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Life in the Trenches

(Reading Packet)


Read the following passage about military technology advancements during WWI and fill in the chart in your answer packet.

Technology #1: The most feared new weapon was poison gas. Several kinds of gas were used by both sides in the war. Soldiers wore masks to protect themselves from poison gas. Gas was introduced by the Germans at the first battle of Ypres, Belgium, on April 14, 1914 and eventually used by both sides. Some gases caused blindness, severe blisters, death by choking, loss of voice, inability to swallow, high fever, difficulty breathing, and deafness. Soon after the Battle of Ypres, the Allies developed a chlorine-gas bomb. Chemical warfare led to the invention of over 75 different types of gas bombs during WWI. By 1915 the Germans had also perfected the use of flame throwers, hand-held guns that sprayed burning gas in a wide arc in front of advancing troops.
Technology #2: WWI was a different war from any that had ever been fought in human history because of the modernization that had taken lace in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Advances that had been made to increase manufacturing speed and efficiency were easily transferable to the tools of war. Compared with the dingle=fire, short-range, slow-loading rifles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modern machine guns used during the Great War were like super killing machines: the British Vickers machine gun could hold 250 rounds of ammunition in its magazine, shoot 8 rounds per second and send bullets a distance of 2,900 yards.
Technology #3: WWI was the first time that airplanes were used in a war. Initially they were used for scouting and observation. Soon after they were converted into bombers. So called dogfights were battles between competing pilots who tried to shoot each other out of the sky.
Technology #4: The tank was an armored combat vehicle that moved on chain tracks and thus could cross many types of terrain. The British introduced it in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme and it was used by the Germans shortly after.
Technology #5: In 1914, the Germans introduced the submarine as an effective warship. The submarine’s primary weapon against ships was the torpedo, an underwater missile. Submarines were used on a large scale for the first time during the war by Germans to destroy allied forces.
Technology #6: The use of artillery greatly increased in type, volume, and efficiency during WWI. Like machine guns, cannons, including shot cannons such as howitzers and mortars, were modernized and mechanized. And more importantly shells were developed that could carry deadlier payloads of explosives further, with more accuracy and greater explosive abilities. Artillery became so important in fighting on the western front that during the six-month Battle of Verdun, 24 million shells were used, which amounted to one thousand shells per square meter of the battlefield. Soldiers in the trenches referred to the rain of shells that fell during Verdun, and on solder wrote in his diary, “We listen for an eternity to the iron sledgehammers beating on our trench. Amid this tempest of ruin we instantly recognize the shell that is coming to bury us. As soon as we pick out its dismal howl we look at each other in agony. All curled and shriveled up we crouch under the very weight of tis breath. Our helmets clang together, we stammer about like drunks. The beams tremble, a could of choking smoke fills the dugout, the candles go out.”
Other technologies included flame throwers, hand grenades, and trench systems.

A New style of Warfare: the Trenches

Read the following passage and primary documents regarding life in the trenches, answer the questions coordinate in your answer packet.

By the winter of 1914-1915, the Western Front in WWI had settled into stalemate between the attacking Germany armies and the defending French and British Forces. Months earlier the Germans had attempted to take Paris by sweeping through Belgium and northeastern France with a lighting attack. They were stopped just short of their goal in the early fall, however, and by winter the battling armies were deadlocked in a fierce trench war that would last almost four years. For Western Europeans and Americans, who entered the war in 1917, this is the classic image of WWI, infantry soldiers living or dying in pits of mud.

The trench system where millions of soldiers lived and died stretched some 475 miles between the North Sea and the Swiss border. Their designs varied, but all were wet, cold and rat infested. The British had a “fire trench” facing the German lines. This ditch was deep enough to protect the soldiers stationed in it against shrapnel from bursting artillery shells, though not always against enemy snipers. The fire trench was dug along a ziz-zag pattern to confine damage from enemy fire to small areas. Wooden duckboards covered the floor of the trench and there was usually a ledge or fire-step that brought the soldier up to ground level. The German trench system was more elaborate than the British, while the French was often less regular.

Between the trenches of the opposing armies lay a “no man’s land,” which could range from as little as 30 or 40 yards wide to a mile or more. Lines of barbed wire, designed to make frontal attacks on the trench system more difficult, stretched from the trenches out into “no mans land.”

When not attacking or being attacked, a solder’s duties might include standing guard or maintaining trenches, weapons, and equipment. Soldiers were not in the front line all the time. British infantrymen generally spent a week in the front line then a week in the back-up reserve lines.

