The lost warriors were found in their dugout surrounded by the paraphernalia of trench life – weapons, plates, wine glasses, jam-jars, cooker, water bottles, bedding and other equipment, including gas masks. Dog tags identified them on the day their lives ended at 2pm on 18 March, 1918.
Concussion from the shell blasts kept some of the bodies intact in their hiding place at the Killianstollen in Lerchenberg Hills. They were found during construction on a bypass for Altkirch. In the autumn of last year, workers found a 350ft-long tunnel 21ft under the earth and some human remains. Work stopped due to the fear of live explosives. This week battlefield archaeologists discovered the dead comrades in the tunnel constructed to provide sanctuary for as many as 500 front-line soldiers during heavy artillery fire.
The shells that killed the men landed following a heavy mustard gas attack on a normally quiet part of the line stretching from the coast of Belgium to the Swiss frontier, .
According to German army records, three “heavies” – shells from a howitzer or huge mortar – struck the tunnel. Thirty-four men in all died, 13 bodies being pulled from the collapsed tunnel in the aftermath of the shelling.
Michael Landolt, from the Alsatian office for archaeology, said: “Such discoveries are seldom made in archaeology.”