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

Advertisements

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.

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)

German veterans of Verdun (World War 1) – Video interviews

EK2In 1980, a German military historian conducted a series of interviews which were used in a documentary on the Battle of Verdun. The documentary itself is largely forgotten. There never was a VHS version and it has not been shown on TV for at least 20 years. I have been searching for ages to get a copy of it. Yesterday a friend of mine told me he had found a copy which he had recorded on VHS. 
Due to this I am now able to present these interviews (without the framework documentary they were embedded in) on my blog. As subtitling and translating is very time consuming I only did four interviews right now. Will add more at a later date.

Today all of these men and all other German veterans of World War 1 have joined the ranks of the Great Army. Material like this that should be preserved and shared. I hope you will enjoy these clips as much as I do. Feedback is welcome.

minzeschlucht5

…. They had conquered a notorious hill. They had lived in trenches that had been alternately French and German. These trenches sometimes lay filled with bodies in different stages of decomposition. They were once men in the prime of their lives, but had fallen for the possession of this hill. This hill, that was partly built on dead bodies already. A battle after which they lay rotting, fraternally united in death…. 
(Georges Blond – Verdun).

The Battle of Verdun is considered the greatest and lengthiest in world history. Never before or since has there been such a lengthy battle, involving so many men, situated on such a tiny piece of land. The main battle, which lasted from 21 February 1916 until 19 December 1916 caused over an estimated 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) on a battlefield was not even a square ten kilometres. From a strategic point of view there can be no justification for these atrocious losses. The battle degenerated into a matter of prestige of two nations…

minzeschlucht1

Verdunmap

minzeschlucht2

“Before Verdun, Friday evening, February 18, 1916

I say good-bye to you, my dear Parents and Brothers and Sisters. Thanks, most tender thanks for all that you have done for me. If I fall, I earnestly beg of you to bear it with fortitude. Reflect that I should probably never have achieved complete happiness and contentment….Farewell. You have known and are acquainted with all the others who have been dear to me and you will say good-bye to them for me. And so, in imagination, I extinguish the lamp of my existence on the eve of this terrible battle. I cut myself out of the circle of which I have formed a beloved part. The gap which I leave must be closed; the human chain must be unbroken. I, who once formed a small link in it, bless it for all eternity.

And till your last days, remember me, I beg you, with tender love. Honour my memory without gilding it, and cherish me in your loving, faithful hearts.” – Letters of German Students, London, Methuen, 1929

The “Musketier” you see in the first clip is Herr Peter Geyr. He was a native of the Eifel (Rhineland-Palatinate) and so he speaks the beautiful dialect my grandmother spoke. He was born in 1896, served in Infanterie-Regiment “Graf Werder” (4. Rheinisches) Nr. 30 and joined the German army as a volunteer in 1915. He passed away in 1984.

minzeschlucht6

ErnstWeckerlingThe following film shows Unteroffizier Ernst Weckerling. He is probably the most well known German World War 1 veteran as he made an appearance in the PBS documentary “People’s Century”. Weckerling volunteered on August 14, 1914 and was part of the German forces that, at terrible cost, sought to “bleed the French army white” at Verdun. In 1916 he was holding the rank of Unteroffizier in Füsilier-Regiment von Gersdorff (Kurhessisches) Nr.80. His story of the “Potatoe Helmet Spikes” is just brilliant. You will not find thing like that in the history books. 

minzeschlucht7

The next one was hard to transcribe. Herr Ernst Brecher was a Musketier in 3. Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.71 which fought at Verdun as part of 38th Division from May to October 1916 before being moved to the Somme. 

minzeschlucht8

Herr Heinz Risse served as artillery observer in a Regiment of Field Artillery and tells us of his experiences in the fighting around the village of Fleury. He died on the 17th of July 1989 in Koblenz.

Johannes Kanth was born in 1896 and served as a Gefreiter in 1. Lothringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.130. 

IR130

Musketier Heinrich Dorn, served in a German Infantry Regiment and was drafted in 1916. 

