This World War I battle footage lets you go 'over the top'

The 1916 Battle of the Ancre was a weeklong British offensive against German positions on the Ancre River in France. It was part of the first Battle of the Somme, and it was one of the first times a tank was filmed in battle.

That’s because the Battle of the Ancre from Nov. 13-19, 1916, was one of the better-documented fights in the war. A film crew was on hand for much of the fighting and put together an over hour-long movie of their footage.

World War I Battle of Ancre the Advance of the tanks video

“The Battle of Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks” was a documentary released as a newsreel around the Western World. (GIF: Imperial War Museum)

The filmmakers captured everything from a tank crew taking their cat mascot into the steel belly with them to horses drawing artillery into position to men going over the top to attack enemy trenches.

This footage later made it into theaters around the world, allowing Americans to see conditions on the front months before the U.S. entry into the war in 1917.


(Photo: Public Domain still from “The Battle of the Somme” film)

Unfortunately for the film crew and worse for the British soldiers, the rainy conditions made the terrain too muddy for the tanks and slowed down assaults by infantry, giving a huge advantage to the German defenders.

The British and French troops were able to inflict heavy losses on the Germans, but they failed to take their terrain objectives before Winter weather forced the end to the offensive on Nov. 19.

An excerpt from the film is available below. Amazon Prime members can watch a 62-minute version of the film here.