Disputed Earth

Geology and Trench Warfare on the Western Front 1914-18

By Peter Doyle

Uniform Press, 2017

The western front and trench warfare are synonymous; the First World War was a conflict that quickly became deadlocked as both sides dug into the earth of France and Flanders, and although trench warfare was nothing new it would have a huge impact on the course and conduct of the war. Key to this on the western front was geology. When you think about it the link is obvious – but geology impacted everything from trench construction, dugouts, gas dispersal, water supply, drainage, building materials, the impact of artillery, movement of troops and supplies, and how suitable the ground was for tanks; all of which are explored in Disputed Earth.

Peter Doyle begins by examining the history of geology in warfare and explains how both sides quickly (but differently, with the Germans leading the field) understood the connections and utilised geologists to provide advice and guidance.The geology of the western front itself is expertly described, from the sand and clay of Flanders to the chalk downland of the Somme. Irrespective of location, this geology impacted on the daily lives of the soldiers – for example the blue clay of Flanders and the white chalk of the Somme providing tell-tale indications of mining activity that had to be disguised to avoid attracting German interest. He provides case studies of archaeological digs that have highlighted the challenges of providing effective shelter and protection for the men, and shows how military mining developed during the war years.

The book is easy to follow even for a layman like myself with minimal geological knowledge, and is lavishly illustrated with pictures and diagrams; Uniform Press have once again impressed with the quality of the publication. Overall Disputed Earth provides a refreshingly different perspective of the war. Never has a detailed examination of mud been so interesting!

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Disputed Earth: Geology and Trench Warfare on the Western Front 1914-18