Historical Trivia: Trench Raiding Rifle-Torch
By early 1915, the Western Front had settled into stalemate and in order to gain intelligence and boost morale small scale trench raids began along the line. The aim of these reconnaissance parties was to gain information on what units they were facing and how extensive their defences were.
The raiding parties were often small, usually around a dozen men armed with knives, bayonets, clubs, grenades, revolvers and rifles. They left their kit behind and wore just their uniforms, caps or balaclavas with their units identifying patches and badges removed.
They often blackened their faces and would slip across No Man’s Land undetected before attacking with grenades and rushing the enemy’s trenches. Once the mission was complete they would quickly retreat under covering fire.
One of the interesting innovations these raiding parties used was the attaching of a battery torch/flashlight to the muzzle of their rifles by taping it on with black electrical tape (see image #1). Once they reached the enemy trench and began their attack they could turn on their torches and search the enemy trenches and dugouts for prisoners or useful documents. The technology of small portable battery torches was relatively new with dry cell batteries only being invented in 1896 and the first small torches appearing at the turn of the century. This was one of the first times torches were used in this manner in war, they are the fore-bearers of the modern tactical lights used in urban warfare today.
Author’s sketch of how the torch taped to the SMLE may have looked
Image Two Source - Contemporary Eveready 2 Cell torch c.1914
Image Three Source - Short Magazine Lee Enfield MkI
Image Four Source (IWM) - A raiding party of the 1/8th (Irish) King’s Liverpool Regiment, April 1916
Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front, S. Bull, (2010)