Report on the German Trenches Captured  

June 16th, 1915.

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FIRE TRENCHES.

High command parapet built up with sandbagging of indifferent workmanship: traverses frequent but not thick being only 2 ft. to 3 ft. across in places. There were loopholes every 5 or 6 yards carefully built into the parapet and behind each loophole was a recess for the firer.

The loopholes were all placed at a slant so as to cause bullets to glance off them.

They have stays at the back to keep them up. These stays greatly facilitate the building of the loopholes into the parapet. The slits in the loopholes are deeper than ours – this being necessary if the loopholes are placed at a slant.

SHELTERS.

Shelters for one or two men were frequent under the fire parapet to give cover from shell fire. In all cases these shelters were strongly supported and roofed with timber.

The unsupported recesses so noticeable in British trenches both in the parapet and parados were non-existent.

COMMUNICATION TRENCHES.

These were plentiful, well dug and traversed and deep enough for men to walk about in upright position. They were very narrow and would not admit of a stretcher being carried along them.

They were neither sandbagged boarded nor drained, but their being on rising ground this was not necessary. They were quite dry and undamaged by our bombardment.

DUG OUTS.

These were very well constructed of heavy timber – the floors and walls were boarded, and in some clean straw was found. In many cases the roof consisted of one layer of railway sleepers or 12 inch tree trunks, covered by a layer of sandbags with 2 feet of earth over them with, sometimes, a layer of iron loopholes on top.

POSITION OF DUG OUTS.

They were usually situated at the junctions of communication trenches with support trenches. These points are easily seen on air photographs and they might well be worth the attention of our 6 inch guns. A few shots landed in these dug outs should prove more effective than those landed in the enemy’s front with a view to attack.

BOMB STORE.

Behind the Y Wood there was a bomb store dug out, fitted with cupboards and shelves for all kinds of bombs, grenades, etc.

By this means bombs are properly kept and they are under the definite charge of a responsible man instead of being kept in open trenches and frequently in the mud as they so often are in British Trenches.

There was a large dug out, presumably for bombers, close to the bomb store. From this dug out access could be readily got by means of communication trenches to any part of the firing line.

COFFEE POTS.

There were large covered metal jars, about 10 gallon capacity, found in all trenches. These were used to carry coffee up to the firing line.

Many of the jars were full of coffee, which was reported to be of very fine quality.

AMMUNITION SUPPLY.

No reserve S.A.A. was seen in any of the captured trenches except for 2 or 3 sandbags of loose ammunition which were kept in a cupboard under the fire parapet.

WIRE.

The wire in front of the German trenches was found contrary to expectations and to the reports of officers who reconnoitred the ground to be far from formidable – it still presented a fairly considerable obstacle in front of the south end of the “Y” Wood. Elsewhere there was very little.

GENERAL REMARKS.

The German trenches showed more method and system in their construction, upkeep and occupation generally than is the case with ours.

It is doubtful if they had expended more actual labour on them than we had during the 2 or 3 weeks we had respectively been in occupation, but their work had been better directed and used to a better purpose than ours – also they undoubtedly have far more material and skilled workmanship at their disposal than we have.

All evidence goes to prove that they hold their trenches, and fire trenches especially, with far fewer men than we put in ours – at a rough estimate it is thought that they have about ⅓ of the men in the trenches that we have.

As regards machine guns, in the captured trenches at all events, there are fewer than we should have had in a similar length of line.

The enemy rely entirely on loopholes both for sniping and defence.

There trenches were not really knocked about by our Artillery except perhaps in parts of the “Y” Wood where our bombardment was more severe than in other places.

All their firing recesses, in addition to being loopholed, were provided with overhead cover rendering them shrapnel proof.

It is thought that the Germans in this part of the line are not of a very formidable character, or else with the defensive facilities at their disposal, they would have put up a better fight – possibly their failure to make a stand was accounted for by most of their officers being killed – four were found dead in one dug out, two in another, and another in a different part of the trench – all in the “Y” Wood. Two other German officers, who had been taken prisoner, were killed by one of their own shells on their way back to Brigade H.Q.

The Germans seemed to have made the common mistake of placing more men in the “Y” Wood than the situation demanded and here they were an easy target for our artillery. They had two lines of defence  in the wood – seven officers were, as stated, found dead here, and their bombers were accommodated in the wood also. Our artillery gave the wood more attention than any other part of the line, and it was in the wood also that we suffered most severely from German artillery after we had taken their trenches.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM GERMAN TRENCHES.   

  1. It is thought that we could hold our trenches throughout and the front line in particular with fewer men. If there is good wire in front less that half the number of men we put in should be capable of meeting any attack. Parties of bombers must however be ready at all times close behind the front line to move up the C.T.’s if required. The result of lessoning the garrison of the trenches would be far fewer casualties from the enemy’s artillery and from sniping.
  2. The provision of loopholing with back stays is recommended – these are far more easily built into the parapet than our loopholes are.
  3. It is strongly recommended that half the Field Company attached to the Brigade is always in the trenches. By this means far better work would be put into everything that is don, much labour that is now misdirected would be saved, and the Infantry would learn a great deal from the Engineers.
  4. More material, such as planks, posts, corrugated iron etc. should be available for the construction of Dug outs which are necessary for comfort and health of the men in hot or cold weather.
  5. A good watertight cupboard for the storage of bombs should be put up in every sector and more if required. At present many of our bombs that we do not use are wasted and detonators lost for want of a storage place.