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Time Periods => WWI (The Great War) => The Central Powers => Topic started by: Sturmkatze on February 03, 2007, 11:04:46 PM
Leutnant Friedrich Schemm; Forest fighting in the Argonne and Neufwald
Bio and Intro
Friedrich Schemm was horn 13 August 1897 in Berndorf, a village in Upper Franconia, Bavaria. When World War I began in August 1914, Schemm was a gymnasium-level student in Bayreuth.
On 14 December 1914, he volunteered for army service at the Bayreuth garrison of the 7th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (5th Bavarian Division). A short time later, however, he decided he wanted to become an officer.
On 1 January 1915, Schemm went to the regimental garrison in Inthringen and joined the 173rd Infantry Regiment (34th Division) As a Fahnenjunker (officer aspirant). In June of that year he was sent to the front in the Argonne Forest, where he was assigned to the regiment?s 3. Kompagnie in the 1. Bataillon, as an Unteroffizier. The following December Schemm became a Fahnrich (officer cadet) and was promoted to Leutnant on 20 April 1916. Five months later he was transferred to the 30th Reserve Infantry Regiment (16th Reserve Division after January 1917), where he stayed until the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Schemm did not leave the army immediately following the Armistice and the march hack to Germany. Not until 20 April 1920?four years to the day after he was commissioned an officer?was Lt. Friedrich Schemm discharged from the service.
During the war Schemm received both the Iron Cross first and second classe. He also received four different trips to field hospitals, courtesy of the enemy, as explained in a letter to Rick Baumgartner:
?On 1 May 1916 I was wounded by shrapnel in the Argonne Forest. On 16 April 1917, I was wounded by a machine-gun bullet on the Chemin des Dames. On 27 July 1917, I was shot by a rifle near Korodenka in Galicia and on 14 October 1918, I was wounded by a grenade splinter near Hooglede in Flanders.?
Following the war, Schemm wrote down a number of accounts and eventually became a contributor to the regimental histories of both the 173rd Regiment and the 30th Reserve Regiment.
This article came from interviews done in 1980 and Schemm, who was 83, lived in Munich, in what was then West Germany. Offered here are two of Schemm?s accounts of fighting in forest country, in different parts of France. His description of battle in the Argonne Forest in 1915 details his baptism by fire, just 10 days after he first was sent to the front. The second records Schemm?s experiences in the Neufwald 2? years later, not far from where the British and Germans attacked and counterattacked, respectively, near Cambrai November 1917.
Marianne Mayer Bernard, a native of Munich (now living in Huntington, WV) helped prepare the original narratives and assisted in the translation of Schemm?s accounts. Mrs. Bernard?s grandfather, Josef Schwarz, was killed in 1915 while serving with the German Army near Lille.
For months, German and French solders lay across from each other in the trenches of the Argonne Forest, without fighting for the possession of them. By the end of June1915, all this changed.
The 30th of June was chosen by the commander of the 16th Army Corps as the day to storm the French positions from Labordere to Eselsnare. Our regiment, I.R. 173, which lay on the Hubertusrucken, was not included in the plan of operation. In case the intended attack led to its objectives, then our regiment would also be used.
But the regiment?s staff must have gotten orders to support a neighboring regiment. Otherwise, the 3. Kompagniewas to have been held in reserve in the forest, ready to fight. On 27 June, we marched quietly to Menilferme, near Chatel, outside the forest. On the 28th, we were billeted in the barn of a farm, not knowing anything. Not until 10:00 the next morning when we stood Appell (roll call) were we told by our Kompagnief?hrer, Hauptmann Gr?ning, that for now we would stay under cover, as if French troops were storming. But soon we found out what was hidden behind the order. The Kompagnie was to move immediately back to the forest in a reserve position. The joyous mood soon was replaced by solemnness. At 3pm, we had our ?Affen? [trans.: monkeys, i.e. their knapsacks] on our backs, ready to march. The day before we had marched out of the forest on the ?Halberstadterstrasse?? once a Roman road. Today the marching was turned around.
About 6 p.m. we arrived in the La-Mitte ravine where we bivouacked in windy lean-tos. The next day, all sorts of fighting material were dragged into position. Men in long rows brought up hand grenades and protective metal shooting shields from the Pionier park. Three hours after midnight, on the 30th, our Kompagnie made its way through the trenches to the front positions, ready to attack. At 5 a.m., the artillery bombardment was to start.
We were joyous over the drum fire to the right of us. At 8:45 the 3Oth Infantry Regiment of our division and a neighboring W?rttemberg division stormed at the same time. Our Kompagnie remained in the dugouts, curious as to the success of the attack on the enemy position. We did not stay there long. The wind had brought the gas from our own shells into our trenches. We put Vaseline over our eyes, as we did not have gas masks.
News of whether the attack had been a success didn?t come and we snuck into a shallow sap that we had busily shoveled. Despite the anxiety we tried to find a safer place.
Then came the call: ?Volunteers forward!? As Fahnenjunker I was in the front. At 3 p.m. it was realized that we would storm forward. ?Everyone to the front!?
