Author Topic: British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo  (Read 346 times)

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Offline ArizonaTank

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British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo
« on: May 02, 2019, 09:53:07 PM »
One of the most interesting and well read first hand accounts of the British PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) in the Great War is Frank Richard's Old Soldiers Never Die.

Frank Richards was a reservist who had served in India before WWI broke out. According to his own account, he avoided promotion, and so managed to stay a private through the entire Great War.

The book often has a fatalistic, wry sense of humor. The story of the first use of the Bangalore torpedo from Chapter XI is a great example:

We were in the Cambrin trenches and a Bangalore Torpedo was sent up to the Battalion, which had to be taken out and attached to the German barbed wire. This torpedo had been tried and proved a great success in some Back Area or other where there were no shells and bullets flying about and also no enemy waiting to ram a foot of steel through a man's chest. It was claimed that this torpedo would destroy more barbed wire than a battery of artillery would, firing for a week. Our comments were that if the inventor and the men who had tried it out in the Back Areas had the job of hitching it on the enemy's wire here at Cambrin they'd not reach halfway across no-man's-land before they'd be returning to change their under-pants.

Volunteers were called for from C Company: which met with no response. Everyone knew that the men who went out with the thing would be extraordinarily lucky to get back. There was every prospect of being spotted by a German patrol or listening-post and even if they escaped these, there would probably be German working parties busy on the wire. There was also the danger of the torpedo being struck with a bullet as they were carrying it and blowing them to pieces. A second call came for volunteers, and three old soldiers, as a matter of Regimental esprit de corps, said that before anyone should be warned for the job as a duty, they'd volunteer. One of the men was called "Freezer": I knew him very well, having soldiered with him in India, and he was a hard case. He was continually being awarded Field Punishment Number One and getting the sentence washed out for some daring deed or other. What he didn't know about patrols and trench warfare in general was not worth knowing. The volunteers were shown how the torpedo was to be fixed and where to fix it, and before they left the trench it was set ready to explode at 1 a.m. that night. They went out at midnight with Freezer in charge, and perhaps forty minutes later we were glad to have the message passed along that they were safe back. A little group of officers was now in the front trench. They had their watches out and were anxiously studying the luminous hands. One of them commenced to reel the seconds off: five seconds to go, four, three, two—CRASH! This was a German shell exploding five yards from them. But the Bangalore Torpedo failed to explode.

When day came and we stood-to, the torpedo could be distinctly seen where Freezer and his chums had put it on the enemy's wire. Some very beautiful remarks were made about it. One old soldier told a few young soldiers that the torpedo hadn't finished yet. It was liable to go off and when it did it would travel up and down the German Front, with a rage against barbed wire, blasting it all away without missing a single strand; after which it would turn its attention to the barbed-wire dumps in Back Areas, and finally make for Germany where it would destroy the factories where the barbed wire came from until there wasn't a strand of barbed wire left in enemy territory large enough to stick a louse with.

It lay out on the wire all that day but a message came through from Brigade Headquarters that it must be re-trieved without delay. We all wanted to know what they wanted the thing back for, after calling for volunteers to get rid of it. I heard an officer remark that the reason was so as the enemy would not be able to get the Secret of it. So volunteers were again called for. The first journey had been dangerous enough, but this would be doubly so: the enemy would be on the watch, and have their machine-guns set. The same three men volunteered.

It was a quiet night. The Germans were not firing a shot in front of C Company, which made us think that they were waiting for whoever might come to fetch the thing back. But the men crept out, unhooked the tor-pedo and brought it back, much to everyone's surprise, without themselves or it being hit. Freezer, safe home in the trench, remarked that the torpedo seemed a damned sight lighter than when they took it out. He was right. Either that night or the night before the Ger-mans had got hold of it and brought it into their trench. They had taken it to pieces, removed the mechanism and hung the empty thing back on their wire for us to retrieve. That was why they had not fired—to invite us to come and fetch it. I expect they did a good grin over the Secret of that torpedo. It was the first and last Ban-galore Torpedo that I ever saw come up the line. The three men were not even recommended for medals, let alone get them, for this daring job they undertook. But they did get an extra drop of rum when they returned from the first journey.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2019, 10:06:20 PM by ArizonaTank »
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Offline besilarius

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Re: British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2019, 04:55:27 AM »
Very good.  Thanks for sharing.
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Offline JasonPratt

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Re: British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2019, 07:30:34 AM »
 O0

That epic sarcasm about how thoroughly it would destroy barbed wire...!  :DD

Fortunately for the Allies, Bangalores do turn out to be useful about 30 years later.  ^-^
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Offline RommelFox

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Re: British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2019, 10:28:53 AM »
What a fantastic read  :DD

Love just the dry sarcasm. 

Offline Pete Dero

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Re: British Trench Humor - The Bangalore Torpedo
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2019, 11:31:00 AM »
The use of massive bombs and charges by the Royal Engineers was crucial during the war.
See slow motion footage of them using explosive devices such as the Bangalore Torpedo today.