Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Generalleutnant Eugen von Dorrer: Letters from the Flanders, October - December 1914

Hugh Shipman

Recommended Posts

Dear Forum Members,


Hello from me and from Heinrich.

Together we have made a translation of the surviving wartime letters of Generalleutnant Eugen Ferdinand Gottlieb von Dorrer (b.18/11/1857, d. 2/4/1916). These have been translated from typed transcripts which were probably prepared for Hans Atzrott, author of 'Das Reserve Jaeger Battalion Nr. 16'.


Together we will post a few pages at a time, probably in around twenty installments and then make the whole transcript available as a download together with scans of the original manuscript. The original documents will be offered for inclusion with other papers belonging to Generalleutnant von Dorrer held in Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart.


The letters, mainly addressed to his wife, begin with von Dorrer's journey to the front as commander of the 44. Reserve Division, then the battles around Bixschoote-Langemark in November 1914 and the disillusion that followed. The letters do not constitute a technical or historical account of the battles, but contain a personal account of and reaction to the events in which the General played a part. It would certainly be welcome if members could sketch in some historical background where appropriate so that a broader context could be understood.


Von Dorrer’s letters are not characteristic for those written by a husband to his beloved wife. They are written in such a way as to indicate that he may have intended to use them as a basis for his memoirs. Like many other senior soldiers from both sides he saw himself as 'maker of history' and one can assume that he had planned to spend his retirement writing his place into it. – But the war turned out not to be a “cheerful skirmish on flower-ornated, blood-bedewed meadows” (Ernst Jünger – Storm of Steel). Eugen von Dorrer died on 2. April 1916 in Brieulles-sur-Meuse of wounds sustained on 31 January 1916 near Verdun.


Beyond the simple translation of German written letters into English, our aim has been to transport the particular writing style of von Dorrer into the English translation. Von Dorrer had a tendency that was common for the time of constructing convoluted “boa-constrictor” sentences which drift through series of ideas before arriving at a full stop, giving Heinrich quite a headache which he then passed on to Hugh so that the aforementioned snake could finally be pinned down and straightened out in English. Oh dear, we've started doing it now!


A few words about the two of us:-



I came upon Hugh when I was doing some research in relation to my grandfather’s participation in WWI. Hugh is a specialist for the occurrences and courses of WWI events in the area between Hill 60 and St Eloi, among others being described in his book “Palingbeek 1915” was one of fellow GWF members who brought my research very much forward.



I in turn get support from Heinrich in matters of interpretation and translation of German documents and particularly in decoding old script handwriting, where Heinrich's aunt and mother form a formidable team. Heinrich’s own research is reflected by his book “Als Husar im I. Weltkrieg”, from which it became clear that during WWI a grandfather of mine and a grandfather of Heinrich fought within earshot of each other near St. Eloi in April 1918.


So in a spirit of reconciliation, together we offer you the first installment, which begins on the train transporting elements of the 44. Reserve Division from their camp at Jüterbog near Berlin to an uncertain future....



Link to comment
Share on other sites

[xxx] are translators notes.


F l a n d e r s


12th Oct. 14

“Appropriate weather for saying 'Goodbye' ”!

When I awoke at 07:30 ‘o clock in my sleeping bag, noticing the grey sky and the trickling rain, I spontaneously had to repeat what you mentioned yesterday in the course of departure. At the same time regret came over me that the warm sleeping bag has made me sleep through our whole passage through your neighbourhood of Halensee. Well, hopefully no one of yours [family] has gone there so early!

The loading during night on the inadequately illuminated rail station was so difficult that before departure at 4:30 nobody had a chance to sleep. With my staff I am in the train’s second to last carrage, alone in a 1st class cabin that is unheatable like all the other passenger wagons of our train because the connection [pipe] to the locomotive is interrupted by the mass of our vehicles, making steam heating impossible. In the warm sleeping bag however, that I laid lengthwise on a row of pulled-flat seats, I slept exquisitely and neatly which would not have been possible on the old wagon cushions that were well and truly dusty. Just now my perspicacious orderly refreshed me with hot clear chicken soup and filled rolls. As you see, you do not need to be worried about my provisions. Hopefully you returned home safely yesterday. I was so grateful to Mrs v. K. and Mr v. Fr. H. that they brought you to visit me.

