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The WW1 Tunnel Wars


between the bridges

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Sep 21, 2011
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45,677
Watched a fascinating (well to me anyway!!) doc on BBC 4, re the Somme tunnel wars...
Beneath the Somme battlefield lies one of the great secrets of the First World War, a recently-discovered network of deep tunnels thought to extend over several kilometres. This lost underground battlefield, centred on the small French village of La Boisselle in Picardy, was constructed largely by British troops between 1914 and 1916. Over 120 men died here in ongoing attempts to undermine the nearby German lines and these galleries still serve as a tomb for many of those men. This documentary follows historian Peter Barton and a team of archaeologists as they become the first people in nearly a hundred years to enter this hidden, and still dangerous, labyrinth.
BBC Four - The Somme: Secret Tunnel Wars it's on iplayer

Barton upon entering a tunnel system 80ft underground found a poem scratched on the wall,
‘If in this place you are detained,’ he scratched on a wall, a labour of love that must have taken him days if not weeks, ‘don’t look around you all in vain/ But cast your net and ye shall find/ That every cloud is silver-lined.’
What was remarkable about such a hope-filled message was that the unknown man who left it spent his military service deprived of sky and clouds, silver-lined or otherwise. He fought his war underground, in stifling heat and near-darkness pierced only by candlelight.
The specialists tunnelers were sewer diggers and coal miner's plucked from civilian life and digging tunnels at the front within a few weeks.
While on the surface, the battlefield was a stalemate, with little movement on the opposing frontlines 150 yards apart, in the spreading labyrinth of tunnels underground, complex manoeuvres and feints, attacks and defences were taking place. If one side got wind of an enemy tunnel, they would begin one of their own to try to intercept it, in a deadly game of what has been termed ‘blindfold cat and mouse’.
Read more: The heroic sewer rats of the Somme: Truly humbling stories of the horrors of tunnel warfare 80ft underground as seen in BBC1's Birdsong | Mail Online

I can only speculate at the nightmare conditions and constant fear this guys lived under. I have been in the tunnels at Vimy ridge which have been mainly enlarged and made tourist friendly but they would be considered luxurious in comparison.
What the Canadians created underneath Vimy Ridge has been described as an underground city complete with kitchens, bedrooms etc with electricity and fresh air pumped down. There were fourteen ‘subways’ built out from the heart of the ‘city’ where the soldiers waited until they were called into action.
Vimy Ridge Tunnels

Of course there was nothing new in what was happen underground in WW1 except perhaps the scale of it...
The tactic of cave, trench, and tunnel warfare dates back to the beginning of
time. This historical analysis begins with the Peninsula Campaign during the Civil War. It
then works through each successive war ending with Vietnam.
http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA339626 (from the School of Advanced Military Studies
United States Army... so it's not light reading!!)
 

Martin Doyle VC MM.

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Jan 21, 2013
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1,203
It was a good program by Barton, he is easy to listen to and watch, I remember he showed Chris Moyles where his Grandfather was killed in 1914 while serving with the Connaught Rangers on DYKWYA on BBC.BBC 4 was good last night having three Great War related programmes.
 

Morgellons

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Mar 24, 2012
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War is hell.
 

shutuplaura

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Nov 1, 2008
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Love that quote from a British General before they exploded all the mines at Messines. "We may not change history but we'll certainly change geography". There is still some unexploded mines under the ridge. They didn't explode at the time and were just left there. There is also a recent Aussie Film about the tunnellers - Beneath Hill 60. Haven't seen it but its an Aussie movie so its probably crap.
 

Schomberg

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Jul 6, 2009
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Love that quote from a British General before they exploded all the mines at Messines. "We may not change history but we'll certainly change geography". There is still some unexploded mines under the ridge. They didn't explode at the time and were just left there. There is also a recent Aussie Film about the tunnellers - Beneath Hill 60. Haven't seen it but its an Aussie movie so its probably crap.
haha nice quote...going to use it in the sig...
 

Morgellons

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Mar 24, 2012
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5,056
Some people relish in it.
Those poor focks down there digging tunnels-terrible. WW1 seems particularly cruel, but we take a lot for granted here and now, living in peace as we do. It's a fragile thing and needs to be cherished.
 
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