No one has done better than the great British comic illustrator Heath Robinson to illustrate the intrinsically reciprocal dynamic of military engineering in general and mining and countermining in particular. This cartoon is from a collection Heath Robinson at War I found in a rummage sale years ago–no doubt there are abundant reprints.
I would guess, though, that for many KOW readers the dominant mental image of war underground is more akin to that in Sebastian Faulks’ novel Birdsong, later adapted for television. The harrowing scenes of tunnel warfare beneath the trenches of the First World War are extraordinarily vivid. In his introduction Faulks described it as ‘a hell within a hell‘. For a lot of people, it seems to me on the sound scientific basis of a dozen or so conversations (some of them drunken), that’s where tunnel warfare resides–at a safe historic distance from today, a claustrophobic nightmare of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Of course this is completely wrong. Tunnel warfare has been a constant in human history for as long as there have been humans making war. In recent memory it was a major preoccupation of the American military. Consider the poem below written in praise of the massive tunnelling efforts of Vietnamese communists during the Vietnam War. I love it. (Can anyone tell me if the words ‘your entrails, Mother, are unfathomable’ rhyme in Vietnamese?) I found it in the front matter of the classic book The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate.
Read the Remainder at Kings of War