History of the West

Central European History from Antiquity to the 20th Century

The Schlieffen Plan and German War Guilt

In the grey area between historical military analysis and political and historical exegesis, one is frequently confronted with the somewhat dubious thesis, that the existence of Germany’s war plan – created in 1905 by then Chief Of Staff Field Marshal Schlieffen and executed in August 1914 under the direction by the Younger Moltke – proves the aggressive character of German policy and therefore constitutes the “prima facie” evidence of German War Guilt – as notarized in the famous Section 231 of the Treaty of Versailles and, most likely, one of the reasons for the Second War.

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, John C. Johansen (1876–1964) [Wikipedia Commons]

This post shall not discuss the thirty years of diplomatic tomfoolery that preceded the outbreak of the war in 1914 – these are thoroughly documented in Luigi Albertini’s seminal work “The Origins of the War of 1914“, summarized in the chapters XIII to XVII of the author’s own “The Little Drummer Boy” and their major implications may be reviewed in the author’s article “The Road to War – European Imperialism 1878 – 1914” (including links).

The history of the Schlieffen Plan of 1905 and an introduction into the only recently discovered original documents for Moltke’s Plan of 1914 are provided in the posts “Heretics of the Schlieffen Plan” and “The Real German War Plan of 1914“.

Schlieffen 1906

The question at hand is the thesis – or proposition – that the existence of the plan proves war guilt, i.e., that preparations for war are (1) inherently a sign of aggressive, and therefore criminal intentions, and that (2) Germany, as proven by the plan, is guilty of the charge as stated.

This case has not only recently been made, a.o., by Annika Mombauer and has come up again in the recent discussion of the Schlieffen Plan, which was instigated by the articles of Terence Zuber from 1999 on, which disputed the traditional interpretation of the matter and are introduced in the author’s articles above.

As the attentive reader of the above-mentioned articles will have recognized, there is blame for the outbreak of the war easily found in both camps and all the participants, but what was the factual, respectively historical situation in 1914? If the charge were true, the following conditions had to apply:

(1) Germany had an aggressive war plan, planning to attack, defeat and possibly conquer its enemies, and other nations had no such plans.

(2) Germany did in fact prepare for war, and subsequently mobilized, unprovoked and in an aggressive manner and

(3) Germany did in fact attack other countries first, therefore compelling them to defence and subsequent counterattack.

Terence Zuber, as the creator of the brouhaha, has come – not surprisingly – under a concerted attack by the guardians of the historical truth and has attempted, in an abstract from 2014, to summarize his critique, and therein discusses the case of the Schlieffen Plan as being used as evidence of war guilt. It is presented here as a PDF file, the original is on his website.

Even in elementary analysis, the claim of a war plan being exemplary evidence of aggressive, indeed criminal intentions – thus constituting a case of war guilt – appears asinine when confronted with the basic facts of the plan at hand.

Condition One

(A) After the end of Bismarck’s Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, France and Russia entered – since the mid-1890s – into a Military Convention, i.e., a formal military, if not a political treaty, with the express intent of attacking Germany (and Austria) – under given circumstances – with certain numbers of troops in a given time. See the post “The Entente Cordiale“. Subsequently, France developed its own – aggressive military plans against Germany, of which Number 17 (Plan XVII) was in effect in 1914. It envisioned a classic two-pronged attack into the Lorraine on both sides of Metz.

More interesting is a look at the state of the existing strongholds of 1914, for it allows to reiterate the basic assumptions behind the strategy.

It is obvious that France, hoping, naturally for the best outcome of its attack as per Plan XVII in the Lorraine, was aware of the possibility of a German attack through Belgium, along the line of the fortresses Liège, Namur and Maubeuge. Various provisions in Plan XVII allowed for the shifting of the French 5th Army (and possibly more troops) to the north to defend against such an eventuality.

The respective Russian plan in 1914 was called Plan 19 and envisioned separate deployments against Germany – with two armies – and Austria-Hungary – with another two armies, with the Fifth Army to be deployed where it was to be most useful – in the event itself in the south, near Kowel and Lublin. Both army groups were to attack the respective enemy on his own ground.

Condition Two: Mobilization

There is much confusion over the actual dates and proceedings as far as the actual orders of mobilization in the belligerents are concerned, although the study of the respective documents in Albertini [Albertini, Luigi, The Origins of the War of 1914, 1st Ed. Oxford 1952, 3 Vols., Enigma Books 2005, ISBN 1-292631-26-X] and especially the recent work of Sean McMeekin [McMeekin, Sean, The Russian Origins of the First World War, Belknap Press Harvard 2011, ISBN 978-0-674-06210-8] allows a close approximation.

All parties – Russia, Germany, France and Austria had plans for preparative military measures short of actual mobilization. Hence, in Russia, the following occurred in the night between July 24 and 25, 1914, when the war department, the foreign department and the Tsar kicked around some unimplemented, plain impossible, and all together dangerous ideas about how to react to the Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia:

Strangely enough, the story goes that Sazonov [the Foreign Minister] was alerted of the Austrian ultimatum around 9 p.m. on the evening of July 23, at Tsarskoe Selo 36 not via Strandmann, his man in Belgrade, nor via Spalaikovic, the Serbian ambassador at St. Petersburg, but via Marquis Carlotti, the Italian envoy, who had allegedly alerted a lower-level Russian diplomat at Chorister’s Bridge, who in turn sent a cable to Sazonov at Tsarskoe Selo. (159) Yet the Foreign Minister did not return to the capital until 10 a.m. or so on the 24th, but, reportedly, exclaimed immediately after only cursory examination of the Austrian note, “C’est la guerre européenne!” (160)

He then proceeded to receive the Austrian Ambassador Count Szapary, who officially delivered the Austrian
notification to the Russian government of the note to Serbia plus a few other documents and informed Sazonov that a
dossier with evidence of Serbian guilt would be forwarded to the ministry soon. 37 A few hours later, Sazonov received a
telegram from the Serbian Prince-Regent, Alexandar, directed to the Tsar, in which he indicated Serbia’s preparedness to
submit to those parts of the Austrian démarche “whose acceptance shall be advised by Your Majesty.” (161) Hence the burden was squarely put on Sazonov’s shoulders, who immediately, that is about 11 a.m., met with the Chief of the General Staff Yanushkevich, whom he advised to make “all arrangements for putting the army on a war footing”; it might become necessary to “proclaim only partial mobilization against Austria-Hungary,” in which case Yanushkevich was to take care that “nothing must give Germany occasion to perceive in it any hostile intentions against herself.” (162)


There was a problem. No such plan existed.

As Sean McMeekin points out, the order as well the concept underlying it was – quoting General Dobrorolski, the Chief of the Army’s Mobilization Section – a “folly”: “impossible both in the general sense, in that [the Russian Mobilization] Plan 19 required mobilization against Germany and Austria simultaneously with no variant separating the two, and in the
more specific sense that it was physically impossible to mobilize against the Austrian border without extensively using the Warsaw railway hub, which would inevitably alarm the Germans.” (163)
Originally, the plan to mobilize against Austria only but not Germany had been an idea of War Minister
Sukhomlinov that had been kicked around during the Council of Ministers’ meeting of November 23, 1912 – during the First Balkan War – when it had almost been attempted, as far as a non-existent plan could have been implemented. The problem
on this July 24, however, was that Yanushkevich – promoted to Chief of Staff only five months earlier, unfamiliar with the
mobilization plan and hence a disaster waiting to happen – had already promised Sazonov that the imaginary option was indeed viable and would be implemented forthwith.

As Luigi Albertini has pointed out, the absurdity to insist on a non-existing mobilization plan, which to implement
immediately Yanushkevich ordered Dobrorolski despite the latter’s protestations around noon of July 24, was to have the
most lethal consequences. “Had Yanushkevich from the beginning warned Sazonov of the mistake he would be making in proclaiming partial mobilization, Sazonov would never have got the Council of Ministers on 24 July and the Tsar on 25 July to approve it in principle, nor would he have proclaimed it on the evening of 28 July with incalculable consequences. If he had been asked to choose between no mobilization and general mobilization against the Central Powers, Sazonov would have hesitated to plunge headlong into the venture, whereas, believing he could threaten Austria without provoking Germany, he found out too late that this could not be done.” (164)

Yet since Yanushkevich was eager to please but unprepared to admit his lack of knowledge of the true
mobilization plan, the catastrophe ran its course. [FN2] At the emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers that convened at 3 p.m. of the same day, the following resolutions were approved, and signed into law by Tsar Nicholas II on the next morning, July 25 (165):

That (1) Austria would be asked to extend the 48-hour deadline, (2) that Serbia pull back her army into the inner
country without attempting to resist an eventual Austrian invasion, (3) to inaugurate the “Period Preparatory to War” [FN3] in the military districts of Kiev, Moscow, Odessa and Kazan, (4) to authorize the War Minister “without delay to speed up the stockpiling of war materials for the army”, (166) and (5) the Finance Minister to immediately retransfer liquid Russian assets in Germany and Austria-Hungary to the Russian Central Bank.

Thus, only twenty-two hours after the presentation of the Austrian note in Belgrade, Sazonov had his arrangements
approved and, save for a miracle, committed Russia, France and – most likely – Great Britain to war; given the flanking
measures, it seems likely that he did so in full awareness of the consequences.


[FN2] There is some disagreement over Sazonov’s cognizance of the implications of his scheme. L.C.F. Turner believed that Sazonov “did not understand that a partial mobilization involving thirteen Russian army corps along her northern border would compel Austria to order general mobilization, which in turn would invoke the Austro-German alliance and require general mobilization by Germany.” (168) Sean McMeekin, however, points out that “there is good reason to believe that Sazonov himself knew perfectly well what he was doing when he proposed Sukhomlinov’s “partial mobilization” plan to the government – that is, that he was knowingly plunging Russia into war. Sazonov, after all, had been present [unlike Yanushkevich] at the emergency ministerial council held at Tsarskoe Selo on 23 November 1912, when [Prime Minister and] Chairman Kokovtsov had warned everyone that the “partial mobilization” plan, by forcing Austria to order general mobilization, could not but lead to a European war. As Kokovtsov had concluded his winning argument, then, ‘no matter what we chose to call the projected measures, a mobilization remained a mobilization, to be countered by our adversaries with actual war.Emphasis in Original But this July 24 was the day after which the French President and Prime Minister had just left St. Petersburg – in the wake of the summit – and it is unlikely that the Austrian ultimatum of which, we know, Sazonov was warned as early as the 16th, or at least its eventuality had not been discussed at this meeting and a strategy developed how to respond to it. If nothing else, probability speaks for the theory that Sazonov had indeed asked for, and received, a “Blank Cheque” of his own, drawn on the Bank of Paris.

[FN3] The “Period Preparatory to War” meant “the period of diplomatic complications preceding the opening of hostilities, in the course of which all Boards must take the necessary measures of preparation for security and success at the Mobilization of the Army, the Fleet, and the Fortresses, as well as for the march of the Army to the threatened frontier.” The military commission upon whose work the official “Regulation Concerning the Period Preparatory to War” was based, had explained that ‘it will be advantageous to complete concentration without beginning hostilities, in order not to deprive the enemy irrevocably of the hope that war can still be avoided. Our measures for this must be masked by clever diplomatic negotiations, in order to lull to sleep as much as possible the enemy’s fears.” Emphases in original

Whatever the Russian intentions, German travellers notified Berlin as soon as the afternoon of July 26 about a suspicious increase in Russian railway traffic and military movements in the western military districts. How did Berlin react?

Around 7 p.m. Sazonov received the German Ambassador Count Pourtales, whom Bethmann Hollweg had already on the 22nd instructed to express “the view that the present question is purely a matter for settlement between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and that to confine it to the parties directly concerned must be the earnest endeavour of the Powers. We urgently desire the localization of the conflict, because any intervention by another Power might in consequence of the various alliances bring incalculable consequences in its train.” (171)
How the German Chancellor could hope to get away with this impertinence remains a mystery – in essence, he demanded liberty for Austria to beat Serbia to a pulp, yet warned everybody that Germany would be on Austria’s side should anyone complain. Luigi Albertini rested on this utter and undisputed blunder the following indictment of the German government:

Let us … turn our attention to the fact that Germany demanded a free hand for Austria against her small Slav
neighbour under threat otherwise of going to the help of her ally. This thesis was summarized in the expression “localization of the conflict” which has remained notorious….
Let us pause a moment to analyse this thesis, bearing in mind that it formed the basis of German diplomatic action from 24 July onward and that the European conflagration broke out precisely because at the opportune moment the German Government refused to renounce it, and in order to ensure its success, urged the Austrian Government to make haste and declare war on Serbia.
“Localization of the conflict” meant that: 1. no one else was to have a say in the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia (not that this would have been possible in the brief time limit set for the reply), [and] 2. unless Belgrade played the dirty trick on Austria of submitting for the time being to all her demands, the invasion of Serbia would take place, and if it took place no one was to interfere on pain of war.
It is sufficient to define the terms of this injunction to measure the immensity of the miscalculation it contained. It was universally admitted that Russia, for reasons of kinship and because of her own designs on Constantinople and the Straits, had a special interest in the autonomy and evolution of the small Balkan States. The history of Europe in the previous half-century was shot through and through with disputes between Russia and Austria over their rival claims for hegemony in the Balkans. War had been just round the corner in 1908-9 and 1912-13 over the struggle between Austria and Serbia in which Russia had always taken
her stand with Serbia. And now the rulers in Berlin thrust themselves forward and thought they could solve the knotty problem once and for all by confronting Russia, her ally France, her all-but-ally England and indirectly Italy as well, with a blustering “aut-aut” – the misguided notion that they would all bow to the German fiat. But this was
tantamount to willing war, the war of which, when it did break out, they declared that their hands were clean.
We have in fact already seen that they were prepared to have a war, while at the same time thinking it on the whole improbable and counting above all on England’s standing aside and letting them have an easy victory. The reasoning was absurd, almost unbelievable, all the more as the German rulers were on the point of violating Belgian neutrality to make a speedy end of France. (172)


Yet the mutual Russian and German diplomatic imbecilities had not yet reached the German military, which remained on a peace footing for the time being, while Russia was, in actuality, already preparing for war. For the time being, at least. But what did Sazonov suspect?

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Sazonov informed Pourtales that Russia considered Austria’s accusations of Serbia as groundless and that he thought she was only seeking a pretext to “swallow” the smaller country. “In that case, however,” Sazonov blurted out, “Russia will go to war with Austria.” (173) Pourtales replied — quite truthfully, as far as we know, that…

“… in the most extreme case it would only be a matter of an Austrian punitive expedition against Serbia and that Austria was far from contemplating territorial acquisitions. At this M. Sazonov shook his head incredulously and spoke of far-reaching plans of Austria’s. First Serbia was to be devoured, then it would be Bulgaria’s turn and then ‘we shall have them at the Black Sea’. I answered that such fantastic exaggerations
did not seem to me worthy of serious discussion.” (174)


Did Pourtales have a hearing problem? What he reported to Berlin from this communication was his opinion that …

“that Russia will not take up arms except in the case that Austria were to want to make territorial acquisitions at Serbia’s expense. Even the wish for a Europeanization of the question seems to indicate that an immediate Russian intervention is not to be anticipated.” (175) 42


Pourtales’ report was thus a quite erroneous and tragically optimistic assessment in the light that Sazonov had already ordered preparative measures for Russia’s mobilization. The country’s inner situation may have contributed to the idea that the immediacy of war and an ensuing wave of patriotic fervour would disengage the people’s attention from the extensive
strikes momentarily petrifying St. Petersburg – thus providing “a desperate way of escape from domestic difficulties.” (176)
On the next morning, Saturday, July 25, the Council of Ministers met again, in the presence of the Tsar, Grand Duke Nicholas, prospective C-in-C of the Russian forces, and General Yanushkevich. The measures agreed upon the previous day were formally enacted, and Sazonov informed the attentive luminaries of Germany’s far-reaching designs. Austria he deemed but a “stalking horse for a malevolent German policy,” whose “ultimate objectives,” however, “beyond the acquisition of ‘hegemony in the Near East,'” remained, alas, “unclear”. (177)
If we subscribe to the view that Bethmann Hollweg and Jagow viewed Sazonov’s handling of the Sarajevo crisis as a litmus test for Russia’s peaceful or warlike intentions, we must note that the difference between the German option of “accepting a war, should Russia choose to start one”, (178) which could not – and was not – used to justify pre-emptive military preparations against Russia (before the latter began her general mobilization) and the Russian measures enacted on July 25 was exactly that the latter, explicitly effected policies that were “proactive in nature, did not arise from a direct
threat to Russia, and were highly likely (if not certain) to further escalate the crisis.” (179) Did Berlin understand Russia threatened war? And what exactly were these Russian measures? Following the Council of Ministers, the Russian General Staff held its own meeting, late on July 25, resolving that…

… not only Moscow but also St. Petersburg, a city nearly a thousand miles from the Austro-Hungarian border (and still farther from Serbia) was placed under martial law. Everywhere in Russia, training manoeuvres were broken off and troops recalled to quarters. Cadets enrolled in Russia’s military academies were immediately promoted officers, thus not only filling gaps in the army’s command structure with new subalterns but also “freeing for active service in the field many mature officers who had hitherto been detailed on educational work.”
Yanushkevitch emphasized that all of these tasks should be carried out “energetically” and stipulated crucially that, if necessary, mobilization officers “would be permitted … to overstep the boundaries laid down in the ‘Period Preparatory to War’ regulations.” Taking the hint, General Dobrorolski had already wired Zhilinsky in Warsaw, instructing him to recall all troops in his districts to quarters. At 1 am the night of 25-26 July, the Warsaw district (that is, Russian Poland) was placed under martial law.
Later that night – at 3:26 am – Yanushkevitch wired Warsaw that the morrow (26 July 1914) would mark “the beginning of the ‘Period Preparatory to War’ in the entire region of European Russia,” covering all six of the main military districts – Warsaw, Vilna (Vilnius, i.e., the Baltic area), Kazan, Kiev, Moscow, and Odessa. What this meant in practice was that “all fortresses in the Warsaw, Vilna, and St. Petersburg districts were placed ‘in a state of war,’ frontier guards were brought up to strength and the frontier posts were fully manned, censorship and security measures were tightened, harbours were mined, horses and wagons were assembled
for army baggage trains, depots were prepared for the reception of reservists, and all steps were taken to
facilitate the impending mobilization.”
The Period Preparatory to War inaugurated on 26 July further allowed for the “call-up of the three youngest classes of reserves in areas threatened by enemy action,” including, significantly, Russian Poland west of the Vistula. Expanding the net of Russia’s “intended partial mobilization” still further, on 27 July 1914 Yanushkevitch wired Tiflis command that the Period Preparatory to War was now also in force for the military districts of Omsk, Irkutsk, Turkestan, and the Caucasus.

Russia may have begun mobilizing in Omsk and Tiflis even earlier than this, as Norman Stone, drawing on Austrian sources, concluded: “There is also certain evidence to suggest that the Russians began to mobilize considerably earlier than they made out: at a comparably early stage in the Lemberg campaign, Austro-Hungarian units took prisoners from Siberian and Caucasus units, which could scarcely, in view of Russia’s great transportation problems, have reached the West if mobilized only at the end of July.”

