, it was a war where the weapons of defense had the real advantages. Negating the affect of the Machine Gun, quick firing Artillery, Barbed Wire, Entrenchments were not easily remedied. It took revolutions in how war was fought such as extending of power to make decisions down to the battalion, company and platoon level, tactical inovations (fire and manuver, ect) as well as technical innovations (the Tank, the light machine gun, sub machine gun, grenades, grenade throwing weapons, even the pump shotgun- called "a Trench Broom") to open the war up again. Definitely some generals were incompetent, some famously so. Of that there is no doubt. But plenty did learn, did try, did improvise. But they got little press. I think the British, French and Germans all lost at least 60 Generals of rank of brigadier or higher to combat during the war (in some cases as many as 70+). They had to be close enough, in most cases, to try and figure out what was going on to have that happen.

Again, not saying there weren't blockheads out there. But the legacy of WW1 is one that needs to be rethunk. History, IMHO, good history anyway, should be written after the last person involved in the event dies. Only than can the sober assessment of what actually went on begin. Up to that point, the reality still lives in the minds of those that were there.

Sorry for the length, but it's a very, very interesting and far reaching topic.
I'll wager more then 70% of those generals that wer e killed were fragged now for some interesting points it took the powers to be over 2 years to realize that shrapnel does not cut barbed wire ,at the start of the war the germans had 50 machine guns per division the Brits had 2 Kitchener under pressure from lloyd George thought 4 would be a luxury it went to 16 by nov 1916 and 80 at the end of the war but it was LLoyd George who had the foresight to ask for more not the Generals do you realize the first times that section leaders were issued maps of their objectives was in the battle of Vimy in 1917 . no I'm sorry the Brit and French Generals with the odd exception were still fighting the Crimean and boer wars and were not innovative at all
timshatz said:
Loomaluftwaffe, thanks for the official "attaboy".

The digging a tunnel under the trench was tried. A bunch of times. I think, but am not positive, it was at Messines (sp?) Ridge. I believe there were something like 15 mines under the German trenches. The British detonated them and blew a ton of guys to smithereens. The explosions were so loud they were heard back in England.

Yeap you are right. As a matter of fact, we hear about it in the news all the time over here in Germany, that they are finding these "mines" still today in France with all the explosives in them.
I read about the number and variety of unexploded stuff found in the former Eastern Germany. After WW2 ended, a lot of the stuff dropped, fired, planted or whatever, in Western Germany was found over the interviening years. Probably still plenty left around, stories are always coming out about bomb found in a road where construction is occuring or, my personal favorite, the bus stop in Italy where they found a 500lb bomb under it about 40 years after the war had ended. Not the kind of trip most of the people waiting for the bus had in mind!

But most of that was found in the booming economies of the west. In the east, no such growth occured. The building that was done was a small amount compared to the west. And that building in the west was where a lot of the stuff was found. Now it is occuring in former East Bloc countries and stuff is popping up all over the place. Sometimes it's not explosives.

Back at the end of the war, one of the German Armies retreating from the Seelow Hieghts (I think it was the 9th) got into something of a death march. It was a long column heading west. The column was south of Berlin and was constantly being attacked by Russian troops. Along the way, all sorts of stuff was buried or lost. A couple of years back when they were expanding a road , they came across the Enigma Machine from that Army that had been buried. One of the few in existance.

That being said, I wouldn't want to be poking around in that part of Germany. More likely to find a dud shell than anything of interest.

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