Many of the front trenches of the Germans equally lack a distant field of fire, but if lost they would be rendered untenable by us by the fact that they would be exposed to a fire from the German guns in the rear and to cross-rifle fire from neighboring works.
The extent to which cross-fire of all kinds is employed is also remarkable. Many localities and areas along the Aisne are not swept from the works directly in front of them, but are rendered untenable by rifle fire from neighboring features or by that of guns that are out of sight. So much is this the case that among these hills and valleys it is a difficult matter for troops to find out whence they are being shot at.
There is a perpetual triangular duel. A’s infantry can see nothing to shoot at, but are under fire from B’s guns. The action of B’s guns then brings upon them the attention of some of A’s artillery waiting for a target, the latter being in their turn assailed by other batteries. And so it goes on. In a wooded country in spite of aeroplanes and balloons smokeless powder has made the localization and identification of targets a matter of supreme difficulty.
The Men in the Trenches.
[Dated Oct. 13.]
On the firing line the men sleep and obtain shelter in dug-outs they have hollowed or cut under the sides of the trenches. These refuges are raised slightly above the bottom of the trench, so as to remain dry in wet weather. The floor of the trench also is sloped for purposes of draining. Some of the trenches are provided with overhead cover which gives protection from the weather as well as from shrapnel balls and splinters of shells. Considerable ingenuity has been exercised by the men in naming these shelters. Among the favorite designations are the “Hotel Cecil,” the “Ritz Hotel,” the “Billet-Doux Hotel,” and the “Rue Dormir.”
On the road barricades also are to be found boards bearing this notice: “This way to the Prussians.”
Obstacles of every kind abound, and at night each side can hear the enemy driving pickets for entanglements, digging trous-de-loup, or working forward by sapping. In some places obstacles have been constructed by both sides so close together that some wag suggested that each side provide working parties to perform this fatigue duty alternately, inasmuch as the work of the enemy is now almost indistinguishable from ours, and serves the same purpose.
Quarries and caves, to which allusion already has been made, provide ample accommodation for whole battalions, and most comfortable are these shelters which have been constructed in them. The northern slopes of the Aisne Valley fortunately are very steep, and this to a great extent protects us from the enemy’s shells, many of which pass harmlessly over our heads, to burst in the meadows along the river bank.
At all points subject to shell fire access to the firing line from behind is provided by communication trenches. These are now so good that it is possible to cross in safety a fire-swept zone to the advance trenches from billets in villages, bivouacs in quarries, or other places where the headquarters of units happen to be.