E3 of Collected Articles
‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’ AND TRENCH RAIDING:
informal and planned practices of trench warfare
on the Western Front
The First World War; An Epoch Still Being Understood
The numerous books and articles still being written about the First World War shows the continuing interest in this epoch. However many written for the popular market focus on the sacrifices made by the troops during the large battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. Yet the statistics reveal interesting facts. For each mile of the 425 miles of emplacements stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss border, there was an average of some twelve casualties each day. On days of intensive fighting, such as on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, this average figure rose to some one hundred and twenty. Of these twelve casualties, three would be killed immediately or die soon afterwards. The remainder would suffer varying degrees of wounding – from wounds that rapidly healed, allowing them to soon return to active duty, to permanent physical or mental disabilities. This contradicts the popular view of masses of men rushing at each other continually, to be slaughtered in their thousands by machine gun bullets or artillery shells.
Tony Ashworth in his book ‘Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System’ examines the informal practice of what has become known as ‘live and let live’. He suggests that in some stretches of the trenches and for considerable lengths of time the soldiers on one side were prepared to suspend conflict provided their opponents did likewise. This phenomenon explains why boredom and inertia were problems to vex the High Command, particularly that of the British Expeditionary Force. It may also explain why some sectors of the Western Front were notorious as being ‘killing grounds’ whereas other sectors were ‘cushy’ fronts. It shows that the obsession with casualty rates and days, such as the 1st of July 1916, distorts the historical reality of what life was like for the men who manned the Western Front.
An interesting case is put forward that the ‘live and let live’ system was a rationale response to waging siege warfare along the 425 miles of the Western Front. For much of this length, geographical and logistical considerations mean that neither sets of trenches were threatened with permanent capture. For these sectors, the system had the beneficial outcome that where military objectives were limited the casualties among troops guarding the trenches were likely to be negligible. Thus the almost always scarce resources of manpower and materials could be concentrated where strategic objectives might be achieved.
The worth of the book is in presenting a sophisticated analysis for explaining why it may have been tolerated in some sectors of the Western Front and under what conditions. It allows a rationale debate of why corps and army commanders, especially in the French Army, may have taken the system into account (without necessarily approving of it) when they made their decisions about where to concentrate these scarce resources.
However there is danger in then suggesting that the ordinary soldier wanted the ‘live and the let live’ system to flourish whereas the High Command, especially that of the British Expeditionary Force, wanted all soldiers to be aggressive all the time so as to win the war more quickly, irrespective of casualty rates. ‘Live and let live’ in many cases may have been the morally less sustainable activity of ‘consent and evade’ – in other words to promise to carry out a legitimate order knowing that it will be deliberately disobeyed. And in view of the standards of military discipline accepted as legitimate by most fighting soldiers during the course of the Great War, would they have wanted to disgrace themselves by being branded as cowards either through courts-martial or when on leave in their home surroundings? The national culture of 1914 to 1918 was very different to that of 1998.
The journey to The Trenches
To understand how the system developed, it helps to record the military events of 1914 and the physical environment they created. Once the German armies began their right wheel through Belgium and France under the terms of the Schlieffen Plan, the western French Armies with the British Expeditionary Force alongside began the long retreat through northern France. Meantime the eastern French Armies had surged forward into Lorraine and Alsace under the terms of France’s Plan 17 only to be bloodily halted with high casualty rates in the Battle of the Frontiers.
Meanwhile, the advancing German Armies approaching the River Marne began to experience logistical problems as troops were diverted to Prussia to help resist the Russian advance and the less mobile artillery and supply wagons became left behind. At the Battle of the Marne, the exhausted and hungry Germans were halted and then driven back to the heights north of the River Aisne where they began to entrench. After the French recaptured Rheims, the Germans entrenched across the Champagne countryside to Verdun. In the west, the ‘Race to the Sea’ began as bodies of German and French troops surged forward seeking to outflank their opponents only to be halted by newly arrived defenders. Soon a continuous line of fortifications extended northwards to Lens. The British Expeditionary Force took over the line to the north and around Ypres in the First Battle of Ypres fought the Germans to a draw. The Belgians then flooded the coastal region to keep safe the major Channel ports linking France to the United Kingdom.
