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Why Did the Armies Fight the First World War in Trenches on the Western Front and What Effect Did the Trenches Have on the Way the War Was Fought?

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The First World War was fought mostly in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It was fought between two major alliances. The first major alliance was the entente powers, which consisted of France, United Kingdom, Russia and their allies. The over alliance was consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies; they were names the central powers. Italy and the United States joined the Entente powers late on in the war. The immediate cause of the war was the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne on June 28th 1914. Gavrilo Princep, a Bosnian-Serb citizen of Austria-Hungary and member of the Black Hand killed him. Austria-Hungary retaliated against Serbia causing a chain reaction. Within a month most of Europe was in a state of open warfare.

By autumn of 1914 the movements of opposing armies had become stalled. This was because the Schlieffen plan, created by general Schlieffen, went wrong. The plan was created in event of war with both Russia and France. The plan was to knock out the French army early and quickly so that the Germans could concentrate on taking down the Russian army. They planned to take the French by surprise by attacking through Belgium; this would enable the Germans to encircle Paris and the French army. Von Moltke, Schlieffen’s successor changed the plan so that the army invading France through Belgium would be much smaller. The Belgians resisted fiercely and slowed the Germans down considerably, which gave Britain time to send over the b.e.f (British expeditionary force) to support France and help hold the Germans of. Then Moltke and the German army received more bad news; the Russian army had mobilised quickly and invaded Eastern Germany. Some of the German troops had to be moved from the attack on France to defend Eastern Germany. Meanwhile in the South the French army launched a counter attack against the Germans and the German armies were driven back to the river Aisne. And to avoid being driven further back and to protect themselves they dug trenches. The British Army and the French army also dug trenches that stretched all the way from the English Channel to Switzerland. The two sides had fought to a standstill.

As a result of these developments the war was fought in trenches from the autumn of 1914 until the end. This meant that warfare changed because both sides were now in a defensive position. Attacking the enemy trenches was difficult because of impressive defence systems and barbed wire made it easier to defend than attack. The soldiers needed the trenches to defend themselves against machine gun fire and heavy artillery shells. When attacking soldiers went over the top of the trenches and ran across no mans land. Going over the top was very dangerous as machine guns could kill you very easily.

Because trench warfare caused stalemate new weapons had to be used in the war. Machine guns could fire 200 – 400 bullets a minute and required a group of 3 to 6 men. There was heavy artillery like Howitzers that could fire heavy shells long distances. Artillery was used to cut the barbed wire but they did not always do this, they covered the ground with holes and turned it to mud. Shrapnel shells were also used, as they were effective against infantry. Poison gas was created; this included tear gas that blinded soldiers, chlorine gas and mustard gas. New offensive weapons were made. The British, French and the Germans employed tanks. Although tanks were effective for getting through barbed wire they ran on Caterpillar tracks and could get stuck in holes and mud made by shells. Aeroplanes were originally used to send signals to the troops in the trenches but later planes had guns on them and were used as an effective weapon. Trench mortars was lighter and more mobile than other artillery pieces and could be fired from the trench so

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