National Geographic : 2014 Aug
124 limestone bedrock of France’s Picardy region was ideal not only for mining operations but also for World War I soldiers to record their presence in penciled signatures, sketches and caricatures, carvings, and even intricate relief sculptures. This underground art is relatively un- known beyond a circle of World War I scholars and enthusiasts, as well as village mayors and landowners, many of whom Gusky has spent years getting to know. His images bring to light the subterranean world soldiers endured while sheltering from constant shellfire. They left names, images of women, religious symbols, cartoons, and more. These traces, Gusky says, illuminate a forgot- ten world of World War I, connecting us to the individual soldiers, many of whom would not survive the nightmare of trench warfare. The conflict began with mounted cavalry and confidence on all sides that it would all be over by Christmas. By the end of 1914 the German advance had stalled, the armies had dug in, and an extensive network of trenches stretched from the North Sea coast to the Swiss border. An arms race led to the first mass use of poison gas, air warfare, and tanks. On the western front, mil- lions of troops died in largely futile offensives and counterattacks. In the grip of this deadly stalemate, the Ger- mans and their French and British adversaries resorted to siege-warfare techniques that had changed little over the centuries. The goal was to dig under key enemy strongpoints and blow them up; counterattacks were thwarted by setting off charges to destroy their own tunnels. At the height of the underground war, in 1916, British tunneling units detonated some 750 mines along their hundred-mile sector of the front; the Ger- mans responded with nearly 700 charges of their own. Hills and ridges that provided vital lookout Evan Hadingham is the senior science editor for N O VA . Jeffrey Gusky is a fine art photographer and emergency physician in Dallas, Texas. 0mi 50 0km 50 SeineAisneSommeOiseMeuseRhineDanubeEnglishChannelWesternfro nt 191 4 Westernfro nt 191 4 Westernfront1918(Armisticeline) Chemin des Dames Metz Lille Ypres Dijon Rouen Namur Paris Amiens Reims Arras Stuttgart Besan ̧ con Langres Mülhausen Brussels Strasbourg Basel Maastricht Luxembourg Saarbr ̈ ucken Ch ˆ alons-sur-Marne Verdun Toul Épinal Soissons PICARDY ALSACE FRANCE GERMAN EMPIRE BELGIUM SWITZERLAND NETHERLANDS U.K . AUSTRO- HUNGARIAN EMPIRE LUX. UNDER THE FRONT LINES OF WWI The 1914 stalemate led both sides to deploy legions of engineers to tunnel under the western front, recalling medieval siege tactics. PRE-WWI BOUNDARIES SHOWN. ALEXANDER STEGMAIER, NGM STAFF; SPRINGER CARTOGRAPHICS. SOURCE: PIERRE PURSEIGLE, YALE UNIVERSITY 0mi 400 0km 400 GERMAN EMPIRE AREA ENLARGED ATLANTIC OCEAN North Sea Mediterranean Sea RUSSIAN EMPIRE SPAIN FRANCE ITALY GERMAN EMPIRE AUSTRO- HUNGARIAN EMPIRE SERB. BELG. NETH. DEN. U.K .