Feldpost – A letter from the Eastern Front, June 1942

A couple of weeks ago I acquired a collection of letters dating from World War 2. There are billions of similar letters around, but these are special. We are looking at the correspondence of two brothers. One, Walther, is a young professional soldier who his trying hard to become an officer (finally getting his promotion in January 43). The other is Theo, a student in a German grammar school, who aches to finish school to be able to become a soldier aswell and to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother. The whole correspondence ends in September 1943. A check with the Volksbund database tells us why. Walther is missing since October 1943, his body has never been found.

The brothers speak openly about their fears, their wishes and their dreams and whereas the younger brother is working hard to become a soldier and an officer himself, his elder brother seems to lose confidence and motivation constantly. I have chosen a random letter to start with, an interesting one dated 26th of June 1942.

Walther is serving as an Unteroffizier (NCO) in Artillerie-Regiment 299 which is deployed on the Eastern Front.

I will continue to publish them in chronological order as soon as I find the time.

feldpost

Dear Theo,

every time I receive a letter from you I am so happy that I just have to answer them immediately. My heartfelt thanks for the lines you sent on the 9th of June. You probably had not received the long letter I sent you? I hope you are holding it in your hands by now.
Dear Theo, I can tell you that there is a lot to see in war. Bad things and good things. Sadly you see the latter very rarely, but you have to be able to ignore that, because otherwise it would be hard to bear.

After a long and refreshing sleep I am now writing you this letter. This evening I returned safely from my first combat patrol. Our task was to destroy an important enemy position consisting of a number bunkers with observed fire. 
The patrol consisted of volunteers and was made up by a platoon of infantry and three artillerymen. I do not remember if I have told you that we lie in the foremost line and right in front of it is a large and thick forest which is held by the Soviets.
We had to advance about 4 kilometers into it and set up a radio station, with which we could guide the fire of our battery. The job of the infantry was to secure us against any kind of Russian counter action.

My dear Theo, I had no idea, what I had volunteered for! It’s not that I feel sorry about it, but it was a real suicide mission.
Three weeks ago another combat patrol was sent out into this primeval forest where it was ambushed and wiped out by the Soviets. After that the number of volunteers for such missions drastically decreased! The Russian is a beastly, malicious and devious enemy who is committing unspeakable deeds to the wounded and to the ones he takes prisoner. Theo, if you ever have to see a comrade that has been ravaged by them you will never forget it. The one we found had been in command of the previous combat patrol. There was a burning inside me, my blood was boiling and I didn’t know what to say. He had only just been awarded the Iron Cross 1st class. I will never be able to forget this sight. But you have to get rid of it. You have to forget it. If you don’t it will make you fail.
We slowly moved forward, stopping about every 20 meters, listening into the wilderness. That way it took us 5 hours to reach a part of the forest from which we could observe the enemy bunker line. The moral effect of our artillery rounds zooming over our heads and punching into the enemy position was wonderful. A tremendous feeling, which is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced something like that!

The Soviets had obviously not noticed that they were being hit by observed fire and their artillery started to open up aswell. Our guns managed to crack open two of their bunkers. After two hours of continuous firing we started to withdraw, but by then Ivan had finally realised that there had to be German artillery observers around. All of a sudden he opened up with everything he had and small arms fire was ripping into the forest around us. We had chosen a good spot though and did not suffer any losses. During our withdrawal we had to cover two dangerous spots ideal for an enemy ambush. One was a patch of grassland surrounded by dark forest, the other a swampy area covered with gravel. Both would have given the enemy a perfect opportunity to annihilate us, but nothing happened. We arrived at our position and were more than happy to have escaped from this hell with all our bones intact.

This forest is really a hell on earth which has cost us a lot of blood so far. It’s easy to enter, but terribly hard to get out again. The damned Ivan invites us in and then easily surrounds and ambushes us. An easy game in his position. Why don’t we just take the forest you ask? Our operations are to make sure that he does not (!) retreat without a fight. It is planned that in a few weeks from now a large-scale operation will be conducted with the goal of destroying the Soviets completely and you can only do so if the enemy faces you in combat. But what happens you allow him to withdraw and to continue his existence?

Dear Theo, with these lines I just wanted to give you an idea of our life here. At the moment I am back at the observation post.  I would not like to be anywhere else as there is no better place to prove and show what is expected of the future officer. In the future more patrols will be send out and I will make sure I will part of them.

Hope that you will be writing soon! Warm regards and kisses,
Walther

PS. It’s Mother’s birthday on the 3rd of July!

art

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Notes on German shells – (2nd Edition), May 1918

As far as I know this title is not available anywhere else on the web. “Notes on German Shells”  is a colour illustrated compendium of all shells in use by the German Army in early 1916. It was compiled from actual examples of the shells and from German pamphlets describing the use the shells were to be put to. Each shell is described in the text and with a coloured scale drawing of the shell itself. The calibres range from the 2cm and its variations through to the 42cm heavy shell. It also includes gas and shrapnel shells and mortar projectiles. The introduction is a table of all shells used with a description of their basic colour, the German name for the shell, and an index reference within the book. The description of the shells is extremely detailed, and includes a section on ‘Employment’ – where and when the German gunners would fire that particular shell.

NotesonGermanshells(1)-130

The next time you stumble over an unexploded shell when walking the Somme or other sectors of the front, this guide should be able to tell you what is lying at your feet 🙂

Next week I will upload a guide to German WW1 shell fuses!

Grandfathers comrades – Wochenschau recordings of Fusilier-Regiment 22, January 1943

This bit of info used to be on my “old” blog (1infanteriedivision.wordpress.com), just pulling it over. It was once part of my series on the 2nd Battle of Lake Ladoga, which I will republish with added information later this year. 

