World War I was a stalemate right from the outbreak of the war as a result of trench warfare. With the introduction of this system, a piece of land stretching from the Belgian coast, through France, and ending in Switzerland, became the venue for majority of the conflict. For almost three years, this line shifted by no more than a few hundred yards. All of this changed when the United States joined the war and prompted Germany to make an all-out drive on the Allies so as to end the war before the American Army reached full strength on the battlefield. The American Expeditionary Force allowed the Allies to take the offensive, thereby ending the static state of war that had settled on the Western Front as a result of trench warfare.
The system of trench warfare had men facing each other across opposing lines dug into the ground. The purpose of digging trenches was purely a matter of survival. In a war where technology was the worst enemy, trenches were a must. Following the Battle of Somme in 1916 where casualties exceeded one million, the High Command on both sides of the war learned of the desperate need for trenches.
The first trenches, as Albert Marrin describes in The Yanks are Coming, were “not mere slits in the ground.” Each trench system was composed of line upon line of trenches. Most trench systems were composed of three trenches. In case of an attack, there was usually another trench to provide defense if the forward trench was taken by the enemy. Smaller communication trenches linked each of the major trench lines (Marrin 80).
The most memorable feature of any trench line was actually the land in between. This land was known as no-man’s land. No man's land varied extremely in length. There were extremes at both ends of the spectrum. At Cambrai no man's land was 500 yards in length. This made raids more dangerous. With the long distance needed to traverse, the chance of bullets hitting a soldier increased. Conversely, at places like Zonnbeke and the Ypres Salient, the length between front line trenches was a mere 7 to 8 yards. The extreme to this situation was at Bellewarde Ridge in 1915. The British and Germans actually shared the same front-line trench (Ellis 24).
With this structure in place, any real gain of land on one side’s part was nigh impossible. When an attack occurred hundreds would die. What resulted was the use of raids.
Why were trench raids used? Why did so many men die for a gain of a few yards or to acquire a small amount of field intelligence? The answer lies in the word “morale”. Morale is what a soldier needs to keep fighting even after seeing fellow men die right beside him.
“The ground was strewn with our dead, and in all directions were wounded men crawling on their hands and knees. It was piteous and it is a dreadful thought that there are occasions when one must resist the entreaties of men in such condition and leave them to get in as best they can, or lie out in the cold and wet, without food, and...