A British soldier with a bandaged head smiles as he shows the cameraman his helmet and the large hole blown straight through it. (1918)
Look at how deep the contrast lies between the bandage and everything else in this photo. It really illustrates just how shitty, muddy, and drab the landscapes of WWI were. This bandage is the only “clean” thing for miles. Everything else is a mix of muddied earth tones. Nothing but mud and sadness for miles. Pair that with the occasional silence stretching out over this wasteland and you’ve got quite a scene.
A Basic Summary of World War One:
Europe had a long standing culture of regarding war as glorious and honorable Together with a complicated set of alliances that essentially broke most of the world into two camps war was really inevitable. Unfortunately iindustrializationallowed mass production of soldiers and material which meant the war was far larger than the people who started it envisioned.
So the trigger was an Austrian Archduke being shot by a Serb, Gavrilo Princip. Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia considered itself the protector of the balkans and declared war on Austria. Germany declared war Russia, and to avoid fighting a war on two fronts declared war on France in the hopes on knocking them out before the technologically backwards Russians could mobilize.
France had an excellent defensive line but it didn’t extend as far as Belgium and so Germany invaded Belgium. Britain was a guarantor of Belgium neutrality and so declared war on Germany.
Britain, France and Russia were known as the Triple Entente, while Germany, Austro-Hungary and later the Ottoman Empire were referred to as the Central Powers.
The early war had movement on both east and west fronts. Germany did well in the west and poorly in the east, but nowhere was decisive. The war dragged on, with most of the professional armies being destroyed and large conscript or volunteer forces replacing them.
1915 – Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente and the Ottoman empire joined the central powers. The last great cavalry charges occurred. The western front stagnated and trench warfare solidified. Hindenburg and Ludendorff distinguished themselves on the eastern front.
Britain attacked the Ottomans at Gallipolli, it was a catastrophic failure.
1916 – The new armies were ready to use on-masse. Faulkner attacked Verdun not to take ground but to kill as many enemies as possible, a new and terrifying tactic. It had mixed success causing huge French casualties but giving them a morale boost.
The British attacked on the Somme to relive pressure on France, it was the worst military affair In British history. The tank was used for the first time.
Germany was under blockade, but managed to blockade Britain through the use of submarines. This caused diplomatic problems with neutrals.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff became de facto leaders of Germany.
1917 – Russia had a civil war due to the extremely poor conditions for their soldiers and civilians. The communists took control (with the help of Germany). Russia left the war seeding large amounts of land and resources to Germany.
America joined the war. The stated cause was Germanys submarine usage (in particular the sinking of the Lusitania) but really America had been funding the entente and it now looked like they might lose (and hence America would lose alot of money). This had huge implications. America had been isolationist, focusing instead on gaining hold of their massive new territory. But now they became an extremely powerful world player.
Western front was a stalemate. Britain started a campaign to make Arabs rise against their Turkish masters.
1918 – Germany was starving. This year had the most casualties of the war. Germany launched a last ditch offensive which was a surprising success. However the advance outran communication lines and stalled. The Entente counter attack was successful, the German people lost the will to fight.
The Arab uprising was successful and destroyed the Ottoman empire.
A poorly thought out peace treaty was signed and the guns finally fell silent.
Life & Death in The Trenches:
Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves, paints a pretty graphic depiction of life and death in the trenches and goes into trench raids quite a bit. Graves trained to become an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (a regular army battalion), but ended up being deployed with the Welsh Regiment (territorials). His reflections on trench storming vary quite a bit between the two units – everything depended on the circumstances. Who were you attacking, and how long had they been on the line? Were you attacking during the day or at night? Were your attackers particularly keen or experienced at going over? Graves wrote a lot about how the Welsh Regiment was primarily composed of miners, who, while being excellent diggers, were not too pumped about lobbing grenades into German trenches. They spent most evenings spraying the German lines with rifle and machine gun fire, and would leave it at that (they also made tea with the hot water produced off the machine guns, fun fact). The officers had a hell of a time getting them to do much raiding.
Around the time of the Battle of Loos, Graves pretty much gave up on life, and frequently volunteered to go on trench raids at night. I believe this was after he had been transferred to the RWF. He usually took a small squad of men (as to avoid detection) armed with multiple grenades and Webley revolvers. He became pretty good at raids, and mortality rates on his sorties were apparently pretty low. Another book, K-1 the First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay, (an excellent read BTW) is about a fictional unit (It’s supposed to be The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) fighting in France. It is available for free in many places on line, and discusses trench raiding and its evolution quite a bit (among many MANY other things). Before the advent of more technologically advanced grenades, many soldiers were forced to simply “make do” and used crude substitutes (that were also occasionally furnished by the government) like “jam tin” grenades, which were tin cans stuffed with cordite and a fuse. Better grenades usually meant safer conditions for the ones throwing them, and better results on targets. To try to better answer your question, from what I’ve read, trench raiding evolved pretty extensively during the war, especially in the opening years. If anything, trench raiding quickly became “an art form” (so said Ian Hay, who performed it) and men were self proclaimed “specialists” in what they did – be it throwing grenades, cutting wire, or sneaking around. That being said, mortality and success rates really depended on the circumstances of the fight. Doing a raid during the day, for example was generally a terrible idea. Doing one at night under cover of fog, was a much better one. Having experienced soldiers that had a clear idea of what was going on (and what they should be doing) was an obvious bonus. Just remember to freeze when the flare goes up.