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One dark night, Baumer's unit is assigned the task of laying barbed wire at the frontline, putting them into grave danger. As they approach their position, there is a dense smell of smoke and the sound of artillery. Tense with fear, they all know that death is close at hand and can claim anybody at any moment; they all grow alert and watchful.
After placing the barbed wire, the soldiers try to rest, but they are soon awakened by the sounds of terrible shelling. They listen to the painful moans of horses that are wounded. They watch the rescue operations as the wounded men are nursed and the injured horses are shot. When the shelling starts again, Baumer is pelted with splinters and shrapnel, but is not seriously hurt. He manages to slowly crawl into a shell hole in a graveyard, where he encounters a coffin and a corpse; however, he cannot leave the hole, for a gas attack has begun.
As the shelling continues, more and more corpses are thrown out of their coffins and into the graveyard, and more soldiers are wounded or killed. The new recruit with whom Kat had joked is hurt badly and close to death. Baumer and Kat talk about a mercy killing for the young soldier, for they believe that only death will relieve him from his intense pain. Before they can actually decide or act, the rest of the unit arrives, thwarting any plans. Both men feel terrible for the new young recruit.
World War I was basically fought on land in trenches with both sides constructing intricate tunnels. The Western Front, which was approximately five hundred miles long, was the scene of many battles like the one presented in this chapter. It is the first time that the reader is actually seen military action in the book.
Baumer's unit has been assigned the duty of laying new barbed wire at the front line, a very dangerous job. From the moment of their arrival at the front, the young soldiers are tense and watchful, fully aware of death's proximity. Baumer comments that war is like a whirlpool whose vortex is slowly sucking them in. He looks at the ground below him and sees it in a new way; he realizes that the earth is the soldier's best friend, who can either give him new life or take his life away.
The soldiers lay the barbed wire without incident; when the job is complete, they rest. Soon, however, an intense shelling begins; both men and horses are hit. As the horses moan in pain, accusing the men of their wrongdoing, Baumer manages to crawl into a shell hole in a graveyard; he finds he is sharing the hole with a coffin and a corpse, but can do nothing about it. Before long the entire graveyard is strewn with corpses and empty coffins, disturbed by the shelling. The author notes that during the bombing the relationship between the dead and the alive becomes intimate. Baumer points out that the flinging of each corpse from a grave probably saved the life of one soldier.
The description of battle is very vivid in this scene. Remarque spares no detail in describing the acrid smells, the piercing sounds, the wounded soldiers, the moaning horses, the corpses strewn in the graveyard, or the empty coffins. The author also manages to realistically capture Baumer's emotions during the battle.