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Tunnel warfare

Tunnel warfare is a general name for war being conducted in tunnels and other underground cavities.

It often includes the construction of underground facilities (mining or undermining) in order to attack or defend, and the use of existing natural caves and artificial underground facilities for military purposes.

Tunnels can be used to undermine fortifications and slip into enemy territory for a surprise attack, while it can strengthen a defence by creating the possibility of ambush, counterattack and the ability to transfer troops from one portion of the battleground to another unseen and protected.

Since antiquity, sappers have used mining against a walled city, fortress, castle or other strongly held and fortified military position.

Since tunnels are commonplace in urban areas, tunnel warfare is often a feature, though usually a minor one, of urban warfare.

They can be part of an extensive labyrinth and have cul-de-sacs and reduced lighting, typically creating a closed-in night combat environment.

The Aetolians [...] offered a gallant resistance to the assault of the siege artillery and [the Romans], therefore, in despair had recourse to mines and underground tunnels.

Having safely secured the central one of their three works, and carefully concealed the shaft with wattle screens, they erected in front of it a covered walk or stoa about two hundred feet long, parallel with the wall;

but when the heap of earth thus brought out became too high to be concealed from those inside the city, the commanders of the besieged garrison set to work vigorously digging a trench inside, parallel to the wall and to the stoa which faced the towers.

When the trench was made to the required depth, they next placed in a row along the side of the trench nearest the wall a number of brazen vessels made very thin;

Having marked the spot indicated by any of these brazen vessels, which were extraordinarily sensitive and vibrated to the sound outside, they began digging from within, at right angles to the trench, another underground tunnel leading under the wall, so calculated as to exactly hit the enemy's tunnel.

Another extraordinary use of siege-mining in ancient Greece was during Philip V of Macedon's siege of the little town of Prinassos, according to Polybius, 'the ground around the town were extremely rocky and hard, making any siege-mining virtually impossible.

However, Philip ordered his soldiers during the cover of night collect earth from elsewhere and throw it all down at the fake tunnel's entrance, making it look like the Macedonians were almost finished completing the tunnels.

After the uprising in Germania the insurgent tribes soon started to change defence from only local strongholds into utilising the advantage of wider terrain.

When enemies attempted to dig tunnels under walls for mining or entry into the city, the defenders used large bellows (the type the Chinese commonly used in heating up the blast furnace for smelting cast iron) to pump smoke into the tunnels in order to suffocate the intruders.[5]

Attackers used this technique when the fortification was not built on solid rock, developing it as a response to stone-built castles that could not be burned like earlier-style wooden forts.

Once the excavation was complete, the attackers would collapse the wall or tower being undermined by filling the excavation with combustible material that, when lit, would burn away the props leaving the structure above unsupported and thus liable to collapse.

Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay recounts how at the battle of Carcassonne, during the Albigensian Crusade, 'after the top of the wall had been somewhat weakened by bombardment from petraries, our engineers succeeded with great difficulty in bringing a four-wheeled wagon, covered in oxhides, close to the wall, from which they set to work to sap the wall'[6]

Successful sapping usually ended the battle, since the defenders would no longer be able to defend their position and would surrender, or the attackers could enter the fortification and engage the defenders in close combat.

Finally if the walls were breached, they could either place obstacles in the breach, for example a cheval de frise to hinder a forlorn hope, or construct a coupure.

The great concentric ringed fortresses, like Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey, were designed so that the inner walls were ready-built coupures: if an attacker succeeded in breaching the outer walls, he would enter a killing field between the lower outer walls and the higher inner walls.

major change took place in the art of tunnel warfare in the 15th century in Italy with the development of gunpowder to undermine enemy fortifications.

In his paper on 'the assaulting of fortresses' Vauban (1633-1707) the creator of the French School of Fortification gave a theory of mine attack and how to calculate various saps and the amount of gunpowder needed for explosions.

After a series of explosions caused by counter mine action the allies increased the depth of the tunnels but began to meet rocky ground and the underground war had to return to higher levels.

Conditions in the tunnels were severe: wax candles often went out, sappers fainted due to stale air, ground water flooded tunnels and counter mines.

The explosion blew a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg, Virginia, creating a crater 170 feet (52 m) long, 100 to 120 feet (30 to 37 m) wide, and at least 30 feet (9 m) deep.

Mining saw a brief resurgence as a military tactic during the First World War, when army engineers attempted to break the stalemate of trench warfare by tunneling under no man's land and laying large quantities of explosives beneath the enemy's trenches.

In order to protect their soldiers from enemy fire and the hostile alpine environment, both Austro-Hungarian and Italian military engineers constructed fighting tunnels which offered a degree of cover and allowed better logistics support.

In addition to building underground shelters and covered supply routes for their soldiers, both sides also attempted to break the stalemate of trench warfare by tunneling under no man's land and placing explosive charges beneath the enemy's positions.

During the height of the underground war on the Western Front in June 1916, British tunnellers fired 101 mines or camouflets, while German tunnellers fired 126 mines or camouflets.

Well known examples are the mines on the Italian Front laid by Austro-Hungarian and Italian miners, where the largest individual mine contained a charge of 110,000 pounds (50,000 kg) of blasting gelatin, and the activities of the Tunnelling companies of the Royal Engineers on the Western Front.

At the beginning of the Somme offensive, the British simultaneously detonated 19 mines of varying sizes beneath the German positions, including two mines that contained 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg) of explosives.

The largest single mines at Messines were at St Eloi, which was charged with 95,600 pounds (43,400 kg) of ammonal, at Maedelstede Farm, which was charged with 94,000 pounds (43,000 kg), and beneath German lines at Spanbroekmolen, which was charged with 91,000 pounds (41,000 kg) of ammonal.

However, the main disadvantages of tunnel war is that usually the Japanese could fill up the holes or pour water in to suffocate the resistance fighter inside the tunnels.

After the war, the Ranzhuang tunnel site ranked among key heritage preservation unit in China, Hebei province patriotism education base, national defense education base.

On the surface the many false targets (bunkers, trenches and decoy entrances to the tunnel system) made it difficult to detect true targets forcing US forces to waste ammunition.

Directly under the surface spacious barracks were built, allowing whole units to be quickly brought to the surface for a short time and as quickly returned to shelter underground.

When US forces reached the ground in the area of the tunnels, chosen North Korean units would emerge to engage in hand-to-hand combat taking advantage of their numerical superiority.

According to later prisoner of war interrogations, Chinese officers had killed a number of their own soldiers in the tunnels, because the latter had wished to dig their way out and surrender to the United Nations Command.'[19]

To maintain a full scale guerrilla war in Southern Vietnam, camouflaged bases were used capable of supplying the guerillas for a long period of time.

The tunnels eventually became a target for American forces because the enemy could hide in it and strike everywhere in the range of the tunnel complex (hundreds of miles) without a single warning and then disappear again.

The underground network included twenty five kilometer underground tunnels, bunkers, fiber optics communication systems, and storerooms to hold missiles and ammunition.[22]

A notable example is the attack on the Air Force Intelligence Building in Aleppo where on 4 March 2015, rebel forces detonated a large quantity of explosives in a tunnel dug close to or under the building.

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