Original Divisional Map, South of Lake Ladoga January 1943. My grandfathers position at "1./22"

Original Divisional Map, South of Lake Ladoga January 1943. My grandfathers position at “1./22”

Inside the original war diaries of “1. Infanterie-Division” there is a torn out magazine page taken from a 1943 edition of “Der Völkische Beobachter“. It shows two photos taken during the Second Battle of Lake Ladoga. Normaly propaganda/news magazines do not give any details on where exactly photos were taken.

“On the 14th of January 1943 men of a Propaganda-Kompanie visit our trenches to collect material for the press and the Wochenschau. We are proud that they chose to visit the east-prussian Fusiliers.”
(“Tapfer und Treu” – Regimental newspaper of FR22, April 1943)

The page kept in the divisions diaries has handwriting on it noting that the photos taken, show soldiers of 1. Infanterie-Division and more precisely “1st Batallion, Füsilier-Regiment 22″. They were taken by members of “Propaganda-Kompanie 621” in January 1943. The war diaries also note that PK-Kompanie 621 recorded a film of which parts were used in the “Deutsche Wochenschau. I spent weeks looking through the relevant editions of the Wochenschau to find that strip of film showing the men of Füsilier-Regiment 22. I was just about to give up the search when I saw this frame appear on my screen.

It’s the same tank, as is the object in the foreground. We are looking at the trenches of Füsilier-Regiment 22 during the Battle of Lake Ladoga! Whats even better is that due to this I can now present a short strip of film shot during the battle.

Meet the men my grandfather would have known, his comrades, the soldiers of Füsilier-Regiment 22. It is a shame that he never had the chance to see these recordings.

37mm AT guns are those of Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1, 8.8cm Flak gun is probably from Heeresflak (Army) Abteilung 280.

WW1 – Germany’s oldest wartime volunteer, Caspar René Gregory, 1846-1917

A while ago I wrote some lines on Twitter about germany’s youngest soldier to be killed in World War 1*. No one seemed to have heard about him. The same probably applies to Caspar René Gregory, its oldest volunteer. As he was a fascinating character I decided to write this short bio. I had to dive into some theological history to write it which was not easy at all (for me). Details on his military service (which is probably the part anyone will read, ignoring the rest) were far easier to find and evaluate. 

*Next post here will be about him

 “When England, mighty England, the country that had murdered Boer women and children, the country that bled India dry and left it starving, when this England declared war, I had no other choice than to take up arms against it

Gregory was born in Philadelphia. His ancestors had been Huguenots, his grandfather had come to the New World following General Lafayette and had fought in the American War of Independence. After finishing school (a private school owned by his father), he studied theology at two Presbyterian seminaries: in 1865-67 at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton Theological Seminary (1867–73). In 1873, he decided to continue his studies at the University of Leipzig under Constantin von Tischendorf, to whose work on textual criticism of the New Testament he had been referred by his teacher, Ezra Abbot. He administered the scientific legacy of Tischendorf, who died in 1874, and continued his work.
In 1876, he obtained his PhD. with a dissertation on Gregorè the priest and the revolutionist. The first examiner for it was the historian, Georg Voigt. To earn money he worked as auxiliary to the english protestant community in Leipzig.

As a text critic, his scholarly work was in analyzing the textual variations in the many early manuscripts and early translations of the New Testament in an effort to recreate the original text. Working in a time when hundreds of manuscripts were being discovered, published, and analyzed, he brought a sense of order and structure to all the differing systems of identification. His classification system of these manuscripts (Die griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, 1908) is the system in use throughout the scholarly world today.

Close to his interest in analyzing the text was his interest in understanding the history of the “canon,” the list of the books regarded as Scripture. In the early years of the Christian church, different regions preferred different collections of apostolic writings for their guidance and edification. Gradually the need for an authoritative list emerged. For centuries that list was only known from a letter of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, dating to 367. In 1740, however, Ludovico Antonio Muratori published a manuscript from the Ambrosian Library in Milan that included what has come to be called the Muratorian Canon. The list was thought to date from the second century, although that dating has been challenged. But the list is controversial. It includes the Gospels and many of the Epistles now in our Bible, but it does not mention Hebrews, James, or Peter and identifies two additional Epistles as being falsely attributed to Paul.

He completed his post-doctoral work in Leipzig in 1884, and became an associate professor in 1889 and a full honorary professor in 1891. He apparently had several doctorates: Karl Josef Friedrich even mentions five doctorates in his biography of Gregory. At least one doctorate in theology obtained in Leipzig in 1889 is attested.
Together with Rudolph Sohm and Friedrich Naumann he was one of the founders of the National-Social Association, a party based on the principle of Socialist Christianity. The party failed in the elections of 1898 and 1903 and was then dissolved into the Freeminded Union.
Gregory was also a member of the Sängerschaft Arion-Altpreußen (a german student corps) and a Mason (Apollo Lodge in Leipzig).
He loved travelling; in 1886 he travelled to Constantinopel for some theological studies. From there he journeyed back to the USA to marry Lucy Watson Thayer, the daughter of Joseph H. Thayer, during a brief stay of only five days.

One of the reasons he chose Leipzig as residence what its central position within Europe. From there he visited all european capitals and even travelled the Holy Land, which he crossed on a pilgrimage on foot! During these stays he always made brief trips back to germany to teach and to obtain further information for his research trips.

He loved the Germans (and the Saxons in particular) as they had welcomed him as one of their own and when in 1881 he became a german citizen he honored that by becoming more german than them. People loved him, as he was very courteous and full with american temperament and a winning personality. He was highly intelligent and tough, strengthening his body by regular, daily exercise.

