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Remembered Today:

Crater Fighting


Tommy Atkins
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I’m enjoying George Coppard’s With A Machine Gun To Cambrai at the moment, in the first few chapters he’s talking about time spent around Loos and the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. He mentions time spent ‘Crater Fighting’. This form of fighting beggars belief to me, I mean really beggars belief. Sometimes only feet away from the enemy, digging your toes into the clay soil, stacking a few sand bags at your back, sniping and chucking bombs at each other 24 hours a day hoping you will not become one of the corpses rapidly filling up the bottom of the pit. You did it in 12 hour ‘shifts’ apparently. I don’t think the average life expectancy was much more than that. I can’t even begin to get my head round what I’d be like in situations like this. How do you get used to something like that. Any body know any more about these situations. I think they were mainly around Loos, Givenchy and Vermelles.

Reading and learning about stuff like this makes me woinder why no one has thought of honouring these guys with a Band Of Brothers style film. Isn’t there a market for a well researched , gritty, warts and all Great War cinematic event? Surely.

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In that area the men were also in the same trench system as the enemy with only a 'bombing' blocks between both sets of troops.

stevem

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I think it wrong to assume that the men were in it day in day out without a break. I would assume the "Live and let live" thing came into play pretty often.

When it did in fact go hard on hard we get the type of action that gets medals awarded...

For instance here..

http://www.trenchfighter.com/40047/40450.html

Reading French and German citations it seems that when something like this did happen, it was decoration time. I assume the Brits got the MM in the same manner?

All the best

Chris

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I think it wrong to assume that the men were in it day in day out without a break. I would assume the "Live and let live" thing came into play pretty often.

When it did in fact go hard on hard we get the type of action that gets medals awarded...

For instance here..

http://www.trenchfighter.com/40047/40450.html

Reading French and German citations it seems that when something like this did happen, it was decoration time. I assume the Brits got the MM in the same manner?

All the best

Chris

Hi Chris, The British High Command were not very keen on live and let live. Dominate no man's land, was the doctrine.

Tommy there is an Official Handbook which was issued about 1917. It dealt specifically with capturing and consolidating craters. I believe it is available through Naval & Military Press. I'll dig around and see if I can find a better reference.

If you think that is scary, and I agree that it is, try to read about the work of the tunnelers who made the craters and fought in them and in tunnels under them. The bottom of a crater was often used as a starting place for one of their works. Fighting on hands and knees in tunnels just over a metre high and less than a metre wide and wondering if the enemy were going to collapse it on you.

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The book I referred to above. " Consolidation of trenches, localities and craters after asault and capture, With a note on rapid wiring", Naval & Military Press. in their current catalogue.

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I think it wrong to assume that the men were in it day in day out without a break. I would assume the "Live and let live" thing came into play pretty often.

When it did in fact go hard on hard we get the type of action that gets medals awarded...

For instance here..

http://www.trenchfighter.com/40047/40450.html

Reading French and German citations it seems that when something like this did happen, it was decoration time. I assume the Brits got the MM in the same manner?

All the best

Chris

I doubt Live and Let live was in the British minds at any time.

Trench raids, gas attacks, daily shelling etc litter the diaries I have. I also have instances of awards for trench raids as well as during battle. Even when the period was seen as 'quiet' shelling was an everyday occurence. Even when the men were 'at rest' their billets were shelled. It is true that a successful battle would see more decorations handed out.

stevem

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Tommy there is an Official Handbook which was issued about 1917. It dealt specifically with capturing and consolidating craters. I believe it is available through Naval & Military Press. I'll dig around and see if I can find a better reference.

If you think that is scary, and I agree that it is, try to read about the work of the tunnelers who made the craters and fought in them and in tunnels under them. The bottom of a crater was often used as a starting place for one of their works. Fighting on hands and knees in tunnels just over a metre high and less than a metre wide and wondering if the enemy were going to collapse it on you.

Cheers matey, yeah the closest I've got to the clostraphobic, cloying fear of the tunneling experience is 'Birdsong' which I thought was great but doesn't go down well in here at all. :unsure: I'll keep a lookout for that handbook thing. I was thinking more first hand accounts really though.

Chris I've had a look around your site some good stuff. But where are all the English heroes?

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Maybe live and let live is the wrong way of putting it, but I find it hard to believe that any unit would over a period of months hold a position where its men were blown up as fast as you could feed them into the trench.

Sure, a certain amount to artillery, rifle grenades and what have you is usual but a "General, I have lost 20 men a day to hand grenade duels for the last 2 months... can I have some more?" seems to be very much the exception.

If so, who were they fighting? I have over 150 German Regt histories and cannot remember any references to anything like that unless it was in the middle of a large battle like Verdun, the Somme etc.

Outside of the big battles attrition carried out by infantry sections seems to be unusual. The arty, minenwerfer and occasional raid seems to have been the limit most of the time.

I have had photocopies of British unit war diaries where they occupied the front line and sometimes went a week or more without loosing a man, sometimes they went for many weeks with barely a loss.

All the best

Chris

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There is a little about this in Frank Richard's book "Old Soldiers Never Die". I can't remember the location but IIRC it was for this action that he was awarded his DCM.

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