All at the same moment, my group sprang over the sap?s parapet. In step, we ran 10 to 15 meters over the unprotected ground to where the enemy trenches were. The enemy reacted immediately and the Poilus fought bravely. Hand grenades came flying from different directions. Many of them were duds and did not do much damage. Nevertheless, the close battle took a very long time, so that one wondered what the outcome would be?here was no turning back!
We were throwing grenades into the French trenches. Not until the French were totally disabled or had retreated to shell holes farther back, could we jump into their trenches.
Then, with a deafening shout, someone yelled to jump in. With one leap we were either standing or lying in the French trenches. The enemy used this moment to shoot ?blue beans? at us. Musketier Corndi fell dead into the trench, head-first over the barbed wire.
Throughout the hand grenade battle, the trench was nearly destroyed and had to be re-shoveled. The ground had to be taken away from the ably fighting enemy step by step. Already, the first wounded French soldiers were surrendering. Only some of them were in their new blue-gray uniforms. They were sent quickly behind the front lines. The others retreated to their second line of trenches and bravely serviced a machine-gun. Our comrades following us had a tough time, as the communication trenches were not connected. The Kompagnie?s Leutnant, who was encouraging the men on, exposed himself to the enemy too long and fell.
In the meantime, the Kompagnief?hrer arrived at the captured trench to see what was happening while awaiting further orders, he looked over the top of the trench and this short glance brought him death. I no more had pointed out to him the dangerous enemy sharpshooters when he sank to the side with a bullet in his head. With a terrible wound he died the next day in a field hospital. His last wish was to be buried amidst the Kompagnie and Bataillon dead in the La-Mitte ravine.
The connecting trenches toward the enemy were sealed off with sandbags and the position was made safe. Regardless of repeated French attempts to take back their lost ground, the front lines remained in our hands. Searching through the French saps and dugouts on the 1st of July, we found six French soldiers who were hiding. Until the onset of darkness, we feverishly worked to assemble the steel protective shields. The position was enlarged and the ammunition replenished. The night brought more backbreaking digging as well as hand grenade fights. Otherwise, it was calm after the storm.
The 60 prisoners that were taken from the enemy by our Bataillon, in connection with another 740 taken by the rest of the division, the French could ill-afford to lose.
Through this victory we were strengthened so that, in the coming battles of 14 July, 2 August and 8 September 1915. We were looking with hope toward other victories.
On 20 November 1917, nearly 400 tanks spearheaded a British attack on the Western Front designed to capture Cambrai from the Germans. While successful at first, the advance petered out within a week and on 30 November, German troops, using newly developed infiltration tactics, mounted a counterattack and won back much of the salient created by the British offensive.
By this time, Schemm was an officer in the 30th Reserve Infantry Regiment. An account, which follows, describes his experiences in the line during the two-week period after the German counterattack near Cambrai
In Vervins, we were unloaded from the cars at 12:00 midnight. Now we had to push forward to the regiment and Bataillon. Since we could not find out where they were, we stayed in Vervins overnight. The next morning we found out at a telephone station the place were they were quartered. We then walked for hours?through Thenailles and Harcigny to Dagny, where we found the regimental staff, and finally to Morgny, where we found the 3rd Bataillon. This was on the 28th of November 1917. We were barely there and I had just introduced myself to the Bataillon commander?Oberleutnant der Reserve Schenck, who was filling in?when we received orders to get ready to march. At any moment we could be called upon and indeed. on the 30th, this proved to be what happened. We were in a hurry and were needed badly at the front, not knowing exactly where.
Curious about things yet to come, we marched through Archon and Rocoi. Soon after we boarded a train, which pulled through Hirson, Avesnes, Le Cateau and on to Caudry, 10 kilometers southeast of Cambrai. Marching on foot again brought us to Haucourt, Esnes and eventually to Seranvillers. Near Cambrai we found quarters. The 16th Reserve Division was assembled at Caudry under the command of General der Infanterie Wafter. Our Regiment was in readiness to support the 220th Infantry Division, already in the line Rumilly-Masnieres and surrounding Gonnelieu. south of Cambrai.
On the 1st of December a strong artillery fire fell on the front lines. The weather was cold. A much better ?impression? was made the following day when the 106th Infantry Regiment took 200 prisoners at Masnieres, who were marched past us.
On the 4th of December the Bataillon was placed in front of the gates of Cambrai in reserve. The civilian population of this town seemed to have left after the scare of 20 November when the English shells began falling. But the town was untouched despite the fighting. The civilians were only able to take the barest necessities with them in covered wagons. The houses of Cambrai were totally furnished and we lived like kings. From the cellars came potatoes, beets and cabbage. During the day the Bataillon drilled.
On the 5th, our Bataillon physician, Doktor Cordier, received the Iron Cross first class.
On the 6th, the Bataillon received reinforcements and was in alarmed readiness as group reserve?in case the enemy broke through it could be used in defense.