Manfred Rauchensteiner, a leading Austrian historian of the eastern front, went still further than this, arguing that the unexpected speed of Russia’s mobilization against Austrian Galicia in August 1914 suggests that “the Russians began mobilizing towards the beginning of July and systematically prepared for war.” An early, secret mobilization of this kind was entirely consistent with the understanding of the Period Preparatory to War by the members of Russia’s General Staff – and by Tsar Nicholas II. (182)


The partial mobilization of Austria-Hungary against Serbia was more or less expected to be ordered following the Ultimatum and was published on July 26. Latest at that point Berlin should have either made up its mind or started some diplomatic initiatives to stop the war, for the situation became rapidly clear:

At any rate, the Journal of the Russian General Staff Committee reported in its June 25 edition that “according to
information received, certain preparatory measures for mobilization were being taken in Austria-Hungary and Italy. Therefore, H.M. the Tsar has been graciously pleased to confirm the order of the Council of Ministers that in the night of 25/26 July the pre-mobilization period shall begin.” (185) Whatever hopes on the secrecy of the measures the Russian staff may have hedged were, however, in vain, for already on 3:25 pm on the 26th, the German military attaché in St. Petersburg, Major Eggeling, wired to Berlin that “mobilization had been ordered in Kiev and Odessa.” Habsburg consuls in Kiev, Moscow, and Odessa sent in reports of Russian mobilization measures on 27 July 1914.”(186)

In some way the Russians were in a dilemma – exactly because everything went slower and took much longer due to the lack of infrastructure, their mobilization had to start as early as possible, and there remains a debate whether or not, as in other countries, the order of mobilization necessarily comprised – once the units had arrived at the frontier – the
order to open hostilities according to whichever plan was momentarily in force. Yet in the strategic aspect, the acute Serbian crisis delivered the suitable inception scenario – result of the Balkanization of the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1913 — to provide Russia with “the optimal casus belli,” (187) and it was thus only logical for Sazonov to instruct Belgrade “not to accept a British offer of mediation,” should one be received. (188) One must keep in mind that St. Petersburg – different from the other parties – saw the Serbian crisis necessarily in the context how it could best be exploited to serve the overriding strategic issue, that is, Constantinople and the Straits; the Serbian affair, even the European war – which, for her vastness alone, Russia believed she could not truly lose – were only a theatre secondary to the true battleground. General Dobrorolski put it in simple terms by observing that, after the Council of Minister meetings of July 24 and 25, “the war was already a decided thing, and all the flood of telegrams between the governments of Russia and Germany were nothing but the staging for an historical drama.” (189) 44


Naturally, the further history of the mutual mobilizations was clouded under a lot of deliberate obfuscation in the various White books the belligerents subsequently published and Luigi Albertini had to write a whole chapter on “THE LEGEND THAT THE AUSTRIAN GENERAL MOBILIZATION PRECEDED THAT OF RUSSIA” (Volume 3, pages 112 – 165), but as far as the Schlieffen Plan is concerned, it remains ineligible to prove a particular German aggressiveness.

Condition Three: Attack

Now we may address the third condition of the quandary; Where and when did the actual fighting begin – one would assume, naturally, with the great German offensive against Belgium?

Actual fighting in the south started on August 7, when Joffre, apparently to “arouse the nation’s passion for war by an early coup de théâtre in Alsace,” (11) ordered VII Corps [Louis Bonneau], stationed in Belfort, to advance to and conquer Mulhouse, which it did on August 8 without meeting initial opposition. The town was, however, given up just as quick on August 10 in the face of German counterattacks.

The grand ambition of Joffre’s Plan XVII, however, had not changed. Its design was still the encirclement of the fortified German positions at Metz and Thionville with two pincers, Dubail’s First and Castelnau’s Second Armies from the south, and Ruffy’s Third and Langle de Cary’s Fourth Army from the north. They were to meet, eventually, near the Saar and Moselle rivers; the German defenders would be trapped; and the way to the Rhine would be free.

An unintentional effect of Bonneau’s visit to Mulhouse and retour was that the German deployment in the south was upended: Heeringen had sent far too much of 7th Army after the single French corps, and the arriving Bavarians of Rupprecht’s 6th Army found it hard to establish contact and flank protection with Heeringen’s troops.

Worse: since the expected Italian reinforcements had to be written off, the Bavarians found themselves fairly extended. They had only about 3,000 men per kilometre of front line available compared with, say, 1st Army’s 11,000 men per kilometre. Slowly, the Bavarians occupied their quarters in the Lorraine between Metz and Dieuze and amused themselves with liberating the local wine cellars. Duty, however, called soon.

Joffre detailed the Armée Alsacée to provide defence the French border from the Swiss frontier up to Mulhouse, and to cover Dubail’s flank. The latter task meant that it had to move north-eastwards and contradicted the first assignment. At any rate, Dubail’s and Castelnau’s forces were to break out just south of the German forts of Metz and Thionville, attacking from the Trouée de Charmes between Toul and Epinal. Dubail’s general direction would be to proceed to and conquer Sarrebourg, followed by moving to Donon (slightly north-eastward) and Strasbourg (slightly south- eastward); Castelnau was to aim for Morhange, making sure to cover Dubail’s left flank against an eventual German sortie from Metz.

They would thus avoid to meet German strong points or known troop concentrations, but “the farther French forces advanced … the broader their fronts became: eventually, eighty kilometres for First Army and seventy for Second Army. Dubail’s dual objectives of Sarrebourg and Donon necessitated splitting his forces and thus exposing his flanks to German counterattack.” (12)

Joffre discounted intelligence reports that indicated that the Schwerpunkt, the main concentration, of the German deployment was directed against Belgium. In addition, he expected no more than six German corps defending Alsace-Lorraine, and so advised a sceptical Castelnau, while, in reality, 6th and 7th Armies were composed of eight corps. In Joffre’s opinion, the mass of the German troops was in the Moselstellung, the fortified position between Metz and Thionville along the Moselle River, on the defensive, and the rest in East Prussia facing the Russians, who would, as the news from St. Petersburg informed him, begin their attack on August 14.

Dubail’s and Castelnau’s German opponents, Rupprecht and Heeringen were as unhappy as was Castelnau, but for the opposite reason: their role was far too defensive for their taste, and they began to stir at Moltke’s reins. Their more offensive plans were rejected, but when Krafft von Delmensingen, Rupprecht’s chief of staff, devised an option to “sack” any French forces that would be bold enough to follow if 6th Array pretended to retreat, the plan won preliminary approval, and 6th Army was withdrawn behind the Saar, as a lure.

On the morning of the fourteenth, he [Joffre, ¶] sent the armies of the right wing – roughly four hundred battalions and sixteen hundred guns, almost one-third of the chief of staff’s entire strength — into Germany.

… Overall, the French force formed a gigantic wedge aimed straight at Sarrebourg and the left wing of Rupprecht’s Sixth Army. Progress was good. (13)

Joffre was aware of the danger of encirclement and took precautions. He demanded that Dubail and Castelnau’s units always maintained close contact, for mutual flank protection. That they did, until after Dieuze and Sarrebourg had been occupied without resistance, Joffre ordered Castelnau north-eastwards to Morhange, into the Saar valley. Consequently, First and Second Army lost touch, since Dubail was still progressing eastward to Strasbourg.

For four days the Germans fell back, contesting but not firmly opposing the French advance, which in places reached twenty-five miles into Reich territory. A German regimental colour was captured and sent for presentation to Joffre at Vitry-le-François, where he had established General Headquarters (GQG).

Chateau-Salins was taken, then Dieuze, finally on 18 August, Sarrebourg, all places that had been French since Louis XIV’s war against the Habsburgs in the seventeenth century. [They had been German, however, the many centuries before Louis XIV, ¶] Then the front lost its sponginess. The French infantry found German resistance stiffening. The small Army of Alsace, advancing continuously on the First’s right, recaptured Mulhouse next day, but its success lent no support, for a wide gap yawned between it and Dubail’s positions. It was not the only gap.

First Army was not firmly in contact with Second; west of the Saar Valley, Dubail and Castelnau were not in operational touch at all. Dubail was conscious of the weakness and intended on 20 August to mend it by launching an attack that would both restore contact and open a way through for Bonneau’s Cavalry Corps (2nd, 6th and 10th Divisions) to debouch into the enemy’s rear and roll up his flank; but even as he set the attack in motion on the night of 19/20 August, the Germans were preparing to unleash their planned counter-offensive.

Rupprecht’s and Heeringen’s Armies had been temporarily subordinated to a single staff, headed by General Krafft von Delmensingen. Thus, while the French Second and First Armies co-ordinated their actions only as well as sporadic telephoning could arrange, the German Sixth and Seventh fought as a single entity. Here was the anticipation of a new trend in command, which would bring into being formations as large as existing communication systems could control.

On 20 August its worth was swiftly demonstrated. Dubail’s night attack was checked as soon as begun. The setback was followed by a simultaneous offensive along the whole line of battle by the eight German corps against the French six. The French VIII Corps, which had reached the Saar at Sarrebourg, was overwhelmed; its artillery was out metalled by the heavier German guns, under the fire of which the German infantry drove the French from one position after another.

Heavy artillery did even worse damage to Second Army, which was struck by a concentrated bombardment along its whole front as day broke on August 20. The XV and XVI Corps abandoned their positions under the infantry attacks that followed. Only the XX, on the extreme left, held firm. It was fighting on home ground and was commanded by General Ferdinand Foch, of exceptional talent and determination.

While his soldiers clung on, the rest of the Army was ordered by Castelnau to break contact and retreat behind the River Meurthe, the line from which it had begun its advance six days earlier. It had very nearly been enveloped on both flanks, which would have resulted in irretrievable disaster to the whole French army, and had completely lost touch with the First Army, which Dubail was therefore obliged to disengage from battle also.” (14)


Link: A very useful article on the Battle of the Frontiers and the early days of the Western Theatre

The French attack, necessarily, showed Joffre’s hand: his Schwerpunkt was in the south; consequently, the German right-wing in Belgium would he opposed by less French troops than initially presumed.

So much for the initiation of hostilities at the Western Front.

The situation at the Eastern Theatre and the initial attack of the Russian 1st and 2nd Armies into East Prussia is detailed in the following article:

The Battle of Tannenberg


Armies make plans, and that is what all belligerents in the Great War did. As we have noted in various posts: the “offensive” was believed to serve as the panacea of contemporary strategic thinking and subsequently all the greater continental armies subscribed to the theory and all of them developed suitable plans. We must keep in mind that the idea of a “war of aggression” – as it was later defined in the Nuremberg Trials – and its odium did not exist then.

Unlike the precipitate causes of the Second World War, the antecedents of the First and their interpretation remains the topic of a lively historic discussion. But before we dare to enter the abyss, we must remind ourselves of four instances in which the pre-1914 world was much different from today, and we must keep these conditions in mind when we review what happened.

I. To wage war was considered the natural privilege of a state, a part of its governmental discretion. Smaller wars before the 1870s, say, the Prusso-Danish War of 1864, had essentially been the last “cabinet wars”, undertaken with  limited resources to achieve specific political objectives. But the more technical and economic development allowed increases in army size and firepower, the more such changes aggravated the indeterminable risks – “the fog of war”, as Clausewitz famously called it – and this uncertainty ensured that after 1871 a relatively long period of peace graced much  of the European continent. Even men who could reasonably be accused of having advocated war in July 1914 did so without an idea of the sheer magnitude of the catastrophe they invoked. The odium that two world wars were to inflict on the idea of war itself, it’s now increasingly doubtful legitimacy, did not exist in 1914.

II. Just as war was perceived as a simple, prosaic option of a government, the leadership of its armed forces was expected to be prepared for it. Every nation had copied the system of the Prussian and later German General Staff, and all these staffs were called upon to develop plans for every possible contingency; indeed, not to plan for a likely scenario would be tantamount to treason.

III. Due to false lessons drawn after the Crimean War of 1856 by generals worldwide, the dogma prevailing at European military academies in the years prior to 1914 embraced the superiority of attack; the French general staff called  it “offensive à outrance”, and it became the principle underlying its catastrophic Plan XVII. In addition, the inbred conservatism of cavalry officers – noble to a man – led to the establishment of additional cavalry units in all armies right up to the eve of the war, which had two significant drawbacks: not only took cavalry an exceptional and inevitable drain on  the chronically overburdened supply system, for one cavalry division of 4,000 men and twelve guns needed as many daily supply trains (forty) as an infantry division of 16,000 men and fifty-four guns, (1) but the invention of the machine-gun had punched the death ticket for cavalry attacks, who came to resemble mass suicide. Yet this was, of course, not realized until the occurrence of the first battles. But the reliance on attack would also guarantee, it was surmised, that the decisive  battle and its unavoidable destruction would take place on the enemy’s soil, and, with luck, might disable some of his war industry – as it happened when Germany occupied the ten north-eastern French departments for much of 1914 to 1918  and thus took out approximately 70% of the pre-war French iron industry.

IV. The second half of the nineteenth century was the age of thriving imperialism, and all great powers attempted to partake in or project “world power”1. Colonization was, in Rudyard Kipling’s words, the “white man’s burden”.


The existence of the Schlieffen Plan was thus not an aberration of warfare, but an integral part of a national military plan, as was existent in every major nation. It did not cause, much less provoke, an early German mobilization, and the initial attacks of the war were not its result. German War Guilt may exist and be apportioned in and through other, mostly diplomatical and political failures, neglect, miscalculations and some real stupidity, but it cannot be blamed on a war plan by itself.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 165

Saint Crispin’s Days – Adolf Hitler at the Front 1914

Preceding Article: Private Hitler joins the Bavarian Army …

The officers of RIR 16, front row middle Colonel List

In the first week of August, everywhere in Europe trains had begun to devour young men, their gear and rifles, and spit them out on the railway heads of their destinations, as per the schedules developed and pigeonholed years earlier. The Railway Department of the German General Staff coordinated the movements of over 11,000 trains during mobilization, each one of them consisting of 54 wagons. The Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine at Cologne, for example, was crossed by 2148 trains between August 2 and 18; about 134 trains a day, respectively, one every eleven minutes, day or night. The French Railway Department scheduled over 7,000 trains, on a slightly smaller network. It was about 3 am on September 21, that Adolf Hitler and his fellow recruits of Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 and their gear were loaded upon three trains and sent off westward. The first stop was Ulm, the birthplace of Albert Einstein, whence Hitler sent a postcard to his landlords, the Popps. (16) On the next day, the train reached the Rhine, and Hitler saw the great German stream for the first time, as well as the Niederwald-Monument, the gigantic statue of Germania protecting the river and the country. He never forgot the day – as late as 1944 he recalled that:

“I saw the Rhine for the first time when I travelled to the Western Front with my regiment in 1914. I will never forget the feelings that abounded in me when I saw, for the first time, this river of German destiny. Just as moving were the sympathy and the hearty encouragement of the people living there, who surprised us with a completely unanticipated welcome. We were supplied with everything we could imagine. When we came to Aachen in the evening, I promised myself never to forget this day as long as I lived.”

On the road …

In the night to Thursday, October 22, the trains crossed the Belgian border, and arrived, via Liège and Brussels, at Lille in France by October 24. Private Hitler narrated the events of the last part of this journey and his first days at war in a letter to an acquaintance of his, Munich law student Erich Hepp, in so typical a frame of mind that it may appear here unabridged:

“Dear Herr Assessor Hepp,
I am glad that my last postcard reached you. Also, many warm thanks for your welcome letter. I should have written at greater length before, but shall now try to make up for it.
First of all, let me tell you at once, Herr Assessor, that on December 2nd I had the opportunity to acquire, thank God, more than enough experience. Our regiment was not, as we expected, held back in the reserve, but early in the morning of October 29 was thrown into battle, and ever since we have been in those fellows’ hairs with some interruptions, first as attackers and then as defenders.
After a really lovely journey down the Rhine we reached Lille on October 23. We could already see the effects of the war as we travelled through Belgium. We saw the conflagrations of war and heard its ferocious winds. As far as Douai our journey was reasonably safe and quiet. Then came shock after shock.
In some places the base artillery had been destroyed in spite of the strongest defence. We were now frequently coming upon blown up bridges and wrecked locomotives. Although the train kept going at a snail’s pace, we encountered more and more horrors – graves. Then in the distance we heard our heavy guns.
Towards evening we arrived at Lille, which was knocked about rather a lot in the suburbs. We got off the train and hung about around our stacked rifles, and shortly before midnight we were on the march, and at last we entered the town. It was an endless monotonous road left and right with miserable workmens’ dwellings and the countryside blackened with smoke. The pavements were poor and bad and dirty. There were no signs of any inhabitants, and there was no one in the streets after 9 pm except the military. We were almost in danger of our lives because the place was so full of guns and ammunition carts, and through them we eventually reached the Citadel, and this part of Lille is a bit better.
We spent the night in the courtyard of the stock exchange building. This pretentious building was not yet completed. We had to lie down with full packs, and were kept at the ready. It was very cold on the stone pavement and we could not sleep. The next day we changed our quarters, and this time we were in a very large glass building. There was no lack of fresh air, the iron framework was still standing, and the panes of glass had been smashed into millions of fragments in the German bombardment.
During the day something more was attempted. We inspected the town and most of all we admired the tremendous military equipment, and all of Lille lay open, the gigantic shapes of the town rolling before our astonished eyes. At night, there was singing, and for me it was the last time. On the third night, about 2 am, there was a sudden alarm, and about 3 am we marched away in full marching order from the assembly point.
No one knew for certain why we were marching, but in any case we regarded it as an exercise. It was rather a dark night, and we had hardly been marching for twenty minutes when we turned left and met two columns of cavalry and other troops, and the road was so blocked there was no room for us.
Then morning came. We were now a long way from Lille. The thunder of gunfire had grown a bit stronger. Our column moved forward like a giant snake. At 9 am we halted in the park of a country house. We had two hours’ rest and then moved on again, marching until 8 pm. We no longer moved as a regiment, but split up in companies, each man taking cover against enemy airplanes. At 9 pm we pitched camp, I couldn’t sleep. Four paces from my bundle of straw lay a dead horse. The animal was already half decayed.
Finally, a German howitzer battery immediately behind us kept sending two shells flying over our heads into the darkness of the night every quarter of an hour. They came whistling and hissing through the air, and then far in the distance there came two dull thuds. We all listened. None of us had ever heard that sound before.
While we were huddled close together, whispering softly and looking up at the stars in the heavens, a terrible racket broke out in the distance. At first it was a long way off and then the crackling came closer and closer, and the sound of single shells grew to a multitude, finally becoming a continuous roar. All of us felt the blood quickening in our veins. The English were making one of their night attacks. We waited a long time, uncertain what was happening. Then it grew quieter and at last the sound ceased altogether, except for our own batteries, which sent out their iron greetings to the night every quarter of an hour. In the morning we found a big shell hole. We had to brush ourselves up a bit, and about 10 am there was another alarm, and a quarter of an hour later we were on the march. After a long period of wandering about we reached a farm that had been shot to pieces and we camped there. I was on watch duty that night, and at about one o’clock we suddenly had another alarm, and we marched off at three o’clock in the morning.
We had just taken a bit of food, and we were waiting for our marching orders, when Major Count Zech rode up: “Tomorrow we are attacking the English!” he said. So it had come at last! We were all overjoyed, and after making the announcement, the Major went on foot to the head of the column. Early, around 6 am, we came to an inn. We were with another company and it was not till 7 am that we went to join the dance. We followed the road into a wood, and then we came out in correct marching order on a large meadow. In front of us were guns in partially dug trenches and behind these we took up our positions in big hollows scooped out of the earth and waited.
Soon the first lots of shrapnel came over, bursting in the woods and smashing up the trees as though they were brushwood. We looked on interestedly, without any real idea of danger. No one was afraid. Every man waited impatiently for the command: “Forward!” The whole thing was getting hotter and hotter. We heard that some of us had been wounded. Five or six men brown as clay were being led along from the left, and we all broke into a cheer: six Englishmen with a machine—gun! We shouted to our men marching proudly behind their prisoners. The rest of us just waited. We could scarcely see into the streaming, seething witches’ cauldron, which lay in front of us. At last there came the ringing command: “Forward!” We swarmed out of our positions and raced across the fields to a small farm. Shrapnel was bursting left and right of us, and the English bullets came whistling through the shrapnel, but we paid no attention to them.
For ten minutes we lay there, and then once again we were ordered to advance. I was right out in front, ahead of everyone in my platoon. Platoon leader Stöver was hit. Good God, I had barely any time to think, the fighting was beginning in earnest! Because we were out in the open, we had to advance quickly. The captain was at the head. The first of our men had begun to fall. The English had set up machine guns. We threw ourselves down and crawled slowly along a ditch. From time to time someone was hit, we could not go on, and the whole company was stuck there. We had to lift the men out of the ditch. We kept on crawling until the ditch came to an end, and then we were out in the open field again. We ran fifteen or twenty yards, and then we found a big pool of water.
One after another we splashed through it, took cover, and caught our breath. But it was no place for lying low. We dashed out again at full speed into a forest that lay about a hundred yards ahead of us. There, after a while, we all found each other. But the forest was beginning to look terribly thin.
At this time there was only a second sergeant in command, a big tall splendid fellow called Schmidt. We crawled on our bellies to the edge of the forest, while the shells came whistling and whining above us, tearing tree trunks and branches to shreds. Then the shells came down again on the edge of the forest, flinging up clouds of earth, stones, and roots, and enveloping everything in a disgusting, sickening yellow-green vapour. We can’t possibly lie here forever, we thought, and if we are going to be killed, it is better to die in the open.
Then the Major came up. Once more we advanced. I jumped up and ran as fast as I could across meadows and beet fields, jumping over trenches, hedgerows, and barbed-wire entanglements, and then I heard someone shouting ahead of me: “In here! Everyone in here!” There was a long trench in front of me, and in an instant I had jumped into it, and there were others in front of me, behind me, and left and right of me. Next to me were Württembergers, and under me were dead and wounded Englishmen. The Württembergers had stormed the trench before us. Now I knew why I had landed so softly when I jumped in.
About 250 yards to the left there were more English trenches; to the right, the road to Leceloire was still in our possession. An unending storm of iron came screaming over our trench. At last, at ten o’clock, our artillery opened up in this sector. One – two – three – five – and so it went on. Time and again a shell burst in the English trenches in front of us, and after bloody hand-to-hand fighting in some places; we threw them out of one trench after another. Most of them raised their hands above their heads. Anyone who refused to surrender was mown down. In this way we cleared trench after trench.
At last we reached the main highway. To the right and left of us there was a small forest, and we drove right into it. We threw them all out of this forest, and then we reached the place where the forest came to an end and the open road continued. On the left lay several farms, all occupied, and there was withering fire. Right in front of us men were falling. Our Major came up, quite fearless and smoking calmly, with his adjutant, Lieutenant Piloty.
The Major saw the situation at a glance and ordered us to assemble on both sides of the highway for an assault. We had lost our officers, and there were hardly any non-commissioned officers. So all of us, everyone who was still walking, went running back to get reinforcements. When I returned the second time with a handful of stray Württembergers, the Major was lying on the ground with his chest torn open, and there was a heap of corpses around him.
By this time the only remaining officer was his adjutant. We were absolutely furious. “Herr Leutnant, lead us against them!” we all shouted. So we advanced straight into the forest, fanning out to the left, because there was no way of advancing along the road. Four times we went forward and each time we were forced to retreat. In my company only one other man was left besides myself, and then he also fell. A shot tore off the
entire left sleeve of my tunic, but by a miracle I remained unharmed. Finally at 2 pm we advanced for the fifth time, and this time we were able to occupy the farm and the edge of the forest. At 5 pm we assembled and dug in a hundred yards from the road.
So we went fighting for three days in the same way, and on the third day the British were finally defeated. On the fourth evening we marched back to Werwick. Only then did we know how many men we had lost. In four days our regiment consisting of thirty-five hundred men was reduced to six hundred. In the entire regiment there remained only thirty officers. Four companies had to be disbanded. But we were all so proud of having defeated the British! Since that time we have been continually in the front line. I was proposed for the Iron Cross, the first time in Messines, then again at Wytschaete by Lieutenant Colonel Engelhardt, who was our regimental commander. [FN1] Four other soldiers were proposed for the Iron Cross at the same time. Finally, on December 2, I received the medal.
My job now is to carry dispatches for the staff. As for the mud, things are a bit better here, but also more dangerous. In Wytschaete during the first day of attack three of us eight dispatch riders were killed, and one was badly wounded. The four survivors and the man who was wounded were cited for their distinguished conduct. While they were deciding which of us should be awarded the Iron Cross, four company commanders came to the dugout. That means that the four of us had to step out. We were standing some distance away
about five minutes later when a shell slammed into the dugout, wounding Lieutenant Colonel Engelhardt and killing or wounding the rest of his staff. This was the most terrible moment of my life. We worshiped Lieutenant Colonel Engelhardt.
I am sorry; I will have to close now. The really important thing for me is to keep thinking about Germany. From eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, day after day, we are under heavy artillery fire. In time even the strongest nerves are shattered by it. I kept thinking about Munich, and there is not one man here who isn’t hoping that we shall soon finish off this rabble once and for all, make mincemeat of them, at whatever the cost.

