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German shaft

German shaft

Underground warfare

West Flanders has never known coal mines. Yet you can still find shafts, drilling machines and other traces of miners in the West Flemish underground.

The explanation? The First World War occurred in muddy trenches along the Yser River but also dozens of meters underground. From 1916 onwards, the Allies started digging tunnels under the German positions.

To this end, British engineers brought drilling machines used in the coal industry. However, that did not go smoothly. In Petit Bois in 1917, such an excavator got stuck in the swampy clay soil. There, it is still buried somewhere.

German shaft

When the German army got wind of all the underground commotion, they started digging vertical shafts themselves to counter the Allied excavation works, such as on the ridge in Wijtschate-Mesen.

Concrete finish

The soil didn't cooperate. The Germans also had to cross a layer of quicksand. That's why they had to finish the shaft with concrete blocks. This shaft plunged about 25 meters underground. From there, an unfinished horizontal tunnel departed 180 meters towards the British lines.

A concrete bunker protected the shaft above ground. However, the roof was removed after the First World War.

Crater landscape

The ultimate intention was to get under the opponent's position and blow the whole thing up. The Pool of Peace in Wijtschate commemorates the Mine Battle. On June 7, 1917, British troops detonated dozens of mines, which explains the craters in the landscape, such as the Pool of Peace, a 40-foot-deep pool.

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