Egloff Freiherr von Freyberg-Eisenberg-Allmendingen was a former 3. Garde-Regiment zu Fuß officer originally commissioned on the 27th of January 1906. He was born in Allmendingen on the 3rd of October 1884 and died there a hundred years later on the 11th of February 1984!


He served with 3. G.R.z.F. for most of his early career before receiving flight training with Flieger-Abteilung 1 from 1st May 1912 onwards. He remained in the Reichsheer after the war retiring in 1930 as a Major. Reactivated on 1 Oct 1932 as an Oberstleutnant, he eventually rose to the rank of Generalmajor on 1st June 1938 before finally retiring on the 31st of October 1943. He spent his war service as the District Airfield Commandant at Kolberg.

Von Freyberg was a holder of the Royal Houseorder of Hohenzollern with Swords. Bavarian Military Merit Order 1.10.15

Württemberg Friedrich Order-Knight 1st Class 23.11.17
Mecklenburg-Schwerin Friedrich Franz Cross 2nd Class.
Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class

He held a Prussian Crown Order 4th Class from before the war, and was a Knight of the Maltese Order.

He already had a flying licence in 1913 and was the flying instructor of Prinz Friedrich-Karl. In the short clip below he gives us his opinion on von Falkenhayn, whom he was personally accquainted with. One of the last “Eagles of the Prussian Army” 

 

Looks like Alec Guinness – Oberstleutnant Georg Adolf von Schneider-Egestorf 1834-1915

One of the few hobbies I have (excluding writing and research work) is to collect portraits of German soldiers and veterans of the wars of 1848, 1864, 1866 and 1870/71. The reason for this is probably that each photo allows me to do more research work. One of my favoured portraits is this one here (moved here from one of my obsolete blogs)

This awe-inspiring and dignified gentlemen is Oberstleutnant Georg Adolf von Schneider-Egestorf (Born in 1834 in Klötze/Saxony, died in Egestorf 1915).

The large cabinet photograph was taken on his 80th birthday on the 6th of January 1914. Before 1911 his name was Schneider only. In June of that year he was raised into the Prussian nobility by Kaiser Wilhelm II and was given the manor of Egestorf. From then on his name was “von Schneider-Egestorf”. His father had served with the Royal Hannovarian Army later rising to the rank of Oberst. His name was Friedrich Schneider (born 2nd of April 1797 and died in Einbeck in 1875). 

Eges

Not only does he look a little bit like Sir Alec Guinness he is also wearing his Iron Cross 2nd Class which he earned in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871. On top of it you can see the oakleaves which were awarded to all holders of the Iron Cross of 1870 on the 25th anniversary of the war in 1895. The fact that he chose to wear his Iron Cross only shows the importance of the award to a 19th century soldier. 45,000 Iron Crosses 2nd Class were awarded for the period 1870/71 (in contrast to more than 5,000,000 in World War 1)

The Prussian Award lists for the year 1877 list 123 officers by the name of Schneider and we are lucky that only one of them has the christian name of Georg Adolf.

Number 32.377 in the list is Georg Adolf Schneider. In 1877 a Hauptmann in the7. Brandenburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 60.”.

This catalogue lists all german officers still alive at the date of print. We know that Georg Adolf was alive then and so we find him in the Prussian Rangliste (Officers lists) of 1870/1871 serving in the same regiment.

See the name of Schneider in the left column (Iron Cross 2nd Class)

He is also found in the Rangliste of 1881, now a Major and still serving in the 7th Brandenburg Infantry. He has now been awarded the Dienstauszeichnung für Offiziere (Meritous Service award for officers). In 1889 he seems to have been transfered to another unit. In this year the lists have him as Major in the “1. Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 31″By then he had also been awarded the Knights Cross 2nd Class of the Royal Hannovarian Order of Ernst-August (Ritterkreuz des königlich Hannoveranischen Ernst August Ordens 2. Klasse). Quite interesting as the Kingdom of Hannover didn’t even exist anymore but its King (living in Exile) continued to hand out awards.

