Any Old Iron – Cutting the Wire

Barbed wire – the bane of the infantryman, no matter his nationality.

Y’know, I really am such a cheapskate.  I have more than several friends or acquaintances who are military collectors, the majority medal men who have been known to part with the odd tidy sum – oh my, have they just – for a rare addition to their collections.  Me, what do I collect?  Bits of old iron, mainly.  As in hand grenades, of course.  Other than that, there are the Great War postcards, which I should imagine cost, across the whole collection, something under a fiver per card.  And Nazi tinnies (if you don’t know what they are, or would like to see them, or both, it can be always be arranged) because they are fascinating items and still cheap as chips to buy!  And Death Pennies, which do cost a few quid, so I don’t buy them very often,…

…and, apparently,…

…wire cutters.  More old iron.

I really cannot tell you that much about most of the examples pictured here, apart from the fact that are all either German or Austro-Hungarian, but then what is there to say about wire cutters, apart from the fact that they were an essential piece of kit for all armies in the Great War, and today are generally almost totally overlooked.  Nonetheless, I will do my best.  The two examples pictured here on the far left…

…are the two most common styles of wire cutter used by Central Powers’ troops in the Great War,…

…although this ersatz pair is made of rolled metal and thus completely hollow, lighter to carry, and also, importantly, cheaper to manufacture.

The example attached to the belt of the Austrian soldier on the left in this shot (note the fearsome trench clubs),…

…appears very similar to this example (above & below, and still functioning, although missing its handles),…

…and would have looked like this in its prime – belt pouch shown on the right.

And this one, the smallest in the collection, is also Austro-Hungarian,…

…and again here’s a pristine one, with diagram.

The Austro-Hungarian soldier in the foreground in this photograph taken on the Belorussian front is using a pair similar to those I have just shown you, demonstrating how to use the hook – the ‘Fangarm’ in the previous diagram – on the wire cutters to grab the barbed wire strands before cutting.

More German wire cutters,…

…once again completely hollow,…

…and, rather remarkably, still functioning despite the relic condition.  Many wire cutters, apart from the largest, would have been kept in a canvas pouch (inset),…

…so it is quite unusual to find a photograph where smaller wire cutters are on display.  Two of these German pioneers are proudly displaying their little snippers, the pair of wire cutters in the hands of the man standing third from left (and possibly both)…

…looking remarkably like these.

The standard German infantryman’s wirecutter during the Great War was the M1911 model, introduced in, yes, 1911.  Forty eight of these were supplied to each German infantry company,…

…although I have seen many small differences between versions of this model that suggest the model number covered a number of similar designs – probably due to differences in manufacture at different facilities.

Nonetheless, this is the basic design,…

…and it was supplied to Germany’s allies too, as seen here in this shot of Bulgarian troops in training.

German pioneers with grenades and wire cutters; note the extra stick grenades in the sacks around the neck of the man on the far left.  Pioneer battalions were supplied with a larger version of the M1911,…

…and it is this larger version that you see here,…

…and here, a German pioneer demonstrating one way of carrying,…

…using the loop handily provided at the end of one of the handles.  Incidentally, and just for fun, anyone any idea what those pouches attached to his belt contain?

Alternatively, there was a clip, as shown here (not my example),…

…and demonstrated by the veteran soldier pictured in the centre here, allowing the wire cutters to be attached to a belt.

Real veterans, methinks.

The M1915 wire cutters were introduced in 1915 and featured a longer handle (example below, again not mine), as seen held by the man second from left, who is also demonstrating the ‘correct’ way of hanging the wire cutters around his neck, allowing them to be used, if necessary, without unhooking.

While their colleagues hurl grenades, two Austrian soldiers test prototype wire cutters that appear to resemble large scissors.  Logical, perhaps, but hardly practical; if you’ve ever tried using scissors on wire, you will know why this model did not catch on.

Trouble is, how many wire cutters does one need to complete one’s collection?  Seven?  Ten?  Maybe a dozen?  How big’s your house?  How cool’s your missus……?