His christian charity became legendary. Everyone in Leipzig knew him. He used to travel the city on foot greeting everyone. No matter if it was the poor beggar on the street corner or the rich merchant or industrialist. At one instance he helped a german farmer to catch dozens of escaped chicken all around Leipzig railway station. He kept offering advice and help to a student that mistook him for the library clerk without rectification and once paid the studying fees for a poor student whose family could not afford them anymore.

He was a humanist through and through. One of his goals what to unite the german labourers under a christian banner and to give them a sense of unity, nationality and importance. “It’s not 10.000 millionars that make germany strong and powerful, it’s the 60 Million hard-working german labourers.

GERMANY’S OLDEST WARTIME VOLUNTEER

rene

Professor Gregory, 1917

When War broke out in August 1914, the “American-German” Gregory was well-known and respected all over the world for his theological work, a prominent citizen of Leipzig and 67 years old.

It came as a surprise for many that he volunteered to go to war and joined the 1. Reserve-Batallion of Infanterie-Regiment “König Georg” No. 106 as a private on the 11th of August 1914! Asked for his reasons some years later he replied “I could not let them (the workers) go alone, could I? It was my social duty to join. I joined to help my neighbour who was now my comrade.”

He joined to defend germany, which in his view had been pushed into this war against its will, against the “English imperialism, Frenchmen and russian Zarism”. Even if he had a close personal relationship with Britain he wrote: “When England, mighty England, the country that had murdered Boer women and children, the country that bled India dry and left it starving, when this England declared war, I had no other choice than to take up arms against it

The charming and ever smiling professor took part in the actual fighting. Always cared for and protected by his Saxonian comrades he bravely fought at  Dinant, Somme-Py, Lille, Flanders, at the Champagne and Ypres.

 KILLED FOR THE GERMAN CAUSE

Soon Gregory, now a Lieutenant, became famous in germany and his 70th Birthday was celebrated in big style. The Empire awarded him with the Iron Cross 2nd Class while the Kingdom of Saxony gave him the Friedrich-August-Medal in Silver.
On the 13th of October 1916 he was given the post of Burial Officer (officer in charge of military burials and cemetarys) of the 47th Landwehr-Division. His office was now situated in Neufchatel-sur-Aisne.

At the end of March 1917 Gregory had a riding accident when is horse had bolted and thrown him out of the saddle. Confined to bed he was unable to get himself to safety when the village was hit by an allied artillery strike on the 8th of April 1917. Severly wounded Gregory died, in the country of his ancestors, one day later.

A highly honored and interesting character. His memorial can be found in the city of Leipzig up to today.

Gregory Memorial, Leipzig

  • Ernst Barnikol (1966) (in German). “Gregory, Caspar René “. In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). 7. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. pp. 27–29.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz (1990). “Caspar René Gregory”. In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm (in German). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). 2. Hamm: Bautz. col. 344. ISBN 3-88309-032-8.
  • Karl Josef Friedrich: Caspar Rene Gregory, in: Sächsische Lebensbilder, Vol. I, Dresden 1930, p. 125-131. (German)
  • Ernst Jünger (Publ.): Caspar René Gregory, in: Die Unvergessenen. München 1928, p. 111ff. (German)
  • Bruno Hartung: Caspar René Gregory, in: Das Jahr des Herrn: Kalender für die evangelischen Gemeinden Leipzigs 5. Jg. (1929), S. 36-38.

Prayer before Battle – FATHER, I call Thee! – German prayer by Theodor Körner

prayer1

“Father I call on thee” – German Field-Postcard, 1915

FATHER, I call Thee!
Smoke clouds enwrap me and cannons are crashing,
Round me the terrible lightnings are flashing.
Wars great Dispenser, I call Thee!
Father, oh guide me!

Father, oh guide me!
Guide me to victory and to death lead me:
Lord, Thy commandments I know and I heed Thee;
Lord, as Thou willest, so guide me!
My God, I heed Thee!

My God, I heed Thee!
Once amid murmur of leaves I could hear Thee,
Now in the thunder of war I am near Thee.
Fountain of mercy, I heed Thee.
Father, oh bless me!

Father, oh bless me!
Into Thy hand my life I surrender:
Thou hast bestowed it, so take it, Defender!
Living or dying, oh bless me!
Father, I praise Thee!

Father, I praise Thee!
Not for the goods of this earth we are fighting:
To guard the holiest, our swords are smiting.
Falling in triumph, I praise Thee.
My God, I trust Thee!

My God, I trust Thee!
When all the thunders of death are roaring,
When from my veins the blood is pouring:
My life, God, I trust to Thee!
Father, I call Thee!

Vater

This prayer/poem was written by Theodor Körner during the Napoleonic Wars and stayed very popular in Germany for over 200 years, up to the Second World War. It could be found in soldiers prayer books and was taught in school (as were all of Körners poems). Every child in germany would grew up with these lines in etched into the memory. It was only natural that is was used in propaganda, posters and postcards like the one shown above. The translation above is by Margarete Münsterberg, and was published in A Harvest of German Verse.  in 1906. In my personal opinion this version is closest to the original german text. 

Karl Theodor Körner (23 September 1791 – 26 August 1813) was a German poet and soldier. After some time in Vienna, where he wrote some light comedies and other works for the Burgtheater, he became a soldier and joined the Lützow Free Corps in theGerman uprising against Napoleon. During these times, he displayed personal courage in many fights, and encouraged his comrades by fiery patriotic lyrics he composed, one of these being “Schwertlied” (Sword Song), composed during a lull in fighting only a few hours before his death and set to music by Franz Schubert. He was often called the “German Tyrtaeus.” 

Prayer2

Another version of this popular card, 1915

Vater, ich rufe dich!
Brüllend umwölkt mich der Dampf der Geschütze,
sprühend umzucken mich rasselnde Blitze.
Lenker der Schlachten, ich rufe dich!
Vater, du führe mich!