So far I have not been able to trace him in any earlier lists, as his father was a Hanoverian officer, it might well be that Georg served in the Hanoverian aswell and only joined the Prussian Army after 1866. Still a bit of work to do here.

The Oberstleutnant a.D. with his impressive wife, 1914

Major Guido von Gillhaußen (1870-1918) – Soldier, Poet, Composer, Visionary

This article was inspired by and is dedicated to Herr Paul Reed (Twitter @sommecourt), who tweeted images of von Gillhaußens Tomb in Berlin a short while ago. I was intrigued what could be found about the man resting below it.

Gillhaussegrab

The tomb on the Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin (With Bundeswehr Honor Guard), after restoration in 2008

Guido Pankratius Hermann von Gillhaußen was born on the knightly estate of Esbach near Coburg (Thuringia) on the 12th of May 1870. His father was Benno von Gillhaußen (a former company commander in Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 13), his mother Helene von Gillhaußen, a born von Witzleben. Let me start with a basic military “curriculum vitae” up to WW1

Orden

Gillhaußen in 1913

After visiting the “Educational Institue for Boys” in Taubold, the Grammar school at Ernestin and the Bensberg Cadet School he joined the army in October 1889.
01/10/1889 Fahnenjunker in Infanterie-Regiment Herwarth von Bittenfeld (1. Westfälisches) Nr. 13 in Münster
14/05/1890 Promotion to Fähnrich
18/01/1891 Promotion to Secondelieutenant
05/06/1900 Promotion to Premierlieutenant
14/09/1900 Inspecting officer in the War Academy in Potsdam
05/06 – 09/07/1901 Infantry shooting school
1902 Garde du Corps
07/04 – 01/07/1903 1. Garde Regiment zu Fuß (1st Regiment of Guards)
16/02/1904 Kaiser Franz Garde Grenadier Regiment Nr. 2
27/01/1905 Military tutor to Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia
01/04 – 13/06/1906 Supervising officer in the Garnisions-Lazarett II (military hospital) Berlin
14/06/1906 Promotion to Hauptmann and Company commander
18/05/1908 Commander of Fortress Küstrin
22/04/1914 Transfered to Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 3

Von Gillhaußen was not only an officer, he also spent a lot of time pursuing the arts. He liked to paint, found the time to study music at the private academy of Gottfried Adolf Stierlin in Münster (Westphalia) and wrote patriotic songs and poems.
Because of a chance meeting in the Harz Mountains on the 16th of July 1912, he is even became friends with Franz Kafka, who mentions Gillhaußen in his “Travel Diaries“.

"Clash of Swords" - Book containing Gillhaußens Poems and Songs, 1918

“Clash of Swords” – Book containing Gillhaußens Poems and Songs, 1918

Gillhaussen’s lasting fame was no result of his artistic works or military skills, it originates from a letter he sent to the Crown Prince of Prussia on the 3rd of August 1914, three days after the declaration of war.

Berlin S.O., 3rd of August 1914
Mariannenplatz 20
What I saw in the night of the 3rd of August 1914, written at 2am.
How will the war progress? It will not be over soon. It won’t be against one enemy only. Many enemies pass my vision and I see Belgium inflicting terrible wounds with boundless savagery. In the west I see France, beaten and raped by England, an England that will become our most significant enemy. I see us fighting in Africa, but it’s white people who try to annihilate us. Italy hurries to side with England, Russia and France. On the Balkans it’s Serbia and Romania. I try to struggle against Romania, but it stays. I can not believe it, but it stays. Russia causes trouble, but it will succumb even if aided by Japan. Just like England is aided by America. I see Roosevelt offering bread and wine to England’s King. He is clapping him on the back and presents the King with money, a powder horn, a dagger and lead bullets. Roosevelt seemed to be our friend!?!
The War will be terrible and will last for many years. More enemies appear in countries all over the world and they hurry to join the war on England’s side. All people of the Earth are swallowed by the war. I see war from North-America to Australia, from Serbia to Japan up to the Cape of Good Hope. England is everywhere. It is hiding in the governments of our enemies and rules brutally and egoistically. All bow to England, there is no exception. Is that possible? Germany is breaking, 1918 will be worst.
It seems the war will end in 1920, or is it a ceasefire only? It seems like it. How long will it last? Will the Kaiser live to see 1921?
I see the Kaiser, wearing his crown and ermine cape, sawing off the legs of his throne. His ermine cape looses color, it turns grey and slowly crumbles into dust. His crown shrinks, gets smaller up until the Kaiser himself melts away.
It seems to me as if England receives its death thrust in Egypt and India. Germany is terribly weakened and it will take 30 years until it recovers. Russia awakens and fights America for the possession of the future. God be with us!
Guido von Gillhaußen
Hauptmann, 6. Kompanie, 3. Garde-Grenadier-Regiment

The letter was sealed and handed over to Prince Frederic William of Prussia who opened it in autumn 1915 and then sent it back to Gillhaußen. After Gillhaußens death the letter was rediscovered by the executor of his last will and testament.
In May Gillhaußens elder brother (Oberst Curt von Gillhaußen) published it for the family. By indiscretion copies of the publication found their way to America where they were published in the late 1918.

Further military service

19/08/1914 Skirmishes at Héron (St. Donat)
23/08/1914 Skirmishes at St. Gerard
29/08/1914 Skirmishes at St. Quentin, Colonfay. Severly wounded by Shrapnel (Head and right shoulder), rifle bullet injures four fingers of the right hand.
30/08 to 03/09/1914  Hospital in Wiège
08/10/1914 Promotion to Major
04/09 to 10/12/1914 Further medical treatment in Aachen
11/12/1914 to 16/06/1915 Military Hospital in Wiesbaden
17/06-02/07/1915 Ambulatory treatment in Berlin
02/07/1915 Transfered back to the Front
03/07/1915 to 31/05/1916 Staff of the Gardekorps
01/06/1916 Commander of the Reserve Batallion of the 3. Garde-Grenadier-Regiment
10/06 to 20/06/1917 Excision of the tonsils, Charité in Berlin
21/06 to 03/07/1917 Ambulatory treatment by Geheimrat Prof. Dr. Kilian in Berlin (nervous debility)
04/07 to 15/08/1917 Health resort in Bad Kolberg (anaemia)
17/09 to 22/09/1917 Training course with Sturmbataillon of 1st Army
15/10 to 18/10/1917 Training course “Army Gas School”, Berlin
04/04/1918 Battalion commander (Fusilier-Batallion) of Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 5

Most of the above information has been collected by Major a.D. von Eberhardt (Association of Officers of the former 3rd Regiment of Guards).

Von Gillhaußen was not lucky. All together he only spent 33 days on the Western Front. In 1914 he had been wounded after only 19 days of service. In 1918 it took only 14 days.

“On the Morning of the 24th of April 1918, he (von Gillhaußen) was leading an attack near Villers-Brétonneux near Amiens. Leading from the Front and setting an example with his courage he was severly wounded at 1030 in the Morning. A large piece of shrapnel from a high explosive shell smashed his left thighbone, smaller pieces hit his right arm and heel. Even worse than that he was suffering from Gas poisoning (Gelbkreuz = Mustard Gas) and there was the danger that the gas had entered his wounds” (1)

After being wounded, 1915

After being wounded, 1914

Another account reads:

“In a stretch of English made trench we find our new Major von Gillhaußen and with him the the other staff officers of the Fusilier-Battalion. At noon we get attacked by English infantry and 8 tanks from the direction of the village of Cachy. Our Major jumps out of the trench, spreads out his arms and bellows “Follow me! 9th company needs our support”. He leads and we follow him. On his breast and round his neck I can see his gleaming medals. Shortly afterwards he goes down, fatally wounded. With him we not only lost a famous Poet, whose song “Wir nahen in Demut. Gott Dir, Du Allmächtiger” (To you we walk humbly, almighty God) our recruits sang after taking their oath, we also lost a real man and a true Prussian guards officer. We loved him for his fairness and his austerity. He loved his fatherland and paid the ultimate price for his love. Loyal unto death, just as it reads in one of his poems. Umbrüllt und dereinstens der Donner der Schlachten und dräuet uns grimmig auch Schrecken und Not: Wir halten den Treueschwur, wills tagen, wills nachten! Ob Sieg oder Sterben: Treu bis zum Tod! (When the Thunder of Battle comes screaming and horror and need awaits us, we will be loyal. In day and at night, in victory and dying. Loyal unto Death! ) (2)”

