ROAD TO WAR -
|The “Sounds of Hell” Unleashed!
|Hundreds of massive artillery guns stood loaded, packed full of
high-explosive shells as the artillery gunners stood by with hands
trembling and waited in anticipation of the final call as they held
the firing cord in readiness to jerk the huge guns into action.
Once the “Open Fire” order came buzzing along the miles
of telephone cables from the command H.Q, the artillery commanders
screamed the order or whistles blown as it relayed to all the gun
crews along the whole length of front line to start the bombardment…They
all waited in a hope that this would bring an end to this horrendous
While this great battle was about to begin the soldiers found themselves
in trenches that proved inadequate for all their needs. All the
trenches were disgustingly smelly, and riddled with disease –
Cholera was rampant and the inevitable gangrene, the agonizingly
painful -Trench Foot rotted the men’s feet away. They were
all infested with rats, there were literally millions of these rats
converging on each and every trench on the Western Front, and they
would scavenge for food, trying to get the soldiers bread rations
or whatever they could eat. Many soldiers due to boredom or for
a game would break off the black and green moldy pieces of bread,
lay it in the bottom of the trench then wait for the “miniature
enemy” to come and eat it, then with spades in a frantic extreme
of anger, they would lash out and try to kill all of them, some
soldiers even bet on how many each killed, the one with the most
victims received an extra cigarette as a reward.
Many men were injured though previous engagements with the enemy,
and the rats would have no hesitation in eating and gnawing away
these wounded men while still alive, they were completely defenceles,
they had no energy left to combat this small evil enemy as they
were was slowly dying!
Whatever the new and raw recruits now rushed to the front line thought
of these conditions that they now faced must have been of shock,
disbelief and horror, never would they have imagined in this “Battle
of Battles” that such squalor and depravation for the Country
that they were fighting for would allow them to face this horror,
let alone the enemy they would soon have to confront...but they
did, they had to accept it!
After all these days and probably weeks on the front line these
men had suffered the most disgraceful conditions ever imagined,
but the High Command never really cared or gave very little thought
or concern for their soldiers …In the Trenches...!
The tens of thousands of artillery soldiers all along the front
line waited, ready and prepared, it became for a short time eerily
silent …then as if the order would never come… it did!
Whistles blew, Commanders shouted and screamed “Fire”
then as if all the Western Front erupted the guns started the barrage
as the bombardment of the German lines began on the morning of 24th
June 1916, the “Sounds of Hell” were unleashed on the
enemy lines…“The Battle of the Somme” had begun!
This constant shelling and unabated noise lasted for seven long
days and nights, until “Zero Hour” soon to come!
In seconds all “Hell” was let loose along the 26 mile
front line as huge artillery guns exploded in a howling crescendo
like thunder, as the giant high-explosive projectiles hurled towards
the German lines in the distance blasting them all to pieces, delivering
their own form of death and destruction wherever they landed.
British artillery guns hurl thousands of shells onto the German
These Brave men had to try and find at least a
little peace to sleep with all this ceaseless noise of intense
shelling was going on as thunder above them, day and night for
one week, and try and live a near sensible life as they could
in the trenches. The men had to dig a small space where they were,
and make a resting place for themselves on each side of the trench,
on the hard clay and mud, no mattress was provided just an overcoat
if lucky enough, or if very lucky they had a blanket to cover
them and hope for a long awaited sleep. This agony as well as
inadequate food rations were accompanied by atrocious hygiene
conditions, they had to urinate and secrete their bodily functions...whatever
place they could find….then on the night before the onslaught
1st July 1916, it rained soaking all of the men.
The soldiers waiting for the final order had to endure the incessant
barrage of shells every day, unable to find any peace or possible
sleep at all from this terrible thunderous roar which drove many
to madness through the terrible condition, known today as “shell
|It was hoped and prayed for by the soldiers that this
massive offensive would bring this carnage to an end then they could
return home to their families, and leave this terror, death and
misery far behind them.
The next few days would furnish them all with the truth, and the
answer they were all waiting for, it was hoped and prayed for they
would hear the words…”The War Is Over…!
|The British and French artillery guns fired over 200,000
shells every day until “zero hour” arrived on 1st July
1916, as the absolute pounding the German trenches continued with
the horrendous, un-relentless barrage of high explosive shells continued
to fall as if “Hell” itself was erupting in great fury.
It created such a thundering sound that it was heard in the south
of England as a dull rumble. This in itself was a tremendous feat
of stamina and logistics for the artillery crews, having to continue
for hours on end carrying the heavy shells from the stockpiles to
the load the guns.
This battle would become the testing ground for thousands of soldiers,
lying low in the front line trenches, reserve and back – up
trenches. For soon it would make or break the stalemate that had
existed for so long between the two adversaries.
|The British Generals were so confident that this massive
artillery attack on the German lines would be so successful in destroying
the whole trench system and the whole German Army facing them, that
they announced to the troops “All the Germans will be dead,
not even a rat could survive after this, so light up your pipes
and cigarettes and walk slowly towards the enemy and onwards to
Others battalions were informed that they could take a casual stroll
across…”No Man’s Land”, as all the Germans
would be dead!
British and French artillery companies all along the front line,
had been pulverizing the Germans for nearly a week, their job would
soon be over as “zero hour” approached.
|The last few hours of this massive bombardment against
the German lines was nearly over, the firing cords of the big guns
having been viciously pulled, could soon be let go.
The hurricane of destruction began to slow up as the last few hundred
remaining shells were carried to the big guns and fired, the huge
stockpiles of shells that stood many feet high, had dwindled away.
Every size of artillery gun had been used during this great bombardment…their
barrels red hot from the continued firing would soon be cold, this
almighty crescendo of cannon fire had continued unabated for seven
days, using up the near 1, 500, 000 shells in a deafening, never-ending
|The final “Big Push” was now on!
|But more severe to all these men was that they were
all expected to drag themselves out of the safety of the trenches
and then face the enemy, extremely tired, hungry, cold and…eventually
Also, the High Command had already given a grandiose speech to their
own Officers to relate the soldiers…”Just get out of
the trenches, light a pipe or cigarette and walk slowly towards
the enemy lines…nothing will be left”. The H.Q. Commanders
expected their orders to be obeyed ...whatever the soldiers felt
“Live” and very dangerous
shells and grenade found by the author in 2013…(C/R-Ian
cut-out shell showing the deadly 300+ steel balls
showing them filled with steel balls
|Despite the massive number of shells fired, it is estimated that
one third of the total amount were duds and did not explode after
being set to explode above the ground or final contact with the
earth, which when simply calculated was a massive 500, 000 of the
total amount (which can be found today, as the French and Belgium
farmers continue to reap every year…”The Harvest of
Death” all over the battlefields!
|Roughly two thirds of the rounds fired were 18 pounder
shrapnel shells which were filled with hundreds of round steel balls
between 250 - 350, then primed to explode at a certain height above
the ground, designed to kill the enemy below in a hail of steel
balls catapulted out at hundreds of feet per second and being red-hot
at tremendous speed scattering them over a wide area, maiming and
killing many soldiers below, penetrating their steel helmets and
causing instant death.
Their main purpose was to destroy the barbed wire, but it was found
that this had failed to breach the wire in many places...It was
a complete failure for the British!
|The remaining one third of high-explosive shells failed
to penetrate the deep German built underground bunkers or the barbed
wire. Despite the unbelievable amount of shells fired, the bombardments
were not as effective as originally predicted.
The Generals of High Command situated four or more miles behind
the British front line and from a good vantage point, could see
the battlefield clearly. The expected destruction of the German
artillery positioned high on the hills behind the German front line,
and the massive artillery bombardment against the depth of 100+
metres of barbed wire defences in front of the German front line,
this failed dismally as well. But the High Command could not stop
the halt to the coming offensive, the men at the front were basically
left to fight it out for themselves and left to do as best that
Some Officers could see the predicted outcome for the infantry,
and questioned the Generals about allowing the battle to continue,
in their minds they knew it was going to be a certain massacre of
the men, but they were quickly rebuffed and ordered to “keep
The apparent quick destruction of the enemy barbed wire, enemy troops,
their trenches and artillery guns…faded into a devastation
of a living nightmare more so for the soldiers advancing all along
the front line, being killed almost instantly by machine-gunners
and artillery fire. With the deliberate and horrendous losses encountered
within only a short time, made little difference the Generals and
High Command Officers…The order was to keep pushing forward
whatever the losses…!
|The first day of ”The Battle of the Somme”
which had begun only a few hours before proved a catastrophe and
disaster for the British Army and Allied troops, as well as the
French soldiers fighting to the death farther along the front line…The
battle and the killing continued, for nearly another 5 months!