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foxholes vs trenches

Discussions on WW2 covering more than one theatre of the war.

foxholes vs trenches

Postby The_Enigma on 13 Jun 2012 09:11

I am currently reading ‘With the Jocks’ and have noted that during extended periods of manning the frontline the author’s platoon always dug one or two-man fighting positions. They are described as being as simple as a foxhole to some that sound like mini bunkers: earth and wood covered holes with firing positions outside in what sounds like a small trench. It is something that I have read in most accounts of the fighting in the desert, Italy, or Western Europe and nothing new.

However, it has made me wonder. Why were full scale trenches not constructed during the Second World War? If these one or two-man fighting positions were sufficient for defensive needs – when supported by machine guns and adequate artillery or mortars – why were they not utilised during the First World War in place of trench systems?
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Michate on 13 Jun 2012 09:40

There is a lot of written material on this from the German side, including, IIRC, a dedicated study by former general Günther Blumentritt in the FMS programme (may be found here: http://www.sturmpanzer.com/Default.aspx ... em=1&sec=3)

Why were full scale trenches not constructed during the Second World War?


One probable reason is that during periods of movement, simply time to dig them was lacking.
Other reasons may be terrain (e.g. swamps), as well as tactical considerations (trenches may be identified by the enemy more easily than foxholes).

If these one or two-man fighting positions were sufficient for defensive needs – when supported by machine guns and adequate artillery or mortars – why were they not utilised during the First World War in place of trench systems?


An often mentuioned, big advantage of trenches is that they enable the defender to move between positions while still being covered from enemy fire.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Dunnigan on 13 Jun 2012 19:13

The_Enigma wrote:I am currently reading ‘With the Jocks’ and have noted that during extended periods of manning the frontline the author’s platoon always dug one or two-man fighting positions. They are described as being as simple as a foxhole to some that sound like mini bunkers: earth and wood covered holes with firing positions outside in what sounds like a small trench. It is something that I have read in most accounts of the fighting in the desert, Italy, or Western Europe and nothing new.

However, it has made me wonder. Why were full scale trenches not constructed during the Second World War? If these one or two-man fighting positions were sufficient for defensive needs – when supported by machine guns and adequate artillery or mortars – why were they not utilised during the First World War in place of trench systems?


Reasons: time, effort, and increased mobility. There were trenches in WWII, mostly in the Eastern Front on static fronts, but nothing on the nature of what was seen in WWI. WWII did have static defense lines, like the Maginot, West Wall, Siegfriend Line, Gothic lines, etc., but these were moreso a series of pillboxes with limited trench system supporting it. but these took months and years to build, and given the mobile nature of warfare in WWII, not worth the time and effort for offensive minded nations. The trench system in WWI only started in the Winter of 1914 after the mobile phase of the war ended, and both armies were inactive in the winter months and both dug in where they were. Winter in WWII was still an active period, and of course given tanks, trucks, halftracks, and paratroops, committing time, effort, and money to build a trench system wasn't worth it. Building a foxhole, on the other hand, either without or with overhead cover given time and resources, was easier. Wherever a unit would stop for the day, they'd dig in. Expedient, and can be abandoned easily. Objectives lines wouldn't be set by number of trench lines taken but by manouver objectives.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby BillHermann on 14 Jun 2012 09:18

Yes trenches were built in WW2, there are many instances from the Hurtgen to Seelow. The US, Canada and Great Britain dug in as well in holland in the late fall of 1944. There are amazing images of zig zagging Canadian trenches in Holland in the winter.

I lived along the Rhine river on the French border for seven years and we had trenches in the forest behind our village that were part of the West Wall. I even took a tour near the Losheim Gap and there were trenches.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Dann Falk on 09 Dec 2012 19:11

If I can add some comments…

The Soviets during WW2 had a doctrine of:
• First digging a hasty fighting position, mostly scraping the ground and building a small mound of dirt facing the enemy. (~10 minutes to build)
• Then if time allowed, digging a one man foxhole. (Several hours to build)
• If the position was going to be held, for the next week or so, all the foxholes would be progressively connected by a trench. First a crawl trench, then a crouching, and finally a full-depth trench. (Several days to a week to finish)
• MGs would also go through this same progression of hasty then more elaborate dug in fighting positions.

