A stalemate is a situation where neither of the opposing parties can progress or do any further action. Often defence is stronger than attack on both sides and there is usually no way to break the deadlock. This is what happened when The Schlieffen Plan failed. Instead of the Germans racing out of France and back to Germany, they chose to “dig in”. Trenches were dug over 700km, reaching from the sea to the Swiss border.
There are many reasons why either side could not advance on the Western Front, thus resulting in a stalemate. One of the most important was machine guns.
The guns, such as the Vickers or Maxim were ideally suited for defence. Once set up this colossal firepower could fire 660 rounds per minute. Any attacker would easily be cut to shreds if they tried to break the stalemate. Unfortunately these guns were useless in the offensive as they took three men to carry around; one carrying the tripod, one carrying the gun itself and other for the ammunition.
If the men were successful and managed to find a suitable place to set up the machine, it would take two or three minutes to set it up and in No-Man’s Land those three minutes could mean life or death.
It was impossible to move the gun and fire simultaneously. Another key factor in a stalemate was barbed wire. This was coiled around wooden posts and usually ran the whole length of the trenches.
It was an excellent deterrent of enemies as it prevented them from running across No-Man’s Land and jumping straight into your own trench. When enemies reached the barbed wire, providing they had not been killed by machine gun fire, they would frantically search for a gap in the wire. This would usually have been cleared by an artillery strike beforehand.
Enemies would have to avoid further machine gun fire and crawl about finding a gap. When a breach was found the soldier would rally all others to him so they could break through to the enemy trenches. To repel this, the opposition’s officers would have walked up and down the trenches to see if the artillery strike had made any openings in the wire. If one was found, a machine gun was usually set up in a direct line with it so it could kill any soldiers who tried to make it through that entrance.
The officers were cunning; they waited until an enemy soldier had gathered all others to him and then order the machine gun to fire. The result of this being every shot fired hitting human flesh. Another key factor that was essential in a stalemate were trenches. Trenches were set up so that if the front line were taken another trench would be behind it, ready to anticipate the attack. There were many of these trenches and behind them all were the support trenches. These were where all supplies, from ammunition to soldiers were brought in.
It was essential to have a good working support system or your soldiers would be without indispensable items such as food and water. However, if you attacked an enemy and took over their front line, then you would be further away from your support trenches. This means that all goods, including ammo, would take longer to reach you. If this wasn’t bad enough by taking the enemy’s trench you have pushed them further back, and now they are closer to their support trenches meaning that items can be delivered quickly.
So while you are waiting for your ammo to come, the opposition have more of it than ever. Trenches themselves were also vital. In a trench, providing it was 6-8feet deep, it gave a soldier ample cover from machine gun fire and artillery bombardment. In No-Man’s Land however, the soldier was extremely vulnerable to enemy fire. The final aspect I am going to discuss is artillery. Artillery was a key figure in defending because if it was fired into No-Man’s Land while the enemy was launching an assault, it would kill anyone within a 50-100 meter radius of the blast with its extreme firepower.
A single shell could kill as many as 40 men. I think that the two most important factors in a stalemate are barbed wire and machine guns. When combined these two lethal aspects could stop any army in advancing. The machine gun could slaughter any infantry in range, resulting in barely any soldiers reaching the other side. If any did make it however they would find there way blocked by barbed wire and could not pass into the enemy trenches.
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