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Unquiet Fronts

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Unquiet Fronts
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Anonymous & Feldwebel C——
Date Published: 2013/07
Page Count: 272
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-173-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-172-4

A German Deserter’s War Experience
by Anonymous

The Diary of a German Soldier
By Feldwebel C——
The Great War by two soldiers who wore field grey

English translations of first hand accounts by ordinary German soldiers of the First World War are comparatively scarce, so the two accounts in this special Leonaur ‘two-in-one’ volume will be particularly welcomed by students of the subject. Both narratives were written during war, so they offer a frank, disturbing and starkly candid view of the Imperial German Army both on campaign and on the field of battle in the opening and middle phases of the war. The first account, written by a sapper, concerns the invasion of Belgium and follows the writer through street fighting to the crossing of the Meuse. The author fought during the Battle of the Marne, and in the subsequent retreat, before being transferred to serve on the Argonne front. The conflict at Vauquois features prominently. The author later deserted which predictably influences the tone of the writing.The second narrative was written by an infantry Feldwebel of the 88th regiment serving in the 21st Division, 18th Army Corps. This is an account of hard campaigning at the sharp end of war. The author was involved in many significant and hard fought engagements including the Battle of the Marne and the march into France; a transfer to fight on the Galician front was followed by a return to the Western Front to for the Battle of Champagne and finally to the carnage of Verdun where the author was seriously wounded.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Towards midnight we reached the German line which was trying to get possession of a village which was already within the fortifications of Liège, and was obstinately defended by the Belgians. Here we had to employ all our forces to wrench from our opponent house after house, street after street. It was not yet completely dark so that we had to go through that terrible struggle which developed with all our senses awake and receptive. It was a hand to hand fight; every kind of weapon had to be employed; the opponent was attacked with the butt-end of the rifle, the knife, the fist, and the teeth. One of my best friends fought with a gigantic Belgian; both had lost their rifle. They were pummelling each other with their fists. I had just finished with a Belgian who was about twenty-two years of age, and was going to assist my friend, as the Herculean Belgian was so much stronger than he. Suddenly my friend succeeded with a lightning motion in biting the Belgian in the chin. He bit so deeply that he tore away a piece of flesh with his teeth. The pain the Belgian felt must have been immense, for he let go his hold and ran off screaming with terrible pain.<br>
All that happened in seconds. The blood of the Belgian ran out of my friend’s mouth; he was seized by a horrible nausea, an indescribable terror, the taste of the warm blood nearly drove him insane. That young, gay, lively fellow of twenty-four had been cheated out of his youth in that night. He used to be the jolliest among us; after that we could never induce him even to smile.<br>
Whilst fighting during the night I came for the first time in touch with the butt-end of a Belgian rifle. I had a hand to hand fight with a Belgian when another one from behind hit me with his rifle on the head with such force that it drove my head into the helmet up to my ears. I experienced a terrific pain all over my head, doubled up, and lost consciousness. When I revived I found myself with a bandaged head in a barn among other wounded.<br>
I had not been severely wounded, but I felt as if my head was double its normal size, and there was a noise in my ears as of the wheels of an express engine.<br>
The other wounded and the soldiers of the ambulance corps said that the Belgians had been pushed back to the fortress; we heard, however, that severe fighting was still going on. Wounded soldiers were being brought in continuously, and they told us that the Germans had already taken in the first assault several fortifications like outer-forts, but that they had not been able to maintain themselves because they had not been sufficiently provided with artillery. The defended places and works inside the forts were still practically completely intact, and so were their garrisons. The forts were not yet ripe for assault, so that the Germans had to retreat with downright enormous losses. The various reports were contradictory, and it was impossible to get a clear idea of what was happening.<br>
Meanwhile the artillery had begun to bombard the fortress, and even the German soldiers were terror-stricken at that bombardment. The heaviest artillery was brought into action against the modern forts of concrete. Up to that time no soldier had been aware of the existence of the 42-centimetre mortars. Even when Liège had fallen into German hands we soldiers could not explain to ourselves how it was possible that those enormous fortifications, constructed partly of reinforced concrete of a thickness of one to six meters, could be turned into a heap of rubbish after only a few hours’ bombardment. Having been wounded, I could of course not take part in those operations, but my comrades told me later on how the various forts were taken. Guns of all sizes were turned on the forts, but it was the 21- and 42-centimetre mortars that really did the work.<br>
