July the 1st
2016 sees the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. Although
the German and French armies suffered terribly during the five months of battle
it was the British for whom the battle became the ultimate symbol of suffering
Right: The commemorative Death Certificate for Josef rehm, Killed on the 1st of July 1916 at Thiepval
The battle can be
divided into three phases.
First day on the
Somme, 1 July
Battle of Albert,
Battle of Bazentin
Ridge, 14–17 July
Battle of Fromelles,
Battle of Delville
Wood, 14 July – 15 September
Battle of Pozières
Ridge, 23 July – 7 August
Battle of Guillemont,
Battle of Ginchy, 9
Flers–Courcelette, 15–22 September
Battle of Morval,
Battle of the
Transloy Ridges, 1 October – 11 November
Battle of Thiepval
Ridge, 26–28 September
Battle of the Ancre
Heights, 1 October – 11 November
Battle of the Ancre,
Left: Josef Rehm
The point of this
article is not to go into any depth about the battle itself, the Somme is already
the most well covered battle of the war and I do not for a second think there
is anything I could add to the fantastic works out there. For anyone interested
in the battle the list of books to recommend is long and I will limit myself to
the two I used in creating this page:
Somme 1916: Success and Failure on the First
Day of the Battle of the Somme by Paul Kendall
And the bible for anyone interested in the
battle from the German side - “The German Army on the Somme” by Jack Sheldon.
This article is
limited to covering the Iron Cross award documents handed out to the XIV.
Reservekorps soldiers who fought in the battle. For the large part these were
units which were part of, or attached to the 26. (Württembergische)
Reserve-Division, the 28. Reserve-Division (Both belonging to the XIV. R.K.),
the 52nd Infanterie Division and the 12. Infanterie Division (Both
attached for periods of the battle). Some units within the Korps had their own award
documents and did not use the XIV. R.K. documents.
The award documents
to the XIV are usually related to the Battle of the Somme and are therefore
quite easily researchable. They seem to have been introduced in early 1916 and
were used to retroactively document awards made from the outbreak of the war. The
Regiments can be pinpointed to well documented sectors like Gommecourt, Serre-Heidenkopf,
Beaumont-Hamel, St Pierre-Divion, Thiepval, the Schwaben Redoubt, Ovillers-la
Boisselle, Fricourt and Mametz.
- Unteroffizier Heinrich Kresse (3. Batr.)
The document was
signed on the 11. September 1916 by Major Knorr, Regiments-Kommandeur. At the
time of the award the Regt. was part of the 52. I.D.
Serre was on the northern edge of the Somme
battlefield and will always remain connected with the tragic destruction of the
“Pals” battalions of the British 31st Division.
The guns of the F.A.R. Nr. 103 were dug in in the
Serre sector hidden from Allied aerial observers. Serre was a critical
defensive position to the north of the Ancre and the the Germans had spent the last
year strengthening their defenses.
When the British 94th Brigade, 31st
Division, went “over the top” on the morning of the 1st of July 1916.
It’s commander Brigadier General Hubert Rees wrote “The Germans were determined
to protect Serre with a barrage from most of their guns and relied more on
M.G.s to stop the 4th Division (to the South. cb). This barrage
which fell at Zero was one of the most consistent and severe I have seen. When
it fell it gave me the impression of a thick belt of poplar trees from the
cones of the explosions.”
Right: Erich Kresse
The force of the German barrage led to efforts by Rees
to stop his men attacking, but he was not able to cancel the attack in time.
Private Snailham of the 11th East
Lancasters wrote “The lads were slaughtered, fearful, as we got out of the
trench; they were knocking them over as fast as they got out… The moment I had
to get out over the top there were three men lying dead in the trench… I got
over the top, men were lying all over the damn show. I hadn’t run before a
shell burst above me. I could see a six inch piece of shrapnel sticking through
my leg. That made me take cover and the only cover was a shell hole. I got
almost to the German wire. I could hear them in front of me and lads that had
gone over were lying all over the place shouting for help but no one could get
to them at all. The men in shell holes as I was crawling past them were all
suffering from wounds caused by shell fire.”
