Tools of Trench Warfare

Posted on Wed, April 12, 2017

The signature aspect of the First World War in Europe was the protracted stalemate of trench warfare. After a brief period of mobility over the battlefield in the first months of the conflict, the opposing armies settled into a long and deadly war of attrition.

Thousands of miles of elaborate trenches, shrouded in barbed wire, defined the front lines that moved little during the years of fighting. The devastated landscape between the opposing trenches was referred to as “no man’s land” because of the constant artillery shelling and machine gun fire. Certain pieces of equipment were ubiquitous in and around the trenches.

An artifact case with objects inside.

Trench Knife
The trench knife was developed in response to the need for an effective close combat weapon for assaults on enemy trenches. In addition to the lethal effect of the long blade, its studded, heavy metal hand guard could produce a devastating blow.
Lent by Ted Hamady

Wire Cutters
With barbed wire lining the thousands of miles of trenches that comprised the battlefield, wire cutters were an essential tool for installing and getting through the simple, but effective barrier.
Lent by Ted Hamady

Barbed Wire
Barbed wire served as a defensive barrier to slow advancing enemy troops as they attempted to cross no man’s land and storm the opposing army’s trenches.
Lent by Peter L. Jakab


Long metal tube.

Metal box.

Periscopes were used to observe activity across no man’s land without having to be exposed directly to enemy fire.
Lent by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Green canvas bag.

Musette Bag
The musette bag was a light alternative to a full pack used to carry small equipment or personal items. This one has been hand decorated with the emblem of the AEF, a winged propeller, and a fleur-de-lis.

Related Topics