Skip to comments.WWI underground: Unearthing the hidden tunnel war (...killed an estimated 10,000 Germans.)
Posted on 06/10/2011 10:09:12 AM PDT by decimon
Archaeologists are beginning the most detailed ever study of a Western Front battlefield, an untouched site where 28 British tunnellers lie entombed after dying during brutal underground warfare. For WWI historians, it's the "holy grail".
When military historian Jeremy Banning stepped on to a patch of rough scrubland in northern France four months ago, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
The privately-owned land in the sleepy rural village of La Boisselle had been practically untouched since fighting ceased in 1918, remaining one of the most poignant sites of the Battle of the Somme.
In his hand was a selection of grainy photographs of some of the British tunnellers killed in bloody subterranean battles there, and who lay permanently entombed directly under his feet.
When most people think of WWI, they think of trench warfare interrupted by occasional offensives, with men charging between the lines. But with the static nature of the war, military mining played a big part in the tactics on both sides.
The idea of digging underneath fortifications in order to undermine them goes back to classical times at least. But the use of high explosive in WWI gave it a new dimension.
One of the most notable episodes was at the Battle of Messines in 1917 where 455 tons of explosive placed in 21 tunnels that had taken more than a year to prepare created a huge explosion that killed an estimated 10,000 Germans.
Tunnelling was mainly done by professional miners, sent from the collieries of Britain to the Western Front.
(Excerpt) Read more at bbc.co.uk ...
What’s mine is mine ping.
Recent history, ancient technique.
A mine is a terrible thing to waste...
A mine is a terrible thing to waste...
Like many tactics of World War I, this tactic debuted courtesy of the American Civil War - specifically a mining expedition by the 48th PA Infantry at the Siege of Petersburg July 30, 1864.
Many don't know it, but today it is literally possible to walk from the Swiss border to the English channel, and follow the trench lines. It is incomprehensible to realizie that millions died, over several years, for a few miles of terrain.
I toured Verdun, and some of the other Somme sites in the early 70's, while I was stationed overseas. To look at the momuments, with the endless lists of the dead..it is humbling experience. It makes D-Day, and the American military cemetary, look like a minor skirmish.
Prior to that experience, I'd always failed to understand how the Brits allowed Hitler to come to power, when he could have been stopped early on quite easily. I used to ridicule Chamberlain's "peace in our time."
Once you realize that the Brits lost the better part of an entire generation in WW I, it gives context to their actions up till the outbreak of the 2nd WW.
To this day, that 455-ton mine at Messines is still the largest loss of life in world history from a non-nuclear explosion. Ten thousand men wiped out in a few seconds from the explosion or being buried alive when their trenches and dugouts collapsed. Horrifying.
Its ironic that the Civil War began using tactics of Napoleon 50 years before, and ending using tactics of The First World War 50 Years Later.
Exactly right. And nice graphic frithguild.
Odd way to describe the last resting place of heros.
Verdun and The Somme were an ecological Diseaster. Look at this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_rouge_(First_World_War) and this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_villages_destroyed_in_the_First_World_War as well as this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Verdun
What is remarkable to me is that Germany does not seem to have had quite the same experience. They lost WWI but (perhaps because they felt "stabbed in the back") they were almost eager to do it all over again. They still had an aggressive spirit.
But after WWII you can see that all of Europe became pacifist. They don't want to fight anymore: twice was enough. Of course, they still can fight -- the men that they have are good quality and can get the job done -- but overall, as societies, they are not manly and do not relish the thought of combat.
America has held on to the tradition a lot better, but we too are certainly not the men we used to be. I think Vietnam did to us was WWI and WWII did not.
Largely because almost none of the war was conducted on their soil. Note the difference in the French and English responses to Germany's WWII aggression.
I was going to post that in 1552 Tsar Ivan the Terrible breached the city walls of Kazan using tunnels and mines. That’s how it was depicted in the Soviet film.
But the accounts I just read only mentioned the use of mines, not how they were emplaced. Oh, well.
The battle of Messines is a forgotten horror. We no longer have the sense of history (and gratitude) we once did as a people, remembering those who sacrificed all. Maybe the IT revolution will reopen the past to us.
Casualty counts that would cause outrage today were more or less expected back then. Thousands of dead day after day for months on end. This devastated the marriage aged females of both countries. Untold tens of thousands were destined to be spinsters through no fault of their own.
A sad thing on top of all the other horrors of war.
Germany's eagerness to embrace Nazism, and again launch a war is due in major part to the terms of the peace treaty. Keynes correctly predicted that it would cause Germany to take up arms again. The terms imposed left them no chocie. If you give people no hope, then death is an acceptable, if not welcome alternative. And they might well have won.
I was watching a History channel documentary recently during Civil War week. It said that the mortality rate in the Civil War, in today's population, would equate to SIX MILLION dead, with at least an equal numer of casualties, today. Would we be willing to pay such a price today?
If you've ever seen "Chariots of Fire: the opening scenes, which show the impact of the war dead, and the disfigured survivors, is among the most powerful expressions of what England went through.
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