Vater, du führe mich!
Führ mich zum Siege, führ mich zum Tode.
Herr, ich erkenne deine Gebote.
Herr, wie du willst, so führe mich!
Gott, ich erkenne dich!

Gott, ich erkenne dich!
So im herbstlichen Rauschen der Blätter,
als im Schlachten-Donnerwetter,
Urquell der Gnade, erkenn ich dich.
Vater, du segne mich!

Vater, du segne mich!
In deine Hand befehl ich mein Leben,
du kannst es nehmen, du hast es gegeben;
zum Leben, zum Sterben segne mich.
Vater, ich preise dich!

Vater, ich preise dich!
‘s ist ja kein Kampf für die Güter der Erde;
das Heiligste schützen wir mit dem Schwerte,
drum fallend und siegend preis’ ich dich.
Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!

Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!
Wenn mich die Donner des Todes begrüßen,
wenn meine Adern geöffnet fließen:
dir, mein Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!
Vater, ich rufe dich.

“The Battle of Flanders is the worst I can remember” – Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 162 in the Great War.

In front of me a small collection of photographs taken by a member of Infanterie-Regiment „Lübeck“ (3. Hanseatisches) Nr. 162 or better (and shorter) I.R.162. I.R.162 was a “Hanseatic” Regiment, the officers and men being citizens of the Hanseatic Free City of Lübeck.  There is not many photographs in it, but it has some rare images taken shortly after combat and these just need to be shared. 

Some photos were taken from the regimental history published in the late 1920s.

Epaulettes of I.R.162

I.R.162 was a so-called “Young Regiment” (A regiment without any merits / battle-honors). It was one of 33 “young” regiments raised in January 1896. During the Great War it fought on Western Front, where in 1914 it received its baptism of fire in the Battle of Noyon (15.09.-18.09.1914).

I.R.162 – Reservists 1902/1904

The states which made up the German Empire each had their own separate armies. Within the German Confederation, formed after the Napoleonic Wars, each state was responsible for maintaining certain units to be put at the disposal of the Confederation in case of conflict. When operating together, these units were known as the Federal Army (Bundesheer). The Federal Army system functioned during various conflicts of the 19th century, such as the First Schleswig War in 1848-50, but by the time of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, strains were showing, mainly between the major powers of the confederation, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The end of the German Confederation was sealed by the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Regiment leaving Lübeck in 1914

After this war, a victorious and much enlarged Prussia formed a new confederation, the North German Confederation, which included the states of northern Germany. The treaty which formed the North German Federation provided for the maintenance of a Federal Army and a Federal Navy (Bundesmarine or Bundeskriegsmarine). Further laws on military duty also used these terms. Conventions (some later amended) were entered into between the North German Confederation and its member states (including Lübeck), effectively subordinating their armies to Prussia’s in time of war, and giving the Prussian Army control over training, doctrine and equipment. According to §9of this Convention every conscript citizen of the city of Lübeck could choose if he wanted to serve in the Lübeck Infantry or in the Prussian infantry. Men unfit for infantry service in the Lübeck infantry could still be drafted into other branches of the prussian military (baggage train, cavalry, artillery etc).

Officers of I.R.162 (1917)

I.R.162 – Ypres

Now to some dry facts. When war broke out in 1914 the “Lübeck” Regiment was attached to 17. Reserve-Division (XI. Reserve-Korps) and was part of 1. Armee.  By the end of September 1915 XI. Reserve-Korps was transfered to 6. Armee “Kronprinz Rupprecht”, belonging to Armeegruppe Gallwitz. After the Battle of the Somme, in October 1916, it was put under the command of 4. Armee (commanded by Herzog Albrecht von Württemberg). During the Battle of Arras it again fought as part 6. Armee. On the 14th of November 17. Reserve-Division was put under the command of Gruppe Wytschaete. It

I.R.162 – Somme

fought in the Battle of Ypres, this time under control of XVIII. Reserve-Korps (General Sieger). During the March Offensive the Division was part of I. Reserve-Korps (18. Armee under General von Hutier). In September 1918 it was part of the reserves for Gruppe Combres and Gruppe Mihiel. It was disbanded on the 25th of October 1918.

I.R.162 – Wytschaete

After the Battle of Noyons the regiment crossed the border into France reaching Hamel on the 19th of September. Up to October 1915 remained locked in the trench-war between Roye and Noyon. In Winter 1915/1916 the 162s fortified their positions on the heights of Givenchy before commencing their successful assault to take the Gießler-Heights near Angres. In Spring 1916 the regiment saw action on Vimy-Ridge, Lens St.-Pierre and Loos. On the 18th of June most soldiers of the regiment were witness of the fatal crash of the legendary Max Immelmann between Sallaumines and Avion.

Oberstleutnant Hauß. Last commander of I.R.162

From July to November the regiment went through the hell that was the Battle of the Somme only seeing a short break when it was sent to fight near the La Bassée Canal and at Liévin. Allied intelligence classed the regiment as “Regiment of the first rank”. Winter 1916/1917 was spent near Ypres in St. Julien. This position would later become the frontline during the Third Battle of Ypres. From the 16th of January to the 20th of February the regiment was sent of leave to Brügge, returning just in time to participate in the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) and the defence of the Siegfridstellung in November 1917.

From 8 to 10 a.m. there is cease-fire to see to the wounded in no-mans-land and to pick up the fallen to transport them away. The tommy (the english) is precisely on time. The railway embankment close to Miraumont looks the worst. Overturned ambulance carts, destroyed wagons, wounded men make their way back to our lines on foot; some of them drowning in shell-holes. In pairs we use the time to look for damaged telephone cables. Everything is in shambles. A single cable is destroyed in 8 places – Diary of a soldier of I.R.162
 

Photo of the actual event

Corpses on the Kemmel – Messines Ridge 1917

By the end 1917 the Division was moved to Flanders. Shortly before the start of the Battle of Cambrai the Division was pulled out and moved back to the Siegfriedline. I.R.162 stayed, this time under the command of Gruppe Wytschaete near Gheluvelt.

