Encyclopedia - Over The Top

Cover of "Over The Top" by Arthur Guy Empey An idiom in wide use today to indicate excessiveness (be it exuberant or foolhardy), the phrase 'over the top' has its origins in the First World War.

It was used, chiefly by the British, to describe the process whereby infantrymen emerged from their trenches and scrambled into No Man's Land to attack the opposing enemy trenches.

Given the machine gun's dominance of the battlefield during the war the prospect of going over the top was invariably regarded as doom-laden by infantrymen.  This was unsurprising given the huge numbers of casualties sustained in such endeavours.  Most notorious were the 60,000 casualties suffered by the British - chiefly in the face of enemy machine gun fire - on the first day of the 1 July 1916 Battle of the Somme.

The American Arthur Guy Empey produced a novel based upon his own experiences as a volunteer with the British Army while the war was still underway, entitling it Over The Top.

A 'Gearsman' was a tank crew member responsible for managing the gears.

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