In search of German soldiers trapped in the Winterberg Tunnel in 1917.


The German War Graves Commission launched an excavation in the Kron Forest in order to insert a camera into the tunnel where a hundred soldiers were killed during the Battle of the Chemin des Dames.

The German organization responsible for the war cemeteries launched, on Tuesday, an excavation operation in the forest of Kron (Aisen) to reach a tunnel in which dozens of German soldiers were killed in 1917, during the deadly attack of the « Chemin des Ladies ».

After the research conducted in April 2021, which identified the entrance to the site, he says:Winterberg TunnelTo discover objects belonging to German soldiers, this new process aims to reach cavities in the tunnel and then insert a camera to determine what they contain. And horizontal drilling made it possible, on Tuesday, to reach the first cavity, about 50 meters from the entrance to the tunnel. And as of Wednesday, a camera is supposed to be inserted there, thanks to vertical drilling this time, according to the prefecture.

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« Suppose there are 100 soldiers in the tunnel. », explained immediately on Tuesday Arne Schräder, head of the exhumation service at Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK), which is leading the excavations, with the support of the French authorities. These soldiers 111And The Reserve Infantry Regiment died in Baden from suffocation or deprivation. On May 4, 1917, the site « It was subjected to heavy bombardment, as a piece of heavy caliber fell from it at the entrance to the tunnel and caused its entrance to collapse (…), which led to the fortification of the soldiers. », summarized by the Governor of Aisne, Thomas Campo. If the decision to exhume the remains of the soldiers from the graves will be taken only at a later time, “There will be work afterward to make this place a place of memory.”stressed the governor.

Yves Desfusis, an archaeologist specializing in contemporary conflicts, displays a pocket mirror with a portrait of German Emperor Wilhelm II, found at an excavation site at Winterberg Tunnel. François Nassimbini / Agence France-Presse

In the event that the bodies are removed from the graves, the bodies will go to a cemetery in the area, unless the descendants request that they be returned to Germany. « We are not in the absolute goal of recovering the bodies like in the 1970s. »Yves Despausis, who is responsible for the project effects of contemporary conflicts in the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs, explained, recalling that « 650,000 bodies remain on the ground on the Western Front »during the First World War. It confirms the interest of this site « Very exceptional » To document the daily lives of these soldiers and how they died. We rarely have sites of this size with such logistical support.”Mr. Schrader insisted on this and thanked the French authorities.

The offensive of the Chemin des Dames, a small road of hills between the Aisne and Ailette rivers, launched by General Nivelle on April 16, 1917, to break through the German lines. Supposed to be quick and decisive thanks to the first battle tanks, it turned out to be a complete fiasco and the fighting lasted until October 25, 1917, causing huge losses: 187,000 people on the French side, including several Senegalese skirmishes, and 163,000 on the French side. German side.

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