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Friday, June 16, 2006

Photo Friday (vol. LXVII) [zig-zag edition]

I mentioned a few months ago that I have been photographing WWI war graves in Beer Sheva as part of a volunteer project with the British War Graves Commission. 

As I started seeing the names and dates on the headstones I realized that a good portion of the British, Welsh, New Zealand and Australian soldiers buried in this one cemetery had died within a period of about a week to ten days.  This piqued my curiosity and led me to start researching what had happened between the last week of October and the first week of November in 1917 in the sleepy Ottoman outpost of Beer Sheva.

If you want to read about the battle for Beer Sheva, you can go read my previous post in which I have quoted a couple of gripping accounts... especially about the last great mounted charge in history by 800 brave Australians which ultimately turned the tide of the battle and captured Beer Sheva.

Since that time I have been poking around on the outskirts of Beer Sheva in my spare time, looking for any remnants of the Turkish fortified positions and trenches that the British and Anzac troops had found so formidable.

During this time, I also got an email from a Captain in the Australian Army stationed with the Multinational Forces in Sinai who had seen my previous post and asked if I could help set up a visit to Beer Sheva for him and his men to be able to explore this shining bit of Australian military history.  I readily agreed.

Before bringing all of his soldiers, this Aussie Captain and his unit Sargent made a pilot trip to join me in Beer Sheva and the three of us went exploring to the south west of the city in search of the Turkish positions.

Unfortunately we seem to have been looking in the wrong place because the desert refused to give up her secrets so easily.

But with the impending visit of a large group of Australian soldiers looming, I spent some time with a local historian and he explained to me where he had first seen the remains of Turkish trenches back in the 1950s before all the building and urban expansion had taken place.  He explained that some of them should still be just outside the current city limits and gave me detailed instructions as to how to get there.

Sure enough, the moment I turned off the main road near an IDF base and went a few hundred meters down a dirt track, an imposing ridge rose up in front of me... and across the top of the ridge was the unmistakable remains of a network of trenches.

The funny thing is, in the WWI era maps of the Battle of Beer Sheva, the Turkish defensive lines are depicted as zig-zag lines.


It never occurred to me that this was more than some cartographer's way of showing a specific feature... and that this was actually how the trenches were dug! 

Well guess what?  The trenches are drawn that way for a reason:


When I got back from exploring the old Turkish trenches I did another Internet search and lo and behold, I found a picture of Turkish soldiers in a trench outside of Beer Sheva (it could even be the same trench I visited), and if you look closely the trench is zig-zaged.


This makes perfect sense if you think about it.  If the trenches were straight an enemy soldier could jump in at one end and fire down the entire length of the trench.  Likewise, if a lucky artillery shell fell into the trench, it would spread shrapnel down the entire length if not for the zig-zag design.

That's it for today... Off to the local cherry festival with the kids.


Posted by David Bogner on June 16, 2006 | Permalink


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Love history when it comes to life.

Were allied trenches in straight lines? The zig zag idea seems logical, even if it would mean a little more work. Wonder why no-one else used the idea.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 16, 2006 5:03:06 PM

David, this is fascinating. Thank you!

Please let us know how the visit with the Australian soldiers went.

Posted by: Rahel | Jun 16, 2006 5:42:07 PM

Fascinating stuff! I always enjoy your "history lessons" and learning new things about our little country!

Posted by: RR | Jun 16, 2006 6:06:31 PM

Very, very interesting. Thanks!

Posted by: Irina | Jun 16, 2006 6:39:56 PM

It IS very interesting... but please update with cherry festival pics!!! mmmmm... cherries!

Posted by: val | Jun 16, 2006 6:55:35 PM

lisoosh asks if Allied trenches were zigzagged as well. They were indeed, though the more established trenches had more 90 degree angles which really made it hard for an invader who had to be concerned about a defender around every corner.

See http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/images/ch1_trenches_top.jpg for a good representation of this and DO NOT MISS the Imperial War Museum in London for a great (though eery) representation of what life in the trenches was like. It is also possibly the greatest museum of military history in the world (and the free entrance makes it a great shabbat destination).

Posted by: President, Kippot Srugot for Kadima | Jun 16, 2006 7:22:15 PM

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 16, 2006 7:28:19 PM

David, thanks for this post! I work for the Antiquities Authorty and these "modern" sites are beyond the scope of the preservation mandate of the Authority which ends at 1700 CE (with some exceptions). So documentation like the kind that you've done is important...and another reason the Antiquities Authority mandate should be extended.

Posted by: John | Jun 17, 2006 11:21:43 AM

Lisoosh... I see 'President' has already answered you so I won't try to improve on what he's said. But I will say that it was really neat standing by the trenches and picturing the battles that took place there.

Rahel... It went very well. I have some pictures of them standing by the trenches but I'm not going to post them yet. As they are MFO troops I should probably check before posting their pictures all over the net. Great group of soldiers, though.

RR... If you ever want to come over to my neck of the woods some time I'd love to take you on one of our local tiyulim.

Irina... Your welcome. :-)

Val... Sorry, I was so intent on getting out to pick cherries with the kids that I left my camera at home. My bad.

President... Thanks for answering the question and for providing the link. If you ever want to see these trenches or any of the other WWI sites around Beer Sheva with me, just let me know.

Jaime... Any time.

John... I'll extend the same invitation to you that I have to others. If you'd ever like to come with me to see any of the stuff I've featured here on my site just let me know. It would be a nice opportunity to finally meet.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 17, 2006 11:52:19 PM

I've visited the preserved trenches on the WWI battlefields at the Somme and at Vimy, and they are also zig-zagged like that. They are well worth a visit, though because they are all surrounded by greenery and have been very well maintained in order to preserve them, they can't begin to convey the reality of the horror of the WWI trench experience. That's very similar to the experience of visiting Auschwitz...

Thanks for the information. I had no idea about the battle for Beer Sheva, since the history of the British mandate always seems to start with Allenby walking into Jerusalem.

Posted by: Judy | Jun 18, 2006 3:09:34 AM

If I am not mistaken, the zig zagging of treches first appeared at the Battle of Spotsylvania.
Thanks, James Longstreet.

But I could be wrong.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jun 18, 2006 5:51:28 AM

I'd read about the Australian Light Horse Charge before. To see pictures of the trenches and terrain they faced puts it into prespective of what they faced and what they did.

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 18, 2006 5:59:17 AM

cf. Givat haTachmoshet.


Posted by: Dave | Jun 18, 2006 10:58:48 AM

Judy... Sir Edmond walked into Jerusalem exclusively because of the brave, selfless act of 800 brave Aussies. But for that charge across miles of open ground directly towards the Turkish lines, there likely would not be a country called Israel today.

Jordan... It wouldn't be the first time. ;-)

Seawitch... If you have the opportunity to see a wonderful film called 'The Light horsemen' you should do so.

Dave... Yeah, but about half a century later than the battle of Beer sheva. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 18, 2006 4:39:32 PM

Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing. I'd love to know how the visit with the Australian troops goes...

Posted by: zemirah | Jun 19, 2006 1:41:08 AM

Thanks for a wonderful post. It warms my heart that people care and want to learn more about this history (both in Israel and in Australia). How great that the Aussies in the Sinai saw your post! The Internet never ceases to amaze.

Posted by: MamaWombat | Jun 20, 2006 7:13:32 AM

Apart from the antiquities authority there is a body called the council for preservation of historical sites and I reckon that this comes under their purview.



Posted by: asher | Jun 25, 2006 9:41:05 PM

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