GWA Spring Event

April 29, 2011 - 2 Comments

by Jim Barnes

It’s spring, 1918 and on the killing fields of France, the armies are stirring in the mud and filth of the trenches. The Kaiser’s forces prepare for an offensive that will strike a decisive blow and divide the allied lines. The western allies including the new American troops and the hardened veterans of the Russian legion serving with the French army make their own preparations. Both sides hope for a victory that will end the grinding trench warfare that has characterized “The Great War.”

On the weekend of May 15-17, the Great War Association held it’s annual spring battle reenactment. This was only my second time participating in a WWI event with the Russian Legion, but one that I had been eagerly anticipating. Once again, I was number two man on a maxim gun, assisting Vanya Pertsev, (aka: John Pepper). It is always a treat to fire ‘Uncle Maxim’, but he can be cranky. On this occasion, we were dismayed immediately on Friday,  by the tendency of the gun to jam after only a couple of rounds. This necessitated a teardown  of the weapon. With nightfall approaching, it was crucial to ascertain exactly what was the nature of the problem. Vanya’s expertise enabled us to find the defective part and determine means of  working around it in order to keep firing for the remainder of the weekend.  By Saturday afternoon, we had perfected mini-teardowns that took only a couple of minutes and occurred only on occasion.

The weather Friday evening was quite pleasant for mid-April and we had no need of our overcoats until well after dark. In late evening, many of our men were pulled out of their positions to support an attack by the British. The Huns chose this as a time to attack our line. Hearing shouts and firing ahead of us, we began firing but the gun again jammed. Vanya sent me out of the bunker with grenades, but the trench  filled with smoke as a hail of german rifle grenades rained down on our positions. Just as I staggered past the opening to the bombproof tunnel in the rear of our position, dark figures wearing Stalhelms emerged out of the smoke, firing on the run. We were had.

If the weather Friday was pleasant, Saturday, however, was a different matter entirely. The morning skies were a steel gray and the air felt ominiously cool and damp. We were anticipating rain, and by ten o’clock or thereabouts, it arrived. The precipitation started out slowly, but increased as the day wore on. The trenches got very muddy and the overcoats got soaked and very heavy.  Thankfully, being on the machine gun crew meant that we got to spend most of our time in an MG bunker, which kept Vanya and I out of the worst of the rain. This changed when a major allied offensive captured the section of German trenches directly ahead of us and we were selected by our Poruchik to deliver a case of grenades to the troops occupying the Boche positions. With Vanya carrying the grenade and me acting as armed guard, we raced across no-man’s land and started distributing grenades, but we soon learned that our brothers-in-arms were beginning to pull back. As we neared our own lines, the Germans hit our trenches with a gas shell. This necessitated the use of gas masks. I learned that it is virtually impossible for me to see with one of those things on. The French gas masks that we use allow all water vapor from your breath to stay in the mask and instantly fogged up my glasses. I followed directly behind Vanya, since his back was all I could see, but he then got gas in his mask and began gasping for air and collapsed onto a bench in the French line. A corpsman with the US Marines began working on him and was quite effective. Vanya was soon smiling and breathing fine, having added a good-natured bit of living history to our battle reenactment.

The rain continued to gain in intensity and finally, around 3:15pm, the downpour was punctuated by lightning and loud rolls of thunder. This was too much realism and the event was called. This was an unceremonious end to a very good event. Despite the rain, the Legion Bunker was warm and dry and our new commissary was a wonder to behold. The evenings offered great food, strong drink and good company. Special thanks to Slava, our cook for keeping everyone in the legion fortified in the cold and dampness, and a большие спасибо to our commander and everyone else in the Legion for a great weekend. Great War is a fascinating and interesting departure from the average reenacting shoot-em-up.

Comments (2)


April 29th, 2011 at 11:36 pm    

Was that the French “duck mask” you guys used? You know you are supposed to “pee” on them to activate them and render them effective in a gas situation. I think you and Vanya forgot something or just chose not to “piss” each other off…ha ha

Too bad the battle was called. Sounded like very realistic conditions in which to experience the battle. Maybe next year.


Unteroffizier Katz

June 14th, 2011 at 9:59 am    

Its always fun storming your trenches and making you Ivans die for the Czar!

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