Corpral Greenwood of the Accrington Pals wrote from
hospital “I have a piece of shrapnel just in the bend of my knee of the right
leg. I fairly got a peppering while I was on the battlefield. I only got hit in
five places, two in the left arm, one in the right arm, one in the left hip… I
never thought I should see life again after I went on the battlefield – they
were being killed on the left and right of me. I saw some awful, ghastly
sights… I got wounded while I was dressing a man’s neck. There was a hole right
through it, and blood was coming out like a tap. He was praying to God to let
him live. There I left him and went on with it, until I got to the German
trenches. Then I got a large piece right through the left arm. It finished me
did that, and I crept back all under shell fire until I got to the dressing
station to have my wounds dressed. I prayed to see my mother and father whilst
I was fighting, and I think God must have answered my prayers.”
The accounts of the British soldiers caught in
the artillery fire at Serre are quoted in Somme 1916: Success
and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Paul Kendall
Above: The Militärpaß of Erich Kresse including the entries for the battle on the Somme.
3. Magdeburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.66 - Gefreiter
Eduard Weber (9th Komp.)
It is not possible to
determine at which point in the battle Weber earned his Iron Cross but in
November 1916 the Regiment was sent to complete a 3rd stint in the line on the
Somme. On the 1st of July the I.R. 66 was on the extreme northern
edge of the battlefield and not directly attacked. The men of the regiment were
able to pour a deadly flanking fire into the 94th Brigade attacking to
The document was
signed on the 3 November 1916 by Major Julius von Stöcklern (zu Grünholzek),
Regiments-Kommandeur. At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 52.
Above: The Iron Cross 2nd Class document for Eduard Weber
Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 110 - Reservisten Wilhelm
Lüdwig Heinrich Fritzler (3. Komp.)
Infanterie Regiment 110 was at La Boisselle when the morning of the 1st
of July started with a huge underground mine exploding under their positions.
Most of the 5th Company were killed in the explosion and the British
34th Division made the most of the confusion and succeeded in breaking
into the German line, only to be thrown back by the 4th company of
Fritzler’s battalion. Jack Sheldon writes in “The German Army on the Somme”
that the 34th Division turned the advance of its 12 battalions into
a crazy and pointless form of mass Suicide. Oberleutnant Kienitz of the R.I.R.
Above: The Iron Cross award document for Reservist Fitzler
Right: Reservist Ohlenschlegel of the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 110 in early 1916
“Silently our machine
guns and the infantrymen waited until our opponents came closer. Then, when
they were only a few meters from the trenches, the serried ranks of the enemy
were sprayed with a hurricane of defensive fire from the machine guns and the
aimed fire of the individual riflemen. Standing exposed on the parapet, some
individuals hurled hand grenades at the enemy who had taken cover to the front.
Within moments it seemed as though the battle had died away completely. But
then, initially in small groups, but later in huge masses, the enemy began to
pull back towards Becourt, until finally it seemed as though every man in the
entire field was attempting to flee back to his jumping-off point. The fire of
our infantrymen and machine guns pursued them, hitting them hard; whilst some
of our men daringly charged the British troops, capturing prisoners. Our
weapons fired away ceaselessly for two hours, then the battle died away in
Becourt Hollow (Sausage Valley)”.
The British 34th
Division attacking la Boisselle was the hardest hit of the 16 attacking
divisions and lost 6 380 men on the morning of the 1st of July.
The document was
signed on the 7 July 1916 by Hauptmann XXX, Bataillons-Führer. At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 28.
Company was in the centre of the line facing the attack by the 36th
(Ulster) Division on the Schwaben redoubt (Feste Schwaben) and Thiepval on the 1st
of July. The 107th Brigade
which attacked the positions held by the 9th Company R.I.R. 99
consisted of four battalions of Belfast volunteers from the Royal Irish Rifles.