On the 8th, there was still no action. But, at 3 p.m. orders from the regiment came to move, by Bataillon, into position. With a scout patrol, I went to Proville (where the staff of the 232nd Reserve Infantry Regiment was located) for information,. We were to relieve them in the ?Neufwald.? After a three-hour march, the companies of the 3rd Bataillon carried out this relief at 8 p.m.
Outside the gates of Cambrai on the Schelde River (Fr. Escaut River), lay the village of Noyelles. On a dirt road near the northwest exit of this place?hard hit in the recent Cambrai tank battle?we erected concrete and corrugated tin huts. We moved into these with an anxious feeling of what the next hours and days might bring. We stayed a night and a day in these ?dumps.? Then we moved to the front at 9 p.m., relieved by our 2. Bataillon.
The march led through the middle of the Neufwald. The forester?s house, with its tower?s spiral staircase, had a concrete basement occupied by the headquarters of the K.T.K. (Kampftruppkommandeur). In a sideroom was a wireless operator and his section.
The main battle line ran from the southern outskirts of Grancourt and La Ferme (near a brick factory), west of the forest to Marcoing. This position, where we relieved the 232. Reserve Infantry Regiment, was unfamiliar to us. It took hard work until the Bataillon was in firing readiness. There were only small sections of trenches on hand?otherwise, only wooded dirt roads protected us from the enemy west of the Neufwald. The exit of the forest could be seen from the side, so that this small but important stretch of ground could only be traversed in single file.
The Bataillon was deployed as follows:
The 11. Kompagnie moved forward into a freshly dug trench once used by the English. 250 meters west of the road running from the brick factory to Marcolng. The 9. Kompagnie took position in the main defense line between the brick factory and a gravel pit, southeast. The 10. Kompagnie relieved the 1. Kompagnie of the 227. Regiment in the gravel pit. The 12. Kompagnie was the Bataillon reserve, located in the Neufwald. Two heavy machine-guns reinforced the 10. Kompagnie, one reinforced the 9. Kompagnie and two more reinforced the 11. Kompagnie.
The 9. and 12. Kompagnies found a few dugouts and managed to squeeze themselves inside. A ditch along the forest road served as a defense line and as a position for four Minenwerfer. The left wing of the Bataillon was exposed, not having a trench. The dressing station was at the south exit of Noyelles. Food was brought up twice a night from the field kitchens at Proville.
Our counterparts were the English. Since there were no plans for the extension of the German counterattack of 30 November, we went about to make our new position livable and ready for defense. And, since the hard-hit enemy did the same thing, the fighting was reduced to a minimum of desultory artillery firing. But, during the nights, this increased to a lively harassment.
While the infantry stayed calm, there was quite a bit of activity in the air. Above us flew the Richthofen Squadron. The cloud-free weather must have enticed the flyers into the skies to do battle. There were dogfights at both high and low altitudes, which we watched with great anticipation. We could even hear the airplanes? machine-guns rattling. Friend and foe looped and dove in wide curves to avoid being shot down. Each looked for an opening to get in the best shot, firing it seemed, at the enemy planes? motors. Tracer ammunition told the pilots where their shots were going. It did not take long until the flyers were ?biting into each other? so badly that the first casualties of this battle in the air occurred.
A suspicious trail of smoke behind an airplane, or a brightly flaming fire against the blue sky, made it certain that the flyer had to leave the battle. He either tried to save himself in a speedy glide toward his own lines, or he burst into flames and immediately came crashing down to the ground. For us infantrymen in the Neufwald, it was a pleasure to see a plane with the blue, white and red cockades find its way to the hereafter, sinking mortally wounded to the ground.
On the 11th of December, we were relieved by the Regiment?s 1. Bataillon and moved to a ?nerve strengthening? position of rest. The staff was with the 11. Kompagnie in Noyelles, the 12. camped in the Neufwald as the ?forest company? the 10. took over the railroad station of Marcoing, and the 9. Kompagnie was quartered in the church catacombs of Marcoing.
The night of 12 December was very restless. The enemy bombarded the Neufwald with gas shells and we were forced to wear our gas masks. In several areas the dreaded gas lingered long into the afternoon. But the beautiful weather soon enticed one to take a walk.
Near our position lay a damaged English tank, I bad always wanted to see what they looked like on the inside. This tank was named ?Antigone??a completely armored virgin of England. Her flesh was armor-plated steel. Her blood was oil, her heart a motor. The difference between her and her brother, the male tank, was that she was armed with three machine-guns. ?Antigone? had made it this far on 20 November when one of the treads had jumped off its track; checkmate for a vehicle of war. Curious, we crawled into the monster through a square opening to get an opinion of the insides and a feeling of what the tank?s occupants must have felt during a battle.
In the night of 12-13 December a lively enemy artillery fire tell on the Neufwald, as well as to the north of it. It was the same the next night. The partially foggy weather allowed us to walk about freely. This allowed us to gather up debris in carts, but also a number of dead soldiers?21 Germans and 24 English?who had to he buried.