13th Oct. 14

In most lovely sunshine we just have passed through Wally’s homeland (Ruhrort-Duisburg), crossing the river Rhine. Humankind becomes adjusted to everything. Last night I slept so well as if in a bed which is demonstrated by the fact that I did not awake until 7:30. After making my toilet we were amply feasted in D. with clear soup and rolls, so that I feel light-hearted now. Also the sun is doing its bit. Yesterday evening at the railway station in Hannover, where society ladies had taken over hospitality, I became acquainted with the wife of my teacher Hindenburg and I conversed with her a short while. Unfortunately the wait was short particularly in H. which usually is not the case. I assume that we shall tomorrow arrive at our destination, which however is still draped in the veil of secrecy.

Just now we had been taken to a meal, barley soup with added meat, excellent port roast with potato salad which indeed came a little early the day at 8:30 am but a soldier’s stomach needs to stand anything at any time. After having heating since midday yesterday, our coats, that had been thoroughly wetted by the rain that night whilst loading, were dried and do not spread nasty moist coldness as they did yesterday forenoon. Last night an enemy plane is said to have dropped a bomb at Krupp in Essen, without damage. Despite the slow speed, writing in the moving train is not so easy, mainly because the entire line practically is a huge goods yard.


13th Oct. 14:  Postcard to Lilo

Today the unfriendly rainy yesterday has been followed by such a beautiful autumn day as we have not had for a long time. Sunshine, cheering and waving cloths are accompanying us today everywhere on  our national ground; which certainly will not happen tomorrow.

13th Oct. 14,  evening, Liége

Too bad that it is night already where only the strings of lights of the town and the illuminated heights are visible. All this way many trains were passing us with captive Britons and Belgians as well as with captured cannons. From the border onwards the entire route is closely guarded. Perhaps my wish in terms of the Army will be fulfilled – perhaps!

14th Oct. 14 T. [Termonde]

Of course one can read in newspaper articles and fieldpost letters about the contrasts of the war but reality exceeds all imagination that you are able to build up from written texts and stories being told. The journey yesterday from Aachen to the border went through a bucolic area, mansions and farmsteads everywhere, in green meadows and parks in autumn colours, people shouting and waving at the train. From the border onwards it became quiet, darkness quickly covered the land in its veil and only the strict security of the railway line, the bearded savage statures of the reservists in the many guard sheds and houses along the line reminded one of the war. Liége showed its lovely configuration by the rising rows of lights on the slopes of the river Meuse, then it got darker and even the usual colour light signals of the railway were missing because the Belgians had destroyed the signal installations everywhere, and the engine drivers need to pass through the night without signals. The telephone alone preserves the safety of the operation. Even that entails difficulties, as I was told by a railway station commander, because on the line Verviers – Liége the operation is carried out by so many true, genuine Swabian compatriots and additionally by Saxons, and thus the telephone conversations are [linguistically] far from simple.

 Nonetheless, with the caution required, everything runs rather smoothly. – An almost ghostly picture in the pale moonlight was drawn by the ruins of Leuven whose parts next to the railway station are being totally destroyed. The most awful [picture] of today however was offered by our billet place. Would you imagine a town a lot like Neubrandenburg, picturesquely surrounded by old earth walls and ditches, being blighted, gutted and marauded, no 6 houses intact anymore, the streets heaped with rubble and debris – my quill is too weak to depict it! The poor inhabitants carefully start to return, not even finding a roof that protects from rainfall. Our horses are mostly stabled in ground-floor living rooms where there just might be a ceiling but not more than 3 walls. By the explosion of a heavy grenade some houses must have been literally blown in all directions! There was no one among us old fellows who has not but been to the utmost impressed by these scenes.

       This afternoon I made a drive with Gudowin ahead to the frontmost parts of the Division. Here we again came through the purest of gardens, a hugely scenic area, particularly in the moods of evening, in every aspect reminding one of the classic Dutch garden. Grazing livestock are everywhere, all the people offering friendly greetings but the loaded carbine on everyone's arm reminds one of the war because scattered troops of the Antwerpen garrison are said to rove about in this area. Our safety however, as I quickly like to mention for your reassurance, was ensured besides our own weapons by a second car following us filled with dutiful riflemen. We returned safely without having had any adventure. Tomorrow and the day after, my Division, in so far as it has already has arrived, will make small marches only because firstly we have to await the approach of the parts that are still in transport. Our task may well be very interesting but for the moment it is even for us shrouded in some darkness. So I do not even know the name of my Army commander but I much hope that he will live up to my expectations. If you should read in the newspaper about the far-right wing of our Army, you may think of me.

My accommodation is most humble, after three through-and-through frozen nights I am so eager to get between the blankets but this seem to be doubtful because of the cleaniness of the linen. 52 hours long we were sitting in the train, from Aachen onwards where the locomotive was placed at the end of our train again, without heating as at the beginning of the journey. Hopefully we keep, or more precisely: we get – because today it again has rained a lot at noon – dry weather because both wetness and coldness are the most unpleasant combinations. The scarce petroleum of my lamp runs short.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Hugh and Heinrich and welcome to the forum.  A forum member called Hugh, using the forum name 'Bierlijn', sent me transcripts of von Dorrer's letters way back in 2007.  Was that also you?  I remember reading the letters with interest, but, as a professional translator with a living to make, I'm afraid I never did find time to start translating them. 



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks H and H for the first installment! Looking forward to the next!



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent! Thank you for this, and I too look forward to the next installment.




PS: I know Hanover station very well





Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very interesting indeed, thanks for sharing this. I look forward to future installments. 



Link to comment
Share on other sites

von Dorrer Letters: Part 2


15th Oct. 14

I would like to finish this letter before departure, in order to hand it over to the field post here at the last railway station. Behind my window the marching off of our baggage is proceeding with the usual noise now that the initial disarray has been unraveled. This first time is no easy task for the baggage leader. The sky unfortunately augurs rainfall again by means of a glowing dawn. What a luck that the roads over here, even the smallest ones, are excellent! In this respect we are much better off than the East. The present day still complies with a peacetime manoeuvre, unless the aircraft cause a surprise, because the Englishmen seem to have bolted from Antwerp in a great hurry. All of us are bursting to catch them.


16th Oct. 14

What a change of picture. I have restart writing this letter. The tour yesterday went out of the ruines of T. through a blooming densely populated country to this place where we were awaited by an adorably located small castle. Its owner, a Countess Feyerick, had been fetched by one of our cars from Gent, in order to let her make the necessary preparations for our arrival because otherwise we would have caused similar disorder as was created by Belgian troops who had been there previously. The Countess, being a Grande Dame in appearance and presence – her brother Count Kerkhove had been secretary of the Belgian Embassy in Berlin – caused her laundry steward, whom she had brought with her, to set the house in order and it was quite soothing for me now to change clothes in the evening the first time since Berlin, and to be able to stretch myself out in a huge marvellous bed.

I suitably sank into such a deep sleep that I did not hear the least of the thunder of cannons that reportedly were audible over not too much distance after midnight, but which threw some other people into a dither. If it were not for the safety instructions and the loaded pistol fixed at the belt or laying on the next table, we could easily believe these preliminaries to be merely a manoeuvre rather than a war. This illusion however was quickly dissipated, despite all her noble reserve, by the Countess who did not let us forget for a single moment that we were foes who had come as such, even though Wöllerath and I were most diplomatically amicable, whereby our conversation revealed many common acquaintances. Although anxiously avoiding any political conversation she let us know that she held only us, the Germans, accountable for all the disaster that had come over Belgium, also believing all the infamy with which the German soldiers had been impugned by Belgians, Frenchmen and Englishmen. After all that it was not astonishing that still today she was hoping that we would be thrown out of the country again. To her relief we therefore let her return by car to her house in Gent where she had left 5 children alone, among them 3 daughters at the age of less than 20 years.

Because one half of my Division still is at the rear, only so far partially entrained, for today I intended to remain here. The general headquarters however has developed a similar good nose, thus billeting themselves in our castle today, and so we have to move further ahead. – Imagine who our Army commander is! You will be surprised: It is Duke Albrechtwho has received the order which conforms to my expectations, insofar as they could previously have been formed taking a sober and realistic view.

I am not allowed to write about it! But I rejoice about it! A dense mist layer covers the land today, so one cannot see far. Therefore I will leave here later, in order to inspect possibly all my troops, some of whom look quite battered after the long train ride and after the first unaccustomed marches under the burden of complete field packs. I hope this is going to be possible! I get along impeccably with my staff who have been very well chosen. Hopefully my field post dispatch office with its 5 clerks will also be functioning, in order to let you receive my letters in short order.


17th Oct. 14: Oedelem close to Brügge

This morning I mobilized my postschweden. With a strength of 5 secretaries, several coach drivers, 2 post wagons and 1 post car, they move around with us since the departure from Zossen without having performed anything whatsoever except adjusting 2 small post bags that I let be taken to Brussels by car with the help of a gentlemen who had business there; otherwise the 3 post wagons would have continued carrying the two letter bags over the country for days – because they, i.e. the post clerks, have not received orders from above so far and they do not even know who and where their Army Senior Post Director is. Under such inertia I am not surprized that the entire field post system does not function.

Today there was the first more extended march of the entire Division. Still there was a lot of need to intervene and to rectify. Hopefully this matter will improve from day to day because there will be not be too much spare time for us before we get at the messieurs Englishmen or Frenchmen. To my double pleasure today I met my old artillery colleague and fellow-countryman Schabel who as an artillery brigade commander earned himself the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class in front of Antwerp, and who has now caught us up with so much heavy artillery, up to 21cm howitzers that we will give our opponents an extremely hard time.

The General Headquarters allocated this big lot to my Division, hopefully leaving it at that for me. – Yesterday afternoon I again conducted, with Wöllerarth, a car tour through my divisional area, in the course of which we came across Duke Albrecht who, with his staff being seated in several cars, was speeding so furiously ahead that he did not recognize us. On our way back through the pitch-dark night we again came upon them so suddenly in a hamlet that Wöllerarth, who was afraid of a real smash-up, vigorously shouted in a good Swabian manner “Hä ! Hä !” which was not answered at all. Only when the car had passed us did we realize that it had been the Duke again.

For a change, yesterday’s billet was rather meagre. There was no fresh linen, and because the places have for days been haunted by troops, the sleeping bag had to serve, wherein I rested admirably. It is a marvelous device, and I highly appreciate that you forced me to procure such a thing. – Today I got an extraordingly friendly and clean quarters at the maire of the little town. People over here have very good taste in garden arrangements and flower breeding. So indeed my house is surrounded by a charming garden, where roses, dahlias and in particular begonies are flowering in rare abundance and blaze of colour. People in West Flanders seem to be quiet and pleasant, usually being friendly and compliant although they have to suffer severely under the war. In Gent and Brussels the prices for food must have reached a scandalous high level. Wherever the German soldiers are not being supervised, they seem to take quite wicked liberties here and there.

I am very happy that prior to departure, we handed over castle Evergem with its goods etc. to the custodian in time, and that we had this certified to us because as soon as we were gone, the billeting officers and the lowlife orderlies of the General Headquarters will have emptied the entire champagne cellar that contained more than 100 bottles. For my Division I issued draconian regulations but of course I cannot be present everywhere. During the entire march today I was riding up and down along the columns like a shepherd's dog, being forced to awful barking and baiting. Hopefully that will be effective! Yesterday it had become very foggy and rough here, too, and the sea climate demonstrates its influence forcefully. Unfortunately people over here have no heating anywhere, mostly having no ovens at all which leaves us spoiled Germans hankering after a warm room.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Mick,


Yes, it was me - I got fed up waiting for you! Me and Heinrich are just over half way through translating this, just doing a page or so every couple of days as work and life allows.  Hence chopping it up into bits rather than posting one big block.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Hugh.  I can hardly blame you after 11 years!  Congratulations on your joint project with Heinrich, and I shall enjoy reading your translations as you complete them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 23/01/2018 at 19:26, Hugh Shipman said:

the aforementioned snake could finally be pinned down and straightened out in English.


That is the best sentence I have seen in a good while. Perhaps ever..


There could not possibly be a better thing than a pinned down and straightened snake ........ GREAT!!! 

Edited by Martin Feledziak
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 23/01/2018 at 20:26, Hugh Shipman said:

Von Dorrer had a tendency that was common for the time of constructing convoluted “boa-constrictor” sentences which drift through series of ideas before arriving at a full stop, giving Heinrich quite a headache which he then passed on to Hugh so that the aforementioned snake could finally be pinned down and straightened out in English.


Hahaha! Yes, those "boa-constrictor" sentences that take you on a roadtrip around all the beautiful sights not to be missed, where in fact it's just a local bustrip from A to B.

Fritz Limbach had this tendency too some of the time. The guys who wrote the respective Regimental Histories had it áll the time it seems.

Good luck on pinning down those Boa Constrictors!


And the Countess Freyerick was Countess Mathilde de Kerchove de Denterghem.

Her brother André (Charles Eugène Oswald Rodolphe Auguste Louis Marie Ghislain) was the man in Berlin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

18th Oct. 1914: Sophem Castle [“Sophem Schloss” – location needed]

Today [we are] in a gorgeous castle again, a gigantic building in Dutch style with a hall as high and huge as a church, surrounded by a moat and large park where the beautiful trees are glowing in all autumnal colours. The owner, Baron de Lanse (?) [author's question mark] welcomed us in a most friendly manner, even though one of his sons serves in the Belgian Army and another is in the diplomatic service in England. After tea I had a longer promenade with the Baron in the park. Perhaps this one will be our last peaceful billet because today the first gunshots were aimed at my cavalry, and not far from us the Englishmen or Belgians will have dug into entrenched positions. Everybody is bursting to attack, and on condition that the opponents retain their position this seems already to be possible tomorrow. The Frenchmen will be astonished by us advancing against their ally en masse.

