Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918

by Bill Rawling

Book cover for Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918

The horrors of industrial warfare that emerged during the First World War were different from the combat conditions of any conflict that had gone before, and they required a different kind of soldier. In this operational history of the Canadian Corps, Bill Rawling takes a close look at the tactics that developed from 1914 to 1918, focusing on the relationship between the tools of war and those who had to use them.

Drawing on interview transcripts, diaries, memoirs, personal papers, war diaries, after-action reports, training manuals, and staff reports, Rawling makes clear that the decisive factor in the war was not so much the technology itself as the response to it. Training was a crucial component; only well-trained troops could survive against the deadly trinity of machine-gun, barbed wire, and artillery. The Canadian Corps, like its British, French, and German counterparts on the Western Front, devised a system based on specializing tasks within the infantry and artillery, and on the close integration of these specialists and their weapons through effective communications.

The whole undertaking was coordinated with detailed planning. By late 1916 the tactical system incorporated fire and movement at two levels. Battalions followed creeping barrages and relied on artillery support. Platoons relied on their own weapons to ensure that as one group of soldiers moved it had fire support from another. Rawling offers a whole new understanding of the First World War, replacing the image of a static trench war with one in which soldiers actively struggled for control over their environment, and achieved it.

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