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Unknown Trenches in the Cold Light of Dawn
« on: June 22, 2008, 09:33:53 AM »
Unknown Trenches in the Cold Light of Dawn
by Leutnant Ernst J?nger
Fusilier-Regiment Nr. 73

Reprinted from the June 1979 issue of Der Angriff, with the kind permission of Blue Acorn Press...

Ernst J?nger, a lieutenant in the Hannoverian Fusilier-Regiment Nr. 73, fought nearly four years on the Western Front and survived to write of his experiences in one of the classic books of the First World War: The Storm of Steel. From July 1917 until the war?s end, he served as a commander and Sto?troop officer of his regiment?s 7th company. Early in the morning of 23 September 1917, J?nger led a trench raiding party against the French near Regnieville. The following is a condensed account of the raid, in J?nger?s own words.

At twenty minutes to five we got the men together and led them to the jumping-off  places in the front line. Gaps in the wire had been cut, and long arrows, whitened with lime, pointed to our objectives. We separated with a shake of the hand and waited for what should come next.

I was in full array: two sandbags in front of my chest, each with four stick bombs, the left-hand one having instantaneous fuses, the right-hand with time fuses; in the right-hand pocket of my tunic I had an 08 pistol on a long cord; in my right trouser pocket a small Mauser pistol: in my left tunic pocket five egg bombs; in the left trouser pocket a phosphorescent compass and a policeman?s whistle; in my belt spring hooks for pulling out the bomb pins, a dagger and wire-cutters. There was a pocketbook in my breast pocket and my home address, and in the pocket of the back of my tunic a flat flask of cherry-brandy.

We had taken off our shoulder-straps so that the enemy should have no information as to our unit. We wore a white band round each arm so as to know each other.
Exactly at 5:05 we left the dugouts and made for the prepared gaps in our wire. I ran forward, holding a bomb aloft, and in the half-light I saw the right-hand party rushing to the attack. We jumped into the front line without meeting opposition, while from the right came the sounds of a bombing engagement. Without worrying about that we crossed by the sandbag barricade that blocked the next trench and jumped from shellhole to shellhole till we came to a double row of ?knife-rests? that separated us from the second line. As this trench was in a state of confusion and gave no hope of prisoners, we hurried on without pausing down a communication trench.

Suddenly we saw shadowy figures disappear in front of us. We ran after them and came to a sandbagged sap in whose wall was the mouth of a dugout. I went forward and shouted ?Montez!? A bomb was the only answer. It burst at the height of my head, tore my cap, wounded my left hand in several places and tore away the top of my little finger. The Pioneer sergeant standing near me had a hole bored through his nose. We retreated a few steps and bombarded the danger-spot with bombs.

After we had gone to and fro and up and down trenches running parallel and across, no one had any longer the least idea where we were, nor in what direction the German lines lay. By degrees we all got the wind up. The needles of our compasses danced in our hands, and when we looked for the Pole-star all we had learned at school evaporated and left us in the lurch. The sound of voices in the next trenches warned us the enemy had recovered from the shock of surprise. He would be bound soon to realize our position.

After turning about once more I suddenly saw, as I brought up the rear, the muzzle of a machine-gun waving over a traverse of sandbags. I made a jump at it and came upon Kloppmann (an NCO) and F?hnrich Zglinitzky busy with the gun, while Fusilier Haller was searching a blood-stained body for papers. We began fiddling with the machine-gun in feverish haste so that we might at least take back something with us. I tried to loosen the retaining screw, another cut off the loading belt with wire-cutters; at last we got hold of the thing, tripod and all, meaning to take it with us without dismounting it.
At this moment we heard a voice from a trench running parallel to us. It came from the direction which we supposed our lines to be. ?Qu?est-ce qu?il y a?? At the same time a black blob flew over towards us, indistinctly seen against the dim sky. ?Look out!? It burst between Mevius (another NCO) and me, and a splinter got Mevius in the hand. We scattered in all directions, entangling ourselves deeper and deeper in the maze of trenches. Only the pioneer sergeant and Mevius were with me.

Our one hope was the Frenchmen?s confusion; for they did not venture yet to come out of their holes. However, it could only be a matter of minutes before we ran into a strong party of them who would do us in with delight. I debated whether I would not simply whack the first I met on the head with one of the stick bombs that had an instantaneous fuse. There was no thought of hands-up.

As it was now quite light, we had not a moment to lose. We jumped out of the trench and made for our own lines over the top, as the first bullets whistled round us.
Of the 14 men who had gone out with me, only four came back. Next day Colonel von Oppen inspected the patrol and distributed Iron Crosses and gave each of us 14 day?s leave. At midday those of the fallen who were brought in were buried in the military cemetery at Thiaucourt. In the evening I read a French communiqu?: ?A German raid near Regnieville failed. We made prisoners.?

It was not stated that the prisoners were taken only because we lost our way in seeking an enemy who had fled. Had the French defended their trenches as soldiers of courage do, it would have been a different story.

I have been in many adventures during the war, but not one was more uncomfortable. It gives me the blues even now whenever I think of our wanderings through those unknown trenches in the cold light of dawn.
Marsh Wise
My blog (boring!!):
-1./J.R. 23
-Legio IX Hispana

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Unknown Trenches in the Cold Light of Dawn
« on: June 22, 2008, 09:33:53 AM »
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