More background info: The hill is actually artificial, created from dumped spoil that came from the cutting for the nearby railway line in the 1850s. It received the designation Hill 60 from British trench maps because the elevation here was 60 metres above sea level (according to greatwar.co.uk, though the Wikipedia entry for Hill 60 claims it was 60 feet, i.e. only 18m, above sea level … which claim is correct I have no way of telling).
The elevation afforded good views over the surrounding countryside and into Ypres, hence it was a strategically important vantage point. It was first captured by the Germans in December 1914.
In April 1915, during the Second battle of Ypres (see under Ypres
) three underground mines were set off here which blew the top of the hill away and killed hundreds of soldiers. It also altered the terrain substantially, reducing the height of the hill significantly. British troops stormed the area and held it for three weeks before the Germans recaptured it after a poison gas attack.
Underground tunnelling continued on both sides. If tunnels were blown out and/or caved in, the bodies of the dead soldiers inside were usually not retrieved. Hence the site is also a war grave and the memorial zones are in fact maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Australian and Canadian tunnellers eventually dug long tunnels into this territory from hundreds of metres away behind the British lines. At the start of the Battle of Messines (see under Ypres
) on 7 June 1917 two massive mines were exploded in this tunnel deep underneath the German lines (two of a total of 19 such mines exploded all at the same time – see also Bayernwald
and Hooge Crater
), killing at least 650 German soldiers outright (in total it is believed that some 10,000 Germans were killed by the combined mine explosions that day). After this the British again took control of the site, only to be repelled again during Germany’s Spring Offensive of 1918. It wasn’t until 28 September that year that the British finally recaptured Hill 60 for the last time.
The site was bought up by a British family after the war who decided to keep the battle site as it was. It was later taken over by the Belgian state and opened to the public. It is one of the few places that you can see on the Western Front that has not been significantly altered since the war – other than through the growth of trees and grass, of course. With the approaching centenary of the war, the administration of Hill 60 decided to create new footpaths in order to keep visitors on a prescribed route and to prevent too much erosion through visitors walking on the ground itself, which by then had already become a problem.
Near Hill 60 is also the southern entry point to the recently created walking/cycling routes along the front line (cf. Hooge Crater Museum
). At the entrance a screen shows a film about the underground war in this area.
What there is to see: Not all that much. The main attraction here is that Hill 60 is basically an unaltered authentic battlefield. Trees, shrubs and grass have grown on it, of course, but the only human interference with the landscape is the new walkway made of wooden planks that leads to part of the terrain. At some points metal planks in this walkway mark where the front line used to be at different points in time.
Other human touches are the various memorial monuments erected on and next to the hill. These commemorate particular parts of the military, such as the Australian Tunnelling Corps that had such an impact (literally) on these parts and that lost many dozens of men underground. In fact, underground still lie countless dead from all sides involved as this was the site with some of the most intense underground warfare in WW1
. So this place is also regarded as a war cemetery and visitors are admonished to behave accordingly. The monument for the Australian tunnellers bears three very visible bullet holes – these are from WWII
The large Queen Victoria Rifles monument within the grounds of Hill 60 was even completely destroyed by German troops in WWII, so the present monument is a replacement.
Of the authentic structures from WW1, a relatively large German-built bunker survives only partially scarred. As it was also used by Australian troops during the periods of Allied control of the site, many mementoes left at the bunker involve Australian flags and even koala teddy bears.
Other than this larger bunker, bits and pieces of other bunkers poke out of the ground here and there, as well as various bits of mangled metal. On one block of concrete in the ground, little gravestones with individual names have been placed.
A few information panels on the edge of the hill provide some background information. But there is no visitor centre, let alone an exhibition. Here place authenticity is what really counts.
By the southern entry point to the Ypres Salient front line (a walking/cycling route created for the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 – see also Hooge Crater
) a few extra panels as well as a video screen provide extra commodification
All in all
, even though this is a site of great place authenticity it is still one of the rather minor visitor attractions on the Ypres Salient
, in my view. There simply isn’t that much to see. Only a must-see for real dedicated WW1
in the south of the village of Zillebeke, ca. 2.5 miles (4.5 km) south of Ypres
as the crow flies.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: not difficult to get to; free
In theory you could even get a bus (line 89 from Ypres
) here (stop Zillebeke Berg 60), but of course it is more convenient to get there by your own means of transport, be it a car, motorbike or bicycle. When coming from Ypres first take the main road out of town (the N8) east, then at the large roundabout on Hellfire Corner take the fourth exit to head south towards Zillebeke. In the village, turn left at the T-junction once you’ve gone past the church and follow Wervikstraat out of the village for just under a mile (1.4 km) and turn right into Zwarteleenstraat, which takes you straight to the Hill 60 car park.
The site is freely accessible at all times, though obviously enough it wouldn’t make much sense to go there after dark.
Time required: not long, around half an hour is probably enough
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Just on the other side of the railway cutting that runs to the south-west of Hill 60 is the Caterpillar mine crater
. This is the result of one of the largest detonations during the Battle of Messines. Unlike most such craters (see e.g. Hooge Crater
) this one is not completely filled with water, only the central part is, but about two thirds of the crater are covered by grass, so you get a decent impression of its size. The crater is reached by a footpath just south of the road bridge over the railway line. The development of the site promised on an info panel near Hill 60 was to include a new footbridge over the railway cutting to directly connect Hill 60 with the Caterpillar mine crater site to be completed by 2015, but when I was there in August 2016 there was no sign of it. Maybe the idea had been given up.
site further to the west also has vestiges of the underground war in the form of two listening shafts dug by the Germans.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
There are hiking paths through the forest to the south-east of the Caterpillar mine crater but otherwise there isn’t much else to see in the immediate vicinity. But see under Ypres
and under Belgium
- Hill sixty 1 - monument
- Hill sixty 2 - former battlefield
- Hill sixty 3 - old panel missing
- Hill sixty 4 - newer commodification
- Hill sixty 5 - relics
- Hill sixty 6 - old pillbox bunker ruin
- Hill sixty 7 - Australian memento
- Hill sixty 8 - scarred
- Hill sixty 9 - entrance to another bunker ruin