When I saw this book mentioned on Twitter, I knew I had to read a book combining two of my interests: World War One and geology.
Review: Disputed Earth: Geology and Trench Warfare on the Western Front 1914-1918, Peter Doyle, 2017.
The discipline of military geology was founded in 1913 by a military fortification engineer, Hauptmann Walter Kranz. The German Army would go on to employ about 250 military geologists throughout the German Army. While the British Army came to realize the discipline’s value, it employed only five full time military geologists by the end of the war.
The 440 miles of trenches from the North Sea to Switzerland ran through five geologic zones. From west to east, they were a belt of coastal dunes, the Polder Plain (some of it recovered from the sea) of mixed sand and clay, a high clay plain, sand ridges, the Coal Belt of French Flanders, and the chalk uplands of Artois and Picardy (which often reminded British soldiers of southern England because it was an extension of the same geology). These strata were further modified by erosion from the last ice age and the Marqueffles Fault. The relationship of clay strata –impermeable, to various degrees, to water– to chalk and sandy strata in any given area was a major concern of military geologists.
In trench warfare, local geology determined how deep a bunker should be dug and how it should be sheltered from various types of artillery given the geological materials at hand, what type of shoring would be needed to keep a trench intact, and how a trench would be drained at a particular location in order to prevent illness, especially trench foot?Continue reading