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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 89.djvu/808

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Amateur Trench Electricians

How the soldiers in the French trenches utihze shell cases, brass scraps, and old muskets to spy electrically on the enemy

By George Kenneth End

��IN a bombproof dugout under an auxiliary station not far from Fort Tavannes in the Verdun theater of the war, an electrician has installed a crude little wireless apparatus.

This young Edison of the trenches is the leader of a group of expert electricians assigned to one of the most difficult and most dangerous jobs on the front. The laying of wires from the "poste d'ecoulc," "listening station," to the switchboards further back of the lines, the wiring of underground mines so as to afford illumi- nation for the soldier toilers under earth, and constant vigilance over the wires which might at any moment be cut by exploding shells, is his job.

It is useless to lay wires underground along the Verdun front, so three wires are strung for every line connection. These lines are strung from small posts about 7 ft. above ground, the several units of the same line being as widely separated as possible. Thus the chance of having the circuit broken is made comparatively small.

At this particular switchboard, which was about 15 ft. underground, there was telephonic connection with about eight different points along the first lines. K\ery 20 minutes each of the lines was tested by the operator at the switch- board. When a line was found to be cut a squad of four men was sent out at once to locate the fracture and repair it. They might be called ujjon at any time of the day or night, for very often when the enemy is concentrating a curtain <jf shell fire over a section information as to activities in the first lines would be absolutely cut olT if it were not for the teU'phonic connnunica- lion. Most of the lines arc himg parallel to tiic roads, where they are, of course, exposed to shell fire more than they would be if laid across the fields. The main consideration, however, is to have them accessible to the linemen.

It is not shell fire alone which brings

��down the telephone wires along the front- The closer to the lines, the cruder becomes the method of hanging the wires; so that a small windstorm or even rain (which invariably follows a heavy boml)ardment) may i)ut the wires out of commission.

The electrician in tjuestion, who had been in this particular section of the Verdun front during four months of the great battle, constructed during his spare moments a device for electrically eavesdropping in the enemy's trenches. For the success of the de\ice he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre. He had very little equipment at his disposal, so he utilized, for the most part, pieces from the artillery scrap- heap. Through the use of his trench dictaphone several gas-attacks of the enemy were apprehended in time to make preparations against them.

During the night the electrician ar- ranged in the enem\'s barbed wire a series of discharged "75" shell-cases containing microphones, to which he connected wires terminating in the French trench where batteries furnish current for reproduction of the sound waves on telephone receivers. A ground connection is made to carry the "return" current.

It is true that the closer one gets to the front the less general becomes his perspective of the war. The men in the first line trenches see the war sifted down to the few feet of trench where their guns are resting. News from other parts of the front is generally 48 hours late in reaching these men. If a soldier who has been holding down his few feet of triMich at Verdun is assured that his countrymen on the rest of the front are doing the same he is much encouraged. This electrician has made it possible for them to receive the daiK- commuvique an hour after it is transmitted from the great wireless station of the Fiffel Tower in Paris. He did some more rummaging

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