Beyond Verdun, the Germans were halted after they captured St. Mihiel so that fortifications soon ran across the Lorraine countryside from les Eparges and Montsec to Xon. Held back on the ring of hills in front of Nancy, they stabilised their positions in the Vosges mountains after bitter battles on the hillsides. From there the fortifications ran southwards from Alsace to the Swiss border completing some 425 miles of entrenchments. Throughout the War the French Army drawn from troops from France and the French manned most of this length, but by mid-1916 the British Expeditionary Force drawn from the United Kingdom and the British Colonies and Dominions held some 85 miles of trenches.
Where the ground was dry, deep trenches were dug and protected by belts of barbed wire. In the Ballons des Vosges, outposts marked the front line. But in the waterlogged areas of Northern France, sandbagged emplacements rose above the ground. Generally the application of accurate sniping made the trenches and the no-man’s-land in between appear to be empty – except for the sounds of orders and the occasional conversation between opposing troops where trenches were close together.
Conscription and the French and German Armies
From the more detailed description of the geography and inhabitancy of the trench system given in Appendix 1, it is striking that the length of the front line held by French Armies was some four times greater than that held by the British. The German Army held the entire front-line on its side of the trenches, however the regiments from the various German states (Prussia, Saxony, etc) were very different in character and belligerence.
In August 1914, Germany had some 7 million men under arms, France some 6 million, most being in the land-based forces. The German and French Armies were many times larger than the British Expeditionary Force of some 130,000 men which landed in France that August. The larger sizes were because of their conscription systems, their ability to call upon those trained reservists after their years of military service to return to the ‘colours’ at times of war, and the tradition of maintaining large Continental armies. These compared to Britain’s emphasis on manning the Royal Navy to protect the islands of the United Kingdom and the trade routes to the colonies and dominions of the British Empire.
However the manning of the trenches reflected the intensity of the fighting in the different geographical locations as outlined above. By and large this was decided by the strategic planning of the French commanders: where the possibility of a breakthrough appeared high, military activity was frenetic, where low, the troops of both sides were able to relax. These commanders needed to attack for one inescapable reason. The Germans could afford to sit in their trenches until the French tired of conflict and settled for peace because the German territorial gains covered those parts of France which they desired – including regions containing heavy concentrations of factories, coal mines and iron reserves, such as around Briey and Longwy.
Only on three occasions, at Second Ypres in 1915, at Verdun in 1916, and during the Kaiser’s Offensive in the Spring and early summer of 1918, did the German armies make large-scale assaults. However they continued fighting stubbornly in attempts to retake any ground lost during the many French and British assaults, being prepared to take heavy casualties, such as in Artois and Champagne, on the Somme, and at Third Ypres.
The evolution of the ‘live and let live system’
The length of the front line was simply too great for the offensive spirit to be maintained at a high level of intensity month after month. Some fighters were naturally aggressive, others less enthusiastic saw the fighting as something that had to be done. Even Ernst Junger, the famous German storm trooper, awarded the Pour la Merite for his aggressive spirit, savoured the times when he could concentrate on reading a book or find a quiet spot near the front line where he could enjoy sun bathing au naturelle.
Seasonal factors also made the trenches miserable places to man during the winter months unless dry underground shelters were occupied. Because the Germans wanted to stay, they built such shelters. However the French and British Armies, wishing to drive back their enemy, saw their trenches along the ‘active’ fronts as being temporarily occupied. Much of the British-held lines could be considered as a zone of ceaseless aggression – because the locations held the possibility of break throughs to open country behind the German lines or to important communication centres such as the railway junction at Roulers.
By contrast, these fronts with clear strategic targets available were spotted along the French lines. For example, in Champagne, the capture of the railway line behind the German lines was the strategic objective of the two large French attacks which failed in 1915. The Chemin des Dames ridge above the river Aisne between Soissons and Rheims gave the possibility of the capture of Laon in 1917. But the Argonne Forest and the French lines beyond Verdun offered little prospect of sustainable strategic success.
Where the French troops held ‘cushy’ fronts they built more comfortable trenches and settled down to quiet observation of the German trenches opposite. Gradually both sides adopted the ‘live and let live’ policy, in other words “leave us in peace and we will not bother you. We will happily exchange gossip and food – it will make life less dull for all of us. Do you want us to throw you across some tins of beef?”
