When World War I finally began, both sides expected it to last only a few months. But it went on for about 5 years! WHY???
The Germans decided to act quickly by starting a major attack against France. They hoped to surprise the French by invading them through a third country, Belgium (Schlieffen Plan). The Schlieffen Plan
If successful, the Germans would be able to surround the French army and cut them off from their supplies – this would destroy the French! BUT!!! The attack through Belgium was halted in Northern France by French and British troops.
What do you think the British and the French did next? They began to counterattack! In order to avoid being pushed back into their own territory, the Germans began to dig defensive positions known as trenches. The British and the French copied this tactic. Result: An elaborate network of trenches was built on both sides of the front. In between the two armies was an area that did not belong to either side. This was known as “No Man’s Land”. This set the stage for the years of “Trench Warfare” that were to follow.
Trenches, combined with the invention of the machine gun, made attacks across no man’s land very costly and large scale advances impossible to achieve. Over the next four years (1914 – 1918), millions of soldiers lost their lives on “The Western Front” in attacks that resulted in tiny gains of territory.
So what did a typical battle on the Western Front look like? The area to be attacked was usually bombarded by artillery – often for weeks or months. Because of this, the defenders could guess where the point of attack would be so they transferred reinforcements into the area.
Just before the attack was to begin, the artillery bombardment would change. Instead of targeting the front lines of the enemy, it would focus on hitting the area behind the trenches, aiming to disrupt the enemy’s supply lines and communications. At the same time, thousands of soldiers would jump out of their trenches and rush across no man’s land towards the opposing trench lines. This was known as “Going Over the Top”.
As the attacking soldiers struggled to move across no man’s land, the defenders would jump out of their underground bunkers, set up machine guns in front of them, and mow down the attackers. Even if the attackers managed to capture one trench, there would be countless others waiting only a short distance behind the first trench. Result: Breakthroughs were impossible!