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

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

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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. 

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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

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Firm in Loyalty – A hero from Bavaria

HuberMartinDC

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

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

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

Tapfer

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

HuberMartin


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

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

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Hubers regimental files in the Bavarian state archive

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

1st World War

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

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

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

True love – Battle of Jena (1806)

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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

“The Great Silent One” – Helmuth Graf von Moltke

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

moltketwitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MEDALS AND DECORATIONS:

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

MOLTKES VOICE RECORDED ON THE EDISON PHONOGRAPH

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

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

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

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

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

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

canny

 

 

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled

Saturday, 27th of March

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

Monday, 29th of March

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 30th of March 1915

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MIGHT BE CONTINUED

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)

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.

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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!

Germany and the Centenary 1914/2014 – The forgotten war

It’s important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line – the Germans suffered the same as we did.” – Harry Patch

I watched the funeral service of Harry Patch, when he was laid to rest in August 2009.

Due to the high levels of interest in the funeral, which was broadcast live on TV and radio, a total of 1,050 tickets were made available for the service. Some, wanting to pay their respects, slept overnight on the Cathedral Green in order to get tickets. Those who did not manage to get one watched the whole ceremony on TV or on huge video screens that were errected on the streets. The bells of Wells Cathedral were rung 111 times to mark each year of his life. In addition to pallbearers from The Rifles, Patch’s coffin was accompanied by two private soldiers from each of the armies of Belgium, France and Germany and an official of the German embassy is reading from the bible. A country in mourning, remembering the “last Tommy”.

When Dr Erich Kästner, the last German veteran of World War One died in 2008 no one took any notice. It was only due to an entry on Wikipedia, which was written by a German amateur historian that someone noticed his obituary in a German newspaper (which said nothing about his service in WW1) and edited the Wikipedia accordingly. Finally, three weeks after Kästners death, the first article about him was published in Der Spiegel.

Dr Erich Kästner (1900-2008)  and his wife

Dr Erich Kästner (1900-2008) and his wife

Germany kept no lists of surviving veterans of the Great War. Even the Ministry of Defence, the Bundeswehr or the German Armed Forces Military History Research Office had any idea how many of these men, who had taken part in the great slaughter between the North Sea and the Alps where still alive. And due to this nobody took any notice when one of these men joined the ranks of the Great Army.

The German veterans  and even World War One itself, have disappeared from the collective memory of the German people. They are a “lost generation” indeed, a generation whose suffering and dying in the trenches of the Marne and the Somme has been lost in the shadows of World War Two.

We still have time, a little time. It‘s not about an 11th hour decision which would demand a rapid change of direction to save mankind. The humble truth is that it‘s all about a wiser and not even germanocentric rememberance, reflecting on our role in European history.

We still have more then one year to think about how we will remember the fact that in August 2014 it will be 100 years since a chain of messy coincidences, lies, bad-, good-, and best intentions led to a war that would throw the 20th century off its course. Time to remember a war that was to trigger the tragedy of a century.

Not a day goes by on German TV without showing images of Adolf Hitler, proof of the dull power to fascinate still emanating from the man from Braunau and also proof that Germans take the accounting for their past seriously. You just have to compare Germany to Japan to see how successfully Germany managed to confront itself with its National Socialist past (after some hesitation and hushing-up).

Germans do not talk about “the dark years” anymore, like they used to do in the 60s and 70s when the curtains were down and plenty of drink on the table. The days of “don’t mention the war” are over once and for all. The facts are accessible to anyone, they are in our school books and most Germans know that it was Germans that commited the most terrible, racial holocaust the world has ever seen. I think it‘s ok to say that we in Germany have quarrelled more with our own dirty past than any other nation. We have looked into Evil‘s blue eyes and that is a good thing!

The problem about all this quarrelling and self-reflecting is that it has effectively severed the German citizens‘ link to the earlier past no matter if good or bad. Tons of surveys show how little “ze German” knows about the Thirty Years War, the old Empire, Prussia, The German Empire or the Republic of Weimar. These pasts are incredibily far away; they do not talk to us anymore, they have vanished in the Orcus of history.

This makes us Germans special. No other country has a long-term memory as damaged as ours and no other country has such problems to incorporate its history into its self-perception. It stops us from looking at German history in a European context. A context that was already firmly in place in the decades before the start of World War 1.

The assassination in Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914, the hectic negotiations of the diplomats wearing stiff suits and monocles, young German soldiers going happily to war with flowers in their rifle barrels. This war seems to be much further than 100 years ago. It has disappeared from our conscience.

In World War 2 we saw an historical battle between the republican idea and the two major ideologies of national socialism and communism. What was World War 1 about? Certainly it was not about ideals…or was it? Was it not just about small quarrels and vanities, about some colonies in countries whose names we can‘t pronounce? Problems that useless diplomats could not solve?

We still have time to start planning the centenary of 2014. The others do it aswell: the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Belgium and Italy. We should be doing the same as equals. Our government has decided to stay in the background and to yield precedence on the big stage to the victors. There are supposed to be some congresses, some local events and maybe even a small international one, but Germany has decided to stay in the second rank.

A cowardly and wrong decision. We hide in that part of history which we think is our own: 1933 to 1945.

But it is not like that. The terrible years of 1933 to 1945 were preceeded by other terrible years and we have to include these to get the whole picture. It’s not about seeking rehablilitation or to transfer the guilt to somebody else. It‘s all about realising that there was no mandatory road leading into the German catastrophy. It‘s about keeping German and European history before 1933 alive. And we need Germany to do that…don’t we?