However this comfortable, or ‘cushy’, state depended upon the degree of reciprocity which was determined by the aggressiveness of the different divisions manning the opposing trenches. Should a more militaristic division relieve a ‘gentler’ division, then the area might become an active front whilst it remained in the line. Often the latter Allied division would warn the Germans opposite should this be happening, and the Saxon Germans, for example, would reciprocate when relieved by Prussian regiments. But even a militaristic division, if it had seen heavy fighting elsewhere and needed time to recover, might treat the sector as a ‘rest cure sector’ and continue the ‘live and let live’ policy.
Many French commanders recognised the importance of recuperation and tolerated the benefit this approach gave to speeding the recovery of a damaged division. Their practical sense accepted that there was no possibility of achieving a breakthough in that particular location and to take heavy casualties by irritating the Germans opposite would result in weaker divisions being returned to the active fronts’ where the sacrifice of their soldiers would serve a more useful purpose.
‘Live and let live’ did not necessarily mean the cessation of all military activity. In ritualised aggression, shells were fired, but at times to allow the troops opposite to shelter, night patrols would pass by but not fire at each other, machine guns would fire off the required number of rounds but without being aimed at the enemy. Thus commanders could truthfully report military activity whilst knowing that it was innocuous. Even when challenged to prove belligerence, ruses could be employed, such as the coil of stolen German wire stored in a sap from which lengths were snipped off to ‘prove’ that night patrols had entered the German fortifications!
The destruction of the Old Contemptibles and its impact upon the training of the New Armies
It is widely held that the First Battle of Ypres was the death-knell of the small but highly professional British Army. An army developed to police the widespread British Empire, it was unusual in being manned by men employed by the Crown. The system of forced service, or conscription, was absent. Being employed for long service, the soldiers were highly trained and fiercely proud – but were few in number compared to the Continental armies. Also their tactical expertise was based on colonial experience, not on the requirements of fighting in northern European. Their sacrifice around Ypres in late 1914 severely damaged the military skills base of the Army.
However it was not the actual loss of manpower that was later to lead to disastrous events, it was the skills this manpower had collected, particularly the skills in leadership of the experienced officers. So when the time to expand the Army from the 130,000 into the millions, this knowledge of the military skills to assist in their training was in short supply. Sadly the price would be paid in full by the 21st and 24th Divisions during the Battle of Loos and by many New Army divisions on the 1st of July 1916. Attempting to re-learn these skills lay behind the trench-raiding policy vigorously pursued by the British High Command during and beyond 1915.
The Territorials and the Indians: manpower ‘stop-gaps’ in 1915
The British High Command regarded the Territorial Force as part-time soldiers suitable for defending the United Kingdom behind the protection provided by the Royal Navy. But not for service overseas. Nevertheless, when the Territorial divisions were pushed into northern France to fill the gaps left by the dead professionals of the British Expeditionary Force, these divisions generally fought well. Together with the Empire troops sent from Canada and India, they provided a vital manpower stop-gap during the difficult days of 1915. To support the French attacks in Artois and Champagne by diverting German interest elsewhere, these troops fought battles from Neuve-Chapelle to Loos. But the limited experience in siege warfare and the lack of equipment, especially shells and machine guns, meant they sustained heavy casualties.
The belief of ‘lions lead by donkeys’ began to take root as a result of the long casualty lists printed in English newspapers. Readers soon discerned that the territorial gains made were derisory in relation to the numbers of casualties. Furthermore the Germans learned from the weaknesses such attacks exposed, such as at the beginning of the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle, and developed single front-lines into series of defended lines such as those that thwarted so many British attacks on the Somme.
In October at Loos the manpower short-fall began to be reduced as two of the first of Lord Kitchener’s volunteer divisions, the 21st and the 24th , attacked the second day. But the strategic outcome of what was a tragic fiasco, revealing the limitations of their training, was the replacement of Sir John French, the British Commander, by Sir Douglas Haig. After the winter the Germans shifted their focus to their massive assault on the fortress of Verdun. This gave time for the British commanders to seek answers to the lack of expertise shown in 1915 and to begin preparations for the Battle of the Somme.
Introducing combat to Kitchener’s Volunteers, the uniqueness of trench fighting
As stated, the way these two Kitchener divisions were introduced into the Battle of Loos ranks as one of the blunders in military history. Although these troops had never been previously exposed to fire, their officers led them directly into the fire of the machine guns. Once the officers were shot down, the leaderless soldiers soon fled leaving many thousands of dead and injured.
