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Remembered Today:

Hindenburg's Traveling Circus


Gyrene

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I recently started reading Osprey's new book on Belleau Wood and the author mentioned a German raiding unit called "Hindenburg's Traveling Circus." Does anyone have any information on these guys?

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I recently started reading Osprey's new book on Belleau Wood and the author mentioned a German raiding unit called "Hindenburg's Traveling Circus." Does anyone have any information on these guys?

Know a fair amount about German storm units, and it rings no bell at all. To the extent that it suggests a storm unit allocated at the OHL level ("Highest Army Command"), it also draws a blank. The storm battalions were managed at the level of the Army, not the OHL. However, units of the flame regiment were managed out of the OHL, and the CO of the flame regiment had to report on every flame attack to the OHL.

Can you post some specifics, what was said, and the source cited, if any?

Not a reference to the aviation "Flying Circuses"?

Bob Lembke

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I see a reference to this in Meiron and Susie Harries: "The Last Days of Innocence - America at War, 1917 - 1918".

The reference is to a raid on the American 1st Division on the south side of the Saint-Michiel salient at Seicheprey in the spring of 1918. The quote goes:

"Ludendorff planned to use the 259th Infantry, reinforced by a special raiding force known as 'Hindenburg's Travelling Circus,' to break through the 1st Division's lines in a swift and brutal operation."

I see a reference to this in Meiron and Susie Harries: "The Last Days of Innocence - America at War, 1917 - 1918".

The reference is to a raid on the American 1st Division on the south side of the Saint-Michiel salient at Seicheprey in the spring of 1918. The quote goes:

"Ludendorff planned to use the 259th Infantry, reinforced by a special raiding force known as 'Hindenburg's Travelling Circus,' to break through the 1st Division's lines in a swift and brutal operation."

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I see a reference to this in Meiron and Susie Harries: "The Last Days of Innocence - America at War, 1917 - 1918".

"Ludendorff planned to use the 259th Infantry, reinforced by a special raiding force known as 'Hindenburg's Travelling Circus,' to break through the 1st Division's lines in a swift and brutal operation."

My father was a WW I storm trooper, and I heard a lot of oral history about WW I "at my father's knee". I have a lot of family correspondence from the fronts, and in the last 6 years I have read perhaps 200-250 German sources concentrating on the storm troop movement. I think I have a fair sense of the German military culture of the period.

I have never heard such a phrase, and it just has an off-ring. As I said, storm battalions served such a function, having say a company attached to a regiment for an important attack. But these were controlled at the army level. As more and more units and troops were trained in storm tactics, largely by the formal storm battalions, more and more ad hoc storm units, many temporary, arose, but it would be presumptious in the extreme to grant yourself such a title.

There were a number of people closely associated with developing storm units, Captain Rohr, Maj. Dr. Reddemann, Crown Prince Willy, Colonel Bauer, even Ludendorff, but not Hindenburg. Never heard his name mentioned in the same breath as a storm troop matter. He was a distant semi-figure-head father figure.

About two years ago I read about 40 American sources written during the war period. There surely was a lot of fanciful if not lurid stuff. The phrase sounds like the product of an inflamed American journalist's mind. The idea of a specialist elite unit being brought in to stiffen an attacking unit was SOP, but the appelation "Hindenburg's Traveling Circus" sounds very un-German and made up.

Perhaps there is a history of the 259. Infanterie=Regiment that might shed some light.

I can't think of another source at the moment, other than a very rare official history that I do not possess, but a narrative of this attack from the German side probably would identify this unit. Unfortunately, the historical record of the last several months of the war is very thin from the German side, due to the immenent collapse of the German Army, loss of records, cessation of bureaucratic function, etc.

For the last German attacks some storm units were brought from several other sectors and concentrated in the sectors where the attacks were launched. That might be the origin of this matter. But the name is very un -German, IMHO.

Bob Lembke

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Could it be a nickname given by the Americans to an enemy unit known as something completely different by its own side? What's the original source for the name? Do the 2 books quoted include many German works in their bibliographies?

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As Bob says, this just does not ring true.It has an American sound to it, if anything. I think that Gibbo has probably hit it. Could one book be quoting the other?

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As Bob says, this just does not ring true.It has an American sound to it, if anything. I think that Gibbo has probably hit it. Could one book be quoting the other?

Totally agree. Sounds very American ca. 1918; very, very un-German. Plus a German unit calling itself that would be very presumptious. Many units were named for leaders, usually dead, but I think that there was a formal process to do this, an unusual example (as he was alive) was Sturm=Bataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr). My father was sworn into the German Army by Pionier=Bataillon Nr. 3 (von Rauch). But no "Traveling Circus"es.

Bob Lembke

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  • 7 months later...

Gibbo and Bob's suggestion of this being an American nomenclature is given support from two histories published in the past decade - significantly both are American books about the American combat experience in the Great War:

The first is The War To End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War One by Edward M. Coffman, published in 1998. View the relevant passage here:

TravellingCircus1

The second source is America In World War 1: The Story In Photographs by D. M. Goldstein & H. J. Maihafer, published in 2004. View the relevant passage here: TravellingCircus2

ciao,

GAC

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It always sounds better if you get a kicking to say it was a special elite force rather than the 259th Infantry that did it. Same as every WW2 german tank being a Tiger and every british plane a Spitfire.

Was there a german version of the nickname or only the english?

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