Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- I. Poles in Prussian Regiments Before the First World War
- After the Unification of Germany
- Poles in Prussian Regiments Before the First World War
- The Recruit’s Training
- II. First Fights in Autumn 1914
- Border Struggles
- To the West
- Baptism of Fire
- Always Marching
- III. In the Trenches of the Western Front
- Assault and Defense
- New Armaments
- Beyond the Front
- German Officers and Polish Soldiers
- IV. Major Battles in the West
- The Battle of the Somme
- V. On the Eastern Front
- In Northern Russia
- The Eastern Front in the Eyes of a Pole in a German Uniform
- VI. On the Italian Front
- VII. 1918: Failed Spring Offensive and Retreat
- Last German Offensive
- The Retreat
- Postwar Epilogue
- Afterword to the English Edition
- Series index
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The Publication is funded by Ministry of Science and Higher Education of
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Cover illustration: Courtesy of Benjamin Ben Chaim
Polish edition: Wydawnictwo Literackie–Kraków 2014
ISBN 978-3-631-81484-0 (Print)
E-ISBN 978-3-631-82263-0 (E-PDF)
E-ISBN 978-3-631-82264-7 (EPUB)
E-ISBN 978-3-631-82265-4 (MOBI)
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About the author
Ryszard Kaczmarek is a historian, professor at the Institute of History of the University of Silesia, and director of the Regional Research Institute of the Silesian Library in Katowice, Poland. His research interests lie in Polish history in the twentieth century, German history in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, and history of Silesia. He is also the author of several books and over 100 scientific articles published in Poland, Germany, France, and Czech Republic.
About the book
Poles in Kaiser’s Army
On the Front of the First World War
The book describes the fate of Poles in the German Imperial Army during the First World War. Poland did not exist for over a hundred years on the political map of Europe at that time, and the Poles had to fight for the opposite sides of the conflict: Germany, Austria, and Russia. In the German army, regiments recruited in Poznan´, Upper Silesia, Masuria, and Eastern Pomerania were considered as “Polish.” They were sent to the Western front and participated in the great battles of Arras, Verdun, and the Somme. Poles were also present on the Eastern front, in the Balkans, on the Italian front, and even in the colonies. An important part of the forgotten history of Poles in the Kaiser’s army was the relationship between Polish soldiers and German officers. In regiments recruited on the Polish soil, it was common to use the Polish language, and from 1917 Poles deserted to the Polish Army formed in France.
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Table of Contents
Famous for its military drill, the tradition of the Prussian Army dates back to the eighteenth century, and it mainly derives from the Silesian Wars waged by Frederick II. These traditions served as an example for the next generations of Prussian officers while the mythicization of victories of that time aimed to integrate the Prussian state, notably the eastern territories inhabited by Poles. The nineteenth-century staff analyses also primarily referred to the campaigns of 1740–1763 and the biographies of the most famous commanders of the time. Many Prussian regiments were named after those commanders. The regimental traditions and the officer ethos referred to the absolutist Frederician monarchy.
However, the German Army and the Prussian troops that participated in the First World War had a different character, which mostly resulted from the changes in the Hohenzollern state after the lost war with Napoleon in 1806–1807, and later thanks to Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s mid-nineteenth century continuation of the reforms.
After losing the battles of Jena and Auerstedt to Napoleon, a group of young officers introduced organizational and operational-tactical transformations in the army. The group consisted of Gerhard Johann von Scharnhorst, August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, and Hermann von Boyen, supported by an outstanding war theoretician of growing prestige, Carl von Clausewitz. Thanks to their efforts, king Frederick William III introduced wartime universal conscription in 1813 along with the new military decoration – the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz) – initially produced exclusively in a foundry located in Gliwice, Upper Silesia.
