Military Review

Secret underground war

On the eve of the First World War, no one could assume that the enemy fortifications would spread horizontally and go deep into the ground, turn into a gigantic system of trenches, dugouts, shelters, machine-gun nests, wire barriers that the artillery would not be able to gnaw through in all four years great European carnage.

On the Western Front, after a short period of maneuverable fighting, already in September 1914, the advancing infantry will begin to slip in front of the trenches that the defenders will tear off with feverish speed. And in October, the Western Front will actually freeze to the end of the war.

Governments pressured the generals, demanding a quick and complete victory over the enemy. The generals began to come to understand that it was impossible to ensure the success of the offensive with the existing means of warfare: the field defense was too strong. Artillery, easily destroying the walls and forts, could not cope with primitive ditches. And here the military remembered the old technology of digging (mines). They saw the only way to give the infantry the opportunity to break into enemy positions.

Tight, stuffy, wet

Already in October 1914, the Germans and the French on the Argon Front simultaneously began to lead to enemy positions of mines, and at the same time countermines (tunnels intended to destroy not enemy trenches, but enemy mines).

The actions of the sappers of the French 28 division south of the Somme, near Dompre, in October, can be considered the first underground-mine attack. It was assumed that the mine explosions would suddenly destroy German soldiers in a trench, and the French infantry would jump out of the gangs (hidden message moves, pushed towards the enemy to get closer to his positions) and quickly capture the positions of the enemy. Hopper and mine work was entrusted to the 14 / 2 sapper company. It was necessary to dig several tunnels, each around 300 m.

However, with such work there are many difficulties. First of all, it is not easy to maintain the direction of the tunnel and maintain a predetermined depth. For example, when laying the first countermin by Russian sappers in Port Arthur in 1904, the tunnel unexpectedly came to the surface through 10. The reason was the inexperience of the soldiers. Of course, in France, as in Germany, there were miners and mining engineers who could solve these problems. But the usual coal mines and mines come off for decades as minerals are mined, and no one is confronting the miners with the task of speeding a tunnel when they need to dig hundreds of meters in a matter of weeks. In a conventional mine, the dimensions of the tunnel are determined by the ease of movement of people, working conditions, transportation of mined coal or ore to the surface, the thickness of the coal seam.

Military mine should have a minimum width and height that provide the smallest amount of soil to be removed, but at the same time provide the opportunity to dig.

I had to develop new methods of fixing the walls and ceilings of tunnels. Those that were used in civilian mines were not suitable here. Conventional mining tools turned out to be unproductive and unsuitable means of lighting, although they were used up to the 1915 year.

Particularly difficult was the question of ventilation. In conventional mines, special barrels are pushed upward, through which fresh air is supplied and mine gases are sucked away. For underground mines, it is hardly possible to punch up the trunk every fifty meters and place a fan over it. It is unlikely that the enemy would like to see holes in the neutral zone, and even those equipped with air pumps. But because of the small cross section of the tunnel, the air in it very quickly becomes unsuitable for breathing.

One cannot even mention the problem of groundwater - they had to be pumped out constantly.

Mines and mines
The word mine from English and German translates as "mine". In order not to confuse the underground workings with the specificity of ski engineering munitions, the latter is usually called a landmine. In the Russian military terminology in the time of Peter the Great, the word "mine" came in the meaning of "a mine laid for blowing up gunpowder charges (explosives) under enemy positions." And what we call mines today, in those days was called land mines, or, more precisely, “self-explosive land mines”

The first experiments

It is assumed that the first mine to be blown up was a German mine created by the 2 Company of the 30 Rhineland Sapper Regiment in the forests of Argonne 13 on November 1914 of the year. Her charge was small - only 40 kg. During the explosion, a crater with a diameter of 6,5m was formed - slightly more than from a rupture of a 203-mm howitzer projectile. But still this explosion allowed the Germans to move the front line a few hundred meters ahead.

Autumn and the beginning of winter 1914 / 15 of the year, the French and the Germans conducted in mutual mine attacks. The main actions took place on the Vimy ridge and on the plateau of the Buttes de Vauquois range near the village of Vokua, located at an altitude of 289 m above sea level. The explosive charges did not exceed 50 – 100 kg, and the tunnels were dug no deeper than 5 m. The French used only black powder, the huge reserves of which, preserved from the 19th century, burdened the French arsenals.

The British, whose army was very small, did not have the necessary number of sappers and were very late with the start of mine operations. They launched their first mine attack only in December 1914 of the year near the village of Festubert by the forces of the Indian Brigade. In the tunnel just the length of 24 m laid 205 kg of pyroxylin. However, the Germans discovered the work and the fire of heavy mortars forced the Indians to abandon the attempt to blow up the charge.

Secret underground war
The figure shows the working conditions of a military miner, or, as they were called in Russia, “minera”, and in England - clay-kicker. The ironic translation of this word is “kicking clay”, and the work itself was called working on cross. The height of the tunnel did not exceed 70 cm, and the width - 60. It is difficult to call such a construction a tunnel, it is rather a mole move. By the way, the largest specialist in underground mining in England, Norton Griffiths, officially called those who worked in underground mines, the word moles (moles)

Mines and countermines

In 1915, mines became the same tool for infantry attack preparation as artillery. In January, the Germans in Champagne, trying to capture the key height of 191 near the village of Massige, laid five tunnels into it, into which more than 24 tons of black powder were laid. At the same time, they were able to capture only two lines of enemy trenches — the height was left to the French.