The hope is that those of us who have the good fortune to see our homeland again will find it purer and less corrupted by foreign influence. The sacrifices and misery extracted daily from hundreds of thousands of peoples, the rivers of blood flowing every day against an international world of enemies will, we hope, result in smashing Germany’s external enemies and bring the destruction of our internal internationalism. That would be better than any territorial gains. As for Austria, the matter will come about as I already told you.
Once more I express my heartfelt gratitude and remain your devoted and grateful


A day in the trenches for 2nd Company

There is a second, slightly different translation of the letter here as a PDF if the reader likes to compare.

[FN1] Colonel List was killed on October 31st at Gheluvelt Castle. (19) Lieutenant Colonel Philip Engelhardt took over the regiment on November 12, for five days, before being wounded on November 17 in the accident narrated by Hitler above. (20)

Dispatch runners Ernst Schmidt (left) and Adolf Hitler (right), in the middle Sergeant Max Amann
Attack near Lille
Trench life
After the battle …

Given that Hitler’s war record and decorations played a huge part in later Nazi propaganda – giving the Austrian a sort of supernatural German identity – we should be looking at the matter right away. There was little literature available that specifically and critically examined the history of RIR 16 and Hitler’s role in it, which results to a degree from the paucity of the record, and the fact that post-1933 it was purged of everything that disagreed with the gospel of war hero Adolf Hitler.

Hitler sketch 1914

Most of the attention, pre-1933 and now, centred around Hitler’s decoration with prestigious Iron Cross First Class, which he was awarded on August 4, 1918. The properness of the Second Class decoration that he earned in December 1914 is not generally doubted, for it was awarded in the aftermath of the great battle of First Ypres, during which Hitler and his company were in the forward trenches. Likewise, neither is much cognizance allotted nor critique directed at his other citations – the Bavarian Military Cross 3rd Class with Swords, awarded on September 17, 1917, the Regimental Diploma for bravery, May 9, 1918, the Medal for the Wounded, May 18, 1918, and the Military Service Medal 3rd Class of August 25, 1918. (21) What did cause much ado about Hitler’s Iron Cross First Class in the early 1930s was not only that it figured prominently in the Nazi apotheoses of the Führer as a war hero, which of course awarded his critics opportunities for counterclaims, but that the decoration seemed to have been proposed and effected by the highest-ranking Jewish officer of the regiment, adjutant Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann, and, in the light of Hitler’s post-1919 anti-Semitism, that was, of course, most embarrassing.

Hitler painting of the Ruins of Messines, ca. 1915

We shall address the merits issue first. In the German presidential election campaign of 1932, in which Hitler challenged the incumbent Hindenburg – and lost – a direct advantage for Hindenburg was that his war record could not be doubted – except for the fact, naturally, that Germany had lost, but, as both Nazis and reactionaries agreed, this defeat had not been the aged field marshal’s fault nor of anyone else in the army but that of socialist and liberal politicians, the “November Criminals”. Since the Hindenburg campaign was in this enviable position, they started to direct their artillery, so to say, on the challenger’s military merits. Josef Stettner, a veteran of RIR 16, wrote in a 1932 article in the VOLKSFREUND (the “People’s Friend”), a Social Democratic newspaper in Braunschweig, that…

” … Hitler had worked out for himself how to get out of the line of fire on time. He had already managed to get a small post as regimental dispatch runner behind the front at the end of 1914. At first, he lay with the regimental staff in the underground vaults and basements of Fromelles. For months, the infantry companies that lay in reserve behind the front and pioneers [i.e. engineers respectively sappers] that had specially deployed for this task had to make the shelters of the regimental staff bomb-proof. While we had to lie in the wet trenches at the front line for seven or ten days without a break or while we stood up to our stomachs in the mud, Hitler lay on a warm, lice-free stretcher and had several metres of protective stone above his hero’s body.
But it did not take very long before the entire regimental staff set itself up even more comfortably in Fournes, approximately 10 kilometres behind the first line. There for more than a year the dispatch runners had a room of their own in a former Estaminet (small pub or café). Every one of us in the trench would have given his eye teeth to swap with the hero Hitler even just for eight days. … The front experience of Private Hitler consisted more in the consumption of artificial honey and tea than of the participation in any combat. He was separated from the actual combat zone by a zone some 10 kilometres deep. Thousands of family fathers would have filled Hitler’s post behind the front just as well as him: however, at the time Hitler did not display any sign that he felt driven towards military front-line action, as he is trying to tell the blinded German youth today. He did, as we front-line soldiers used to say at the time, ‘keep his position.'”

A typical rear area, near Lille, in the likes of which Hitler may have served …

The essence of Stettner’s argument was that Hitler was a dispatch runner at the regimental level, as opposed to the battalion or company level, and his duties rarely brought him face to face with actual enemy fire.

Runners Ernst Schmidt, Adolf Hitler and Karl Lippert

“Some worshippers of Hitler have pointed out now that the job of a dispatch runner was more dangerous than that of a soldier in the trenches. While the troops in the first line could calmly lie under cover, it is said in Hitler’s defence, the dispatch runners would have been much more exposed to enemy fire while on duty. However, I can accept that only for dispatch runners of companies or maybe also of battalions. In the worst-case scenario, the regimental dispatch runner had to go to the dugout of a battalion which still lay far behind the first line. And even in those cases, it was for the most part the dispatch runners of the battalion themselves who had to pick up the messages at the regimental headquarters, particularly when things were getting dangerous. All the duties of a regimental dispatch runner lay outside the dangerous zone of machine-gun fire.”

Aerial view of the Fromelles Sector

A bigger dent into the gospel of front-line hero Adolf Hitler than that caused by the relatively obscure Braunschweig newspaper might have ensued from an article in the weekend edition of the Hamburg Social Democratic newspaper ECHO DER WOCHE (“The Weekly Echo”) of March 1932, which resulted in Hitler’s bringing of a libel action against the paper. At court, the “great obstacle for the defence team of the ECHO DER WOCHE was that the paper had decided that in order to protect his safety it would not disclose the identity of the veteran who was the author of the bitter attack on Hitler’s war record.” (24) The article in question essentially argued, like Stettner had, that a regimental dispatch runner’s duty was not particularly hazardous and that Hitler had received his Iron Cross First Class for other reasons than bravery. Since the newspaper could not produce the writer, Hitler won the lawsuit by default and set out to establish the identity of the author. His thugs had no problem in identifying the writer as the former RIR 16 member Korbinian Rutz. Herr Rutz had entered the ranks of RIR 16 as a battalion dispatch runner with the 2nd Company on November 12, 1914, where he soon made the acquaintance of Hitler. Unlike Hitler, Rutz was steadily promoted and became a Lieutenant and commander of 1st Company on April 23, 1916. (25) In an open letter to the press on April 8, 1932, Rutz wrote:

Regimental HQ, Max Amann first row right …

“I entered the RIR 16 (List) as a private on November 12, 1914 with the 1st Reserve Detachment, and eventually became an officer and company leader. At that time Hitler was already an attendant with the regimental staff, and remained one until the end of the war.
Regimental orderlies had to fetch orders at the brigade post and return with the replies of the regimental staff. To transfer the regimental orders down to the battalion post was the job of the battalion attendants. The job of a regimental orderly demanded an apt and proper person, but particular courage was not required. …
The regimental staff always lived behind the front. In our position at Fromelles, for instance, our foremost lines were about 20 or 30 minutes west of the village, while the regimental staff resided at Fournes, a good hour east of it. They lived thus at least 11 hours distant from the front line. The regimental staff always resided in the best buildings, which had concrete basements and coverings. While the front line soldiers and officers had to hold out in the trenches under the most primitive of conditions, without even straw to lie on, the regimental orderlies slept on mattresses, had pillows and woollen blankets, and sleep galore. …
Attendants had an easier time to earn decorations than trench troops, for the officers were familiar with their faces, while the name or face of a simple front line fighter, who stoically endured toil and danger, was, at best, known to the company commander, but not the higher-ups. And while attendants and orderlies had a regular life and three square meals a day, the John Does of the front lines got warm food perhaps at midnight, or even later, if at all, amidst utter filth, live fire and the such. We often received our midday meals an hour or so past midnight.
Then Hitler was seriously wounded. I can tell you the truth about this. He lay in the palatial gardens of Fromelles, where the regimental staff was at that time. With a few comrades, he was taking a sun bath when a grenade exploded close by and wounded him. Not in action, mind, not on his post, he was hit, but on his having a siesta. … So Hitler has the Iron Cross, First Class. At the end, every regimental attendant received one. But a brave company comrade of mine, a simple man who spent four years at the front and was wounded twice, did not get it.”


But Rutz did not do himself a favour with the inaccuracies of his report – the sunbathing story, for example, was easily proved false, as was the promotion of the public notary’s simple house in Fournes to a concrete citadel – and the Nazis had easy revenge by retiring him from teaching after 1933. Rutz’ and Stettner’s criticism was later shared by the medical scribe Alexander Frey, who argued that Hitler remained a dispatch runner and avoided promotion for reasons of safety:

The Church of Wytschaete

“Without a doubt Hitler could have re-enlisted with a company and done trench duty with the goal of promotion. But he did not seem to have wanted that; there were certain positions, so treasured that if troops got hold of them, they would not want to give them up, as they had certain automatic advantages. In this case, there were better quarters and better food than infantrymen in the trenches had. I had to resist the urging of my company commander that I leave my post in the medical service (since I was not a doctor, I couldn’t go much farther in this particular field) and take part in an officer training course. I did not want to leave my field of work – probably for the same reasons that Hitler did not want to leave his. Measured against the dreadful hardship of trench duty, our posting was a small alleviation, combined with small comforts.”

The Runners

Yet there were other opinions, and since several of them came from officers, history has – everything else being equal – tended to reflect their views of Adolf Hitler as a soldier. At the Beer Hall Putsch Trial of 1924, the last commander of RIR 16, Lieutenant Colonel Maximilian von Baligand, testified as follows:

“It is not true that Hitler’s post with the regimental staff was a safe job. If all the purveyors of safe jobs in the army had evidenced Hitler’s courage, the trenches would not have developed a disliking of their superiors.”


First Lieutenant Friedrich Wiedemann, between January 1, 1916, and August 16, 1917, staff adjutant of RIR 16, wrote in his memoirs, published in 1964:

“One of the dispatch runners attached to the regimental staff was Adolf Hitler. I cannot remember the exact time I first noticed him, a private first class, which he was at that time, but he came under my direct command and hence I thought a good deal about him when attempting to determine on whom one could truly rely on.
Between Hitler and me, organization-wise, was only the regimental scribe and First Sergeant Max Amann, who later became General Manager of the NSDAP and Director of the Franz Eher Publishing House. … When I was dispatched to RIR 16 [on January 1, 1916] as the new regimental adjutant, the war of movement, in whose final phase the regiment had partaken in late 1914, had already been replaced by trench warfare. The regiment had its trenches south of Lille while the regimental staff resided in Fournes, in the house of the local notary public.
When the army communiqués reported “All Quiet on the Western Front”, our dispatch runners, together with the whole staff, had a relatively placid life. They were used for petty jobs or accompanied the commander or me on the regular inspections of the rampart. I well remembered Hitler from such occasions as a quiet man of somewhat unmilitary appearance, who, at first sight, was not different from his comrades. Only slowly did we get the impression that his interests were somewhat deeper than those of his comrades, most of whom came from Bavaria south of the Danube. But that by itself was not exceptional in our regiment. …
While our attendants had a quiet life in quiet times, this changed rapidly as soon as combat resumed. The telephone lines to the battalion posts and company leaders were usually shot up quickly, and the regimental commander’s orders could then only be transmitted via messenger. There was no choice – the enemy’s fire might be heavy or light – the runners had to leave the bunker and make it, through the fire, to the front line. Losses, and thus the rate of replacements among the runners, were therefore high.
On the other side, one found out quickly whom one could rely on. … Thus, we kept three or four of the most dependable men at the regimental post, whom we saved for the important jobs, under difficult circumstances. One of the men we could depend on was Hitler.
His later enemies have accused him of avoiding – shirking – front duty by being a dispatch runner and never having received the EK 1. Both charges are incorrect. As long as he was with the staff – that is, from the beginning until the end of the war — he has proven himself brave and reliable, and fully earned his EK I. I recall quite well how we discussed, in the aftermath of a bigger action, together with regimental scribe Max Amann whom to propose for the EK I. I opined that Hitler had earned this decoration since a long time already, and thus we put him on the list, albeit not in the top spot but at the bottom. This we did because the companies complained that we always put people on the regimental staff up front.
At this occasion Hitler did not receive the EK I. We had proposed ten soldiers, but were allowed only five medals. When I was transferred to another post, my successor as regimental adjutant, First Lieutenant (Reserve) Hugo Gutmann renewed the proposal, and this time Hitler received the Iron Cross First Class.”


The circumstances of the decoration are relatively clear. Eugen Tannhäuser, who had spoken with Gutmann about the matter, testified on August 4, 1961:

“Herr Gutmann was regimental adjutant of the List Regiment, wore the Iron Cross First Class himself, as well as the Bavarian Order of Military Merit, and I have seen with my own eyes the promotion diplomas, on account of exemplary courage, to Master Sergeant and later to Lieutenant, when he was especially mentioned in the army’s order of the day. He told me that Hitler was a soldier like any other soldier and rewarded himself neither through particular exploits nor attracted any negative attention. One time there was an important message to be forwarded to the front. The telephone lines had been shot up, and, to be on the safe side, Gutmann called upon two runners and gave them the message, hoping that at least one would make it to the trenches. He promised both the Iron Cross First Class as the reward of success. They both came through, but, as Gutmann told me, keeping the promise proved harder than making it. It took him two months to convince the division commander of the properness of decorating these two messengers, for it had been a deed that happened daily in battle.”


Lieutenant Colonel Emmerich von Godin, first Deputy and later Commander of RIR 16, wrote to the Commander of the 12th Brigade on July 31, 1918:

“Hitler is with the regiment since its inception and has made the best of impressions in all battles. As dispatch runner he was a paragon of composure and courage in static as well as mobile warfare and was always willing to transport messages no matter the difficulties or the danger to his life.
After a complete blackout of communications in a difficult situation it was Hitler’s untiring and selfless dedication to duty that ensured the delivery of important messages despite all adversities. Hitler has received the EK II for bravery in the Battle of Wytschaete on December 2, 1914. I consider Hitler completely deserving of the decoration of the EK I.”


Johann Raab, assigned to the regimental staff since December 1915 as a telephone operator, reported:

The sole picture of Hitler appearing in the official Regimental History – perhaps taken by Korbinian Rutz

“I was with the regimental staff of RIR 16 (List) at the same time when Hitler was a dispatch runner there. I well remember that he very often volunteered for missions that, except for him, would have gone to colleagues who were married. I can also remember how he got the EK I, since I received the EK II at the same time. Hitler delivered a message to the front when all other connections were broken or extinguished by enemy fire. His deed was particularly mentioned in a Regimental Order.”

Hitler and Schmidt in the 1930s


In the discussion of the sensitive matter of Hitler in the First World War – given the prominence of the subject and the ongoing historical discussion – we may pause for a moment of reflection. As the author pointed out in the introduction of “The Little Drummer Boy”, we deal here with a young Hitler between his 25th and 30th year, at a time when he has not committed – as far as we know – any crimes. We shall not judge in hindsight when reporting the facts and the reasonable assumptions we make of the time and the deeds at hand.

In 2010, Thomas Weber – with whom the author has been in contact – published his major work “Hitler’s First War” [Oxford University Press 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-923320-5]. For the longest of times, little has been truly known about the military service of Adolf Hitler in the war except for the hagiography of Third Reich historians, his own (sparse) account in “Mein Kampf” and the publications of critical newspapers during the Weimar Republic, mostly by left-wing magazines, during the years of his ascendancy 1925 to 1933. After 1933, these stopped – naturally.

Before Weber, it has been more or less only Anton Joachimsthaler, who unearthed in his books “Korrektur einer Biographie”, Langen Müller 1989, 3-7766-1575-3 and the extended reissue “Hitler’s Weg begann in München 1913 -1923”, F.A. Herbig, München 2000, 3-7766-2155-9, valuable details on the subject.

