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"Just how close were the trenches?" Topic

16 Posts

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World War One

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Korvessa10 Jan 2019 6:33 p.m. PST

I watched "The Trench" last night for the 1st time. I thought it was pretty well done for the budget.

But I have a question: were the trenches really close enough that men would be hit the instant they went over the top?
Were they really within rifle range?

seems like they would have had a hard time building them in the first place if they were that close.

whitejamest10 Jan 2019 7:14 p.m. PST

I think you would find there was no standard distance across the whole front, and that in some places there was considerable distance between the lines, while at other locations they were quite close. There were certainly places and times where the opposing lines were within an easy rifle shot of one another – and even closer than that implies.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2019 7:34 p.m. PST

German line were generally on the high ground and allies holding the wet low ground. Space between line varied greatly from location to location.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2019 8:39 p.m. PST

I imagine so, from many accounts I've seen/read – e.g. within rifle range.

I get the impression they sometimes dug towards one another, in order to "gain an advantageous position", if there was one in trench warfare.

emckinney10 Jan 2019 10:38 p.m. PST

1915, certainly, many attacks we're preceded by digging parallels to get the front trench as close to the enemy as possible. Better to have less distance to cross under artillery and machinegun fire than more.

Aethelflaeda was framed11 Jan 2019 9:06 a.m. PST

At places such as Gallipoli confined territory meant you had no choice.

monk2002uk11 Jan 2019 10:44 a.m. PST

Frontline trenches were within rifle range on the Western Front. Remember that during an attack, the defenders used the process of musketry to lay down a beaten zone of rifle bullets. The rifle sights would have been pre-set to the range. It was not necessary to target an individual soldier in order to hit one. The rapidity of fire, coordinated by NCOs and range finders, was more than sufficient to bring men down as they left the trenches.


DeRuyter11 Jan 2019 11:19 a.m. PST

Judging from some of the scenes in "They shall never Grow Old" with bodies directly in front of the trenches and bodies hit by snipers a portion of them were clearly within rifle range. Also the patrol scene, which according to Peter Jackson was one of the few combat scenes filmed they appears to be quite a distance at that location.

Cerdic11 Jan 2019 11:51 a.m. PST

They were usually a few hundred yards apart, but it varied a great deal.

They could be really close on occasion, a bit further than grenade range!

Or very occasionally they could be nearly a mile apart.

As regards building the things, it should be remembered that trench systems were a constantly evolving work-in-progress. During a big battle, lines might be taken and retaken, moved and rebuilt. It could all get very messy….

Wargamer Blue11 Jan 2019 1:40 p.m. PST

Quinn's Post at Gallipoli was four metres from the Turkish trenches.

Trenches got close in places because they dug sap trenches forward towards the enemy line. Then when they got to a point where they were within hand grenade range they could go no further, at which point they end the sap and then extend the line parallel to the enemy trench. Sap construction was heavily protected by machine guns, which could suppress any enemy rushes over the top to attack the saps.

Cerdic11 Jan 2019 3:04 p.m. PST

I remember reading the diaries of a French soldier.

At one point the trench they were occupying had been the enemy's front line. The German front line was the trench that had originally been their second line.

The communication trench had been blocked by earth and sandbags halfway down. The block was only about six feet deep and both sides maintained a listening post of two men at the block. So there were French and German soldiers stationed six foot from each other!

The only way it could work was for both sides to have an unspoken 'agreement' to leave each other alone…

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2019 7:22 p.m. PST

Yea, I thought I recalled reading some were within grenade range as well.

Lion in the Stars11 Jan 2019 11:13 p.m. PST

You can throw a ~14oz (that's 400grams for the metric-speakers) grenade a pretty good distance, not to mention that the idea of 4oz (~100g) of explosive waiting to blow you up gives a lot of adrenaline to help the grenade on it's way.

monk2002uk12 Jan 2019 2:02 a.m. PST

Some were within grenade range, yes. Examples included trench systems constructed after mines were exploded underground. Netting was used to protect against grenades landing in the trench in some cases.


Aethelflaeda was framed12 Jan 2019 8:50 a.m. PST

Not to mention, covered dugouts and alcoves in the walls and grenade sumps to roll a grenade into before it exploded.

Martin Rapier12 Jan 2019 8:55 a.m. PST

As above, generally a few hundred yards, but lots of variation from a few tens of yards up to a mile apart.

Against rifled magazine fed weapons, even 50 yards is a very long way to walk under fire, let alone a mile.

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