Gefreiter Sommers was wounded in the
document was signed on the 10 August by Hauptmann von Schilgen,
Bataillons-Kommandeur, at the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26. R.D.
Above: A Photograph signed Major von Fabeck, commander of the RIR99 at Thiepval on the
1st day of the Somme, dedicated to a Vizefeldwebel Rimkel in memory of
the difficult days at Thiepval
Above: Men of the R.I.R. 99 relax after the battle.
Right: Offizier Stellv. Agram of the R.I.R. 99 in August 1916. He was wounded in the fighting and wears the ribbon for the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
10. Württembergisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.180 - Musketier
Johann Jochum (1. Komp.)
In November 1916 the
3rd Phase of the Battle on the Somme came to an end. The I.R. 180
had fought in the sector throughout the battle. In His book “The German Army on
the Somme” Jack Sheldon bestowed the regiment the following accolade.
“Ever since Ovillers
and Pozieres fell, it was clear to the Germans that Thiepval’s days were
numbered. Nevertheless, such was the nature of the terrain and the ferocity of
the defence of Mouquet Farm and the sector as a whole, that it took twelve
weeks of extremely hard fighting before the British army was in a position to
carry out a final assault on the village which had been the lynchpin of the
defence for a full two years. Forced to attack on a narrow frontage, attack
after attack had been beaten back at the cost on enormous casualties on both
sides. When the end ultimately came, the core of the defence of the ruins of
Thiepval was in the hands of Infanterie Regiment 180, which had fought so
heroically at the beginning of the battle in defence of Ovillers, was
reconstituted and deployed in and around Thiepval from the 26th of
July. So, for no less than two months, this superb regiment, reinforced from
time to time, beat off everything that was thrown at it, without once being
relieved. It was probably the most outstanding regimental performance on either
side throughout the battle.”
Johann Jochum had
fought with the regiment from June of 1915. He was in the front line on the day
of the first attack and continued fighting until the 5th of August
when he was wounded by shrapnel in the right shoulder. After 3 months of
hospital and recovery he rejoined his Company in November.
The document was
signed on the 7 November by Major Otto Salzmann,
Bataillons-Kommandeur, At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26.
Vizefeldwebel Riegel served
with the regiment from the first day of the battle. On the 1st of
July 1916 the regiment suffered 79 killed, 181 wounded and 13 missing. They
inflicted terrible losses on the troops attacking their positions who lost a
total of 5 000 dead, wounded and missing. Riegel was severely wounded sometime in
The document was
signed on the 19th March 1916 by Major XXX, Bataillons-Kommandeur,
At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26. R.D.
Reserve Infanterie Regiment 119 – Unteroffizier der
Landwehr Christian Strientz
Jack Sheldon writes of
the regiment on the 1st day of the Somme, near Beaumont Hamel...
“The Battle Log of
the 3rd Battalion Reserve Infanterie Regiment 119 describes, in a
few terse entries, the methodical destruction of the first wave of attackers
from the British 29th Division….
8.15am Mine Blown in
8.20am B1-B3 under
8.30am The British
are lying down 100m short of the first trench of B3. Own machine guns have
8.35am B2 reports:
attack stalled. Masses of British soldiers are lying in the hollow in front of
Target Area 46. Machine guns are being moved forward from the second to the
8.40am B2 Reports: The
British are lying in front of the first trench and are being shot to pieces. No
defensive fire is coming down in the hollow in front of Target Area 46; a
battalion is gathering there to attack.
Sector Order: Destroy
them with machine gun fire.
A series of postcards
sold in the Reserve Infantry Regiment 119 canteens.
Each takes a line
from the saying....
Ufrichtich und gradraus Guatmüatich bis dortnaus Wenns sei muass au saugrob Des isch a Schwob.
and true Goodnatured
to a fault But when it
has to be, really dirty/uncouth That is a