How Did Trench Warfare Begin on the Western Front? | History Hit

How Did Trench Warfare Begin on the Western Front?

History Hit

14 Sep 2015
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During the Battle of the Aisne (12 -15 September 1914) the character of the First World War changed entirely when both sides began to dig trenches.

Halting the retreat

After the Allied success at the Battle of the Marne, which put an end to the German advance through France, the German Army had been steadily retreating. By the middle of September the Allies were approaching the River Aisne. Field Marshall Sir John French took the decision to send his troops across the river, however he had no way of knowing whether the Germans were still retreating.

Dan interviews the brilliant historian Nick Lloyd, author of The Western Front who tells a much more nuanced account of the Western Front.
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In fact the German Army had dug-in in shallow trenches along the Chemin des Dames ridge. When French sent his men against the German positions, time and again they were cut down by machine-guns and artillery fire.

The mobile warfare that had been a central part of World War 1 up to September 1914, came to a bloody end at the First Battle of the Aisne.

The order is given

It soon became clear that this was not simply a rear-guard action and that the German retreat was at an end. French then issued an order to the British Expeditionary Force to begin digging trenches.

The British soldiers used whatever tools they could find, taking shovels from nearby farms, and even in some cases digging the earth with their hands. They could not have known that these shallow holes would soon stretch the length of the Western Front, or that both sides would occupy them for the next three years.

On 7th May 1915, the ocean liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland with more than half the passengers and crew being killed. Some of those lost were Americans and the sinking hardened opinion in the United States against Germany and marked the beginning of the process which led to the USA entering the First World War on the side of the allies. To mark the anniversary of the sinking Stephen Payne joins the podcast. Stephen is a British naval architect and worked on designing passenger ships for over 40 years and is an expert both in their construction and their history. He and Dan discuss the circumstances of the sinking, whether there was any justification for it and the effect it had on public opinion and naval policy.
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