>From afar one could hear already the approach of the 42-centimetre shell. The shell bored its way through the air with an uncanny, rushing and hissing sound that was like a long shrill whistling filling the whole atmosphere for seconds. Where it struck everything was destroyed within a radius of several hundred yards. Later I have often gazed in wonderment at those hecatombs which the 42-centimetre mortar erected for itself on all its journeys. The enormous air pressure caused by the bursting of its shells made it even difficult for us Germans in the most advanced positions to breathe for several seconds. To complete the infernal row the Zeppelins appeared at night in order to take part in the work of destruction. Suddenly the soldiers would hear above their heads the whirring of the propellers and the noise of the motors, well-known to most Germans.<br>
The Zeppelins came nearer and nearer, but not until they were in the immediate neighbourhood of the forts were they discovered by our opponents, who immediately brought all available searchlights into play in order to search the sky for the dreaded flying enemies. The whirring of the propellers of the airships which had been distributed for work on the various forts suddenly ceased. Then, right up in the air, a blinding light appeared, the searchlight of the Zeppelin, which lit up the country beneath it for a short time. Just as suddenly it became dark and quiet until a few minutes later, powerful detonations brought the news that the Zeppelin had dropped its “ballast.” That continued for quite a while, explosion followed explosion, interrupted only by small fiery clouds, shrapnel which the Belgian artillery sent up to the airships, exploding in the air. Then the whirring of the propellers began again, first loud and coming from near, from right above our heads, then softer and softer until the immense ship of the air had entirely disappeared from our view and hearing.<br>
Thus the forts were made level with the ground; thousands of Belgians were lying dead and buried behind and beneath the ramparts and fortifications. General assault followed. Liège was in the hands of the Germans.<br>
I was with the ambulance column until the 9th of August and by that time had been restored sufficiently to rejoin my section of the army. After searching for hours I found my company camping in a field. I missed many a good friend; my section had lost sixty-five men, dead and wounded, though it had not taken part in the pursuit of the enemy.<br>
We had been attached to the newly-formed 18th Reserve Army Corps (Hessians) and belonged to the Fourth Army which was under the command of Duke Albrecht of Wurttemberg. Where that army, which had not yet been formed, was to operate was quite unknown to us private soldiers. We had but to follow to the place where the herd was to be slaughtered; what did it matter where that would be? On the 11th of August we began to march and covered 25-45 miles every day. We learned later on that we always kept close to the Luxemburg frontier so as to cross it immediately should necessity arise. Had it not been so oppressively hot we should have been quite content, for we enjoyed several days of rest which braced us up again.<br>
On the 21st of August we came in contact with the first German troops belonging to the Fourth Army, about 15 miles to the east of the Belgian town of Neufchateau. The Battle of Neufchateau, which lasted from the 22nd to the 24th of August, had already begun. A French army here met with the Fourth German Army, and a murderous slaughter began. As is always the case it commenced with small skirmishes of advance guards and patrols; little after little ever-growing masses of soldiers took part and when, in the evening of the 22nd of August, we were led into the firing line, the battle had already developed to one of the most murderous of the world war. When we arrived the French were still in possession of nearly three-quarters of the town. The artillery had set fire to the greatest part of Neufchateau, and only the splendid villas in the western part of the town escaped destruction for the time being. The street fighting lasted the whole night.<br>
It was only towards noon of the 23rd of August, when the town was in the hands of the Germans, that one could see the enormous losses that both sides had suffered. The dwelling-places, the cellars, the roads and side-walks were thickly covered with dead and horribly wounded soldiers; the houses were ruins, gutted, empty shells in which scarcely anything of real value had remained whole. Thousands had been made beggars in a night full of horrors. Women and children, soldiers and citizens were lying just where death had struck them down, mixed together just as the merciless shrapnel and shells had sent them out of life into the darkness beyond. There had been real impartiality. There lay a German soldier next to a white-haired French woman, a little Belgian stripling whom fear had driven out of the house into the street, lay huddled up against the “enemy,” a German soldier, who might have been protection and safety for him.<br>
Had we not been shooting and stabbing, murdering and clubbing as much and as vigorously as we could the whole night? And yet there was scarcely one amongst us who did not shed tears of grief and emotion at the spectacles presenting themselves. There was for instance a man whose age it was difficult to discover; he was lying dead before a burning house. Both his legs had been burnt up to the knees by the fire falling down upon him. The wife and daughter of the dead man were clinging to him, and were sobbing so piteously that one simply could not bear it. Many, many of the dead had been burnt entirely or partly; the cattle were burning in their stables, and the wild bellowing of those animals fighting against death by fire, intermingled with the crying, the moaning, the groaning and the shrieking of the wounded. But who had the time now to bother about that?