IR162 – Flanders

It is simply impossible to keep the line of communication operating both t the front and towards the rear. All of them are just shredded again and again. As soon as we repair a cut cable it gets broken, again and again. On several occasions, I work my way towards the regimental lines under raging shellfire. There should be some comrades detached to search for damaged cables. No sight of them. I am surprised to find them sleeping in their little bunker and to hear them admit that they wont carry out any patrols under such hail of gunfire, and that they won’t do any night patrols anyway. I am out working day and night. Our uniforms and boots are cut to shreds by the barbed wire which is everywhere, and our feet are constantly wet. Things are so bad that even our corporal has to come out with us one night to patrol for breaks. One night he fell into a shell-hole and ended up to his belly in water completely soaked through. The Division eventually has to accept that it’s not possible to keep all communication lines operational, we are ordered to make sure that just one line is kept operational, the so-called rear link to the I.R.31. That alone is quite a job! It leads to West-Roosebeke railway station, a really dangerous spot.
The Battle of Flanders is the worst I can remember. We have never before come under a continuous hail of such large-caliber artillery (38cm) as in Houthulst wood. I am simply amazed that I come out of this hell unharmed! Diary of a signals soldier of I.R.162:

Kemmel in 1918

In January 1918 the regiment was on R&R in Kortrijk before being moved to Houthem, centre of the Battle of Messines Ridge. On the 6th of April 1918 the regiment fought with distinction in the 4th Battle of Ypres (Battle of the Lys – Battles of the Kemmelberg) where it attacked and took the Meesen and later Wijtschaete.

Defence on the Kemmelberg

I.R.162 – March Offensive

Down in strength the regiment was refreshed by soldiers transferred from the former Eastern-Front (which had ceased to exist) near Knocke. During the Kaiserschlacht (Kaisers Battle) it took part in the March-Offensive where it took and held positions near Lataule, Ressons and Canny-sur-Matz. As Korps reserve it was posted to Ligny en Cambresis near Cambrai to Briey near Metz (close to the battlegrounds of St. Mihiel) and finally to Thielt in Flanders. From here it was sent to defend the Hermannstellung which was the final line of defence after the fall of the Siegfriedstellung. Close to Le Câteau the regiment prepared for the defence. This was to be its final battle before being moved back into germany, where it was disbanded.

85 officers and 1755 men of I.R.162 were killed in battle in World War 1. A much larger number was badly wounded and scarred for life (physically and mentally).

The fallen of the regiment are commemorated on the regimental memorial which can be found in the city of Lübeck:

Photos of an unknown soldier of I.R.162 – As far as available I have used the original captions.

Iron Crosses. Felix Schanz on the far right

No caption on this one – might be the owner of the album

Fallen in front of the English postions – Arras 1917

Englishmen killed by handgrenades – Arras 1917

1917

After the attack

Englishmen and Scots after the battle

Resting – Minutes after the battle

After Battle – 1917

English Tanks

Sources and further reading:

  1. Otto Dziobek: Geschichte des Infanterie-Regiments Lübeck (3. Hanseatisches) Nr. 162; erste Auflage 1922
    aus dem Vorwort:
    … Besonders dankbar sei des Herrn Oberleutnant Sander gedacht, der mit regstem Interesse die Arbeit gefördert hat. Mit […] hat er nicht nur […], sondern durch das mühsame Anfertigen der Karten und Skizzen sowie das Umzeichnen vieler Bilder sich hohe Verdienste um die Regimentsgeschichte erworben hat …
  2. Antjekathrin Graßmann: Lübeckische Geschichte, Verlag Schmidt-Römhild, 3. verbesserte und ergänzte Auflage 1997, ISBN 3-7950-3215-6
  3. Harboe Kardel: Das Reserve-Feldartillerie Regiment Nr. 17; Band 30 von Erinnerungsblätter deutscher Regimenter. Ehemals preuß. Truppenteile, mit 4 Karten, Verlag Gerhard Stalling, 1922 Oldenburg i. D., erste Auflage, 99 Seiten
  4. Kriegsbilder des Infanterie-Regiments Lübeck. 3. Hanseatisches Nr. 162; Lübeck, Offizier-Verein 1925
  5. Hugo Gropp: Hanseaten im Kampf; Klindworth & Neuenhaus, Hamburg 1932, 377 Seiten, Verein ehem. Angehöriger Reserve 76 e. V.
  6. Lübeckisches Adressbuch, Verlag Max Schmidt, div.
  7. Lyder Ramstad: Unter dem Banner der “Barbaren”; Verlag Ferdinand Hirt, übersetzt von Cecile Wedel (Gräfin), 1934, 167 Seiten

The first german casualty of World War 2 – The case of Oberstleutnant Domizlaff

Last year I got into contact with a militaria collector in the UK who had just bought a collection of military documents that had once belonged to Oberstleutnant Ottomar Domizlaff.

In 1939 Domizlaff was serving in Infanterie-Regiment 22, commanding its first battalion during the Polish campaign. By then he had served as soldier for nearly 21 active years! He was a thorough professional, serving as as Leutnant in World War 1, where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. Only three years after the end of the Great War, he rejoined the German army as a Leutnant, signing up for 12 years of service in 1921. He served in Schützen-Regiment 2 and Infanterie-Regiment 5 during which he was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann. In 1939, now a Major, he took command of I./IR22.

Leutnant Domizlaff in 1921

In his documents, there is a highly interesting award certificate for the wound badge (Verwundetenabzeichen) in silver. It was awarded in 1940 for a wound received on 1st of September 1939. The date of the Invasion of Poland.

