The Western Front, which ran from the English Channel to the border of Switzerland saw the heaviest fighting and concentrations of soldiers and artillery. It was here that the fate of the war was decided as millions of men fought in muddy trenches under impossible conditions of artillery bombardments, gas attacks, and suicidal human wave assaults against an entrenched enemy. In some battles hundreds of thousands of men died in a few days, with no appreciable territorial gains by either side. The war on the Western Front was a murderous war of attrition. The appalling loss of life is hard to imagine today.
The picture on the left is of an enormous crater caused by intense artillery fire on the western front. Soldiers often were trapped and drowned in the water filled bottoms of these craters as they tried to advance and storm the opposing trenches.
This section examines what it was like to be soldier on the Western front. Below are displayed many contemporary photographs showing life in the trenches as well as many historical records and texts.
Despite its medieval barbarity and clumsy tactics that sacrificed thousands of men for a few feet of ground, the war on the Western Front was also marked by great technological innovation. Both sides improved existing weapons and invented new ones, including antiaircraft guns, tanks, and ground attack bombers.
Combat footage of the Battle of the Somme. British soldiers are seen getting ready to attack and then going over the top to attack the German lines, in massed formations which were soon cut down by German machine gun fire. Thousands of British soldiers died in the first day of the battle.