rode a bicycle alone through the city to the church tower. When I came back down I stood amid a group of murmuring, hostile-looking boys. Naturally my bike was stolen and I had to walk for half an hour, but this made me happy. I would have enjoyed a bit of roughhousing. With a pistol in my hand I felt like a titan.
I learned a day later that the residents had rioted against our cavalry and then later our field hospital and an entire group of them had to be put up against the wall.
At midday I reached my destination and learned that three days before in the region of Arlon a Richthofen cousin had been killed. I spent the rest of the day with the cavalry division, participated in yet another surprise drill and then returned to my regiment that night.
Some people experience more things than others. Some had already been among the enemy, confronted them, saw the marks of war, been envied for their weapons. It was all too beautiful, indeed the best time in the entire war. I wish I could relive its beginnings again.
In the vicinity of Diedenhofen
I will briefly describe to you what I experienced here on the Western Front. — Until the army's march was over things were quite boring. We were moved northeast from Diedenhofen and marched through Luxemburg, crossing the Belgian border at Arlon. In Etalle, about twenty kilometers west of Arlon, I received orders on the 23rd of August to reconnoiter in a southern direction towards Meix-devant-Virton. As I approached the edge of the forest south of Etalle, I noticed a squadron of French cavalry. I only had fourteen men with me. After about a half an hour the enemy squadron disappeared. I was backtracking to determine where they were staying when I came upon a huge, mountainous forest. Leaving the forest I found myself in the vicinity of Meix-devant-Virton. To my right was a rockface, to my left a stream, and fifty meters behind me a wide meadow, then the edge of the forest. The point man stopped and I galopped up to see what was wrong.
As I put the telescope to my eye a salvo volleyed about fifty meters away from the edge of the forest. I saw between two hundred and two hundred and fifty riflemen. I couldn't go left or forward; there was the enemy. To the right the rock wall. I had to retreat.
Oh, if it had only been that easy! The pathway was quite small and it went past the enemy-occupied edge of the forest. This wouldn't work because there was no way around or through. I was the only one left. Despite my previous orders all the others had tried to bolt past, thus providing the French with excellent targets. Perhaps that was the reason I escaped. I only brought four men left. Baptism by fire was less entertaining than I thought it would be. In the evening some men returned because their horses were dead. They had to rescue themselves on foot.
It's a wonder that neither I nor my horse were injured.
The same night I was sent back to Virton but not to the same part of Virton occupied by the enemy.
One night afterwards Division Commander von Below decided to engage the enemy in Virton. He went with his point guard, Uhland Regiment No. 1 to the clearing beyond the forest.
The fog was so thick that you couldn't see thirty paces in front of you.
One regiment after the other manoeuvered beyond the narrow forest path. Prince Oskar stood on a pile of boulders and inspected his regiment, the 7th Grenadiers, as it marched by. He looked each grenadier in the eye. It was a marvelous moment
before the battle. Thus occurred the Battle of Virton, where the 9th Division fought against an enemy six times as large for two days and eventually won.
In this battle Prince Oskar rode at the head of his regiment and remained uninjured. Afterwards I spoke with him as he was given the Iron Cross.
and for the First Time heard the Bullets fly by.
(August 21st/22nd, 1914)
I was given orders to determine how strong the occupation forces were in a large forest near Virton. I rode out with fifteen men of the Uhlan Regiment. It was clear to me that today I would have the first encounter with the enemy. The assignment wasn't easy. Many frightening things can hide in a forest which remain unseen.
I came to some high ground. Less than a hundred paces from me there was a massive forest complex of many thousands of acres. It was a beautiful August morning. The forest was so peaceful and quiet that there was no hint of war.
The point approached the entrance to the forest. Nothing suspicious was detected in the telescope. We had to ride in and wait to see if
there would be enemy fire. The point disappeared on the forest path. I was next. Near me rode one of my most capable Uhlan cavalrymen. At the entrance to the forest was a solitary woodsman's cottage. We rode past it. A shot was fired from the window of the cottage. Then came another. From the sound I knew immediately that this wasn't buckshot. It was the sound of a flint rifle. At the same time I noticed the chaos in my patrol and surmised this must be an encounter with French guerilla fighters. Down from the horses and around to the house. In a dark space I recognized four to five young men with hostility in their eyes. Of course, I did not see any flint rifles. My courage was great at that time but I had never seen a man killed before and I must say the it was an extremely disconcerting moment. At any moment I might have to strike down the French fighter like a head of cattle. He had put a shot in the stomach of one of my horses and injured the hand of one of my Uhlan soldiers.
In my minimal French I cried out to the scoundrels if the guilty party did not show himself I would shoot the entire group of them. They saw I was serious and that I would not hesitate to make good on my threat. To this day I'm not sure if I could have done it.
The free shooters went out the back door and disappeared without a trace. I shot at them but didn't hit anything. Fortunately I had the house surrounded so they couldn't escape. Immediately afterwards I had the house searched but didn't find anybody else. Perhaps the sentries at the back of the house hadn't paid close enought attention. In any event, the place was empty but we did find the rifle propped up on the window. We had to exact out revenge in a different fashion. Five minutes later the entire cottage was in flames.
After this intermezzo we proceeded farther.
Fresh horse tracks alerted me that not long before us a heavy concentration of enemy cavalry had marched through. I stopped with my patrol, fired them up with a few words, then had the feeling that I could unconditionally rely on each one of my men. In the next few minutes each would face his enemy and each would consider nothing other than attacking him. It lies in the German blood to charge after the enemy, especially hostile cavalry. I saw myself at the head of this little group pressing forward on the hostile squadron and I was drunk with anticipation. The eyes of my Uhland soldiers glistened with lightning. At a fluid trot we continued on the trail. After an hour's
intense ride through the most beautiful of mountain passes the forest thinned out and we approached its exit. It was clear to me I would engage the enemy. But with caution! And with all the courage I could muster. To the right of the path was a steep, several meter high rockface. To the left was a small stream, then a meadow fifty meters wide surrounded by barbed wire. Suddenly the horse tracks stopped and disappeared over a bridge in the bushes. The point stopped. Before us the way out of the forest was blocked by a barricade.
Immediately it was clear to me that I was in an ambush. I immediately saw movement in the bushes behind the meadow to my left and saw the enemy cavalry. I estimated about a hundred armed men. This was not a good place to be. There was no way through the barricade, to the right was the rock wall, to the left was the meadow surrounded with wire thus hindering my inclination to attack. There was no time to dismount and round up the enemy with our rifles. That left no option other than to go back. My good Uhlan soldiers would rely on me to do anything but ride away from the enemy. — That would spoil their fun. A second later the first shot sounded then rapid fire issued from the forest.
The distance was between fifty and a hundred meters. The men were instructed to quickly come to me if I raised my hand. I knew we had to retreat. I raised my arm and signalled to my men. They may not have understood me. The patrolmen I had left behind must have believed I was in danger. They came charging forward wildly to rescue me. All this took place on a narrow forest path so one can image the chaos that ensued. Due to the rapid fire both my pointmen rode their horses into the narrow pass where the sound of each bullet was ten times as loud. I saw them take the barricade in one jump. I've never heard a word about them since. They are most certainly in prison. I turned myself around and for the first time in his life I gave my good old horse "Antithesis" the spurs. It took great effort to indicate to my Uhlands that they should not come to me. Turn around and get out! My orderly rode next to me. Suddenly his horse fell. I sprang out of the way. Other horses galloped around me. It was quite the brouhaha. I saw that my orderly was under the horse, not wounded but pinned underneath. The enemy had taken us by surprise.
Go to pages 50-58
Return to Index
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks