All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 6
Paul's group is sent to the front early to prepare for a coming offensive. On the way there, they pass a huge wall of brand-new coffins. The men joke crudely about them, but they know that the coffins are there for them. At the front, they can hear the sound of trucks bringing supplies to the enemy. It is obvious that the English are preparing for something big. Morale is very low. That night, while keeping post in the dug-outs, they are shelled by their own artillery. This is not the first time that this has happened.
Paul thinks about a time that he left a dug-out and when he returned it was gone. To him and his comrades, life and death become meaningless on the front. "We lie under the network of arching shells and live in a suspense of uncertainty. If a shot comes, we can duck, that is all; we neither know nor can determine where it will fall." Chapter 6, pg. 101
Rats eat the men's bread so they come up with a plan to kill them. They throw bits of bad bread in a pile and wait in the dark until the rats come, and then kill them with their spades. This helps for a short time. They find a few recruits who own saw-edged bayonets. They take these away and give them regular ones. They say that the enemy kills and brutalizes soldiers using the more destructive saw-edged bayonets. Paul comments that sharpened spades are more common in combat, anyway.
Time passes and the men become bleak, until the bombing finally happens. The men awake and collect themselves. The bombing seems to go on forever, and the men are stuck in their dug-out. Not even Kat can get them any food. The next morning, they get a little bread. One new recruit gets stir-crazy and insists on leaving the dug-out. Kat and Paul hold him down and slap him around to knock some sense into him. Finally, they have to tie him up and try to play cards to pass the time.
That night, the bombing finally stops, and the men prepare for the attack. They throw grenades out of the dug-out and then crawl out to meet the French enemy. Paul looks into the face of one of the enemy soldiers and almost freezes up--at the last minute, he throws his hand grenade and hits the man's chest. Paul's comrades retreat. There is destruction everywhere, but the enemy is hurt as well. Around noon, the men get in a trench and prepare for their counter-attack. They fight their way back to their first trench and a little beyond. They reach the enemy front line and fight in the trenches, then steal food and return to their position behind the protection of their artillery. That night, they eat happily. Afterwards, on watch, Paul thinks of memories that are calm and quiet. He wonders when he will have such things again, or if the war has ruined him for nice things forever.
The days drag on, the attacks continue, and the dead increase. One of their men is trapped somewhere in the distance, hurt and screaming. They cannot find him, but must listen to his cries. Eventually, his voice dies out. The men kill time collecting the small parachutes from the shells in between attacks and bombardments. New recruits are sent up, but they are so inexperienced that they are more harm than good. Many of them are killed almost immediately--five to ten for every one experienced soldier.
Paul encounters Himmelstoss in the trenches and ends up in the same dug-out as him. When they charge again, Paul discovers that Himmelstoss has stayed behind, in a daze. Paul gets angry that Himmelstoss is hiding while young boys are getting killed, and yells and kicks Himmelstoss to get him to fight. A lieutenant comes along and orders them to follow him, and Himmelstoss snaps out of his daze. He boldly rushes out to fight.
"Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades--words, words, words, but they hold the horror of the world." Chapter 6, pg. 132
Paul thinks of how tired of battle he is, and it is all he can do to fight and show less experienced people how to fight. He and his friends teach the new recruits important details of avoiding being killed, but when the fighting starts again, the recruits mostly do it wrong. Haie Westhus is dragged away, badly wounded and knowing he is dying. At the end of the battle, only a few hundred yards have been lost, but the battlefield is covered with dead bodies.
Paul's group is relieved and they take a truck away from the front. Paul notes how much the season has changed from when they went to the front. They get off the truck and Company Commander Bertink shouts for Second Company to gather. He orders them to count off, but there are only thirty-two of the original 150 that went to the front at the beginning of the offensive. They march back to their camp.