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

By John F. Williams | Go to book overview
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12

DECLINING FORTUNE

The division Hitler pulled strings to rejoin was, by early 1917, in serious decline. As had happened in the case of the Australian 5th and British 61st divisions, the 6th BRD might have been reconstructed and brought back to something approaching battle strength. But OHL chose otherwise. Making matters worse, the relatively mediocre 20th RIR returned to the division after the Somme, while the excellent 21st RIR was shipped out to join one of the few high-quality divisions serving on the Eastern Front. Now comprising three regiments, the 6th BRD was also being stripped of its better, more experienced, soldiers. Wounded Iron Cross holders such as Bachmann and Hitler were transferred, after recuperation, to units evidently deemed more in need of quality reinforcements, with Hitler being one of the few to reject his 'promotion'. It is significant of the low esteem in which the division was regarded that a drunken incompetent was left in charge of the List Regiment, and only relieved (honourably) of his duties prior to the Battle of Arras in April 1917.

The 6th BRD had been tried, but failed to distinguish itself in offensive actions. In defence, however, it had carved out a fine reputation. Quality Stellunsgsdivisionen would be much needed in 1917, since the Germans knew well in advance what the Allies were planning. Secrecy regarding the coming April-May offensives on the Aisne and at Arras was as good as non-existent, while Haig's late-summer Flanders offensive - telegraphed by the two-month prior attack on Messines - had long been the subject of (accurate) speculation in German newspapers. Meanwhile, the 6th BRD had been holding a sleepy if freezing sector on the heights at Vimy, only to be withdrawn before the successful Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge in April 1917. After Vimy, the division was sent meandering through quiet sectors. It finally took up a position in the trenches near Gheluvelt for what Allied intelligence described as its 'only important fight' of 1917. 'Fight' is hardly the mot juste. The 6th BRD 'suffered heavily' while barely laying eyes on an Englishman, being blasted to pieces and gassed in the two-week artillery prelude to the 31 July offensive that launched Third Ypres. Even so, of the 3,754 men of the regiment who were killed or died in the four years of war, only 478, or 13 per cent, fell during 1917, just 50 per cent more than fell in

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