The changes at the beginning of the nineteenth century concerned not only universal conscription but also the democratization of officer cadre, although the latter did not succeed until 1914. What played a significant role in the revival of the Prussian Army at the early stage of the reforms was not only the effort of the young Prussian officers but also the example of spontaneously created anti-Napoleonic voluntary troops. Adolf von Lützow commanded the most famous unit with nearly 3000 volunteers that mostly consisted of liberal students who fought against the French occupiers. Von Lützow’s black-red-gold colors were later adopted by student associations (Burschenschaften) that fought for German ←7 | 8→unification, which turned it into the symbol of the German nationalist and democratic movement; a tradition later evoked by Landwehr. The anti-French tradition in the Prussian Army grew stronger after The Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
The military reform was finished in 1814–1820, only after the Napoleonic Wars, but it no longer based on the liberal tradition of national liberation movements in German lands. The main goal was to further modernize Prussian army, once again a growing European power. To reach this position, Prussia implemented universal conscription. Since then:
— all men served three years of compulsory military duty; however, in 1833, the conscription in infantry had to be limited to two years due to financial reasons; gradual reestablishment of three-year compulsory military duty started in 1850 only to be formally decreed in 18561;
— until the age of thirty-two and after completion of the compulsory duty, all men had to go through two-year training in military reserve force as part of the first Landwehr contingent (Landwehr ersten Aufgebots) to be called upon in times of war (that was the case in 1849, 1850, and 1859); since 1859, each trained Landwehr regiment (Landwehr-Regiment) supported an infantry regiment with the same number, which in case of war functioned as a reserve line regiment that gathered members of the Landwehr’s three youngest years2;
— members of the remaining Landwehr’s older years formed the ranks of the second Landwehr contingent (Landwehr zweiten Aufgebots) until the age of thirty-nine;
— the trained soldiers until the age of fifty remained at the disposal of the Landsturm, called upon in case of a direct threat to the territorial defense of their place of residence in wartime.
Moreover, the reform planned for the democratization of the officer corps that began with the creation of the Landwehr in 1813. However, the corps of professional officers retained its elite character until 1914. Prussians and then German professional officers considered their profession as exceptional, which was to result from their constant willingness to sacrifice their lives. That was the reason why the officers expected different treatment in terms of criminal and civil law. ←8 | 9→The specific character of this professional group stemmed from its observance of a separate code of honor, according to which all disputes were settled without the interference of the administration and civil courts. It was mostly connected with the noble provenance of this group. Although at the beginning of the twentieth century half of the officer corps was of bourgeoisie origin, the majority of professional positions of higher officers were still held by the aristocrats. In 1909, out of thirty Generals of the Infantry, only two belonged to the bourgeoisie. Among lieutenant generals (Generalleutnant), this ratio was forty-four to seven, and among the major generals (Generalmajor) – seventy-five to thirty-one in favor of the nobility. It means that the stereotypical caricatural image of an officer was quite true to life: he was to come from a Junker family in the eastern Prussian territories, east of the Elbe, with his inseparable monocle, and usually behave arrogantly, rigidly, and boastfully though possessing little knowledge of the world.3
Reserve officers (Landwehroffizier) were very numerous in the mass conscription army at the time of the war mobilization in 1914 and belonged to an much different group. Most of them represented the bourgeoisie, while later the majority even consisted of the representatives of the working class. Over time, it was the education and property that was crucial to obtaining the rank of junior reserve officer rather than noble background. The way to reach the officer ranks was different in the case of professional military. It resulted from the military reforms of the first half of the nineteenth century, which allowed recruits to choose between one-year voluntary military duty over the earlier two or three-year compulsory duty, which created a new category of “one-year volunteers” (Einjährig-Freiwillige). After the completion of this shorter training, volunteers could apply for the appointment to the rank of reserve lieutenant. However, there were additional conditions for the approval for the special one-year duty. Only graduates of at least the first grade of Gymnasium and Realschule (Obersekunda) could submit applications, that is, usually seventeen-year-olds. It also meant that the applicant will cover the expenses like housing, weaponry, and uniforms. The latter obligation was particularly difficult to fulfill. Such a one-time expense costed 2–3 thousand marks, far exceeding the income of small craftsmen and merchants. This is why only 30–40 percent of secondary school graduates – the potential “one-year volunteers” – enrolled in this type of military training. Between 1906 and 1910, 181 thousand people were eligible, but only 59 thousand exercised the possibility. But the professional officers hardly ←9 | 10→tolerated even those enrolled before 1914. Most often, the latter would become an object of mockery in regiments due to their insufficient military training and lack of experience. Nevertheless, they usually tried to meet the requirements, which enabled them to enter the circle of professional officers. Moreover, the reserve officers adopted the professional officers’ features and values important in first-line regiments: discipline, order, punctuality, sacrifice for the duty, and even the behavior and worldview mocked by the civilians. They later implemented these views in their everyday life, which led to the popular belief that the soldiers the German Empire.4
