Casualties in the Trenches

Casualties in the Trenches

The precise number of people killed during the First World War is difficult to measure. Estimates vary from 8.5 to 12.0 million but with the collapse of government bureaucracies in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey accurate measurement becomes impossible.

Another problem involves the way death was defined. Most governments only published figures for men who were killed during military action. Soldiers who died slowly from their wounds, gas poisoning or disease, did not always appear in the statistics published after the war.

Most soldiers were killed during major offensives. Over 21,300 were killed on the first day of the Somme and over 50 per sent of those who took part in the attack were wounded. Other major offences such as those at Loos and Passchendaele resulted in large numbers being killed.

Being in front-line trenches was also extremely dangerous. Almost every day some enemy artillery shells would fall on the trenches. One study suggested that one-third of all casualties on the Western Front were killed or wounded while in the trenches.

There is considerable dispute about the number of civilian deaths during the First World War. Bomb victims, merchant seamen and passengers on torpedoed ships were recorded. However, the number of civilians killed by disease or war deprivation are not usually included. For example, it is believed that about 500,000 German civilians died as a result of food shortages. Other countries that suffered high civilian deaths include Russia (2 million), Serbia (650,000) and Rumania (500,000). Considering the state of deprivation at the time, some commentators believe that the estimated 70 million people that died during the influenza pandemic should also be recorded as war deaths.

As you lifted a body by its arms and legs, they detached themselves from the torso, and this was not the worst thing. Each body was covered inches deep with a black fur of flies, which flew up into your face, into your mouth, eyes and nostrils as you approached. The bodies crawled with maggots. The bodies had the consistency of Camembert cheese.

Among this chaos of twisted iron and splintered timber and shapeless earth are the fleshless, blackened bones of simple men who poured out their red, sweet wine of youth unknowing, for nothing more tangible than Honour or their Country's Glory or another's Lust of Power. Let him who thinks that war is a glorious golden thing, who loves to roll forth stirring words of exhortation, invoking Honour and Praise and Valour and Love of Country. Let him look at a little pile of sodden grey rags that cover half a skull and a shine bone and what might have been its ribs, or at this skeleton lying on its side, resting half-crouching as it fell, supported on one arm, perfect but that it is headless, and with the tattered clothing still draped around it; and let him realise how grand and glorious a thing it is to have distilled all Youth and Joy and Life into a foetid heap of hideous putrescence.

I don't object to corpses so long as they are fresh - I soon found that I could reason thus with them. Between you and me is all the difference between life and death. But this is an accepted fact that men are killed and I have no more to learn about that from you, and the difference is no greater than that because your jaw hangs and your flesh changes colour or blood oozes from your wounds. With the wounded it is

different. It always distresses me to see them.

At the beginning of the First World War, popular opinion was that it would not last more than four months, that the science of modern warfare would take such a ghastly toll of human life that mankind would demand cessation of such barbarism. But we were mistaken. We were caught in an avalanche of mad destruction and brutal slaughter that went on for four years to the bewilderment of humanity. We had started a hemorrhage of world proportion, and we could not stop it.

Sir Philip Sassoon had been official secretary to Lloyd George during the war. He had a seat in Parliament representing Brighton and Hove, and asked if I would accompany him to a hospital in Brighton to visit the incurable spastic cases who had been wounded during the war. It was terribly sad to look into those young faces and to see the lost hope there. One man was so paralyzed that he painted with a brush in his mouth, the only part of his body he could use. Another had fists so clenched that he had to be given an anesthetic in order to cut his finger-nails to prevent them from growing into the palms of his hands. Some patients were in such a terrible state that I was not allowed to see them.

Ernest Pusch wore an under-garment of chain mail... such as had been worn in the Middle Ages to guard against unfriendly daggers, and was now sold to over-loving mothers as likely to turn a bayonet-thrust or keep off a stray fragment of shell; as I suppose, it might have done.... Anyway it didn't matter; for on the evening when we first came within reach of the battle-zone, just as he was settling down to his tea, a shell came over and blew him to pieces.

We retired late, full of good food and Scotch whiskey. We shared my bed and were soon sound asleep. It was still dark when I awakened from a nightmare. I had just seen John killed. I lit the candle beside my bed and held it to my brother's face - for some moments I could not persuade myself that he was not indeed dead. At last I heard his regular gentle breathing. I kissed him and blew out the candle and lay back on my pillow again. But further sleep was impossible. A tremulous premonition haunted me - a premonition which even the dawn failed to dispel. (John Rathbone was killed in the trenches a few days later.)

I cannot describe the impression I have formed from what I have already seen - that such a machine has been going on in over 2 years and growing bigger everyday is past comprehension, it makes one look on human beings as a different breed than one had ever imagined them before, the nobility and self sacrifice are beyond understanding. The whole thing is fine noble and bold.

Of course there is the other side, today when I had finished work, I went over some country that was really terrible, it was fought over last about 3 weeks ago, everything is left practically as it was, they have now started to bury the dead in some parts of it Germans and English mixed, this consists of throwing some mud over the bodies as they lie, they don't even worry to cover them altogether arms and feet showing in lots of cases.

The whole country is obliterated. In miles and miles nothing left at all except shell holes full of water you pick your way between them or jump at times, miles and miles of shell holes bodies rifles steel helmets gas helmets and all kinds of battered clothes, German and English, dud shells and wire, all and everything white with mud, and one feels the horrors the water in the shell holes is covering - and not a living soul anywhere near, a truly terrible peace in the new and terribly modern desert - it was a relief to get back to the road and people.

The roads behind the line are wonderful one moving mass of men, horses, mules, ammunition, guns food, fodder, pontoons and every imaginable kind of war material all struggling in one steady stream up these battered thoroughfares, all white with mud halting and struggling on again at regular intervals it is a wonderful sight full of grim determination.

World War I: Battle of Tannenberg

The Battle of Tannenberg was fought August 23-31, 1914, during World War I (1914-1918). One of the few battles of maneuver from a conflict best known for static trench warfare, Tannenberg saw German forces in the east effectively destroy General Alexander Samsonov's Russian Second Army. Employing a mix of signals intelligence, knowledge of the enemy commander's personalities, and effective rail transportation, the Germans were able to concentrate their forces before overwhelming and surrounding Samsonov's men. The battle also marked the debut of General Paul von Hindenburg and his chief of staff, General Erich Ludendorff, as a highly effective duo on the battlefield.

40 (Plus 1) Fascinating Facts about WWI

When the guns fell silent at 11 AM on what is now known as Armistice Day (November 11, 1918),Private George Edwin Ellison’s name would forever be engraved in history as the last British soldier to die during WWI. Ellison had served in the Western Front for four years he was killed at exactly 9:30 AM, four-and-a-half hours from when the armistice was signed. He was also one of the 11,000 individuals killed on the war’s last day – quite an astounding number of casualties.

In connection to the forthcoming centenary of the start of WWI and the coming Armistice Day celebration this November 11, here are 40 other fascinating facts about the 1914-11918 Hostilities – “the war that was meant to end all wars”…

1. 19 was the official age for a British soldier to be sent overseas to serve but many lied about their ages. Approximately 250,000 British lads did that and served whilst they were still under-aged. The youngest was reported to be only 12.

2. A soldier’s average life expectancy while in the trenches was six weeks. Some of the people who were mostly at risk of early death were the junior officers and the stretcher bearers.

3. In the four years of WWI, 25 million tons of supplies were sent to the British forces serving on the Western Front – three million tons of food and five million tons of hay and oats for the horses.

4. As the war progressed, food rations for the soldiers were significantly reduced to keep up with the supply-man ratio. There usual meal while in the trenches was maconochie– so named after the company that made this thin soup of turnips, potatoes and carrots. Other food servings included bully beefand Marmite.There was also a small ration for rum and tea, but soldiers found the latter with terrible taste since water at that time was treated with chloride of lime to purify it.

5. About 6,000 men were killed on daily basis during WWI. This amounted to over 9 million deaths throughout the war.

6. An amazing number of 65 million men coming from 30 various countries fought in WWI.

7. Over 25 million miles of trenches were dug and zigzagged through the Western Front alone. A number of these trenches were nicknamed Bond Street or Death Valleywhile the German lines were dubbed as Pilsen Trench,so on.

8. Germans had superior trenches compared to the Allied ones. These trenches were built to last, some had even shuttered windows and doorbells! Trenches of opposing sides were 50 yards apart in Hooge which was near Ypres.

9. A soldier get to spend 15% of the year in the frontline, that would be about no more than two weeks at a time.

10. During the Battle of Mons in 1914, the British troops efficiently fired their Lee-Enfield rifles the it got the Germans to believe they were up against machine guns.

11. During Christmas of 1914, a truce ensued between the opposing sides, unofficial at that, and along two-thirds of the Western Front observed that. A couple of German soldiers played a football match with British troops in No Man’s land near Ypres, Belgium. Germany won the game 3-2 though not on penalties.

12. Of the casualties on the Western Front, 60% were caused by shellfire. There were also about 80,000 cases recorded that were due to shell shock.

13. In 1917, George V was forced to change the royal family’s name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor due to growing anti-German sentiment within Britain. A number of British road names were changed, too.

14. Some of the well-known people who served during WWI were authors AA Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh JRR Tolkien of the popular Lord of the Rings Trilogy sculptor Henry Moore and the British actor Basil Rathbone.

15. Not one of the soldiers had the protection of metal helmets at the start of the war in 1914. The French were the first to use and introduce them in 1915. Future British prime Minister Winston Churchill donned on a French one when he served in the frontline in 1916.

16. Air raids which occurred on Britain and were carried out by Zeppelins and other other WWI crafts as well as the naval shelling Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby had casualties of more than 700 people.

17. Disease is the main reason for about a third of the soldiers’ deaths during the war. Trench foot, the number one condition that plagued the soldiers and was caused by the damp and cold, was eased with the use of duck boards. However, semi-sanctioned brothels set-up just behind the frontline had about 150,000 soldiers sick with venereal infections.

18. About 346 British soldiers were shot down by their own side, and the number one reason for this was desertion. Another ratification was called the Field Punishment No. 1 – offenders were strapped to a post or gun wheel which was usually located within the enemy’s firing range.

19. Aside from taking up thousands of jobs males left at home for the war, about 9,000 women also served in France as part of their Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and served as cooks or drivers during the war.

20. There were about 16,000 faithful war objectors who refused to take part of WWI many of which were given a white feather as a sign of cowardice. A number were given non-combatant responsibilities while the others were imprisoned.

21. The most popular WWI recruitment poster with the slogan “Your Country Needs You!”had Lord Kitchener featured on it with a pointing finger.

22. There were so-called Pals Battalions during the war and these included groups that had banded together – schoolboys, railway workers and there were even two groups composed of professional football players.

23. About 2,446,719 Britons volunteered for the war by the end of 1915. Nevertheless, induction was still needed and was introduced for 18 years old up to those aging 41 in 1916.

24. The Victoria Cross was given 628 times.Its youngest recipient had been 16-year-old Jack Cornwell who refused to leave his post despite suffering from fatal injuries during the Battle of Jutland.

25. One of WWI’s greatest blasts happened at Messines Ridge, in Belgian West Flanders when the British set off a million pounds of explosives under the Germans the explosion that resulted from the said blast was heard 150 miles away from London.

26. In 1917, the loss of British shipping to German U-boats meant food shortages for the British. The government had to ban the use of rice during weddings and pigeon feeding due to this.

27. Animals were also used during WWI. There were about 100,000 homing pigeons used as message carriers. One particular bird called Cher Ami saved 200 US soldiers who had been cut off when it delivered their message to rescuing forces in spite of its bullet wound.

28. The British Army had 870,000 horses at the height of war. Dead horses were melted down for their fat, the latter used in making explosives.

29. WWI also had dogs – they were employed to lay down telegraph wires terriers became rat hunters.

30. The periscope rifle was developed to allows soldiers to see over the 12-feet deep trenches. Other advanced weapons in WWI were flame throwers and tanks. The first tank came out in 1915 and was nicknamed Little Willie. Tanks, from then on, were named males if they were armed with cannons and females if with machine guns.

31. Many Trench language permeated the English vocabulary – there were lousy and crummy for the lice that beset the soldiers in the trenches as well as dud, bumf and blotto. Trench butterflies was the term for the bits of toilet paper blown about in the battlefield.

32. The Eiffel Tower was essential in intercepting radio messages made by the Germans that eventually led to the execution of Mata Hari, Dutch dancer who was also a German spy. British nurse Edith Cavell was shot by the Germans through a firing squad when they discovered she had been helping soldiers escape behind German lines.

