A History of Trench Warfare
on the
Western Front


by Stephen Bull

After the initial application of the Schlieffen Plan for the conquest of the French and British, the Western Front settled into a static front marked by both sides digging trenches. Trenches were not something unique to the fighting on the Western Front.

The trench was a part of all European Armies’ battle plans. These trenches were a temporary solution to the attack. When an attack had run its course, and no further progress was possible, except with prohibitable levels of casualties, the offensive troops would dig trenches until such time as strength allowed further attacks.

After the “Battle of the Frontiers” had run out of “steam” and frontlines had settled into active and “quiet” areas, trenches became the norm. However, on the Western Front, because of the use of outdated tactics, all offensives had ground to a halt and the normal tendency to “dig-in” took hold. This tendency led to a complete turn over to the defensive and the trench system dug from the Swiss border to the shores of the English Channel. The marked tendencies of both sides to use masses of artillery and numerous machine guns influenced these decisions.

This book covers the development of the trench from the initial attempts in the areas where fighting had died down. The further development of “bomb-proofs” and the appearance of “reserve” trenches, where troops not in the front line could rest and relax, are all noted in this volume. The development of other weapons, such as the attempts at the use of poison gas, specific trench raiders, and others are also covered.

This volume is profusely illustrated with photographs, sketches and maps, showing life in the trenches. Sections of trenches in various areas of the front are singled out, showing their construction methods and the problems encountered by the engineers in that construction. Details, such as sniper posts, firing steps and other intricacies are covered in this assessment of the conditions of fighting on the Western Front.

Operational details are covered to show the disregard that the men in these trenches were held. By the use of the “bomb-proofs” troops were spared the terrible bombardments of the trench lines, although their psychological health was affected in many cases. Excepts from the field manuals of both side are included showing “standard” construction details to be incorporated into the “frontline”, “traverse” and “reserve” trench lines.

I found this book to be fascinating, with its in-depth knowledge of the trench systems and the methods of construction in all types of terrain. I recommend this volume to anyone who wants a more complete picture of the living and fighting conditions of the soldiers during the course of “The Great War”.

This book is available from Osprey Publishing

MSRP $19.95