While war waged along the battle fields of the Western Front, a different kind of war was being fought underneath these grounds. 30 meters below, professional miners tunneled beneath the enemy lines to defeat the German army from below! These miners came from the collieries of County Durham and other parts of Britain.
By February 1915, eight tunneling companies were formed and men were recruited to undermine at the war front. To find out more about the tunneling companies, techniques used in tunnel warfare and the dangers of undermining, click here.
The start of British undermining has been attributed to former MP, John Norton-Griffiths. He knew that the clay-kickers he had hired to extend the sewers in Manchester would be able to tunnel much faster and quieter than the Germans. He was charged with forming the Royal Engineers tunneling companies and recruiting miners. Read more to learn more about Norton-Griffiths and his ‘moles’.
Tunneling warfare has often been described as a blind game of cat and mouse. The biggest threat the underminers faced was being blown up by the enemy miners. The trick to surviving was to kill the enemy before they got to them. The underminers used different listening devices to listen for the approaching enemy troops. Read more to learn more about the different listening devices.
The Battles of the Somme and Messines are the two most well known underground battles fought. The latter is considered the biggest blast of underground warfare. On 7th June 1917, nineteen mines were blown along the Messines Ridge, Belgium. The tremors from the blast were felt all the way in Downing Street, London!