Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment

By John F. Williams | Go to book overview

1

A UNIVERSITY OF THE TRENCHES

If I were twenty to twenty-five years younger, I'd be in the front line. I passionately loved soldiering.

- Adolf Hitler (1941)

I wouldn't feel I had the right to demand of each man the supreme sacrifice, if I hadn't gone through the whole 1914-18 war in the front line.

- Adolf Hitler (1942) 1

While the Wehrmacht was bringing Poland to its knees in 1939, Nazi propaganda sought to justify the renewal of warfare as the second and conclusive phase of an ongoing 25-year struggle for Germany's survival and place in the sun, a struggle (Kampf) which had only commenced with the inconclusive Great War (Grosse Krieg) of 1914-18. In this thesis, the Armistice that ushered in the false peace of 1919-39 had been the work of Germany's weak-willed 'November criminals', politicians and not soldiers, acting as little more than puppets manipulated by unpatriotic Judeo-Marxist and Socialist elements on the home front. This Dolchstoss or 'stab-in-the-back' myth had been reinforced by the fact that Germany's supposedly 'invincible' armies had been able to march home, unmolested and with banners unfurled, from the battlefields.

The November 1918 spectacle of returning divisions of comparatively well turned out German troops, marching proudly through the towns and villages of the Reich, was an illusionary one. It provided, however, admirable fodder for the Dolchstoss myth. It was easy to believe that this was no defeated army, rather an army betrayed, whereby the German soldier had been forced - with victory in sight - to lay down his arms, not because of enemy superiority, but through an act of treachery by political traitors on the home front. This was nonsense. Although it was far from obvious in the comportment of the returning troops, the sorely tried, demoralized, outnumbered, ill-fed and materially inferior German Army could not have survived far into 1919 without being overrun, and with that

-4-

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Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - A University of the Trenches 4
  • 2 - 1913-14: 17
  • 3 - Cannon Fodder 34
  • 4 - West Flanders 1914 50
  • 5 - Winter 1914-15 73
  • 6 - Neuve Chapelle 1915 86
  • 7 - Fromelles 1915 98
  • 8 - Nursery Tales of 1915 114
  • 9 - Hugo Gutmann and the Good Soldier Mend 128
  • 10 - Fromelles 1916 136
  • 11 - Hell on the Somme 147
  • 12 - Declining Fortune 161
  • 13 - 1918 178
  • Epilogue: 198
  • Notes 211
  • Selected Bibliography 226
  • Index 233
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