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Skipman

The Diary of a German Soldier

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Skipman

The Diary of a German Soldier by Feldwebel C____ First Sergeant 88th Infantry 21st Division, 18th Army Corps

" Back in our first position we were able to get an idea of the awful massacre which had taken place. We literally walked over piles of dead and wounded, French and German mixed promiscuously. Cries, groans, the death rattle, veritable shrieks of pain arose from this field of slaughter. For a moment I thought I going mad like all the rest, for my mind seemed to ramble and my senses were be- numbed. A great many men had become stone deaf and remained sitting on the ground, oblivious of everything. If you spoke to them they just stared at you with a stupid expression. "

Mike

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David Filsell

This is another of the 'German' books about the war my research into German novels about the war published in English very firmly indicates to be a British propaganda forgery - there were at least four such works published firing the Great War.

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Guest

Interesting David. I would not havr thought it. I just skimmed through it, but it's a good read?

Mike

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David Filsell

I'll try to look out my comments on the book and post them for forum comment

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alain dubois
I'll try to look out my comments on the book and post them for forum comment

Yes, this would be interesting : the chapter I can compare to reality (Valenciennes' Headquarters) seems very (very) realistic, but effectively, the story describes an assasination, with a very light sentence ....as if it was normal.

Regards

Alain

Edited by alain dubois

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David Filsell

As promised, my conclusions about the book

Copies of The Diary of a German Soldier: First Sergeant 88th Infantry, 21st Division, 18th Army Corps, by Feldwebel C__ are amongst the hardest of German English-language accounts to locate. The book, was first published in France in early 1918. It is claimed to be a copy of an anonymous diary which was obtained in Denmark, where its had travelled after deserting the German Army in 1916.

The English translation was published in the United States by Alfred A Knopf in 1919. Although the book does not appear to have been published in the United Kingdom, the dust jacket of the US edition contains a fulsome review from the “The London Times” which judged it “… one of the most valuable works yet published on the great war.”

The book’s author is claimed to be a senior non-commissioned officer, a one year volunteer (Einjährig-Friewillige); a prestigious post in the German Army, which generally led to a commission. He was a French speaker attached to battalion staff, who served variously as a secretary, interpreter and liaison officer; eating with his superiors and, off duty, engaging with them as an equal. Consequently, he claimed that he enjoyed a “special and relatively independent position”, in his battalion from August 1914 until he was wounded in 1916.The picture which emerges from the diary is surprising - had the reader not encountered A German Deserter’s War Experience, another anonymously published account by a German soldier. The diary’s author was no skilled litterateur the book noted, but a simple diarist with an eye for detail. His is a record of one appalled by the actions of many of his comrades of all ranks, and yet committed to duty

The Feldwebel reveals his 88th Infantry Regiment to have been an amazingly ill officered and ill disciplined unit in which many officers and non commissioned officers, all of whom are named, displayed various degrees of arrogance, cowardice and venality. War crimes against civilians in France - summary executions, rapes and wholesale theft - committed by the German army which were witnessed by the author are all described. They include the massacre of 20 civilians ordered on August 29th 1914 in Braucourt, by one Colonel Puder, which the French preface to the book states had, by 1918 been “verified in detail and with all possible care”.

Clearly part of the book’s original appeal was its strong evocation of “Hun frightfulness” which had been a staple of Allied propaganda since the invasion of Belgium. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the commission of war crimes by the German Army in 1914 has been fully documented, most recently in 2001.

Nevertheless, such is the volume of accusation about the regiment’s appalling behaviour, both in France and later in Galicia, and level of criticism of competence in the field, doubt is triggered about the veracity of many of the author’s claims. Initially these concerns are over-ridden by comparing his account of service and the locations which he describes, against those detailed in Histories of the German Divisions (compiled by the Intelligence Section of the American Expeditionary Force in 1919).

After careful evaluation doubts about the book’s veracity remain and if Diary of German Soldier was a propagandist invention I suspect done with some care. Certainly it provides a picture of 88th Infantry Battalions service from the outbreak of war until the opening of the Battle of Verdun which ‘fits’ well with the recorded service record of the 21st Infantry Division.

In August 1914 the 21st Division - 41st Infantry Brigade (87th and the author’s own 88th Infantry Regiments) and 42nd Infantry Brigade (80th Fusilier and 81st Infantry Regiments) - formed part of the Duke of Würtemburg’s 4th Army. The division entered Luxembourg on August 10th and crossed ng into Belgium on August 12th. It was in action at Neuf Chateau on the 20th, at Bertrix and Orego on the 22nd and at Matton on the 24th of August. The division participated in the Battle of the Marne, between Vitry and Sermaize, and was again in action North West of Rheims from September 15th until the 20th. In October it was reassigned to 2nd Army Corps, which formed the right flank of the German Army in the vicinity of Roye.

In March 1915 88th Infantry Regiment was transferred to the newly formed 56th Division, which was made up from “surplus regiments”. After concentrating near Vouziers, in April the division was posted to the Champagne before being sent to the Eastern Front to participate in the Galician offensive. It suffered heavy losses at Joraslau on May 18th and Rudka on June 18th. On June 28th 56th Division returned Western Front going into rest Valenciennes before moving to Lorraine on July 28th 1915. It suffered heavy losses in the Champagne in late September and after reorganisation entered the line north of Massiges. In December it returned to the Champagne where it occupied a calm sector South of Rouvroy during winter 1915/16.

From January 16th until February 18th the battalion rested at Savigny, re-entering the line between Brabant and Beaumont on the 19th in readiness for Falkenhayn’s assault on Verdun.

At 9.00 on the morning of February 21st, following a huge artillery bombardment 88th Infantry regiment attacked to take Fort Bras.

Here, amidst the mutually assured carnage of the opening round of the Battle of Verdun the author claims to have been severely wounded whilst taking a message to the rear. Following his repatriation to Germany he returned to his battalion at the front on August 1st. In October, his wound unhealed, the author was repatriated to Germany and judged unfit to return to the front. In early November he joined a battalion of an auxiliary corps detailed to build frontier defences north of Schleswig on the Danish border from where he deserted.

“Thus”, wrote Louis-Paul Alaux in the books French preface, “Feldwebel

C ___ left the German Army after having discharged his full duty and at a

moment he was not under fire. His desertion had nothing dishonourable

about it and this is important as regard the extent of the confidence which

we should place his opinions and criticisms”.

As noted, The Diary of a German Soldier is a rare book, one which to me took some five years to locate after finding reference to it in a 1921 bibliography of personal narratives about the about the European War compiled in the United States by Loleta I Dawson and Marion Davis Huntting” Her synopsis was brief:

“The diary covers the invasion of Luxembourg and action at Artois,

Picardy, Champagne, Galicia and the Vosges, and confirms many of

the charges of German Brutality” .

Few sentences could have offered readers such distilled essence of successful British propaganda. Is the book genuine? On balance, I think not.

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Guest

Many thanks for posting that David. Very interesting.

Mike

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alain dubois

Hi,

The French version, printed in 1918, is there. I only compared verbatim the Chapter 25 "Headquarters at Valenciennes", text is exactly the same (for once).

Thanks David for your analysis. Recklessly, one could easily believe this story, finely anti-"occupying forces" and not enough "anti-Hun", to have been written in France in 1918 by a French.

Regards

Alain

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