Domizlaff had already been wounded in World War 1, earning the black wound badge in 1917, so it is not unusual that he received the silver grade for a single wound in World War 2.

Unusual was the date the wound was received. There were quite a lot of soldiers who got wounded on the 1st of September 1939, but the number is extremely low compared to all the soldiers who got wounded in the days, months and years after that. Looking from a collectors point of view, finding an award document with this date is very rare. I was intrigued by that and started to dive into the divisional documents available to me to find out more.

The award certificate for the “Verwundetenabzeichen in Silber”.

The war diaries for the Polish campaign had been destroyed during a bombing raid on Berlin in 1942, so finding something in there was impossible. The only remaining material from that period it a war diary of Pionier-Batallion 1, but looking there would be fruitless aswell. It was then, that a friend of mine remembered the letter written by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie on the campaign in Poland.

The report by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie (which is in itself fantastic, as it’s full of sarcastic remarks and written with a grim sense of humour) shed light on what happened to Ottomar Domizlaff, who might indeed be the first german casualty of the Polish campaign and possibly even World War 2!

The regiment, stationed close to the Polish border, had been exercising false alarms for a couple of weeks now. Every night the soldiers were called out in full gear and with orders to move out for an imminent attack.

De la Chevallerie writes that:

“On the 31st of August I was called back to the regiment. It was the same old song all over again. Scheidies (commander of 1st Btn.) was on leave and I had to take over. During the night we got the order to move into our attacking positions. The whole thing reminded me of the fable “The boy who cried wolf”, but an order is an order and we obeyed.

On the 1st of September (at three in the morning) we arrived, quite unenthusiastically, at the same spot where we had spent the nights of the 26th and 27th of August. The only difference being that now it rained cats and dogs.
Shortly afterwards we received the order “X-Time 0445h”. As usual, nobody really believed that, but to everyone’s surprise, at precisely 0445h, our artillery fired a few salvos; loudly announcing the start of the war! I have to mention that this was no proper artillery fire, the first salvos were only fired to find the correct range. Still there was one interlude that needs to mentioned.

Major Domizlaff, commander of I./IR22. also known as “Borante”, who was massively disliked by old and young, had overzealous as usual, already crawled over the border and had only just been missed by one of our shells. He took a splinter into his arse! Harmless but painful. This story spread like wildfire throughout the division which was soon roaring with laughter.”

Two pages of de la Chevalleries report (calligraphy was not one of his strengths)

Even I had to laugh about that. The professional, overzealous and massively unpopular commander Major Domizlaff got wounded only minutes after 0445h. And I think I am on the safe side if I say that he might very well have been the first German casualty of the Polish campaign and maybe even World War 2. Even if he was wounded by friendly fire (he still got the wound badge for it), the wound took him out of action for a couple of weeks.

Far more exiting (and funny) than the usual World War 2 discoveries you see in the media (Hitler had only one testicle, the germans built ufos etc), dont you think? Anyone wants to contact the press? 😉

Oberstleutnant Domizlaff died on the 8th of January 1941.

UPDATE:

According to the statement of Mr. Rehberg a veteran of IR22 (+2012) Major Domizlaff comitted suicide in January 1941, the fact that he did so being a well know fact inside the regiment and the division. As I had nothing to prove this statement I left that part out of this post. This all changed when I recieved this letter written by Vanessa Domizlaff of Bloomington, Indiana. It sheds light on the person of Ottomar Domizlaff, his family and his dark and horrible fate:

“I was doing a random search, when I came across the claim that Oberstleutnant Ottomar Domizlaff may literally have been the first German casualty of the invasion of Poland. Aside from being completely blindsided by this assertion, I was also admittedly amused by the account of his undignified war injury at first– perhaps it was my inherent reservations in humanizing a man of his position or maybe it was simply the sheer incredulousness of this story.

The person Ottomar was known to me. I understood his position in the constellation of my family – he was the younger cousin of my grandfather and died during the war in a vehicular accident in Gumbinnen while on duty – but I knew close to nothing of his doings. I was initially confused to read the name and description of “Borante” that accompanied the original article. This name is, in fact, the proper name of Ottomar’s youngest brother, Borante Georg Standford Domizlaff, who left his own blemish on history as Major SS-Sturmbannführer when was called to trial along with Herbert Kappler for his involvement in the Ardeatine massacre in Rome. He was later acquitted of all charges and to my amazement went on to star in Dino Risi’s Italian comedy Una vita difficile, playing a role that came natural to him – that of a Nazi officer. After more consideration, I suggest that the name Borante must have been a moniker for Ottomar, one that was either given by his family or one he adopted himself. This idea does not seem too far-fetched considering the meaning that this name carries in our family. As was the fashion among the rising middle class, my family sought to establish a lineage to further elevate their status. They claimed Tepitz and Borante, the two infant sons of Lord Domizlav zu Alten-Stettin, who are documented to be the first Christianized Slavs in Stettin in Poland under Bishop Otto von Bamberg, as our ancestors and perhaps in an attempt to add credibility to this allegation, they re-introduced the name “Borante”. If we accept “Borante” to be a moniker, we honor all of the evidence and testaments collected in the original article, which I believe to be very credible.

Before we share our findings with you, allow me to tell you more of Ottomar Domizlaff:

Karl Ottomar Domizlaff (1897-1941) was the fourth of seven children born to Karl Heinrich Franz (1859-1915) and his wife Margarete Ernestine Momsen, whose brother Hart Momsen lived in the United States and was father to Admiral Charles Bowers “Swede” Momsen, inventor of the “Momsen lung”. Karl was the second son of Julius Dumzlaff (1828-1902) from his second marriage to Franziska Lynker. Julius’s only child from his first marriage to Emilie Lorsbach was my great-grandfather Georg (1857-1937), who served as “Präsident der Oberpostdirektion in Leipzig” as well as the “Feld-Oberpostmeister” during World War I.