Thomas Weber’s ample study took as its main angles a few of the exaggerations, hyperbole, even legends of Hitler in the field, which had largely been the result of the Nazi hagiography mentioned above; and concentrated on the military details and duties of the field as well as the subjects personality as it then displayed itself.

Near Fournes, Hitler first row left …

He has identified many points of interest very well – as the legend of Hitler being called – in most general histories – a corporal (or lance-corporal), implying he had men under his command. He never did. All his life he held the rank of “Gefreiter”, i.e. Private First Class, a sort of “Senior Soldier”.

While in his early days at the front he was undoubtedly used in the front-line but was soon moved to the dispatch runners. Most of his service he spent as a regimental dispatch runner, i.e. delivering messages usually not to the front line but to the battalion or sometimes company staff, who generally enjoyed somewhat safer conditions in their quarters than the trench soldiers.

Colonel Friedrich Petz, regimental commander 1915

In essence, this meant that he was not – as he claimed – a front line soldier but had a relatively safe job at (relatively) cosy regimental quarters; that he was much less in physical danger than he (and later propaganda) asserted, and that, consequently, this job required much less courage and/or sacrifice than suggested.

Weber describes at length the begrudging feelings, hate and envy the trench-line troops felt for such “Etappenschweine” – the fellow soldiers in rear areas. There is no actual evidence, he finds, that Hitler ever displayed unusual bravery, and it was perhaps the close and persisting contact he had with the regimental officers that led to his awards.

That may all well be and true – but the question is, what did it matter post-war in Hitler’s career respectively the criticism of his enemies? By nature, criticism by fellow soldiers comes in the form of gossip, personal arguments, and the like – and there is a long line of negative statements on Hitler or rear-area-pigs in general that Weber brings to our attention, some of which were widely reported in Weimar-Era newspapers and even were at times the matter of legal proceedings.

But these were all essentially of a gossipy nature – no actual misconduct was alleged, far less proven – and after all the dust had settled, Hitler could point to six decorations – Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Bavarian Military Cross 3rd Class with Swords, awarded on September 17, 1917, the Regimental Diploma for bravery, May 9, 1918, the Medal for the Wounded, May 18, 1918, and the Military Service Medal 3rd Class of August 25, 1918 – and the opposition could point to nothing, as far as facts were concerned. This was, for political, respectively propaganda reasons, enough to settle the score, and the critics fell by the wayside.

In general, the written record thus appears more or less positive, and many later accusations were made in the heat of the political battle. The present author has discussed the subject with military men, and in the context of the Great War, they tend to regard dispatch runners as front-line soldiers. The author’s late father, who survived Stalingrad as an artillery officer with a Nebelwerfer regiment, concurred. As always, questions remain.

To be continued: From mid-September 1914 on, Hitler’s unit was dispatched to what became known as the First Battle of Ypres …

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 280

The Grinding of Meat – Verdun 1916

Preceding articles:

Breakthrough in the East 1915

Gallipoli – An Exercise in Futility

The New Year brought reorientation to the thoughts and plans of the respective belligerents’ general staffs. After the successes on the Eastern front in 1915, Falkenhayn shifted the strategic “Schwerpunkt” for 1916 back to the Western theatre. He had come up with a truly diabolical plan. For its far smaller population, France could simply not draw into uniform the same number of bodies as Germany could, and hence she would be critically vulnerable in a battle of attrition, designed not to conquer ground or reach a strategic aim but solely to slaughter the greatest number of men in the shortest time.

A suitable location for the abattoir to be established Falkenhayn believed to have found at Verdun, the city on the Meuse River a few miles east of the Argonne Forest, which had been a fortress since Roman times. Her fortifications were modern, updated the last time in 1885, when the addition of a second ring of forts, at a slightly larger distance from the city, gave her a total of twenty-one steel-and-concrete girded complexes. The fate of Liège and Namur earlier in the war, however, had convinced GQG that the forts’ artillery might better be used on the field of battle, and most of the guns had been dismantled. The Battle of the Frontiers in August 1914 had sidestepped the town for the most part and the eastern slope of the Argonne Forest had become a quiet part of the Western theatre, many of the forces stationed there having been recalled to Paris in late August 1914, to Manoury’s new Sixth respectively Foch’s new Ninth Army, and by 1916, only the three divisions of XXX Corps remained.

For OHL, the attractiveness of the town lay in its location less than twenty kilometres distant from a German-controlled railhead, which ensured a steady flow of personnel and supplies. The Crown Prince’s 5th Army was reinforced by the addition of six new divisions to their normal ten divisions, and the artillery corps gathered approximately 1,200 guns and three million shells for an initial front of about ten miles: from the hamlet Brabant, north-west of the town on the Meuse to the village of Ornes east of it, six miles as the crow flies. Due to the smallness of the attack front, which translated to one gun per less than fifteen metres, it was expected that no French troops could survive the curtain of fire and that the advancing German regiments would encounter little resistance. The French, however, could not afford not to reinforce the front, since “if the French gave up the struggle, they would lose Verdun; if they persisted, they would lose their army” in the maelstrom. (14)

German troops attacking the hill “Mort Homme” / “Toter Mann”

After the usual period of bad weather, the German bombardment began on February 21, 1916. A quite impressive affair, it was estimated that a million shells fell upon the French lines and forts before a single German soldier was spotted. But some local troops of XXX Corps were well-prepared and deeply dug in, and hence not only survived the barrage but subsequently defended their lines vigorously. On the whole, however, the German attack made steady progress; had it been an all-out attack, 5th Army might have gained Verdun in a matter of days.

But the design called for a bloodbath, not a victory, and the German offensive became eerily lethargic, enticing the defenders to consign more of their troops to the massacre. Still, by February 24, the first trench zone was taken as was,
a day later, Fort Douaumont, supposedly the core of the French defence on the right flank, “by a lone German sergeant of the 24th Brandenburg Regiment who, blown into the fort’s moat by a near-miss, decided to explore the interior, found it occupied by only a handful of French troops and bluffed them into surrender.” (15) Rumours of the fort’s capitulation immediately spread to the city, and garrison and townspeople alike began to pack their belongings.

Had Verdun been evacuated on this February 25, many lives might have been saved. On the same day’s morning, however, Castelnau arrived, sent by Joffre to Verdun to assess the situation. He could not know that his decision was in
Falkenhayn’s interest when he concluded that the town must be held – why, exactly, nobody knew – and put stoic Philippe Petain into command. The British army at the Somme was asked to take over the Tenth Army’s front line so that units of the latter could reinforce the town.

The map below gives us a picture of the initial situation, February 21 and the development of the campaign. The French Third Army secures the left flank of the town [Square A 3, ¶] and VII Corps’ 20th and 67th Infantry Divisions [AB 2, ¶] defend the line between Avocourt, east of Third Army, and the left bank of the Meuse. The front east of the river is, as mentioned above, defended by XXX Corps, with its 72nd ID just east of Brabant, 51st ID between Beaumont and Ornes and 14th ID to the south-east, at Dieppe. The right, eastern flank is being held by two divisions of II Corps.

Petain arrived February 27. His first order was to recover the 350 heavy and 442 light guns the forts had possessed and add to them any other artillery that might be found. Their fire was to be concentrated directly upon the attacking German infantry, less on tactical targets like command positions or bunkers. His second measure was to ensure arms and provisions, and the road leading southward from Verdun, on the left side of the Meuse, to the town Bar-le-Duc
became the principal route of supplies for the battle. It became known as the “Voie Sacrée”.

Heavy German siege gun

The return of the artillery and arrival in line of the French XX Corps strengthened the defence considerably and also bolstered up the meagre sector reserve that was stationed at Souilly [B 4, ¶]. While the Germans had previously advanced six kilometres in six days, after February 27 their efforts stalled in the fire of the French defenders. Falkenhayn’s strategy had overlooked that, as it was clear at the latest since First Ypres, a well-trained defence, able to wield rapid-fire arms and artillery from entrenched and protected positions, could be overcome only under the acceptance of truly hideous losses. The pre-war fable of the superiority of the offence had literally collapsed in the heaps of bodies that lay dead in front of defensive installations. Many generals, mired in their suddenly obsolete beliefs, comprehended this in the abstract yet still failed to recognize it to the necessary degree when making plans. Far from becoming the crucible for the French army, Verdun inflicted equal losses to the Germans, who counted 25,000 casualties in the first week of combat alone.

French anti-aircraft battery (colourized)

Finding no success anywhere on the original front between Brabant and Ornes after the end of February, the Germans extended their attack to the area west of the Meuse, between Avocourt and Forges [AB 2, ¶]. There an assault by VII Reserve Corps on March 6 surprised and much perturbed the 67th ID, which had to be rescued by the reserves which counterattacked soon and regained the ground lost at and around Mort Homme Ridge, the principal summit of the high grounds at Verdun’s western flank.

At this time casualties exceeded 100,000 on both sides. France began to rotate her divisions in and out of the theatre – of the 330 infantry regiments in the French Army of 1916, 259 saw service in Verdun – while the Germans depended upon replacements which frequently exceeded 100% of the unit’s original establishment. A renewed German offensive secured the peak of Mort Homme on May 8th but failed to gain its southern slope, and a further expansion of the front, to the east of Ornes [C 2, ¶] finally yielded, after six weeks of combat, the fall of Fort Vaux on June 7. This success carried the Germans tantalizingly close to the nearest fortresses, Forts Thiaumont and Souville, which, however, resisted all German attacks. By now Falkenhayn’s original plan of one-sided attrition was all but a chimaera of the past; the fight took on the character of an industrial slaughterhouse. Not even the efforts of the famous “Alpenkorps”, the elite mountaineer corps from Bavaria, achieved a decisive success; their initial progress bogged down due to a lack of provisions [see the bold dashed line, the furthest advance of German troops, ¶]. It was June 23.

Hill 304

That day, 23 June, marked both the high point and crisis of the Verdun offensive. About twenty million shells had been fired into the battle zone since 21 February, the shape of the landscape had been permanently altered, forests had been reduced to splinters, villages had disappeared, the surface of the ground had been so pockmarked by explosion that shell hole overlapped shell hole and had been overlapped again. Worse by far was the destruction of human life. By the end of June over 200,000 men had been killed and wounded on each side. The losses had fallen more heavily on the French, since they had begun the war with a third fewer men than the Germans, but to both armies Verdun had become a place of terror and death that could not yield victory. The Germans made a final effort on 11 July, which reached Fort Souville, but it was beaten off.

Aerial view of Hill 304 October 1916
Height 304 during a break in battle

Petain was promoted out of the theatre in April and replaced by General Robert Nivelle, an artillery specialist. He planned a French counteroffensive for late autumn and sought to diminish the German forces opposite by drawing their reserves to other theatres. On the Eastern front, the Russian General Brusilov opened an initially successful offensive against the Austrian and German front south of the Pripet Marshes on June 4 and the British began the Battle of the Somme on July 1. Both of these new engagements reduced the German reserves, in general on the Western front and specifically at Verdun. Fifteen divisions alone were sent from France to the Russian front.

On August 29, Falkenhayn was sacked for the mismanagement of Verdun and replaced by the team of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who sought for a way to get out of Verdun with their reputations intact. Their survey of the theatre in
September, however, clearly exposed French preparations for a large counteroffensive, a fact that “fixed” the German units in the Verdun theatre while the French were putting on the finishing strokes to their design. The storm broke loose on October 24, when Third Army under General Charles Mangin, now switched to the right flank of the front, reconquered Fort Douaumont the very same day. Fort Vaux was retaken a week later, but the same circumstances which had erstwhile limited the German success soon encumbered the French. The counteroffensive petered out, eventually, in December 1916, in difficult, hilly terrain just north of Forts Douaumont and Vaux, the slopes turning into mud by the autumn rains.

French counteroffensives October – December 1916

The tally of Verdun eventually climbed to 430,000 German and 540,000 French casualties, of which a great number – perhaps 50% – died. The eyes of the world, however, soon concentrated on a more exciting target, the Somme, where, since the beginning of July 1916, an even bigger butchery was in the making.

(14) (15) (16) John Keegan, The First World War, Vintage Books 2000, ISBN 0-375-40052-4361 (pbk.), pp. 279, 281, 285

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 281

Private Hitler joins the War

The famous photograph by Heinrich Hoffmann of Adolf Hitler in the crowd at the Munich Odeonsplatz on August 2, 1914, hailing the declaration of war is probably a forgery.


[The Little Drummer Boy – Chapter XIX]

“If we are engaged in war,
we shall suffer but little more
than we shall suffer
even if we stand aside.”

Sir Edward Grey,
In the House of Commons, August 1914

All delays are dangerous in war.
John Dryden “Tyrannic Love”, Act 1, Sc. 1

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales following the Declaration of War in August 1914
Celebration in Berlin, August 1914

One of the enduring legends of the Great War is that its outbreak was hailed, on either side, by a wave of popular support. This perception is largely a result of propaganda – contrived chiefly a posteriori – by the rosy memory of those who had survived what they saw as a well-earned victory over the German menace, and others who suggested that so great a patriotic endeavour could only be lost to treason.
It is true that some protagonists of these days greeted the dawn of war with enthusiasm. In London, Winston Churchill wrote his wife – “My darling One & Beautiful” – on July 28 that while “everything tends towards catastrophe, &
collapse,” he was “interested, geared-up & happy”. (1) In Munich, a protagonist of temporarily lesser prominence, the unemployed freelance painter Adolf Hitler, agreed wholeheartedly. He had learned of the German declaration of war on Russia on the evening of August 1, and on the next day, a Sunday, walked the two miles from his room at Schleissheimer Strasse 34 to the Odeonsplatz Square, where, in front of the Feldherrnhalle, the Hall of Generals, a crowd of pro-war enthusiasts had congregated. Adolf’s mood was jubilant.

Adolf Hitler lived c/o tailor Popp and family, Schleißheimerstrasse 34, 3rd Floor, window marked (x)

“Even today,” he wrote in ‘Mein Kampf’ (1924), “I am not ashamed to say that, overcome with rapturous enthusiasm, I fell to my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being allowed to live at this time.” (2)

the little drummer boy, page 535

A photograph – subsequently acquiring fame – taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, who was soon to become Hitler’s court photographer, shows twenty-five-year-old Adolf Hitler in front of the square’s fountain, in the eight row or so of the assembly, ecstatically applauding patriotic speeches delivered by ad-hoc orators from the steps of the great hall. How he successfully exploited in his later days this fortunate accident is a good early example of Hitler’s knack for framing and arranging realities. Thomas Weber relates the story behind the legendary photograph:

It is true that in the days prior to the outbreak of war, brass bands had played patriotic songs in the streets and cafés of Munich. Students and a rowdy crowd had smashed up a café that was perceived as insufficiently patriotic. Yet it is difficult to ascertain the degree to which these cases of patriotic outbursts were representative of the general population, as the loudest and most visible responses to the outbreak of war do not necessarily equate to the most widespread responses to war.
In fact, only a minority of Germans were initially genuinely enthusiastic about the war. Anxiety, fear, and grief were the initial responses. A young Heinrich Himmler, who experienced the outbreak of the First World War in Landshut in Lower Bavaria, complained on 27 August of the lack of popular enthusiasm for the war in Lower Bavaria. He noted with disdain in his diary that Landshut had been full of sobbing and weeping people.
There is, in fact, a vast discrepancy between immediate responses to the war as the one described by Himmler and accounts that were published later on in an attempt to give the war meaning retrospectively. This is why we need to treat post-war recollections of August 1914 with a huge grain of salt. The same is true of the photograph of Hitler amidst crowds in Odeonsplatz from 2 August.
The photograph, in actuality, does not in any way support Hitler’s claim that he was representative of the population of Munich, or of the would-be members of the List Regiment, or of the German population at large. The photo tells us more about why its photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, would later become Hitler’s personal photographer than anything about the mindset of the German people at the outbreak of war.
During the Third Reich, it would be his masterful photographs and Leni Riefenstahl’s magnificent propaganda movies that would create the public image of Hitler and of a young, energetic, and forward-looking Germany.
On 2 August, only a tiny fraction of Munich’s near 600,000 residents attended the patriotic assembly Hoffmann depicted. On Hoffmann’s photo, the entire square appears filled with cheering people. However, a film clip that has survived of the scene and that, unlike Hoffmann’s photo, did not zoom in onto the crowd immediately in front of the Feldherrnhalle gives us a very different impression. Parts of the square are not filled with people. There is even enough space for a tram to move at normal speed across the square. When the film camera started filming the crowd, we see restless people. Only when they become aware that the camera is filming do they start to cheer and to raise their hats. At that very moment, Heinrich Hoffmann, standing close to the camera crew, took his photo. And thus the myth of central Munich overflowing with cheering and warmongering crowds was born.
There is even some indication that Hoffmann might have “doctored” his photograph to place Hitler in a more
prominent position, for in the film clip Hitler stands in a less central position than in the photo. And where there are crowds of people in front of Theatiner Church in the background of the photo, there are far fewer people at the same spot in the film clip. (3)


Just as the photograph aided subsequent Nazi propaganda, Hitler was busy creating his own legend in “Mein Kampf”. Nobody then knew about the embarrassing affair with the Austrian consulate and military commission that had taken place earlier in the year, and we shall now investigate how it happened that Hitler, whose intense dislike of the Austrian army we have encountered above, made it, as a foreigner, into the ranks of the Royal Bavarian Army. In “Mein Kampf”, he wrote:

“I presented myself on August 4, 1914, through an immediate petition to His Majesty the King of Bavaria, for consideration and voluntary entry into the 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment, thus to join the Bavarian, i.e. German army. The petition was granted the next day, August 5, and a few days later I was transferred to the 2nd Regiment. I then joined, on August 16, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, which was in completion at that time.” (4)


The reality was more prosaic. Not only has no trace of Hitler’s petition to King Ludwig III or its sanction ever materialized, Hitler’s army rolls do not mention anything taking place before August 16, 1914. They report:

KrStR.Nr. 166/148:
“Am 16.8.1914 eingetreten als Kriegsfreiwilliger b. R.D.VI, 2.I.R. u. a. 1.9.14 anher versetzt.” (5)

[Roll # 166/148:] [‘Entered on August 16, 1914, as war volunteer at Recruiting Depot VI, 2nd Infantry Regiment and transferred here September 1, 1914’] [Recorded by the Replacement Battalion of the 2nd
Infantry Regiment]

KrStR.Nr. 1062:
“16.8.14 beim Ers. Batl. 2 Inf. Reg. Dep. VI eingetreten. 1.9.14 z. 1.Komp. Res. Inf. Reg. Nr. 16 vers.” (7)

[Roll II 1062:] [‘16.8.14 entered Replacement Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (Recruiting) Depot VI. 1.9.14. transferred to 1st Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment 16’] [Recorded by Reserve Infantry Regiment 16]

The school at Elisabethplatz 4, Munich, (today’s Gisela-Gymnasium), where Private Hitler started his military training on August 16, 1914 …

Hitler’s claims of petitioning the King and immediately being awarded a place in the prestigious 1st, the King’s Own Regiment, are hereby revealed as bogus – his military career began on Sunday, August 16, when he reported to the School on Elisabeth Square, which was used, as many schools were, as temporary barracks. The first two weeks he spent learning basic infantry skills at the exercise areas Oberwiesenfeld and Freimann. It was an arduous business for the not very athletic Hitler and Frau Popp remembered that “he frequently came by, happy to rest from the exertions of the drill.” (8) On September 1, 1914, he was transferred as Private # 148 to 1st Company, Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16, called, after its commander Colonel Julius von List, the “List Regiment”.

The question remains how it came that he – being a foreigner – was accepted in the first place. Only the War Ministry, not some company or regimental officer, had the legal authority, under certain conditions, to accept foreign volunteers. During the Beer Hall Putsch Trial of 1924, the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior directed an inquiry at the War Ministry regarding the circumstances of Hitler’s enlistment. Yet it would seem that the venerable archivists were unable to find a satisfactory explanation, for their answer was of highly speculative nature:

“At the breakout of war, Hitler lived at Schleißheimerstraße 34 in Munich. Apparently he went, in August 1914, to the closest troop’s office, which was that of the 2nd Infantry Regiment and offered himself there. …
In the general war fever, he has probably acted on an instinct by applying at the nearest office. The more so as Germany, of course, had according to her treaty obligations announced her support for Austria. …
It cannot surprise anyone that an enthusiastic young man forgets the borders of the Inn and Salzach [which form the Bavarian-Austrian frontier) and only joins the forces to help in the common defence of the endangered homeland. … It is quite possible that Hitler, as many others did, presented himself in the earliest days of mobilization. Since he could not be processed right away, he was probably told to wait and come back later – as so many others.” (9)

Colonel Julius List

It would seem that nobody checked Hitler’s nationality: not a single document in the very extensive and thorough files of the Bavarian War Ministry mentions the fact of Hitler’s Austrian citizenship. That the creation of the reserve regiments – incongruous mixtures of young volunteers and Landsturm seniors – occurred under somewhat haphazard circumstances had its main reason in the horrendous losses that were incurred from the very beginning of this first mechanized European war. By mid-August, OHL [“Oberste Heeresleitung”, Army High Command) demanded the immediate creation of one complete ersatz army of four corps respectively eight divisions, for the normal reservists had already been called up at mobilization. Bavaria had to supply one division of this new army, the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, which was composed of the 12th and 14th Reserve Infantry Brigades. The 12th Reserve Brigade itself, commanded by Major General Kiefhaber, was formed by Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (München, Colonel List) and 17 (Augsburg, Colonel Grossmann). About the former, Anton Joachimsthaler reports:

The mustering of Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 [=”RIR 16″, ¶] was finished by September 1, 1914; it was composed of three battalions, each one about 1,000 men strong, and each battalion was divided into four companies (thus 1st to 12th Company). The RIR 16, which had been composed of the Recruiting Depots of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Regiments, was quite a chequered collection; mostly volunteers and persons without prior service experience, a mixture of the young and the elderly. The majority of RIR 16’s soldiers were students, artists, engineers and artisans from Munich and many rural men from Upper and Lower Bavaria. …
The volunteers which had been collected in the various Recruitment Depots (I-VIII), among them Hitler, had all been transferred to the new RIR 16 on September 1, 1914. Hitler ended up in 1st Company, I. Battalion (under Battalion Commander Major of the Reserve Count Zech auf Neuhofen and Company Commander of 1st Company, Captain Pflaumer).
It was only with the greatest of labour that weapons, uniforms and other necessary equipment could be provided. Supplies of the Pickel helmets, for example, were insufficiently low, and the regiment was equipped with the same black caps worn by the Landsturm, draped over with green cloth. Yet this came at the expense of a fatal misunderstanding at the front, where Bavarian volunteers were mistaken for Englishmen [some of whom wore similar green caps, ¶], and hundreds of RIR 16’s men were killed by friendly fire. (10)


Because OHL expected to use the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division at the Franco-Belgian border by the end of October, less than two months remained for the regiment’s initial training and subsequent transport. The first five weeks of their military life Hitler and his new comrades spent in Munich’s boot camps, being taught essential skills like digging holes while being yelled at by sergeants. Since RIR 16 was not composed of normal reservists, who could be trusted to remember much of their former service after a bit of a refresher, instruction was passed out rather summarily and could in no way prepare the men for the reality of the trenches.

Adolf Hitler – and subsequent Nazi propaganda creating another myth of the Great War – asserted post-1918 that the List Regiment was a volunteer unit, which was, at its best, intentional misrepresentation of the truth. It is correct that there were some volunteers, like Hitler, but overall about eighty-five per cent or so of the men were “not volunteers at all,” but “had been members of the Ersatzreserve or supplementary reserve… Recruits assigned to the supplementary reserve were generally men who were deemed insufficiently fit to serve in the army at peacetime but still sufficiently fit to be called up in the event of war.” (11)

King Ludwig III of Bavaria bids a unit farewell …

On October 8 the regiment was sworn in, in the presence of King Ludwig III, and greeted by its commanding officer, Colonel Julius von List, with the following words:

Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 parades in front of the King

“Comrades! I welcome with all my heart and full of confidence all officers, doctors, and officials, all petty officers, NCOs, and troops. The Regiment, whose men for the most part are untrained, is expected to be ready for mobile deployment within a few weeks. This is a difficult task, but with the admirable spirit which animates all members of this regiment, not an impossible one. … With God’s blessing, let’s begin our work for Kaiser, King, and Fatherland.” (12)

Short Video Clip of the Swearing-in-Ceremony
Oberst Julius von List reporting to King Ludwig III

RIR 16 was scheduled to be sent, on October 10, on a march of seventy miles to the Lechfeld training ground in Swabia. On the day before, Hitler visited the Popps to say goodbye. Frau Anna later recalled:

“He took my husband’s hand and said, ‘If I were to die, please let my sister know, perhaps she wants to take care of my few possessions; if not, please do keep them. I am sorry if I should cause you any trouble.’ He then shook my hand, too, while I stood there and wept. We all liked him so very much. He embraced Peppi and Liesl, whom he loved, turned around, and vanished.” (13)


We must, however, be aware that Frau Popp told her recollections to a Nazi reporter in the Third Reich, so we should not be surprised about her devotion to the former lodger. Yet, be that as it may, on Saturday, October 10, RIR 16 marched off to Lechfeld. Due to the urgency of the situation at the front, the regiment was allowed only about ten days of manoeuvre, from October 10 to 21, at the exercise area, in which it was to train not only its own deployment but also to practice, as much as possible in the short time, coordination with other units. On Sunday, October 18, i.e., a week later, an exercise of the complete 12th Brigade was scheduled, both regiments, artillery and all, including a field mass and consecration of the regimental standards. (14) Opinions on the quality of the training were divided: while Hitler wrote Frau Popp that “the first five days in the Lech valley were the most tiring of my whole life,” an officer of the List Regiment, Count Bassenheim, complained that “discipline has grown very bad due to [the] marches and over-exertion.” (15) On October 20, Hitler informed the Popps that, this very evening, the regiment was to embark on a railway journey – to Belgium or England, he hoped, and expressed his exultation that the great game was about to begin.

He had to wait a few more hours. Everywhere in Europe, trains had begun in the first week of August to devour young men, their gear and rifles, and spit them out on the railway heads of their destinations, as per the schedules developed and pigeonholed years earlier. The Railway Department of the German General Staff coordinated the movements of over 11,000 trains during mobilization, each one of them consisting of 54 wagons. The Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine at Cologne, for example, was crossed by 2148 trains between August 2 and 18; about 134 trains a day, respectively, one every eleven minutes, day or night. The French Railway Department scheduled over 7,000 trains, on a slightly smaller network.

To Paris …

It was about 3 am on October 21, that the men of RIR 16 and their gear were loaded upon three trains and sent off westward. The first stop was Ulm, the birthplace of Albert Einstein, whence Hitler sent a postcard to the Popps. (16) On the next day, the train reached the Rhine, and Hitler saw the great German stream for the first time, as well as the Niederwald-Denkmal, the gigantic statue of Germania protecting the river and the country. He never forgot the day – as late as 1944 he recalled that:

“I saw the Rhine for the first time when I travelled to the Western Front with my regiment in 1914. I will never forget the feelings that abounded in me when I saw, for the first time, this river of German destiny. Just as moving were the sympathy and the hearty encouragement of the people living there, who surprised us with a completely unanticipated welcome. We were supplied with everything we could imagine. When we came to Aachen in the evening, I promised myself never to forget this day as long as I lived.” (17)

Adolf Hitler (right) in early 1914

In the night to Thursday, October 22, the trains crossed the Belgian border, and arrived, via Liège and Brussels, at Lille in France by October 24. Private Adolf Hitler was to see his first war.

Advance …

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 175

Gallipoli – An Exercise in Futility

“I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that our men feel antagonized towards the Imperial officers. I have heard so many express their fierce resentment.”

Sergeant Joe Gasparich

The Little Drummer Boy – Chapter XXII – The Days of Moloch

… The Western front of 1915 had seen, however, only one half of the British war commitment. A Turkish attack on the Suez Canal, the main artery of British eastern commerce and naval deployment, was mounted from Palestine southward on January 14, 1915. In early February, the Ottomans’ attempt to cross the canal in boats failed in face of the fire of a British and Imperial force under General John Maxwell. The Turks retired to Palestine and were never seen again at the canal.

A small British detachment had been sent at the war’s beginning to protect the English oil interests in Persia and had taken to the Turkish declaration of war in October 1914 by invading Mesopotamia and capturing Basra, the important harbour town. Eventually, the British HQ set its eyes on Baghdad, and one division was sent from Basra up the Tigris River and another one up the Euphrates. The Tigris force met a Turkish detachment, about 10,000 heads strong, at Kut-el-Amara, two-thirds the way to Baghdad and won the subsequent encounter on September 27-28. When the commander,
General Townshend, was ordered to proceed in direction of Baghdad, he demurred, citing supply lines far too long and the loss of over 1,000 casualties in the earlier battle, but obeyed. Outside the ancient town of Ctesiphon, he ran into a superior Turkish force blocking his way and had to retreat after four days of combat. He was back in Kut a week later. The Turks followed and laid siege to the town which was to last until 1916.

But these were sideshows. The main British and Allied offensive against the Turks was to take place at one of history’s famous spots – the Dardanelles or Hellespont. The Dardanelles is the narrow sea lane, fifty kilometres long and at its closest point only a kilometre wide, which connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara, which itself joins the Black Sea at the Bosporus strait. The strategic importance of the Dardanelles respectively the Bosporus is obvious: these two points control all traffic between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and hence access to the oceans. It has always been the object of the powers controlling the Black Sea to command these spots and their hinterland, for they are the bottleneck constraining their ambitions. The Bosporus was, and is, dominated by Byzantium [Constantinople, Istanbul], whose conquest was a Russian dream for centuries; only escalating when the religious component of removing the Muslims from the former seat of the Christian Empire became a secondary motive.

The Battlefield

The Battle of Troy had taken place on the southern, Asian shore of the Dardanelles; on the European side of the straits, near the ancient town of Adrianople [now Edirne, ¶] “fifteen recorded battles had been fought; at the first, in AD 378, Emperor Valens was killed by the Goths, a disaster that caused the collapse of Rome’s empire in the west; at the most recent, in 1913, the Turks had repelled a Bulgarian attempt on Istanbul itself.” (10)

The strategic importance of the straits in 1914 lay in the Allies’ plans to provide war supplies to Russia, but since no land route existed sea lanes had to suffice. There was one, the North Sea-Arctic Sea passage, to the Russian ports of Murmansk or Archangel in the Arctic Ocean respectively the White Sea. But this was a difficult route, prone to adverse weather conditions, with the additional disadvantage that the goods would arrive in a veritable no man’s land, arctic Russia, and would have to be transported over yet another two or three thousand miles to their eventual destinations.

There was a second route, however, through the pleasant Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, to Sevastopol, on the Crimean Chersonnese, whence the goods would have a short and convenient rail trip to the Eastern front. The Royal Navy was confident to defend convoys of merchantmen on their way to Sevastopol, with the exception of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, which were in Turkish hands and considered fortified, armed, and dangerous. A sneak attack of a British naval squadron in November 1914, however, found little resistance and was able to damage the defences on the mouth of the straits. Although the squadron failed to penetrate further, the success of the attack much impressed Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty.

After the initial freeze-up of the entrenched front lines in the Western theatre in late 1914, the British government sought other points suitable to attack. Churchill was able to convince Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Kitchener, then-Secretary of State for War, and finally First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, of the merits of an invasion of the Dardanelles.

Churchill’s ministrations resulted in a two-tiered operational miscellany, a plan, like its inventor’s character, designed to gain the greatest show from the least of assets: naval gunfire, from a squadron of old battleships, would neutralize the Turkish forts at and around the Dardanelles, giving the Allies control of the seaway. The second stage would be a landing of mostly Imperial, i.e. non-English, infantry at the Gallipoli Peninsula itself, the northern pillar of the Dardanelles, whence the land forces were to proceed to capture Constantinople.

The naval bombardment began on February 19 but ran into difficulties soon. After the British raid of the preceding November, the Turks had brought in mobile artillery, heavy howitzers, which completely eluded the British gunners and, with well-aimed fire, frustrated the attempts of the Allied minesweepers to clear the way for the heavy ships. These ships were the new dreadnought “Queen Elizabeth”, the new British battle cruiser “Inflexible” and two older ones, plus twelve British and four French pre-dreadnoughts. After preliminary manoeuvres, the great fleet attack was set for March 18.

It was to become the greatest British naval disaster since a single German mine had sunk the brand-new British battleship “Audacious” in October 1914. The fleet attempted to force the straits: the twenty big ships advancing in three lines, ushered in by minesweepers and orbited by cruisers and destroyers.

At first the armada made apparently irresistible progress. Between 11:30 in the morning and two in the afternoon it advanced nearly a mile, overcoming each fixed and mobile battery as it moved forward. “By 2 p.m. the situation had become very critical,” the Turkish General Staff account reports. “All telephone wires were cut … some of the guns were knocked out, others were left buried … in consequence the fire of the defence had slackened considerably.” Then, suddenly, at two o’clock, the balance of the battle swung the other way. The old French battle cruiser BOUVET, falling back to allow the minesweepers to go forward, suddenly suffered an internal explosion and sank with all hands. A torpedo fired from a fixed tube ashore seemed to the worried fleet commander, Admiral de Robeck, to be the cause. Later it became known that, on the night of March 7, a line of mines had been laid by a small Turkish steamer parallel to the shore and had remained undetected. In the confusion that followed, the minesweepers, manned by civilian crews, began to fall back through the fleet and, as it manoeuvred, the old battleship IRRESISTIBLE was damaged also and fell out of the line. Next OCEAN, another old battleship, also suffered an internal explosion and soon afterwards the French pre-Dreadnought SUFFREN was severely damaged by a plunging shell.

As GAULOIS and INFLEXIBLE, the modern battle cruiser, had been damaged earlier, de Robeck now found himself with a third of his battle fleet out of action. By the end of the day, OCEAN and IRRESISTIBLE had, like BOUVET, sunk, INFLEXIBLE, SUFFREN and GAULOIS were out of action and ALBION, AGAMEMNON, LORD NELSON and CHARLEMAGNE had suffered damage. As darkness fell, de Robeck drew his fleet away. The ten lines of mines laid across the Narrows, numbering 373 in all, remained unswept and most of the shore batteries, though they had shot off all their heavy shell, preserved their guns. (11)


With the ships sank Churchill’s naval plan, and the army had to take over. The muster of the available forces yielded five divisions: four on the British side, the 29th Infantry Division, the Royal Naval Division, and the ANZAC Corps [1st Australian and the Australia/New Zealand division,¶] and one on the French side, the Corps Expéditionnaire d’Orient. Allied Intelligence regarding the opponent was poor: the Turkish strength was estimated at 170,000 men in ten divisions when reality allowed Liman von Sanders, the German commander of the Turkish troops, less than half of that number. In
addition, nothing was known of where the Turks would be strong or where they would be weak; hence the choice of the landing zones on the Gallipoli Peninsula was a matter of educated guesses.

The British infantry commander, General Hamilton, entertained thoughts of landing his troops on the southern, the Asian shore, where the plain of Troy would provide accessible beaches and level terrain. But Kitchener nixed the idea, pointing out that the available forces would be too thinly spread in the vastness of Anatolia. It had to be a landing on the northern, the European shore, but here the topography was forbidding, rugged mountains rising steeply from the sea. On forty miles of shore, only one suitable beach was found, opposite the Sari Bair Ridge, and reserved for the ANZAC Corps [whence it got its name, “Anzac Cove”]. The 29th Division would try its luck at Cape Helles itself, the northern tip of the peninsula, where there were some small but serviceable beaches. Here they could also be supported, on three sides, by naval artillery. Meanwhile, the remaining troops would undertake feint attacks: the Royal Naval Division at Bulair, in the Gulf of Saros north of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the French troops on the southern, Asian tip, at Kum Kale and Yeni Shehr. These positions are depicted on the map below, Allied Invasion Points at Gallipoli.

The operation began on April 25 simultaneously at both places. A landing on a defended shore is a most hazardous military manoeuvre at the best of times, and at Gallipoli, unlike at the Allied landings of the Second World War, there existed no proper landing craft, DUWK’s or other special equipment. Neither had simulations nor rehearsals been possible; one had it to get right the first time. It was perhaps asked too much. For reasons still unclear today, the ANZAC troops landed a mile north of their target, in a wilderness of slopes which, if they could not be taken, would allow the enemy an excellent look down at ANZAC Cove and present the most exciting targets for his artillery.

Heavy German naval artillery at the Dardanelles

Unless the Australians and New Zealanders could reach the crests before the enemy, all their positions, including the beach, would be overlooked, with calamitous effect on subsequent operations. The ANZACs knew the importance of getting high quickly and, after an almost unopposed landing, began climbing the ridges in front of them as fast as their feet could take them. The reason their landing had been unopposed soon, however, became apparent. The enemy were few because the Turks had dismissed the likelihood of a landing in such an inhospitable spot and the landing parties rapidly found that the terrain was as hostile as any defending force. One crest was succeeded by another even higher, gullies were closed by dead ends and the way to the highest point was lost time and again in the difficulty of route-finding.
Organisation dissolved in the thick scrub and steep ravines, which separated group from group and prevented a co-ordinated sweep to the top.
If even some of the 12,000 ashore could have reached the summits of the Sari Bair ridge, two and a half miles above ANZAC cove, they would have been able to look down on the Narrows, and the beginnings of a victory would have been under their hands. Their maximum depth of penetration by early afternoon, however, was only a mile and a half and, at that precipitous point, they began to come under counter-attack by the assembling Turkish defenders. The ANZACs, clinging lost and leaderless to the hillsides, began, as the hot afternoon gave way to grey drizzle, to experience their martyrdom. (12)

Archives New Zealand, from Wiki

The British troops landing around Cape Helles made sharply diverging experiences. At the flanks of the Cape, on S beach inside the Dardanelles and X and Y beaches, at the Mediterranean side of the peninsula, the invaders came ashore relatively unopposed and had set up shop soon. At V beach, south of the village Sedd-el-Bahr, and W beach, south-west of it, on the Cape itself, however, the Dublin respectively Lancashire Fusiliers ran into a combination of wire and Turkish machine-gun fire and died in the hundreds. By nightfall, casualties suffered on all beaches amounted to 5,000 men.

What should have alarmed the British commanders – Hamilton of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
(MEF), Hunter-Weston of the 29th Division, Birdwood of ANZAC – was that the injuries done to their brave and
determined soldiers had been the work of so few of the enemy. MEF’s estimate of the Turkish strength committed to the defence of the Dardanelles had been a gross exaggeration. The number of troops deployed by Liman von Sanders on the Gallipoli peninsula was only a fraction of his force, the rest being dispersed between Bulair and Kum Kale, between Europe and Asia.
The assault area was held by a single division, the 9th, with its infantry deployed in companies all the way down the coast from ANZAC to Cape Helles and beyond. In places there were single platoons of fifty men, in some places fewer men or none: at Y Beach none, at X twelve men, at S a single platoon. Even at ANZAC there was only one company of 200 men, while V and W Beaches were defended by single platoons. The massacre of the Lancashire, Dublin and Munster Fusiliers and the Hampshires had been inflicted by fewer than a hundred desperate men, survivors of the naval bombardment, and killing so that they should not be killed. (13)

Anzac, the landing 1915 by George Lambert

Seldom has the importance of holding the high ground been demonstrated more unequivocally than at Gallipoli. After six weeks of battle, the commanding summits of Achi Baba, near Cape Helles, and Chunuk Bair, opposite ANZAC Cove, remained in the hands of the Turks. The high ground allowed them to survey all Allied moves and aim their artillery accordingly. In addition, small but agile Turkish counterstrokes, directed at the local level by Mustafa Kemal, the eventual founder of the modern Turkish nation, thwarted many Allied attacks. Eventually, both sides dug in. The greatest menace for the Allied Expeditionary Corps, however, as it turned out soon, was their commander who seemed not to realize when he was beaten. Instead of withdrawing from the narrow beaches his troops were hanging on, under mounting losses, Hamilton asked for and received reinforcements – seven, if second-line, British infantry divisions, the 2nd Australian Division, the 2nd Mounted Division and another French division. The plan created by his staff envisioned another, far larger landing, at Suvla Bay, just north of ANZAC Cove. As soon as the Suvla Bay landing had gained a foothold, the Australians and New Zealanders should break out of ANZAC Cove northwards and link up with the new arrivals.

