GOTTMITUNS ON A BATTLEFIELD TOUR WITH LEGER HOLIDAYS

Ypres1

Today I returned from a battlefield tour to Ypres and the fields of Flanders. Organized and conducted by Leger Holidays and guided by Mr. Paul Reed. As I do not live in the UK, I travelled to Ypres by car and joined the Leger group on Friday, shortly after their bus had arrived at the hotel. All in all I count the two days that followed among the best I’ve had for ages.

Menin

planning

PLANNING & ORGANISATION 
Certainly a most important part for a German military historian. Everything was planned and organised in a manner that would have forced an appreciative smile from even the most stiff necked Prussian staff officer. All my pre-trip questions where answered in a prompt and friendly manner by a Leger employee. All necessary travel documents were dispatched to Germany by mail and arrived quickly afterwards.

billet

BILLETING 
To my suprise I did not find myself in some far off hotel in the middle of nowhere, but in the “Flanders Fields” Novotel, right inside the picturesque center of Ypres. Only five minutes walk from the Flanders Fields museum, shops, bars and restaurants, I can not think of a more ideal headquarters for a Flanders battlefield tour and it was made even better by the generous size of my room, the attractive furnishing and superb breakfast including ham & eggs ‘Flemish Style’ and a wide array of breads, fruits and cereals. This alone is would be reason enough to book another Ypres tour with Leger soon.

travel

TRAVELLING IN FLANDERS
I am not small and I certainly do not fit comfortably into most run-of-the-mill buses. The bus Leger supplied did not only have plenty of room and comfortable seating, it was also clean, excellently maintained and expertly driven and crewed by Len and Alan, who were always friendly, attentive and professional.

The Crew

The Crew

guide

THE GUIDE
I have “known” the virtual Paul Reed for quite a while now, so the I was thrilled by the chance to finally meet him in person. He is the walking encyclopedia of the Great War I had expected him to be. An excellent tour guide, able to answer any question thrown at him.
Most importantly though, it is obvious that he loves what he is doing. Paul is a professional and thus is able to present history in an understandable, entertaining and eloquent manner.
I found it fascinating to see that he took the time to answer questions and give research advice even after the tours and that he always seemed to have a caring eye on the weaker and more fragile members of the group. A true gentleman.

guide

All what I have written above seems to be mirrored in the fact that many of the people in the group regularly travel with Leger. Which is what I will be doing in the future. If you want to travel the battlefields of Europe, give them a try.

Two Ledger regulars

Two Leger regulars

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Firm in Loyalty – A hero from Bavaria

HuberMartinDC

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IN TREUE FEST (Firm in Loyalty) – Motto of the Bavarian Army

Now and then I get hold of a “death card” which is worth further investigation and I am always surprised what stories these little pieces of paper can tell.  The Gentlemen shown above is Herr Martin Huber, Offiziersstellvertreter (Warrant officer) in the Bavarian Infantry-Regiment No. 1 and a holder of the rare and coveted Bavarian medal of bravery.  Huber was born in August 1887 and had already served in the army as one year volunteer from 1907 to 1908. When war broke out he joined the ranks of the elite 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment “König” (King), in which he served up to his death in March 1918.

The special thing about Huber was that he was a holder of Bavarias highest award for bravery in combat, the Bayerische Tapferkeitsmedaille (Bavarian medal of bravery) in silver. Even though he had already been decorated the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd and 1st class and the Bavarian Cross of Military Merit 2nd class, the medal of bravery was the highest award an enlisted men could get. It was available in two grades, gold and silver, which were held in equal esteem. Ranking amongst the highest German orders of bravery the recipient was eligible for a monthly pension and up the days of the Bundeswehr (from 1957) the army sent an honor guard to stand vigil over grave of a deceased holder of the award. If a recipient of the order walked past barracks or similar military buildings the guard was turned out and stood to attention. Passing military personnel, regardless of rank, had to salute him.

Tapfer

Another interesting fact about this medal is that all holders of the award and the deeds they performed to get it were published in a book called “„Bayerns Goldenes Ehrenbuch” (Bavarias golden book of honor) which was published in 1928. I took the liberty to look up the citation of Hubers award and this reads:

HuberMartin


“on the 11th of October 1915, near Givenchy, Sergeant Huber of the 1st coy of Infantry-Regiment No. 1, managed to keep command his half-platoon. Even though he was buried alive three times he always managed to extract himself. When he saw our soldiers inside an advanced sap retreating he led his men in a counter charge and secured it. An outstanding deed and proof of Sergeant Hubers boldness and spirit”

Huber was killed in action (by shellfire) on the 21st of March 1918, near Cambrai, at the first day of the German spring offensive (Operation Michael / Kaiserschlacht). His body was discovered and buried on the 4th of April 1918.