Telegram reporting Gillhaußens death

Telegram reporting Gillhaußens death

According to von Eberhardt, Gillhaußen was transported to Feldlazarett 16 and from there (on the 28th of April) into the military hospital (Luisenhospital) in Aachen. The mustard gas had indeed infected his wounds, so his left leg had to be amputated. All further treatments were to no avail. Gillhaußen died on the 2nd of May 1918 at 0800 in the morning. His body was brought to Berlin and was buried on the “Invalidenfriedhof“. The highly decorative gravestone survived World War 2 and the construction of the Berlin Wall and was restored by the association “friends of the Invalidenfriedhof” in 2008.
As Gillhaußen was a Knight of the Order of St. John his name is also remembered in the stained windows of the Church of the Holy Mother in Slonsk (Poland), a former Church of the Order of St. John (Window 1, behind the altar).
Gillhaußens medals included:

Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class, Prussian Order of the Red Eagle 4th Class, Prussian Order of the Crown 4th Class, Saxon-Ernestinian House Order (Knights Cross, 1st Class with Swords), Hessian Order of Philip the Magnanimous (Knights Cross 2nd Class), Saxon Arts and Science Medal in Silver, Austrian Order of Franz-Joseph, Romanian Order of the Star, Prussian Order of St. John (Knights Cross), Lippe War Merit Cross for Combatants.

Orden

Sidenotes:

Hauptmann Leo von Gillhaußen (Guidos youngest brother), was killed on the 6th of November 1918 south-west of La Croix-Hautrage by shellfire. He is buried at Hautrage near Mons.

Oberst Curt von Gillhaußen (Guidos elder brother), served as adjutant to His Royal Highness Edward, Duke of Sachse-Coburg and Gotha, survived the war and passed away in 1956.

Guido von Gillhaußen and his brothers

Guido von Gillhaußen, his brothers and their wives

Sources and further reading:

1. Major a. D. von Eberhardt (Schriftleiter der „Mitteilungen des Vereins der Offiziere des ehemaligen 3. Garde Regiments zu Fuß e.V.“) Archiv 3. Garde Regiment z. F.

2. War Diary of Fritz Robert Buschmann,
Mettmann, vom Garde Grenadierregiment  Nr. 5.: Der Heldentod des Majors v. Gillhaußen vom Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 3, in: Das Ehrenbuch der Garde, Die preußische Garde im Weltkriege 1914–1919

Albrecht von Stosch, Oberstleutnant a.D.: Das Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 5 1897 – 1918. Nach amtlichen Kriegtagebüchern und Mitteilungen von Mitkämpfern bearbeitet (1922)

also used various editions of the Rangliste der königlich preussischen Armee

Post scriptum

Should you ever be able to visit Berlin, make sure you take some time to visit the beautiful memorial of the 5th Guard Grenadier Regiment in the Stabholz Garden in Spandau. When war broke out in 1914, the officers and soldiers of the Regiment vowed that they would erect an appropriate monument for the brothers in arms that would be killed in the battles to come.

ggd1 ggd2 ggd3
In May 1922 the monument was unveiled. The bronze statue is called “Die Wacht” (The Guard) and was designed by August Schreitmüller (1871-1958). It shows a soldier armed with a short sword, wearing only a steel helmet and a loincloth and an eagle sitting at his feet. The memorial is dedicated to the 4122 casualties the Regiment suffered during the Great War.