33. At the start, the soldiers’ only protection against gas attacks was cloth soaked in their own urine. It was British officer Edward Harrison who invented the first practical gas mask saving thousands of lives throughout the war.

34. The Defence Of The Realm Act 1914 was an amendment which included these set of rulesBritons were not to talk over the phone using foreign language it was also forbidden to buy binoculars and to hail a cab at night. Even alcoholic drinks were watered down and it was mandatory for pubs to close down at 10 PM.

35. The battle away from the Western Front was just as ferocious. Lawrence of Arabia forged his well-known name during the war in the Middle East while in the Gallipoli campaign, which failed by the way, the Allies suffered 250,000 casualties in their fight against the Turks.

36. The war in the air was also fierce – The Germans had Baron von Richthofen, dubbed as the Red Baron, as their air force’s star pilot. He shot down 80 war planes of the Allies. On the other hand, the British force’s air ace was Major Edward Mannock who was able to shoot down 61 of the enemy’s planes. Both, however, died in action.

37. Superstitious beliefs were rampant among soldiers in the trenches. Some swore they saw angels appearing over the trenches saving them from disaster while others stated that they saw phantom cavalry.

38. Britain spent £6million daily to fund the war by 1918. WWI’s total cost was estimated to amount to £9,000million.

39. As soldiers returned to their homes after the war, there ensued a baby boom. Births had significantly increased by up to 45% between 1918 to 1920. However, the influenza pandemic the occurred in 1918 killed more people throughout the world than WWI did.

40. July 1, 1916 – the morning of the Battle of the Somme – British soldiers had 60,000 casualties, over 20,000 were dead. It was the worst toll within a day in the whole military history. The Allied forces were able to advance six miles that day.

Medicine in World War I

The Great War was a major breaking point for the history of medicine. Before the war, information about infectious diseases was limited and public health was something relatively new. World War One marked the way into the understanding that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, which contributed to the development of preventive treatment such as vaccines and antimicrobial drugs. For instance, deaths from typhoid were significantly reduced during the Great War because of a newly-developed vaccine. However, the same approach was not sufficient to stop the outbreak of pandemic influenza as the virus was only identified way after the war.

Among the various infectious diseases that were spread during the Great War, there were many lice transmitted disease, as in the case of trench fever. This was a very popular disease during the war that affected all armies and medical personnel. Besides being highly contagious, its recovery time was lengthy. Poor hygienic conditions and lack of public awareness contributed to the transmission of these contagious diseases. Yet, the militarization of medical research contributed at the same time to the evolution and development of knowledge and prevention of these same diseases.

Photographs illustrating war neuroses, part of the larger compendium of war diseases described in Arthur Hurst, Medical Diseases of the War, 1918.

Even as physicians and surgeons during the First World War were treating horrific wounds and addressing casualties of battle, they were also confronted with an array of diseases in the trenches and military camps which afflicted the soldiers and contributed significantly to the war's medical care and mortality rates. As the conflict was still raging, physicians such as Sir Arthur Frederick Hurst (1879-1944) were recording and publishing observations on these diseases using firsthand experience as well as the research of contemporaries. Hurst's text, Medical Diseases of the War, first appeared in 1917 and provides an invaluable record of these afflictions, even drawing on parallel experiences from the Boer War and American Civil War. It proved so useful that the work was revised and reissued in the 1940s as a second world war erupted in Europe.


In addition to nervous disorders classed generally under the heading of shell-shock, Sir Arthur Hurst identified a number of infectious diseases commonly seen in the military. Dysentery, in both amoebic and bacillary forms, was one of the most prevalent afflictions. Hurst claimed ameobic dysentery to be unusual in Europe until British soldiers at Gallipoli brought it with them, probably from Egypt, in 1915 the infection was spread by flies and deposited on food, and contamination was spread easily through ineffective hygiene. Gastric pain and chronic diarrhea are the typical indicators of dysentery and, if treated promptly, would rarely result in fatalities. Many of the cases of amoebic dysentery, however, were followed by secondary infections of amoebic hepatitis and liver abscess, which could result in chronic ill health for months or years after the initial infection.

From: Richard P. Strong. Trench Fever. London, 1918.

Trench Fever

One disease unique to the First World War was trench fever, or "pyrexia of unknown origin," which was first identified in the British Army in France in the summer of 1915. It had the name because it was "only observed among officers and men living near the trenches, and in the personnel of hospitals, especially among orderlies of wards in which there were patients suffering from the disease." It was a mystery during the war, and Hurst speculated that some insect, possibly lice, was involved in the spread of the disease, as its occurrence was seen least in battalions with adequate provisions for bathing and the incidence of disease could be lessened by measures against lice. Patients could be infected--and infectious--for long periods of time, and infection did not confer immunity to subsequent reinfection. Trench fever also had an incubation period of several weeks, adding to the increased likelihood of spreading infection. The fever occurred in short and long forms, and periodic bouts were common. The disease, though debilitating, was never fatal, and it disappeared with the Armistice.

Paratyphoid fever (enteric fever)

Paratyphoid fever or enteric fever, a form of blood poisoning, also became common during the war, particularly in the early years. It manifested in patients as headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, body aches in back, limbs, and joints, and shivering, and fevers lasting anywhere from one to eight weeks. This was a less severe infection than true typhoid and had a lesser morbidity, though could still lead to death from pneumonia or toxemia. Forces in the Mediterranean were peculiarly subject to this disease, far more so than in Europe. Typhoid fever itself was relatively rare during the course of the war, due, in part, to inoculation efforts. Arthur Hurst recorded over 20,000 cases of typhoid and paratyphoid fevers from 1914 to 1918, but just 1100 deaths, though it had caused a far higher mortality during the Boer War.

Soldier&rsquos Heart or Effort Syndrome

Soldier&rsquos Heart or Effort Syndrome: Following observations of American Civil War soldiers who exhibited &ldquoa form of cardiac palpitation &hellip very rarely met with in civil practice,&rdquo J. M. Da Costa and other Philadelphia physicians identified a cardiac phenomenon which he termed &ldquoirritable heart.&rdquo Known also as &ldquosoldier&rsquos heart&rdquo or &ldquoeffort syndrome&rdquo, this phenomenon was another ailment commonly seen in World War I. Arthur Hurst stated that it &ldquomay be associated with prolonged mental strain and insufficient sleep, on a heart and nervous system weakened by the action of some form of toxaemia.&rdquo The toxemia could be associated with a number of different diseases, including typhoid fever, jaundice, trench fever, and dysentery, but Hurst also theorized that excessive smoking could be a contributing factor. The fever or toxemia weakens the system and exercise then leads to breathlessness, exhaustion, heart palpitations, and cold extremities. Rest and moderate exercise provided the best relief. Over 36,000 soldiers were discharged during the war from &ldquoheart disease&rdquo but many of these cases were not due to any organic defect but some form of effort syndrome.

Passage on war nephritis in Arthur F. Furst, Medical Diseases of War. London, 1918.

War Nephritis

War Nephritis: The Civil War saw an outbreak of cases of acute nephritis, and the frequency of cases during World War I prompted Arthur Hurst to identify a &ldquowar nephritis&rdquo, probably due to some specific infection. The disease was only mildly contagious and manifested itself by edema, severe headache, vertigo, and breathlessness. Rest and diet were the recommended treatments. The disease rarely caused death, though recovery could be a matter of weeks to months. Hurst speculated that &ldquoit is not a specific disease, but is a form of nephritis occurring among soldiers and presenting certain unusual features as a result of the very different conditions of life of a war-worn soldier.&rdquo

Gas Poisoning

April 1915 saw the first use of chlorine as a poison gas leading to asphyxiation at Ypres. There were over 15,000 casualties, a third of those fatal. The attack prompted the quick issue of respirators to soldiers. There were two subsequent chlorine gas attacks in 1915, and phosgene was also used. Gas shells were then introduced in 1916, and shells with mustard gas, the most effective of the chemical weapons, first appeared in 1917. Gas poisoning manifested itself by eye and throat irritation, coughing, vomiting, and headache and could lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. Many soldiers recovered from gassing but could suffer permanent lung damage, and, in the case of mustard gas, eye damage. Arthur Hurst records over 160,000 cases of gassed soldiers treated at casualty clearing stations of the British Expeditionary Force.

Major George A. Soper of the U.S. Army, in a 1919 article in The Military Surgeon, reviewed statistical information on the experience of diseases among American troops in 1918 and concluded that:

"The large amount of sickness, which customarily occurs when large numbers of green troops are rapidly mobilized, has not been wholly avoided in this war. The intestinal diseases and malarial infections, which in former wars constituted so conspicuous a cause of disability and death, were practically eliminated. The sickness has been confined almost exclusively to the respiratory type of infections. A large part of the respiratory disease was connected with epidemics, of which the influenza outbreaks which occurred in the spring and early fall were the most conspicuous examples. It is probable that had it not been for the pandemic the death rate would have been little more than one-third of the rate recorded."


Strategic developments

Eastern Front

On 9 October, the First German offensive against Warsaw began with the battles of Warsaw (9–19 October) and Ivangorod (9–20 October). Four days later, Przemyśl was relieved by the advancing Austro-Hungarians and the Battle of Chyrow 13 October – 2 November) began in Galicia. Czernowitz in Bukovina was re-occupied by the Austro-Hungarian army on 22 August and then lost again to the Russian army on 28 October. On 29 October, the Ottoman Empire commenced hostilities against Russia, when Turkish warships bombarded Odessa, Sevastopol and Theodosia. Next day Stanislau in Galicia was taken by Russian forces and the Serbian army began a retreat from the line of the Drina. On 4 November, the Russian army crossed the frontier of Turkey-in-Asia and seized Azap. [1]

Britain and France declared war on Turkey on 5 November and next day, Keupri-Keni in Armenia was captured, during the Bergmann Offensive (2–16 November) by the Russian army. On 10 October, Przemysl was surrounded again by the Russian army, beginning the Second Siege Memel in East Prussia was occupied by the Russians a day later. Keupri-Keni was recaptured by the Ottoman army on 14 November, the Sultan proclaimed Jihad, next day the Battle of Cracow (15 November – 2 December) began and the Second Russian Invasion of North Hungary (15 November – 12 December) commenced. The Second German Offensive against Warsaw opened with the Battle of Łódź (16 November – 15 December). [2]

Great Retreat

The Great Retreat was a long withdrawal by the Franco-British armies to the Marne, from 24 August – 28 September 1914, after the success of the German armies in the Battle of the Frontiers (7 August – 13 September). After the defeat of the French Fifth Army at the Battle of Charleroi (21 August) and the BEF in the Battle of Mons (23 August), both armies made a rapid retreat to avoid envelopment. [b] A counter-offensive by the French and the BEF at the First Battle of Guise (29–30 August), failed to end the German advance and the Franco-British retreat continued beyond the Marne. From 5–12 September, the First Battle of the Marne ended the retreat and forced the German armies to retire towards the Aisne river, where the First Battle of the Aisne was fought from 13–28 September. [3]

Tactical developments


After the retreat of the French Fifth Army and the BEF, local operations took place from August–October. General Fournier was ordered on 25 August to defend the fortress at Maubeuge, which was surrounded two days later by the German VII Reserve Corps. Maubeuge was defended by fourteen forts, a garrison of 30,000 French territorials and c. 10,000 French, British and Belgian stragglers. The fortress blocked the main Cologne–Paris rail line, leaving only the line from Trier to Liège, Brussels, Valenciennes and Cambrai open to the Germans, which was needed to carry supplies southward to the armies on the Aisne and transport troops of the 6th Army northwards from Lorraine to Flanders. [4] On 7 September, the garrison surrendered, after super-heavy artillery from the Siege of Namur demolished the forts. The Germans took 32,692 prisoners and captured 450 guns. [5] [4] Small detachments of the Belgian, French and British armies conducted operations in Belgium and northern France, against German cavalry and Jäger. [6]

On 27 August, a squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) flew to Ostend, for reconnaissance sorties between Bruges, Ghent and Ypres. [7] Royal Marines landed at Dunkirk on the night of 19/20 September and on 28 September, a battalion occupied Lille. The rest of the brigade occupied Cassel on 30 September and scouted the country in motor cars an RNAS Armoured Car Section was created, by fitting vehicles with bullet-proof steel. [8] [9] On 2 October, the Marine Brigade was sent to Antwerp, followed by the rest of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 6 October, having landed at Dunkirk on the night of 4/5 October. From 6–7 October, the 7th Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division landed at Zeebrugge. [10] Naval forces collected at Dover were formed into a separate unit, which became the Dover Patrol, to operate in the Channel and off the French-Belgian coast. [11]