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Hubers regimental files in the Bavarian state archive

Königlich Bayerisches 1. Infanterie-Regiment “König” / 1. Infanterie-Division

1st World War

The regiment spent the whole of the war fighting as part of the 1st Bavarian Infantry Division in France. The 1st Royal Bavarian Division was a unit of the Royal Bavarian Army that served alongside the Prussian Army as part of the Imperial German Army. The division was formed on November 27, 1815 as the Infantry Division of the Munich General Command (Infanterie-Division des Generalkommandos München.). It was called the 1st Army Division between 1822 and 1848, again between 1851 and 1859, and again from 1869 to 1872. It was called the 1st Infantry Division from 1848 to 1851 (as well as during wartime) and was named the Munich General Command from 1859 to 1869. From April 1, 1872 until mobilization for World War I, it was the 1st Division. Within Bavaria, it was not generally referred to as a “Royal Bavarian” division, but outside Bavaria, this designation was used for it, and other Bavarian units, to distinguish them from similarly numbered Prussian units. The division was headquartered in Munich from 1815 to 1919. The division was part of the 1st Royal Bavarian Army Corps.

The division fought against Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the division fought alongside the Prussians. It saw action in battles of Wörth, Beaumont, and Sedan, the 1st and 2nd battles of Orleans, the battle of Loigny-Poupry, and the siege of Paris.

During World War I, the division served on the Western Front. It fought in the Battle of the Frontiers against French forces in the early stages, and then participated in the Race to the Sea. Thereafter, it remained on the northern part of the front facing the British Army through 1915 and early 1916. The Infantry Life Regiment was transferred from the division in 1915 to become part of a provisional German mountain division, the Alpenkorps, sent to the Italian Front. In 1916, the division went into the Battle of Verdun. After Verdun, it went to theSomme in that battle’s later stages. 1917 was spent mainly occupying the trench lines. In 1918, the division participated in the Spring Offensive. The division was generally rated one of the better German divisions by Allied intelligence.

JOSEF “SEPP” DIETRICH – SERVICE IN WORLD WAR ONE

This blog  entry has been inspired by a tweet by Roger Moorhouse (@Roger_Moorhouse). Today is the birthday of the infamous Josef Dietrich.

“Dietrich was no army commander and should never have been made one” – Hermann Göring to Leon Goldensohn, May 24, 1946

“Ordinarily he would make a fair sergeant-major, a better sergeant and a first-class corporal” – Paul Hausser

A lot has been written on the infamous SS-General, so I will not bother to write something about him here. For everyone interested in the person of Dietrich I recommend reading “HITLER’S GLADIATOR” by Charles Messenger and “SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Joseph (Sepp) Dietrich.” by William T. Allbritton und Samuel W. Mitcham Jr in Hitlers militärische Elite. Vom Kriegsbeginn bis zum Weltkriegsende. Band 2, Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 1998.

Sepp in WW2 - displaying a good view on his WW1 tank assault badge

Sepp in WW2 – displaying a good view of his WW1 tank assault badge

WW1 Panzer Assault Badge. WW1 Panzer Assault Badge.

Down below you will find high-resolution images showing Sepp Dietrichs WW1 military files as stored by the state archive in Munich. The files are quite interesting as they show that Dietrich never served in the 1st Regiment of Uhlans (which we would often claim after WW1) and they hold nothing on  the Iron Cross 1st Class which he wore after WW1. That does not mean he did not get the award, he might have received it as late as the 1920s, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. Messenger claims that Dietrich was wounded at the Somme (by shrapnel), but there are no details in the files concerning that wound. He spent three months in Hospital in 1915 and another two in 1915. These spells of hospitalization probably relate to the shrapnel wounds Dietrich received at the front (right upper leg and face). There is no mention to the wound to the face, of which Dietrich claimed that it was inflicted by the lance of a british Lancer, so I suppose he made this story up when he told people about the wound in his face.  The only other hospitalization I can find is for “inflammation of the middle ear” in 1914. In his book “Hitlers Gladiator” Messenger also states that he could find no proof that Dietrich had fought on the Italian front and to have been awarded the Austrian Medal of Bravery. His service records clearly note that Dietrich served in Italy from the end of November 1917 to February 1918, although they indeed make no mention of the Austrian medal of bravery.

Captured

1911 October-November: conscripted into the Bavarian 4th Field Artillery Regiment. Invalided out after only 1 month of service (after a fall from a horse)

1911-14: worked as bakers errand boy

1914: enlisted in Bavarian 7th Field Artillery Regiment.Transfered to 6th Bavarian Reserve Artillery Regiment,Bavarian 6th Reserve Division (same Division as Hitler) in October. Fought at 1st Ypres.

1915:attended Bavarian artillery School at Sonthofen,NCO training.Returned to Bavarian 7th Artillery Regiment,Bavarian 1st Division fighting at the Somme.

November 1916: transferred to Infantrie-Geschütz-Batterie 10 ,2.Sturmbataillion.Part of 3rd Army.Served in Champagne 1917. Awarded EKII November 1917 while in Italy.