7 February, the French launched an attack on the mountain ranges of Les Eparges and Buttes de Vokua. Observation posts at these heights allowed the Germans to keep under control the entire terrain to the east and west of Verdun. These key positions were bound to become the main targets of the underground war, since artillery had shown its complete inability to crack the defenses of the Germans. Mines began to lead in October 1914. 7 February, the French realized that the enemy leads countermines. In order not to lose four months of hard work, they decided to blow up ahead of time, which was done on February 17 in 14: 00. But since they were not close enough to the German positions, the result was zero.

Illusions about the possibilities of underground mines persisted for a very long time. The fierce war of mine for the Les Ephèges and Buttes de Vouqué ranges dragged on until the autumn of 1918. But underground defense proved stronger than the offensive. On the surface, soldiers refined trenches and wire barriers, developed their network. Under the ground, the opponents created a network of defensive countermine tunnels to protect against enemy mines, while at the same time trying to deceive the defenses and bring their mines to positions.

Underground network

In 1915, a particularly fierce struggle unfolded near the inconspicuous village of Karenci, located in the northern part of the Vimy mountain range in the Pas-de-Calais department. The French command came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create an underground-mine defense front.

To this end, the French decided to build tunnels of length 20 – 30м in the direction of the enemy on two levels and connect them with transverse passages so that at any moment mine or countermine operations could be started in any threatened place close enough to the enemy and remotely from their positions. Moreover, the longitudinal tunnels began in the rear, from the line of the second or even third positions, and passed under the trenches of the first position. As a result, a continuous network of dungeons formed along the trench line, ahead of them on 20 – 30 m. Enemy works can now be heard all along the front line for a distance of up to 20 m - this allowed the chalky ground. In addition, the resulting grid of tunnels provided greater safety for the miners, since in the event of a tunnel collapse, the miners could get out of the ground through any other.

9 On May 1915, the second battle of Artois began by assault on the village of Karenci. The French here laid the 17 mines into which they laid the sheddite 17,5. The explosive was blown up within 20 minutes. On the Alpha site, mine explosions completely destroyed trenches and shelters throughout the 300 m. Massive shelling did not allow the Germans to tighten up reserves for this site. Infantry attack plot was taken after a slight resistance. And although the Germans held Karency for three more days, the integrity of their defense was broken and the village had to be surrendered.

Fireworks Show

1916 year was the period of the most active mine action. Individual min charges reached mass in ammonium in 50 t. But the most ambitious mine operation, when 15 mines (from 19 to 6 tons of ammonal) were exploded simultaneously on a front area less than 43 km, carried out by the British in June 1917. Ironically stories this operation no longer had any military meaning. But in war, as in a performance: if in the first act a gun hangs on the wall, in the third it should fire. As early as the fall of 1915, preparation for an offensive began in the area of ​​the Messines Ridge (Messines), which included the laying of mine tunnels. By the summer of 1916, when the Allies planned their offensive on the ridge, German forces were laid down and equipped with explosives of the order of 14 – 15 mines.

However, the plans were prevented first by the German attack on Verdun (February – December 1916), then by the Allied offensive on the River Somme (July – November 1916). The timing of the offensive on the ridge of the Messines was postponed several times, and in August it was completely shifted by a year.

7 June 1917, four days before the start of the offensive, heavy British artillery began to destroy the German positions. As it turns out later, the Germans knew about the British plans and, not having enough troops and ammunition to hold their positions, they began to withdraw troops, leaving only a small cover.

Obviously, the British knew about it. It is not by chance that at the height of Kemmel, two miles from Spunbrokmolen’s mine, a platform was erected, from which the highest generals of the English army and numerous journalists could observe the explosions of mines and the attack. Such shows are usually arranged only in cases where the success of the battle is obvious.

The show was a success. Lieutenant Brian Freiling, who had observed the explosion of the largest Spunbrokmolen (43t ammonal) mine in the entire history of the war, described the incident: “... First, a sharp earthquake, rather an earthquake. The platform reeled and cracked. We were all knocked down by a knock. A black wall, which rose to the middle of the sky, slowly began to rise up ahead, and immediately a blinding white light lit up all around. The soldiers of the 14 Royal Irish Rifle Regiment, who had risen from the trenches at the time of the explosion, were all knocked down. I looked north and was terrified. There, too, a wall of soil and dust rose to the horizon. ”

Diggers of our time

It was in the First World Technology under the enemy positions received its maximum development and at the same time ended its long history.

It would seem that you can put an end here. But ... in the 21st century, underground actions were revived. On the night of 27 on 28 on June 2004, in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants laid a tunnel several hundred meters under an Israeli checkpoint and an explosion of an 170-kg trophy charge destroyed it. But Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are building tunnels up to 1 km long and supplying the material they need through these tunnels. And today we cannot call it a subterranean mine war only because the Israelis are not trying to conduct underground response, although they have everything necessary for this.
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