Friday, 8 April 2016

Military History Photo Friday: Tunnels Under the Western Front

While I'm busy writing the fourth installment of my Toxic World post-apocalyptic series, I'm also in the research phase for Under The Front, the fourth in my Trench Raiders WWI action series. In this book, the men of Company E won't be going over the top under  hail of machine gun fire or sneaking into No Man's Land in the middle of the night, instead they'll be burrowing under the German trenches.

As the Western Front stagnated and neither side could make any significant headway, new tactics evolved in an attempt to break the deadlock. One of these was digging tunnels under the enemy trench, filling them with explosives, and detonating them.

Digging these tunnels was a grueling job. The Germans and British, who were the main tunnelers, hired miners and made sure only to take the smallest men, often those who were too short to make it into regular service. Age restrictions were relaxed in order to get experienced miners. The men had to work in cramped, dark conditions, digging by hand through thick clayey soil. They had to work silently too, because the enemy would be listening. If a tunnel was detected, the opposing side would try to dig a counter-tunnel and break through. Then there would be a hellish underground fight in the near darkness.

A mine going off during the Battle of the Somme

Some of the most extensive tunnels were dug in preparation for the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916. This will be the setting for Under the Front, as I continue my habit of having the book written on the centenary of the events they cover.

This tactic met with varying degrees of success. Like with everything else the generals tried, it didn't prove to be a game changer, and the war dragged on for years before Germany was finally too exhausted to continue.

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Even after a century of erosion, some of the craters made by mines at the Somme are still huge. For scale, note the people on the right edge.

1 comment:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wouldn't want to be a tunnel digger. It could also cave in on you.

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