In late September, Marshal Joseph Joffre and Field Marshal John French discussed the transfer of the BEF from the Aisne to Flanders, to unify British forces on the Continent, shorten the British lines of communication from England and to defend Antwerp and the Channel Ports. Despite the inconvenience of British troops crossing French lines of communication, when French forces were moving north after the Battle of the Aisne, Joffre agreed subject to a proviso, that French would make individual British units available for operations as soon as they arrived. On the night of 1/2 October, the transfer of the BEF from the Aisne front began in great secrecy. Marches were made at night and billeted troops were forbidden to venture outside in daylight. On 3 October, a German wireless message was intercepted, which showed that the BEF was still believed to be on the Aisne. [12]

II Corps moved from the night of 3/4 October and III Corps followed from 6 October, leaving a brigade behind with I Corps, which stayed until the night of 13/14 October. II Corps arrived around Abbeville from 8–9 October and concentrated to the north-east around Gennes-Ivergny, Gueschart, Le Boisle and Raye, preparatory to an advance on Béthune. The 2nd Cavalry Division arrived at St Pol and Hesdin on 9 October and the 1st Cavalry Division arrived a day later. GHQ left Fère-en-Tardenois and arrived at Saint-Omer on 13 October. III Corps began to assemble around Saint-Omer and Hazebrouck on 11 October, then moved behind the left flank of II Corps, to advance on Bailleul and Armentières. I Corps arrived at Hazebrouck on 19 October and moved eastwards to Ypres. [13]

Race to the Sea

After a tour of the front on 15 September, the new chief of the German General Staff (Oberste Heeresleitung, OHL), General Erich von Falkenhayn planned to continue the withdrawal of the right flank of the German armies in France from the Aisne, to gain time for a strategic regrouping, by moving the 6th Army from Lorraine. A decisive result (Schlachtentscheidung), was intended to come from the offensive of the 6th Army but on 18 September, French attacks endangered the German northern flank instead and the 6th Army used the first units from Lorraine to repulse the French as a preliminary. [14] [c] The French used undamaged rail and communications networks, to move troops faster than the Germans but neither side could begin a decisive attack, having to send units forward piecemeal, against reciprocal attacks of the opponent, in the Race to the Sea (The name is a misnomer, because neither side raced to the sea but tried to outflank their opponent before they reached it and ran out of room.) [21]

A German attack on 24 September, forced the French onto the defensive and Joffre reinforced the northern flank of the Second Army. As BEF units arrived, operations began piecemeal on the northern flank the Belgian army refused a request by Joffre to leave the National redoubt of Belgium and sortie against German communications. A Franco-British offensive was substituted towards Lille and Antwerp. The allied troops managed to advance towards Lille and the Lys river but were stopped by German attacks in the opposite direction on 20 October. [23] The "race" ended on the Belgian coast around 17 October, when the last open area from Diksmuide to the North Sea, was occupied by Belgian troops withdrawing from Antwerp after the Siege of Antwerp (28 September – 10 October). The outflanking attempts resulted in indecisive encounter battles through Artois and Flanders, at the Battle of La Bassée (10 October – 2 November), the Battle of Messines (12 October – 2 November) and the Battle of Armentières (13 October – 2 November). [24] [25] [d]


North-east France and the south-west Belgium are known as Flanders. West of a line between Arras and Calais in the north-west are chalk downlands, covered with soil sufficient for arable farming. East of the line, the land declines in a series of spurs into the Flanders plain, bounded by canals linking Douai, Béthune, St Omer and Calais. To the south-east, canals run between Lens, Lille, Roubaix and Courtrai, the Lys river from Courtrai to Ghent and to the north-west lies the sea. The plain is almost flat, apart from a line of low hills from Cassel, eastwards to Mont des Cats, Mont Noir, Mont Rouge, Scherpenberg and Mont Kemmel. From Kemmel, a low ridge lies to the north-east, declining in elevation past Ypres through Wytschaete (Wijtschate), Gheluvelt and Passchendaele (Passendale), curving north then north-west to Diksmuide where it merges with the plain. A coastal strip is about 10 mi (16 km) wide, near sea level and fringed by sand dunes. Inland the ground is mainly meadow, cut by canals, dykes, drainage ditches and roads built up on causeways. The Lys, Yser and upper Scheldt are canalised and between them the water level underground is close to the surface, rises further in the autumn and fills any dip, the sides of which then collapse. The ground surface quickly turns to a consistency of cream cheese and on the coast movement is confined to roads, except during frosts. [28]

In the rest of the Flanders Plain were woods and small fields, divided by hedgerows planted with trees and fields cultivated from small villages and farms. The terrain was difficult for infantry operations because of the lack of observation, impossible for mounted action because of the many obstructions and awkward for artillery because of the limited view. South of La Bassée Canal around Lens and Béthune was a coal-mining district full of slag heaps, pit-heads (fosses) and miners' houses (corons). North of the canal, the city of Lille, Tourcoing and Roubaix formed a manufacturing complex, with outlying industries at Armentières, Comines, Halluin and Menin (Menen), along the Lys river, with isolated sugar beet and alcohol refineries and a steel works near Aire-sur-la-Lys. Intervening areas were agricultural, with wide roads, which in France were built on shallow foundations or were unpaved mud tracks. Narrow pavé roads ran along the frontier and inside Belgium. In France, the roads were closed by the local authorities during thaws to preserve the surface and marked by Barrières fermėes signs, which were ignored by British lorry drivers. The difficulty of movement after the end of summer absorbed much of the labour available on road maintenance, leaving field defences to be built by front-line soldiers. [29]


In October, Herbert Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, forecast a long war and placed orders for the manufacture of a large number of field, medium and heavy guns and howitzers, sufficient to equip a 24-division army. The order was soon increased by the War Office but the rate of shell manufacture had an immediate effect on operations. While the BEF was still on the Aisne front, ammunition production for field guns and howitzers was 10,000 shells a month and only 100 shells per month were being manufactured for 60-pounder guns the War Office sent another 101 heavy guns to France during October. As the contending armies moved north into Flanders, the flat terrain and obstructed view, caused by the number of buildings, industrial concerns, tree foliage and field boundaries, forced changes in British artillery methods. Lack of observation was remedied in part by decentralising artillery to infantry brigades and by locating the guns in the front line but this made them more vulnerable and several batteries were overrun in the fighting between Arras and Ypres. Devolving control of the guns made concentrated artillery-fire difficult to arrange, because of a lack of field telephones and the obscuring of signal flags by mists and fog. [30]

Co-operation with French forces to share the British heavy artillery was implemented and discussions with French gunners led to a synthesis of the French practice of firing a field artillery rafale (squall) before infantry moved to the attack and then ceasing fire, with the British preference for direct fire at observed targets, which was the beginning of the development of creeping barrages. During the advance of the III Corps and an attack on Méteren, the 4th Division issued divisional artillery orders, which stressed the concentration of the fire of the artillery, although during the battle the gunners fired on targets of opportunity, since German positions were so well camouflaged. As the fighting moved north into Belgian Flanders, the artillery found that Shrapnel shells had little effect on buildings and called for high explosive ammunition. During a general attack on 18 October, the German defenders achieved a defensive success, due to the disorganised nature of the British attacks, which only succeeded where close artillery support was available. The unexpected strength of the German 4th Army opposite, compounded British failings, although the partly trained, poorly led and badly equipped German reserve corps suffered high casualties. [31]

German tactics developed during the battles around Ypres, with cavalry still effective during the early maneuvering, although just as hampered by hedges and fenced fields, railway lines and urban growth as the Allied cavalry, which made the ground far better suited to defensive battle. German accounts stress the accuracy of Allied sniper fire, which led troops to remove the spike from Pickelhaube helmets and for officers to carry rifles to be less conspicuous. Artillery remained the main infantry-killer, particularly French 75 mm field guns, firing shrapnel at ranges lower than 1,000 yd (910 m). Artillery in German reserve units was far less efficient due to lack of training and fire often fell short. [32] In the lower ground between Ypres and the higher ground to the south-east and east, the ground was drained by many streams and ditches, divided into small fields with high hedges and ditches, roads were unpaved and the area was dotted with houses and farmsteads. Observation was limited by trees and open spaces could be commanded from covered positions and made untenable by small-arms and artillery fire. As winter approached the views became more open as woods and copses were cut down by artillery bombardments and the ground became much softer, particularly in the lower-lying areas. [33]


The French, Belgian and British forces in Flanders had no organisation for unified command but General Foch had been appointed commandant le groupe des Armées du Nord on 4 October by Joffre. The Belgian army managed to save 80,000 men from Antwerp and retire to the Yser and although not formally in command of British and Belgian forces, Foch obtained co-operation from both contingents. [22] On 10 October, Foch and French agreed to combine French, British and Belgian forces north and east of Lille, from the Lys to the Scheldt. [34] Foch planned a joint advance from Ypres to Nieuwpoort, towards a line from Roeselare (Roulers), Thourout and Gistel, just south of Ostend. Foch intended to isolate the German III Reserve Corps, which was advancing from Antwerp, from the main German force in Flanders. French and Belgian forces were to push the Germans back against the sea, as French and British forces turned south-east and closed up to the Lys river from Menin to Ghent, to cross the river and attack the northern flank of the German armies. [35]

Falkenhayn sent the 4th Army headquarters to Flanders, to take over the III Reserve Corps and its heavy artillery, twenty batteries of heavy field howitzers, twelve batteries of 210 mm howitzers and six batteries of 100 mm guns, after the Siege of Antwerp (28 September – 10 October). The XXII, XXIII, XXVI and XXVII Reserve corps, of the six new reserve corps formed from volunteers after the outbreak of the war, were ordered from Germany to join the III Reserve Corps on 8 October. The German reserve corps infantry were poorly trained and ill-equipped but on 10 October, Falkenhayn issued a directive that the 4th Army was to cross the Yser, advance regardless of losses and isolate Dunkirk and Calais, then turn south towards Saint-Omer. With the 6th Army to the south, which was to deny the Allies an opportunity to establish a secure front and transfer troops to the north, the 4th Army was to inflict an annihilating blow on the French, Belgian and BEF forces in French and Belgian Flanders. [36]

Battle of the Yser

French, British and Belgian troops covered the Belgian and British withdrawal from Antwerp towards Ypres and the Yser from Diksmuide to Nieuwpoort, on a 35 km (22 mi) front. The new German 4th Army was ordered to capture Dunkirk and Calais, by attacking from the coast to the junction with the 6th Army. [36] German attacks began on 18 October, coincident with the battles around Ypres and gained a foothold over the Yser at Tervaete. The French 42nd Division at Nieuwpoort detached a brigade to reinforce the Belgians and German heavy artillery was countered on the coast, by Allied ships under British command, which bombarded German artillery positions and forced the Germans to attack further inland. [37] On 24 October, the Germans attacked fifteen times and managed to cross the Yser on a 5 km (3.1 mi) front. The French sent the rest of the 42nd Division to the centre but on 26 October, the Belgian Commander Félix Wielemans, ordered the Belgian army to retreat, until over-ruled by the Belgian king. Next day sluice gates on the coast at Nieuwpoort were opened, which flooded the area between the Yser and the railway embankment, running north from Diksmuide. On 30 October, German troops crossed the embankment at Ramscapelle (Ramskapelle) but as the waters rose, were forced back the following evening. The floods reduced the fighting to local operations, which diminished until the end of the battle on 30 November. [38]

Battle of Langemarck

Further north, French cavalry was pushed back to the Yser by the XXIII Reserve Corps and by nightfall was dug in from the junction with the British at Steenstraat to the vicinity of Diksmuide, the boundary with the Belgian army. [39] The British closed the gap with a small number of reinforcements and on 23 October, the French IX Corps took over the north end of the Ypres salient, relieving I Corps with the 17th Division. Kortekeer Cabaret was recaptured by the 1st Division and the 2nd Division was relieved. Next day, I Corps had been relieved and the 7th Division lost Polygon Wood temporarily. The left flank of the 7th Division was taken over by the 2nd Division, which joined in the counter-attack of the French IX Corps on the northern flank towards Roeselare and Torhout, as the fighting further north on the Yser impeded German attacks around Ypres. [40] German attacks were made on the right flank of the 7th Division at Gheluvelt. [41] The British sent the remains of I Corps to reinforce IV Corps. German attacks from 25 to 26 October were made further south, against the 7th Division on the Menin Road and on 26 October part of the line crumbled until reserves were scraped up to block the gap and avoid a rout. [42]