This entry was posted in German & Austro-Hungarian Wirecutters, Weaponry & Relics. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Any Old Iron – Cutting the Wire

  1. Steve Monk says:

    Very interesting article M, thank you. Never really given wire cutters much thought in the past, but yes an essential piece of kit for the infantryman.

  2. Everett Sharp says:

    Yes, great article.

  3. Nick Kilner says:

    Interesting to see the developments that took place on what was essentially a very basic piece of equipment. From what I understand, early British wire cutters were a disaster which had been tested against the wire the British were using (understandably). It took a while to realise that the Germans were using a heavier gauge wire, against which they were close to useless. Unfortunately I suspect the reason it took so long to realise what the problem was, was because very few of those tasked with cutting the wire survived the experience long enough to report back. I’ve a feeling, though I may be mistaken, that one of the VC’s awarded at Loos was to a soldier for his work cutting the wire whilst under intense enemy fire.

    • Nick Kilner says:

      it seems the old grey cells are still at least reasonably functional, I knew I read something on it somewhere. My thanks to Wikipedia for this:

      Vickers was 33 years old, and a private in the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, British Army during the First World War when the deed took place for which he was awarded the VC. The citation stated:[1]

      On 25 September 1915 at Hulloch, France, during an attack by his battalion on the first line German trenches, Private Vickers on his own initiative, went forward in front of his company under very heavy shell, rifle and machine-gun fire and cut the wires which were holding up a great part of his battalion. Although it was broad daylight at the time, he carried out this work standing up and his gallant action contributed largely to the success of the assault.
      He received his medal from George V at Buckingham Palace in 1916.[2]

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    Well who knew that there had been so many different shapes, sizes and styles of wire cutters M of course. Thankyou for bringing them to our attention most interesting.
    Thanks Nick also for your addition I always look forward to what little snippet you may add .

  5. Jon T says:

    Always fascinating to learn about the things relating to the individual soldiers lives and equipment, so easy to forget that most combatants worlds would have revolved around whether or not they had their trusty wire cutters to hand rather than grand strategy !

    Am trying to figure out what might be in the pouches of that cheerful looking chap but inspiration has yet to strike…

    So many faces staring out from those photos. I wonder what the fates had in store for them all by wars end ?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Isn’t that always the case? So many faces. And 99% of the time we have no idea of their fate. If you see a group of ten British soldiers, statistically one (plus) of them didn’t survive, but the stats take no account of where a photo was taken – reference any photo taken on the Somme on 30th June 1916, for example. Looking at Malins’ film of the Lancashire Fusiliers on 1st July in the Sunken Lane at Beaumont Hamel (available for your pleasure, including video, here: ) and knowing that most of those men will die within the hour, however, is, of course, appalling. Perhaps it’s best we don’t know the fate of every man in every photo.
      The answer to the pouches will appear in my own good time……..

      • Jon T says:

        Indeed, to stand in the Sunken Lane and then walk the short distance towards the German lines which none of those men probably even got near is a very moving and haunting experience…

  6. Guy Blythman says:

    My Grandad used to sing “Hanging on the old barbed wire…” Then of course I didn’t know what it meant! Invented by a Wild West settler to keep out cattle rustlers, I believe.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Indeed. Patented in 1867 by Lucien B. Smith of Ohio. Although invented ostensibly because a farmer often had no legal right to sue if his neighbor’s cows wandered onto his unfenced property and wrecked his crops. And, even if the law was on his side, he typically had a hard time winning compensation. So the best way to protect farms was a wooden fence, but in many parts of the plains, wood was expensive and hard to come by. So, for the most part, people just didn’t bother setting up farms there. Until barbed wire came along.

      Hello Guy! Glad you made it.

  7. Fritz says:

    I am intrigued about the detail photo you show of the man with the unidentified pouches around his waist. That in fact holds the disc grenades, commonly called Turtle grenades. I’d like to extrapolate some more information from the rest of the photo, and wonder if there’s also any information printed on back? Thank you very much. I look forward to sitting down with your article again with some of my reference notes to compare.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Fritz. No other information on the photo, I am afraid, but those pouches most certainly do hold disc grenades, as you say, and fyi, I shall be continuing on that subject next post – which will not be long in coming. Happy reference comparing in the meantime, and thanks for commenting.

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