February 1918: joined 13. Bayerische Sturmpanzer-Kampfwagen-Abteilung as a gunner (using captured British Mk IV tanks). Training near Berlin from April 1918 (the gunners arrived in Berlin in April, the rest of the crews in January).

May 1918: his tank detachment deployed to 7th Army,Chemin des Dames sector.

June 1918: saw action in tank attack near Rheims. July 1918:offensive near Soissons: Oct 1918:in tank battle near Cambrai.

In November 1918 he seems to be back with the 7th Bavarian Artillery regiment again.

SeppDietrich1 SeppDietrich2 SeppDietrich3 SeppDietrich4 SeppDietrich5 SeppDietrich6 SeppDietrich9

The World War One Quiz – Part 1 – For charity

The years I spent in the United Kingdom were among the best in my life. People made me feel like being at home and everyone was kind, friendly and supportive. I made a lot of good friends and learned a lot of things which assisted me in my later life. Because of that I still feel very much attached to the UK and its people. When I read about the terrible things that happened in Woolwich yesterday I was shocked. I made a small donation to “Help for Heroes” (http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/) and thought about what else I could do.

charity
Starting now and ending at the end of the year I will run a series of small military quizzes on this site. To participate you need to answer all questions correctly and you have to make a donation to Help for Heroes (http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/) or Combat Stress (http://www.combatstress.org.uk/). If you have the answers send them to me by email and include a some kind of receipt/proof that you donated something (I do not care how much) to one (or both) charities. I will draw a winner from the pool of donors that gave the correct answers.

This quiz will be closed on  the 9th of June 2013.

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The prize

backside

reverse side

First item to go, is this wonderful autograph card signed in ink by a famous Kapitänleutnant of the Imperial German Navy. I will not tell you who he is (you can read his signature), because this is one of the things I want you to tell me. Autograph is signed on both sides (see images). It can be yours for a tiny donation and for correctly answering the following questions:

Question 1: Whats the full name of the officer we see here
Question 2: What awards is he wearing? Name at least three of them
Question 3: On which legendary German warship did he serve in 1914.
Question 4: On the 10th of September 1914 the above warship sank the first of many British steamers. What was its name?
Question 5: Who was in command of the German High Seas Fleet from August 1914 to February 1915?

charitydanke
In case you have made a small donation to one the charities named above AND have the answers to my questions chances are good that this fantastic, original autograph card will soon be yours.

Send your answers to: germanarmyresearch@yahoo.com

Second quiz starting on the 14th of June 2013

“The Great Silent One” – Helmuth Graf von Moltke

Should a war break out now, its duration and end can not be foreseen. The largest powers of Europe armed as never before would take the field. None could be so completely defeated in one or two campaigns that it would declare itself vanquished and that it would have to accept the hard peace conditions imposed upon it. None would promise not to rise up again, even if only after years to renew the struggle. Such a war could easily become a seven years` or a thirty years` war. Woe to him who applies the torch to Europe, who is the first to throw the match into the powder cask.”  – Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke in a speech to the Reichstag on the 14th of May 1890.

moltketwitter

Born October 26, 1800, in Parchim, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Helmuth von Moltke was the son of an aristocratic German family. Moving to Holstein at age five, Moltke’s family became impoverished during the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807) when their properties were burned and plundered by French troops. Sent away to Hohenfelde as a boarder at age nine, Moltke entered the cadet school at Copenhagen two years later with the goal of entering the Danish army. Over the next seven years he received his military education and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1818.

After service with a Danish infantry regiment, Moltke returned to Germany and entered Prussian service. Posted to command a cadet school in Frankfurt an der Oder, he did so for a year before spending three conducting a military survey of Silesia and Posen. Recognized as a brilliant young officer, Moltke was assigned to the Prussian General Staff in 1832. Arriving in Berlin, he stood out from his Prussian contemporaries in that he possessed a love of the arts and music.

A prolific writer and student of history, Moltke authored several works of fiction and in 1832, embarked on a German translation of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Promoted to captain in 1835, he took six months leave to travel through southeastern Europe. While in Constantinople, he was asked by Sultan Mahmud II to aid in modernizing the Ottoman army. Receiving permission from Berlin, he spent two years in this role before accompanying the army on campaign against Muhammad Ali of Egypt. Taking part in the 1839 Battle of Nizib, Moltke (who was in command of the Ottoman artillery) was forced to escape after Ali’s victory.

Returning to Berlin, he published an account of his travels and in 1840, married his sister’s English stepdaughter, Mary Burt. Assigned to the staff of the 4th Army Corps in Berlin, Moltke became fascinated with railroads and began an extensive study of their use. Continuing to write on historical and military topics, he returned to the General Staff before being named Chief of Staff for the 4th Army Corps in 1848. Remaining in this role for seven years, he advanced to the rank of colonel. Transferred in 1855, Moltke became the personal aide to Prince Frederick (later Emperor Frederick III).

In recognition of his military skills, Moltke was promoted to Chief of the General Staff in 1857. A disciple of Clausewitz, Moltke believed that strategy was essentially the quest of seeking the military means to a desired end. Though a detailed planner, he understood and frequently stated that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” As a result, he sought to maximize his chances of success by remaining flexible and ensuring that the transportation and logistical networks were in place to allow him to bring decisive force to the key points on the battlefield.

Taking office, Moltke immediately began making sweeping changes in the army’s approach to tactics, strategy, and mobilization. In addition, work began to improve communications, training, and armaments. As an historian, he also implemented a study of European politics to identify Prussia’s future enemies and to begin developing war plans for campaigns against them. In 1859, he mobilized the army for the Austro-Sardinian War. Though Prussia did not enter the conflict, the mobilization was used by Prince Wilhelm as a learning exercise and the army was expanded and reorganized around the lessons obtained.

In 1862, with Prussia and Denmark arguing over the ownership of Schleswig-Holstein, Moltke was asked for a plan in case of war. Concerned that the Danes would be difficult to defeat if allowed to retreat to their island strongholds, he devised a plan which called for Prussian troops to flank them in order to prevent a withdrawal. When hostilities commenced in February 1864, his plan was bungled and the Danes escaped. Dispatched to the front on April 30, Moltke succeeded in bringing the war to a successful conclusion. The victory solidified his influence with King Wilhelm.

As the King and his prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, began attempts to unite Germany, it was Moltke who conceived the plans and directed the army to victory. Having gained considerable clout for his success against Denmark, Moltke’s plans were followed precisely when war with Austria began in 1866. Though outnumbered by Austria and its allies, the Prussian Army was able to make near-perfect use of railroads to ensure that maximum force was delivered at the key moment. In a lightning seven-week war, Moltke’s troops were able to conduct a brilliant campaign which culminated with a stunning victory at Königgrätz.

His reputation further enhanced, Moltke oversaw the writing of a history of the conflict which was published in 1867. In 1870, tensions with France dictated the mobilization of the army on July 5. As the preeminent Prussian general, Moltke was named Chief of Staff of the Army for the duration of the conflict. This position essentially allowed him to issue orders in the name of the King. Having spent years planning for war with France, Moltke assembled his forces south of Mainz. Dividing his men into three armies, he sought to drive into France with the goal of defeating the French army and marching on Paris.

For the advance, several plans were developed for use depending upon where the main French army was found. In all circumstances, the ultimate goal was for his troops was to wheel right to drive the French north and cut them off from Paris. Attacking, the Prussian and German troops met with great success and followed the basic outline of his plans. The campaign came to a stunning climax with the victory at Sedan on September 1, which saw Emperor Napoleon III and most of his army captured. Pressing on, Moltke’s forces invaded Paris which surrendered after a five-month siege. The fall of the capital effectively ended the war and led to the unification of Germany.

Having been made a Graf (Count) in October 1870, Moltke was permanently promoted to field marshal in June 1871, in reward for his services. Entering the Reichstag (German Parliament) in 1871, he remained Chief of Staff until 1888. Stepping down, he was replaced by Graf Alfred von Waldersee. Remaining in the Reichstag, he died at Berlin on April 24, 1891.

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MEDALS AND DECORATIONS:

Prussia
Order of the Black Eagle with chain and diamonds
Grand Cross of the Order of the Red Eagle, with Oak Leaves and Swords
Order of the Crown (Prussia), 1st class with swords, with enamel band of the Red Eagle and oak leaves
Grand Commander of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, with Swords and Diamonds, and Star with diamonds
Grand Cross of the Pour le Mérite with Star, with oak leaves, with the crown with diamonds
Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts
Grand Cross of the Iron Cross of 1870
Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class of 1870
Honour Commander of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg)
Service Award Cross
Lifesaving Medal on ribbon (Prussia)
German states
Grand Cross of the House Order of Albert the Bear (Anhalt)
House Order of Fidelity (Baden)
Grand Cross of the Military Merit Order of Karl Friedrich (Baden)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
Grand Cross of the Order of Henry the Lion, with Swords (Brunswick)
Grand Cross of the Grand Ducal Ludwig Order (Hesse)
Military Merit Cross (Hesse)
Military Merit Medal with Swords (Schaumburg-Lippe)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Wendish Crown, with Gold Crown and Swords (Mecklenburg)
Military Merit Cross, 1st class (Mecklenburg)
Cross for distinction in the war (Mecklenburg-Strelitz)
Grand Cross of the House and Merit Order of Peter Frederick Louis, with Swords (Oldenburg)
Order of the Rue Crown (Saxony)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Falcon with Swords (Saxe-Weimar)
Grand Cross of the Saxe-Ernestine House Order (Saxon duchies)
Grand Cross of the Military Merit Order (Württemberg)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (Württemberg)
Foreign
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Grand Cross Legion of Honour (France)
Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (Italy)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of Savoy (Italy)
Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (Austria-Hungary)
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold (Austria-Hungary)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword with chain (Portugal)
Order of St. Andrew (Russia)
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky with diamonds (Russia)
Order of the White Eagle (Russia)
Order of St. Anna, 1st class (Russia)
Order of St. George, 2nd class (Russia)
Royal Order of the Seraphim (Sweden)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Elephant (Siam)
Imtiyaz Medal with diamonds (Turkey)
Order of the Medjidie, 1st class (Turkey)
Sword of honour (Turkey)

MOLTKES VOICE RECORDED ON THE EDISON PHONOGRAPH

On 15 June 1889, Adelbert Theodor Edward (“Theo”) Wangemann started out aboard the four-master “La Bourgogne” on a trip to Europe on behalf of Thomas Alva Edison that was supposed to last for only a few weeks, but from which he was not in fact to return until 27 February 1890. Wangemann’s assignment during the first two weeks after arrival was to maintain the phonographs on display at the world’s fair in Paris, readjust them, furnish them with improved components, and train the personnel who operated them

On 21 and 22 October, as a stop on the way to Vienna, the Wangemanns and Devrient were guests of the venerable Field Marshall Count Helmuth von Moltke, who enjoyed a legendary reputation in the German Empire on account of his military successes in the three wars of German unification between 1864 and 1871. This visit too is well documented. Wangemann played the cylinder of Prince Bismarck, whose voice Count Moltke recognized only after a correction of the playback speed, and had the roughly twenty relatives of the Count who were present speak into the phonograph one after another. At least four cylinders of Count Moltke’s voice were made on 21 October, of which only two are preserved. These are the only recordings of a person born in the eighteenth century which are still audible today. Wangemann had previously received a new cylinder shipment with blanks of brick-red color without a string core, which he used on this occasion.

On the first cylinder, Count Moltke refers directly to Edison’s groundbreaking invention but has to repeat his statement, having named the “telephone” instead of the “phonograph” the first time around. After that, he recites a few lines from the first part of “Faust,” in which Goethe calls technological progress into question.

Respect for a fallen enemy – French soldier’s grave, 1915

Gravesite erected for a French soldier by men of the German Guard-Regiment No. 4. A great sign of respect for a fallen enemy. No more words needed.  

“Whilst on patrol near Canny he died a hero’s death, 28th of August 1915” – Queneuilles, Edmond, French 16th regiment of the line. 

canny

 

 

UPDATE:

Nom : QUENEUILLE Prénoms : Edmond
Conflit : 1914-1918
Grade, unité : Soldat
Complément :
Matricule, recrutement :

Date de naissance :
Département ou pays :
Commune de naissance :
Genre de mort :
Mention Mort pour la France : Oui
Date du décès : 28/08/1915
Département ou pays : 60 – Oise
Commune du décès : Canny-sur-Matz
Lieu, complément :
Date du jugement :
Département ou pays :
Commune du jugement :

Date de transcription :
Département ou pays :
Commune de transcription :

Département ou pays inhumation: 60 – Oise
Commune inhumation : Cuts
Lieu inhumation : Nécropole nationale
Carré, rang, tombe :

A pair of mysterious photos. Flanders, 1915

Today I received a couple of World War One photo albums. One of them contained the two photographs shown below.
They show a group of civilian prisoners who are posing with a Prussian guard (or vice versa). The group contains a very male looking woman and first I thought that photograph must be a staged one; German soldiers having a laugh. But when you look closer the scene looks very real. The Prussian has his bayonet fixed and the house is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and has a metal-grilled window.

I don’t know where the photos were taken. They are mounted between other images taken around Ypres and Langemark Poelkapelle. A weird pair of photographs.

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Life in the trenches – Diary of a German soldier. Courcy, France 1915

The following text is an extract from an unpublished diary of a NCO serving in Füsilier-Regiment 73, the Hannovarian Regiment in which ranks Ernst Jünger served. The diary is wonderful as it gives a fascinating insight into the daily routine of a German regiment. I do not have the time to transcribe and translate it all, so I have chosen to publish a section that was written in March and April 1915, when the regiment fought in and around the village of Courcy, near Reims, in France. 

The area in which everything below takes place (Courcy and surroundings) can be found here. The windmill that is mentioned was where the road “le Moulin á Vent” is today:

Untitled

Saturday, 27th of March

Wake up call at Noon followed by Sauerkraut for lunch. In the evening it’s cleaning rifles followed by an inspection. After that we are ordered to Courcy to dig trenches there. I stay behind because I have problems with my feet. On Sunday there are no duties except muster in full gear and church service. Only the men that did not take part in trench digging go there. These are the sick men and the ones infested with lice. Lice are a widespread problem, but everything is done to get rid of them. As soon as someone notices he is infected by lice he has to report himself. He is then put into a bath and gets his uniform cleaned.

Monday, 29th of March

We equip ourselves to march off to the trenches. To combat the lice each soldier gets a neck pouch which contains an evil smelling substance. In the evening we march out. As my feet are still giving me trouble I am allowed to load my gear and backpack onto the company’s baggage cart. Just behind Courcy it is the first time I get to see our foremost trenches. They are extremely well built, wide and deep with strong parapets, embrasures and loopholed steel plates behind which a rifleman can find cover.
In daylight these loopholes afford a safe and excellent view across the terrain in front of the trench. At night the small holes are quite useless and you have to use sacks of sand as footsteps to be able to look over the edge of the trench.

On the backside of the foremost trench there are various types of dug-outs. Some are virtually proof against artillery shells as they have been cut deep into the chalk ground. Larger ones, being able to shelter 8 to 10 men are roofed with massive wooden planks supported by iron beams. They won’t resist a direct hit, but afford protection against shell splinters and shrapnel balls. The ground inside these dug-outs is covered with straw and they are furnished with a table, benches or chairs and have a window opening on the backside which is blocked with straw when it is cold outside. When there is no daylight, candles are used for illumination. Our company gets alloted to a section called the “Hindenburg” trench, which is only about 200 meters away from the enemy trenches. Its part of a protruding section of our line known as the “Friesennase” (Frisian Nose). It’s named that way because it looks like a nose on the map and because it has been manned by Frisians (IR78) since September.

Me and six men of my group move into a nice dug-out, the other two men are billeted in the dug-out next to us. At night time each group has to have four men on watch inside the trench while the others are allowed to sleep. The guards are relieved every 2 or 3 hours. Another group has to supply men for the so called “Horchposten” (listening post). These men lie down under the barbed wire, about 30 to 40 meters in front of our trench. Access to this exposed position is through a deep and narrow trench which affords cover against infantry weapons and which is also equipped with loopholed steel plates.

Our position is well equipped with weapons like machine-guns (including a Belgian and an English one), revolving cannon and lots of handgrenades. In case of an enemy barrage narrow and deep artillery trenches lead towards the rear affording the men with plenty of cover.
I had imagined there would be lively exchanges of fire here in the foremost positions, but that is not the case. Only when there is something happening on our side, for example when the listening post makes his way towards its position, some enemy rifle bullets whistle towards us. Sometimes the “Franzman” also shoots partridges and rabbits that run around between the lines, but apart from that it stays surprisingly quiet. During the first nights there was a full moon and there was excellent visibility. Now we use flares to illuminate the dark terrain.

Tuesday, 30th of March 1915

A quiet day. In the evening, at 5 o clock, some artillery shells are fired over our heads. The enemy is targeting an old windmill a couple of hundred meters behind our lines, where now and then a smokey fire is lit to draw enemy fire away from other sectors of the front. The fire is lit every day and put out at about 7 pm when everything gets quiet again.
Three times a day some men are sent back to Courcy to fetch coffee and food. A communication trench is leading to the village and without it, it would be impossible to reach the village in daylight. The food is generally terrible, only sometimes when it contains Sauerkraut or green beans it’s a bit better. There is plenty of bread and sometimes cheese, sausages and butter. The weather has been good so far, freezing in the nights and warm in the day. Still we spend most of our time inside the dug-out as the trench affords little room for a walk and there is a constant danger to fall victim to a stray piece of shrapnel or an aerial bomb. Each day enemy aircraft can be seen circling above our positions. They get targeted by our anti-balloon guns. Their shells detonate close to the aircraft without ever bringing one of them down. Most of the time the enemy planes do not drop any bombs. The damage they inflict stands in no relation to the danger the pilot is getting himself into. They are reconnaissance planes, mapping and photographing our positions and trenches.

In modern war impressive things are done. A while ago I had the chance to have a closer look at one of our maps on which the enemy trench system could be seen in every detail. It even showed camouflaged artillery positions! Of course I can not tell just how up to date this map was, but it seemed to be a comprehensive and detailed view. The enemy trench system was subdivided into numbered sections and even sported the enemies terrain designations (like our “Frisian Nose”).

All in all we live a monotonous life. There is not a lot to see. In the far distance we can see the two massive towers of the cathedral at Reims and to look over the parapet in daylight is extremely dangerous so there is not much to see there aswell. The only diversion is the mail which is delivered every morning and most of the time every comrade gets something, even if its only a newspaper from home. On the 3rd of April heavy rainfall set it which made our residence in the trenches unbearable. The rain turned the hard chalk into a sticky and slippery surface which forced us to cling to the parapet when walking the trench to avoid falling down. On the first day of Easter (4th of April) it was still raining hard, but we found consolation in the fact that the mail brought a lot of presents from home. Sadly there was nothing for me. A few days earlier I had received a parcel from my sister which contained a letter, a photographic card and the Reclam edition of Goethes “Faust“. My parcel finally arrived on the second day of Easter and the following days were brightened by all the wonderful gifts we had received from home which included oranges, cigars and cigarettes.

On the evening of the 4th we left the trenches to spend the next three days in the village of Courcy which lies only a short distance behind them. Normally the battalion spends six days in the foremost trench, six days in the second line (in and around Courcy) and six days in the third line (Auménancourt le petit) about 12 kilometers behind the front, but as the 92nd Regiment only just left this area, our time in the second line gets reduced as we had to take over some stretches of their former positions.
The time in Courcy was wonderful. Most of its inhabitants had left and most houses were shot to pieces, but there were some undamaged houses left which could be used for quarters.

I had the luck to be billeted with my friend Leutnant Reese and because of that I had everything in abundance. I could sleep in a proper bed covered with my coat and a blanket which made it possible to undress at least partially during the nights. The first night a loud crash tore us out of our sleep and we dived into cover as we were thinking that we were targeted by artillery. On the ground I lit a candle and we waited for the next impact. It stayed quiet and in the candlelight I could see that a large oil painting which had been hanging on the wall had fallen down which had resulted in the crash.

We spent the days drawing, reading and writing. The newspapers we had were already three days old, but for us every kind of news was new. The other two days were like being in paradise. Leutnant Reeses batman, who was billeted in the room next to ours used to serve in an army kitchen and was a master in “organising” everything we wished for. Ham, cheese, sausages there was nothing he could not get. In his civilian life he had been a soapmaker in Krefeld and he was a great chap who never asked for anything in return.
On the evening of the 6th and 7th of April things were less cosy. At about 4 o’ clock the French started shelling Courcy which forced us to take cover in dug-outs and in the strong, reinforced cellars found under most houses in Courcy (the village was part of the outer fortifications around Reims). Down in the cellars we were safe from the barrage, but it took a while to get used to the crashing sounds of the detonations again. Yesterday evening another barrage followed, but it did little damage to the village. Most shells hit the trenches. Our 10th company, which was still in position suffered one man killed and two wounded. The machine gun company had one man wounded. Our own artillery retaliated in kind, but I do not know if it had any effect.

At nighttime we left Courcy and marched back towards our position. The section we are manning now is similar to the one we were in before. My dug-out was a bit smaller and had room for only four men. Between 8 to 9.30 pm I was in charge of the guard. When that period was over I lay down to catch some sleep. An hour later enemy barrage hit a trench section close to ours. Was the enemy planning to attack? Shortly afterwards rifle shots could be heard. The alarm was sounded and all available men armed themselves and prepared to repel an enemy attack. I grabbed my rifle, put on my helmet and joined the men in the trench. The thunder of the guns and the cracking of the rifles was getting more intense every minute. Our own artillery started firing, sending its shells in a low trajectory over our heads. The night is pitch black making it impossible to see anything. When I ask around if everyone has a full supply of ammunition the answer is negative. Me and an officer’s assistant open an ammunition storage and hand out all bullets we can find.

Meanwhile the firing continues. Every minute an illumination flare is fired which spends enough light to check the terrain in front of us. No enemy in sight. The same on our left, where all the firing is coming from. Suddenly, as suddenly as it started, the firing dies down. A few more rifle shots ring through the night, then it is quiet

Later on a terrible accident occurred. A platoon of our pioneers sent to repair damage to the barbed wire entanglements was taken under fire by the men of our listening post. The men had not been informed about the repairs and were under strict orders to shoot as soon as they noticed anything suspicious. Expecting an enemy patrol they opened fire and killed one pioneer instantly. Another pioneer was shot through the head, he was still alive when he was recovered but he will be dying soon. How terrible it is to be killed by your own side…..

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MIGHT BE CONTINUED

Going over the Top – Diary of an officer of Infantry-Regiment 76. Vosges – France, 1915.

The lines below have been taken from the diary/reminiscences of Leutnant Otto Ahrends who served as batallion adjutant in Infantry-Regiment 76. He was killed in action at the Somme in late 1916. Shortly after his death (in 1917) his diary was published by a group of the regiment’s officers to be sold to members and “friends” of the regiment.  

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I finished reading it yesterday and want to share parts of it on this blog. The extracts I have chosen to translate are taken from the chapter “Battle”. During this attack the 2nd Batallion of IR76 lost 13 officers and 423 men killed.

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Leutnant Otto Ahrends, IR76

It is now 0930h, so still three hours to go until it starts. Some men are having breakfast, others are walking around. One group is looking at a map and is talking about what is going to happen. By now the artillery is firing without a break, sending iron greetings towards the French and filling the air with its evil sounds. The French artillery answers, some shells explode close to us without doing any harm.

1000h: “How long till it starts?” someone asks. A comrade next to me answers. “Still two hours to go!”. He carelessly looks at his pocket watch, like someone who is waiting for a train.

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1030h: The companies assemble and the commander of our batallion holds a short speech. I see men looking at each other with faint smiles. Fathers thinking about their families at home. Young boys trying to hide their fears. A group of comrades. The French have intensified their fire. Some heavy calibers detonate right outside our trench. The ground is shaking.

1100h: Officers join their companies. They are dressed like the men, showing no sign of rank. “Gentlemen, set your watches, the exact time is 1117h.” There are no other orders. We all know what we are expected to do. Some comrades are telling jokes while others are quiet, staring bleakly into the distance as if asking fate what will become of them . The knotted trees, the smoke and the fog don’t answer them. Natures face is set in stone, they only hear their own pounding hearts.

1140h: Most men are smoking. Some vehemently draw the smoke into their lungs, others seem to be careless and relaxed, like being on a holiday tour, but then that is what it was supposed to be..a holiday tour, back home for Christmas.
One by one the men move to their positions.

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1150h: The batallion commander and myself are now in the foremost trench inside a dug-out with a field telephone. It’s double wired and can be carried with us during the assault.
We are trapped here, surrounded by telephone operators and other staff officers. The only light comes from a small, quivering candle. No one says a word, the sound of men breathing is the only thing we hear.

1200h: Outside the world is getting torn apart. The last 20 minutes before the assault and our artillery fire has reached the peak of its intensity. All available guns, mine throwers and machine-guns have started firing. The ground is shaking and booming. Outside our shells keep detonating with a sound of 10000 hammers hitting an anvil. Only on this anvil human beings are smashed and broken, sending blood and bones flying. Death and madness are the only escape. Five minutes to go. The candle has fallen on the floor, but no one relights it. A comrade switches on his torch. It illuminates grim faces and blank stares, we are all trapped by the sheer force of violence surrounding us.

1210h: I have to resist the urge to block my ears. French artillery is sending heavy calibers towards us. Frantic explosions, as if the world itself is bursting. As if every last remaining scrap of culture, honor and humanity is supposed to be wiped out in these last few minutes.  There must be a way to escape, a voice shouting “Halt!”. It can not be that we will have to cross this ocean of fire and pain. No it can not be. It must not be.

But still the hammers continue to pound the earth. Hell has broken loose. Death and perdition are grinning at us. An image of Max Klingers “Stomping Death” passes my inner vision. Another look at the watch. At home it will be breakfast time now, time for a walk in the park. Don’t go outside! You must not leave the house! Death is waiting! But they can’t see it, they can’t see us, they do not know what is happening here. They know nothing.
Obscure images of home, of my family and my past are flashing around my mind. The heat inside this dug-out is unbearable. Dozens of people are crowded around us, pressing their bodies into the walls, taking cover in the corridor leading into the trench, trying to hide from the shrapnel. All thoughts are focused on the clock hands creeping forward. Slowly, relentlessly, ignoring our fears and laughing at our hopes to escape the horror and the suffering that awaits us. All thoughts focusing on the realisation that there might only be 6, now 5, now 4 minutes left to live.

Morituri the salutant“, we who are about to die…

The stringent necessity of the few remaining minutes runs through us like a stream. Tension rises, men are standing up. What once was is fading. Rifles and equipment are checked, everyone is waiting for the signal. We enter the trench and here on the outside thousands of treetops are weighing as if trying to shield us and the horror from the world outside.

1220h – A whistle is sounding. The trench is getting alive. The first wave, out they go, running, jumping, stumbling. Bullets whistle past. A man next to me is thrown back into our trench. It will be our turn soon..

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It is over. I order the men to recover the body of our commander and slowly walk across the battlefield to see who is still alive. The first dead bodies lie where they fell when enemy bullets tore into them just when they had left the trench. I can hear men moaning and screaming. The ground is torn, it is steaming from the impact of heavy artillery shells and everywhere around me is sorrow and pain. Big oak trees lie uprooted, treetops, branches and twigs are lying everywhere making it difficult to find a path through the barbed wire. Death has had a rich harvest. In the first trench the dead bodies of friend and foe lie intermingled as if still in combat with each other.  One is hanging inside the barbed wire, his bayonet still thrust into the eye of a Frenchman. Inside the trench a heap of French soldiers killed by an artillery shell. Even in death their faces show the horror and fear they experienced in the last seconds of their lives. Leutnant von X. is dead, Leutnant Y. aswell, I had been speaking to both of them only an hour ago. A row of 12 dead comrades kneeling next to each other, just in front of the enemy trench. A machine gun must have got them. Dead and maimed bodies are everywhere. Pools of blood seeping from skulls ripped open. Staring eyes, eviscerated bodies, legs and arms torn off, a comrade with a headshot who seems to be sleeping. This is the face of war….

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