Modern technology used to dig a 100 year-old trench

Daily Mining Gazette/Graham Jaehnig Construction began Friday morning on the World War I firing trench which is part of the 100 year anniversary commemoration of the end of World War I, which was thought at the time to be the war to end all wars.

HOUGHTON — Construction of a replica World War I firing trench began Friday morning on the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and MacInnes Drive on the Michigan Technological University.

While the infamous trenches of the Great War were dug by soldiers using shovels, the World War I & Copper Country (WW1CC) trench was dug using a modern backhoe.

The replica trench is part of the centenary WW1&CC commemoration of the U.S. in the Great War, and particularly the Copper Country’s contribution to the war effort, and will be the feature of an exhibit designed to offer the public a glimpse of what life might have been like for the soldiers who lived in them.

Chris Mattila, a civil and civil engineer at Michigan Tech is overseeing construction of the trench, and said he became involved with the project a couple of months ago.

“I’m not sure how long it will take to dig out the trench,” he said, “but it should be done by 3 p.m. Then tomorrow, they can start placing the sandbags.”

The sandbags were used at the tops of trenches for protection from machine gun and rifle fire, and flying debris from exploding artillery shells. As with trenches in 1914-1918, the sandbags for the replica trench will also provide structural support to the walls of the trench, Mattila said.

Trenches were used by both the Allied and Central Powers during the First World War, which resulted in a stalemate in the war in Europe. Trench warfare extended the length the war for years, because neither side could successfully advance against the other. As the war progressed, the armies of one side would climb over the top of trenches and charge against the trenches of the other, running straight into concentrated firepower from machine guns, rifles, and artillery, which resulted in 10s of thousands of casualties. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, in western France, the British suffered 60,000 casualties in one day.

The WW1CC replica trench will be accessible to the public until Nov. 11, when during a ceremony commemorating the end of the war to end all wars, it will be filled in.


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