The inscription reads: Seinen im Weltkriege / gefallenen Kameraden / Das Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 5 (To the comrades killed in the Great War)

Gottmituns.net now with own proofreading service. Thanks to the charming Dawn Monks (@DawnMonks) for ironing out inconsistencies and errors. (Follow her on Twitter)

 

Colorized! – Feldwebel Heinrich Gilgenbach, KIA 10th of March 1942

Heinrich Gilgenbach, my Grandmothers eldest brother (born in November 1913), was a professional soldier who had joined the army as a volunteer in 1936, after having learned the traditional family trade of a mason.  I am still working on details pertaining to his death in March 1942, so I will only publish some basic information here.

Heinrich Gilgenbach - another fantastic recolored photograph done by Mr. Nick Stone

Heinrich Gilgenbach – another fantastic recolored photograph done by Mr. Nick Stone

When war broke out in 1939, Heinrich was serving in the rank of an Unteroffizier in Reserve Pionier-Battalion 34, acting as instructor to future pioneers. He saw a very short-term of active service in 1940, having been transferred to a bridgelayer company of Pionier-Battalion 179, he took part in building provisional bridges near Moncel and Chatel (17th and 21st of June). When the unit became part of the occupational contingent in France Heinrich was transferred back to germany, where he once again returned to his old job of training pioneer recruits.
Heinrich was not well liked. Neither within the village where he was born in (he was said to be a womanizer), nor in the army unit he served in. He was a through professional, he was strict, tough and unforgiving to the recruits. From what my grandmother and some of the old people of his home village told me he seemed to have a big problem with the fact that he had only seen so little actual fighting. He wanted to be at the front, a wish that was constantly getting denied by his superiors.
In January 1942, Heinrichs dream became true when he received the order to join Pionier-Battalion 291, serving as part of the elite 291. Infanterie-Division (also known as “Elch-Division“, Elch=Moose) which was operating with Army Group North in the vicinity of Leningrad in the Battle of the Volkhov Pocket.  There he was to take command of a platoon, so shortly after arriving at the front he was promoted to the rank of Feldwebel.

On the 10th of March 1942, Heinrichs platoon, operating as common line infantry, was ordered to clear a part of the dense birch forests around Krasnaya-Gorka from one of many small pockets of soviet stragglers which were keeping up resistance, ambushing german patrols and supply trucks and raiding german dressing stations,  after their parent units had been destroyed.

It was during this operation that Heinrich was hit by the fatal bullet. According to the letter sent to his wife he stayed alive long enough to tell his comrades how much he loved to be a soldier and to mutter his farewell wishes to his wife and daughter (the usual text found inside these death messages). He was buried on the Divisional graveyard at Glubotschka.

After WW2 the graveyard was lost. In 2011 it was relocated and a team of German and Russian soldiers working for the German War Graves commission exhumed the bodies. Sadly the cemetery had already been plundered by Russian grave robbers. Only 7 ID tags were found. Heinrichs remains could not be identified.

Thanks again to Nick Stone (@typejunky) for the great work.

Below some photographs taken by Georg Gundlach (291. Divisions Chronicler, died in 2010) during the Volkhov Battles in 1942.

291Arse2VolchovPocket1942-041 291Arse2VolchovPocket1942-042 291ArseVolchovPocket1942-039 291CapturedSiberiansoldiersVolchovPocket1942-146 291deadVolchovPocket1942-159 291DressingIII506VolchovPocket1942-139 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-113 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-128 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-152 291VolchovPocket1942-013 291VolchovPocket1942-020 291VolchovPocket1942-021 291VolchovPocket1942-022 291VolchovPocket1942-024 291VolchovPocket1942-049 291VolchovPocket1942-050 291VolchovPocket1942-051 291VolchovPocket1942-054 291VolchovPocket1942-055 291VolchovPocket1942-056 291VolchovPocket1942-077 291VolchovPocket1942-078 291VolchovPocket1942-079 291VolchovPocket1942-102 291VolchovPocket1942-105 291VolchovPocket1942-107 291VolchovPocket1942-109 291VolchovPocket1942-122 291VolchovPocket1942-142 291VolchovPocket1942-148 291VolchovPocket1942-269 291VolchovPocket1942-271 291VolchovPocket1942-286 291Volchow1942VolchovPocket1942-0129 291WeyelVolchovPocket1942-086