The footage was filmed from a camera strapped to an airship by a French pilot Jacques Trollie de Prevo overflying the battlefields of France in summer 1919, following the route of the Western Front and capturing the devastation in amazingly graphic detail.
The Western Front was the main theatre of war during World War I. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front first by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the race to the sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line remained essentially unchanged for most of the war.
The war along the Western Front led the German government and its allies to sue for peace in spite of German success elsewhere. As a result, the terms of the peace were dictated by France, Britain and the United States, during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919 by a delegation of the new German government.
The terms of the treaty would effectively cripple Germany as an economic and military power. The Versailles treaty returned the border provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to France, thus limiting the coal required by German industry. The Saar, which formed the west bank of the Rhine, would be demilitarised and controlled by Britain and France, while the Kiel Canal opened to international traffic. The treaty also drastically reshaped Eastern Europe. It severely limited the German armed forces by restricting the size of the army to 100,000 and disallowing a navy or air force. The navy was sailed to Scapa Flow under the terms of surrender but was later scuttled, under the order of German admirals, as a reaction to the treaty.
France suffered heavy damage in the war. In addition to losing more casualties relative to its population than any other great power, the industrial north-east of the country had been devastated by the war. The provinces overrun by Germany had produced 40% of the nation’s coal and 58% of its steel output.Once it was clear that Germany was going to be defeated, Ludendorff had ordered the destruction of the mines in France and Belgium. His goal was to cripple the industries of Germany’s main European rival. To prevent similar German attacks in the future, France later built a massive series of fortifications along the German border known as the Maginot Line. Germany in 1919 was bankrupt, the people living in a state of semi-starvation, and having no commerce with the remainder of the world.
The Allies occupied the Rhine cities of Cologne, Koblenz and Mainz, with restoration dependent on payment of reparations. Among the German populace, the myth arose—openly cultivated by the Army Chief of Staff Hindenburg—that the defeat was not the fault of the ‘good core’ of the army but due to certain left-wing groups within Germany; this would later be exploited by Nazi party propaganda to partly justify the overthrow of the Weimar Republic.
The war in the trenches of the Western Front had left a generation of maimed soldiers and war widows. The unprecedented loss of life had a lasting effect on popular attitudes toward war, resulting later in an Allied reluctance to pursue an aggressive policy toward Adolf Hitler (himself a decorated veteran of the war). The repercussions of that struggle are still being felt to this day.