Peterborough during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Peterborough, Ontario during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Stunning Photo: German Soldiers during the Kaiserschlacht, May 1918

Click to Enlarge Photograph

German Post Card, 1918

                                                                                  "Sappe Stellung Chemin des Dames Jetzt ist die Stellung
                                                                         im Besitze der Franzosen." Trans.  Trench position Chemin des Dames. 
                                                                                                     Now Trench is occupied by the French.

                                                                                                             Credit: Flickr, Drakegoodman

The picture was taken during the German Kaiserschlacht Offensive of Spring 1918. The offensive was the last great German roll of the dice to secure a military victory on the Western Front. German High Command knew the stakes were high; they faced the inevitable French and British summer offensives, and they would soon face the newly arrived American Expeditionary Force. The offensive lasted from March to July 1918 and captured large swaths of territory but were unable to secure a lasting victory.

What the picture tells us:  

The corpse on the firestep is wearing a British uniform. The German soldiers are walking in recently dug reserve  trench. The walls of the trench are not reinforced, the prados are poorly constructed, and the position lacks dugouts. The muddy footprints above the trenches indicate that the assaulting party traversed the line, seeking out any remaining 'tommies.' Finally, the spent bullet casings found on the top of the firestep,  unexploded grenades in the trench, and the discarded ammunition boxes in the far right  are evidence of the ferocious struggle that took place to capture this trench.  

The photograph shows war in all its reality.  Men splayed out in undignified poses, lying where they died. Rifles and equipment scattered across the field. After the shooting ends, the looting begins. Speaking to a veteran of the Normandy Campaign, I was informed that many Allied soldiers were motivated to kill for wedding bands and French Francs. In this photo, the two German soldiers are robbing from the dead, taking British boots and socks, and one soldier is wearing a British sargent's overcoat.

Last words belong to Ernst Jünger, a German officer that participated in the offensive. During a lull in the fighting, he explored a British Dugout that his men had recently captured. 

         "There was a whole crate of eggs, which we sucked on the spot, as eggs were little more than a word to us at this stage. On shelves along the walls were stacks of canned meat, tins of delicious English jam, and bottle of Camp coffee, tomatoes and onions . . . It was a scene I often came back to later, when we lay for weeks in trenches, on meagre bread rations, watery soup and thin nondescript jam (243)."

During Jünger's advance on Vraucolurt, he stole British soldier's overcoat, similar to the blokes in the photograph. Unfortunately for Jünger, his stolen coat would prove to be costly. He was shot in the chest wearing the British coat by one of his own men.

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