Only small beaches existed for the landings, and little cover was available …

The landings at Suvla Bay, beginning on August 7, were little opposed at first, but the invaders inexplicably failed to occupy the coastal heights as soon as possible. Mustafa Kemal, meanwhile being in charge of the northern front, recognized the fatal failure and immediately dispatched troops and artillery to the heights east of Suvla Bay, to the Sari Bair Ridge and the controlling peaks of Chunuk Bair and Tekke Tepe. The heights and their Turkish defenders withstood all Allied attempts and, eventually, as at Cape Helles and ANZAC Cove, both attackers and defenders dug in, adding a third stalemate to the two preceding ones.

Hamilton was relieved of his command on October 15 and his substitute, General Monro advised the War Office that withdrawal was the only viable solution left. He was given permission for a complete evacuation on December 3 and managed a very orderly and safe withdrawal that only added three casualties to the approximately 275,000 the Gallipoli campaign had cost the Allied armies already. Turkish losses, never properly established, may have been in the neighbourhood of 300,000. The misadventure precipitated Churchill’s resignation and failed to open the supply route for Russia. Turkey remains in control of the Dardanelles until this day.

The New Year brought reorientation to the thoughts and plans of the belligerents’ general staffs. Yet in 1916 the costly nonsense of the Gallipoli campaign was replaced by the gross slaughter of Verdun.

Please check the amazing article “Gallipoli – Letters from Hell” in the New Zealand Herald

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 121

Breakthrough in the East 1915

German artillery at Przemysl

In February 1915, the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes had driven the Russian Tenth Army through the Forest of Augustow off German terrain, but when 8th and the new 10th German Army faced counterattacks by the newly established Russian Twelfth Army, they stopped the pursuit into the Russian plain and established a security perimeter around East Prussia, which was not to be re-breached in this war. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who now were in charge of the Eastern theatre [as “Ober Ost“, High Command East, ¶], planned a renewed campaign, this time in the southern part of the Eastern front, but their requests for troop allocations were regularly curtailed by Falkenhayn, who feared to weaken the Western front by withdrawing troops from it. When at last a plan for a renewed offensive in Galicia was agreed on, it was based on a strategic concept by Hötzendorf, who also brought lots of Austrian troops to the venture, and a tactical design by Falkenhayn, not upon the plans of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Why?

Emperor William II meeting Field Marshal von Mackensen

It was, again, the chimaera of Cannae, the double-encirclement battle that had infected OberOst’s plans.

The plan for the offensive was Falkenhayn’s, who entrusted its execution to Mackensen, victor in the East Prussian battles of 1914. Ludendorff and Hindenburg would have preferred not to prepare a breakthrough in the centre but to launch a double envelopment of the Russians from the Baltic and Carpathian fronts; like Schlieffen, they disfavoured “ordinary victories”, which led only to Russian withdrawal to lines further east,
and argued for cutting off the enemy from the great spaces of the Tsar’s empire by a manoeuvre of
encirclement. Though exercising command in the east, they were, however, subordinate to Falkenhayn, whose fear was that their encirclement plans would require withdrawals of troops from the west on a scale dangerously weakening the German front there, and so overruled them. Moreover, the Ludendorff-Hindenburg plan placed reliance upon Austrian participation which the continuing decline in quality of the Habsburg forces, Falkenhayn believed made unrealistic. (7)

Deployment at Gorlice

The part of the Galician front chosen for the offensive was only about thirty kilometres wide, between the medium-sized town of Tarnów, fifty kilometres east of Cracow, and Gorlice, a village south-east south of it. The Cracow front was still defended by the Russian Third Army, composed of fourteen infantry and five cavalry divisions, which were, however, low on stock and ammunitions. Opposite of them, Falkenhayn constituted a new 11th German Army, commanded by Mackensen, which he supplied with some of the best divisions still available, 1st and 2nd Guard and the regular IDs 19 and 20. An Austrian army protected the flanks. On the Russian side, the Tarnow-Gorlice perimeter was defended only by two infantry divisions of average quality, the 9th and the 31st, whose defensive abilities were seriously curtailed by a lack of artillery shells. It turned out later that the commanders of the great Russian border forts of Kovno, Grodno, Ivangorod (Deblin) and Brest-Litovsk had hoarded shells in gargantuan quantities, many millions, but had found it wise to inform neither STAVKA nor their own field formations about their hidden treasures.

The Tarnow-Gorlice Offensive and the subsequent breakthrough …

This weak opposing force could not withstand long Mackensen’s concentrated hail of steel – emanating from 2,228 guns of all calibres. The preparatory bombardment began, against the customs, on the evening of May 1st, and the Russian trenches proved vulnerable. The next days’ infantry attack, at first light, passed through the enemy lines without encountering much resistance, and within the next 48 hours rolled up the secondary and tertiary Russian trench lines, breaking into open country on May 4th. The Russian flanks collapsed, and after three days 140,000 prisoners were counted. Ten days later, Mackensen’s 11th Army had recovered most of the territory Conrad von Hötzendorf had lost in the early calamities of winter 1914: the southern pincer of 11th Army had reached Przemysl and the northern one Lodz.

THE GORLICE-TARNÓW OFFENSIVE, MAY-SEPTEMBER 1915 Column of German troops advancing to the forward area near Gorlice while Austro-Hungarian transport moving in the opposite direction. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205081749

After the mad dash of the first days, the attack was continued through the open Polish plain. On August 4, Mackensen entered Warsaw and within the next six weeks, 11th Army conquered the four famous frontier fortresses guarding the old Russian-Polish border, Kovno, Grodno, Novogeorgievsk and Brest-Litovsk. The POW count rose to 325,000 and the Russians lost three thousand pieces of artillery.

Russian Prisoners of War

The map above depicts the main thrusts of the Central Powers Spring-Summer offensive of 1915, which developed from the initial breakthrough between Tarnow and Gorlice. The Russian High Command realized that, for the time being, given the condition of the army and her supply situation, nothing but a concentric retreat would enable the re-establishment of a new front in the future. By retreating from the huge Polish salient they shortened their supply lines and lengthened those of the Germans. This was a very reasonable strategy and worked out well enough. Ludendorff was able to claim a final success in September when he conquered Vilnius, the capital city of former Lithuania, but the onset of the “Rasputitsa”, the liquefaction of all surfaces under the torrential autumn rains, stopped the movements of all combatants. A new front line established itself, by fiat of transportational paralysis, in an almost straight north-south line from Riga via the Dvina and the Pripet Rivers, a hundred miles east of Brest-Litovsk, to Ternopol and Czernowitz at the Romanian border. North of the Pripet, and its impassable marshes, the front would hold until the end of 1917, and in the south until June 1916.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 157

Germany 1918 to 1923

Demonstration in Berlin

It is well understood today that the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 defined the momentum of world politics and history long beyond its theoretical end in 1918. Without the First War, there would not have been a Second, or the Cold War – until the fateful and mostly happy days of 1989.

Street fighting in Berlin 1919

The fulcrum of the war was Germany and this little reader collects our main articles on German history in the years 1918 to 1923, from the final days of the war to the German revolution of 1919/19, the Peace Treaty of Versailles (so fateful for the future) and the subsequent developments in Germany up to the Hitler Putsch of 1923 and its aftermath.

The German Spring Offensives of 1918

Woodrow Wilson and the Fourteen Points

The Road to the Armistice and the Last Day of the War

Revolution in Germany and the End of the Monarchy

The Treaty of Versailles

The Kapp – Putsch of 1920 (German version, please use translator button on page, English version soon)

The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923

Trial and Detention of Adolf Hitler and the Putschists

[Many references in the articles above point to quotations respectively historical works referenced in the author’s main work “The Little Drummer Boy”, therefore here links to the Appendices: Quotations and Bibliography.]

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 81

Americana – The Band’s “Rock of Ages”

An introduction to a timeless treasure …

Art is the expression of the human condition – literature, painting and music have formed the human diary since the dawn of civilisation. From small to large, from a tiny aspect to a great form, in its premier emanations, art speaks to us directly, explaining individual or common experiences – sometimes rising to evoke in us a picture of the past that is the perfect personification of the artist’s intention and at the same time a symbol as well as an explanation.

Every work of art, by its nature, must be a condensation of the aspects the artist wants to address. The greatest works of art we do know, however, are characterized that in addition to the glimpse of the time and place it was created, they speak to us in greater words, talk about the basic motives and inescapable complications of the human condition – of love and hate, loneliness and identity, war and peace, joy and sorrow.

That is why the great works of art – the Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Dramas, Goethe’s Faust, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, the incomparable genius of Mozart, the Nine Symphonies of Beethoven, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Therese, the Pieta and Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, the paintings of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer, speak of more than what they contain at first sight – they personify our human life, the dreariness of existence, the hope of salvation, sometimes the glory of a perfect moment in time and space.

In this blog entry, however, we will talk of popular music – by its nature, in general, a more ephemeral form of art. Disregarding the much less common instrumentals, we are talking here of songs – “Lieder” in German – one of the oldest forms of human art. Songs have been sung at all times, from the neolithic hunter to the labourer on pyramids, from the troubadour of the Middle Ages to the soldier marching to battle, but the form really took off with the invention of polyphony, which allowed greater harmonic expansion and advanced accompaniment.

Although the exact origins of polyphony in the Western church traditions are unknown, the treatises Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis, both dating from c. 900, are usually considered the oldest extant written examples of polyphony. These treatises provided examples of two-voice note-against-note embellishments of chants using parallel octaves, fifths, and fourths. Rather than being fixed works, they indicated ways of improvising polyphony during performance. The Winchester Troper, from c. 1000, is the oldest extant example of notated polyphony for chant performance, although the notation does not indicate precise pitch levels or durations


The development of the Hammerklavier or Fortepiano, an early form of piano, gave the singer(s) a polyphonic instrument to accompany him, her or them, which, contrary to the harpsichord or “Cembalo”, was able of a dynamic range of notes, muted or loud, and of sustained notes, and was much louder than the guitar and could reach a greater auditorium. Soon this was picked up by great composers, starting in Germany and Austria with Mozart and Beethoven, and brought to an early prime by Franz Schubert.

The beginnings of this tradition are seen in the songs of Mozart and Beethoven, but it was with Schubert that a new balance was found between words and music, a new expression of the sense of the words in and through the music. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, some of them in sequences or song cycles that relate an adventure of the soul rather than the body. The tradition was continued by Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf, and on into the 20th century by Strauss, Mahler, and Pfitzner. Composers of atonal music, such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, also composed lieder. The lied tradition is closely linked with the German language, but there are parallels elsewhere, notably in France, with the mélodies of such composers as Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy, and Francis Poulenc, and in Russia, with the songs of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in particular. England too had a flowering of song, more closely associated, however, with folk songs than with art songs, as represented by Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Ivor Gurney, and Gerald Finzi


This gave rise to the art song, mostly written by professional composers. Yet, naturally, traditionals and folk songs complemented the repertoire of the singer since times immemorial. Work songs, military songs, farm songs, children songs and love songs were sung in every society. Often, well-known melodies were underlaid with new texts, something that, in the spread of Christianity, regularly happened to church songs.

Standard European-style polyphony, however, experienced an important and popular amelioration by the influx of African slaves, who were prominent in the southern parts of the USA. Their traditional African tribal songs did not follow European harmonics or Major and Minor Scales – indeed, they tended to use slightly different pitches than European music allowed, not following the diatonic steps. These were soon called “Blue Notes”. English and Irish folk music had known them before, but then, who knew?

The blue notes are usually said to be the lowered third, lowered fifth, and lowered seventh scale degrees. The lowered fifth is also known as the raised fourth. Though the blues scale has “an inherent minor tonality, it is commonly ‘forced’ over major-key chord changes, resulting in a distinctively dissonant conflict of tonalities”


Blue notes were quickly employed outside the black community by songwriters and composers looking for new sounds, especially in the more rural areas of the South and the West, where the origins lay of what would become known as the “Blues” and later “Country” and “Western” music.

Local music, as opposed to the expensive use of orchestras, which remained typical for western “Classical” Music, was performed with whatever was at hand, guitars, the saloon piano, military drums and especially reed and wind instruments, flutes, trumpets, trombones and the like, who were cheaper, transportable and easy-to-use.

And then it all came together, especially in New Orleans, amidst the catastrophe of the Great War, in a blend of African and European musical sensibilities. They called it “Jazz”.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. … It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. … New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass-band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and Gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging “musician’s music” which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s, introducing calmer, smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines.


“Jazz” became the original music style of the USA, although it was soon playing all over the world. Broadly, it covered everything including deeply intense black blues emotion, cheesy white dance music, film and love songs, ragtime piano players and the lonesome cowboy strumming his guitar, and, because Jazz never accepted stylistic borders or European rigidity of composition practises, eventually all the various elements interacted and fertilized each other. The role of improvisation was rediscovered and allowed the player to escape the strictures of note for note reproduction of another man’s work.

But then something happened, and it happened to the guitar – in its various forms and predecessors one of the oldest musical instruments known to man. These chordophones had a long history indeed, reaching back to Homer’s times. The “Kithara” (Greek) appears four times in the Bible, and stringed instruments are known since the Hittites and Babylonians, in Europe mostly as “lutes” and “ouds”. The form and structure of the modern guitar then arose around 1850 in Spain, usually credited to Spanish master guitar maker Antonio Torres Jurado.

Versatile and polyphonic as the guitar was, it had a drawback – it was simply not very loud. Although the old masters had written for it, or adapted older works, it remained an instrument for the intimate setting. Jazz had important guitarists from the get-go, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery; yet they fought constant losing battles with the sheer wall of sound of brass and drums.

That is until Wisconsin-born Lester William Polsfuss – later known as Les Paul – set out to change music forever. He had been a great fan and friend of Django Reinhardt and began to tinker.

Paul was dissatisfied with acoustic-electric guitars and began experimenting at his apartment in Queens, New York with a few designs of his own. Famously, he created several versions of “The Log”, which was a length of common 4×4 lumber with a bridge, neck, strings, and pickup attached. For the sake of appearance, he attached the body of an Epiphone hollow-body guitar sawn lengthwise with The Log in the middle. This solved his two main problems: feedback, as the acoustic body no longer resonated with the amplified sound, and sustain, as the energy of the strings was not dissipated in generating sound through the guitar body. These instruments were constantly being improved and modified over the years, and Paul continued to use them in his recordings long after the development of his eponymous Gibson model.
In 1945, Richard D. Bourgerie made an electric guitar pickup and amplifier for professional guitar player George Barnes. Bourgerie worked through World War II at Howard Radio Company making electronic equipment for the American military. Barnes showed the result to Les Paul, who arranged for Bourgerie to have one made for him.


Another tinkerer named Leo Fender was much on the same road and around the end of the 1940s, the basic ideas of the solid-body electric guitar, powered by a pickup and amplifier took shape enough that prototypes emerged. In 1950, Fender presented his “Esquire” model – which later evolved into the famous “Telecaster” guitar, the icon of Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards. It was followed from 1954 on by the possibly even more iconic Stratocaster, played by Jimi Hendrix and Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow.

Les Paul meanwhile, after some ups and downs, finally found success with the Gibson guitar company, for which he designed the model that was graced with his name, the Les Paul Guitar, one of the iconic instruments of Rock n’ Roll – made famous by Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Slash.

With the help of amplifiers, the modern electric solid-body guitar is as loud as desired, and the clever use of amplifiers – feedback, overdrive, sustain – and electronic effects – wah-wah, flanger, echo, fuzz-box, delays – created sounds never heard before. The genius of Jimi Hendrix revolutionized the sounds of Rock n’ Roll.

And Rock n’ Roll began in the USA from the late 1940s to the early 1950s from

… musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, and country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.


While no single “first” rock and roll record can be identified, as elements like a simplified blues scheme, the first power chords, distorted electric guitar solos with warm overtones created by small valve amplifiers, call and response structures, verse, bridge and chorus distinctions and a heavy beat were used to various effect in records from the late 1940s on, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is still recognizable as probably the first of what we call today “rock” records – in particular, the remarkable guitar opening riff and the hammering beat. The song is still ranked in the Top Ten on Rolling Stone‘s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time

One of the early stars of Canadian Rock n’ Roll was Arkansas-born Ronnie Hawkins (“The Hawk”), a key player in the rock scene of Toronto in the early 1960s. He formed his own backing band, “The Hawks”, and toured with them throughout Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Hawkins also owned and operated the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, where some of rock and roll‘s earliest pioneers came to play, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty. The drummer of the Hawks’ first line-up was the barely eighteen-years-old Arkansas boy Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm. In 1961, he met Canadian bass player Rick Danko at a recording session for Lennie Breau.

In the fall of 1961, Hawkins hired – for the second line up of the Hawks -guitarist Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, and the keyboard men Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, all of them Canadians from south-western Ontario. This second line-up gigged through 1963 until it broke up in 1964. The former Hawks then performed initially as the Levon Helm Sextet, then as the Canadian Squires and finally as Levon and the Hawks and played in nearly every beer bar in northern America. A planned collaboration with bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson in 1965 failed because of the blues singer’s death. But then destiny intervened.

In August 1965, Mary Martin, an assistant to Bob Dylan‘s manager Albert Grossman, heard the music of the group, then known as Levon and the Hawks. Grossman introduced the band’s music to Dylan, who was impressed. The group was performing at Tony Mart’s, a popular club in Somers Point, New Jersey, and Grossman’s office called the club to speak with Levon and the group about touring with Dylan.
Helm was not happy to be backing a “strummer” but reluctantly agreed, and the band became Dylan’s backup group for a tour beginning in September. The tour, however, became too much for Helm, who departed in November. Through May 1966, Dylan and the remaining foursome (together with pick-up drummers, including the actor and musician Mickey Jones) travelled across America, Australia, and Europe. After the final shows in England, Dylan retreated to his new home in Woodstock, New York, and the Hawks joined him there shortly thereafter

Bob Dylan and the Band live 1974

In this summer of 1966 or a bit later, Rick Danko found the pink house on Parnassus Lane in Saugerties, New York, which became known as Big Pink. Between June and October 1967, everybody met there and Bob Dylan and the band recorded what was later to become famous as the Basement Tapes. Yet these songs were only published, much later, in 1975, because Dylan – after his 1966 motorcycle accident – went upon an extensive period of recovery and wasn’t seen in public until 1971’s George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh.

The Basement Tapes

Yet these songs were only published, much later, in 1975, because Dylan – after his 1966 motorcycle accident – went upon an extensive period of recovery and wasn’t seen in public until 1971’s George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh.

The Basement Tapes thus on ice, Levon returned to the group in October and from January to March 1968 they recorded the first album of their own, naming themselves simply “The Band”, which was released later in 1968 on Capitol Records.

The album – “Music from Big Pink” – sold only mediocre, but was critically acclaimed by music press and musicians alike worldwide. In Rolling Stone, Al Kooper gave it a rave review, and Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd praised it wholeheartedly. The single “The Weight” earned popularity on account of its inclusion on “Easy Rider“. In 2003, the album was ranked number 34 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. No other band was more reported on ever in Rolling Stone Magazine, not even the Beatles, and perhaps no other band has a comparable internet archive – see http://theband.hiof.no/

The complete “Music from Big Pink” on YouTube

It was strange music, far away from the flashy sound of the sixties, the experiments of the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix, laid back – some called it boring – old-fashioned, unpretentious, the sound you might hear in your local beer bar from an amateur band. But then it stuck – the old-fashioned songs had their own, unobtrusive way of growing on you – the odd line that seemed familiar, proverbs and adages you might have heard in childhood from your mom or grandfather, allusions on the Bible and Sunday preachings, striking and funny observations, remembrances of your high school sweetheart – in their unobtrusive way, the music formed a picture of the past, of growing up in rural, white America. Glimpses of family life, love and sorrow, war and peace, the all-encompassing microcosm that, in the end, forms a human life.

We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside and put us all away
Oh, what dear daughter ‘neath the sun could treat a father so?
To wait upon him hand and foot and always tell him “No”

The band, “Tears of Rage” from “Music from Big pink”

Ten years ago, on a cool dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word, although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

the Band “long black veil” from “Music from Big Pink”

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “All You Need is Love” or “Purple Haze” was one thing, but here was real life, brutal, sad, hard work, disappointment and frustration, glimpses of luck overshadowed by clouds – everyone could relate to it. And then there was … “The Weight”.

