The article provides a biomechanical analysis of ventral furrow formation in the Drosophila melanogaster embryo. Ventral furrow formation is the first large-scale morphogenetic movement in the fly embryo. It involves deformation of a uniform cellular monolayer formed following cellularisation, and has therefore long been used as a simple system in which to explore the role of mechanics in force generation. Here we use a quantitative framework to carry out a systematic perturbation analysis to determine the role of each of the active forces observed. The analysis confirms that ventral furrow invagination arises from a combination of apical constriction and apical-basal shortening forces in the mesoderm, together with a combination of ectodermal forces. We show that the mesodermal forces are crucial for invagination: the loss of apical constriction leads to a loss of the furrow, while the mesodermal radial shortening forces are the primary cause of the internalisation of the future mesoderm as the furrow rises. Ectodermal forces play a minor but significant role in furrow formation: without ectodermal forces the furrow is slower to form, does not close properly and has an aberrant morphology. Nevertheless, despite changes in the active mesodermal and ectodermal forces lead to changes in the timing and extent of furrow, invagination is eventually achieved in most cases, implying that the system is robust to perturbation and therefore over-determined.