The conditions of trench fighting were different from the remembrances of the open Napoleonic battles culminating in Waterloo where dense bodies of troops marched towards the enemy lines with bayonets fixed. Even in the South African War, British troops stood up to fire at the enemy. But the great increase in the explosive power of artillery shells and the curtain of lead bullets fired by Maxim machine guns from fixed positions seemed a unique type of defence. The lessons of the enormous Japanese infantry casualties taken against the Russian machine guns and cannons of Port Arthur (1904-1905) were ignored, perhaps in the stupid belief that the fighting prowess of the Japanese soldier was inferior. Even the value of indirect fire to protect the gun crews from enemy fire was overlooked.
For a long time, and perhaps in the case of Haig, for the whole war (as witness his continuing obsession with cavalry in 1916, 1917 and 1918), there was not the recognition that trench warfare was a type of siege warfare as practised during the Middle Ages and in the Peninsula War. So each objective had to be taken in turn before consolidating the gain and building up the resources needed to take the next objective. Each assault had to be treated as a new assault with its own careful planning. The process of consolidation meant building up forces fast enough to resist any counter-attack from the enemy’s next position. This was the technique pioneered by Falkenhayn at Verdun – and was so nearly successful.
Rather that dreaming illusions of cavalry sweeping over wired entrenchments, perhaps the British commanders should have visited Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey to ponder the problems of breaking through the various defensive lines with the technology available in the Middle Ages.
Turning civilians into warriors by the ‘blooding’ system, trench-raiding
After Loos, the answer chosen was to rapidly expose the raw battalions to actual warfare, but in miniature. Only when their soldiers had faced gun and rifle fire, had taken casualties and perhaps had had the opportunity to kill Germans with bullets or bombs, would these recent civilians become hardened to the stresses of war.
Because of her professional army and the protection given by the navy, Britain had enjoyed over 170 years without any large scale fighting on her soil. Relatively few citizens had personal experience of warfare, their enjoyment of it through British military successes was at second-hand through listening to soldiers either returned from campaigns in distant countries or retired soldiers or from accounts published in the Press. Most had less idea of what fighting was about that the average British viewer watching reports beamed back from the Falklands or the Gulf.
A technique was needed to remove illusion and expose what must be done to survive as a fighter. With the call to take pressure of the French, this technique had to be speedily applied. But major battles now took much planning for men and materials to be accumulated, hence exposing soldiers for the first time in conditions of their failing represented a high risk of losing the battle was unacceptable. Minor attacks to ‘blood’ soldiers would give them the opportunity to apply the skills they had learned at Etaples and elsewhere. Even taking casualties would give those surviving a jolt that the dangers must be faced and overcome.
The technique developed was trench-raiding. In this type of military action the troops would aggressively assault a short section of the German lines with the objective of killing Germans and bringing back prisoners. For practical reasons, the hours of darkness would be the times normally used – to lessen the risk of the Germans rapidly bringing down heavy artillery fire and to make it more difficult for their machine-gunners to see the assaulting troops. The desired outcome of successful raiding was to be troops better conditioned to aggressively assault the enemy and understanding that such assaults must be carried forward despite intensive fire and casualties being taken. The ‘blooded’ soldier was one that would charge in with the bayonet to capture a trench during a battle despite seeing his friends falling beside him.
The concept of the experience curve, training to reach effective performance
A concept well established in management theory is the experience curve. In relation to warfare it means becoming more proficient in the use of strategy, tactics and weapons from trials in exploiting them. Strategy in the Great War was prepared at the level of the high command, but little evidence is found that either French or Haig tested their ideas before committing troops to battle. The ‘war games’ practised by Sir Henry Wilson when in Paris were ridiculed yet this approach has proved to be correct. If scenario planning (best case, worst case, and most likely) had been a matter of course, the information streaming back that artillery fire was not cutting the German wire might have changed the commands implemented on 1st July 1916.
However and perhaps by accident the use of raiding did lead the intelligent officers at battalion and platoon levels to learn from repeated raids. From the tentative beginnings in December 1914, those surviving the raids were able to pass what they had learned onto others so that a body of expertise built up about the best tactics and the appropriate weapons to use. By 1916, experienced raiders were adding to the stress imposed on the German troops opposite besides collecting intelligence information for use in planning larger assaults. The evidence suggests that this experience helped develop the assault groups whose performance was very effective in the latter part of 1916. The German’s famous ‘storm-troopers’ then followed, becoming lionised in the personage of Ernst Junger, the young officer who survived the war (and is still living at over 103 despite the many wounds he received) and received the German VC, ‘Pour Le Merite’.
Trench raiding – miniature all-arms battles
The essence of the developed raiding system was that it became a miniature all-arms battle. Explosive power was added to the use of bullets and bayonets. The traditional use of the rifle and its fitted bayonet were retained but more rapid fire was provided by the Lewis automatic rifle, a machine gun which could be carried forward by the raiders. The infantry had explosive power in the form of hand-thrown bombs, such as the Mills bomb, and grenades fired from rifles. Specialists trained to get the best performance out of these different weapon systems. For proficiency in those systems, such as the throwing of hand bombs, which were considered more dangerous activities, privileges such as relief from more menial duties would be given.
Especially in night raiding, the absence of Royal Artillery fire was not too great a disadvantage, especially in the years before wireless could be used to rapidly bring down fire on previously surveyed targets. Trench mortars, in particulare the Stokes 3-inch mortar, were adequate substitutes and could give effective cover to the raiding party, either before it tried to enter the enemy’s trenches or during its return (to dampen down ‘counter-attack’ fire from the reoccupied frontline German trenches).
Ashworth gives very detailed explanations of how these systems were exploited in a co-ordinated way.
The benefits and disadvantages of this approach
Trench-raiding, as a policy driven forward by the ‘thrusters’ such as Gough and strongly supported by Haig, had the following benefits:
• It allowed experience of fighting to be gained in miniature battles so that troops could later withstand the shock of battle;
• It enabled intelligence to be gathered about German trench layouts and troop dispositions;
• Examples of new weapons and of Orders could be collected for later analysis;
• New techniques in close-range fighting could be tested;
• Specialising in the use of particular weapons fostered an aggressive spirit within the specialists;
• Morale was improved after successful raids;
• It reduced the stress arising from the inertia and boredom of much of trench life;
• Those men of nervous instability could be weeded out early on.
But there were disadvantages:
• It created ‘hotspots’ which inevitably raised the level of casualties especially amongst the braver soldiers;
• It meant that the enemy might take precautions in case the raiding was part of the preparations for a major assault;
• Troops needing to recuperate were denied the opportunity;
• Among the non-elite formations, unsuccessful raids increased disillusionment about the conduct of the war;
• Specialist troops needed for major assaults were risked being lost;
• Material resources, in short supply before mid-1916, were diverted into the raids;
• By their nature, they could not win the war;
• It could provoke heavy counter-attacks at inopportune moments.
Commenting on the first listed strength, the fate of the 21st and 24th Kitchener Divisions at Loos on the 25th October 1915 demonstrates how potentially disastrous this shock can be for troops without such experience. And on the last of the weaknesses, the unnecessary Australian raid shortly before the 8th of August 1918 lead to a response which drained away some success from that most vital day of the war.
The limitations, condemnation without presenting alternatives
As always with hindsight, it is easy to condemn practices which seemed later to have been flawed. The British commanders faced having to put into battle an army of size greatly beyond their experience. Technological advances meant that this army would be fighting with weaponry that required vast logistical support and planning. The gruelling lessons of the 1915 fighting showed the serious problems of siege-warfare which had to be resolved. But the raw material of this large army was unpromising, a collection of male citizens which had enjoyed a peaceful culture within the United Kingdom for many generations, furthermore citizens who had not been required to serve time being militarily trained – as had their counterparts in Germany and in France.
In addition, the splendour and the prestige of the all-powerful Royal Navy inevitably meant that the building-blocks of the Kitchener Army, those officers who survived the Retreat from Mons and the Race to the Sea, were likely to be of lower calibre that their Royal Navy counterparts.
In addition, colonial soldiering, mainly a form of peace-keeping between turbulent tribes, often involving long periods of boredom within garrison towns and forts, meant that there was little need to upgrade competitive tactics in line of the experiences of other nations in large-scale conflicts in the American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese war where the impact of the new technology involved in rapid gunfire and explosive shellfire became clear. Furthermore, the arrogance and complacency embedded in being part of the world’s largest empire created a contempt of nations across the English Channel.
The fighting of 1915 was a time when the weaknesses in the preparation for Continental warfare were cruelly exposed. But lessons were learned, albeit slowly and sometimes inappropriately. However, the Canadians, less tradition-bound by a rigid culture based on class barriers, and later the Australians, were prepared to experiment. The successful Canadian raid of November 1915 served as the model from which the British Divisions learned. And the Australians exploited in the Somme battle their intense experiences of very close-range fighting in the scrubland of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Their record at Pozieres brought renown which lasts to this day.
Despite their obsession with the breakthrough lead by the cavalry, the British commanders did learn the need to better prepare the infantry for the rigours of piercing deep trench systems. Their insistence upon trench-raiding did prevent the all-to-easy slide into the ‘live and let live’ inertia among troops who at heart were civilians. And their learning experience can be gauged against the experiences of the French commanders in 1915. Great casualty rates sustained at Artois and in the Champagne showed that even Continental commanders were having difficulty finding solutions to the problems posed by siege warfare backed by the new industrial technology.
Trench Warfare, a broadening of the understanding of Great War tactics
Tony Ashworth’s book is of great value in helping provide greater depth to the analysis of Great War tactics. For too long during this century, misunderstanding of the rhythm and pattern of trench warfare has lead to an understandable obsession with casualty lists. This was crucial when a greater threat emerged out of Germany in 1933. Whereas France and Britain deplored the ‘sacrifice’ of lives lost in the Trenches, the Germans under Adolf Hitler saw this time as a learning experience which they would gain from when they again sought to dominate Europe militarily.
What the book has done is publicise ‘live and let live’ policy many commanders preferred to keep hidden. By so doing it forces a realistic examination of how a civilian army can be changed into a force capable of defeating in the field the Continent’s most professional and technologically-skilful army. In 1918, the advantages of the trench-raiding tactics were seen in the rapid advance through very tough German machine-gunner opposition leading to the German request for the Armistice.
Tony Ashworth, ‘Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System’ (London,
Lord Moran, ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ (Chiswick, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1945).
Geoffrey Regan, ‘The Guinness Book of Military Blunders’, (Enfield, Guinness Publishing, 1991).
Appendix 1: Geography and inhabitancy
The fortifications ran through countryside with very different characteristics. In the Vosges mountains between the Swiss border and Nancy, French outposts manned mountain tops overlooking and threatening the open ground in between. Great forts such as Belfort and Epinal gave protective covering fire. After 1914, this area saw little fighting. But between Xon and St. Mihiel, the ruined villages of Regnieville and Remenauville attest to the fierce fighting. North of St. Mihiel, les Eparges remains scarred by the large craters left by the exploded underground mines. And around the eastern and northern flanks of the fortress of Verdun, among the fiercest fighting took place. The rolling Champagne countryside witnessed battles resulting in vast French losses. Soissons to Bray-sur-Somme saw heavy actions in 1916 (the Somme) and 1918. North of Bray the frequency of the British cemeteries dotted over the Somme’s rolling countryside reminds visitors of the ferocity of the Somme fighting. But to the east the open country leading towards Cambrai gave the right conditions for the first successful tank attack in the November of 1917. The hills of Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy Ridge form the curtilage to the French-fought Artois battles of 1915 and the amazing Canadian success in 1917. The low-lying and saturated countryside from Lens to Dixmude provided the rain and the cloying mud for which The Trenches are still notorious today in the word Passchendaele.
During the first year of the war, the French manned the trenches between the Swiss border and Lens. Then the British (including their Colonial and Dominion allies) took over the trenches between Lens and Bray after the colossal French casualties of 1915, extending their hold to Barisis near Tergnier in the aftermath of the French mutinies of 1917. Although this description highlights areas of the most intensive fighting, local terrain and the outcome of individual actions helped determine the general level of fighting between 1915 and the Armistice. Ypres was a ‘hot spot’ throughout, the Somme being quiet for much of the year between November 1916 and November 1917. Champagne remained relatively quiet between 1915 and 1918, as did Verdun after the attritional fighting of 1916. In areas where the continuing supply of large bodies of troops and their military material was inefficient, such as the Vosges mountains, divisions were rested and rebuilt after time spent fighting in the ‘hot spots’.
Original presented to MA War Studies course ‘The First World War’ at KCL, 1998.