While in service, Ottomar’s father Karl was promoted to Reserve-Lieutenant of the Infanterieregiment Nr. 74 in 1883 and later advanced to Hauptmann of the Landwehr-Infanterie. Despite of his advanced age, Karl voluntarily reported to the Front at the outbreak of World War I and led the Reserveinfanterieregiment Nr. 74 as Kompanieführer into combat. He fell on February 18th 1915 during an assault nearby Perthes, Champagne, and succumbed to shots suffered to the head and chest. He was posthumously awarded an Iron Cross of the 2nd class in 1919.

Ottomar’s eldest brother Hart Helmuth served as Reserve-Lieutnant in the same Reserveinfanterieregiment as their father and died on September 7th 1917 in a military hospital in Dun, France, from injuries suffered to his lung while in combat in Verdun. He was awarded the Iron Cross of the 2nd class posthumously. Prior to his death, Hart penned a novel titled, Morituri. His cousin Hans, my grandfather, and Ottomar’s eldest sister Natalie saw to its independent publication in 1917.

The family’s extensive involvement in the military is apparent. Yet we know from Ottomar’s American relatives, that Ottomar and his brother Julius were adament in discouraging their youngest brother Borante from entering service under Hitler and pressured him to take over the family insurance business instead. This insight possibly attests to the sincere attitude of Ottomar towards the realities of war and yet we find him committed to a long-term career without ever having taken a wife or entering any other profession. According to the same source, Ottomar died in France on January 8th 1941. The cause remained unexplained and the location of his death contradicts official records.

Within my branch of the family, we have only one official testament pertaining to Ottomar’s fate, which I have translated for you from Mühlrad, Schulbank und Carrière. Geschichte und Familien-überlieferungen der Domizlaff aus Pommern und Preußen, page 451:

“Karl Ottomar, born on July 22nd, 1897, died 1941, entered German military service and was injured in the first days of World War II in Poland, was then at the Western Front and in East Prussia, and died as Oberstleutnant in a car crash while on duty in Gumbinnen, East Prussia,”.

What intrigued both the author and myself, were the circumstances surrounding Ottomar’s death. Any obvious evidence was in direct conflict with the report made by the veteran of IR22, who was a member of Ottomar’s battalion and whose claim that it was rumored that Ottomar took his own life in January of 1941 ought to be entirely believable based on his insight. The longer we considered the evidence, it didn’t seem unlikely that the ordinary accident was merely a cover-up for a suicide, which would surely be marked as dishonorable within the Wehrmacht as well as his family.

Curious to find out what really happened, my father explored all avenues of gaining insight to Ottomar’s death. Rather quickly, through the assistance of family acquaintances, we were able to determine that it was commonly rumored within our family, and expressively confided by an immediate relative, that Ottomar had not perished in a car crash. In reality, he is said to have been a homosexual, who, in light of his high military rank, was summoned to take his own life, in order to keep face and avoid sentencing and certain execution. In regard to the family’s reputation, and most definitely the Wehrmacht, his death was officially documented as an accident.

Although this is certainly only part of his story, the rumors that Ottomar was a homosexual speaks volumes. It may explain why Ottomar was severely unpopular among the soldiers of his battalion or why he opted for a long-term career in the military without taking a wife. We do not know if he was found out, outed, or commonly known to be a homosexual, but certainly, it must have been a dangerous time. In light of this information, we must come to see and understand Ottomar differently.

I will withhold my personal thoughts from this brief account, but I hope in light of these details, we can inject some humanity into the discussion and begin to understand Ottomar as a complex individual. We can not begin to know what circumstances or motivations drive a person, unless we try to understand them like we would a friend, or in my case, a relative.

I am sincerely grateful to the author of 1infanteriedivision for bringing this story to light, calling Ottomar into question, and allowing me the opportunity to elaborate.

In gratitude,

Vanessa Domizlaff (Bloomington, Indiana).”

Sources:

  • Mühlrad, Schulbank und Carrière Geschichte und Familien-überlieferungen der Domizlaff aus Pommern und Preußen. (http://www.hans-domizlaff-archiv.net/index.php?familie)
  • The Ancestors and Descendants of Hart Momsen and Susie Bowers Momsen compiled by Ruth Momsen Quast, 2003.

Ottomar Domizlaff in 1938

Thanks to this information, which matches the rumors inside IR22 and 1.ID this rather funny story took a turn to the dark side. And as Vanessa correctly points out its most probably the explanation why Ottomar Domizlaff was massively unpopular, and if I may take it a step further, it might also be the reason for his overzealousness. A homosexual officer in a highly traditional division and regiment of the German Wehrmacht had no other choice.

I feel ashamed and bow my head to Karl “Borante” Ottomar Domizlaff. May he rest in peace.

Danke Vanessa….

Ottomar as a baby

Karl Otto

A smoke, a box of creme chocolates and the Daily Mail – German trench near Wieltje, Ypres 1915

Just a quick photo while I have the time. Just preparing the next set of photos taken by a member of I.R.236 (see last post) when I saw this. Amusing, so it needs to be shared 🙂 Enjoy.

In a german trench, 236th Regiment of Infantry (I.R.236) near Wieltje (Ypres) 1915.

Nothing better than a smoke, a box of creme chocolates and the Daily Mail

Dragons over the Western Front – German Feld-Luftschiffer units in World War 1

FLA1

Why I chose the title of “Dragons” over the Western Front will become clear when you have finished reading the article..

Balloons had been in use by the military since the wars of the coalition (1792-1815). In Prussia Balloon troops were became part of the regular army on the 9th of May 1884.

