From the logs of: Willhelm Stüben – Prvt first class. Cont.
The trench I was in was just over two and a half meters deep, so I crept as low as possible while heading to the fallback point. SOMETHING new was happening and panic had taken reign of some of my comrades. Some were completely immobilized with fear by the light and the sound... and now the smells. The smells of burning flesh. I knew the sickly sweet odor too well. I passed another soldier on my way North, and, thinking him another immobilized recruit, I pulled at his sleeve to get down. He fell over, stiff as a post, the top half of his head gone, and in it's place a blackened smoking stump.
I recoiled in horror into another soldier, grim faced, steadied me and growled low, “Keep moving unless you want the same”.
As I marched on I continued to see the monstrous results of this new attack: Here was a Corporal slapping at himself, as if he was afraid to burst into flame, there, a man hunched over covering his face with both hands in squat position rocking back and forth screaming his eyes had burned out.
More than a few of us reached the fallback point, a larger area had been carved out to allow room for easy access to the machine gun turret and a mortar station preparation for firing the weapon was underway. There was another flash but no sound followed this time, and we all flinched. Then we looked expectantly at the young artilleryman setting his weapon and stabilizing the tripod that held it steady.
By the look of him, he was strait out of the academy. Whether he had joined voluntarily or was conscripted was unclear to me. it usually wasn't. Men carried themselves differently on the Field of Battle. This young man couldn't even be shaving by now. and his large eyes showed more than a little fear.
I had had some training myself with this weapon, mostly by way of observation in a previous engagement, and I could see by his handling that he was unsure of himself. I was about to assist when there was a bright flash behind me. Instinctively I hunched my shoulders up bracing for the BOOM I had been conditioned to expect. The already-nervous boy handling the mortar was NOT so conditioned as he nearly dropped the missile when it finally came.
And then we heard what at first sounded like multiple engines approaching, with clankings of chains and a deeper rumble, that was felt as vibrations from beneath the our feet. A large chunk of wood, part of the barricade from above gave me a stable shelf from which to brace myself, as I dared a glance over the lip of the trench, and I saw where the light was coming from: from across the field came what looked like armored tractors, with multiple wheels surrounded by a flexible plated metal belt. Some seemed stuck or they had stopped for some reason, while some rolled with purpose forward.
I had thought the protrusions mounted on swivels would be guns of some sort, and they were. What can only be described as lightning sprayed out, as that was how it looked, and seared the ground, causing the small explosions of escaping steam.... great pieces of ground sprayed into the air in jagged lines.
I heard a scraping sound and turned to see a on of the machines closer than I had noticed before, turning it's wand-gun our way. Before I could shout a warning, the lightning came, I felt every muscle contract, and I fell into the Abyss of unconsciousness.
Most of my uniform was intact and sections of it were smoking. I took stock of what I had and looked around to see what I could use as a weapon, as I could see no rifles about. The small bits of metal here and there from the bits of barb wire and the various buckles and other adornments on the bodies that surrounded me were trailing gray trails upward, like all of the metal spirits had been defeated.
We were, all of us anxious to get going. Our orders and our objectives were fairly simple; gain as much ground as possible so that the infantry could follow in relative safety. If possible get to the village of Flers. I began running through my mental checklist getting ready; we had charges for the weapon ready, The Mark 1, with its forward tilted profile, seemed ready to go, like a beast trembling to be released.