Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Initial German Perspective

For those who do not know me my name is Ralph Whitehead and I am what can be described as an historian with NML. I am quite pleased to be able to attend another NML dig and hopefully assist in identifying any finds the group makes. The Australian contingent is well represented and I look forward to meeting old friends and make some new ones. Some of you already know me and my interest in the German army. Hopefully all of the different perspectives of the fighting will allow us to piece together a better idea of the fighting and events that took place some 90 years ago.

In looking over the German side of the battle we will probably be running into men who served in the 9th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, an active regiment in the 4th Bavarian Division. This regiment or the others in the division, the 5th Bavarian IR and 5th Bavarian RIR held this portion of the line for some months prior to the attack. On 7 June 1917 the regiment had taken over from the 5th Bavarian RIR that had suffered heavy losses due to artillery fire. The III Battalion (9th, 10, 11th and 12th Companies) took over the sector where the mines were detonated, in fact the 12th Coy was positioned directly above the Ultimo mine. When the mines were set off this company suffered the worst losses followed by the 10th and 11th Companies, both of which lost a major part of their men in the initial blasts. The 9th Company was located in the intermediate terrain between the front line and the second line of defense. They occupied shell craters and strong points.

I looked over the available records for these units (9th and 5th Bavarian have regimental histories while the 5th Bavarian RIR did not publish anything in the post-war years). The 9th Bavarian IR had seen service in all main areas of the Western Front other than the fighting at Verdun in 1916. After reviewing the losses suffered by the regiment I found that the III Bn was the hard luck battalion in that they lost more men than the rest and the 12th Coy was the hard luck company having lost more men in the war by far than any other company in the regiment.

An example of this was the time they served on the Somme from 31 August 1916 through 18 September. In this period the regiment suffered heavily in the tank attack at Flers on 15 September where the III Battalion was virtually destroyed. The total losses for the 19 day period was 5 officers, 182 men killed; 20 officers, 776 men wounded and 20 officers, 540 men missing for a total of 45 officers and 1,498 men.

These losses required replacements and as such the men who were manning the trenches on 7 June were between the ages of 18 and 39. The losses suffered by the German Army required calling up the 1917 and 1918 Class of men early. 36 of the III Bn losses on 7 June were from these two classes.

In looking at the total losses for the regiment in the war the 9th Bavarians lost 3,758 officers and men killed; 134 officers and men who died from disease or accident; 346 officers and men missing; 8,630 officers and men wounded; 1,260 officers and men captured for a total of 14,128 casualties in the war.

In looking further at the losses I noted that one man from the 12th Coy listed as killed and presumed dead was a man born in New York. He was one of 6 fatal casualties that were born in the U.S. in this regiment, 4 from New York, 1 from Pennsylvania and one from a state yet to be identified. If these 6 were killed then I would suspect there would have been others serving in this regiment from the U.S. as well.

I will have additional details on the names of the men who have known graves and those we might possibly come across during the excavation as well as details on the uniforms and equipment most likely to be found as well. If anyone has any specific questions or inquiries please let me know over the next week or so and I will make sure I bring this information with me.

See you at the end of the month, possibly in Comines, possibly at Ypres, but eventually at Messines.


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