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75mm Second Hand

A steel chamber holds a brass shell. Inside it, a pin ignites propellant. The confined explosion shoots a projectile and a gout of flame from the 75mm (3 inches) bore. The gun jumps, the earth shudders, a shock wave shatters the air and accompanies a roar that bursts between the ears. Spent, the brass shell slides to the ground with a hallow shing! Another round replaces it and, as soon, ignites. Powder fumes permeate the air. Explosions count seconds across unending darkness…

It was the night of September 25, 1918. To prepare the terrain for the next morning’s attack, the artillery barrage began at 11:30 p.m. “The infantry moved forward through the woods in approximately the formation they were to employ the following day. The men lay down among the big guns and tried to sleep” (Kenamore, From Vauquois Hill to Exermont, 88, emphasis mine).

The video, footage taken by the US Army Signal Corps, shows “The famous ‘75’s’ in action at Le Cotes de Forimont, September 27, 1918.”

Les Côtes de Foriment are a ridge two kilometers (1.24 miles) south of Vauquois. From the 35th Division field orders, we know the division’s 60th Field Artillery Brigade, with their 75mm guns, took position there by September 25.

In the video, notice the gun fires every four seconds. An artillery battery consists of four guns.

…Explosions counts seconds across unending darkness.

In this infernal night lies our young private, waiting, suspended in time, between sleep and prayer.

—Excerpts from A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

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Private Potts’s Interactive Itinerary

The 18th of September [1918] was a Wednesday. It was the day Benjamin Franklin Potts turned twenty-four years old. Any letters from home wishing him a happy birthday would have found him around Foucaucourt-sur-Thabas, six miles west of Les Charmentois, sixteen miles south of the Butte of Vauquois.

—from A Very Muddy Place: War Stories

Foucaucourt is a tiny village in the Argonne region of France. It lounges on the south bank of the Thabas, a shaded stream.

It’s more difficult to find on a map than it is to pronounce. I can help you with both. In my American accent, I say fook-oh-cor sur ta-ba, and you can find it on the interactive map below.

Also on the map, I marked other places on Private Potts’s itinerary in North America and Europe, as well as those of his brothers.

And on this Wednesday, September 18, I am happy to announce I am hard at work on the electronic version of the book. A Very Muddy Place: War Stories will be available for Kindle in the autumn.

Happy Birthday, Bennie.


Interactive Itinerary on Google MapsImagery ©2019 Google, DigitalGlobe, Map data ©2019 Google

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