From the outside world we do not hear anything at all, so we do not know what is happening elsewhere. The message about the declaration of war by the Dutch unfortunately seems to be nothing but a tall story, as as are many other rumours wandering around over here. By a gentlemen who came from Brussels today we have been told that another English cruiser has been destroyed, and that the situation in the East seem to be favourable. Too bad that I cannot go to Bruges which is so nearby that its towers are visible but as a Division Commander you must not leave your Division, so I get no orders of the sort that I often give to my gents, always so joyfully received.

Today F [Falkenhayn – General der Kavallerie Eugen von  Falkenhayn, elder brother of Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff 9.1914 – 8.1916]. had the division march by him and apologised profusely for having driven me out of the castle in Evergem which by the way was caused by the fervour of his billeting officer. F is the direct opposite of P, being so established in military affairs and showing such understanding of them that I can face his leadership with trust. If it comes to a battle in this area, in fact the Division commander presumably remains the only one with a clear overview of the situation: because of all the many alleys, hedges and parks a more confusing picture cannot easily be imagined. 

20th Oct. 14 Beerst,

The end of this letter follow on this morning in a pause of fighting. Since the afternoon two days ago we have been engaged in a fierce battle against very substantial forces that confronted us along one of the wide and deep canals extending to the North Sea. Together with my staff I received the baptism of fire immediately because the small cottage where we were staying was located at a road junction which was served with heavy sustained shrapneland shellfire. We tarried there until nightfall and spent the night at a more quiescent location. Since then the cannons have been thundering around us without interruption, even through the entire night, so that we have got used to it. Rather admirably I rested for 4 hours in the presence of this battle music. Window panes could not shiver because the house has no intact ones remaining. In general, wherever you look, destruction and havoc are present! – Hopefully we will be moving forward today. It is the final desperate resistance of the Belgians, being supported by the English and by French marine troops. The King will stay over there. – I have much to do. Thus finishing this letter which hopefully can be followed by a more tranquil description – more tranquil however only in a sense of not being disturbed because I am being untranquillized to the utmost by the adolescent foolishness of some subordinate officers. My staff, especially Gudowius, are excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Sophem Castle" -  it must have been Lophem Castle, or Loppem Castle. See here: http://www.kasteelvanloppem.be/nl . The guy who transcribed v D's letters into the typewritten document certainly misread the letter L.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well done Heinrich, I did try to find a suitable candidate Kasteel but somehow I missed this one. It had a Baron in residence, but not with the name v D remembered.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sophem is most probably Loppem (Lophem in old spelling).



Link to comment
Share on other sites

If anyone would care to fill in some detail as to what was happening to von Dorrer's Division between 22nd and 26th Octover 1914, that would be great!


Von Dorrer translation part 4


22nd Oct. 14 Beerst,

These days are the most difficult ones of my life. For the third day we were standing under fire, and what an experience it was ! At present the day has lasted 24 hours because I was not able to stretch myself on the straw bed upon the stone floor of my shelled house before 4:30 this morning. From Dixmuiden, the Belgians had launched a desperate night attack onto my Division, and only someone who has participated at such a night battle without experienced officers will be able to understand what that means. From 10.00 in the evening until 4.00 in the morning there was uninterrupted, incredible shooting, at first coming nearer and nearer in the pitch-black rainy night of a full moon, meanwhile causing indications of panic. With revolvers in our hands we had to compel the battle baggage and the squads of stragglers and draft dodger frontwards again – not being a pleasing or encouraging work !
Gudowius and Roon had gone forward to observe and to restore order. These hours were grave, and only the penetrating, sustained and resounding Hurrah’s at about 3 o’ clock gave me certainty that the attack had been parried. With this pleasing message both my faithful kingpins arrived and so, at half past four, after having given the necessary orders, I could stretch out in the sleeping bag where Morpheus quickly took me in his arms. Indeed I can sleep as I usually never can. The few hours at my disposal for that are being throroughly utilized. At half past seven I awoke as a consequence of the racket in front of the windows – euphemistically expressed – of my little first floor room, being caused by the bringing-in of a large number of Belgian prisoners. A Belgian officer had been questioned by myself, and obviously he was grateful for having a talk with me. My Division unfortunately suffered quite considerable losses, an entire battalion of one of the regiments that fought last night having only one officer left. This is rather awkward and requires much personal involvement, considering the endurance of the troops which still is far from being substantial.

