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The Second Company returns to the front two days early. On their way, they pass a schoolhouse that has been shattered by shells. Fresh coffins are piled by the dozens already lying next to the schoolhouse. The soldiers make jokes to distance themselves from the unpleasant knowledge that the coffins have been made for them. At the front, they listen to the enemy transports and guns. They detect that the enemy is bringing troops to the front, and they can hear that the English have strengthened their artillery. The men are disheartened by this knowledge as well as by the fact that their own shells are beginning to fall in their trenches—the barrels on the guns are worn out.
The soldiers can do nothing but wait. Chance determines whether things will take a turn for the better or for the worse. Paul relates that he once left a dugout to visit friends in a different dugout. When he returned to the first, it had been completely demolished by a direct hit. He returned to the second only to discover that it had been buried.
The soldiers have to fight the fat, aggressive rats to protect their food. Large rations of cheese and rum are doled out to the men, and every man receives numerous grenades and ample ammunition. The men remove saw blades from their bayonets because the enemy instantly kills anyone caught with this kind of blade on his bayonet. Kat is in bad spirits, which Paul takes as a bad sign, since Kat has an uncanny sense for knowing what will happen on the front.
Days pass before the bombs begin to fall. No attack comes right away, but the bombing continues. Attempts to deliver food to the dugouts fail. Even Kat fails to scrounge anything up. The men settle down to wait. Eventually, a new recruit cracks and attempts to leave. Kat and Paul have to beat him into submission. Later, the dugout suffers a direct hit. Luckily, the shell is a light one, and the concrete holds up against it. Three recruits crack, and one actually escapes the dugout. Before Paul can retrieve him, a shell whistles through the air and smashes the escaped recruit to bits. They have to bind another recruit to subdue him. Everyone else tries to play cards, but no one can concentrate on the game.
Finally, the shelling lessens. The attack has come. Paul and his comrades throw grenades out of the dugout before jumping out. The French attackers suffer heavy losses from the German machine guns and grenades. The soldiers kill with a mindless fury after days of waiting helplessly in the dark while the bombs fell above them. The Germans repel the attack and reach the enemy lines. They wreak havoc and destruction before grabbing all of the provisions they can carry. They run back to their position to rest for an hour. They devour the tins of food they have gathered, noting that the enemy has far better provisions than they do.
Later, Paul stands watch. Memories of the past come to him. The calm and quiet memories bring sorrow rather than desire. He muses that desires “belong to another world that is gone from us.” He is sure that his youth is lost and that he has become permanently numb and indifferent.