War Letters of German Students - pages 106 - 115

after seemingly endless wandering healthy but physically exhausted.

                                                Paul Hillinger


                                  Galicia, May 8, 1915

It was a beautiful picture I had in front of me on the evening of May first. The sun sank behind the highlighted white-red peak of the Tatra. I don't believe I had ever seen a forest so threaded through with gold and other hues and slopes filled with violets, buttercups and daisies as the one in front of which I sat. Perhaps it was only the idea which glorified everything: it may not be impossible that this is my last evening. I wasn't sitting alone. There were five of us and one, the battalion commander, had just spoken to me the following words: "10 in the morning is the designated time when the 8th Company will assault Hill 382 and then 376, etc. Are you sufficiently acquainted with Hill 382, its passages and its obstacles?" The 8th Company, of which I am its leader, knew Hill 382 well after days of trading possession of it first with the Russians and then with the Austrian trench patrols, who stopped 80 meters ahead of Hill 382, behind which there were three Russian trenches next to each other.

I stayed awake the entire night since the Russians, edgy due to the continual shooting of our artillery, kept shooting at my trench. I feared there would be a Russian assault during the night.

I even expected it. They wouldn't have had any luck wih that. In the morning at exactly 6 AM a concert from hell commenced. On the previous day the German and Austrian artillery had adjusted its guns so now other noises mixed in with each shot — howling, singing, whistling, rumbling, ear-shattering crashes — schrapnel and grenades also fell on the Russian position. The indescribable, ugly looking gray-black impact of grenades; white, German schrapnel clouds; white-red Austrian clouds of explosives detonation covered the Russian trenches, from which the constant scrolling of weapons fire entoned with the uniform ticking of machine guns. For an endless quarter of an hour I crouched in an attack hatch in my trench from 9:45 until 10 AM with watch in my hand and officer's whistle in my mouth. Every now and again a grenadier quietly asked me with unusual confidentiality, "Not yet over, Count?" 'No, still five — still two — another minute and a half." — Then three harsh whistles — and I only know there's a rapid advance, the screaming of hurrah, wild cries of fear from totally shattered Russians — I bluntly yell out my order — finally I sit down in the forest — write, yes write a proper report to Captain v.B., leader of the 2nd Battalion,...from G.R.z.F: "Have just taken Hill 382, few casualties, advancing. Count Groeben, Lieutenant and Company Leader."

Later on — suddenly, shortly ahead of Hill 376 in the forest a bang. I fall to the ground as does the leader of the campaign, whom I accompany. Thick trees snap like reeds, the hideous black-gray of two detonated grenades covers everything — our own and the Austrian

artillery don't know that we're this far ahead and we're in the line of fire. Thank God only the atmosphereic pressure was upset, the bayonet on my rifle was smashed, and I have a small splinter in my face — a man with a new report runs back — advance! Hill 376 is taken. Who's still with me? Soldiers from another regiment, a lieutenant separated from his company who is on point with three other men. I yell, "Everyone listen to my order — bear to the right towards the clearing, sight range 1200/1100, fire!" Too wide!" "Sights 1000/1100, livelier, fire! Livelier!!" — My voice cracks — I whistle, attempt to shout again — shoot — attack again — everything disappears from memory. Machine gunners come. The lieutenant, who leads them, asks me to cover him since we are surrounded on both sides by the totally torn apart Russian front — He's still sending hot greetings into the wild and overflowing gray-green mob. We assemble at the outermost border which we had overtaken not all that long ago. My first feeling was not the joy of victory but the fear of reprisal. However, despite it all — 600 prisoners, 3 machine gunners, etc. A moment later I receive the order to attack Hill 357 and move northward. So long. Perhaps I take my leave !

                                                Artur, Count V.d. Groeben †


                             Forest Reserve of Roshan, July 24, 1915

Since June 1st small attacks have been carried out for the purpose of providing us with a good position for breaking through.

