The remains of more than a hundred soldiers from the First World War known to be lying in a tunnel in northern France will not be recovered, German authorities have announced.
Instead, the Winterberg Tunnel, the entrance to which collapsed after being struck by an artillery shell in May 1917, will be consecrated as a war memorial.
Located in the small commune of Craonne in the Aisne department of France, the tunnel served as a protective link between German trenches.
On 4 May 1917, during intense fighting in the area, the entrance to the tunnel on the Chemin des Dames collapsed following French shelling.
Trapped men from the 111th Baden Reserve Infantry Regiment fled deeper into the tunnel, which also stored ammunition, for safety. But continuous heavy shelling prevented help from reaching them. Only a handful of soldiers escaped.
The exact number of men who were trapped in the tunnel and subsequently died remains unclear. A new exhibition in Germany suggests the figure was around ‘100 to 150’ soldiers, but other historians have speculated that the true number could be more than 200.
Lost for decades, the location of the Winterberg Tunnel was established two years ago by a team of amateur historians. Their search was controversial, as it was illegal, and the surrounding area is a nature reserve.
In May 2022, the Volksbund – the German War Graves Commission – and French partners used precise drilling techniques to confirm the tunnel’s location, identifying a large cavity deep underground.
Although the team managed to see as far as 210ft down the tunnel, no remains were found, a spokesperson for the Volksbund said at the time.
The sandy soil made research exceptionally challenging, as did the hazard of decayed ammunition buried deep within the ground.
Instead of further probing, the decision has now been taken to consecrate the site instead. ‘This guarantees that the soldiers will continue to rest in peace,’ said a Volksbund spokeswoman at a press conference earlier this year.