One of the abiding images of the Great War is of the massive explosions made by the huge underground explosions that were the most visible result of the largely hidden underground war that was waged below much of the Western Front. This book looks at the increasingly complex underground operations that were needed to create these explosions, and equally complex defensive measures taken to prevent them.
The scale of these operations came as something of a surprise, with thousands of men involved in the digging of dozens of tunnels on several levels, some designed simply to disguise the noise of deeper tunnels or to prevent the opposition realising when work was coming to an end.
Jones answers one question that I had wondered about - had either side ever attempted to use a tunnel to bring troops up behind the enemy front line? The answer is yes, and is given in some detail in chapter nine - Tunnels and the Infantry Attack.
The wide ranging scope of the book means that the often ghastly nature of the underground battles between the miners doesn't come across very often. This is partly because Jones has made good use of contemporary accounts of the fighting, which have the same matter-of-fact tone as most contemporary Great War memoirs, but also because of the amount of material that has to be covered.
The lasting image that comes from this book is of a form of warfare that never quite lived up to expectation. Even once the problems of how to co-ordinate mine explosions and the infantry attack had largely been solved, there was still the problem of how to get around the actual craters themselves, and once the Germans adopted a system of defence in depth, with their main strong-points behind the front line it became increasingly unlikely that any tunnel would reach its target.
This is a detailed and involving study of a important element of warfare on the Western Front, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in the Great War.
1 - Military Mining before 1914
2 - Mining Operations 1914 - early 1915
3 - French Mining Sectors: Carency, Oise, Les Eparges and Vauquois
4 - British Mining Operations 1915 - early 1916
5 - Hohenzollern and St Eloi 1916
6 - The Somme 1916
7 - Vimy, Arras and Messines 1917
8 - Miners and Technology
9 - Tunnels and the Infantry Attack
10 - Underground Accommodation and Communications
11 - Conclusion
Author: Simon Jones
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military