Battle of Gheluvelt

On 28 October, as the 4th Army attacks bogged down, Falkenhayn responded to the costly failures of the 4th and 6th armies by ordering the armies to conduct holding attacks while a new force, Armeegruppe Fabeck (General Max von Fabeck) was assembled from XV Corps and the II Bavarian Corps, the 26th Division and the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, under the XIII Corps headquarters. [e] The Armeegruppe was rushed up to Deûlémont and Werviq (Wervik), the boundary between the 6th and 4th armies, to attack towards Ypres and Poperinge. Strict economies were imposed on the 6th Army formations further south, to provide artillery ammunition for 250 heavy guns allotted to support an attack to the north-west, between Gheluvelt and Messines. The XV Corps was to attack on the right flank, south of the Menin–Ypres road to the Comines–Ypres canal and the main effort was to come from there to Garde Dieu by the II Bavarian Corps, flanked by the 26th Division. [43]

On 29 October, attacks by the XXVII Reserve Corps began against I Corps north of the Menin Road, at dawn, in thick fog. By nightfall, the Gheluvelt crossroads had been lost and 600 British prisoners taken. French attacks further north, by the 17th Division, 18th Division and 31st Division recaptured Bixschoote and Kortekeer Cabaret. Advances by Armeegruppe Fabeck to the south-west against I Corps and the dismounted Cavalry Corps further south, came to within 1.9 mi (3 km) of Ypres along the Menin road and brought the town into range of German artillery. [44] On 30 October, German attacks by the 54th Reserve Division and the 30th Division, on the left flank of the BEF at Gheluvelt, were repulsed but the British were pushed out of Zandvoorde, Hollebeke and Hollebeke Château as German attacks on a line from Messines to Wytschaete and St. Yves were repulsed. The British rallied opposite Zandvoorde with French reinforcements and "Bulfin's Force" a command improvised for the motley of troops. The BEF had many casualties and used all its reserves but the French IX Corps sent its last three battalions and retrieved the situation in the I Corps sector. On 31 October, German attacks near Gheluvelt broke through until a counter-attack by the 2nd Worcestershire restored the situation. [45]

Battle of Nonne Bosschen

On 11 November, the Germans attacked from Messines to Herenthage, Veldhoek woods, Nonne Bosschen and Polygon Wood. Massed small-arms fire repulsed German attacks between Polygon Wood and Veldhoek. The German 3rd Division and 26th Division broke through to St Eloi and advanced to Zwarteleen, some 3,000 yd (2,700 m) east of Ypres, where they were checked by the British 7th Cavalry Brigade. The remains of II Corps from La Bassée, held a 3,500 yd (3,200 m) front, with 7,800 men and 2,000 reserves against 25 German battalions with 17,500 men. The British were forced back by the German 4th Division and British counter-attacks were repulsed. [46] Next day, an unprecedented bombardment fell on British positions in the south of the salient between Polygon Wood and Messines. German troops broke through along the Menin road but could not be supported and the advance was contained by 13 November. [47] Both sides were exhausted by these efforts German casualties around Ypres had reached about 80,000 men and BEF losses, August – 30 November, were 89,964 (54,105 at Ypres). The Belgian army had been reduced by half and the French had lost 385,000 men by September, 265,000 men having been killed by the end of the year. [48]

Local operations, 12–22 November

The weather became much colder, with rain from 12–14 November and a little snow on 15 November. Night frosts followed and on 20 November, the ground was covered by snow. Frostbite cases appeared and the physical strain increased, among troops occupying trenches half-full of freezing water, falling asleep standing up and being sniped at and bombed from opposing trenches 100 yd (91 m) away. [49] On 12 November, a German attack surprised the French IX Corps and the British 8th Division arrived at the front on 13 November and more attacks were made on the II Corps front from 14 November. Between 15–22 November, I Corps was relieved by the French IX and XVI corps and the British line was reorganised. [50] On 16 November, Foch agreed with French to take over the line from Zonnebeke to the Ypres–Comines canal. The new British line ran 21 mi (34 km) from Wytschaete to the La Bassée Canal at Givenchy. The Belgians held 15 mi (24 km) and the French defended some 430 mi (690 km) of the new Western front. On 17 November, Albrecht ordered the 4th Army to cease its attacks the III Reserve Corps and XIII Corps were ordered to move the Eastern Front, which was discovered by the Allies on 20 November. [51]


Both sides had tried to advance after the "open" northern flank had disappeared, the Franco-British towards Lille in October, followed by attacks by the BEF, Belgians and a new French Eighth Army in Belgium. The German 4th and 6th armies took small amounts of ground at great cost to both sides, at the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October) and further south at the Battles of Ypres. Falkenhayn then tried a limited goal of capturing Ypres and Mont Kemmel, from 19 October to 22 November. By 8 November, Falkenhayn had accepted that the coastal advance had failed and that taking Ypres was impossible. Neither side had moved forces to Flanders fast enough to obtain a decisive victory and both were exhausted, short of ammunition and suffering from collapses in morale, some infantry units refusing orders. The autumn battles in Flanders had quickly become static, attrition operations, unlike the battles of manoeuvre in the summer. French, British and Belgian troops in improvised field defences repulsed German attacks for four weeks in mutually costly attacks and counter-attacks. From 21 to 23 October, German reservists had made mass attacks at Langemarck, with losses of up to seventy per cent. [52]

Industrial warfare between mass armies had been indecisive troops could only move forward over heaps of dead. Field fortifications had neutralised many classes of offensive weapon and the defensive firepower of artillery and machine-guns had dominated the battlefield the ability of the armies to supply themselves and replace casualties kept battles going for weeks. The German armies engaged 34 divisions in the Flanders battles, the French twelve, the British nine and the Belgians six, along with marines and dismounted cavalry. [53] Falkenhayn reconsidered German strategy Vernichtungsstrategie and a dictated peace against France and Russia had been shown to be beyond German resources. Falkenhayn intended to detach Russia or France from the Allied coalition, by diplomatic as well as military action. A strategy of attrition (Ermattungsstrategie), would make the cost of the war was too great for the Allies to bear, until one enemy negotiated an end to the war. The remaining belligerents would have to come to terms or face the German army concentrated on the remaining front and capable of obtaining a decisive victory. [54]

Mad minute

In 2010, Jack Sheldon wrote that a "mad minute" of accurate rapid rifle-fire, was held to have persuaded German troops that they were opposed by machine-guns. This was a false notion, picked out of a translation of Die Schlacht an der Yser und bei Ypern im Herbst 1914 (1918), which the official historians used, in lieu of authoritative sources, during the writing of the 1914 volumes of the British History of the Great War, the first editions of which were published in 1922 and 1925,

The British and French artillery fired as rapidly as they knew how and over every bush, hedge and fragment of wall floated a thin film of smoke, betraying a machine-gun rattling out bullets.

Sheldon wrote that the translation was inaccurate and ignored many references to the combined fire of rifles and machine-guns,

The British, most of whom had experience gained through long years of campaigning against cunning opponents in close country, let the attackers get to close range then, from hedges, houses and trees, opened up with withering rifle and machine-gun fire from point blank range. [56]

typical of German regimental histories. The British fired short bursts at close range, to conserve ammunition. Sheldon also wrote that German troops knew the firing characteristics of machine-guns and kept still until French Hotchkiss M1909 and Hotchkiss M1914 machine-guns, which had ammunition in 24- and 30-round strips, were reloading. [57]


BEF casualties
August–December 1914 [58]
Month No.
August 14,409
September 15,189
October 30,192
November 24,785
December 11,079
Total 95,654

Sheldon wrote that a German description of the fate of the new reserve corps as a Kindermord (massacre of the innocents), in a communiqué of 11 November 1914, was misleading. Claims that up to 75 percent of the manpower of the reserve corps were student volunteers, who attacked while singing Deutschland über alles began a myth. After the war, most regiments which had fought in Flanders, referred to the singing of songs on the battlefield, a practice only plausible when used to identify units at night. [59] In 1986, Unruh, wrote that 40,761 students had been enrolled in six reserve corps, four of which had been sent to Flanders, leaving a maximum of 30 percent of the reserve corps operating in Flanders made up of volunteers. Only 30 percent of German casualties at Ypres were young and inexperienced student reservists, others being active soldiers, older members of the Landwehr and army reservists. Reserve Infantry Regiment 211 had 166 men in active service, 299 members of the reserve, which was composed of former soldiers from 23–28 years old, 970 volunteers who were inexperienced and probably 18–20 years old, 1,499 Landwehr (former soldiers from 28–39 years old, released from the reserve) and one Ersatzreservist (enrolled but inexperienced). [60]


In 1925, Edmonds recorded that the Belgians had suffered a great number of casualties from 15–25 October, including 10,145 wounded. British casualties from 14 October – 30 November were 58,155, French losses were 86,237 men and of 134,315 German casualties in Belgium and northern France, from 15 October – 24 November, 46,765 losses were incurred on the front from the Lys to Gheluvelt, from 30 October – 24 November. [61] In 2003, Beckett recorded 50,000–85,000 French casualties, 21,562 Belgian casualties, 55,395 British losses and 134,315 German casualties. [62] In 2010, Sheldon recorded 54,000 British casualties, c. 80,000 German casualties, that the French had many losses and that the Belgian army had been reduced to a shadow. [63] Sheldon also noted that Colonel Fritz von Lossberg had recorded that up to 3 November, casualties in the 4th Army were 62,000 men and that the 6th Army had lost 27,000 men, 17,250 losses of which had occurred in Armeegruppe Fabeck from 30 October – 3 November. [64]

Subsequent operations

Winter operations from November 1914 to February 1915 in the Ypres area, took place in the Attack on Wytschaete (14 December). [65] A reorganisation of the defence of Flanders had been carried out by the Franco-British from 15–22 November, which left the BEF holding a homogeneous front from Givenchy to Wytschaete 21 mi (34 km) to the north. [66] Joffre arranged for a series of attacks on the Western Front, after receiving information that German divisions were moving to the Russian Front. The Eighth Army was ordered to attack in Flanders and French was asked to participate with the BEF on 14 December. Joffre wanted the British to attack along all of the BEF front and especially from Warneton to Messines, as the French attacked from Wytschaete to Hollebeke. French gave orders to attack from the Lys to Warneton and Hollebeke with II and III Corps, as IV and Indian corps conducted local operations, to fix the Germans to their front. [67]

French emphasised that the attack would begin on the left flank, next to the French and that units must not move ahead of each other. The French and the 3rd Division were to capture Wytschaete and Petit Bois, then Spanbroekmolen was to be taken by II Corps attacking from the west and III Corps from the south, only the 3rd Division making a maximum effort. On the right the 5th Division was only to pretend to attack and III Corps was to make demonstrations, as the corps was holding a 10 mi (16 km) front and could do no more. [67] On the left, the French XVI Corps failed to reach its objectives and the 3rd Division got to within 50 yd (46 m) of the German line and found uncut wire. One battalion took 200 yd (180 m) of the German front trench and took 42 prisoners. The failure of the attack on Wytschaete resulted in the attack further south being cancelled but German artillery retaliation was much heavier than the British bombardment. [68]

Desultory attacks were made from 15 to 16 December which, against intact German defences and deep mud, made no impression. On 17 December, XVI and II corps did not attack, the French IX Corps sapped forward a short distance down the Menin road and small gains were made at Klein Zillebeke and Bixschoote. Joffre ended attacks in the north, except for operations at Arras and requested support from French who ordered attacks on 18 December along the British front, then restricted the attacks to support of XVI Corps by II Corps and demonstrations by II Corps and the Indian Corps. Fog impeded the Arras attack and a German counter-attack against XVI Corps led II Corps to cancel its supporting attack. Six small attacks were made by the 8th, 7th, 4th and Indian divisions, which captured little ground, all of which was found to be untenable due to mud and water-logging Franco-British attacks in Flanders ended. [68]


Upon relief from the Boucq Sector, the Division was concentrated by decauville (tramway) and marching in and near Toul, but proceeded two days later by rail to the vicinity of Meaux, with Division Headquarters at Nanteuilles-Meaux. On July 5th it moved up to support positions near Montreuil-aux-Lions and between July 5th and 8th it relieved the Second Division (9th Infantry, 23rd Infantry, 5th and 6th Marines) in the line just to the northwest of Chateau Thierry.

The great German drive southward between Compiegne and Rheims had reached the Marne River. For the moment it had been stopped, but a renewal of the attack was to be expected, and was intended to start not later than July 15th. It was just before the date when the great counteroffensive stroke by Marshal Foch was to begin that the Division resumed duty on the front, taking over the hotly contested and hard-won line from Vaux (inclusive) -- Bouresches -- Bois de Belleau -- to vicinity of Bussiares (exclusive). It formed part of the 1st Corps (U. S.), commanded by Maj.-General Hunter Liggett, together with the 167th Division (French), which was on our left, and the 2nd Division (afterwards the 4th) in support. On the Division's right was the 39th Division (French). For the first time an American corps entered the line to attack as an organization and in the lead of the corps was the Twenty-Sixth Division.

In this so-called "Pas Fini" Sector, awaiting the hour to attack, the Division suffered. With no system of trenches or shelters, there was great exposure to enemy machine gun and artillery fire the woods and villages on the line (Vaux, Bouresches, Lucy le Bocage) were drenched with gas a vigilant and aggressive enemy allowed no respite in his attentions. On July 12th and 13th he made a vigorous thrust at our positions in Vaux, held by the 101st Infantry, which beat back the blow as fiercely as it was dealt.

July 10th, Major M. G. Bulkeley, Jr., succeeded Lieut.-Colonel J. L. Howard in command of 101st Machine Gun- Battalion. July 12th, Colonel J. H. Sherburne, commanding the 101st F. A., was promoted to Brigadier General and transferred to duty away from the Division. July 16th, Brig.-General Peter E. Traub, commanding the 51st Infantry Brigade, was promoted to Major General, and assigned to command the 35th Division, being succeeded by Brig.-General George H. Shelton (then commanding 104th Infantry).

July 18th the attack of the Division, as part of the general operation to reduce the Chateau Thierry salient, and thereby avert the threatened danger to Paris, was begun by the 103rd and 104th Infantries. The whole operation was a very difficult maneuver, for the right element of the Division (101st Infantry) could not advance until the general line to the left had been brought up abreast of its position in and near Vaux and, furthermore, no other element of the Division could attack until elements further to the left had advanced sufficiently to straighten the general line. The Division's axis of attack, moreover, required two changes of direction to be made. The closest liaison and mutual understanding were required of every unit down to companies.

The attack of July 18th, led by the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, advanced the line of the 52nd Brigade successfully. The villages of Belleu, Torcy, and Givry were taken Hill 193, behind Givry, was twice won, but had to be abandoned owing to the fact that the French on our left had not been able to make rapid enough progress to secure the position. Heavy opposition was encountered, especially at Bouresches railway station and Bouresches Wood, the enemy employing many machine guns and well-placed artillery fire.

On the afternoon of July 10th the right of the Division (51st Infantry Brigade) moved forward, clearing the eastern part of the Bouresches Wood and other pieces of woodland where enemy machine guns and snipers found ideal positions.

By noon of July 21st the Division reached the Chateau-Thierry-Soissons road, where a brief halt was made prior to resuming the advance toward the Epieds-Trugny position and the more distant objective, the Jaulgonne-Fereen-Tardenois road. Later that day the advance guard (102nd Infantry) developed the enemy positions at Trugny and Epieds. On the morning of July 22nd, an attack was delivered which was unsuccessful, although some progress was made. On July 23rd, with thorough artillery preparation, the Division attacked again the right brigade (51st), endeavoring to penetrate and clean up Trugny Wood, while the left (52nd) drove at Epieds and the woods behind it. Although stubbornly opposed, and in spite of severe losses, our troops went forward steadily. On July 24th the retiring enemy was followed closely, and our troops disposed on a line running through Bois T between Breuvardes and Le Charmel. The attack was to have been resumed on July 25th, but on that day the front line elements of the Division were relieved by the 58th Brigade.

Even a summary history of the work of the Division in the Aisne-Marne offensive would be incomplete without allusion to the high commendation all elements won from the French Army Commander (General Desgouttes). His only criticism was that the troops were too impetuous -- that in attack "they went ahead too fast." The efficient work of the military police and of the services of supply and evacuation, throughout a week of continuous attack and advance, was most notable, as was the audacious dash of the motorized 101st Machine Gun Battalion, who preceded the final forward movement of the infantry toward the JaulgonneFere-en-Tardenois road in the same manner as independent cavalry. A battalion of the 101st Engineers served as combatant infantry before Trugny on July 22nd-23rd. A detachment of the divisional military police entered Epieds with the advance infantry, and had the EpiedsBezu road traffic under control almost before the possession of the road was secure. The record of the 51st F. A. Brigade in this offensive was also remarkable. In common with the 101st Ammunition Train and the 101st F. S. Battalion, the artillery was not relieved on the same date (July 25th-26th) as the infantry. Continuing in action, it supported successively the 42nd, 4th, and 28th Divisions, advancing as far as the Vesle River (a total advance of 41 kilometers), and was firing on Fismes when it was relieved finally on August 5th. The Division as a whole effected an advance of 17.5 kilometers, took many prisoners, and a very large amount of material, including heavy artillery.

Section VI

Which two examples of modern military technology had the greatest impact on the course of World War I? Explain. Modern military technology, U-boats and poison gas, had major impact throughout the Great War. This type of modern military technology, U-boats, were German submarines.

  • Artillery – Large guns, called artillery, were improved during World War I including anti-aircraft guns to shoot down enemy planes.
  • Machine gun – The machine gun was improved during the war.

Attack a Failure

At 9:45 a.m., the Regiment's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Hadow, reported to headquarters that the attack had failed. He received initial orders to gather any unwounded men and resume the offensive, but wiser counsel prevailed and the order was countermanded.

Throughout the day, survivors tried to make the long and dangerous journey back to their own lines, dodging enemy snipers and artillery fire. Private James McGrath lay on the battlefield for about 17 hours before he finally made it to safety.

Courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives Division (NA-6067), St. John's, NL.

"The Germans actually mowed us down like sheep," he later told the Newfoundland Quarterly. "I managed to get to their barbed wire, where I got the first shot then went to jump into their trench when I got the second in the leg. I lay in No Man's Land for fifteen hours, and then crawled a distance of a mile and a quarter. They fired on me again, this time fetching me in the left leg, and so I waited for another hour and moved again, only having the use of my left arm now. As I was doing splendidly, nearing our own trench they again fetched me, this time around the hip as I crawled on. I managed to get to our own line which I saw was evacuated as our artillery was playing heavily on their trenches. They retaliated and kept me in a hole for another hour. I was then rescued by Captain Windeler who took me on his back to the dressing station a distance of two miles. Well, thank God my wounds are all flesh wounds and won't take long to heal up." ("Better than the Best," 5)

The attack was a devastating failure. In a single morning, almost 20,000 British troops died, and another 37,000 were wounded. The Newfoundland Regiment had been almost wiped out. When roll call was taken, only 68 men answered their names - 324 were killed, or missing and presumed dead, and 386 were wounded.

Courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives Division (VA 40-4.7), St. John's, NL.

The following days brought more fatalities. Lieutenant Steele had survived the Beaumont Hamel offensive only to be hit by a German shell on July 7 outside the regimental billets. He died one day later.

The Most Treacherous Battle of World War I Took Place in the Italian Mountains

Just after dawn we slipped into the forest and hiked a steep trail to a limestone wall. A curious ladder of U-shaped steel rungs was fixed to the rock. To reach the battlefield we would trek several miles along this via ferrata, or iron road, pathways of cables and ladders that traverse some of the most stunning and otherwise inaccessible territory in the mountains of northern Italy. We scaled the 50 feet of steel rungs, stopping every ten feet or so to clip our safety tethers to metal cables that run alongside.

Related Reads

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I

Related Content

A half-hour in, our faces slick with sweat, we rested on an outcropping that overlooked a valley carpeted with thick stands of pine and fir. Sheep bleated in a meadow, and a shepherd called to them. We could see the Pasubio Ossuary, a stone tower that holds the remains of 5,000 Italian and Austrian soldiers who fought in these mountains in World War I. The previous night we had slept near the ossuary, along a country road where cowbells clanged softly and lightning bugs blinked in the darkness like muzzle flashes.

Joshua Brandon gazed at the surrounding peaks and took a swig of water. “We’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said, “and one of the most horrible.”

In the spring of 1916, the Austrians swept down through these mountains. Had they reached the Venetian plain, they could have marched on Venice and encircled much of the Italian Army, breaking what had been a bloody yearlong stalemate. But the Italians stopped them here.

Just below us a narrow road skirted the mountainside, the Italians’ Road of 52 Tunnels, a four-mile donkey path, a third of which runs inside the mountains, built by 600 workers over ten months in 1917.

“A beautiful piece of engineering, but what a wasteful need,” said Chris Simmons, the third member of our group.

Joshua grunted. “Just to pump a bunch of men up a hill to get slaughtered.”

For the next two hours our trail alternated between heady climbing on rock faces and mellow hiking along the mountain ridge. By mid-morning the fog and low clouds had cleared, and before us lay the battlefield, its slopes scored with trenches and stone shelters, the summits laced with tunnels where men lived like moles. We had all served in the military, Chris as a Navy corpsman attached to the Marine Corps, and Joshua and I with the Army infantry. Both Joshua and I had fought in Iraq, but we had never known war like this.

Our path joined the main road, and we hiked through a bucolic scene, blue skies and grassy fields, quiet save for the sheep and the birds. Two young chamois scampered onto a boulder and watched us. What this had once been strained the imagination: the road crowded with men and animals and wagons, the air rank with filth and death, the din of explosions and gunfire.

“Think of how many soldiers walked the same steps we’re walking and had to be carried out,” Joshua said. We passed a hillside cemetery framed by a low stone wall and overgrown with tall grass and wildflowers. Most of its occupants had reached the battlefield in July of 1916 and died over the following weeks. They at least had been recovered hundreds more still rest where they fell, others blown to pieces and never recovered.

Subscribe to Smithsonian magazine now for just $12

This article is a selection from the June issue of Smithsonian magazine

On a steep slope not far from here, an archaeologist named Franco Nicolis helped excavate the remains of three Italian soldiers found in 2011. “Italian troops from the bottom of the valley were trying to conquer the top,” he had told us at his office in Trento, which belonged to Austria-Hungary before the war and to Italy afterward. “These soldiers climbed up to the trench, and they were waiting for dawn. They already had their sunglasses, because they were attacking to the east.”

The sun rose, and the Austrians spotted and killed them.

“In the official documents, the meaning is, ‘Attack failed.’ Nothing more. This is the official truth. But there is another truth, that three young Italian soldiers died in this context,” Nicolis said. “For us, it’s a historical event. But for them, how did they think about their position? When a soldier took the train to the front, was he thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to the front of the First World War, the biggest event ever’? No, he was thinking, ‘This is my life.’”

As Joshua, Chris and I walked through the saddle between the Austrian and Italian positions, Chris spotted something odd nestled in the loose rocks. For nearly two decades he has worked as a professional climbing and skiing guide, and years of studying the landscape as he hikes has honed his eye for detail. In previous days he found a machine gun bullet, a steel ball from a mortar shell and a jagged strip of shrapnel. Now he squatted in the gravel and gently picked up a thin white wedge an inch wide and long as a finger. He cradled it in his palm, unsure what to do with this piece of skull.

Austrian soldiers won the race to the high ground (pictured here in 1915) in what was later called “The White War” because of the snow and extreme cold. (SZ photo / Scherl / The Image Works)

The Italians came late to the war. In the spring of 1915, they abandoned their alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany to join the United Kingdom, France and Russia, hoping for several chunks of Austria at the war’s end. An estimated 600,000 Italians and 400,000 Austrians would die on the Italian Front, many of them in a dozen battles along the Isonzo River in the far northeast. But the front zigzagged 400 miles—nearly as long as the Western Front, in France and Belgium—and much of that crossed rugged mountains, where the fighting was like none the world had ever seen, or has seen since.

Soldiers had long manned alpine frontiers to secure borders or marched through high passes en route to invasion. But never had the mountains themselves been the battlefield, and for fighting at this scale, with fearsome weapons and physical feats that would humble many mountaineers. As New York World correspondent E. Alexander Powell wrote in 1917: “On no front, not on the sun-scorched plains of Mesopotamia, nor in the frozen Mazurian marshes, nor in the blood-soaked mud of Flanders, does the fighting man lead so arduous an existence as up here on the roof of the world.”

The destruction of World War I overwhelms. Nine million dead. Twenty-one million wounded. The massive frontal assaults, the anonymous soldier, faceless death—against this backdrop, the mountain war in Italy was a battle of small units, of individuals. In subzero temperatures men dug miles of tunnels and caverns through glacial ice. They strung cableways up mountainsides and stitched rock faces with rope ladders to move soldiers onto the high peaks, then hauled up an arsenal of industrial warfare: heavy artillery and mortars, machine guns, poison gas and flamethrowers. And they used the terrain itself as a weapon, rolling boulders to crush attackers and sawing through snow cornices with ropes to trigger avalanches. Storms, rock slides and natural avalanches—the “white death”—killed plenty more. After heavy snowfalls in December of 1916, avalanches buried 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops over just two days.

Yet the Italian mountain war remains today one of the least-known battlefields of the Great War.

“Most people have no idea what happened here,” Joshua said one afternoon as we sat atop an old bunker on a mountainside. Until recently, that included him as well. The little he knew came from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and later reading Erwin Rommel, the famed Desert Fox of World War II, who had fought in the Italian Alps as a young officer in World War I.

Joshua, who is 38, studied history at the Citadel and understands the theory of war, but he also served three tours in Iraq. He wears a beard now, trimmed short and speckled with gray, and his 5-foot-9 frame is wiry, better for hauling himself up steep cliffs and trekking through the wilderness. In Iraq he had bulked to nearly 200 pounds, thick muscle for sprinting down alleyways, carrying wounded comrades and, on one afternoon, fighting hand-to-hand. He excelled in battle, for which he was awarded the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars with Valor. But he struggled at home, feeling both alienated from American society and mentally wrung out from combat. In 2012 he left the Army as a major and sought solace in the outdoors. He found that rock climbing and mountaineering brought him peace and perspective even as it mimicked the best parts of his military career: some risk, trusting others with his life, a shared sense of mission.

Once he understood the skill needed to travel and survive in mountains, he looked at the alpine war in Italy with fresh eyes. How, he wondered, had the Italians and Austrians lived and fought in such unforgiving terrain?

Chris, who is 43, met Joshua four years ago at a rock gym in Washington State, where they both live, and now climb together often. I met Joshua three years ago at an ice-climbing event in Montana and Chris a year later on a climbing trip in the Cascade Mountains. Our shared military experience and love of the mountains led us to explore these remote battlefields, like touring Gettysburg if it sat atop a jagged peak at 10,000 feet. “You can’t get to many of these fighting positions without using the skills of a climber,” Joshua said, “and that allows you to have an intimacy that you might not otherwise.”

The Italian Front

Italy entered World War I in May 1915, turning on its ex-ally Austria-Hungary. The fighting soon devolved into trench warfare in the northeast and alpine combat in the north. Hover over the icons below for information on major battles.

Storming the Castelletto

Storming the Castelletto: May 1915-July 1916: German, then Austrian, troops occupy a blade of rock called the Castelletto, depriving the Italians of a major supply route for an attack throughout the Dolomites. After a year’s futile shelling, the Italians tunnel under the rock and blast it into shards. (Guilbert Gates)

If the Italian Front is largely forgotten elsewhere, the war is ever-present across northern Italy, etched into the land. The mountains and valleys are lined with trenches and dotted with stone fortresses. Rusted strands of barbed wire sprout from the earth, crosses built from battlefield detritus rise from mountaintops, and piazza monuments celebrate the heroes and the dead.

“We are living together with our deep history,” Nicolis, the researcher, told us. “The war is still in our lives.” Between climbs to isolated battlefields, we had stopped in Trento to meet with Nicolis, who directs the Archaeological Heritage Office for Trentino Province. We had spent weeks before our trip reading histories of the war in Italy and had brought a stack of maps and guidebooks we knew what had happened and where, but from Nicolis we sought more on who and why. He is a leading voice in what he calls “grandfather archaeology,” a consideration of history and memory told in family lore. His grandfather fought for Italy, his wife’s grandfather for Austria-Hungary, a common story in this region.

Nicolis, who is 59, specialized in prehistory until he found World War I artifacts while excavating a Bronze Age smelting site on an alpine plateau a decade ago. Ancient and modern, side by side. “This was the first step,” he said. “I began to think about archaeology as a discipline of the very recent past.”

By the time he broadened his focus, many World War I sites had been picked over for scrap metal or souvenirs. The scavenging continues—treasure hunters recently used a helicopter to hoist a cannon from a mountaintop—and climate change has hastened the revelation of what remains, including bodies long buried in ice on the highest battlefields.

On the Presena Glacier, Nicolis helped recover the bodies of two Austrian soldiers discovered in 2012. They had been buried in a crevasse, but the glacier was 150 feet higher a century ago as it shrank, the men emerged from the ice, bones inside tattered uniforms. The two skulls, both found amid blond hair, had shrapnel holes, the metal still rattling around inside. One of the skulls had eyes as well. “It was as if he was looking at me and not vice versa,” Nicolis said. “I was thinking about their families, their mothers. Goodbye my son. Please come back soon. And they completely disappeared, as if they never existed. These are what I call the silent witnesses, the missing witnesses.”

At an Austrian position in a tunnel on Punta Linke, at nearly 12,000 feet, Nicolis and his colleagues chipped away and melted the ice, finding, among other artifacts, a wooden bucket filled with sauerkraut, an unsent letter, newspaper clippings and a pile of straw overshoes, woven in Austria by Russian prisoners to shield soldiers’ feet from the bitter cold. The team of historians, mountaineers and archaeologists restored the site to what it might have been a century ago, a sort of living history for those who make the long journey by cable car and a steep hike.

“We cannot just speak and write as archaeologists,” Nicolis said. “We have to use other languages: narrative, poetry, dance, art.” On the curved white walls of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rovereto, battlefield artifacts found by Nicolis and his colleagues were presented without explanation, a cause for contemplation. Helmets and crampons, mess kits, hand grenades and pieces of clothing hang in vertical rows of five items, each row set above a pair of empty straw overshoes. The effect was stark and haunting, a soldier deconstructed. “When I saw the final version,” Nicolis told us, “I said, ‘Oh my God, this means I am present. Here I am. This is a person.’ ”

When Joshua stood before the exhibit, he thought of his own dead, friends and soldiers who’d served under him, each memorialized at ceremonies with a battle cross: a rifle with bayonet struck in the ground muzzle-down between empty combat boots, a helmet atop the rifle butt. Artifacts over empty shoes. I am present. Here I am.

The trenches, such as this Austrian position in the Pasubio mountains, remain, but the alpine battlefields have been scavenged for a century. (Stefen Chow) Still, more artifacts—and remains—are coming to light as glaciers recede, providing an intimate glimpse into an industrialized war. Pictured is an Austrian cannon. (Imagno / Getty Images) In 2012, archaeologist Franco Nicolis helped recover the skull of a soldier whose eyes had been preserved in the cold. “It was as if he was looking at me and not vice versa,” he says. (Stefen Chow) A cigarette box had a soldier’s drawing inside. (Stefen Chow) World War I relics Nicolis and others collected were shown at a contemporary art museum without labels, as objects for contemplation. (Stefen Chow) Soldiers evacuating the wounded by cable car (NGS Image Collection / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY) The remains of more than 5,000 unknown soldiers lie in the Pasubio Ossuary. (Stefen Chow)

The sky threatened rain, and low clouds wrapped us in a chilly haze. I stood with Joshua on a table-size patch of level rock, halfway up a 1,800-foot face on Tofana di Rozes, an enormous gray massif near the Austrian border. Below us a wide valley stretched to a dozen more steep peaks. We had been on the wall six hours already, and we had another six to go.

As Chris climbed 100 feet overhead, a golf ball-size chunk of rock popped loose and zinged past us with a high-pitched whir like whizzing shrapnel. Joshua and I traded glances and chuckled.

The Tofana di Rozes towers over a 700-foot-tall blade of rock called the Castelletto, or Little Castle. In 1915 a single platoon of Germans occupied the Castelletto, and with a machine gun they had littered the valley with dead Italians. “The result was startling: In all directions wounded horses racing, people running from the forest, frightened to death,” a soldier named Gunther Langes recalled of one attack. “The sharpshooters caught them with their rifle scopes, and their bullets did a great job. So an Italian camp bled to death at the foot of the mountain.” More and better-armed Austrians replaced the Germans, cutting off a major potential supply route and muddling Italian plans to push north into Austria-Hungary.

Conquering the Castelletto fell to the Alpini, Italy’s mountain troops, known by their dashing felt hats adorned with a black raven feather. One thought was that if they could climb the Tofana’s face to a small ledge hundreds of feet above the Austrians’ stronghold, they could hoist up a machine gun, even a small artillery piece, and fire down on them. But the route—steep, slick with runoff and exposed to enemy fire—was beyond the skill of most. The assignment went to Ugo Vallepiana and Giuseppe Gaspard, two Alpini with a history of daring climbs together. Starting in a deep alcove, out of Austrian view, they worked up the Tofana di Rozes, wearing hemp-soled shoes that offered better traction than their hobnailed boots and dampened the sounds of their movements.

We were climbing a route not far from theirs, with Chris and Joshua alternating the lead. One would climb up about 100 feet, and along the way slide special cams into cracks and nooks, then clip the protective gear to the rope with a carabiner, a metal loop with a spring-loaded arm. In other places, they clipped the rope to a piton, a steel wedge with an open circle at the end pounded into the rock by previous climbers. If they slipped, they might drop 20 feet instead of hundreds, and the climbing rope would stretch to absorb a fall.

Vallepiana and Gaspard had none of this specialized equipment. Even the carabiner, a climbing essential invented shortly before the war, was unknown to most soldiers. Instead, Gaspard used a technique that makes my stomach quiver: Each time he hammered in a piton, he untied the rope from around his waist, threaded it through the metal loop, and retied it. And their hemp ropes could just as easily snap as catch a fall.

As we neared the top of our climb, I hoisted myself onto a four-foot lip and passed through a narrow chute to another ledge. Joshua, farther ahead and out of sight, had anchored himself to a rock and pulled in my rope as I moved. Chris was 12 feet behind me, and still on a lower level, exposed from the chest up.

I stepped onto the ledge and felt it give way.

“Rock!” I shouted, and snapped my head to see my formerly solid step now broken free and cleaved in two, crashing down the chute. One piece smashed into the wall and stopped, but the other half, maybe 150 pounds and big as a carry-on suitcase, plowed toward Chris. He threw out his hands and stopped the rock with a grunt and a wince.

I scrambled down the chute, braced my feet on either side of the rock and held it in place as Chris climbed past me. I let go, and the chunk tumbled down the mountainside. A strong whiff of ozone from the fractured rocks hung in the air. He made a fist and released his fingers. Nothing broken.

My poorly placed step could have injured or killed him. But I imagine the two Alpini would have thought our near-miss trivial. On a later climbing mission with Vallepiana, Gaspard was struck by lightning and nearly died. This climb almost killed him, too. As he strained for a handhold at a tricky section, his foot slipped and he plummeted 60 feet—into a small snowbank, remarkable luck in vertical terrain. He climbed on, and into the Austrians’ view. A sniper shot him in the arm, and Austrian artillery across the valley fired shells into the mountain overhead, showering him and Vallepiana with jagged metal shards and shattered rock.

Still, the two reached the narrow ledge that overlooked the Austrians, a feat that earned them Italy’s second-highest medal for valor. Then, in what certainly seems an anticlimax today, the guns the Italians hauled up there proved less effective than they had hoped.

But the Italians’ main effort was even more daring and difficult, as we would soon see.

In a region of magnificent peaks, the Castelletto is not much to behold. The squat trapezoid juts up 700 feet to a line of sharp spires, but is dwarfed by the Tofana di Rozes, which rises an additional 1,100 feet just behind it. During our climb high on the Tofana wall we couldn’t see the Castelletto, but now it loomed before us. We sat in an old Italian trench built from limestone blocks in the Costeana Valley, which runs west from the mountain town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. If we strained our eyes, we could see tiny holes just below the Castelletto’s spine—windows for caverns the Austrians and Germans carved soon after Italy declared war in 1915.

From these tunnels and rooms, which offered excellent protection from artillery fire, their machine gunners cut down anyone who showed himself in this valley. “You can imagine why this was such a nightmare for the Italians,” Joshua said, looking up at the fortress. In the struggle for the Castelletto we found in microcosm the savagery and intimacy, the ingenuity and futility of this alpine fighting.

The Italians first tried to climb it. On a summer night in 1915, four Alpini started up the steep face, difficult in daylight, surely terrifying at night. Lookouts perched on the rocky spires heard muffled sounds in the darkness below and stepped to the edge, eyes and ears straining. Again, sounds of movement, metal scraping against rock and labored breathing. A sentry leveled his rifle and, as the lead climber crested the face and pulled himself up, fired. The men were so close the muzzle flash lit the Italian’s face as he pitched backward. Thumps as he crashed into the climbers below him, then screams. In the morning the soldiers looked down on four crumpled bodies sprawled on the slope far below.

