The concrete nature of pillboxes means that they are a feature of prepared positions. They were probably first used in the Hindenburg Line. This is likely to have been the time when they acquired their incongruous English name. The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest record of the use of the word pillbox in connection with a defensive post is from 13 September 1917, after the German withdrawal onto the Hindenburg Line.
Pillboxes are often camouflaged in order to conceal their location and to maximize the element of surprise. They may be part of a trench system, form an interlocking line of defence with other pillboxes by providing covering fire to each other (defense in depth), or they may be placed to guard strategic structures such as bridges and jetties.