World War I underground


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Visiting the underground tunnels of World War I.

At the height of the underground war, in 1916, British tunneling units detonated some 750 mines along their hundred-mile sector of the front; the Germans responded with nearly 700 charges of their own. Hills and ridges that provided vital lookout points became riddled like Swiss cheese, while the biggest mines blew out huge craters that still scar the landscape to this day. Even a single small mine could wreak havoc: In the tunnel complex we crawled into, a charge set off by the Germans on January 26, 1915, killed 26 French infantrymen and wounded 22 more.

But the underground war was not confined to narrow tunnels. Beneath Picardy’s fields and forests are centuries-old abandoned quarries, some of which could shelter thousands of troops. On a misty morning we explore one such site, located along a cliff edge overlooking the Aisne Valley. We’re led there by the owner of the ancestral property, which we agree not to name to protect the quarry from vandals.

Read the whole thing. It reminds me of my experience exploring the mines under Tombstone. These tunnels provide an archeological window into the history of the first World War.

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