In a night attack on June 13th our battalion took Cerwona Gora, a small hill near Jednorozek which took us to the eastern front. From July 1st on assault positions were established with small trenches 100 meters away from the enemy. The trenches were furnished with ladders and hand grenades. After that our courageous scouts and some infantrymen crawled under the Russian barbed wire, planted landmines, exploded them and channeled in the necessary alleyways. Then innumerable amounts of munitions and artillery arrived and were pointed at the enemy. Our pilots photographed Russian positions from above so every troop commander and every underofficer knew what things looked like from above. Finally July 13th became the appointed day with the operational name "Wedding Day." At 12:30 AM the infantry moved into attack positions, each man equipped with wire cutters and five hand grenades, two ration packages and 200 bullets.

At 4:30 AM our artillery began its work of annihilation. Grenade after grenade went into the Russian trenches until 8 AM.

From 8 AM to 8:30 there was rapid fire. From 8:30 to 8:42 barrage fire of the greatest intensity. During these 12 minutes 10 grenades per second went into the Russian trenches at a width of 200 meters. The ground throbbed.

Our boys burned to attack and our blessed artillery helped push them forward. The company was in the front line and was supposed to advance in 3 waves. As the oldest officer I led the foremost row. At 8:41 I crawled out of the trench, signalled the men to come with me, and we advanced to the hill amid rapid fire.

Luckily the barbed wire already had holes in it and we smoothly got through. We were 40 meters from the Siberians. It was a guard regiment and despite the horrible German grenades they began to deliver well-implemented machine gun and rifle fire. We made it in and started using our bayonets when the enemy either surrendered or ran away. Not many came out of it. At close range every shot hit a mark.

Our grenadiers worked like devils. The company took 86 prisoners and shot down 50 men. Casualties included 3 dead and 11 wounded. One of the best fell near me in the attack as he shouted "Hurrah." He received a bullet to the heart and had a good death because he immediately fell lifeless.

This attack, which Hindenburg led from the near vicinity, was successful across the front. 13,000 prisoners and 17 mounted guns were taken. We were dismissed in the afternoon. Another regiment attacked the next Russian position while we went in reserve as a reward.

With this second offensive, which ran as Hindenburg had ordered, the front was totally broken up and the Russians had to fall back from Lomsha to Warsaw where the entire strike force was surrounded.

In the late evening we were alerted that the Russians were in full retreat and as if our position had not been here since the 1st of March, all ordnance, transportation and columns were immediately ready to march and diligently go on the pursuit. The cossacks set fire to the entire region so while pressing on we had to rescue several villages from the flames.

On the 15th the Russians took position on the Orzyc in a four-sided, fairytale-like structure with three wire barriers, a bombproof shelter, and the river as a barrier. The attack fell to our neighboring regiment, a reserve regiment. Three times they went forward but despite insane artillery assaults the Russians held. Finally the difficult task was accomplished with the fourth attack. The Orzyc facility, an incredibly strong defensive position, was broken through. I believe it was the greatest success of the offensive. The Russians retreated without incident ahead of our regiment and thus spared us any casualties. The last attack on a hill occurred on the 19th and it was successful. We stood before Roshan, the Narew fortification. Our company found quarters in a country house for four days. It was the villa of a doctor who fled Roshan.

Upon our arrival there was still food on a tea table. The occupants had just fled. It was a wonderful time. Four salons, white, louse-free bed linens and best of all, a German concert grand piano. We lived like "Auntie at the manorhouse." On the 22nd our idyllic existence came to an end. Second Battalion attacked the village of Miluny, an ideal fortification - 30 meters of wire fencing. We were sad to leave our quarters. Around 1:30 in the afternoon the assault began. We had unusually free-wielding artillery preparation. 30.5 cm. Howitzers from the Austrians and a "Big Bertha" lightened our infantry's task. There were also five mine throwers. The 30.5 cm. Howitzers made a crashing sound as if hell had been let loose. When we arrived at the first position the Russians had already fled. We shot all the heavier at the

