On this day in 1917, far away from Virginia in West Flanders, Belgium, at three o’clock in the morning, about 455 tons of TNT in 22 mines detonated underneath German lines. Thousands of Germans were killed instantly, and some reports have claimed the explosion was heard as far away as Dublin.
This sounds an awful lot like the Battle of the Crater, don’t you think? Of course, Union soldiers only dug the single mine, and while they hoped the thing would go off at 3 a.m. or thereabouts, the fuse didn’t quite work, leading to a made-for-the-big-screen moment in which two dudes actually had to crawl into the mineshaft, light it, and race back to the entrance before it all went kablooie.
Anyway, apparently the Righteous and Harmonious Fists did something similar during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, so you’d think that all this mining and exploding would have excited the French and the Brits right from the start of the war.
Writing in 1914, Captain A. Genez, a Frenchman, reflected on the above-mentioned examples and suggested that “it may not be rash to predict that in certain circumstances mines may be used in the attack and defence of fieldworks.” But here’s the thing: “Mine warfare relies upon a long duration; can we imagine that a European war will be long enough for a significant underground struggle?”
Nooooooooooooooo. We can’t imagine.
IMAGE: The wreckage of the blast at the Battle of Messines (National Library of Scotland)