I pulled in to Nazareth
Was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place
Where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me
Where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand
And “No” was all he said

the band, “The weight”, from “Music from big pink”

The single sold OK but not great, but everybody heard the song on “Easy Rider” – a strange amalgamation of scenes reminding of biblical allegories, western life similes and plain nonsense, wide-open spaces for interpretation. And indeed, dozens of books have discussed this magic potion. Peter Viney, one of the great writers and historians of Rock and Roll, devoted much of his time to the analysis of the Band’s great songs, and here is his introduction on “The Weight”: http://theband.hiof.no/articles/the_weight_viney.html

Peters Viney’s Music Blog

Robbie Robertson:
(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in ‘Viridiana’ and ‘Nazarin’, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’ it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good. In ‘The Weight’ it was this very simple thing. Someone says, ‘Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say “hello” to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.’ This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy Shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say “hello” for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’ It was very Buñuelish to me at the time.

Peter Viney:

The Weight has been painting pictures for me for over thirty-five years now; it’s an intensely visual song, and my pictures aren’t of anywhere in Pennsylvania. My Nazareth is a dusty western town sometime in the late 19th century. Neighbouring towns might be called Jerusalem or Babylon … or Jericho (which was a deliberate reference in the Band’s comeback album title in 1993). Carmen and the devil are strutting their stuff in red silk dresses, fringed with black cat fur, along a wooden sidewalk. Chester is the town character straight out of the TV series Gunsmoke which was set in Dodge City in the 1880s. Gunsmoke ran from 1955 to 1975 and was the archetypal TV western. Chester Goode was the name of the deputy marshal in the series who spent his time limping rapidly along the dusty main street dragging his ramrod-stiff gammy leg. In the TV series, Chester had a catch-phrase. As he limped after the town marshal, Matt Dillon, he used to shout out ‘Marshall Dillon!’, ‘Marshall Dillon!’ (Marshall Dylan! Marshall Dylan?). Carmen might be the programme’s Miss Kitty, who owned the Longbranch Saloon – a tart with a heart. Old Luke’s another town character (not from the TV series this time) whose rockin’ chair ain’t goin’ nowhere, as he puffs his pipe waiting on the judgement day. The Cannonball steams into the station, a great cow-catcher across the front. Pure Americana…


Yet one year later, they upped the ante, and published in 1969 a very low-key album in a brown cover without a title except for their name, knows simply as “The Band” or “The Brown Album”.

Music from Big Pink had been a fine, even superior debut; The Band was their masterpiece. Robbie Robertson’s songwriting had grown by leaps and bounds. As players, all five musicians had reached a completely new level of ensemble cohesion. The sum was very much greater than the parts, and the parts were as good as any that existed. The album’s single, “Up on Cripple Creek,” became the Band’s first and only Top 30 release. It was one of several songs on the album that had an “old-timey” feel. Other highlights on this masterpiece include “Rag Mama Rag,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “King Harvest.”
Rob Bowman, All-Music Guide


“The Band” (The Brown Album) on YouTube

Perhaps no other work of art, with the possible exception of “Gone with the Wind” (in spite of its thematic and historic limitations) has embodied the rural (white) American existence so closely – the blueprints of the American way of life: Go west, young man [“Across the Great Divide” and “When You Awake”] – the road and the longing for a home [Up On Cripple Creek” and “Whispering Pines”] – an old man’s memories [“Rockin’ Chair”] – farming and unions, the drudge of the weather and false promises [“King Harvest (has surely come)”] – snapshots of life, joy and sorrow, the human condition.

But even on this panoply of genuine Americana, two songs stand out – one that everybody knows, yet the other remains virtually unknown. We start with the famous one – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” …

Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh so well

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
“Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best

Like my father before me, I will work the land
And like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “La, la, la”

THe band, “the night they drove old dixie down”

Ralph Gleason
Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is ‘The Red Badge of Courage’. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.
[Ralph Gleason, original review in Rolling Stone (US edition only) October 1969]


Jonathan Taplin (quoted by Robert Palmer)
It was May and they’d just finished it the night before. They said it’d come out fast and hard and clean. It was just the most moving experience I’d had for, God, I don’t know how long. Because for me, being a Northern liberal kid who’d been involved in the Civil Rights movement and had a whole attitude towards the South, well I loved the music but I didn’t understand where white Southerners were coming from. And to have it all in just three and a half minutes, the sense of dignity and place and tradition, all those things … Well, the next day after I’d recovered, I went to Robbie and asked him, “How did that come out of you?” And he just said that being with Levon so long in his life and being in that place at that time … It was so inside him that he wanted to write the song right at Levon, to let him know how much those things meant to him.
[Quoted in Robert Palmer “A Portrait of The Band As Young Hawks”, Rolling Stone, 1 June 1978]


Chet Flippo
The fact that (Dixie) was written by a Canadian – Robbie – is all the more telling. Looking in from outside he could see more than most already inside just looking around.

Again and again, commentators have pointed to the novelty of expressing a Southern point of view about the Civil War. In 1969 a negative view of the traditional South dominated among young Americans. The South brought images of the Civil Rights struggle, the death of Medgar Evers, corrupt politicians like Huey Long and LBJ, the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, the murder of Martin Luther King, fiery Ku Klux Klan crosses. Even today, Southern voices are deliberately avoided on most tapes and programs used for teaching American English to foreigners, or for reading the national news, and there is still a degree of antipathy in the North. Robbie has mentioned his love affair with the South. His distance – the fact that he was Canadian – helped. The British, for example, have always held a blinkered, romantic view of the Southern states. Maybe this was bolstered by Gone With The Wind, Maybe it dates back to the Civil War itself, when the British government gave covert support to the Confederacy, inspired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This was somewhat odd, as the British Empire had banned slavery thirty years earlier, and in industrial districts workers identified with the Northern cause. The British ruling class identified with “Southern aristocrats”. Politics are about taking the main chance, and it’s fair to say that the British government of 1861 to 1865 was far from adverse to a possible break-up of the Union, principally on the grounds of self-interest. France felt much the same, and was stirring the shit in Mexico throughout the Civil War. Napoleon III suggested to Britain that they jointly recognize the CSA. Then the French made Maximilian their puppet Emperor of Mexico. He got shot. Spain was messing in Santo Domingo with similar intentions. A positive image of the South was considerably less surprising in Britain and France, and as a result in Canada, too. [Chet Flippo, liner notes to the ‘Across The Great divide” box set.]


Many fans and critics have seen the song as an illumination, or an invitation to see the other side – perhaps for the first time. The chorus strikingly contrasts southern anger, sadness and feeling of loss with the joyous reaction of the winner – the Yankees. History and feelings of the civil war depicted in three sad and glorious minutes – we hear you, Shakespeare.

There is an amazing article on genius.com on how the civil war shaped country music – link.

While being a stroke of genius, which the song undoubtedly represents, some, including the present author, argue that another, almost forgotten song, may stand on a comparable level. It evokes in vivid pictures the other great story of the South – involuntary servitude – slavery and serfdom – or does it? It bears the title “The Unfaithful Servant”,

Unfaithful servant, I hear you’re leavin’ soon in the mornin’
What did you do to the lady, that she’s gonna have to send you away?
Unfaithful servant, you don’t have to say you’re sorry
If you done it just for the spite, or did you do it just for the glory?
Like a stranger you turned your back
Left your keep and gone to pack
But bear in mind who’s to blame for all the shame
She really cared
The time she spared
And the home you shared

Unfaithful servant, I can hear the whistle blowin’
Yes, that train is a-comin’ and soon you’ll be a-goin’
Need us not bow our heads, for we won’t be complainin’
Life has been good to us all, even when that sky is rainin’
To take it like a grain of salt
Is all I can do and it’s no one’s fault
It makes no diff’rence if we fade away
It’s just as it was
And it’s much to cold for me to stay

Goodbye to that country home, so long, lady I have known
Farewell to my other side, I’d best just take it in stride
Unfaithful servant, you’ll learn to find your place
I can see it in your smile, and, yes, I can see it in your face
The mem’ries will linger on
But the good old days, they’re all gone
Oh, lonesome servant, can’t you see
We’re still one and the same
Just you and me

the band, “The unfaithful servant”

Now, this is wide to interpretation, but after some hundreds of interviews, Robbie Robertson has finally made clear that, yes, it is about a Mistress (with a capital M) and a servant, so a lot of speculation on the exact relations and lots of sexual innuendoes has been put to rest.

Peter Viney has a lot to say about it:

The song is brilliant at generating assumptions. Let’s ask some questions. Try answering them without pondering too hard. I’ve used the word ‘screwing’ which has rather mechanical connotations, but some people are offended by Anglo-Saxon four-letter words, and ‘making love’ sounds like romantic fiction, and ‘having intercourse’ like a medical textbook. If you don’t like the term try not to let it get in the way.

Let your picture of the song bring out your answers, but do it quickly:

  • Where does it take place?
  • When does it take place?
  • Is the servant male or female?
  • Is there a sexual element in the relationship?
  • If so, is the servant screwing or being screwed? (i.e. the instigator or the recipient)
  • Is the relationship with the ‘lady’ or with the narrator?
  • Is the narrator a separate entity to the servant?
  • What’s the transgression?

I would think most people could give off the cuff answers. If I’d done it fast a while ago, without referring to the lyrics I’d have answered:

  • Rural area. Large house. Mansion with white portico, somewhere in the south.
  • Not recently. Train whistles are blowing. So post Civil War (probably). I’d think Faulkner. 1920s to 1940s.
  • Male (?)
  • Yes
  • Screwing
  • the lady
  • yes
  • The servant had a relationship and told tales, bringing shame.

Then look at the lyrics or give it a listen. This is what I come up with.

  • Absolutely no textual or musical evidence for the south. Try seeing a wooden Gothic mansion in rural New England. Or an isolated farmhouse in the west, with the hired hand being sent packing. It still works just as well. I think people tend to see it as the south because it leads so beautifully into King Harvest. It could also be that the blowsiness of the horns conjure up a steamy Southern atmosphere.
  • A writer using a modern setting might choose a Greyhound bus in preference to a train. Trains will take you back as far as the Civil War. I still think I’m right about the early 20th century. I’d dismiss the idea that it takes place very early on. It’s a servant who goes and packs and leaves. This rules out either a slave, or an indentured servant.
  • Zero evidence for a male servant either. Barney Hoskyns says ‘his mistress’ but the servant could be female. In which case the relationship between the servant (who comes in on Goodbye to that country home, Farewell to a lady I have known… ) and the narrator is the sexual one. Say the servant was a ladies maid, and that the shame was an affair with the narrator? What she did to the lady was betray her trust. There is a deep link between the narrator and the servant: Let us not bow our heads, for we won’t be complaining … note that, us / our / we. And it makes no difference if we fade away. The intriguing end is That we’re still one and the same, just you and me which might indicate one voice in two aspects, or might mean that narrator and servant are now a couple. If the servant is female, then it’s the narrator who is also the “unfaithful” one, in the ‘infidelity’ sense. They are both unfaithful servants, they are one and the same.

The narrator is also involved with the lady; he is a lover, husband or son which means that he and the servant are retreating together, and in spite of the regrets he sings I can see it in your smile, which would be a knowing, conspiratorial smile. [http://theband.hiof.no/articles/unfaithful_servant_viney.html]

Yet it all might be very different, as Pat Brennan argues:

A Robbie Robertson songbook published with a ton of his input claims the song is written in the voice of a “master bidding goodbye to the servant with whom he’s had an affair’. So this makes the narrator the master, and the servant someone who has offended the mistress, by having an affair with the master. Pat’s quote indicates that the servant IS female, cuts out son/brother/ lover as possibilities (and answers most of the questions). After reading this quote (when I thought I’d finished) I had to go back and remove several maybe’s, might’s and possibly’s!

  • Even if you persist with a male servant, he may or may not have been screwing the lady. unfaithful can mean betraying trust in a general sense, or in a more limited sense refer to sexual infidelity. I don’t read it in the limited sense. The implication is general I’m sure, though that does not rule out a specific sexual transgression. A lady I have known could be “known” as in the bible. Or it could simply mean that the lady was not a remote figure, but a friend who shared her home. In any case, we don’t know who is the instigator, the lady or the servant. The lady is in the position of power over a male servant (Come here, young man …). A female servant would have had a relationship with the narrator. In both cases, there is a figure who holds power, and one who is exploited.
  • Already answered above. It could, of course, be both. Or either. Helpful.
  • You can argue this one. Danko sings the whole thing. Given The Band’s taste for switching voices, you’d have expected them to bring in Richard for the first person section. They don’t. I’m trying not to be crass, many songwriters have switched narrative voices within a song without changing vocalists. It’s just that The Band were heavily into switching at this time. The servant could be addressing herself/himself in the third person elsewhere, and switching to first-person here. Then “We’re still one and the same” becomes a knowing audio “wink” to the listener. Or if the narrator and the servant are in a sexual relationship, they are joined both physically and in their intent.
  • Theft? (and why not?) Screwing the lady’s husband/lover/brother/son and being caught? Or boasting about it? Screwing the lady and telling all and sundry? I think we’re seeing the same concerns which surfaced in The Rumor, those of gossip, saying too much, and thus betrayal. The servant was in a trusted position. The servant lived in the house and held keys (or even the main keys). They shared a home. A home, not a house. The sin and the shame would be the result of airing whatever was going on to public view. This is clear in the line or did you do it just for the glory? The glory was boasting about it, telling all.

In the end, it’s an enigma (what an easy let out). Whatever, Robertson’s sense of time lends the story of this particular eternal triangle a sense of dignity and regret. Compare a headline like ‘Rock star screws babysitter’ or ‘Rock star has affair with cleaner’ which would be an inevitably sordid modern-day version! [http://theband.hiof.no/articles/unfaithful_servant_viney.html]

What if the whole thing is a lesbian affair? Who knows …

Is “The Band”, as Barney Hoskyns argued, in its thematic tightness and historical congruity perhaps a “concept album”? If it was, Unfaithful Servant stands out like an almost film-like scene …

Peter Viney on Barney Hoskyns:
If The Band as a ‘concept album’ can be said to take place in or around some imaginary country town, then The Unfaithful Servant is definitely set in the ‘mansion on the hill’, a Southern household of the kind Robbie had read about in the plays of Tennessee Williams. … the overall effect was pure American Gothic.
I’d never thought of The Band as a concept album (whether in Hoskyns inverted commas or not) nor that it took place in one imaginary town, but The Unfaithful Servant does conjure up the mansion, not necessarily on the hill, which is as much a feature of Faulkner as of Tennessee Williams. Williams’ plays had been made into films (e.g. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof ) and Robbie talks about his passion for the movies predating his passion for books at the age of 19 (Robbie mentions Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway as his reading matter in one interview and Tennessee Williams in another). Whatever, we all know this classic story setting, ‘The Big House’ which runs through American folklore from Faulkner through Gone With The Wind to more recent 1990s manifestations like the movie Driving Miss Daisy or John Berendt’s non-fiction novel Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. It has been cited as a further Civil War period song, but there’s no internal evidence. Williams and Faulkner are 20th century manifestations that fit just as well. Melodically it harks back to Tears of Rage with a similar sense of nameless guilt in the lyrics. There is also a similarity with It Makes No Difference – similar in the way that say Elton John’s or Randy Newman’s songs are immediately recognizable as their compositions. There’s a lyric link too: “Makes no difference if we fade away … “(The Unfaithful Servant) – “It makes no difference, night or day, The shadow never seems to fade away” (It Makes No Difference).


Concept album or (rather) not, “The Band” remains one of the great albums of Rock music.

The album includes many of the Band’s best-known and critically acclaimed songs, including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down“, which Rolling Stone named the 245th greatest song of all time (in the updated version, it was the 249th greatest song of all time). In 2003, the album was ranked number 45 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[16] In 1998 Q magazine readers voted The Band the 76th greatest album of all time. Time magazine included it in their unranked 2006 list of the 100 greatest albums. Robert Christgau, having been disappointed with the Band’s debut, had expected to dislike the record and even planned a column for the Village Voice to “castigate” their follow-up. Upon hearing the record, however, he declared it better than Abbey Road, which had been released four days following, writing that the Band’s LP is an “A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one.” He ranked it as the fourth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine’s annual critics poll. The album was later included in his “Basic Record Library” of 1950s and 1960s recordings, published in Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)


1970 the Band released their third album, “Stage Fright“, which sold well and in 1971 “Cahoots“, which drew mixed receptions. Arguably, the intensity of the second album was impossible to reignite. Yet their true metier was the road, playing live, which they had done extensively whether the records sold or not, and booked a residency at the New York City Academy of Music for the last week of 1971, culminating in a New Year’s Eve performance. The nights of December 28 through 31 were recorded and 17 songs released on the live double album “Rock of Ages” (10 additional songs including a guest performance of Bob Dylan were published as bonus tracks in a 2000 reissue).

“Rock of Ages” complete on YouTube

Robbie Robertson had commissioned New Orleans songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint to compose horn charts for their recent singleLife Is a Carnival” from the album Cahoots, and decided to have Toussaint write special charts for a five-man horn section to augment the group on their upcoming concerts. Charts written by Toussaint in New Orleans were in luggage lost at the airport, and a new set was composed in a cabin near Robertson’s house in Woodstock. Robertson selected eleven songs to receive horn charts, and all are included on the released album. The horns do not play on “Get Up Jake”, “Stage Fright“, “This Wheel’s on Fire“, “The Weight“, “The Shape I’m In“, and “The Genetic Method.” Selections on the bonus disc also do not feature horn arrangements, although the horn section added spontaneous flourishes to “Down in the Flood” and “Rolling Stone.” The repertoire consisted of material from all four of The Band’s studio albums up to that point, and one new original song, “Get Up Jake”, which were framed on the album by covers of the 1964 Motown hit singleBaby Don’t You Do It” by Marvin Gaye, and “(I Don’t Want to Hang Up) My Rock and Roll Shoes”, the b-side of Chuck Willis’ final single.


The (relatively) weaker songs of the last two studio albums were eliminated, and the result forms one of the great live albums of rock music. Such albums notoriously get short shrift and the cold shoulder by critics, but there is perhaps no better possibility to delve live into the magic of old-time Americana than “Rock of Ages”. Try it!

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

Hits: 268

The Treaty of Versailles

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, John C. Johansen (1876–1964)

Related Post on the last chapter of the war: Objects in the Rear Mirror are Closer than they Appear [including PDF]

The Full Text of the Treaty of Versailles [PDF]

Video by France 24 with English Subtitles

What do we have to keep in mind, in the recapitulation, about the peculiarities of the Great War’s gestation? We may remind ourselves that neither politicians nor generals realized the sheer dimension of the disaster they unleashed. They understood that it was to be a huge war, but they still thought essentially in the dimensions of 1812 and 1870, big wars, to be sure, especially that of 1812, and destined to become even bigger by conscription, but that Napoleon’s Grande Armée of 1812 would easily be outsized by a factor of ten or fifteen and that ten million fatalities would eventually be counted nobody dared to suggest in 1914.

It was exactly because of the enormity of the conflagration that an intensive discussion was to ensue over the responsibility for its outbreak, the issue of “war guilt”. This topic remains intensively argued to this day, but in 1919, as we will see, it was quickly institutionalized by way of individual peace treaties, which tended to reflect the noble motives of the victors that so favourably contrasted to the evil schemes of the losers. As it was to be expected, the victors liked the results very much, the losers much less.

It took not much political savvy to doubt the usefulness of the blame game and the reparation demands which resulted – and would be so catastrophically exploited by Hitler’s propaganda – Marshal Foch himself famously called the
Treaty of Versailles not peace but a “twenty-year armistice”, and was not far off: twenty years, nine months and nineteen days after the First World War had ended, the Second broke out. In retrospect, the motivations were simple – territorial demands, economic interests, and underlying psychological malaises, and in each case, the result – the decision for war – was a mixture of at least two of these elements.

France sought to regain Alsace-Lorraine – the defeat of 1871 had literally stunned the nation, and, perhaps even more urgently, she sought to renew the national unity that had been torn asunder by the Dreyfus affair. The Great War would provide the illusion of such unity for the time being – l’union sacrée, proclaimed by Poincaré in parliament on August 4 – yet that France could not truly regain this indivisibility proved itself for the worse in 1940 when the French Right opted rather to suffer German occupation than to allow a Second Commune. But since the country had succeeded since 1904 “to convince leading members of the Liberal government in London that France’s security was a British national interest,” (150) she was assured not only of the assistance of the greatest land power, Russia, in the impending war, but could also count on the support of the biggest sea power. A repeat of 1871 seemed to be out of the question.

Great Britain’s policy remained – obviously – the perpetuation of divide et impera, the prolongation of the concert-of-powers system that prevented the rise of a continental hegemony. It was a lucky happenstance, perhaps, that this coincided with a certain interest in the weakening of Germany’s industry as a competitor in global trade. England had no stated territorial interests, although she would be suspiciously quick in accepting, after the war, as “mandates” from the League of Nations the former German colonies of Namibia and Tanzania. A discussion remains whether Edward Grey’s, the British Foreign Secretary, three principal moves that ended in England joining the war, of whose acuity he seemed to have been well aware, were results of his bumbling or cunning. In his memoirs, Grey wrote: “I remember saying more than once, to colleagues inside or outside the Cabinet that it did not matter whether the decision was to go to war or to demand conditions from Germany. Conditions meant war just as surely as a declaration of war. Respect for the neutrality of Belgium must be one of the conditions, and this Germany would not respect.” (151) [FN 32] This argument can be made, of course, only in hindsight.

[FN 32] Albertini remarks: “This shows that Grey knew beforehand what would be the outcome of his three moves. The first was that of 31 July when though the situation was beyond repair [sic] he asked Paris and Berlin to ‘engage to respect the neutrality of Belgium so long as no other power violates it’. The second was on 1 August, when with Cabinet consent he warned Germany that ‘if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country.'”

Austria-Hungary’s motivations were almost entirely psychological – the Danube Monarchy dreaded Slavic nationalism as well as Hungarian separatism, had no concept for the integration of the numerous ethnic minorities, and was in shocking internal disorder – parliament had to be dissolved in 1907, and she essentially became a military dictatorship during the war. Only a great victory promised hope for the future – provided that it was possible at all to preserve “Kaiser Franz Joseph’s unique but anachronistic inheritance” – the breaking apart of which the European equilibrium could not – and did not – survive. (152)

Russia was in a similar political situation – the attempted revolution of 1905 was in no way forgotten – as the future was to tell – and any influx of patriotism the war was to bring figured hugely in her political computations, but her leadership had a truly strategic and territorial vision. To gain control of the Straits and hence access to the Aegean, Adriatic and the rest of the Mediterranean Seas would not only multiply her economical opportunities but also extend the influence of her navy – the budget of which since 1913 exceeded that of Germany – to the coasts of the Balkan and Asia Minor – the resurrection of an [Orthodox] Christian Byzantine Empire would reverse the progress of Islam into Europe.

Related Posts on the last phase of the war and the armistice negotiations:

Woodrow Wilson’s Whiplash – The Fourteen Points

The Vanity of Black Jack Pershing

But one day all was over, and in Spring and Summer 1919 the delegations of the belligerents met in Paris to conclude the peace treaties. The most important of these – with Germany – was to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, where on January 18, 1871, the victorious Germans had proclaimed the Second Empire.

Since all nations except the United States were completely exhausted from the war, everybody looked upon President Woodrow Wilson as Arbiter (and Saviour) Mundi, as the cartoonists were quick to notice.

In anticipation of the victorious conclusion of the war – through American supplies and troops – European politicians, pros and amateurs alike, had drawn up maps for the future. Most of those had as a common element the partitioning of Germany – a sort of time travel back to 1789 – as to disarm the German menace for all time. They all looked somewhat like this:

This specimen may date from before 1917 – the breakdown of Russia is not anticipated, therefore no Poland, and really nobody has an idea what to do with the western Balkans (Black lines are the borders of 1914)
Woodrow Wilson partook in amateur geostrategy as well – a Map from 1920

On the historical assessment of what finally transpired in the Treaty, there is a useful introduction on Wikipedia and, of course, stacks of literature – hence this post will not deal with details. A tentative agreement seems to form that the peace conditions were not as harsh as later German, especially Nazi German, propaganda made them out – which of course did not help in 1939.

Procedurewise, negotiations started on January 18, 1919 (48 years after 1871). While at times over 50 commissions worked on details, the important decisions were made by the “Big Four” Committee, consisting of Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George, and President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, who met in 145 closed sessions. Russia was not invited, on account of their separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, and Germany excluded.

The Big Four, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando and Wilson

The signing ceremony was held in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles on June 28, 1919, the fifth anniversary of the Sarajevo Affair, the assassination of Francis Ferdinand.

Related Post: The Prince and the Pauper (Sarajevo 1914)

As one would surmise, the German delegation was quite unhappy about the proposed treaty. Minister-President Philipp Scheidemann and his cabinet, the first German postwar government, resigned in opposition to the treaty on June 20, 1919. He was replaced by Gustav Bauer. The decisiveness of the hesitant German government was much improved when the Allies issued an ultimatum stating that Germany would have to accept the treaty or face an invasion of Allied forces across the Rhine within 24 hours. On June 23, Bauer relented and sent his plenipotentiaries.

German delegates in Versailles: Professor Walther Schücking, Reichspostminister Johannes Giesberts, Justice Minister Otto Landsberg, Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Prussian State President Robert Leinert, and financial advisor Carl Melchior.

The place of the signing was, as mentioned, fraught with history. The German National Assembly voted for the treaty by 237 to 138, and the result was wired to Clemenceau just hours before the deadline. German foreign minister Hermann Müller and colonial minister Johannes Bell travelled to Versailles to sign the treaty on behalf of Germany. The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 and ratified by the Weimar National Assembly on 9 July by a vote of 209 to 116. (see Wiki)

The Hall of Mirrors
The delegations gather …
… as do the spectators.
Some seating arrangements were complex …
… to provide the necessary room …
… others less complex.
The Signing of the Treaty of Peace at Versailles, 28 June 1919 by Joseph Finnemore, 1919
Cover of the British Version

The eventual territorial changes are depicted below:

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

Hits: 233

The Trial and Detention of Adolf Hitler in 1924

Preceding Post: The Beer Hall Putsch

Videos: US – Video from 1945 (no sound) / German Clip

In the early afternoon of November 9, 1923, the Nazis‘ wannabe-putsch had miserably failed at the Odeonsplatz in Munich under the guns of the Bavarian police. Adolf Hitler had dislocated his left arm as he fell on the pavement. Walter Schulze, head of the Munich SA Medical Unit, led him to Max-Joseph Platz, where they mounted Hitler’s old Selve 6/20 and fled southbound.

Selve 6/20 Model

After some errant manoeuvring, the car finally drove to Uffing at the Staffelsee Lake, to the house of the foreign press chief of the NSDAP, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstängl. The landlord was not at home – he had not been on Odeonsplatz, but on a special mission in Munich’s Neuhausen district and was picked up by Heinrich Hoffmann, the party photographer, and brought to his apartment, whence he planned his escape to Austria.

In Uffing, the refugees were taken care of by Putzi’s wife Helene Hanfstaengl, but the idyll did not last long – on Sunday, 11 November in the afternoon, the criminal police appeared and seized Hitler. He was first taken to Weilheim, the county seat, from where the magistrate examining the case transferred him to the custody of the state prison at Landsberg am Lech, where he arrived Monday at 11 o’clock.

The trial of Ludendorff, Hitler and the other defendants began on the morning of February 26, 1924, in the Munich Central Infantry School at Blutenburgstraße. 368 witnesses were heard in total. Lots of correspondents from all over the world and hundreds of spectators crowded the hall. Two battalions of police sealed the Mars- and Blutenburgstraße off with barbed wire and Spanish riders.

During the days of the trial at the Bavarian Peoples’ Court – established in violation of the Weimar Constitution and therefore actually illegal (the Reichsgericht at Leipzig – outside of Bavaria – would have been the proper court), he was housed in the local prison at Stadelheim in Munich.

The trial of Hitler et al. lasted from February 26 to April 1, 1924.

The Defendants: Heinz Pernet (Ludendorff’s son-in-law), Dr Friedrich WeberWilhelm Frick (Chief of the Munich Criminal Police), Hermann Kriebel, General Ludendorff, Hitler, Wilhelm Brückner (Leader of the SA München), Ernst Röhm, and Robert Wagner (Aide-de-Camp of Ludendorff)

The website of the Austrian historian Kurt Bauer features the statements of Hitler before the court (PDF link in German).

Here an excerpt of Hitler’s speech of February 26, 1924, before the court (in English, see link below):

[As the Putsch ended], I wanted to hear nothing more of this lying and libellous world, but in the course of the next few days, during the second week [of my arrest], as the campaign of lies which was being waged against us [by the Bavarian government] continued, and as one after another was arrested and brought to Landsberg prison, honest men whom I knew to be absolutely innocent, but whose sole crime was that they belonged to our Movement, men who knew nothing whatsoever about the events, but who were arrested because they shared our philosophy and the government was afraid that they would speak up in public, I came to a decision. I would defend myself before this court and fight to my last breath. Thus I have come into this room, not in order to explain things away, or lie about my responsibility; no indeed! In fact, I protest that Oberstleutnant Kriebel has declared that he bears responsibility for what happened. Indeed, he had no responsibility for it at all. I alone bear the responsibility. I alone, when all is said and done, wanted to carry out the deed. The other gentlemen on trial here only negotiated with me at the end. I am convinced that I sought nothing bad. I bear the responsibility, and I will shoulder all the consequences. But one thing I must say: I am not a crook, and I do not feel like a criminal. On the contrary! …

If I stand here before the court [accused of being] a revolutionary, it is precisely because I am against revolution and against crimes. I do not consider myself guilty. I admit all the factual aspects of the charge. But I cannot plead that I am guilt of high treason; for there can be no high treason against that treason to the Fatherland committed in 1918 [by the Republican Revolution].

It is impossible to prove that I began to commit high treason during the events of 8 and 9 November [1923], for the important points are my attitude and my whole activities which went on months before. Treason cannot arise from a single act, but in the preliminary conversations and planning for this act. If I really committed high treason thereby, I am astonished that the men with whom I planned all this [i.e. the Bavarian politicians], are not sitting in the dock beside me. I cannot plead guilty, since I am aware that the Prosecuting Attorney is legally obligated to charge everyone who discussed with us, and planned to carry out those acts; I mean Messrs von Berchem, von Aufsaß, Kahr, Lossow, and Seißer and others. I must consider it an oversight that the Prosecuting Attorney has not charged these gentlemen too. And as I stated before, admit all the facts, disputing only the guilt, so long as my companions here in the dock are not increased by the presence of the gentlemen who wanted to the same things as we, and who in conversations with us planned to do the same thing—all of which I will be glad to tell the court, in the absence of the public! So long as these gentlemen do not stand here beside me, I reject the charge of high treason. …

I do not feel like a traitor,  but as a good German,  who wanted only the best for his people.

Hitler (x) before the Court

And, on March 27, at the trial’s conclusion:

My Lords!

The action on 8/9 November did not miscarry. I would have considered it a failure if even one mother had come to me and said, “Herr Hitler, you have my child on your conscience; my child too fell that day.” But I assure you most solemnly: no mother ever said that to me. On the contrary, ten, hundreds, and ten thousand [men and women] have come, and have joined our ranks. An event which has not occurred in Germany since 1918 happened on that day: joyfully, young men went forth to death, to a death which one day will be hailed like the saying on the Obelisk: “They too died for the liberation of the Fatherland.” That is the most obvious sign of the success of that 8 November: for afterwards, the German people were not more depressed, but rather a wave of young Germany rose up, and joining together everywhere, and in powerful organizations, announced their new-found will. Thus, we see in this 8 November a great triumph, not only did it not produce depression, but it became the means for our Volk to become terribly enthusiastic to an extreme degree, and therefore I now believe that one day the hour will come when these masses who today bear our Swastika, and walk the streets carrying our swastika banners, will unite themselves with the very units which opposed us on 8 November. I thus believe that the blood which flowed on that day is not doomed to divide us forever.

When I learned, on the third day [of my arrest], that it was the Green Police [i.e. the riot-control police of Munich] a feeling of joy welled up within my soul; at least it had not been the German army which had shot us down! I rejoiced that it was not the German army, which had befouled itself. Instead, the German army remained as it had been, and with certain exceptions, we could still express the conviction that one day the hour would come in which the German army, officers and men, would stand on our side, and the old Quartermaster-General of the World War [Ludendorff] could rejoin this military unit …

The army which we have been building grows and grows, from day to day, from hour to hour, faster than ever, and in these very days we can express the proud hope that in the near future these wild groups will become battalions, and the battalions will grow to be regiments, and the regiments to be divisions, and the old colours of the Empire will be picked up out of the slime, and our old flags will whip in the wind, and reconciliation will be attained, just as on the day of the last judgment! And we ourselves will be ready and willing to join in that reconciliation.

And then, my Lords, then out of our graves, our bones will appeal to that higher court which rules over all of us. For you, my Lords, will not speak the final judgment in this case; that judgment will be up to “History,” the goddess of the highest court, which will speak over our graves and over yours. And when we appear before that court, I know its verdict in advance. It will not ask us: “Did you commit high treason?” for in the eyes of history, the Quartermaster-General of the World War, and his officers, who desired only the best, are considered to be only Germans who wanted to fight to defend their fatherland.

You may speak your verdict of “guilty” a thousand times over, but “History,” the goddess of a higher truth and a higher court, will one day laughingly tear up the charges of the Prosecution, and will laughingly tear up the verdict of this court, for she declares us to be innocent!

Proclamation of the Sentence, drawing by Otto. D. Franz
Ludendorff, who was acquitted, leaves the Court

The trial never lost the character of a horse trade. Right at the beginning, the three lay judges Leonhard Beck (born May 6, 1867 in Schwandorn), Philipp Hermann (born October 21, 1865 in Nuremberg, † January 10, 1930 in Munich) and Christian Zimmerman told the court that they would agree to possible convictions only on the condition that any sentences would be suspended. To prevent the immediate disintegration of the trial and subsequent referral to the proper court in Leipzig, the court had to accept.

Newspaper Extra, April 1, 1924, at 10 a.m.

The Judgement in the German Original

Ludendorff was acquitted and Hitler, Weber, Kriebel and Pöhner sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years of “Festungshaft” imprisonment and fines of 200 gold marks. Since pre-trial detention counted towards the time of incarceration, Frick, Röhm, Wagner and Brückner were immediately released on probation.

The term “Festungshaft” meant, according to the Reich Penal Code of 1871, imprisonment without compulsory labour and was a special provision for capital crimes on the occasion of duels or political crimes, in which “honourable reasons” were assumed – in contrast to greed, jealousy or other “lower” motives.

A few days after the end of the trial, Hitler, Herrmann Kriebel and Dr Friedrich Weber returned to Landsberg prison. The only other inmate in custody was the murderer of former Bavarian minister-president Kurt Eisner, Anton Count von Arco auf Valley, but he was released on probation on April 13, 1924, and pardoned in 1927. He had already been evicted from his old cell # 7, which Hitler took over.

Landsberg Prison, the main entrance
Hitler’s Cell, no. 7

Hitler, Dr Weber, Kriebel, Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess, who arrived in May, were brought to five cells that formed a separate wing of the building, where a common day room was available as well. The men met there almost every day for social gatherings.

A rather interesting point of view was first published on December 19, 2015, in an article by Sven Felix Kellerhoff, Chief Editor of the Department of History of the German newspaper “Die Welt“. Prisoners of the “Festungshaft” category had the privilege of self-sufficiency (at their own expense) and hence the judicial guard Franz Hemmrich, who was responsible for their orders, noted in the second half of 1924:

Hitler, Maurice, Kriebel, Hess and Dr Weber

Notable was his consumption of butter (34 kilograms), sugar (45 kilograms), eggs (515 pieces), potatoes (50 kilograms) and lemons (88 pieces). Otherwise, Hitler also ordered noodles (black and white vermicelli, spaghetti, macaroni), peas (one kilogram), onions (2.5 kilograms), rice (3.5 kilograms), salad oil, vinegar essence, soup cubes, coffee beans (5 pounds), condensed milk (one can), vanilla and cinnamon (50 grams).

Other purchases, however, shattered the image of the teetotaller, that Hitler claimed all his life in public:

More interesting, however, is what Hitler ordered in addition: beer. 62 bottles in July, 47 in August, 60 in September and 47 were delivered in October. For November, there are hardly any entries while 34 bottles accrued in December until one week before Christmas. These were half-litre bottles; thus, Hitler drank an average of just under a litre a day. That the beer was actually intended for him, can be concluded from the fact that Hemmrich noted specifically, if occasionally one of the then three daily bottles was intended for Hitler’s friend Emil Maurice, later SS-member No. 2.

It may, therefore, be concluded that a circle of merry men knew how to spend the days of their imprisonment in a rather liberal fashion. Of Hitler’s literary work on his book “Four and a half years of a fight against falsehood, stupidity and cowardice” – whose bulky title he later renamed “Mein Kampf” on the advice of a publisher –  party legend claimed later, that the author dictated the text to Rudolf Hess freewheelingly in the style of an ingenious rhetorician, but recent findings indicate that he probably typed the text himself on the old portable typewriter which can be clearly seen in cell picture # 2.

The treatment given to Hitler and his fellow prisoners regarding visits was, however, truly extraordinary. The director, senior government councillor Otto Leybold, described the men as “nationally-minded men” and for that reason authorized the admission of visitors far beyond the normal level. Until his release, Hitler received no fewer than 330 visits. The Historical Lexicon of Bavaria relates:

In addition to lawyer Lorenz Roder, the most frequent visitors were Berlin piano manufacturers Edwin Bechstein(1859-1934) and his wife Helene, Erich Ludendorff, Max Amann (Hitler’s war sergeant, 1891-1957), and Hermione Hoffmann.

Since the beginning of April, Kriebel and Dr Weber enjoyed the privilege of “receiving visits of their closest relatives without surveillance,” which extended to members of their sprawling families. From his own family environment, Hitler was visited only by his half-sister Angela Franziska Raubal from Vienna and her minor children Leo (1906-1977) and Angela Maria, called “Geli” (1908-1931). They were allowed to speak to their half-brother and/or uncle on 17 June and 14 July 1924 for a period of just under three and four hours, respectively, without supervision. In addition, Leybold had approved that Hitler was allowed to conduct confidential discussions with political friends regularly without the presence of a prison guard.

One probably will not err in characterizing the conditions of detention as rather mimicking a men’s pension than a prison. The inmates reckoned with their release on probation after serving the minimum detention period of nine months, estimating their release approximately on October 1, 1924. To their detriment, the Munich prosecutor found out that the prisoners had established smuggling of their correspondence, which torpedoed the earliest release date. Director Leybold was then asked for a written recommendation, which turned out quite surprisingly positive (here the German PDF of the document from a transcript in the Bavarian State Archives). After this hymn of praise – which allows us a few insights into the thoughts of the good Mr Leybold – their release on probation on 20 December 1924 was only a matter of form.

December 20, 1924, after release

Many relevant documents relating to Hitler’s detention were considered lost for years until they were offered for sale in July 2010; an action prevented, however, by the State of Bavaria, by seizure.

Inmate Hitler on the warden’s list – healthy, 175 cm height, 77 kg weight
A visiting card by Ludendorff and various other documents

As it was to be expected, after 1933 the Nazis made Hitler’s cell and prison a national shrine – with much fanfare and millions of postcards; a “place of pilgrimage to the German youth” – in the words of Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach – where the hard time of the leader was to be honoured and kept in awe. [PDF in German by Manfred Deiler with pics] The city of Landsberg eventually crowned the adulation; in 1937 she declared the room the “National Sanctuary Hitler Cell”.

Obviously, the US military government after 1945 wanted to erase the whole haunting affair as quickly as possible – and to make it clear to everyone where the madness had ultimately led, executed between 248 and 308 war criminals there (depending on the source), including Oswald Pohl, Head of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D and Paul Blobel, the butcher of Babi Yar.

Graves of the War Criminals

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019 – The pictures from Landsberg were provided, if not in the public domain, by the European Holocaust Memorial Landsberg, Foundation e.V. [English version] and especially from the archive of Manfred Deilers. Thank you very much!)

Hits: 262

Page 1 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén