Tall tales from the trenches

2 Jul

Fascinating as this story is (culled from a Feb 1918 magazine), I really doubt it happened. Stories tend to get improved in war-time. On the other hand, damn but it would make a good section in a story – perhaps one of the many time-travel, military type that I enjoy reading. And that I should get around to writing some day …

The Hell-Trench of the Piave

How an attacking German force was electrocuted as it rushed a second line of trenches. By E. T. Bronsdon

When the Italians stopped, a few weeks ago, with their backs to the Piave River, in northern Italy, with the intent of delaying the Austro-German advance as much as possible, an incident occurred which illustrates the scientific resourcefulness of the Italians and also shows how much of a factor the unexpected can become, even in this warfare of to-day.

It was certain that no long stand could be made on that side of the river; the Teuton preponderance in men and guns was too great. Any expedient which might gain hours, however, was worth considering.

An Italian engineer by the name of Mertilli was responsible for the plan. Before the final German thrust was delivered, Mertilli caused the second-line trench to be evacuated over a front of eight miles, except by workmen.

In this second trench he placed some discarded machine guns, plates of corrugated dugout armor, and even some veteran field pieces, which seldom made an appearance in the trenches. The whole floor of the trench was lined irregularly with pieces of metal of different kinds, so that no matter where a man might step he was likely to touch one of the pieces. Then service electric cables were stretched to the trench, across the Piave, from two of the small towns just on the other side. These carried the heaviest charge of electricity the plants were capable of turning out. The cables were connected up by concealed wires with all the bits of metal, the machine guns, the field pieces and the corrugated armor. Safety zones were left for the escape of the defenders of the first trench, but all other parts were connected with the electric cables.

The next morning the German mass attack came, driving the first trench defenders back remorselessly. The huge body of men swept over the first trench, and on to the second.

Something radically wrong appeared there. Men jumped into the trench, and it appeared to be evacuated, yet the invaders did not re-appear. The charging Germans behind could not know what was wrong. They came on and on, seizing the machine guns, the old field pieces and whatever they they could lay hands on.  It is needless to say that none of these lived to tell the tale of their captured trophies, for each was electrocuted where he first entered the trench. All along the eight miles, the condition was the same. Of course the German command soon found out what was wrong, but not until nearly eight thousand of the very best of Germany’s troops were dead – and all without a single Italian casualty! And besides, the attack was halted for a day giving the Italians time to reorganize their defenses, on the other side of the Piave.


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