The Underground War, Vimy Ridge to Arras

B2169

This book is the first of four planned volumes. When all four volumes become available, the much avoided, but important, subject of underground warfare on the Western Front will have been effectively completed for the first time. This first volume is comprehensive and balanced, drawing on material from both British and German archives. The very high standard of illustration is important to the support of the text. Can’t wait for the next volumes!!!!

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NAME: The Underground War, Vimy Ridge to Arras
DATE: 180315
FILE: R2169
AUTHOR: Phillip Robinson, Nigel Cave
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword,
BINDING: soft back
PAGES: 269
PRICE: £14.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Vimy Ridge, Arras, 1914, BEF, WWI, The Great War, 1914-1918, The Old Contemptibles, The Contemptable Little Army, trench warfare, machine guns, cavalry, field guns, POW, mining, counter mining, underground
ISBN: 1-47382-305-6
IMAGE: B2169.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/lo8omb8
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The underground war that was fought along the Western Front has received very little coverage by historians. The spectacular results of some of the largest successful mines has been the most visible record, captured on film as hill tops and enemy trenches were blasted into the sky. The activity that produced these spectaculars, and the arduous work that was defeated by the enemy, has been little covered, partly because is was a covert world, lit usually by primitive lamps, and a claustrophobic environment that did not encourage the recording of events on film. The authors have produced a fascinating account of the underground war from Vimy Ridge to Arras. All of the Armies engaged in mining and counter mining, using troops who had previously worked in coal and metal ore mining. This is a first rate book with many clear sketches, maps and photographs to illustrate the text.

Once the German advance had lost momentum on the bulwark of the BEF at Mons, the machine gun forced troops on both sides to start digging in. The first trenches were little more than a network of foxholes with, in some cases, only a few feet separating the opposing trenches. As the days slipped by, the trenches became deeper and more sophisticated. Soon, there were two sets of trenches snaking from the Channel Coast to the Swiss border. The first trenches on both sides were progressively strengthened and deepened with firing steps, observation posts and ladders to enable the opposing troops to maintain a near constant fire without leaving cover, this routine being periodically interrupted by a frontal assault over the top of the relative safety of the trench line, through the barbed wire, across a sea of mud and deep shell holes, through the opposing wire and into the enemy trenches. Very few troops made it to the enemy trenches and each attack was beaten back or a minor amount of enemy land taken. It was frightening and boring with commanders frustrated by the lack of real progress.

Many different types of weapon were tried out. Mortars and flamethrowers proved the most successful initially and the flamethrower and grenade was essential to have any impact on the progressively stronger redoubts that were being built in the trench lines. Eventually, the tank was to prove a game changer as it provided a bullet and grenade resistant vehicle that could drive across the churned ground and over the enemy trenches.

In the meantime, the Medieval tactic of mining enemy defences was tried out in an updated form with explosives being packed into artificial caverns below the enemy trench line. In Medieval times, the sappers had dug under the towers and walls of town and castle. The Structure above was supported by wooden props and combustible material was stocked around these props. The sappers only had to start a fire to burn the props and undermine the defences’ foundations. Used widely in Medieval times, the technique was used also in ancient history. The trenches did not lend themselves to the technique because there was not the weight of structure to bring down a breach as was the case with stone walls. On the Western Front, the tunnels dug under the enemy trenches had to be filled with high explosive.

The number and sophistication of mines developed during WWI to match developments in the trenches themselves. Early tunnels were attempted with little depth but the weight of artillery fire forced the tunnellers deeper. Both sides employed miners who spent some of their time and efforts listening for enemy tunnellers. As soon as a tunnelling team was heard, a counter mining operation was undertaken. There were two techniques, neither for the faint hearted. One technique was to quietly dig down to the enemy tunnel and then break through into it, with a fighting team used to kill the enemy miners and destroy the tunnel, or use it to pack explosives that could be used to blow up the enemy trenches. The alternative technique was to tunnel close to the enemy tunnel and pack explosives that would destroy the tunnel without contact directly with the enemy tunnelling team. This led to a very active mining and counter mining campaign where mines and counter mines were counter mined and mined in a complexity of overlapping actions.

Apart from the very present danger of an enemy counter mining attack, the tunnelling teams had to face a daily risk of collapses that could cut off the diggers and result in their slow death as oxygen was consumed. There was a risk of flooding and there was also a risk of fire or explosion from the build up of gas in the workings or the premature explosion of high explosive stored ready for use against the enemy.

As work became more sophisticated, narrow gauge railways brought up supplies and removed the spoil of diggings. Telephone and electric lighting was installed in underground workings and a complex series of store rooms, rest rooms, medical facilities and ventilation equipment became more common. Some mines were dug over a protracted period and only used together to blow huge gaps in the enemy defences as a new assault was initiated.

This book is the first of four planned volumes. When all four volumes become available, the much avoided, but important, subject of underground warfare on the Western Front will have been effectively completed for the first time. This first volume is comprehensive and balanced, drawing on material from both British and German archives. The very high standard of illustration is important to the support of the text. Can’t wait for the next volumes!!!!

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