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World War I
Weapons and Life in the Trenches
Objective: To examine the horrors of trench warfare.
Trench Warfare
Trench Warfare – type of fighting during World War I in
which both sides dug trenches protected by mines and barbed
wire
Cross-section of a front-line trench
British trench, France, July 1916
(during the Battle of the Somme)
British trench, France, July 1916
(during the Battle of the Somme)
French soldiers firing over their own dead
An aerial
photograph of the
opposing trenches
and no-man's land
in Artois, France,
July 22, 1917.
German trenches
are at the right and
bottom, British
trenches are at the
top left. The
vertical line to the
left of centre
indicates the
course of a pre-war
road.
Trench Rats
Many men killed in the trenches were buried almost where
they fell. These corpses, as well as the food scraps that littered
the trenches, attracted rats.
Quotes from soldiers fighting in the trenches:
"The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a
wounded man if he couldn't defend himself."
"I saw some rats running from under the dead men's
greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart
pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies. His helmet
had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped
of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured and from the
yawning mouth leapt a rat."
Officers walking through a flooded communication trench.
WARNING: NASTY TRENCH
FOOT SLIDES NEXT!!!
TRENCH FOOT!!!!
Dulce Et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.-Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (“How fitting and sweet it is to die for one’s
country.”)
Soldiers digging trenches while protected against gas attacks
'Gassed'. Painting by John Singer Sargent, 1918/1919.
Early Gas Masks
• The canister gas mask was
developed to protect the soldier
from the use of chlorine gas and
tearing agents such as xylyl
bromide. This type of mask was
not effective in filtering out the
more deadly phosgene and
diphosgene gases. There was no
mask that could offer protection
from the blistering mustard gas
which attacks all exposed flesh.
Poison Gas Deaths: 1914-1918
Country
Non-Fatal
Deaths
Total
British Empire
180,597
8,109
188,706
France
182,000
8,000
190,000
United States
71,345
1,462
72,807
Italy
55,373
4,627
60,000
Russia
419,340
56,000
475,340
Germany
191,000
9,000
200,000
Austria-Hungary
97,000
3,000
100,000
Others
9,000
1,000
10.000
1,205,655
91,198
1,296,853
Total
Resting in the Trenches
Australians resting up
in a dug-out are
sheltered from
shelling 15 feet
underground during
the Battle of the
Somme, July 1916
Diagram of Trenches
• Diagram of a
dug-out as
being used by
the Australians
in the photo
Preparing to Move
• The Lancashire
Fusiliers fix
bayonets as they
prepare to go "over
the top" in the
Battle of the
Somme, July 1916
German Trenches
• This captured section of
German trench at the
Somme helps explain why
the initial British artillery
barrage did little to
weaken the Germans.
Much deeper than the
British trenches, the
German trench system
offered amenities such as
barber shops and officer
clubs!
POW’s
• Posed German photo
illustrating POW
types: (from left)
Annamite, Tunisian,
Senegalese, Sudanese,
Russian, American,
Portuguese, and
English (1918).
Role of African-Americans
• The "Harlem
Hellfighters", American
369th Regiment who
fought beside the French
16th Division. The longest
fighting American unit in
World War I, they
received a total of 171
Croix de Guerre
decorations (1918).
New Uniforms: Stormtroopers
• The sturmtruppen
uniform - sleek,
allowing for
unhindered movement.
A far cry from the
infantry uniforms and
cumbersome packs of
earlier years.
• Stormtroopers
exhibiting their
weapons cache.
Note the formidable
array of grenades
and bombs - all
state-of-the-art for
1917.
Moving out at dawn…
• Sturmtruppen silhouetted
against the morning sky.
These troops would be
brought up to the front
under the cover of night so
that they would not be
detected by enemy
reconnaissance. The
surprise must be complete.
Moving forward!
• Positioning newly
brought-up artillery for the
surprise attack. A brief,
but intense, barrage of
high-explosives and gas
will prepare the way for
the shock troops. The
enemy will still be dazed
by the time the first wave
reaches them!
The Christmas Truce, 1914
• Germans began
decorating outside
trenches
• Sung carols
• Exchanged gifts across
“no man’s land!”
• British, French, and
German soldiers on
the Western Front
“Belleau Wood,” by Garth
Brooks
Oh the snow flakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been
declared
By both sides of the fight
As we laid there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew
Though I did not know the language
The song was Silent Night
Then I heard my buddy whisper
"All is calm, all is bright"
Then the fear and doubt surrounded
me
Cause I'd die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along
Then across the frozen battlefield
Another's voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn
Then I thought I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
Neath the falling flakes of white
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if seemed to say
Here's hoping we both live to see
Us find a better way
Then the devils clock struck midnight
And the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again
But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear
Heaven's not beyond the clouds
Its just beyond the fear
No heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's for us to find here
Stalemate on the Western Front
• Trench warfare:
extremely hard to
MOVE forward
• Example: at Verdun in
1916 750,000 men lost
their lives and the
Western front had
moved LESS THAN
10 MILES!
British Vickers machine gun crew, western front, World War I.
Eastern Front: More MOBILE
• Russian DISASTER at
Tannenberg: 92,000
taken prisoner and
30,000 killed:
Germans “only” lose
13,000
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