Our story starts in the first months of the first World War, then called the Great War. After conquering most of Belgium in October 1914, the German army consolidated its positions. Shortly after that, the construction started of a string of coastal defense units.
The construction of Battery Aachen started in January 1915, at Raversyde, a village on the outskirts of Ostend, Belgium. Battery Aachen was the first of a long chain of defensive units along the Belgian coast: west of Battery Aachen was the front line, on the east side was Battery Antwerp. The unit contained two observation bunkers, four artillery positions, housing for the staff, ammunition depots. Battery Aachen was build on the Royal domain and the royal villa was even burned down and replaced by an artillery position.
The artillery (15 cm SK L/40) was positioned in open concrete structures, on top of a double storage room that was partially underground. A double rail track allowed to bring ammunition from the central ammunition bunker to each of the artillery positions.
A small detail in the image below: the railings of the Royal villa were reused in each of the artillery positions. And the commander seems to be quite proud of the neat result… At least the concrete was of very good quality, as today it is 100 years old and still in a nearly perfect state.
Under the concrete platform was a basement in which the charges (right) and the projectiles (left) were stored. These were transported on rail from the storage to the artillery position and transferred to these storage spaces through small openings in the front. Wooden doors gave access to stairs leading down in these storage spaces. Ammunition was raised to the gun platform through a small hand-drawn elevator.
The artillery pieces were aimed at the sea, but were used only a few times to counter attacks by Allied ships. Instead, from this position, the inland front line was bombarded regularly. The first inland bombardment on Nieuwpoort took place on May 5, 1915.
Today, these four artillery positions are the most authentic parts of Battery Aachen in the Raversyde open air museum, as they have not been reused in the second World War. Two positions have been made accessible to the public, two positions are well preserved but covered by sand.
The concrete structure and the attachment of the artillery piece is very well preserved. Only the entrance part has been slightly modified after September 1915 in order to be able to remain operational during attacks and bombardments.
The short animation below shows a bit the atmosphere of Battery Aachen and indicates briefly the sources that were used to make this virtual reconstruction. Don’t forget that the first plane was flying in Belgium only 7 years before this scene in 1915. The pilot, Henri Farman, was instrumental in the development of military planes in that period. The Great War was not only cruel and insane, but also a major driver of technological development.