If you read German accounts of the fighting on the Russian Front, they talk about how the Russians would quickly disappear below ground level, if given enough time.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Clive Mortimore on 12 Dec 2012 00:39

Dann Falk wrote:If I can add some comments…

The Soviets during WW2 had a doctrine of:
• First digging a hasty fighting position, mostly scraping the ground and building a small mound of dirt facing the enemy. (~10 minutes to build)
• Then if time allowed, digging a one man foxhole. (Several hours to build)
• If the position was going to be held, for the next week or so, all the foxholes would be progressively connected by a trench. First a crawl trench, then a crouching, and finally a full-depth trench. (Several days to a week to finish)
• MGs would also go through this same progression of hasty then more elaborate dug in fighting positions.

If you read German accounts of the fighting on the Russian Front, they talk about how the Russians would quickly disappear below ground level, if given enough time.


Wasn't the Soviet doctrine, once you had dug your hole you started to dig to the left until you connected to the man on your left? Thus the trench system would start.

During the 1970s when I was in the British Army as soon as we were in position we dug our fire trenches. These were deep enough to stand in, there was a step for standing on when firing at one end and a covered portion to shelter in at the other end. If built right the covered section was to protect from tank attack, a tank should be able to drive over without it collapsing and a nuclear blast. 8O Luckily I never got to test it for real.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Kingfish on 12 Dec 2012 16:56

One advantage to foxholes is it converts all atheists to religion
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby Trackhead M2 on 12 Dec 2012 17:53

[quote="Clive Mortimore] During the 1970s when I was in the British Army as soon as we were in position we dug our fire trenches. These were deep enough to stand in, there was a step for standing on when firing at one end and a covered portion to shelter in at the other end. If built right the covered section was to protect from tank attack, a tank should be able to drive over without it collapsing and a nuclear blast. 8O Luckily I never got to test it for real.[/quote]
Dear Clive,
Lucky for us all you didn't get to test the theory.
Strike Swiftly,
TH-M2
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby TISO on 24 Jan 2013 19:21

Basicly they were both (foxeholes and threnches) used since "forever" and are still used.
In the 90's when i served in infantry it was standard practice that the moment you stoped and set your arse on the ground you started to dig. First individual and crew served (MG, tank killers) prone position with earth "wall" in front which then progressed (if it was decided to stay for forseeable future) into the kneeleing and then into standing foxhole which was to be connected (if position was to be defended) to trench dug (hopefully with machines) behind the individual positions and then dig MG, squad and HQ bunkers. Then digging the second line and setting the minefields (we at the time already signed non use of anti-personell mines but "Others didn't and to defuse their minefields you have to know how to set them first"). A lot of emphasis was given to camouflaging the real positions and also setting up false positions (from air you really can't see clearly if trench system is full depth or 50cm deep). Did coutless prone positions slightly less foxeholes but only once i did a full scale trench system.
Doing all this is a lot of "fun" in rain and melting snow or on stony ground.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby uberjude on 27 Jan 2013 06:09

Well, since we're having a veterans' reunion, when I was in the US Army infantry in the 80's, we did a lot of single or two man fighting positions, never really did any trenches. And while there were certainly trenches in WII (look at the Germans at Normandy), I imagine that air power played a big part in making trenches somewhat passe. Trenches are great against infantry, but when someone can fly over you, a trench simply becomes a very visible marker of where the infantrymen are, while a foxhole can be covered up pretty well (infantrymen being very good at making themselves small when they need to be). Between that and the more mobile style of warfare in the modern world, I think trenches would have been more useful in a situation like Normandy, where the enemy already knows you're there, so you don't really need to hide, and where you're not planning on moving.
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Re: foxholes vs trenches

Postby josephrohdes221 on 20 Sep 2014 12:01

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