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

By John F. Williams | Go to book overview

11

HELL ON THE SOMME

Those fine qualities which had raised the German race to greatness leapt up once more in a dazzling flame and then slowly went out in a sea of mud and blood.

- Ernst Jünger on the Battle of the Somme 1

In a long war with sides very evenly matched like 1861-5 and 1914-18, nothing but slaughter of its men will bring one side to its knees.

- Sir James Edmond (British official historian) 2

Ernst Jünger's words might almost have been written with the List Regiment in mind. The dazzling flame that had been lit in the minds of the troops by their crushing victory at Fromelles was finally extinguished after eight days of demoralizing, attritional fighting in the mud and blood of the last phase of the Battle of the Somme. It was never relit. Herein lies a certain irony. The victors at Fromelles, the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, spent the rest of the war sliding further and further down in the rankings of friend and foe alike. On the other hand, the losers soon recovered. In 1918, the 61st South Midland Division was one of the few Fifth Army divisions to hold firm against the crushing weight of Ludendorff's spring offensive. Its partner at Fromelles, the Australian 5th Division, performed brilliantly at Arras, Third Ypres and then in all the fighting around Villers-Bretonneux of 1918. By the war's end it was, arguably, among the top dozen divisions in the British Army. 3

It is unlikely that Jünger, in a Hannoverian unit, would have heard of the List Regiment during the war. But when Fritz Wiedemann in 1932 wrote of regiments 'dragged along into the darkness and night' of the Battle of the Somme to be 'spewed out in ruins', the List Regiment's former adjutant had his own unit firmly in mind. Neither the List Regiment nor the 6th BRD was prepared for a battle where 'dare-devil enthusiasm' counted for less than the 'soldierly virtue' of being able to 'hold on to the last in lost posts under a barrage of the heaviest calibres'. Wiedemann might have added 'for day after day, night after night', for in the attritional battle of matériel the men of the regiment now found themselves

-147-

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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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