I am excellently supported by my staff. Gudowius is a paragon of a staff officer, he is war experienced and he never looses his calm. Me the same but last night all of us were close from time to time to loosing it a bit, but only inwardly and only temporarily, everybody carrying it off well.
Today [the bombardment] went on briskly all day, and since nightfall it is rattling and thundering uninterruptedly. Englishmen and the French have supplied the Belgians with extraordingly much heavy artillery, and one can hardly imagine its rage and effect. Some of the old gentlemen among the officers are out of action due to nervous shock. Midnight is over. The day tomorrow will be decisive. May it bring success.



26th Oct. 14: Beerst close to Dixmuide.

Eight days ago we came across the enemy the first time and ever since the sound of guns has been rumbling uninterruptedly day and night, with the additional rattling of machine guns and rifles. Unfortunately the French sent so much heavy artillery to help the Belgians that we were barely able to advance. In those 8 days we advanced hardly 10 km , and due to misconduct by one of my neighbouring Divisions I am today facing one of the most difficult situations conceivable. Beyond all that, as a consequence of the poor preparations and administration of our artillery, they are contiuously suffering from a lack of ammunition whilst the opponents are almost wasting it, and even if the effect of the steel being thrown might not be proportional to the weight, they are disturbing and wearing down my poor infantry at day and at night, particularly at the latter, which quickly happens with the unsturdy troops. It is exasperating and one needs to have trust in The Lord. Today a momentous decision will be taken. May God give blessing to it.

For the past 10 days there has been no talk of rest for me either, and particularly so for the poor Gudowius. Sitting at the table we fall asleep. Likewise, in the past 8 days I have not changed of my clothes. But these are nothing but trivialties. – If it is working well, everthing is fine. The Commander presented me with the Iron Cross with congratulatory words this morning. I am not going to put it on before this day has ended.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to show I am paying attention

and perhaps testing to see how accurate the book 251 Divisions is

here is the composition of the 44th Reserve division for 1914 from page 258.


87 Reserve Brigade - 205 and 206 Res Infantry Regiments

88 Reserve Brigade - 207 and 208 Res Infantry Regiments

supported by

16 Res Jager Bat

44 Res Cavalry Detachment

44 Res Field Artillery Regiment ( 9 Batteries )

44 Pioneer comp.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At a very, very, rough guess Von DORRER would have overall responsibility for around 15,000 personnel.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Von Dorrer's number of troops and particularly of officers had been diminuished within short time. In particular the 16. Res. Jäger Btl. lost most of its men and NCO's and all its officers during the fights of Bixschoote. It is well described in the battalions war history. Beyond that the men were poorly equipped and not really prepared to go into war.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Von Dorrer translation part 5


26th Oct. 14 in the evening, Beerst.

Thanks be to God! Never before in my life I could say this with a greater fervour than today. From the short lines being dashed off by me early today you will have abstracted my inner state of excitement that had come over me in spite of all my usual calm. Seldom indeed had a leader been in a more desperate situation than I was yesterday evening. My entire Division bar 1½ battalions having approached across a deep canal, was in contact with the enemy all around. Due to a very stubborn resistance of a French pp. [sic] Division my neighbour to the right, the Korps Beseler, had failed to advance far enough to bring relief, my neighbour to the left, the 43rd Division having being repelled. I myself in the centre was being so heavily fired upon day and night by the French and British artillery, that all the bridges and footbridges that I brought up to be build to enable a crossing had been destroyed yesterday evening. Even my brave Gudowius who possesses a gorgeous serenity and confidence was noticeably war-torn yesterday evening. First chance we had we just laid down on the straw and slept for 2 hours because we were tired out. After that we reflected, and we came to the conclusion that if anything, nothing but a valiant offensive would save us. At 3 o’clock in the morning I drove by car to the Commanding General, caused him as well as Etzel and the General's Staff Officer to be roused from sleep, spelled out my situation and claimed back the reserve regiment that had been taken from me because the matter can only be decided by fresh troops. I gained approval, and then after my return I made my dispositions.

The Iron Cross that F. awarded to me - I stated that I would not put it on before tonight because if I would had been beaten today, it would have had the worst of consequences and might even had been unfavourable for the whole enterprise [of the war]. Thank God! I repeat it again and again that it went well, regardless of the fact that I am writing this tonight while still being in the same billet because my staff and I cannot cross the river Yser before the bridges have been rebuilt, which cannot be done until nightfall. So my Division has pushed ahead, having gained full alignment with Korps Beseler with whom we now form the right wing. He already let me know how pleased he was about it. My Division that has lost about 2000 men during 8 days of continuous fighting, is however animated with confidence and trust which augurs well for the future, as God wills.

