Wire with barbs that cause people or animals discomfort when trying to get through it. An easy concept with a number of variations that has a number of uses. Originally designed as a cheap and effective way to contain cattle on the plains, it was not long before it was re-purposed for the military.
Most of the wars fought in the late 19th century and up to WWI. saw barbed wire in use in various forms. It was cheap. It was quickly deployed. While not so much a fortification it was very effective against infantry and cavalry. So it worked.
During WWI it was used extensively. It could either survive or at least be quickly repaired in the wake of the massive artillery bombardments of the day. Unfortunately, the birth of armored warfare sort of ended the heyday of barbed wire on the battlefield. Tanks were much more effective at getting through it than man or beast.
Above is a version of barbed wire called concertina wire. It has a similar design but is stored and deployed in large coils. These rolls can be set up in a number of different configurations. Weel beyond what regular bared wire could be used for. The wire in the picture was deployed on the perimeter of an American firebase in Vietnam and I hope that it was the photo the person was going for because it looks painful, but it is sort of a cool shot.
The picture above is of a gabion, basically sticks woven together to form a rough barrel. These structures were originally used during the Middle Ages as a sort of mobile fortification. They were light weight and easily transported. Often various sizes would be made to fit within each other so they would stack like plastic cups.
When they arrived where they were intended to be used they would be filled with dirt, rocks, or anything. Suddenly they would transform into a strong fortification. They would be used to protect artillery and infantry positions and could even be found along the edges of the trench works during a siege. If they needed to be moved that would simply be emptied and moved. True mobility.
Used in conjunction with fascines and even bales of wool or cotton, these were commonly used in the Americas during the American Revolution up through the Civil War. In fact, in some places around the world gabions are still used to protect military bases. When used with a little imagination they could also be used to build actual structures. Small houses and even latrines!
Today the gabion is used in various forms for landscaping and erosion control. Whether still made of sticks and dirt, or hi tech plastic and metal, the gabion is still a fixture in the modern world.
The gabions you see above are from the model Continental Army camp at Colonial Williamsburg. Scattered throughout the camp are various examples of fortifications and battlefield accouterments from the period. We’ll see more of those later.
People, Places and Things from US Military History