Right before the First World War, patriotically oriented representatives of the Polish intelligentsia exploited this system and enlisted as “one-year volunteers,” so that they could later use the experience in their work toward the rebirth of the Polish state. For example, the national-democratic Association of the Polish Youth “Zet” recommended such way of action, as Bogdan Hulewicz testifies in memoires on his voluntary enlistment to the German Army: “I was healthy, physically skilled, athletic, and inured, my ZET “brothers” in Munich picked me out for the future instructor in Rifle Squads. Therefore, avoiding the German military one-year duty was out of the question, so after a couple of study semesters, I reported to the draft board in October 1912. To receive a comprehensive military training and reach the rank of reserve lieutenant was part of ZET’s program, which I followed enthusiastically. I chose a naval battalion quartering in Kiel, where I received military training in the infantry and the navy, as well as in the essential aspects of field and naval artillery.”5
Apart from “one-year volunteers” and already during the Frist World War, there emerged an intermediate category between commissioned and non-commissioned officers was proved a gradual democratization of the German officer corps, even if forced by the growing recruitment needs. That is, there appeared the function of a deputy officer (Offizierstellvertreter). At first, those waiting for the commission were treated like non-commissioned officers and received no admission to the caste of the professional military men. Only when front losses increased did they become significant front commanders at section and platoon level.6
There was a strong tradition both in the Prussian officer corps and among officials that dated back to the Frederician period, which was to keep class ←10 | 11→diversity among those nominated by the king. The goal was to integrate the state around an absolute monarch. For instance, in 1815–1830, the king appointed in the Upper Silesian 22nd Infantry Regiment seven officers from Saxony, five from Mecklenburg, four from Westphalia, four from the Kingdom of Poland, three from Pomerania, two each from Rhineland, Hanover, and Hesse, one each from Holstein, Anhalt, Franconia, Austria, Russia, and England. What integrated all of them was loyalty to the Hohenzollern dynasty that they conscientiously cultivated as part of the regimental tradition. All the officers of the 22nd Infantry Regiment had to have “solely monarchist views” and keep distance toward “any party-oriented attitude.”7
The military reform partially changed also this tradition, even among commissioned officers. The new generation of officers of the 22nd Infantry Regiment stemmed from the Upper Silesian destitute nobility already from the 1820s. However, we mean here the families that settled in Silesia only in the eighteenth century. Hopes for quick enrichment often turned out illusive, so the newcomers’ sons and grandsons, after having obtained appropriate education, decided to pursue a military career in the nearest regiments. They spent the initial part of duty in regiments as officer aspirants (Offiziers-Aspiranten), due to the lower cost of such accommodation. This was facilitated by the fact that, after the Napoleonic Wars, regiments received permanent locations of residence with barracks.
At the time of regiments permanent location in the Upper Silesia before 1866, the frequency of officers’ contacts with the surrounding Silesian nobility grew, as we read from reports of this gradual process:
There was a lively, valorous spirit in the regiment during the stay in its garrison. The most important was to keep in close touch with exquisite local circles. At the beginning of the carnival season, young men visited nearby homes in rigid service dress uniforms and feathered hats sprucely worn on neatly arranged hair. Families of high officers and officials along with the noble families – all cordially greeted the officers from the 22nd Infantry Regiment due to their courteous and quiet behavior. For this reason, the families willingly and voluntarily allowed the officers to make acquaintances with their daughters…. In the fusilier bataillions that quartered in small garrisons (Brzeg, Kłodzko, Opole), officers were particularly eager to fulfill their social duties. In this way, former captains and lieutenants [who had already completed active duty and lived in their rural estates] could longer entertain themselves in the circle of young officers who then belonged to the new generation. The unmarried grey-haired men felt like fathers ←11 | 12→to these young modest officers, always eager to help them with money in case of need, which the “young blood” often lacked during parties.8
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- 2020 (April)
- The First World War Poles in the Prussian partition Western Front 1914–1918 Eastern Front Polish Army
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 322 pp.