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Disease-infested, plagued with rats, and a haven for bombs, trenches proved impractical in World War I. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives to disease, rats, and air raids due to the antiquity of trench warfare strategy. Of course, World War I is looked at as an odd war, juxtaposed with horses and tanks, trench warfare and air warfare and swords and artillery. The question remains: why was trench warfare used as a strategy in World War I? Obviously, the strategy was chosen for a reason and had its aims and purposes. Did this type of strategy achieve its aim?
Due to improved mechanisms of warring, the path to trenches seemed inevitable. The invention of magazine rifles, increased range and accuracy of rifled artillery, and the power weapons to destroy things more and from a farther distance led to the strategy of hiding from the enemy. The invention of smokeless guns especially added to the need of trenches because the enemy could not be seen, and thus camouflage and secure cover was required in order to defend oneself from invisible guns. Also, since the enemy could not see any smoke coming from guns, this added to the benefit of the trenches by further hiding the army from view.
In the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905, trench warfare was first seen in large scale. The Germans and the rest of Europe observed the benefits of the trenches, but were unable to notice the “if-and-only-if” relationship of that particular strategy. The strategy required rapid movement, thus little time was spent in the deep trenches. As the Central Powers realized that they did not have the manpower or the technological advances to combat the allies, they began to prepare for a long, drawn-out, and arduous war. What they did not do was take into account that too much time spent in trenches led to a spread of diseases, an invitation to pests, and a demoralization of its troops.
With the hope of a short war now lost, the fighting on the Western Front settled down to trench warfare. Victories on the battlefield were soon being measured in yards. Soldiers spent four years in trenches, contracting diseases, fighting rats, and fighting their own morale. There were three types of trenches that formed the strategy. The three types were: fire (front line), cover (reserve troops who supported front lines), and communicating.
Overall, the trenches of the Western Front were very similar to those at Petersburg, Russia (Russo-Japanese War) in form and purpose. Why the world powers did not study Petersburg and trench warfare tactics more closely is open to debate. It is probable that the powers thought they had nothing to learn form Petersburg since by the standards of 1914 it was fought with antiquated weapons. Clearly, although Europe encountered the same type of weapons and tactics in the First World War as in the Russo-Japanese struggle, no one saw the effect that this would have when used in a large-scale war among European armies in drawn-out time lapses.
In the end, trench warfare proved futile to the military observers who overestimated its effectiveness and became a symbol of the Great War. Much like the war, trench warfare achieved little leading to a stalemate between troops, and resounded a harsh truth about the war. World War I achieved very little in terms of clear victories and a good ending, instead it lead to the crumbling of many nations and their economies. Perhaps what the trenches most personified, were the generals and leaders of nations who used propaganda tactics in order to foment a war and gain money, land, and power. Similar to the unfortunate reality of soldiers in the trenches, leaders were symbolically trapped in dark trenches of ambition, avarice, bitterness, and deceit. In the end, trench warfare was as pointless as the Great War, and war itself.
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