Blood and Muck: The WWI Trench Warfare Quiz

MILITARY

John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

World War I was notorious for its siege-like warfare of attrition. Massive, well-armed armies found themselves unable to maneuver due to withering enemy fire, so they simply hunkered down. How much do you know about World War I trench warfare?

Why did armies in World War I resort to digging trenches?

Advances in weapons far outpaced army mobility, so as a result, moving soldiers anywhere on the front line meant heavy casualties. In response, armies dug in or attempted endless flanking maneuvers. The result was a war of attrition.

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What was "no man's land"?

"No man's land" was the area between opposing trenches. Any soldier who was forced to charge through no man's land was subjected to terrifying enemy fire.

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In early trenches, how were men distributed?

Early in the war, officers packed men shoulder to shoulder in the trenches, thinking that the soldiers would be safe. But they quickly learned that high density equaled death from artillery shells … so the soldiers began to spread out.

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Trenches had their own newspapers.

Soldiers mistrusted public news. They began distributing their own papers, with names like "The Dead Horse Corner Gazette" and "The Listening Post." Canadian troops alone printed dozens of different papers during the long conflict.

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In some cases, no man's land was how narrow?

In some areas, no man's land was a tiny strip of land just 10 yards wide. Enemy soldiers were so close that they could hear men from across the line speaking to each other.

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What was the "parapet"?

The parapet was the top of the trenches. Peeking over the parapet could get you instantly killed by a sniper. Some new soldiers were killed within a single day of action because they failed to take basic precautions.

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Why was nighttime often the busiest time during trench warfare?

Darkness offered cover to men languishing in the trenches. At night, they could crawl forward and repair barbed wire barricades, start new trenches and perform other activities too perilous in daylight.

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When major attacks weren't underway, the trenches were fairly safe from violence.

Even when there were no advances taking place, the trenches saw a continuous stream of death, often from artillery shells that fell directly into the trenches.

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There were two main types of rats that infested the trenches: brown and black rats. Which did the soldiers despise more?

The soldiers particularly despised brown rats. That's because they could grow to the size of small cats, skittering and chattering their way through the quagmire of the trenches.

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In a single year, one pair of rats could produce how many offspring?

The trench rats were incredibly prolific. Just one mating pair could produce around 900 offspring. It's no wonder these creatures overran the trenches. Some soldiers kept dogs (like terriers) bred to hunt varmints. The dogs helped to keep the infestations somewhat under control.

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Army engineers often sat in small tunnels that extended from the main trenches. Why did they sit in silence?

Engineers would sit in total silence, listening for enemy tunnelers. Tunnelers would create passageways to enemy trenches, stack explosives, and then blow the whole thing sky-high. If they caught these plots in time, engineers plotted their own tunnels to counter the enemy.

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In general, how deep were front-line trenches in World War I?

Most trenches were about 12 feet deep and about six feet wide. They were just big enough to hide men from bullets and wide enough for soldiers to pass each other.

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What were "saps"?

"Saps" referred to sap trenches. These were short, often temporary trenches that extended towards enemy lines. They could be used as listening stations or as places to stage an attack.

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What was "Zone Rouge"?

After the war, the French government isolated a huge part of no man's land called Zone Rouge, where unexploded ordnance and chemical traces made human habitation impossible. Today, there are still parts of Zone Rouge that are too dangerous for people.

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What did soldiers place in front of their trenches to thwart enemy attacks?

Barbed wire was a mainstay of no man's land. Some units placed incredibly long, wide sections of barbed wire in front of trenches, making it impossible for enemies to launch attacks on foot.

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The Germans created large trench systems. How deep were some German trenches?

The Germans expended tremendous energy to create deep, complex trenches. In some places, they were reinforced with concrete and went as deep as three stories, where they were impervious to artillery attacks.

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What caused the development of "periscope rifles"?

Snipers on both sides became incredibly adept at shooting enemy soldiers who peeked over the parapet. In response, some units developed periscope rifles that used mirrors to spot targets, and better yet, didn’t require the shooter to expose himself at all.

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Rats often ate human remains. What parts did they go for first?

The rats gorged themselves on dead soldiers. And they often started with the soft, easily-accessible eyes, which only added to the horror of the situation.

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Front-line trenches were dug in a straight line.

Straight trenches meant death. Artillery shrapnel could blast along straight trenches, and in the event of a breach by the enemy, straight trenches meant that the invaders had a clear line of sight to shoot. That's why trenches were zig zags, with hiding spots along their length.

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How much time did Allied soldiers typically spend in front-line trenches?

The Allies knew that front-line trench life was horrendous. They quickly rotated men in and then back out. Often, soldiers were on the front line only for a day or two before they were sent to other (safer) areas. Unfortunate soldiers sometimes spent much longer stretches in front-line situations.

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What did soldiers do with the bodies of men who died in no man's land?

No man's land claimed countless lives, and it was often too dangerous to retrieve bodies for burial. So fallen soldiers were left for weeks or months until there was nothing left to bury.

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What did "trench sweepers" do?

Trench sweepers were the soldiers who were especially skilled at close quarters trench combat. They'd dive into enemy trenches on daring attacks … or they'd "clean out" invaders who dared enter their own trenches.

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What was "morning hate"?

Every morning, soldiers would "stand to" by climbing firing steps and looking for signs of an enemy attack. Then they'd unleash "morning hate," a volley of gunfire and shells to start the day.

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Why did many trench soldiers shave their heads?

Lice infested trenches no matter how hard soldiers tried to avoid them. In desperation, some soldiers shaved their heads to prevent (at least a little) of the itchiness and general awfulness of lice.

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What was the most effective chemical weapon of World War I?

Both sides deployed mustard gas, which would drift through enemy trenches, killing them or burning them in horrible ways. It was hard to detect, meaning that many soldiers clung to gas masks for fear of dying in a sudden chemical attack.

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How did front-line soldiers relieve themselves?

Front-line soldiers dug short tunnels to latrine trenches, which quickly accumulated human waste. The smell, as you can imagine, was overwhelming, and these trenches were often more vulnerable to enemy fire, making the process terrifying as well as disgusting.

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On the western front, German lines often included how many lines of trenches?

The Germans were big on redundant defensive positions, and they often built three lines of trenches, a firing line, a support line and a reserve line. In the event of a retreat, the soldiers would simply fall back to one of the lines and begin their defense anew.

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How were aircraft used during trench warfare?

Aircraft were brand-new creations during World War I. The flimsy planes were used mostly for spotting purposes, and they had a tremendous impact in helping both sides anticipate (and then stop) enemy offensives.

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What did it mean to "go over the top"?

If you were ordered to "go over the top," it meant that you had to climb out of the trench and charge into no man's land. Going over the top was every solider's worst nightmare. Many men were killed in just seconds.

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Which weapon started the war as a minor afterthought and became a constant menace by the war's end?

Early grenades were primitive and unreliable. But trench warfare expedited the development of grenades, and front-line soldiers used them in countless numbers. After all, it was safer to lob a grenade than to fire a rifle.

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