Above is a compilation of original video clips of the Battle of the Somme, one of the most destructive battles of World War I, which began 97 years ago today, July 1, 1916. You could argue that the battle actually “began” a week earlier, when an intensive artillery barrage by British gunners sought to pound the German front around the Somme into utter submission. They hoped that the shelling was so thorough, when the troops went over the top on July 1 they would simply march into the German trenches and take them easily. That is not what happened.

The artillery barrage simply drove the Germans deeper underground. They spent the week before July 1 fortifying their bunkers, relatively safe from the shelling. As soon as the shelling stopped on the morning of July 1, they knew the assault by British infantry was coming, so they crawled out of their bunkers and manned the machine guns. The result was a horrific slaughter, with tens of thousands of troops killed on the first day alone. Although the British and Canadians made significant gains in some parts of the front, they didn’t achieve their objective of breaking through the German lines completely.

Nevertheless, the battle raged on for 140 more days. The battle claimed about a million casualties, both sides combined. The result? World War I dragged on for two more horrific years.

It’s rather tough to find “pure” World War I film footage. Almost all of it you find on YouTube is shown as part of some sort of documentary or with commentary. There is some subtle commentary with this presentation, but it’s light-touch enough to pass muster here.

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