Considering how all of us always sleep on straw in shelled houses, how an unhooked room door that rests on 2 stands serves as a table for our collective dinner, one could wonder that such spoiled men as there are in my staff feel comfortable with it. That we do however insofar as being allowed by the dark sides of the war. Destruction and annihilation is all about, besides fallen soldiers there are shot dead inhabitants who, as a result of the lunatic criminal behaviour of the Belgian government, had treacherously taken part at the fight. Like the entire useless war of nations in general, the malice and infamousness in belligerence arises from the noble nation, from France. Also, it is a particular infamous joke that despite the useless waste of ammunition the French artillery during the night keeps the battle field, all the roads and locations where we move and stay, under sustained fire. At least at the beginning this disturbs the troops’ rest and aggravates the care for the casualties and their evacuation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would someone helpful care to fill in some background as to what the actual situation is on the battlefield at this point? Having had the chance to know what later letters are like, there are pages of complaining to come about lack of support by neighbouring divisions, uselessness of other Generals etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Von Dorrer translation part 6


Letter 11 and 12 to Lieselotte and Wolfgang.          
30th Oct. 14 Beerst,

The eleventh evening, we return to our old staff quarter – ahead we are advancing steadily.  The Belgians, French and Englishmen are contesting every step of ground, and the deep water canals trenching the land facilitates them in their work just as well as they make ours tremendously difficult. But they cannot pride themselves with my Division that we ceded them even one inch of land! These fights unfortunately cost an awful lot of blood. Two days ago I obtained 6 serving officers from the old Armee Korps, excellent men, some having been decorated with the Iron Cross 1st class already, and today only two of them are left! That is the situation in general. Sometimes one has to fairly keep up self belief and confidence because if that begins to break down it would be awful. I do my best to lift up the courage of everyone who gathers around to me, and I am always glad to see how well this works. On the other hand, I come up with military court and draconian measures when I find cowards and yellow-bellies, which unfortunately also occurs. History should best remain silent about that. For that matter the Military Cabinet also proceeds with utmost severity. Two days ago my colleague from the 43rd Division has been deposed from his role overnight and been replaced by another general. Such a rough time requires tough men and strong measures.           
Since yesterday the weather unfortunately has become rather uncomfortably cold and wet, so I am extraordingly happy about the eventual arrival of the field kitchens for my troops. Despite my efforts, some of the latter have not had any warm meal for 8 days. Without my prompting we would not even have the field kitchens yet. Tomorrow our artillery ammunition will run out for at least one day, and if our messieurs opponents will not do us the favour of keeping the peace, the infantry that fortunately does not lack cartridges will have to pay by blood for crimes being committed by the gentlemen in Berlin’s administration offices. Anyway there are some criminals resting in comfortable sinecures for whom the death penalty would be too light. But enough of that. Each kind of pessimism needs to be relegated. The field post operates impeccably now. The most difficult aspect is the illumination problem which becomes the more difficult the longer the nights last. In the devastated roads petrol cannot be rustled up any more. Only candles are still available but of these one needs quite a number.

1st Nov. 14 Beerst,

Today I am writing surely for the last time from Beerst which has been my fixed quarters for 14 days – unfortunately because some modest advancing would have been more pleasant not only for me but for all to the last man! But, as I already wrote, the terrain is to the utmost awkward for the offender. Deep water trenches everywhere, being flooded by the Belgians owing to the opening of the sealocks, and all crossing points are being wrecked forming obstacles that are inconquerable without support by engineering troops. Because all [our] trenches lie under enemy fire and due to the poor terrain the opponent can hardly be located and shelled by our artillery, which might explain why we are advancing so gradually. For Korps Beseler things are going the same, worse indeed. By contrast the Korps of our Army’s left wing are much better off. Even in the run of successful attacks it is almost impossible to take captives due to the our troops' defensive barriers; they cannot advance fast enough to take the foe by surprise. Finally, the troops of my Division partly have been suffering heavily during the uninterrupted warfare and poor provisioning of the past 14 days. At the moment, in one regiment there are only 1000 men and 3 officers left from 3000. The lack of officers is the worst because only proficient officers keep the chaps properly together and bring them forward. Without officers the draft dodgers predominate.

Interesting for the commander are the daily changes of situations and tasks, I must say. Barely a day goes by without unpleasant surprises and crises. Of the latter I already experienced some rather serious ones. Thank God that again and again it went well so far, and my trust and calm were never lost. In this particular regard, I am indeed eminently supported by Gudowius who always is of good cheer, never has doubts even if situations involve risks, and in doing so always gauging everything conscientiously and thinking of everything.

