During WW1 the opposing forces soon realised that a decisive end to the war would not come quickly. Swift initial gains slowed and the forces dug in for what would turn into a war of attrition.
Both sides used artillery heavily to bombard the opposition from a distance and they created deep dugouts and bunkers below the surface to give themselves more protection. Engaging the enemy and taking their positions could involve a whole battalion or division in a set-piece manoeuvre, but smaller attacks (trench raids) were also organised to keep the enemy on their guard.
Trench raids required meticulous planning, co-ordination and relied on the bravery of the men involved. Soldiers would paint their faces with burnt cork to obscure themselves and these small groups would then go and kill or capture their enemy. Moving quietly back across no-man’s-land, their return journey was also dangerous.
There are many collectors of WW1 trench equipment and a strong market means that some of the rarer items can fetch very high prices. Below is a selection of original WW1 trench warfare equipment currently for sale.
1917 British Army Trench Periscope
Manufactured by R & J Beck, this is a well-dated 1917 British Army trench periscope. It would have been an essential part of trench life during the First World War. Periscopes like this allowed the user to observe the enemy and the surrounding area from the relative safety of a concealed position or trench.
This example has a removable handle and it is in very good clean condition. The lenses are clear, with a little paint loss to the main shaft. This is normal and comes from field use. It measures 59 1/4 cm in total length and the price also includes UK delivery.
Available from JC Militaria in the UK £275.
WW1 Imperial German Pioneer’s Model 1915 Wire Cutters
Both sides placed barbed wire in front of their own positions and that coined the phrase ‘no-man’s-land’ for the area which was not occupied by either force. Wire cutters were issued to Trench Raiding Parties to allow men to cut this wire away and were used extensively by both sides during the First World War.
This is a pair of Imperial German long-handled metal wire cutters. This model was used by assault troops and pioneers to cut away barbed wire prior to attacks on the Allied lines. These ones are stamped Verbecker Werke GMBH on the tips and they are in full working order.
Available from CS Militaria in the UK £120.
Imperial German Army Stick Grenade Carrying Box
Prior to a raid taking place, combat helmets would be swapped for cloth caps so they did not rattle on barbed wire, and rifles and bayonets would be swapped for a pistol and fighting knife. Grenades would be gathered for both defensive and offensive purposes.
This rare First World War stick grenade carrying case made from a fibre and wood material would have been a vital piece of trench equipment. It has its original cloth carrying strap and has some excellent stencilling on the side. This indicates that it was for carrying 10 stick grenades. It measures 33cm x 39cm x 14cm. One side has some wear but the other is in excellent condition for its age and would make a great display piece.
Available from The Collectors Guild in the USA for $389.
Imperial German Army Broom Handle Mauser Holster
One of the most popular handguns of the time was the Mauser. This model pistol was in service from 1896 to 1961 and they were widely issued during a large number of conflicts from the Boer War, WW1 and during WW2. Also known as the C-96, it had a box magazine in front of the trigger. It was issued in a number of different calibres by different countries.
This broom-handled holster for it is quite a rare find. It has an open flap top and two rear belt loops and comes complete with its screwdriver that would have been issued wit it originally. The holster is in good condition and has a Munich maker’s mark and a date of 1916. This indicates that it was produced for the Imperial German Army and for trench use.
Available from Military Antiques in the UK. £850.
US Army WW1 Extra Grenade Carrying Pouch
The men involved in trench raids would only take the equipment that suited their needs. They left behind their more mundane items such as mess tins and personal items, in favour of extra grenades or ammunition.
Following their entry into the war in Europe, the US Army issued its soldiers with equipment to help them during their time in the trenches. One design they produced was the grenade-carrying bag, which could be carried as an extra piece of kit – over the shoulder. This was particularly designed for use during the trench raids and would carry 12 extra grenades.
This example is in perfect unissued condition. It was produced in a khaki material and has 12 grenade pouches. Each of the pouches can be individually closed using a popper. It is very clearly maker marked and it is dated 1918 on the reverse.
Available from The Militaria Shop in the UK. £55.
British Army issue map of The Somme
Raids were often undertaken using the cover of an artillery barrage, or they took place at night when they had a lower chance of being seen in no-man’s-land. Any raiding force would have to retrace its steps in the dark and avoid detection. They used pre-arranged passwords and signals from small hand-held lamps to reach their own lines again.
No trench raid would be complete without an accurate map of the local terrain. This example covering the Somme in France is dated November 1917. It is printed on fabric-backed paper, which folds to fit into a service tunic pocket. These were invaluable for officers plotting attacks on enemy positions.
Available from Battleflag Militaria in the UK. £65.
Interested in more WW1 items? See our WW1 page.
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