This fascinating 5-part series unearths the untold story about how the Great War went underground — the tales of tunnellers and miners who dug under the enemy when there was no other choice but to attack from beneath. Five legendary battles. Five tales of human sacrifice and tenacity. Five bloody battles that involved men from all over the world.
They dug tunnels for victory – into the mud of Flanders, the chalk of Champagne and the granite of the Alps – and many died inglorious deaths. They were the miners of the Great War: coal miners from Yorkshire and quarry men from Verona; salt miners from Salzburg and pioneers from the Black Mountains.
The men who dug these tunnels are some of WWI’s unsung heroes – miners who dug and chiselled and tunnelled deeper and deeper, risking life and limb for a few meters of underground terrain. This spectacular series about the miners of World War I explains how the strategy of tunneling evolved, a technique initiated by Germans, perfected by the British and French and then converted into high mountain warfare tactics by the Italians and Austrians, who dug into the impossible granite and ice of the Alps in order to position artillery and explode entire mountain sides.
In this unique take on World War I, archaeologists Andy Hawkins and Julia Richardson of the British Durand Group meet up with German, Austrian and French historians and experts, who together explore actual WW1 tunnels from the Italian Alps to the plains of Belgium, in an attempt to uncover the true story of this horrific hidden war. Featuring expert reconstructions, unique aerial drone footage of the fronts, and never-before seen images of tunnels and bunkers in Italy, Austria, France and Belgium.
A Fact TV UK/Autentic GmbH Co-Production
Part 1: The Mines of Ypres
We will explore the unique British mining technique known as clay kicking and investigate why the German infantry were unable to mine efficiently.
The “Flanders tunnel” was the result of the three great battles in Flanders, especially the underground war around the ruined town of Ypres : Around 50,000 pioneers, with explosives, chlorine gas, flame throwers and tanks were on attack. A total of 500,000 soldiers were killed in the muddy fields of Flanders during the bloody back and forth fighting of 900 meters land gain.
Part 2: The Battle for Monte Paterno
Italians and Austrians cut into the hard rock of Monte Paterno to out-flank each other, leaving the most impressive high mountain network of galleries and tunnels with spectacular views.
This episode deals with the war in the Alps – more precisely in the Dolomites in the area of the Three Peaks. Tunnels and subterranean entrenchments were also built here, but above all the conquest of the summits allowed the gunmen and the artillery to control the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Here during a patrol command, the famous mountaineer Sepp Innerkofler met his death.
Part 3: Vauquois, Hill of Death
We will go through the labyrinth of tunnels situated on a small hill of Vauquois in the Argonne region of France, used both for attack and accommodation.
The episode deals with the underground war around the Vauquois, which was occupied by the Germans since summer 1914. In the village about 40 km from Verdun, both sides ignited no less than 539 explosions. The village had disappeared from the ground, the landscape around it was a single desolation with hundreds of explosion craters. To this day many tons of high explosives remain stored underground.
Part 4: Col di Lana, Blood Mountain
Col di Lana is a small mountain which became known as the Hill of Blood. There the Italians built a tunnel under Austrian defences and blew the top of the mountain off, killing 200 soldiers.
This episode deals with the war in the Dolomites, the spectacular explosion of the 2462 m high Col di Lana mountain top. Italian “Alpini” tunnelled the mountain, because its massive fortified summit plateau was held by the Austrians, who controlled the surrounding mountains and valleys from this impregnable station. The Col di Lana, also called “Blood Mountain”, became the symbol of the Alpine war.
Part 5: The Secret of the Somme
We will explore the events which took place on the Somme in July 1916 and which turned out to be a nightmare for the British Army.
This episode deals with the five months of the Great Battle of the Somme, the most exhaustive battle of the First World War ever – one million soldiers were killed or wounded or remained missing. On July 1, 1916 alone, 19,000 British soldiers were killed, with 36,000 being wounded. Ultimately, without result. The military historian Basil Liddell Hart: “Nothing more than stupid, massive mutual slaughter.”