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

Advertisements

The German view of “Market Garden” – Daily reports of “Army Group B”

Today we see the 69th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.  

MarketGarden1

On 17 September 1944 thousands of paratroopers descended from the sky by parachute or glider up to 150 km behind enemy lines. Their goal: to secure to bridges across the rivers in Holland so that the Allied army could advance rapidly northwards and turn right into the lowlands of Germany, hereby skirting around the Siegfried line, the German defence line. If all carried out as planned it should have ended the war by Christmas 1944.

Unfortunately this daring plan, named Operation Market Garden, didn’t have the expected outcome. The bridge at Arnhem proved to be ‘a bridge too far’. After 10 days of bitter fighting the operation ended with the evacuation of the remainder of the 1st British Airborne Division from the Arnhem area.

Arnheim, britische Gefangene

From today onwards, I will be posting translations of the official German situational reports sent from OB West (High Command West) to OKH (High Command of the Army), to show the German view of Market Garden “as it happened”.  Be sure to check back tomorrow. 

Arnheim17009

17th of September 1944:

Army Group B – Summary

The 17th of September was characterized by major allied airborne landings in the area between Eindhoven and Arnhem. The enemy, in strength of two to three divisions, is trying to secure and hold all crucial crossing points on rivers and canals to keep them open for the 2nd English Army moving towards the north. Everywhere training and supply units of all branches of the Wehrmacht are assembling to counter the enemy threat. So far, according to the news we have, the enemy was only partially successful, but it’s highly probable that he will continue to land more troops during the night. The lack of strong and quick reaction forces makes this fight, which seems to be of vital importance for the enemy, difficult.
The English had initial successes against 1st Fallschirm-Army. Taking the landings north of Eindhoven into account, the situation there is exceedingly difficult.
On the right flank of 7th Army LXXI. Korps was pushed back towards the north. Own counterattacks east of Aachen seem to be having an effect.
The general situation of Army Group B is very critical. Reinforcements, especially of heavy self-propelled anti-tank units are urgently requested. Lack of fuel is preventing an effective defense as is the total lack of counter measures from the air and from the ground.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Rearguards facing strong enemy tank forces falling back to the line of the canal south of Saint-Jean-in-Eremo and Gravenjansdijk. Attack on own rear guards near Rieme and Drieschouwen. Own counterattack to destroy an encircled enemy force (one battalion) near Kijkuit. One tank destroyed.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Strong enemy forces spotted 4 kilometers south-east of Eeckeren.
331st Infantry-Division: 4 enemy gliders landed in the area Schouwen and Mordijk. Crews taken prisoner or destroyed. One company of enemy paratroopers destroyed north of Steenbergen by Combat Command Bergen Op Zoom. 12 prisoners.

Fs.A.O.K.1: At 1400h enemy airborne troops (101st US Airborne Division) landed north of Eindhoven with the task of taking the crossing points at Son, Best and St. Odenrode.
Crossing point at Son held by one battalion of regiment “Hermann Göring”.
Fragments also landed in the area of Tilburg – Hertogenbosch. Ad-hoc and police units are sent against this enemy.

LXXXVIII.A.K.: Division Walter: On the late evening superior enemy forces managed to break through the encirclement of the bridgehead at Neerpelt, over running our anti-tank defences and pushing forward to Valkenswaard.
176. Infanterie-Division:
After heavy artillery preparation and rolling aerial attacks strong enemy infantry and tank units attacked from the direction north of Maastricht and achieved a breakthrough. Moved into own blocking positions to both sides and south of Leuth and east of the Maas near Beek in the direction of Geleen-Heerlen. 25 enemy tanks destroyed in chaotic fighting.
Lively enemy fighter-bomber activity with overlapping carpet bombing.

W.B.Ndl. & II. SS Pz Korps.
More airborne landings in the area of Nijmwegen and west of Arnhem. At Nijmwegen the enemy landed in the river bend hard north-east of the town and at Kranenburg, Groesbeek and Grave. Defenders are in combat with this enemy. In the area of Arnhem the enemy landings focused on the areas 1o kilometers west and north-west of the town. Battlegroup Tettau (5 Batallions) has been dispatched from Leersun to counter this enemy who is moving towards Arnhem. Elements of II. SS-Panzer-Korps are attacking from the north and north-east. Enemy forces inside Arnhem thrown back towards the west.
Elements of 9th SS Panzer Division reached and secured the bridge at Arnhem. Reconnaissance elements of 10th SS Panzer withdrawn towards Arnhem after having contact with the enemy about 6 kilometers SSE of Nijmegen.

