Rockdoc, on 15 April 2011 - 09:39 PM, said:
Having watched it again, I realised that there was some quite misleading information being given, which is a shame. Throughout the the programme, the impression given was that they were digging for a functional projector that had been buried in position for the attack. The dig was actually in the area of the two inclines leading to the entrance of Sap 14, nowhere near the spot where the thing was to be erected, and the parts recovered were just that - parts. The firing tube still had protective flange-plates bolted to it and the clamps were in a group. I think the RE must have been in the process of assembling the projector and parts were being brought up by carrying parties and left in the inclines until needed. When the shell destroyed the eastern access it buried any parts that were stored there. Presumably, the rest of the projector was removed (why leave it?) up the western incline, along with any shuttering they could get out safely. After July 1st, Sap 14 would have had no further use so the removal of anything they could take is not surprising.
I have not seen the programme so cannot agree or disagree if any of the commentary was misleading. I can tell you what the Special Brigade War Diary says.
28th June at 0530 hrs. "The most important parts of the flamenwerfer collected and placed in a Sap 14: This was done chiefly by the small RE party who worked exceedingly well."
28th June at 0600 hrs. "Heavy shell sealed up end of sap for length of 20 feet, burying vital parts of flamenwerfer beyond recall."
This is the information we had to work on. We did not know if part of the machine was in the incline and other parts already gathered in Sap 14. You mention in your post above that the impression was that we were digging for a functional machine. Its clear by the war diary that this was not the case and we did not expect to find a fully functional, put together, machine. As is, with a dig of this nature though, until you find what you are looking for you can never be 100% sure. As to what, if any, pieces of the machine are still down there - who knows!
As to the uses of the inclines that fed Sap 14. We found only the shadow of the western incline. The timber sets used to prop it had long been removed. By whom and when we do not know although a very interesting source has been identified that could possibly highlight a unit in the close area that removed the timber in late 1917. I dont want to go too much into detail as Jeremy has mentioned already that a book on the flamethrower is in the pipeline.
For those who wish to know more, as mentioned before, the Historial in Peronne are running an exhibition on the project and the flamethrower starting mid June. Once we know the dates of the transmission of the 2 hour version for History Channel, we will be back with more info. I can say though that the programme should be broadcast internationally which is warming.
Two fond memories of this project are in my mind. The first was knowing that the RE were the last people to have their hands on the flamethrower parts when they carried them into place. The first people to carry the pieces, discovered on the dig, away to storage, was the team of young RE's from the Royal School of Military Engineering, Chatham.
The second memory I will take away from this was that the delivery head of the machine, a major component, was found by a French archaeologist working with us on the site. Anthony Byledebal is forum member, although fairly inactive on the GWF. He is a qualified archaeologist and is doing his masters degree on the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. I cannot think of anyone who has done as much research on the NZ T Coy as Anthony has. I remember us all being chuffed to bits that a French archeologist had found a major component as it is their history as much as it is ours.