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I might be a bit late here as I've just watched a programme my wife recorded whilst I was working the other night.

It was a BBC production documentary called "The Somme - Secret Tunnel Wars".

Did anyone else see it?

 

It's stil on BBC iplayer for a few more days.

Edited by tranquillo

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Yes, I saw it last year in Canada. Very interesting show.

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Yes, I saw it last year in Canada. Very interesting show.

That's odd. As far as I know this is a new one - not seen before. I know channel 5 did something on the subject last year.

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That's odd. As far as I know this is a new one - not seen before. I know channel 5 did something on the subject last year.

 

It's possible that the show you speak of is a new one. The one I saw was about Canadian miners involved in the tunneling in prep for large scale explosives under the german trenches in Vimy.

 

see link: http://en.wikipedia....e_of_Vimy_Ridge

 

specifically:

Underground operations [edit]

 

 

170px-World_War_I_-_Vimy_sector_tunnel.jpg

 

magnify-clip.pngBritish-dug fighting tunnel in Vimy sector

The Arras-Vimy sector was conducive to tunnel excavation owing to the soft, porous yet extremely stable nature of the chalk underground. As a result, pronounced underground warfare had been an active feature of the Vimy sector since 1915.[49] The Bavarian engineers, for example, had blown 20 mines in the sector by March 1915.[50] By early 1916 the German miners had gained a clear advantage over their French counterparts.[51] On their arrival, the British Royal Engineer tunnelling companies became actively engaged in offensive mining against German miners,[52] first stopping the German underground advance and then developing a defensive strategy that prevented the Germans from gaining a tactical advance through their mining activities.[51] By 1917, no fewer than 19 distinct crater groups existed along the section of the front. Each group often contained several large craters all of which were the result of explosions caused by underground mine warfare.[53]

In preparation for the assault, British tunnelling companies created extensive underground networks and fortifications. Twelve subways, up to 1.2 kilometres (1,300 yd) in length, were excavated at a depth of 10 metres (33 ft) and used to connect reserve lines to front lines, permitting soldiers to advance to the front quickly, securely and unseen. Often incorporated into subways were concealed light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar and machine gun posts, and communication centres.[54] The Germans dug a number of similar tunnels on the Vimy front to provide covered routes to front lines and large-scale protection for headquarters, resting personnel, equipment and ammunition.[55][Note 2]

To protect some advancing troops from German machine gun fire as they crossed no man's land during the attack, eight specialized mine charges were laid at the end of the subways. These specialized mine charges were designed to allow troops to move more quickly, and safely enter the German trench system by creating an elongated trench-depth crater that spanned the entire length of no man's land.[52] In an effort to destroy some German surface fortifications before the assault, the British tunnelling companies secretly laid 13 large explosive charges directly under German positions.[52][56] However, this work did not go unimpeded; the Germans actively counter-mined British tunnelling and were successful in destroying a number of British attempts at placing offensive mines under or near their lines.[57][Note 3] Of the explosive charges laid by the British, three mines were fired before the assault; another three mines and two specialized charges were fired at the start of the attack.[52]

Edited by rjw

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Ah, it is indeed a different one. This one examines the extensive "Glory Hole" much of which still exists. Some reinforcing was needed in order to investigate a deeper level and an area where miners were known to have been trapped was left untouched. It was fascinating seeing the burn marks from candles and poems scratched into the walls. Well worth watching.

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Ah, it is indeed a different one. This one examines the extensive "Glory Hole" much of which still exists. Some reinforcing was needed in order to investigate a deeper level and an area where miners were known to have been trapped was left untouched. It was fascinating seeing the burn marks from candles and poems scratched into the walls. Well worth watching.

 

Thanks for the clarification. I will watch out for this one.

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In a similar vein, check out "Beneath Hill 60". Here's the Netflix blurb on it: "This drama based on a true story highlights the heroism of Australian engineer Oliver Woodward, who's sent to the Western Front during World War I and becomes part of an audacious plan to detonate an explosive charge under the German front lines." Good film. Not for the claustrophobic.

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In a similar vein, check out "Beneath Hill 60". Here's the Netflix blurb on it: "This drama based on a true story highlights the heroism of Australian engineer Oliver Woodward, who's sent to the Western Front during World War I and becomes part of an audacious plan to detonate an explosive charge under the German front lines." Good film. Not for the claustrophobic.

Agreed, good film.

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Those mining operations were like a return to the methods of warfare of earlier centuries, when it was common to dig mines and counter-mines during sieges of fortified towns.

 

I remember reading that when the biggest of those mines was blown up (at Messines in June 1917, if I'm not mistaken) the sound was heard as far away as London. The blast killed a large number of German soldiers and created a huge crater.

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Indeed, Hasse, it was a reminiscence of the old siege warfare. Remember the first sequence of the movie "Cold Mountain" (2003), after an actual event, the Battle of the Crater (1864). When the Civil War around Petersburg VA turned into a trench warfare, the Union staff considered blowing the enemy lines an option. One Confederate company and one battery were turned into smoke, but the lack of decision in the assault made it a bloody waste. Earlier during the Napoleonic Wars, during the urban warfare into Zaragoza, 1809, the French routinely used mines to blow up the houses and monasteries the Spaniards had turned into fortresses. The sappers reported hearing these religious fanatics sing hymns to the end when they knew they were to be annihilated. Once faking an attack against a monastery, the French had the Spaniards garrison the place at maximum strength just before blowing it up.

 

In "Les croix de bois", both the novel by Dorgeles (1919) and the movie (1931), following the fates of a squad of Poilus, one of the most poignant chapters is when the squad is sent to garrison an isolated outpost on a remote hill. After a few days, the men notice regular underground scratching noises, and understand that the Germans are digging a mine to blow up their position. The following days are very tensing, with various reactions at different stages: feverish hypnotic listening to the noise; or on the contrary, disinterest, resignation and catatonia; despair when the noise stops and joy when it starts again... And of course, an expectable moment of panic and attempt to flee from one man whose nerves have broken. When the relief squad finally comes, ten infantrymen and four machine-gunners, our Poilus leave the position as hurriedly as they can, yet trying quickly and lamely to comfort the demoralized relief men who know that they are condemned. Happy to have survived this terrible week, the boys even begin to sing on their way back. Suddenly, a deafening thunderclap behind them: the hill has been blown up. After a silence, the chapter ends with a few whispers:

- How many of them were there?

- Ten. And four machine-gunners...

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That sounds like a powerful novel and a movie. At least some positive legacy came out of the war in the form of various arts.

 

I found a photo of the Messines crater, taken shortly after the war in 1919:

 

article-2282108-182A027F000005DC-349_964x705.jpg

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