A WWI-era tunnel is being designated as a war memorial after repeated efforts to recover the bodies of 200 German soldiers trapped there failed, German and French officials announced Friday.
German soldiers took refuge from a French artillery barrage in the Winterberg tunnel on May 4, 1917, during one of the biggest battles of World War I, CNN reported. After an artillery shell hit the entrance to the tunnel, German troops from the 111th Baden Reserve Infantry Regiment found themselves trapped as ammunition that had been stored in the tunnel exploded and released toxic fumes. Though soldiers reportedly attempted to build a barricade to protect themselves from the fumes until help could arrive, their efforts failed and only three soldiers were rescued from the collapsed tunnel, the outlet stated.
The remains of more than 200 German soldiers who were buried alive in a tunnel in northeastern France during the World War I will not be recovered https://t.co/yil5QpJi4h
— CNN International (@cnni) February 11, 2023
“Rescue efforts to reach the remains in 2021 and 2022 had proven very difficult,” a spokeswoman for the Volksbund, Germany’s war grave commission told CNN. Though several attempts to recover the soldiers have been undertaken, the tunnel is “very deep and very long” with the further complication that the tunnel is under a nature reserve with “sandy ground still contaminated with ammunition,”the spokeswoman added. (RELATED: Man Using Metal Detector Finds Body Of WWII Nazi Soldier)
In the past years and months we have been cooperating with our French partners in a spirit of trust,” Dirk Backen, chief executive of the Volksbund told CNN.
French and German authorities hope that by designating the site of the tunnel as a memorial to the men who perished there, it will dignify and protect their resting place. “This guarantees that the soldiers will continue to rest in peace,” a Volksbund spokeswoman told the outlet. .
Planning for the memorial will begin once the legal requirements for a war cemetery site are met. French and German officials hope to dedicate the site next year, CNN reported.