The Italians next tried the steep and rocky gully between the Castelletto and the Tofana, using a morning fog as cover. But the fog thinned enough to reveal specters advancing through the mist, and machine gunners annihilated them. In the autumn of 1915 they attacked from three sides with hundreds of men—surely they could overwhelm a platoon of defenders—but the slopes only piled deeper with dead.

The Alpini reconsidered: If they couldn’t storm the Castelletto, maybe they could attack from within.

Just around the corner from the Castelletto and beyond the Austrians’ field of view, Joshua, Chris and I scaled 50 feet of metal rungs running beside the original wooden ladders, now broken and rotting. At an alcove on the Tofana wall, we found the tunnel opening, six feet wide and six feet high, and the darkness swallowed our headlamp beams. The path gains hundreds of feet as it climbs through the mountain, steep and treacherous on rock made slimy with water and mud. Fortunately for us, it’s now a via ferrata. We clipped our safety harnesses onto metal rods and cables fixed to the walls after the war.

The Alpini started with hammers and chisels in February of 1916 and pecked out just a few feet a day. In March they acquired two pneumatic drills driven by gas-powered compressors, hauled up the valley in pieces through the deep snow. Four teams of 25 to 30 men worked in continuous six-hour shifts, drilling, blasting and hauling rock, extending the tunnel by 15 to 30 feet each day. It would eventually stretch more than 1,500 feet.

The mountain shuddered with internal explosions, sometimes 60 or more a day, and as the ground shook beneath them the Austrians debated the Italians’ intent. Perhaps they would burst through the Tofana wall and attack across the rocky saddle. Or emerge from below, another suggested. “One night, when we’re sleeping, they will jump out of their hole and cut our throats,” he said. The third theory, to which the men soon resigned themselves, was the most distressing: The Italians would fill the tunnel with explosives.

Indeed, deep in the mountain and halfway to the Castelletto, the tunnel split. One branch burrowed beneath the Austrian positions, where an enormous bomb would be placed. The other tunnel spiraled higher, and would open on the Tofana face, at what the Italians figured would be the bomb crater’s edge. After the blast, Alpini would pour through the tunnel and across the crater. Dozens would descend rope ladders from positions high on the Tofana wall, and scores more would charge up the steep gully. Within minutes of the blast, they would finally control the Castelletto.

The Austrian platoon commander, Hans Schneeberger, was 19 years old. He arrived on the Castelletto after an Italian sniper killed his predecessor. “I would gladly have sent someone else,” Capt. Carl von Rasch told him, “but you are the youngest, and you have no family.” This was not a mission from which Schneeberger, or his men, were expected to return.

“It’s better that you know how things stand up here: They do not go well at all,” von Rasch said during a late-night visit to the outpost. “The Castelletto is in an impossible situation.” Nearly surrounded, under incessant artillery bombardment and sniper fire, with too few men and food running low. Throughout the valley, the Italians outnumbered the Austrians two to one around the Castelletto it was perhaps 10 or 20 to one. “If you do not die from hunger or cold,” von Rasch said, “then someday soon you will be blown into the air.” Yet Schneeberger and his few men played a strategic role: By tying up hundreds of Italians, they could ease pressure elsewhere on the front.

“The Castelletto must be held. It will be held to the death,” von Rasch told him. “You must stay up here.”

In June, Schneeberger led a patrol onto the face of the Tofana di Rozes to knock out an Italian fighting position and, if possible, to sabotage the tunneling operation. After precarious climbing, he pulled himself onto a narrow lip, pitched an Alpini over the edge and stormed into an outpost on the cliffside, where a trapdoor led to Italian positions below. His trusted sergeant, Teschner, nodded at the floor and smiled. He could hear Alpini climbing up rope ladders to attack.

A few days earlier, a half-dozen Austrians standing guard on the Tofana wall had started chatting with nearby Alpini, which led to a night of shared wine. Teschner did not share this affinity for the Alpini. One Sunday morning, when singing echoed off the rock walls from the Italians holding Mass below, he had rolled heavy spherical bombs down the gully between the Castelletto and the Tofana to interrupt the service.

Now in the small shack he drew his bayonet, threw open the trapdoor and shouted, “Welcome to heaven, dogs!” as he sliced through the rope ladders. The Alpini screamed, and Teschner laughed and slapped his thigh.

The attack earned Schneeberger Austria-Hungary’s highest medal for bravery, but he and his men learned nothing new about the tunneling, or how to stop it. Between daily skirmishes with Italian sentries, they pondered everything they would miss—a woman’s love, adventures in far-off lands, even lying bare-chested in the sun atop the Castelletto and daydreaming about a life after the war. Yet the explosions provided an odd comfort: As long as the Italians drilled and blasted, the mine wasn’t finished.

Then the Austrians intercepted a transmission: “The tunnel is ready. Everything is perfect.”

With the mountain silent and the blast imminent, Schneeberger lay on his bunk and listened to mice skitter across the floor. “Strange, everyone knows that sooner or later he will have to die, and one hardly thinks about it,” he wrote. “But when death is certain, and one even knows the deadline, it eclipses everything: every thought and feeling.”

He gathered his men and asked if any wanted to leave. None stepped forward. Not Latschneider, the platoon’s oldest at 52, or Aschenbrenner, with eight children at home. And their wait began.

“Everything is like yesterday,” Schneeberger wrote on July 10, “except that another 24 hours have passed and we are 24 hours closer to death.”

Lt. Luigi Malvezzi, who led the tunnel digging, had asked for 77,000 pounds of blasting gelatin—nearly half of Italy’s monthly production. High command balked at the request, but was swayed by a frustrating detail: The Italians had pounded the Castelletto with artillery for nearly a year, to little effect. So for three days, Italian soldiers had ferried crates of explosives up the tunnel to the mine chamber, 16 feet wide, 16 feet long, and nearly 7 feet high. Through fissures in the rock, they could smell the Austrians’ cooking. They packed the chamber full, then backfilled 110 feet of the tunnel with sandbags, concrete and timber to direct the blast upward with full force.

At 3:30 a.m. on July 11, as Hans Schneeberger lay on his bunk mourning a friend who’d just been killed by a sniper’s bullet, Malvezzi gathered with his men on the terrace leading to the tunnel and flipped the detonator switch. “One, two, three seconds passed in a silence so intense that I heard the sharp ping of the water dripping from the roof of the chamber and striking the pool it had formed below,” Malvezzi wrote.

Then the mountain roared, the air filled with choking dust, and Schneeberger’s head seemed ready to burst. The blast pitched him out of bed, and he stumbled from his room and into a fog of smoke and debris and stood at the lip of a massive crater that had been the southern end of the Castelletto. In the darkness and rubble, his men screamed.

The fight for this wedge of rock had gained such prominence for Italy that King Victor Emmanuel III and Gen. Luigi Cadorna, the army chief of staff, watched from a nearby mountain. A fountain of flame erupted in the darkness, the right-hand side of the Castelletto shuddered and collapsed, and they cheered their success.

But the attack proved to be a fiasco. The explosion consumed much of the nearby oxygen, replacing it with carbon monoxide and other toxic gases that swamped the crater and pushed into the tunnel. Malvezzi and his men charged through the tunnel to the crater and collapsed, unconscious. Several fell dead.

Alpini waiting high on the Tofana wall couldn’t descend because the explosion had shredded their rope ladders. And in the steep gully between the Castelletto and the Tofana, the blast fractured the rock face. For hours afterward huge boulders peeled off like flaking plaster and crashed down the gully, crushing attacking soldiers and sending the rest scurrying for cover.

We traced the Alpinis’ route through the tunnel, running our hands along walls slick with seeping water and scarred with grooves from the tunnelers’ drill bits. We passed the tunnel branch to the mine chamber and spiraled higher into the mountain, clipping our safety tethers to metal cables bolted to the walls.

Around a sharp bend, the darkness gave way. Along with the main detonation, the Italians triggered a small charge that blasted open the final few feet of this attack tunnel, until then kept secret from the Austrians. Now Joshua stepped from the tunnel, squinted in the daylight, and looked down on what had been the southern end of the Castelletto. He shook his head in awe.

“So this is what happens when you detonate 35 tons of explosives under a bunch of Austrians,” he said. Joshua had been near more explosions than he can remember—hand grenades, rockets, roadside bombs. In Iraq a suicide car bomber rammed into his outpost as he slept, and the blast threw him from his bed, just as it had Schneeberger. “But that was nowhere near the violence and landscape-altering force of this explosion,” he said.

We scrambled down a steep gravel slope and onto a wide snowfield at the crater’s bottom. The blast had pulverized enough mountain to fill a thousand dump trucks and tossed boulders across the valley. It killed 20 Austrians asleep in a shack above the mine and buried the machine guns and mortars.

It spared Schneeberger and a handful of his men. They scrounged a dozen rifles, 360 bullets and a few grenades, and from the crater’s edge and the intact outposts, started picking off Italians again.

“Imagine losing half your platoon instantly and having that will to push on and defend what you’ve got,” Joshua said. “Just a few men holding off an entire battalion trying to assault up through here. It’s madness.”

I felt a strange pulse of anticipation as we climbed out of the crater and onto the Castelletto. At last, the battle’s culmination. Chris disappeared in the jumble of rock above us. A few minutes later he let out a happy yelp: He’d found an entrance to the Austrian positions.

We ducked our heads and stepped into a cavern that ran 100 feet through the Castelletto’s narrow spine. Water dripped from the ceiling and pooled in icy puddles. Small rooms branched off the main tunnel, some with old wooden bunks. Windows looked out on the valley far below and peaks in the distance.

Such beauty was hard to reconcile with what happened a century ago. Chris had pondered this often throughout the week. “You just stop and appreciate where you’re at for the moment,” he said. “And I wonder if they had those moments, too. Or if it was all terror, all the time.” Emotion choked his voice. “When we look across it’s green and verdant. But when they were there, it was barbed wire and trenches and artillery shells screaming around. Did they get to have a moment of peace?”

Joshua felt himself pulled deeply into the combatants’ world, and this startled him. “I have more in common with these Austrians and Italians who are buried under my feet than I do with a lot of contemporary society,” he said. “There’s this bond of being a soldier and going through combat,” he said. “The hardship. The fear. You’re just fighting for survival, or fighting for the people around you, and that transcends time.”

The Austrians’ and Italians’ losses and gains in these mountains made little difference. The alpine war was a sideshow to the fighting on the Isonzo, which was a sideshow to the Western and Eastern Fronts. But for the soldier, of course, all that matters is the patch of ground that must be taken or held, and whether he lives or dies in doing that.

The day after the blast, the Italians hoisted machine guns onto the Tofana and raked the Castelletto, killing more Austrians. The rest scurried into the tunnels where we now sat. Schneeberger scribbled a note on his situation󈟱 dead, position nearly destroyed, reinforcements badly needed—and handed it to Latschneider.

“You only die once,” the platoon’s old man said, then crossed himself and sprinted down the wide scree slope between the Castelletto and the Tofana, chased by machine gun bullets. He ran across the valley, delivered the note to Captain von Rasch—and dropped dead from the effort.

Reinforcements came that night, and Schneeberger marched his few surviving men back to the Austrian lines. The Italians charged through the crater a few hours later, lobbed tear gas into the tunnels and captured the southern end of the Castelletto and most of the relief platoon. A few Austrians held the northern end for several days, then withdrew.

In the Austrian camp, Schneeberger reported to von Rasch, who stood at his window with stooped shoulders and wet eyes, hands clasped behind his back.

“It was very hard?” he asked.

About Brian Mockenhaupt

Brian Mockenhaupt is a U.S. Army veteran and a contributing editor at Outside magazine. He has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and more.

About Stefen Chow

Stefen Chow is a Bejing-based photographer with extensive mountaineering experience. His work frequently appears in Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine, and he is at work on a long-term project called Poverty Line, which examines the daily food choices of the poor in countries around the world.

A New View of the Battle of Gallipoli, One of the Bloodiest Conflicts of World War I

Thirty-two cutters filled with British troops   advanced steadily   across the sea under a brightening sky. The men clutched their rifles and peered at a crescent of sand a few hundred yards away, fortified by barbed wire strung across wooden posts. Just beyond the beach rose rugged limestone cliffs covered in heavy brush. It was a few minutes after dawn on April 25, 1915, and the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers was preparing to land on W Beach on the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula. “It might have been a deserted land we were nearing in our little boats,” remembered Capt. Richard Willis, commander of C Company. “Then, crack! 

