War Miners: The Covert Mission Beneath Arras1 x 52' HD
In 1916, at a war council between the French and British general staffs, a colossal secret operation requiring phenomenal manpower was approved.
Twenty meters below ground, in the vicinity of Arras, on the Western Front, 24,000 Commonwealth soldiers mounted what would be the largest surprise attack of the First World War. Major Duigan commanded the New Zealand Tunnelling Corps, a unique company of miners between the ages of 30 and 50, who had crossed the globe to answer the call of the distant motherland. The fate of the war and of many soldiers’ lives would depend on the pickaxes of the New Zealand division. Because the goal of their mission was first and foremost to save lives by avoiding the slaughter of a classic attack. For months, the tunnellers tackled the rock, their muscle, skill, and unflagging spirits making it possible to achieve the unthinkable: 19 km of tunnels were cut through the limestone chalk beds below the city of Arras. The tunnellers dug, joined up, and fitted a 20+ km network of tunnels, a veritable underground city where 24,000 soldiers would soon be quartered in the run-up to the Arras Offensive. On April 9, 1917, at precisely 5:30 a.m., battalions of terrified Allied soldiers attacked the German front with the characteristic ferocity of the horrific war. A third of them would die. Little did they know the attack was a mere decoy for another vast Allied operation, the Nivelle offensive, which would be a costly failure in the end.
The secret city beneath Arras was so secret that it is often forgotten by history. Today, it is our duty to honor the men of the New Zealand Tunnelling Corps, who achieved, in the darkness, one of the most improbable engineering feats of the Great War. Interviews with leading historians and material from the Wellington Quarry Museum bring to life the incredible story of The Secret Underground City in the limestone chalk beds beneath the city Arras.