HOW ONE BATTLE WAS FOUGHT
“With you fellows I’d fetch the devil out of hell.”
I found this great article in the Pottsville Republican Newspaper October 17, 1914.
Rotterdam, October 7, 1914
Much of the war gets into the German press in the form of letters which officers and privates at the front send to their families. Written by men who describe what they actually see and feel some strange mixtures of sensations experienced and actually encountered, result. One of theses appears in the Koeinische Zeitung.
“From a wild French forest on the anniversary of the battle of the Sedan (Sept.2) the best greetings: During the last two days we have been at the extreme front, after we had been given a chance to rest up and get enough to eat. Our position is a dangerous one, being well advanced into the French lines, and we are obliged to fight off many attacks on the part of the enemy much superior in numbers.
“Yesterday we fought from early morning till late at night, opposing Alpine Chasseurs and Negroes, whose courage it would be foolish to question. The woods here are very extended and cover a ground which is much broken up. They are so dense that it is often you do not see the enemy, until you are within 50 or, even 30 pacers of him, and quite frequently we get so close to the blacks that we can look into their eyes.
“We are greatly indebted to the color of our uniform. The French are constantly at a disadvantage because of their red pants and blue coats. The Alpine chasseurs are fine fellows, and in German uniform they would make a good appearance. In the French hotel porter uniform nobody looks smart. The chasseurs wear red or blue knee breeches, ribbon puttees, long blue cutaway, and a blue cap. Prisoners without arms make an appearance of utter neglect. There are prisoners taken everyday, because the ordinary French soldier, is only too ready to throw up his arms, make “hands up” and shout “Pardon”
“It is now one in the afternoon and so far we have not been disturbed. The dead are buried and now we are lying under the trees enjoying a spell of quiet and peace of the forest. I have just finished reading the newspapers to my worthless, and most of them are taking all little noon nap. Everything about us is peaceful. The Forrest is fragrant with the smell of foliage and pine needles, and the sky laughs in a wonderful blue. It is hard to believe that this is a scene on which men are butchered, the scene of what I saw yesterday. But the dull thud and thunder of artillery in the distance reminds me of this”
TWO DAYS LATER THE LETTER IS CONTINUED
“We are out of our position, Yesterday we began another advance and attack on the enemy’s position. We are still in the forest and as far as I can judge from the map there are several kilometers of it yet, part brush part high overgrowth.
“This is a dangerous territory for us, because the alternating strips of high trees and new wood make it easy for our opponents in getting the best of us. The greatest caution is necessary and our advance is a matter and taking one foot of ground after another. We just advanced 200 meters and then down for cover. Bullets begin to chirp through the air. But of the enemy nothing is seen.
“When the trees are big enough fairly good cover is offered by them. Directly the fire opens the battle line halts and falls flat to the ground, every man waiting and looking for a target. There is no shooting done her with the German rifles except one has somebody on the sight. But often there is nothing to be done but to advance again, and to frighten the fellows with our “hurrahs”. Along the lines travel stentorian, “Fix Bayonets” and then comes the command “March” and the line springs to its feet, plunges forward and a nerve taking “hurrah” smashed through the forest. The enemy’s fire begins a veritable hail of lead. Some fall but onward crashes the German line.
“As soon as we reach the positions of the enemy his fire ceases and all take to flight. Our bullets follow them and then many a “red coat” lies on the floor of the forest. But our bullets do not find a mark long, we after him only to meet with another stand and terrific hail of lead. Again we fall to the ground for cover, and this time I felt a blow, a bullet had struck my cooking utensil. I owe my life to the quick fall to the ground. For another second and I would never had risen again. Another bullet hits the ground beside me, but never mind that. Up and at them –at the very hide of the fellows.
“We soon reach our goal-a trench of a slight elevation to the left from where a heavy fire has done much damage in our line. Many of us are down and others crawl to the rear to get their wounds attended to. Now fire. The crest of our trenches becomes our target. The rattle of musketry from both sides becomes deafening. One of us will have to give in, Fire, fire! We have learned how to shoot straight-the fire in the trench weakens! The trench itself is veiled now by a cloud of dust raised by our bullets.
“Advance, comes the command again, We are all impelled forward by the mad desire to get up at them, one hundred meters separate us from the enemy. Many sacrifices are demanded in the final charge. Again the enemy’s fire weakens-then almost ceases.
“Advance, shouts somebody. The fellows must be driven out of their trenches. Some of them already are leaving, but our bullets lay them low as they run. Another halt-another advance. Only fifty meters to the trench barbed wire entanglements block our progress.
“But the fellows in the trenches have lost faith in themselves. They desert their positions in masses=running scrambling, stumbling, falling-some in a manner that shows they will never rise again. We forget to take cover, standing we pour our fire into the groups of fleeing men. Good comrade’s fall-cry for help- bid you farewell with the last breath. Farewell good friends, we must advance.
“Soon we have disposed of the enemy, who has laid so low many of us. The barbed wire is hacked through with our bayonets. We reach the trench. It is filled with writhing, struggling bodies. We aimed well. In the ditch lies a kaleidoscopic mixture of bodies swathed in blue and red-and pale ones from which glassy eyes look into the azure sky.
“But on with the pursuit. Some of us remain behind to disarm the wounded so that they cannot fire on our backs. Many another sprawls, falling on the soft forest floor.
“The height is taken but the day is not yet done. Everywhere the French have taken prisoners to stem the tide of retreat. There is yet many a bloody encounter, but we get the enemy out of the forest, and once they reach the open our waiting artillery does the rest. Our share of the work is done; the gruesome forest and its experience are ours.
Most of us had lost their comrades in the mad rush through the trees and brushwood. Indescribable were the scenes which followed when we found one another still alive.
“So we take a rest and while doing this listen to the humming and whistling of our shells as they go over us on their way to a village in which the French have sought refuge. Soon the buildings are a flame and the French again on their way.
“You have done well.” Said our corps commander. “With you fellows I’d fetch the devil out of hell.”
Pottsville Republican, October 17, 1914