Enemy aerial activity:
Strong allied fighter-bomber activity in Holland and north-western Germany in preparation for the allied airborne operations in southern Holland. During midmorning severe attacks by 4 engined bombers and fighter-bombers against our positions and command posts. Luftwaffe used all available forces to counter allied airborne landings in the area Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. - High resolution

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. – High resolution

Arnheim, Soldaten von Heer und Luftwaffe und SS-Führer

For German military history research requests please visit the dedicated consultancy site:
GMUBanner

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

Firm in Loyalty – A hero from Bavaria

HuberMartinDC

bayernkoppel

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.

huber1

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.

True love – Battle of Jena (1806)

Jena1

This gravestone can be found on the battlefield of Jena. Below it rest the remains of the Saxon Premier-Lieutenant Freiherr August von Bissing, who was killed during the battle. When he was buried his body had already been plundered, leaving only a pair of monogrammed socks. Bissings wife Marianne never learned what happened to her husband and spent years trying to shed light on his fate. When she travelled the area years after the battle (1858) local farmers showed her the socks they had kept after they had buried Bissing. The monograms, which Marianne had stitched herself, finally revealed the final resting place of her husband. 

Marianne commissioned a memorial for him, but died shortly afterwards and was buried on the battlefield, right beside her husband.

A nice little story which I thought worth sharing..

Battle_of_Jena_-_Auerstadt

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…..

Trench1

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.  

Untitled

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.

Port

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.

haggsddd111

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.

dsgss1111

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..

a5

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….

a1 a3 a4

“That Austrian corporal” – The army files of Adolf Hitler, 1914-1918

A lot has been written about “That Austrian corporal”, so I will not try to write anything here that has already been said a thousand times before, but I thought that a lot of people interested in the history of World War 1 might be interested to have a look Hitlers files, held at the “Bayerisches Staatsarchiv”.

I will not comment on them, but I recommend reading this book by Thomas Weber (available in English) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hitlers-First-War-Hitler-Regiment/dp/0199226385. It is not as bad as the reviews have it, although I read it in German language and can not comment on the English translation. 

Scans of the relevant pages in the files of the Bavarian “Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 16”

AdolfHitler4kl

AdolfHitler3kl

AdolfHitler2kl

AdolfHitler1kl

AdolfHitler6kl

hitler-portraet“Hitler was already 25 when he became a soldier, and he was presumably a deserter. In May 1913, the sinister painter of postcards went to Bavaria “almost certainly in an attempt to dodge the Austrian draft,” Weber writes. But now, surrounded by the cheering and patriotic frenzy at the beginning of World War I, he was drawn to battle — a struggle, as Hitler wrote, that “was not forced upon the masses, by God, but was desired by the entire people.” Hitler was assigned to the Bavarian reserve infantry regiment No. 16 (RIR 16), commanded by Colonel Julius List. According to Weber, RIR 16 was not the volunteer regiment it has been described as, and List’s regiment was not teeming with students, artists and university graduates, as many Nazi propagandists would later claim.

In fact, the share of budding and real academics among the roughly 30 percent of the army made up of volunteers was only marginal. Instead, a disproportionately large number of Jews volunteered to defend “the Fatherland” and, as Weber concludes, it’s unlikely that any of them suffered from anti-Semitic treatment. On the contrary, the Kaiser’s officers were apparently anxious to make it possible for Jewish soldiers to practice their faith on the front.

In late October 1914, the poorly trained and inadequately equipped regiment experienced its “baptism by fire” during battles for the Flemish village of Gheluvelt. With dramatic exaggeration, Hitler claimed that he was the only survivor in his platoon, which seems unlikely. According to the records, 13 men in his company died on Oct. 29. In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote that this battle was only the “beginning,” adding: “It went on in much the say way, year after year, but horror had replaced the romance of the battlefield.”

After Gheluvelt, Hitler served as a courier, usually outside the firing range of artillery and machine guns, embedded in the relatively comfortable rear echelon, a place where soldiers even had set amounts of time off. These were conditions “like paradise,” Weber writes, in the eyes of the soldiers at the front, who were constantly confronted with death.”

Remembering – Michael Maier, KIA 17th of July 1916, Longueval – Battle of the Somme

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes (John 3:16)

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes 

What you see here is a “Death Card” – Death cards are “Death messages” which were distributed in a village, to friends and family to inform people about the death of a loved one and to invite them to pray for the deceased. 

Contrary to the information found on many “non-German” websites the use of death cards was, and is, by no means limited to commemorate deceased military personnel, they are a common part of the catholic funerary culture and tradition of Germany.  Assistance in choosing the design and text of a death card and ordering the required quantities from print businesses on behalf of the deceased’s family is a standard part of the services rendered by German funeral parlors even today (in catholic families)
For this post I have chosen the Death Card of  a Bavarian soldier named “Michael Maier”.  A bit of genealogical research and a close look at his regiment’s muster rolls brought up the following information .
MichaelMaier1
Michael was born on the 23rd of August 1890 as son of Michael and Anna Maier, a farming couple from Willing, a small village near Pfarrkirchen in Bavaria. In 1890 the village was home to about 600 people who mainly worked as farmers.
The village of Willing, Bavaria

The village of Willing, Bavaria

The church of St. Jacob, in which Michael was baptised.