Related Content

The stroke oar of my boat fell forward to the angry astonishment of his mates.” Chaos broke out as soldiers tried desperately to escape a hail of bullets raking across the beach and the boats. “Men leapt out of the boats into deep water, encumbered with their rifles and their 70 pounds of kit,” recalled Willis, “and some of them died right there, while others reached the land only to be cut down on the barbed wire.”

A few yards away, the commander of B Company waded through three feet of water onto the beach. “The sea behind was absolutely crimson, and you could hear the groans through the rattle of musketry . I shouted to the soldier behind me to signal, but he shouted back, ‘I am shot through the chest.’ I then perceived they were all hit.” The survivors of the Lancashire battalion pushed on, eventually forcing the three platoons of Turkish defenders, about 200 men, to flee. By 7:15 that morning they had secured the landing place, but at a terrible cost. Out of 1,029 men who landed on W Beach, only 410 survived. 

An infantryman later described the deadly terrain’s “endless windings and abrupt variations.” (Claudius Schulze ) Remains of a trench today. (Claudius Schulze ) Expedition leader Tony Sagona holds a provision container from the 1915-16 battle. Teams have found piles of tin cans containing bully (corned) beef, testifying to the monotonous diet of the Australians and New Zealanders. (Claudius Schulze ) The trench system on the Gallipoli Peninsula stayed largely intact after the war, unlike on the Western Front. “It’s so barren and bleak, nobody ever wanted to occupy it,” said an Australian historian studying the battlefield. (Claudius Schulze ) Since 2010 archaeologists and historians from Turkey, New Zealand and Australia have scoured the field each fall, recording data on a detailed map made by the Ottomans in 1916. (Claudius Schulze ) Archaeologists are finding bullets, barbed wire, tin cans, bayonets and human bones. As the centenary approaches, they fear continued erosion and an influx of tourists will destroy remaining traces of the campaign. (Claudius Schulze ) A cemetery at Anzac Cove, today a place of pilgrimage, holds the remains of soldiers killed in one of history’s bloodiest battles. More than 400,000 Allied and Ottoman troops were killed or wounded in the campaign. (Claudius Schulze ) A national park memorial on the hillock known as the Pinnacle, where Allied forces had only fleeting success over its Ottoman defenders. Today the Turkish government runs free trips to Gallipoli for citizens. (Claudius Schulze )

The attack that morning on W Beach and five other beaches was the first amphibious assault in modern history, involving British and French troops as well as divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac). It had been preceded in February 1915 by a naval attack on the Dardanelles, the strait dividing Gallipoli from mainland Turkey—the opening of a campaign that would be regarded as one of the great Allied failures of World War I. The name quickly became a metaphor for hubris—as well as bravery and sacrifice.

Today, along the beaches where thousands of soldiers died, broken jetties still jut out of the water, and the rusted-out remains of an amphibious landing craft lie in the sand, lapped by the waves. One summer morning Kenan Celik, a Turkish historian, and I climb to the summit of a hill called Achi Baba. We breathe in crisp air redolent of thyme, gazing across sunflower fields and olive groves toward Cape Helles, five miles distant, where the British landings took place. “My grandmother told me ‘we could hear the guns from the battlefield, 85 miles away, ’”  says Celik, whose great-grandfather disappeared at Gallipoli. The historian leads me down a dirt road through the fields, past cemeteries containing the bodies of 28,000 British troops, and stops at W Beach. “The Turks had no machine guns here, just single-shot rifles. But they were very accurate,” Celik tells me, observing the scrub-covered limestone cliff once filled with snipers’ nests.  

The invasion of Gallipoli, a peninsula squeezed between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles in what is now western Turkey, was conceived by Allied commanders as a lightning strike against the Ottoman Empire to bring about a quick end to the Great War, which had bogged down into a bloody stalemate on the Western Front. The Ottomans had signed a pact with the German Empire on August 2, 1914, shortly following the war’s outbreak. As the Germans and their European allies, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, faced the Allies in trenches extending 500 miles from the North Sea to Switzerland, the Turks engaged the Russians on the eastern front, bombarding Russian ports and sealing off the Dardanelles. Allied generals and politicians expected their operation in Gallipoli to be over in a matter of days. “A good army of 50,000 men and sea power—that is the end of the Turkish menace,” declared First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. 

“I bore the Turk no enmity,” wrote a soldier. “He was a fellow sufferer.” (Robert Hunt Library / Mary Evans / Everett Collection) Remnants of the terrible days: Archaeologists’ finds include (clockwise from top left) a canteen, bullets and cartridges, a provisions container, barbed wire. (Claudius Schulze ) Trench warfare, said one soldier, consisted of “monotony, discomfort, casual death.” (Imperial War Museum / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY) Allied troops felt kinship for their foes. (HIP / Art Resource, NY) At W Beach (above, in 1916) an Army chaplain recalled “corpses that lay in rows in the sand.” (Imperial War Museum / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY)

Instead, by the time Allied forces withdrew in defeat in January 1916, close to half a million soldiers—nearly 180,000 Allied troops, 253,000 Turks—had been killed or wounded. Australia suffered 28,150 casualties at Gallipoli, including 8,700 dead, nearly one-sixth of the casualties it endured during the Great War. “Australia was born as a nation on April 25,” says Bill Sellars, a Gallipoli-based Australian journalist, describing the day that the recently independent country mourned the loss of young soldiers on a distant battlefield. As the fighting dragged on, says Sellars, it became “a close-up, in-your-face war, as opposed to the Western Front, where you never even saw your enemy.” 

Now, as the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign approaches, both sides are engaging in commemorations that testify to the battle’s resonance. Turkish citizens and visitors from around the world will crowd the battlefield and cemeteries for memorials in March and April.

Thirty-four years ago, Peter Weir’s 1981 film  Gallipoli , starring Mel Gibson, captured the innocence of young men who rushed eagerly to the front—only to be sent to pointless deaths by callous and incompetent field commanders. In April, the New Zealand-born star Russell Crowe is releasing in the U.S. the new film he directed,  The Water Diviner , about an Australian who travels to Turkey in 1919 to learn the fate of his three sons, reported missing in action. And a flurry of movies by Turkish directors has presented the Ottoman experience of the carnage. The nationalistic  Gallipoli: End of the Road  dramatizes the battlefield feats of Abdul the Terrible, a real-life Turkish sniper who gunned down a dozen Allied officers before he was shot dead by a Chinese-Australian sharpshooter named Billy Sing.  Children   of Canakkale  (using the Turkish name for the Gallipoli campaign), by Turkish filmmaker Sinan Cetin, takes a starkly different approach, telling of two brothers who fight on opposite sides, British and Turkish, and meet face to face in a climactic bayonet charge. “Turkish people love the fairy tale about nationalism, but I couldn’t with my heart do that kind of movie,” he told me. “This was a disaster, not a victory.”

The centennial will also mark the completion of an extraordinary effort by scholars to study the battlefield itself, especially the elaborate trench system. Since its initial forays in 2010, a team of Turkish, Australian and New Zealand archaeologists and historians has spent between three and four weeks in the field each fall, hacking through dense brush, identifying depressions in the earth, marking their GPS coordinates and overlaying the new data on a highly detailed 1916 map compiled by Ottoman cartographers immediately after the Allied withdrawal. 

(Guilbert Gates)

Unlike the trenches of the Western Front, plowed under by farmers soon after the war, Gallipoli’s trench system remained largely intact after the battle. “It’s so barren and bleak, nobody ever wanted to occupy it,” says Richard Reid, an Australian Department of Veterans Affairs historian working on the project. But erosion caused by wind and rain, as well as the increasing popularity of the battlefield among both Turkish and foreign tourists, now threaten to destroy these last remaining traces. “In a few more years, you won’t be able to see any of the trenches, but at least you’ll have a record of exactly where they were,” says Ian McGibbon, a New Zealand military historian who estimates that he’s spent a total of 100 days here since 2010. 

The researchers have marked nine miles of frontline trenches, communications trenches and tunnels burrowed by the antagonists several dozen feet beneath each other’s positions in an effort to blow them up from below. They have also discovered more than 1,000 artifacts—bullets, barbed wire, rusting tin cans of Australian bully beef (corned beef), bayonets, human bones—that provide a compelling picture of life and death in one of history’s bloodiest battlegrounds. And some finds would also seem to call into question the Turkish government’s recent push to recast the battle as a triumph for the Ottoman Empire and Islam.

On a warm September morning, I join McGibbon and Simon Harrington, a retired Australian rear admiral and member of the field team, on a tour of Holly Ridge, the hillside where Australian troops faced Ottoman Army regiments for four months in 1915. Thickets of pine, holly and wattle gouge my legs as I follow a precipitous trail above the Aegean Sea. “The Australians climbed up from Anzac Cove on April 25,” says McGibbon, gesturing toward the coastline a couple of hundred feet below us. “But the Turks headed them off, and both sides dug in.” 

The two historians spent much of September 2013 delineating this former front line, which ran roughly along both sides of a modern-day fire road. McGibbon, clad like his colleague in a bush hat and safari gear, points to depressions half hidden in the brush on the roadside, which he and Harrington tagged last year with orange ribbons. The trenches have eroded away, but the historians look for telltale clues—such as the heavy vegetation that tends to grow here because of rainfall accumulation in the depressions.

McGibbon points out a crater just off the road, which he identifies as a “slump,” a depression above an underground corridor. Ottomans and Allies burrowed tunnels beneath their foes’ trenches and packed them with explosives, often causing enormous casualties each side also constructed defensive tunnels to intercept enemy diggers. “Battles sometimes erupted underground” where the two digging teams confronted each other, McGibbon says. 

He picks up a fist-size chunk of shrapnel, one of countless fragments of materiel that still litter the battlefield. Most important relics were carted off long ago by second-hand dealers, relatives of veterans and private museum curators such as Ozay Gundogan, the great-grandson of a soldier who fought at Gallipoli and founder of a war museum in the village of Buyuk Anafarta. His museum displays British badges, canvas satchels, wheelbarrows, French sun helmets, belt buckles, map cases, bugles, Turkish officers’ pistols, rusted bayonets and round bombs with fuses, which were hurled by Ottoman troops into enemy trenches. 

But Harrington says his team’s modest relics shed light on what happened here. “What we have found has remained in its context,” he says. For example, in the Australian trenches, the historians uncovered piles of tin cans containing bully beef—testifying to the monotony of the Anzac diet. The Ottomans, by contrast, received deliveries of meat and vegetables from nearby villages and cooked in brick ovens inside the trenches. The team has recovered several bricks from these ovens.

As trench warfare bogged down, the architecture of the trenches became more elaborate. The Anzac forces brought in engineers who had learned their trade in the gold mines of western Australia: They constructed zigzagging frontline corridors with steps leading up to firing recesses—some of which can still be seen today. A maze of communications and supply trenches ran up to the front line, becoming so complex, says Harrington, that “men couldn’t find their way back to the front lines, and had to be rescued.”

In lower sections of the battlefield, the enemies faced each other from 200 or 300 yards away, but on the narrow ridges near Chunuk Bair, one of the highest points on the peninsula and a principal objective of the Allies, Anzac and Ottoman soldiers were separated by just a few yards—close enough for each side to lob grenades and bombs into each other’s trenches. “You dug deep, and you erected barbed-wire netting on top to protect yourself,” says Harrington. “If you had time, you threw the grenades back.”

Most of the fighting took place from deep inside these bunkers, but soldiers sometimes emerged in waves—only to be cut down by fixed machine guns. The Allies had insufficient medical personnel in the field and few hospital ships, and thousands of injured were left for days in the sun, pleading for water until they perished. 

The Turkish soldiers fought with a tenacity that the British—ingrained with colonial attitudes of racial superiority—had never anticipated. “The soldiers from the Anatolian villages were fatalists raised on hardship,” the historian L.A. Carlyon wrote in his acclaimed 2001 study Gallipoli . “They knew how to hang on, to endure, to swallow bad food and go barefoot, to baffle and frustrate the enemy with their serenity in the face of pain and death.” 

The corpses piled up in the trenches and ravines, often remaining uncollected for weeks. “Everywhere one looked lay dead, swollen, black, hideous, and over all a nauseating stench that nearly made one vomit,” observed Lt. Col. Percival Fenwick, a medical officer from New Zealand, who participated in a joint burial with Turkish forces during a rare ceasefire that spring. “We exchanged cigarettes with the [Turkish] officers frequentl y. there was a swathe of men who had fallen face down as if on parade.” 

Watch the video: Total 9 Casualties In Poonch Encounter. Bodies Of Soldiers Recovered. NewsX