Monday, December 27, 2010

Underground Warfare

"Underground Warfare 1914-1918" by Simon Jones (Pen and Sword, 2010, ISBN 184415962-0).

I've just finished reading Jones' account of mining in world war 1. This is a well written and entirely readable account of a little discussed yet absolutely fascinating aspect of the first world war. Jones begins with a brief exploration of mining pre 1914, and then begins a detailed description and analysis of mining operations by the French, German and British armies. There is a fascinating chapter on French operations in the Carency, Oise, Les Eparges and Vauquois sectors and I found myself fascinated by the incredible feats of endurance and persistence by miners of both armies at Vauquoios.

Jones then gives extensive conerage to mining operations on the Somme in 1916, and then Vimy, Arras and Messines in 1917.  He concludes with analyses of miners and technology, and tunnels and the infantry attack, before concluding.

In his conclusions, I thought the following was worth typing into this brief review:

... by mid 1917 the effectiveness of mining was becoming diminished by the use of in-depth defence by the Germans. Messines was a bite and hold battle, albeit on a large scale, which was a prelude to further operations in which mining could play no part. It was part of a process of wearing down the Germans and of convincing them that, no matter how they changed their tactics, the British had the will and the means to overcome their defences. The key to the operations which followed Messines, however, was the integration of artillery with infantry, tanks and aircraft - in short the all-arms battle - which restored a degree of mobility and momentum to operations. The invention of this type of battle was the military revolution that occured during 1914-18. Military mining was expanded by mass mobilisation and technology to a scale and intensity which was without precedent but, at the moment of its zenith, it had become obsolete. The scaling down of mining in 1917 by Germany and France, and subsequently also Britain, indicates that it did not have a role in future operations. The integrated battle was the key to breaking the deadlock of the western front, but mining served a purpose in rendering vulnerable powerful linear defence lines."
 Most importantly for me, Jones' account talks of a British (or a French, or a German) Army that was prepared to learn from its mistakes in order to meet the challenges of a new form of warfare, warfare waged within a new technological paradigm.

I would thoroughly recommend Jones' book.

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