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The Rock-itt : July 2012
NO MAN’S LAND No Man’s Land is a stretch of wasteland bet ween opposing armies’ trenches, a quagmire of r otting corpses, mud, and shell craters In the last few issues we have touched on our Diggers attacking German trenches, especially at the Hindenburg Line, and I have assumed that everyone knows what the trench systems looked like and what confronted the Aussie soldier as he made his way from his own trench on his way to the enemy positions. It was of course that weird, scary and undefined strip of land that separated the Allies from the German lines that was known as NO MAN’s LAND. This strip of shell torn wasteland could vary from as little as 10 metres (as at Quinn’s Post on the Gallipoli battlefield) to as much as 200 metres (in various locations in the Somme battlefield). On the Gallipoli peninsula, Turks (Mehmets) and Aussies (Johnny) could talk to each other for a while and then throw bombs at each other the next m oment. However the Western Front was to demonstrate to the Diggers that the Trench System had evolved very differently to what they had had to put up with for 8 months. Aussie Troops Faced the Ger man Lines (opposite picture) Ger mans face the Australian’s lines. In the middle, ‘No Man’s Land’ At first troops from both sides would dig temporary rifle pits which would provide them some cover from rifle and machine gun fire. As the war of movement came to a close in November 1914, barbed wire was used by both sides in front of the extended rifle pits, which were essentially joined up into one long line. Often the wire had tin cans strung from it to warn of approaching troops with the distance from the home trench being far enough away to make the throwing of bombs (grenades) ineffective. In this static warfare of attrition and bombardment, both armies tended to copy the other’s ideas of defence and attack, although it should be stressed that the French and British (and Commonwealth) troops were not allowed to build trenches that suggested that defence was their priority. After all the French wanted their lost territory back. So the German defences were far superior, including fields of fire for machine gun posts, deep dugouts and effectively a series of fortresses all along the Western Front. But both sides had barbed wire as a defensive m echanism against surprise night raids or general attacks. In the early stages in 1914-15 the wire was only a single strand, with single barbs of four sharp points spaced about 5 inches apart. American farmers had been the first to implement this form of cattle fencing in the late 1800s. By 1917 the German manufacturers introduced armoured barbed wire to counter the damaging effects of high explosive shelling. The German soldiers faced the same miserable plight as the Australians. Death was all around them and it stank As the war dragged on, coiled belts of barbed wire were rolled out in front of the initial strand of wire and became extremely complex on the German side of No Man’s Land. Of course both sides had to create avenues from where they could sortie out to attack, and on the German side these avenues were comprehensively protected by two machine guns to ensure a “killing zone” when an attack was under way. Our Diggers in the Great War ! 1914-18 with The Rockitt’s War Historian, Simon Lyon