Firm in Loyalty – A hero from Bavaria

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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:

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“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.

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JOSEF “SEPP” DIETRICH – SERVICE IN WORLD WAR ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

WW1 Panzer Assault Badge. WW1 Panzer Assault Badge.

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

Captured

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

1911-14: worked as bakers errand boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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”

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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.”

School trip to the Western Front – The History department of Manor Church of England Academy

Every Easter the History Department of the Manor Church of England Academy embarks on a journey to guide Year Ten History GCSE students around the battlefields of France and Belgium. When I met one of their history teachers on Twitter and he told me that they were going to visit the German cemetery of Neuville St Vaast (also called La Maison Blanche because of a nearby farm with that name) I took the opportunity to offer a few bits of material to show the students the human side of the Kraut, the Boche, the Hun…the German soldier.

I was moved when I saw the students talking about their feelings and their thoughts on the enemies of their Grandfathers. Even more so when I watched Adam (their teacher) recite Uhlands poem of the “Good Comrade”.
Realizing that 99% of German students will not know if their ancestors fought in World War 1, will never have heard of Uhland and most will probably not even know when the Great War took place makes me sad. I have never seen a group of German students coming to visit the graves of the Western Front. No one remembers, our dead are left alone.
What I found interesting is that the students were very keen to point how different the German cemetery looked when compared to the British ones.

Neuville-Saint-Vaast German War Cemetery was established at the end of the Great War, between 1919 and 1923, by the French authorities. The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 provided for the shared maintenance of war cemeteries and so, in 1922, France granted her ‘ex-enemies’ who fell on her soil the right in perpetuity to a grave.

Neuville St. Vaast in World War 1

Neuville St. Vaast in World War 1

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Maison Blanche in 1959

Maison Blanche in 1959

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Maison Blanche in 1959

“Mourning and universal life” – German cemeteries

The German war graves commission, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK), was finally allowed to intervene in German military cemeteries in France in 1926. Starting in 1919, the French War Graves Department demolished a large number of small cemeteries close to the front and concentrated the graves in larger cemeteries. At that time, these military graveyards were simple unfenced fields with wooden crosses; however in areas of the front where the death rate had been particularly high the VDK decided to establish new cemeteries and one of these was at Neuville-Saint-Vaast, the largest of them all with 36,000 graves.

The Treaty of Versailles had provided for German cemeteries to be placed under the guardianship of the French authorities (a state of affairs which lasted until 1966) which meant they had control over all the developments or permanent buildings undertaken by the VDK. The French authorities refused to return the bodies to their families. The German cemeteries were designed in the interwar years by architect Robert Tischler, a veteran of the Great War. He based his designs on two major principles: mourning and universal life. Due to the cramped nature of the concessions allocated by France, burials were carried out in large communal graves called “Comrades’ Graves”. Tischler took care to make the German cemeteries blend in with their environment, in particular fitting in with relief, as is clearly visible at Neuville-Saint-Vaast. Plants grow freely and trees are not pollarded. His choices were influenced by German mythology’s concept of communion between Man and Nature The architecture of these cemeteries is austere but leaves a lot of room for trees to “watch over the eternal rest of the soldiers”.

The cemeteries often give the impression of being in a forest. They feature stone walls and wrought iron gates and, in many cases, large stone crosses. Communal graves are marked by engraved slabs often combined with rough stone crosses. In the 1920s the VDK used wooden crosses with a zinc plate, and sometimes stone slabs laid on the ground, to mark individual graves. In the 1950s the decision was taken to generalize the use of erect crosses to give a better visual portrayal of the extent of the slaughter, and for these to be made from durable materials (aluminium, cast iron or stone). Each cross or headstone bears the surname, first name, rank, date of birth and date of death of the soldier concerned.

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It has often been suggested that it was the Treaty of Versailles which obliged the Germans to choose dark-coloured crosses for their military cemeteries; however if this was the case the rule was not strictly applied because in many cases white crosses were used. A more practical analysis suggests that the dark colour of many of the crosses in German military cemeteries corresponds to the need to protect the original wooden crosses with tar-based paints.
Many of the crosses which can be seen today, made from stone or steel, were installed in the 1950s and 1960s. As soon as Hitler rose to power the VDK was placed under official supervision. Remembrance of the Great War was a significant political issue for the new regime and it shifted emphasis on to the heroism of the soldiers and any aspect of reconciliation was removed. Furthermore the architect Tischler made no attempt to hide his strong sympathy for the Nazi regime. During the Second World War the VDK was placed at the disposal of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and in 1941 placed, albeit implicitly, under the guardianship of the Hitlerjugend or Hitler Youth.

The VDK was quickly reorganized after the chaos of 1945 and, in spite of his pro-Nazi stance, Tischler returned to his post. The German cemeteries which can be visited today are the fruit of structural work carried out in the 1920s but the main “funerary objects”, the crosses, were for the most part designed after the Second World War. At the entrance to the largest graveyards stands a “memorial hall” which is in some cases decorated with sculptures or mosaics.

A wonderful, valuable and worthwile project. I am proud to have been able to support it. 

Make sure to visit their “official” site here and you can follow them on Twitter too (@manorhistory)

Memorial at Langemarck -   "I have called you by name and you are mine"

Memorial at Langemarck –
“I have called you by name and you are mine”