To the south and west of Ieper are a number of high hills, including Mont Kemmel, Mont Noir and the Mont des Cats (Identified today by its abbey and massive aerial).
At 0230 hours on 25 April 1918 over 250 batteries of German guns opened up on Allied artillery positions with a mixture of gas and high explosive. For the next two hours they concentrated solely on destroying the gun emplacements.
After a short pause, at 0500 hours the German barrage was switched to the French front line at Mont Kemmel. French soldiers who had survived the horrors of Verdun described it as the worst they had ever encountered.
Mont Kemmel lies just inside the Belgian frontier. It is easily visible alongside the Mont des Cats and is well sign posted as Kemmelberg (Its Flemish name).
Between Ieper and Armentières, Kemmel village lies on the N 331. Coming from Bailleul or Poperinge follow signs for Loker (Locre) or Klijte. From there or other villages such as Mesen or Ploegsteert just follow the signs.
Once in Kemmel village follow the signs to Kemmelberg to go up the hill.
Note that the road up and over the hill via the belvedere is wooded, steep, narrow and in places cobbled. This is a popular place to find walkers and cyclists ! There also rides in horse drawn carriages which can slow your ascent.
It is not difficult ascent but a place to be wary of children and families on the road.
Coming from the village of Kemmel you will arrive at the belvedere which was rebuilt after the war.
The original tower had been used as an Observation Point by Allied artillery.
When you manage to find a clearing in the trees the view over the surrounding landscape is extensive and the strategic importance of the hill is apparent even lower down.
Just after the Belvedere if you continue on over the hill, you will find on your left a small clearing with a parking area.
The 16 metre high French monument shows Nike, the goddess of victory (So now you know !) looking out towards the area where the French fought. It was unveiled in 1932 by Maréchal Pétain.
On 25 April 1918 a single French Division which had only taken over the position a week beforehand, found itself opposed by three and a half German Divisions.
An hour of furious bombardment was considered sufficient by the Germans and at 0600 hours they launched their infantry to the attack.
By 0710 hours Kemmel Hill was theirs and by 1030 hours it was all over.
The hill which had remained in Allied hands for four years had been taken by a spectacular display of brute force.
Even the German airforce had joined in with 96 aircraft dropping 700 bombs and machine gunning the French positions as the Leib Regiment of the élite Alpine Corps (In fact a Division) stormed forward.
The fact that the French Ossuary just down the hill from the monument contains the remains of more than 5 000 unidentifiable soldiers, mostly, from fighting in this area in April says more about the fury of the bombardment than mere words.A short account of the battle
Mont Kemmel would in fact remain in German hands until the end of August when the American 27th Division and British 34th Divisions would finally drive them back from the area. Their monument is only a short drive away at Vierstraat, in the direction of Ieper.The American Monument
It is as easy to walk down the hill to the Ossuary, but keep in mind the walk back up again.
There is a comfortable brasserie at the bottom of the hill immediately opposite the cemetery - should you have need of sustanance for the climb back up to the car.
The Ossuary contains the remains of 5 294 soldiers, all but 57 of them unknown. Most of these soldiers fell in that whirlwind attack on 25 April
On the left of the obelisk are marked the names of the commanders of the units and on the right the units themselves.