Over the course of almost four years of trench warfare on the Western Front, there were dozens of major and minor confrontations resulting in staggering numbers of casualties. In the Battle of the Somme, which began July 1, 1916, the British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000 and the Germans 450,000. On the first day alone 20,000 British solders were killed and 40,000 wounded.

World War I was more murderous than any war that preceded it (more casualties than WWII, Korea and Vietnam combined). American losses numbered more than 116,000 dead and over 230,000 wounded. One reason for this carnage was the mixing of past and present warfare techniques and technologies. For instance, and infantry charge over an open field on the Western Front became sheer murder when the opposing army was equipped with machine guns, a new weapon. To eliminate the machine guns, WWI commanders ordered massive artillery attacks before an infantry charge. At the Battle of the Somme, British artillery fired 3 million shells into the German lines. But commanders had no way of knowing if the barrage had succeeded in taking out the machine guns, and the advancing troops had no way of telling them. Development of in-the-field radio communications would solve this problem in WWII.

Poison gas also accounted for many injuries and fatalities and was first used by the Germans. By 1918 roughly one artillery shell in four fired by both side on the Western Front was a gas shell. But, poison gas was not successful in breaking the Western Front stalemate.

Here are some of the things soldiers had to say about their time in the trenches:

Poison Gas: “Propped up against a wall was a dozen men - all gassed - their colours were black, green and blue, tongues hanging out and eyes staring - one or two were dead and others beyond human aid, some were coughing up green froth from their lungs - as we advanced we passed many more men lying in the ditches and gutterways - shells were bursting all around.”

Death: “It was 9 a.m. and the so-called trench was full of corpses and all sorts of equipment. We stood and sat on bodies as if they were stones or logs of wood. Nobody worried if one had its head stuck through or torn off, or a third had gory bones sticking out through its torn coat. And outside the trench one could see them lying in every kind of position.”
Poison Gas: “My respirator fell to pieces with the continual removal and readjustment - the gas closed my eyes and filled them with matter and I could not see. I was left lying in the trench with one other gassed man and various wounded beings and corpses and forced to lie and spit, cough and gasp the whole of the day in that trench.”

Death: “In that photo you have of the Scottish officers before we left for Belgium, I am the only on left now. All the rest are either killed or wounded or have gone home sick. But some of them I hope will come out again
Rats:There are millions!! Some are huge fellows, nearly as big as cats. Several of our men were awakened to find a rat snuggling down under the blanket alongside them!”
Death: "We were walking on dead soldiers ... I saw poor fellows trying to bandage their wounds... bombs, heavy shells were falling all over them. Poor Angéline, it is the worst sight that a man ever wants to see."
Combat: “It is utterly impossible to describe one's feelings during the hours of waiting for 'zero hour' - the mind is full of wild thoughts and fancies etc which are utterly beyond control. Recollections of friends and dear ones, places we have seen and known and different phases of life all seem to pass in review before one's eyes and one is recalled to the bitter realities of the moment by the officer's voice: 'Fifteen minutes to go, boys, get ready.' Immediately there is a great stir and excitement, a final setting of equipment etc and examination of arms and then a handshake with one or two dear comrades. 6.45 am, 'Over you go, boys,' and we are away on that strange journey across 'No-Man's Land'.”
Trenches: “A good standing trench was about six foot deep, so that a man could walk upright during the day in safety from rifle-fire. In each bay of the trench we constructed fire-steps about two feet higher than the bottom of the trench, which enabled us to stand head and shoulders above the parapet. During the day we were working in reliefs, and we would snatch an hour’s sleep, when we could, on a wet and muddy fire-step, wet through to the skin ourselves. If anyone had to go to the company on our right in the daytime he had to walk through thirty yards of waterlogged trench, which was chest-deep in water in some places…..a man had to make his way sometimes through very heavy mud…..wet snow had begun to fall, which turned into rain and some parts of the land were soon a bog of mud to get drowned in.”
Trenches: “Select a flat ten-acre ploughed field, so sited that all the surface water of the surrounding country drains into it. Now cut a zig-zag slot about four feet deep and three feet wide diagonally across, dam off as much water as you can so as to leave about one hundred yards of squelchy mud; delve out a hole at one side of the slot, then endeavour to live there for a month on bully beef and damp biscuits, whilst a friend has instructions to fire at you with his Winchester every time you put your head above the surface.”
Combat: “Every now and then there passes overhead a thunderous shriek, like an express train tearing through a small station. This is followed by a dull roar, these are real Jack Johnsons on their way to level an ancient city to the ground. I don’t know what thunderbolts of wrath were hurled on the cities of the plains, but they could not have been more terrible than those forged by the Hun. We hear them pass all day and we hear them crash and looking over tangled and shell-pocked fields we can see great pillars of smoke and dust rising from the tortured city.
Soldiers:Our men have had a terrible experience of 72 hours in trenches, drenched through and some places knee-deep in mud and water. To see them come out, and line up, and march off is almost terrible. They don’t look like strong young men. They are muddied to the eyes. Their coats are plastered with mud and weigh and awful weight with the water which has soaked in. Their backs are bent, and they stagger and totter along with the weight of their packs.”
Airplanes: “Aeroplanes circle round out heads nearly all day, coming and going to the Front, reconnoitring and also patrolling the air, because a German aeroplane dropped a bomb near HQ not so long ago. These aeroplanes remind me for all the world of pigeons circling round the cote before going in.”

