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Remembered Today:

Extreme Field Punishment


geraint
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Having just read With a Machine Gun to Cambrai; George Coppard, pages 75 + 76 (Cassell 1999) has a reference to Field Punishment No1 in which a soldier is tied to a wheel, and he goes on to say that this came to an end in 1917, but that the military authorities regarding men convicted by courts martial were "compelled to take part in the forefront of the first available raid ... purposely placed in the first wave...and left to the Almighty to decide his fate. This was the situation as we Tommies understood it but nothing official reached our ears."

This reminded me of a letter written 30 April 1915 by Lieutenant Francis Jones Bateman (13th RWF) to his uncle Colonel Wynne Heaton, regarding practices carried out in this battalion. The original letter is in the Denbighshire Archives. I quote

"I told you how they (The Germans) tie up what must be deserters or anyway convicted by court martial to death, to trees just above their trenches during the night so that we can waste our cartridges on them, and save theirs.

Another trick is to send them out individually to cut our wire; if they are allowed, through the sheer amazement of our troops to get that far.

Some of our soldiers have been similarily courtmartialed by being sent out themselves to do the same job. Perhaps the Germans learnt it from us and thought it a good idea for deserters. We have given up this trick with battalions and companies"

Francis JB achieved the rank of Captain, and kia 4 November 1918.

The Jones-Bateman and Heaton families were local Denbighshire gentry, and local rumour persists today that Francis Jones-Bateman was shot by his own (local) men for grudges going back pre war.

Geraint

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A great book and well worth reading but I think we should take note of Mr. Coppard's disclaimer, " That is the situation as we Tommies understood it....." . It is a fine example of why we should require corroborating evidence before accepting anecdotal evidence as fact.

The letter is interesting but is unlikely to reflect the manner in which Germans executed men condemned to death. According to our German Pals, there were comparatively few and I suspect they were not that short of ammunition. A soldier condemned to death and sent over to the enemy at night would deserve a very high award if he chose not to surrender when he got there.

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Tom

Agreed, but I would not put this as corroborating official evidence, but it is written from an officer's point of view, not the pbi. It ratchets up the argument to another level, and not reliant on the Tommy's trench gossip. It's the bits in italic which interests me though, ie we used to do it; but not now - this in April 1915.

Geraint

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A properly constituted court martial would only be able to pass sentences as laid down in King's Regs. I have not read them and certainly cannot quote them or even the relevant parts but I would be most surprised to hear that that sentence was available to a court martial.

I suspect that malingerers and defaulters were dealt with in this way by their COs or even NCOs. Nothing would be easier than to ensure that a man was put on hazardous duty. Someone had to go so why not him? There is a lot of anecdotal reference from all ranks to suggest it. Anecdotal evidence is no more reliable from an officer than from an OR. I have seen some awful tosh in the diaries of high ranking officers when they were expressing their personal opinion. It is still evidence and very valuable but it needs to be recognised for what it is and dealt with accordingly.

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This reminded me of a letter written 30 April 1915 by Lieutenant Francis Jones Bateman (13th RWF) to his uncle Colonel Wynne Heaton, regarding practices carried out in this battalion. The original letter is in the Denbighshire Archives. I quote

"I told you how they (The Germans) tie up what must be deserters or anyway convicted by court martial to death, to trees just above their trenches during the night so that we can waste our cartridges on them, and save theirs.

Another trick is to send them out individually to cut our wire; if they are allowed, through the sheer amazement of our troops to get that far.

Geraint

From English-language sources, including the IWM, the German Army executed all of 18 men in WW I for military reasons (in an army generally averaging about 6 million men at any one time, over a period of 4 1/3 years), and in total executed about 80 men, when you include all offenses like murder, rape, etc. I understand that in the German Army, uniquely, all defendents in a serious court martial got a proper trial, with the judge being a professional lawyer, the defendent having a professional lawyer as defense counsel, etc. The idea that such a formal trial would be held and that the defendant would be dragged to the front lines to be tied to a tree for the enemy to shoot to save the ammunition is simply absolute rubbish. As in Germany at that period the Dr. Jur. (Doctor of Jurisprudence) was the equivilant of the modern MBA for ambitious bureaucrats, many German reserve officers had the Dr. Jur. degree, like the major commanding my father's regiment.

This idea of brutal German treatment of their own men, as well as the rest of the entire world, is a common theme in the massive Allied propaganda campaign of the period. It was, of course, the Allies that shot literally some thousands of their own men; the French, for example, often without a real legal process, so the numbers for the French will never be known. I believe that the British did have formal courts martial, but usually without the participation of lawyers, and if Graves is to be believed, often the regimental CO decided the defendant's fate before the actual trial at his whim and informed the panel what the verdict was to be. (One can hardly imagine a regiment deciding to hold a capital case court martial and the regimental CO then instructing the panel to acquit the defendant.)

I am sure that the Lieutenant sincerely believed what he repeated, but the idea is clearly false.

We had a go-about on this before, and I asked a pen-pal friend, a high-ranking serving officer in the Bundeswehr, to research it, and he went thru the various German regulations going back to at least 1843, and found that full-blown field punishments like Field Punishment No. 1 were outlawed in the German (Prussian) Army in 1843, although a much milder version was possible, only ordered by officers with a special qualification, and only to be done indoors to avoid humiliation. He and others suggested that such things still occasionally occurred, but that they were a violation of military law.

