Michael's Dispatches

Amber of War

image017-1000Dead Confederate Soldier in US Civil War. Rifle in foreground. Petersburg.

Artillerymen had a rough time.   During the era before recoil systems were built, when the cannons fired, they were prone to bury themselves deeply into the mud.  Accuracy was impaired and rate of fire reduced.

Cannons are difficult to drag through mud, and firing platforms had to be built, slowing maneuver.

Commanders often set the guns to skip shots off the earth. Balls will skip, skip, skip, leaving a trail of destruction for the unfortunate.  Cannonballs do not skip well off of mud, making them like giant rifles.

Likewise, infantrymen could not keep weapons clean, and morale suffered in mud.

image019-1000Death in the mud. Confederate Soldier. US Civil War.

image021-1000“The Battle of Mud,” at Passchendaele, Belgium. World War I.

Animals can often pull cargo where even the best vehicles fail.  In the above image, the high horse is standing on a corduroy road while the other is off road.  The image characterizes our mobility today.  We are mobile on predictable veins of travel that are readily disrupted.

image022-1000Endless miles of boardwalks at Passchendaele.

Troops who fought early in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars dealt more with mud on bases than more recent veterans.  For instance, today, there is a “The Boardwalk” in the middle of Kandahar Airfield, which leads to the pizza and coffee shops. The base has paved roads.  Gravel is abundant.  Toilets and hot water showers are available by the thousands, and so the realities of mud in Afghanistan are less obvious on the big bases of Bastion and Bagram.

Nevertheless, the annual floods still bog parts of some bases, if only briefly.  The famous “poo pond” at Kandahar Airfield has overflowed, along with countless Porta-Potties during rains, mixing excrement into the base mud.

Off-base is a different world, and there, mud and terrain are matters of mortality.

image024-1000Tramlines—small railroads—often are constructed to navigate mud. (Passchendaele. World War I.)

Our helicopters and the small scale of the war in Afghanistan may sweep the idea of mud out of consciousness, but then we are fighting an enemy with nearly zero air defense capacity, and our lines of logistics are short (after inside of Afghanistan) and reasonably accessible.

image026-1000Artillery and bombs churn the soil and can create tremendous mud.

Even today, a shot from a muddy position can bury the mortar tube, rendering it useless without painstaking extraction.

Commanders sometimes bombard battlefields or roads to create mud to slow the advance or retreat of the enemy.

With our current precision munitions, commanders can easily destroy sections of road in minutes.  There is no need to create muddy miles of road.  Small, carefully selected sections can slow or halt a convoy, creating a static target for the commander’s guns or aircraft.  In Afghanistan, our aircraft sometimes take out sections of trail to hinder enemy retreat.

image028-1000jpgMud dampens artillery explosives and can create ponds. (Passchendaele, Belgium.)

Men are captured like ants in the sap.  Soldiers literally disappear in mud and are never seen again.

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