Selections from McDougall Litel, Jackdraw Photo Collection, BBC Schools, and History Learning Site

Name: ________________________________________ Period: _________ A or B

Life in the Trenches

(Answer Sheet)




Effects of the Weapon







A new style of warfare: the Trenches

  1. The barren, bombed-out territory between trench lines were laced with barbed wire and landmines. This area was known as ______________________________.

  2. Which front during WWI utilized hundreds of miles of trenches: _____________________________________

  3. How many soldiers were killed at the Battle of the Somme? __________________________

  4. Why was WWI so deadly?

  1. Choose and read four of the soldier accounts primary sources. For each one, write down the main idea of the account.

  1. _____________________________

Main Idea:

  1. _____________________________

Main Idea:

  1. _____________________________

Main Idea:

  1. _____________________________

Main Idea:

  1. List three problems with trench warfare…include evidence from the soldiers’ stories/quotes:







A Message from Private _____________________ _______________________


November 12, 1916


Homework (25 points)


Directions: Read the following passage about the Battle of the Somme and do some extra research on the Battle if you would like. Highlight the passage and use the information learned in the reading and during class to complete one of two activities about the Battle that are printed on the back of this sheet. The assignment must be completed on something other than notebook paper and utilize color. Be creative. Make something that you would be proud to post on your refrigerator.

Hell on earth: “the battle of the somme”

The first day of the Somme offensive was the bloodiest in the history of the British Army. More than 20,000 were killed and 60,000 injured. Sixty per cent of all the officers were also killed on the first day.

The offensive, which took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916, was intended as a decisive breakthrough for the allies. Instead it became a slow battle of attrition which led to more than a million casualties. It was also a baptism of fire for the new armies of volunteers who responded to Lord Kitchener's appeal to join up in 1914. The Somme was originally intended as a heavy attack from the south by the French, with British making a diversionary attack to the north.

But the battle of Verdun had used up so many French divisions that when the attack was launched it was the British who undertook the main assault.

The main British effort took place along the line of the river Somme which marked he junction of the British and French armies. The British attack was towards Baupaume on a 15-mile front and the French towards Peronne on a 10-mile front. After an eight-day preliminary bombardment, in which nearly 1.7 million shells were fired at German positions, the allies attacked. But the shells were often of poor quality and failed to destroy German dugouts.

Although the British came under heavy fire the French quickly broke through the German lines. Haig sent the newly formed Fifth army to help hold the gains made by the French. For the next 10 weeks little headway was made in the battle. Both the British and the French constantly shelled the Germans and making a few costly gains.

The British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig's use of what many criticized as flawed tactics caused controversy. In Britain it contributed to the first signs of war-weariness. Haig was determined to batter his way through the German lines and on 15 September he renewed the British offensive - this time using tanks for the first time in battle. They helped to increase the allied penetration even though half of them failed to start due to mechanical problems.

The battle finally ended on 18 November with an area approximately 25 miles long by six miles wide won by the allies. After four months of fighting each side had sustained more than half a million casualties.


Cinquains are identification poems. These

short poems are designed to capture the

main idea of concept.

Your task: Create a Cinquain poem about trench warfare

Your poem should follow this format:

Line 1 - One word (The subject)

Line 2 - five words that describe

Line 3 - six action words (-ing) about

what the subject does

Line 4 - A seven or eight-word phrase

describing the subject

Line 5 – One word that could be another name for the subject

Historical Marker

A historical marker is a plaque or sign that commemorates or recognizes a certain place or an event.

Your task: Create a sign to explain the event of trench warfare

Your marker should:

□ Have a title

□ Include a simple drawing to

represent the place/event

□ a paragraph to explain the

place/event (6-8 sentences)

□ Draw a meaningful border

(patterns of small drawings that

relate to the event)

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