A book dealing with the experiences and Western Front battles of a German regiment in the Great War must, by its nature, be primarily a work of military history - primarily in this case, but not exclusively, for elements of biography are also present. The regiment in question is, after all, the sixteenth Bavarian Reserve Infantry, or List Regiment (so named after its first commander); a regiment whose principal claim to fame is the fact that Adolf Hitler served in its ranks for four years in the Great War. Although this work cannot claim (perhaps mercifully) to be yet another Hitler biography, it still has Hitler as its raison d'être. Without the presence of this Austrian-born Infanterist (soon to be corporal) in its ranks, the List Regiment merits no more attention than any one of the 800 or so German regiments that served on the Western Front in the Great War. Yet Hitler did serve in its ranks and that fact alone makes its story important. Between 1914 and 1918, Hitler claimed, he changed from a self-confessed 'weak-kneed cosmopolitan' into an anti-Semite and ardent pan-German nationalist. Again according to Hitler, he decided in the trenches that for Germany's sake he must place whatever dreams he held of architectural or artistic glory on hold, and instead devote his immediate post-war future to politics. As an adjunct - and there is no reason to disbelieve (in this case) his word - as a front-line soldier he began his 'study' of the black art of propaganda. And, as Hitler himself maintained, the List Regiment provided him with his university of life.
Much, but not all, which Hitler wrote or said about himself, his past and his struggles can be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. As for the words of first-hand witnesses, these too are often contradictory and sometimes driven by motives in which truth does not always figure prominently. None more so perhaps than some of the self-styled acquaintances from his Vienna days between 1908 and 1913. But the post-war memoirs of his former trench comrades of 1914-18 must also be treated with circumspection, even if the Führer and his Gestapo did find some observations revealing enough to warrant pulping editions and meting out varying degrees of punishment to the authors. Such negative observations, it must be said, always relate to Hitler's eccentricities, personality and sexuality,