Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trench Warfare, circa 1915: How everything old could be renewed again

This post is made to specifically refer you to another site where I think you will find your tastes for the obscure, the rare, the fascinating and intricate sated at  The host and blogger at that fascinating site posted something that may very well come back into vogue - Trench Warfare.

This is merely the cover - go HERE for the real story and the 60 pages of meticulous notes

Trench Warfare is an interesting subject.  It was a natural reaction to the shocked realization that yes, running tens of thousands of men into the firing arc of a heavy machine gun was wasteful.  Trench warfare generated not just a stasis, but rather an ossification of military "fronts".  To put the carnage in perspective, it was not uncommon for entire VILLAGES to lose a generation or more of manpower, leaving domestic devastation in its wake.  Makes one understand why American units are hodgepodges from all over, to reduce this sort of tragedy.  As a side note, it also is a point to ponder that if a generation was not turned into yard mulch 100 years ago in Europe, perhaps there would not be a crimmigrant invasion by teeming, seething hordes out of the Middle East and Africa.  Those men would have gone on to be fathers, husbands and uncles... grandfathers.  Just a thought.

1:20,000 map of Brit (Blue) & Jerry (Red) trenches from
I have always had a thing for maps.  I have treasured good maps since I was a lad.  If you take a look deeper into the National Library of Scotland's site, you will find a zoomable tool for looking at trench maps that is astonishingly good.  You can even search by place name if you like.  Map aficinados can get lost for hours there and enjoy the time spent.  It is amazing how contemporary the maps look.  Considering that they were done without digital aids and tools, all the more amazing.


 Why would I say that trench warfare is a potential up and comer again?  Well, should things go radically wrong in a dystopian world, I will assume that energy resources will dry up, hindering mobility.  Defense, as the stronger of the forms of warfare v Offense, will naturally go to ground.  And keep going until trench systems ring key terrain.  Look to any field fortification manual to give you an idea of the scope of the task.  Depending upon soil type, you will have to plan well ahead indeed to "dig in".  In areas of exposed bedrock, it will be nigh impossible to "dig in" in any economically feasible way.  Let this sink in for all the NPT types out there.  The details are numerous, and don't forget that you will need a way to drain them!  I will refer you to a free copy of FM 5-103 (1985). At this point if you have been reading here for even a short while, this is where I put in the obligatory "download it while you still can" caveat.  Field fortification and engineering is not a solo project.  It is resource intensive and requires a serious amount of planning to be successful.

"Digging up the Trenches Documentary"
Digging up the Trenches tells the remarkable story of a dig and a war defined by trenches. Trenches that were built as shelter against machine guns became so sophisticated that they were almost impossible to conquer. Understand the birth and death of these trenches, and you understand the war.

Troops adapted to the conditions and the needs drove equipment design.  All to a price point.  As the war ground onwards, substitutions were made and quality control started to get a bit iffy as finer details were deleted. The trend is universal in war, nothing new in that.

Amazon Link to: French WWII Reproduction M15 Adrian Helmet

Flash forward to the modern day and contemporary equipment is not so much focused upon overhead fragmentation protection and low price point.  This is only natural, as most enemies American forces have run into do not have a robust indirect fire capability (mortars, howitzers, artillery).  The broad brim spanning the circumference of the "Adrian" has given way to materials science and statistical analysis to transmogrify into the modern kevlar helmet that passed through the PASGT semi coal scuttle reminscent of the familiar German WW2 Stahlhem into the lightweight cutaway kevlar as provided for in this exemplar of the type:

Amazon Link: HHV ATE Ballistic Helmet Level IIIa Protection

It is clear that the threat has changed.  The amount of ergonomic engineering that has been lavished upon the HHV cutaway style makes it trivial to wear for extended periods that would leave the earlier generations sweaty and uncomfortable.  The IIIa level of ballistic protection is also orders of magnitude better.  The large ear cutaway portions allow for better command and control, as well as wearing headsets for squad radios like the PRR series.  Like buying a motorcycle helmet, you buy a $10 helmet for a $10 dollar head.  The HHV is considerably more than that, but... how much is YOUR head worth?

For a view down an entirely different helmet design philosophy, take a look at Indian or perhaps Pakistani Army helmets.  They effectively create an armored ring around the cranium, leaving the top open for webbing to support it.  They appear to be called "Patkas", near as I can tell.  Apparently, they are good for taking an AK round at short range.  I'd not want to try that, but will take them at their word.

     And what does this remind you of?  Of Course!...

In closing, please go take a look at Ian's site and go get lost in the depths there if so inclined.  His technical detail and sheer enthusiasm for the subject matter are catchy and you may just find something that catches your fancy there.  I have never met him, but he gets a 2 thumbs up from me.

While helmets are inherent in almost all warfare, other trench items remain timeless.  The Russian MPL-50 entrenching tool is a fascinating throwback to 1869, yet remains relevant to this day and age.  Used as a shovel, ax, hand to hand weapon, oar and cooking utensil, one may rest assured that the design has worked all the bugs out long ago.   It is interesting to note that when reformers tried to lighten it and make it into a folding shovel, the Russian General Staff said, "Nyet".  If it aint broke, don't fix it.

Amazon Link to WWII type Soviet Sapper Shovel with Pouch

Who needs a gym membership if you are using one of these to move from 0.1 to 0.5 cubic meters of dirt an hour?  Word of advice to those doing this for the first time... go find an engineer kit (pick axe, mattock or the like) and break up your soil in layers.  Use the shovel to move the loosened dirt.  Oh yeah... and drink LOTS of water.  You will need it! 

Another aspect of trench warfare is the need to gather information in the most detail by observation at the greatest standoff distance possible. Useful for nature watching, information gathering for your NPT or in actual combat, a spotting scope that matches your budget and intended utility is a worthwhile investment.

High Quality Bushnell Tactical Spotting Scope

Written by StopShoutingBlog contributor and #FAB50 Blog Award Winner Partyzantski, coolest cat on teh inner webs, retired Mustang, former FID embedded military Advisor, SASO trainer and scenario developer, Electronic Warfare Aviator, PME instructor, certified Force Protection and Anti-terrorism officer and combat seasoned USMC (0202) field grade intelligence officer. When not blogging or maintaining weapons proficiency at the range, he enjoys cat herding and travel to off-the-beaten-track locales. You can follow him on Twitter @Partyzantski  

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