Battery Aachen

 

Already before the great war, the Germans recognized the value of the Flanders coast for pursuing a potential war against England. It was therefore decided in late 1914 that the channel ports of Zeebrugge and Oostende would be used as naval basis for submarines and destroyes. These would patrol the channel to raid allied shipping. To protect these ports as well as to prevent an allied landing, the Flanders coast was protected by numerous coastal batteries and other fortifications. Interestingly, these defences served as blue print for the Atlantic Wall in world war 2. The German-occupied Flanders coast, running from Knokke near the Dutch border in the north to Nieuwpoort in the south, was the responsibility of the Marinekoprs Flandern, commanded by admiral Ludwig von Schröder. Within this sector, the Marinekorps took charge of all military activities, including the construction and staffing of the coastal defences. To protect the Flanders coast from an allied invasion, the Marinekorps constructed about 30 impressive coastal batteries (listed in the table below) during the course of the war that were equipped with guns of different calibers. For example, battery Deutschland was armed with 38 cm guns and battery Tirpitz with 28 cm guns, enabling to hit British ships as far as 36 or 27 km away. Most of these coastal batteries were operational in 1915/16 and displayed sufficient strength to deter the Royal Navy from attacking the Flanders coast. Operationally, the coastal batteries were divided into two groups, namely: Artellerie abschnitt Ost, covering the batteries in the border region from Knokke to Blankenberge, and Artellerie abschnitt West, covering the batteries in the sector of Oostende. 

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Overview of the coastal batteries in the Zeebrugge (Artellerie abschnitt Ost) and Oostende sector (Artellerie abschnitt West) with battery Deutschland, equipped with four 38 cm guns, battery Kaiser Wilhelm II, with four 30.5 cm guns, and battery Tirpitz ,with four 28 cm guns, as key defences.  

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Nearly all of the WW1 coastal batteries in Belgium have disappeared except for the Aachen battery. This is the only battery left of which sufficient remains are left to provide a good impression of a typical WW1 German coastal battery. 

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The Aachen battery is located in dunes of the the small village of Raversyde near Oostende on the former royal domain (and current national park) of king Leopold II who owned here a few Norwegian-style cottages (pictured). These were burned down by the Germans after they took possession of it in 1914 because the cottages attracted fire from the allies.  Battery Aachen was constructed in January 1915 and was operational in April. During the second world war, the dunes of Raversyde were used by the Germans to build additional defences as part of the Atlantic Wall and thereby also incorporating parts of battery Aachen into it.

The battery was armed with four 15 cm guns (15 cm SK/L40) and contained two observation bunkers with telemeters, barracks for the officers and soldiers, ammuntion depots, bombproof shelters and a narrow gauge railway to transport ammunition. Moreover, the different units of the battery were connected by protective trenches.

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The picture above shows a mock-up of the battery when viewed from the seaside, revealing the four gun emplacements and the main observation bunker. During the past three years, the Aachen battery was closed for the public because of a major renovation, returning it to its 1915 state. The site reopened in March 2019.

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View towards the main observation bunker that was used to spot potential targets on sea and is well hidden within the dunes to obscure observation. This bunker also served as command post for both battery Aachen and Deutschland.  

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View towards the sea from the observation bunker which contains the silhouettes of the most important ships of the Royal Navy on the wall (below) for target identification.

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Original telemeter that was used to measure the distance to potential targets at sea. During the war, it was located on the main observation bunker.

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Panorama view of battery Aachen with the Dunes at Raversyde, the beach and the sea.

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The different elements of the battery are connected by numerous protective trenches running above and below the ground.

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Battery Aachen was equipped with four 15cm SK /40 guns with a range of about 19 km. The orignal guns were destroyed by the Germans when they retreated in October 1918 and therefore there are nowadays replicas present. Although it did not contain the  most heaviest calibre guns, battery Aachen was of much nuisance to the Royal Navy as it was the most western located coastal battery. It was therefore frequently shelled by monitors of the Royal Navy. This, in turn, necessitated additional reiforcements. Battery Aachen was tasked with defending the coast against close range attacks, defending the port of Oostende and shelling the allied positions in the IJzer sector.  In fact, its first action in May 1915 comprised the shelling of the French positions around Nieuwpoort

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Side view of a gun, showing the interior (above) and a close-up of the interior of rotating emplacement (below). 

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At its entrance, battery Aachen contained three wells and one of these was named Barbara brunnen after the patron saint of its crew.

 

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In addition to bunkers, trenches and bombproof shelters, battery Aachen also contained barracks for the soldiers who typically slept in hammocks. One of these barracks was reconstructed recently to show how the soldiers lived and slept.