Bob Lembke

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...We had a go-about on this before, and I asked a pen-pal friend, a high-ranking serving officer in the Bundeswehr, to research it, and he went thru the various German regulations going back to at least 1843, and found that full-blown field punishments like Field Punishment No. 1 were outlawed in the German (Prussian) Army in 1843, although a much milder version was possible, only ordered by officers with a special qualification, and only to be done indoors to avoid humiliation. He and others suggested that such things still occasionally occurred, but that they were a violation of military law...

Bob,

Whoa, wait a minute there cowboy. As I recall that was not the consensus, that was the argument you defended. I posted eye-witness evidence of German soldiers being tied to trees as punishment, with references from the archives. We also discussed the abolition of this punishment in 1917, and how Hindenburg fought very hard to have it reinstated. I for one never said I thought it was a violation of military law, as it was obviously part of German military law or how could the punishment have been abolished in 1917! Q.E.D <_<

Paul

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I am sure that the Lieutenant sincerely believed what he repeated, but the idea is clearly false.

We had a go-about on this before, and I asked a pen-pal friend, a high-ranking serving officer in the Bundeswehr, to research it,

I thought this had been covered and Paul H had shown documented proof that your Colonel was wrong?

Best

Chris

Sorry, did not read the thread to the end. Paul had already answered.

Best

Chris

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Given that there were over 100 German penal companies used for work under fire etc. I wonder if the original report is a garbling of this. There were certainly German soldiers put 'in harms way' as part of their punishment. Whether tasks such as wire cutting were included in this would be interesting to know. Assignment to a penal company has been suggested as an alternative to a capital sentence.

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"The Lieutenant clearly believed what he repeated"

No, it was not a repeat. He was stating what he had seen, and presumably been involved in on first hand terms. He was not a young innocent subaltern. In 1913, his twin brother Reginald shot dead a 63 year old drunk trespasser on their family estate; the Judge at that time said that both brothers were lucky to avoid a jail sentence. Francis lied on oath to defend his brother that the old man 'went for them'. This is the local grudge that local infantry bore towards the Lieutenant, and may have been the reason for his death. He had previously written to his uncle about such abuses - presumably in the same vein.

I think that the term 'court martial' is a reference to a field drumhead, conducted there and then at either the Company or at most Battalion level in an unofficial way. Not to be confused with a full CM at official level. The reference to Francis Jones-Bateman's death at Fontaine-Au-Bois needs to be looked at. When were the infantry aware that an Armistice was in the offing? FJ-B's death was only a week away.

Geraint

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I was also reading a French memoir where a German Flame Thrower guy captured at Verdun claimed he was only there as he had been forced to to make up for a previous bad. Unfortunately I cannot remember where I read it :-(

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Interesting to note that Ludendorf and Hindenburg both say the collapse of the German army (discipline and moral) were because of restrictions imposed on the military justice by the civilian govt during the war.

This seems to hint that it was not always so?

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Interesting to note that Ludendorf and Hindenburg both say the collapse of the German army (discipline and moral) were because of restrictions imposed on the military justice by the civilian govt during the war.

This seems to hint that it was not always so?

Chris,

Ludendorff spent the rest of his life blaming everyone else but himself for losing the war. I think Roger Chickering summed it up best in his essay entitled, "Sore Loser, Ludendorff's Total War." ;)

Paul

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I was also reading a French memoir where a German Flame Thrower guy captured at Verdun claimed he was only there as he had been forced to to make up for a previous bad. Unfortunately I cannot remember where I read it :-(

The British author Major S. M. J. Auld wrote extensively and accurately about the German flamethrower effort. He also insisted that flamethrower duty was punishment for wrongdoing.

All the German sources I've read indicate that the flamethrower units were staffed entirely by enthusiastic volunteers. Even so, here's what Auld wrote in The World's Work (Chicago, Garden City, New York, Boston, Los Angeles: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1918), pp. 404-405:

In the summer of last year [1917] a small flammenwerfer attack was made against our line at a point near Monchy, south of Arras. Two boches armed with flame projectors of a modified pattern [The description matches the Wex] were instructed to attack one of our advanced posts which was at the head of a sap running out toward the German trenches. In broad daylight and with no covering fire worth talking about these two poor devils were forced over the top with revolvers pressed into their backs. One was shot immediately. The other managed to get clear of his own barbed wire and then discarded his apparatus, with the intention of crawling over to us and deserting. By this time, however, he had been badly shot up--whether by his own people as well as by us, I cannot say. His left arm and his right thigh were both smashed, and he had two bullets in his abdomen. Nevertheless this man managed to crawl into our lines and was taken care of.

Seems pretty detailed, yet there's no corroborating evidence on the German side that flamethrower duty was a form of punishment.

Personally, I think the Germans would simply have shot soldiers committed of a crime. Arming them with flamethrowers and forcing them to go out against the enemy is one of those needlessly elaborate deaths that a James Bond villain would arrange.

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

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I was also reading a French memoir where a German Flame Thrower guy captured at Verdun claimed he was only there as he had been forced to to make up for a previous bad. Unfortunately I cannot remember where I read it :-(

Given that he may have been expecting unpleasant treatment from his captors (flame thrower men were not exactly looked upon with affection) such a claim could well have been made in an attempt to avoid retribution - it doesn't have to be true.

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