The church of St. Jacob, in which Michael was baptised.

MichDienst1In October 1911 Michael volunteered to become a soldier, joining the Königlich Bayerisches 2. Infanterie-Regiment “Kronprinz” (5th company, II. Batallion) for a period of two years (1 year and 334 days). This was not unusual as a career in the army guaranteed a much better style of living compared to the life of a farmer. 

In September 1913 Michael was honorably discharged from the army. Now a reservist, he moved back to Willing to help his parents on the family’s farm. 

When war broke out Michael was recalled and joined 5th company of Königlich Bayerisches 16. Infanterie-Regiment “Großherzog Ferdinand von Toskana” on the 4th of August 1914.  

On the day Michael joined, the regiment had an effective strength of 85 Officers and 3305 NCOs and men. The regiment marched towards the front on the 8th of August 1914. Only a week later 30% (!) of the men had fallen ill from fatigue resulting from exertions of the advance. During the battles in Lorraine the regiment crossed the Saar at Oberstinzel and attacked parts of the French VIII. Army Corps taking the French completely by surprise. Breaking through the French lines the regiment reached the Rhine-Marne Canal near Heming on the 21st of August 1914. Pursuing the retreating French forces it reached Blamont on the evening of the 22nd of August, taking 200 prisoners and capturing 12 pieces of artillery and 15 ammunition carts (suffering losses of 8 officers and 190 men killed and wounded.). Losses due to fatigue and enemy action had been high. On the 28th of August 1914 the regiments 3rd Batallion had only 6 officers and 270 men fit for action (an effective strength of about 2 companies) and all officers of 8th company had been killed. On the 23rd of September the regiment was transferred to the Somme, taking part in the attack on Chaulnes and again suffering severe losses (221 dead on the 25th of September, leaving 2nd Batallion with a strength of only 210 men).

Michael was lucky, he was healthy and fit and even was awarded the Bavarian Military Merit Cross 3rd Class in March 1916. 

In the spring of 1915 the regiment was subordinated to the newly formed 10th Bavarian Reserve Division. It entrenched itself near Lihons in March 1915 and managed to hold its lines against repeated allied attacks up until October. From October 1915 up until the 22nd of May 1916 it took part in the trench war around Chaulnes.

During the Battle of Arras (13th of May to the 28th of June 1916) the regiment lost over 350 men to enemy action and sickness! With the start of the Battle of the Somme it was subordinated to the 28th Reserve Division forming a reserve in the area of Bazentin-Longueval. On the 2nd of July 1916 Michael’s company (1st and 2nd Batallion) took part in the assault on Montauban which was being held by the English. The attack was repelled with heavy losses (72 killed).

On the 4th of July Michael’s luck began to cease when he was wounded by a rifle bullet to the left upper arm. The wound was light and he stayed with his unit which managed to hold itself in the face of repeated English attack up to the 14th of July 1916 when according to the regimental history “the English storm broke loose over the regiment”. In the fighting that followed most of Michael’s regiment was wiped out. 256 men were killed on the 14th of July alone. When the regiment reassembled a day later it had a strength of only 8 officers and 688 men and Michael was not one of them.

According to the regimental files he was last seen in the fighting near Longueval. Nobody had seen him fall, he was listed as “missing in action”. About 2 years later, in March 1918, a message from the Red Cross arrived in Munich. The English had informed the Red Cross that Michael Maier had been killed by a rifle bullet on the 14th of July 1916. The message also stated that Michael had “No known grave”. His body was probably left where he fell. One of the many German, English and French soldiers that lie in the soil of the Somme to this day.

Extract from Michaels file in the Bavarian Hauptstaatsarchiv

Extract from Michaels file in the Bavarian Hauptstaatsarchiv

In World War One K.B.IR 16 suffered the following losses:
Killed: 48 officers, 1 medical officer, 244 NCOs, 2084 men
Missing: 2 officers, 13 NCOs, 178 men
Killed by disease/accidents: 1 officers, 14 NCOs and 114 men.
By the end of the war there were 32 officers, 6 medical officers, 237 NCOs and 1387 men of the regiment in allied imprisonment.

I remember Michael Maier. May he rest in peace.

Pickelhaube of a soldier of K.B.IR 16. The owner was wounded in 1914. A piece of shrapnel pierced Pickelhaube and skull and brain before exiting on the other side. The owner survived the terrible wound and died in 1977. (Exhibit in " Haus der Bayerischen Geschichte" - Regensburg

Pickelhaube of a soldier of K.B.IR 16. The owner was wounded in 1914. A piece of shrapnel pierced Pickelhaube and skull and brain before exiting on the other side. The owner survived the terrible wound and died in 1977. (Exhibit in ” Haus der Bayerischen Geschichte” – Regensburg)