The confident grin of an ace fighter pilot, the thousand yard stare of a young soldier taking a smoke break in a subterranean shelter, a howitzer glowing in an open field, sailors framed in moonlight off the deck of a submarine pointed towards an empty horizon — The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart resurrects in language and photographs the soldiers’ experiences of World War I. In the slideshow below, explore a rare and beautiful collection of photographs taken from almost every angle of the battlefield, from the Allied’s to the Central Power’s trenches, to the ghostly space in between.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie photographed shortly before their assassination in Sarajevo, 28 June 1914.
Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb whose pistol shots triggered the start of the Great War. He himself would die in prison of tuberculosis, 28 April 1918.
A rear guard of Belgian infantry take aim with their rifles from a railway bridge that engineers are about to destroy in order to slow the German advance in Termonde, 18 September 1914.
Soldiers from the 1st Middlesex Regiment under shrapnel fire from German artillery on the Signy-Signets road during the Battle of the Marne, 8 September 1914.
German 5.9-inch howitzer battery on the Western Front, 14 November 1914. These superb guns gave the Germans a very real advantage in the Battle of the Frontiers, easily out-ranging the British and French field artillery.
French troops manning a ditch in the Argonne, 1914. Ditches like this soon became full-scale trenches, after which second lines and communications lines were added as trench warfare developed.
British troops move off into the attack through a cloud of poison gas on the opening day of the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915. This photo was taken from the trench they had just left by a soldier of the London Rifle Brigade.
French to the Front
French soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Regiment resting by the roadside near Houthem on their way to the front, 10 September 1917.
Men of the 16th Canadian Machine Gun Company holding the line in the Ypres Salient, November 1917. This picture reveals the awful conditions in the morass of the Ypres Salient.
Top German Aces
Five of the top German aces of Jasta 11 including from left to right: Sebastian Festner, Karl-Emil Schäffer, Manfred von Richthofen, his brother Lothar von Richthofen and Kurt Wolff. The ‘Red Baron’ (Manfred von Richthofen) welded these men into a deadly force.
American Machine Gunners
American machine gunners of the 77th American Division under training from the British 39th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps near Moulle, 22 May 1918. The Americans were keen but needed the accumulated expertise of their British and French Allies.
Firth of Forth
An aerial photograph of British ships at anchor in the Firth of Forth, taken from the R.9 Airship, 1916.
The German Submarine U-35 cruising in the Mediterranean by moonlight, April 1917. The failure of the High Seas Fleet meant that the U-boats were the only chance to defeat Britain at sea.
British, Belgian and French troops fraternising happily in a French village, 15 October 1914.
French soldiers of 68th Infantry Regiment in their dugout at Artois. The French had to endure a terrible ordeal as they attacked the German lines time and time again in an effort to break through.
Peter Hart is the author of The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War. He is the Oral Historian of the Imperial War Museum in London. He is the author of The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front, 1918: A Very British Victory, and Gallipoli.