Yesterday I was repeatedly on the battleground beyond the river Yser. There, the horrible pictures of destruction rise in comparison to here. Everything, chateaus, villages, business locations are so thoroughly smashed that they are not usable as shelters anymore. Huge herds of cattle killed by the hail of projectiles are laying around, and the bloated carcases are poisoning the air and water. If eventually I had not got field kitchens, my Division would be totally worn down. Now the food is been cooked in some of the field kitchens, and in others tea with rum. So I hope to keep up the vigour [of the troops] as much as possible. Unfortunately however, 4000 – 5000 men are already missing, among those at the most 1500 - 1800 due to fighting, the others owing to their exertions. To the latter the young volunteers are just not accustomed, the old soldiers being long since weaned of [such weaknesses]. But those who remain from the old Division will hopefully be even more successful since they went through their baptism of fire. The Commanding General has already bestowed about 200 Iron Crosses on the Division, a number of them being at my own disposal. It is a pleasure to see how radiant those brave chaps are, to whom I authorized immediate award of the Cross for excellent behaviour. – Today is Sunday again; we do not feel it because cannon thunder and rifle fire are sounding the bell for us this Sunday, too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

von Dorrer translation


Part 7


2nd Nov. 14 School house Kortewilde,


Also for me the Iron Cross 2nd Class soon has been followed by the one of 1st class. Just now the Commanding General handed it to me and to General Lieutenant von Diringshofen, awarded by highest order in particular relation to the successes of the Division in forcing the crossing of the River Yser. Unfortunately however we could not exploit the successes, as we were in the same situation as the Korps Beseler. By means of flooding their canal system yesterday the Belgians threatened my Division too to be drowned like a mouse in a trap. As a result, the Armee Oberkommando took back my Division at night and made a preliminary deployment at the rear as an Army reserve unit. As I hoped this morning, the disengagement, which had been very difficult, turned out well, and we did not come off too badly except for the loss of some wounded who had been in the very front trenches, although the utmost had been done to take them along. This, however, is rendered almost impossible by nightfall. Unfortunately the troops suffered heavy losses particularly in consequence of the terrible artillery fire. Yesterday one shell killed or wounded in one blow 5 officers and one physician who had gathered in a small house for the issue of orders. I am afraid that the entire Division today will count hardly many more heads than half of its initial number.


6th Nov. 14 Zwartegat, north of Ypres,


In the meantime you will have heard that we have had uninterrupted warfare since Oct. 19th, which the day after tomorrow will be for 3 weeks duration. In this, the hardest tasks existing in a war always fell to my Division. The consequences are the severe losses, up to now about 5000 out of 14.000. Today the combat strength of my Division adds up to barely more than 1/3 of the formerly existing regiments, meaning that the remnants of those are lead by a captain and my brave Jaeger battalion has no officers left at all. You feel that we have been dealing with with the final hopeless resistance of the entire “Pack of Ragamuffins”, as Deimling recently named that dignified league of brothers, the French with Africans, Englishmen with Indians etc. in a Corps order. The worst for our troops are the numerous naval guns that were brought up by the Englishmen by train, and whose Lyddite grenades do belong to the worst damnability that you can imagine. Being attached to the Korps Beseler since Nov. 3rd, I am fighting at its right wing and was able to report him [Beseler] one day later the storming of a very important village that was occupied by Englishmen and Frenchmen.


As you may imagine, he [Beseler] was very kind with me, and he told me many interesting things. - I believe that the outcome of the war will be determined here around Ypres. May God favour it to our benefit. I daily pray like the Old Dessauer [Leopold I., Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, nicknamed „The Alte Dessauer“, * 3rd of July 1676 in Dessau; † 7th of April 1747 ibidem] did it prior to the Battle of Kesselsdorf.

Since the start of the fighting our billets have been less than reasonable. Because the war now has developed to a war of position, there are few changes of billets. In the morning we ride or drive to the command post where all the telephone lines of the forwardmost front troops join up and where the usual battle music which bothers us in our night quarters, can be heard in close proximity. It is unbelieveable how much metal is been launched into the world. In relation to it, the losses are not even big – but unfortunately in relation only! Healthwise I feel superb. Heart and stomach are excellent, the mental and physical strain puts me in the deepest and best sleep that I ever had in my life despite the coffee that I allow myself even at night.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well done Heinrich and Hugh.

very interesting and most important information.


thank you for translating the letters. 


I would love to contribute but all I can give is encouragement to keep up the good work.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...