In February 1915 there were only 9 Balloons on the whole Western Front. Balloon troops (Feldluftschiffer) with their cumbersome and heavy equipment were thought to be quite useless in modern, mobile warfare and there were even tries to abolish this arm completely, but after the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 the front froze to a standstill. In Spring 1915 Major Hermann Thomsen, and old and experienced balloonist, wrote an exposé on the “Condition of the field aeronautical service” (“Denkschrift zur Lage der Feldluftschifferei”) which was very well within military circles and by the Kaiser himself. It was due to this that on the 11th of March 1915, by highest order of the cabinet (Allerhöchste Kabinettsorder / AKO), a new army department known as “Chef des Feldflugwesens” (Chief of Field Air Forces) was founded to which all Air Force units, planes, airships, balloons and also the meteorological services were subordinated.

FLA3

On the 21st of February 1916 the german army opened its attack on Verdun and the fortresses in front of it. For the first time 12 balloons were used together. AOK 5 built special lines of communications for the balloon units leading to a central “Ballonzentrale” (Ballooncentral) which utilized all incoming reconnaissance reports of the attached balloon units before passing them on to High Command. As every Balloon Platoon only had a single balloon the whole unit was wiped out when the balloon was shot down or damaged. Only after receiving a new one the unit was ready to get into action again. Due to this “Feldluftschiffer-Depots” were set up behind the front which stocked spare balloons and parts to be able to replenish losses fast and efficiently. It was also during the Battle of Verdun where the german Balloon troops suffered the first severe losses when the enemy introduced incendiary ammunition (one of the first victims of this new type of ammo was the airship LZ77 which was shot down on the 21st of February 1916).

FLA6

During the Battle of the Somme (24th of June to 26th of November 1916) more than half of the total available FLAs Feldluftschifferabteilungen (Balloon units) were committed. Altogether 18 FLAs with a total of 50 Balloons. For the first time in the war each Army command (A.O.K.) had its own “Ballonzentrale” and for the first time the balloonists received the urgently needed cover by fighter planes as the enemy had finally recognised Balloons and their work as dangerous and important.
The year 1916 had firmly established the new german Luftwaffe and duly appropriated its use and tasks. The enemy aswell has the german army had recognised was Balloons and airships were able to do. On the 8th of October 1916 the german army had 53 FLA (Feldluftschifferabteilungen) with 128 Ballonzügen (Balloon platoons) and 7 Ballonzentralen (Balloon Centrals). FLAs and Balloonzüge were further divided into reconnaissance and combatgroups resulting in a massive rise of their effectiveness. When the use of german airships (Zeppelins) declined in Spring 1917, most of the now available ground personell was transfered to balloon units.  In Summer 1918 the army had 186 Ballonzüge (with 2 Balloons each). During their peak of their effectiveness the Feldluftschiffer units had to pay the ultimate price for it. Losses were brutal. As soon as a balloon was spotted it was fired upon by the enemy. The german Balloon service had risen from a unregarded arm to a much-noticed effective fighting force. Without them tactical close reconnaissance had become impossible.

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Tactical disposition of Balloon units, 1917

Recconaissance photos taken by a german Feldluftschiffer Abteilung

Recconaissance photos taken by a german Feldluftschiffer Abteilung

World War I observation crews, were the first to use parachutes on a wide scale, long before they were adopted by fixed wing aircraft. These were a primitive parachute type where the main part was in a bag suspended from the balloon with the pilot only wearing a simple body harness around his waist which lines from the harness attached to the main parachute in the bag. When the balloon crew jumped the main part of the parachute was pulled from the bag, with the shroud lines first, followed by the main canopy. This type of parachute was first adopted on a large-scale by the Germans, and then later by the British and French for their observation balloon crews.

The Germans made excellent use of observation balloons in several configurations. An early variety made by Parseval-Sigsfeldand called “Drachen” (Dragon), had a single fin, low centre, and was totally cylindrical, with rounded ends. The British called them sausages, for obvious reasons. The balloon’s shape gave it another nickname, “Nülle” or “Testicle”.

baloon

The Caquot was tear-drop shaped, with three stabilizing fins. The Germans used a copy of a French Caquot, the designation was “Type Ae 800” for Achthundert (800) which was a reference to the cubic meter capacity English, the reason for this being the design was stolen from a captured British balloon design. The improved Caquot could ride higher, and fly in higher winds than the Parseval-Sigsfeld, so it quickly replaced the Drachen, even among the Luftschiffertruppen.

fla7

The observer suspended in the wicker basket typically had a wireless set, binoculars and one or two long-range, cameras with him. Their job was to observe actions on the front and behind it, to spot enemy troop movements, unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthy targets. They were targets of great importance to the British HQ, especially before any sort of infantry action, so squadrons were frequently ordered to target balloons.
This was especially risky as they were well guarded with AA guns, long-range machine guns and a fighter Screen. Getting to the balloon was easy, shooting it up was difficult and getting away was very difficult. It required good nerves, quick reactions, and an all round good pilot to fight their way through the defences, hit the balloon before it is pulled down and then get away again. It was a rule of thumb with British pilots to never go after balloons below 1,000 feet, the AA and mg fire was too dangerous. The balloons could be pulled down very quickly as they were tethered to a motorized winch, so that once a fighter was spotted the balloon could be down in under a minute.

Rare photograph taken by an officer of IR145 at the Somme in 1917, caption reads "One of our balloons under attack" - I would love to know what type of aircraft we have here.

Rare photograph taken by an officer of IR145 at the Somme in 1917, caption reads “One of our balloons under attack” – I would love to know what type of aircraft we have here. Click to enlarge

By the war’s end 241 German observation balloons had been shot down. As a sidenote, one of the last german WW1 veterans to pass away (in 2004), Arno Wagner, was a radio operator and artillery spotter serving a Feldluftschiffer unit.