All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 6 Summary
- With rumors of an attack coming, the men return to the Front, passing a bombed schoolhouse with rows of brand new coffins stacked high beside it.
- The men darkly note that those coffins are ready in preparation for the upcoming battle.
- The first night is quiet, eerie – Kat notes that the English are bringing enhanced guns and new, better French technology.
- Troop 9 is in low spirits. Their own guns are wearing out – this last day their own guns wounded two of their own men.
- Paul says, "The Front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen. We lie under the network of arching shells and live in suspense of uncertainty. Over us Chance hovers" (6.10).
- The men's attention turns to rats, which are over-running the camp and the trenches. They steal food and scamper over soldiers' faces while they are sleeping.
- Detering leads an extermination project.
- They use bread as bait and then attack the gathering rats with shovels – the rats have killed cats and dogs in the camp.
- Killing rats occupies their time for days before the attack.
- And then the enemy sends over gas one night. But there is no attack; they would normally expect one to follow the gas.
- Rumors of a huge attack intensify; the men just wait and play games.
- The attack begins by waking the men in the middle of the night. Heavy fire. Lots of noise. Bombs.
- Our narrator paints the land as being torn to shreds as recruits in sheer terror vomit their fear.
- The new recruits are scared, but the old hands (like Troop 9) are seasoned to the ways of war.
- The bombs come closer, violent enough so that their trench is now almost destroyed with only eighteen inches of cover left.
- In the heat of the battle, Tjaden notes that this night food will be brought to them and the others believe he is right. The newbies are calmed by the news that, if food can be delivered, then the battle is not so bad.
- Two offensives are made with the soldiers returning back to base twice.
- The men are running out of food – perhaps all of it didn't make it to the Front. They start into their food reserves to quell hunger.
- The waiting at night is terrible. Tjaden regrets the bread they wasted trapping the rats – he would gladly eat those pieces now, as well as the pieces the rats gnawed.
- The men marvel that they have had no casualties yet in this offensive.
- With pressure mounting, one of the new recruits snaps and has a fit. He tries to leave the safe zone and escape his claustrophobia outside (where he will surely be shot to death).
- He cannot help himself and the men beat him, literally, to his senses to save his life.
- This confrontation makes the atmosphere worse, more repressive.
- And then a bomb strikes the dugout.
- One of the recruits starts butting his head against the wall.
- Night comes again, and from their dugout, Troop 9 can see the enemy coming again, noting how few are stopped by the wire they laid.
- Gruesome imagery accompanies the rush – shot off arms dangle in the barbed wire fences.
- Kropp and Haie throw hand grenades at exact yardages trying to drive wedges in the enemy's assault.
- Paul notes how he and his fellow men have become wild beasts, dancing with Death.
- The forward trenches have been abandoned – Troop 9's enemy is clearly winning. But the enemy is suffering many casualties; they did not seem to count on such fierce, animalistic resistance.
- At noon, the men reach another set of trenches. Their machine guns open and fend off a counter-attack that came very close to hand-to-hand combat. They win this little battle.
- Paul desperately wants to head home, far from the Front, but he can't – instead he is forced to plunge into the horror of battle. He notes that if he were not on auto-pilot mode, he would not be able to do this.
- He notes the way the earth seems to be tearing away under his feet and his having lost feeling on many levels.
- Paul refers to himself for the first time as being dead. (Check out Chapter Six, paragraph 101.)
- This new offensive of Troop 9's is successful and the enemy is on the run. Paul refers to a machine gun as barking, but it is silenced by a bomb.
- The battle heat dissipates as positions stabilize, and the men grow increasingly hungry.
- They eat corned beef and jam in a kind of food orgy, even through it is in sparse amounts.
- Paul waxes poetic about the silence, which is now the minority sound in his mind. He refers to himself repeatedly as either dead or a ghost as Death becomes almost a companion.
- Paul says, "We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial – I believe we are lost" (6.105).
- Paul describes a series of attacks and counter-attacks where no progress is made and bodies pile up.
- He focuses on the wounded more than the dead – they have a hard time bringing in bodies.
- Many of them have to be left in no man's land to suffer, and the men hear their cries, sometimes for days as they die slowly under the elements.
- Paul wonders over one man's three-day death: if he is thinking of his wife, his kids, and if their memory is what gives him strength to continue fighting to live. The men think they hear the name "Elise" being called out.
- Paul tells us, "The days are hot and the dead lie unburied" (6.117).
- Haie collects lovely French silk parachutes and parachute rings – he is determined to give them to his girlfriend. There are so many, he will have a hard time carrying all of them.
- The others collect the chutes themselves – they will make nice dresses.
- Paul observes the battle planes, which they don't mind. Those planes drop volume bombs aimlessly; what Paul and his men fear are the observation planes who are then followed by much more precise trench bombings shortly thereafter.
- Meanwhile, they continue to stack the dead, now three bodies high, in a big hole.
- The shelling begins again aggressively. Many recruits are dead and dying – they die at a much higher rate than old-timers like Paul.
- While the men know they need reinforcements, Paul complains that the new recruits often give them more trouble than they are worth.
- Over time, they arrive with less and less training, not knowing to duck shrapnel and clinging together rather than being separated for bombing raids.
- The new recruits fall in a ratio of 5 or 10 to 1 of the more experienced soldiers.
- A surprise gas attack takes many of them in one shot, as they don't learn to panic fast enough. They "choke to death with hemorrhages and suffocation" (6.139).
- Running through the trenches, Paul bangs into Himmelstoss. They are supposed to be in an offensive, but Himmelstoss cowers with a small scratch, pretending to be wounded.
- Paul is furious and literally throws him out of the trenches.
- The back and forth of pointless battle begins to dissolve time for Paul, who can't remember if it was days, weeks, or months of this set of battles.
- Paul finds solace in mentoring new recruits, training their eyes and ears for signs of danger.
- The recruits listen hard – and then under the heat of real battle do everything wrong.
- Under this onslaught Haie Westhus is wounded in the back, piercing a lung. He knows he is going to die.
- Paul describes the brutality: "We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; […] we see men without mouths, jaws, faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end" (6.158).
- And then Paul notes with odd pride that for all of that gore, they have held their little plot of land against a seemingly overwhelming enemy.
- The men are relieved. They ride the motor cars back to home base.
- The company commander calls "Second Company!" (6.164) for Paul's group. He calls again, essentially asking, "Is that all?" (6.166). Many were killed in this battle.
- Second Company, after starting at 150, is now down to 32 men. And that is the last sentence of the chapter: "Thirty-two men" (6.169).
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