German Infrastructure

Because of its strategic position behind the front line, the BIE-region formed an important junction in the supply chain of ammunition, provisions and soldiers to the war front. To this end, the Germans not only claimed a significant number of existing buildings in the area but also actively built their own infrastructure.

There are but few visible reminders of the war in the BIE-region’s landscape today. The most significant clue to the area's strategic importance are the remains of the bunkers that constituted the German line of defence, such as the one in the Kortemarktstraat in Hooglede, and the bunker near de Ruiter in Roeselare. Apart from bunkers, the Germans built pioneer campsites and ammunition depots in the region, e.g. on the junction between the Roeselarestraat and the Meibloemstraat in Hooglede. Military practice fields with shooting ranges and replicate trenches were installed for German soldiers to improve their battle skills during their time away from the front. In Staden and Moorslede, closer to the front line, the landscape still contains the remnants of underground military facilities. A network of corridors bypassing the main road to Vijfwegen was dug out of the Stadenberg. In Moorslede’s Slijpstraat, a series of subterranean passages was constructed to accommodate a number of field hospitals. This way, first aid could be administered to wounded soldiers right behind the front line, and casualty rates were lowered considerably.

To organise the occupation of the region, the Germans installed hospitals and bakeries in the local schools, monasteries and factories they claimed. Some buildings were converted into depots or horse stables, others were used as “soldatenheim”, clubhouses for the rest and recreation of German soldiers. The Delafontaine mill in Oekene initially housed German stables, but was later turned into a soldatenheim and supplemented with a cinema complex. Other structures, such as the Strobbe printing business in Izegem, kept their pre-war function but fell under German control. 

An important facet of the German infrastructure in the BIE-region were the military cemeteries, 1 or 2 of which were to be found in each of the towns and villages in the area. By the time the war was over, Belgium counted approximately 700 German military cemeteries, of which the Flemish ones were later merged into 4 collective military cemeteries located in Vladslo, Langemark, Menen and Hooglede.

The BIE-region was a vital node in the transportation system to and from the front line, in which a key role was reserved for the local railway infrastructure. Because of their obvious strategic importance, trains, trams, railroad switches and stations were often targeted in strategic bombing campaigns. The same applied to canals and harbours, such as the one in Roeselare.

The German transportation system was used to move soldiers to and from the front line and to transfer prisoners of war to various labour camps in the region. Typically, the German officers would travel in closed top railway carriages, while soldiers sat in open wagons or, for lack of space, on the roof of the tram. Trains also carried food, clothes and ammunition to the war front, mostly at night. From the station of Ledegem, the Germans installed a railway that passed near the Slijpshoek, where an ammunition depot was hidden in the woods. Past this point, the railroad track split into two routes toward the front line.