second position, which was also taken in 10 minutes. In retribution the Russian artillery continually fired grenades against us the entire day. Eventually we didn't even notice them anymore. At 6 in the afternoon I received an extra order to take a right flanking position. I was lucky. With 32 grenadiers we took 64 Russian prisoners. I spent three hours in a captured trench until three companies of riflemen brought me long awaited reinforcements. Twice the Russians wanted to grab me but each time our artillery observer noticed this just in time and sent a salvo towards the attackers. Once again the Russians necessitated a counterattack. The poor planning of their assault doomed their chance of success. Around 1:30 at night relief arrived, then for the night I had to take over the leadership of a company whose leader had fallen. The field post arrived at 7 o'clock with official business and a letter from my mother. In it she wrote, she was reassured that I would in time get through my teaching course and be more secure. She couldn't know that the course had fallen through due to the offensive and the battle had begun. However it was still funny to read this.

Then I slept for 10 hours and we remained for two days in reserve. Today the Russians exploded the Roshan fortification and we have forged beyond the Narew line. Russia's proudest fortification has been broken through. The first interior fortress has fallen. And now with force the attack on Warsaw.

                                                Hellmuth Strassmann

                             August 2, 1915

Since the offensive began I have attacked in the first wave three times. Of my 75 men 50 remain. The number of casualties is not that bad. Compared to the days in southern Poland (October 1914) this is nothing. Thanks to preparation by the artillery even the barbed wire has lost its fearsomeness. Do you know that the ... Guard Regiment was the first to reach the Ostrolenka-Warsaw rail? Once again the Guard is the trendsetter. And our regiment has always remained true to its guiding principle: The attack, which has been ordered, is also carried out. Until now we haven't received an order which we haven't carried out.

                                                Hellmuth Strassmann


                             Ostrow, August 8, 1915

Those were glorious days! Inside a week I've trolled about with my 40 splendid buddies, 2 machine guns, 1 revolver cannon, 4 officers, and 880 men. And now another ceritifcate. (Reception certificate from the Division for delivered prisoners.) Russia is the endgame. Yesterday I received a scrape below the right shoulder blade. An adhesive bandage sufficed. I led the 8th Company.

                                                Hellmuth Strassmann


                         At the harbor on the Sava, October 7, 1915

Now we fight against the Serbs. Our tents are pitched where previously the colorful troops of Prince Eugen marched, where the bivouac fire of the imperial German troops flared. "Tents, sentries, Who goes there?

Merry nights on a Danube harbor!" Some of the mood of this old song is in us. Croatians, Slovenians, Czechs, Magyars, Slavs swarm past each other in various costumes, languages and gestures. The entire plaza, in which our transports sit, is covered in tents. We live and sleep in them. Yesterday it rained in buckets and pattered on the tent roofs. We sat inside amid candlelight. Outside there was continual gunfire. German and Austrian riflemen from Belgrade firing at the fortifications on the other side, making the way for our crossing the Sava. It's done! A portion of our troops is over. Perhaps this evening we will follow with our cannons. It goes quickly. Event quickly follows event. Forward, always forward!

Thus life flits around to regions approached in the dreams of schoolboys, in which the bloody battle against the Turks is painted in garish colors. A great yearning lives in us for the south, for their harbors, for the entire Balkan region. We're up to our necks in desire to look at the Serbs face to face, to put our fists in their faces. Tonight the order comes to move our position forward. We will be ready for it as the sun goes down in the sky.

                                                Gerhart Pastors

What does the physician experience at the Front?

Just published:

War Letters

of a Surgeon

in Hindenburg's Army


Senior Physician Dr. Paul Gerhard Plenz

Price in sturdy bookjacket One Mark

Here is the report of one who writes no slogans, who has the courage to be honest about himself, one who is unspoiled and untouched by "literary role models", refreshingly brief with the succinctness and punch of a soldier, who has experienced unending diificulties as a doctor and yet remains detached, commenting on his changing fate with gentle humor. The directness and sincerity of experience and reportage in this doctor's little war book marks it as a stirring human document of the highest value.


Friedrich Andreas Perthes Publishing Co., Gotha.

This is the end of War Letters of German Students
Project completed June 23, 2017.

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks