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The “Sounds of Hell” Unleashed!
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THE ROAD TO WAR -
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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 war!
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 lines
 
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 shock”.
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 victory”.
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 roar.
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 defeat them!
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 or endured!


 
“Live” and very dangerous shells and grenade found by the author in 2013…(C/R-Ian R Bridle)
 
 
The cut-out shell showing the deadly 300+ steel balls
 
Shells 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 they could.
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 quiet”.
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!
   
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