Sunday, 26 October 2014

Kindermord at Langmarck

Through the morning fog the distant sound of singing caught the British sentry's ear. Faintly at first but gaining in strength as it grew nearer and with it the clomping of boots. The order to stand to and ready for action were given and the regular British troops formed lines in their trenches and fire pits aiming their Lee Enfield rifles out into the fog cautiously.

... uber alles in der welt...
The singing grew nearer and the Tommies began to feel the adrenaline and apprehension of action kick in as they tried in vain to spot the unseen enemy.
"Steady boys" an officer urged them, there was no point in wasting ammunition shooting at phantoms.
Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles.... Uber alles in der welt...
They appeared, first as dark shadows then as men, boys aged between 16 and 21 who had rushed to volunteer of war. The flower of German youth and patriotism, virgin to the horrors of war was advancing with their arms linked with their comrades to stop themselves getting lost, rifles and packs on their backs, boots and buttons shining.
"Fire!!!" Sergeants and officers shouted the order and with the steady rifle drill the British soldiers discharged their rifles with precision and rapidity. The first line fell, so did the second. The third broke rank and fumble with their rifles but fell, the fourth fixed bayonets and tried to step over their fallen comrades only to fall as well. Line after line charged out of the fog only to be caught in the withering fire, the pile of feldgrau coated bodies grew into a barricade of wounded, dead and dying, officers and men.
The losses grew and the German line faltered and fled still under fire. The British line held against the Bavarian Reserve regiments who lost 1500 men that day and a further 600 captured.

Germany reeled from the loss.

The First World War was not going well or to time-table and by the time von Kluck's army were trying to force their way around the Allied lines in the so called "race for the sea" in the Autumn of 1914 there was growing unease. The Army had already been held by the Belgian army and had to await siege artillery at Liege for forts who which should have surrendered or allowed them to pass. They had been stopped on the Marne and failed to take Paris. Ypres was the last roll of the dice for an early end to the war in the west and von Kluck was forced to throw everything at the British lines.

In the aftermath of the slaughter the German press and government had to try and turn it to positive spin like Britain had done after the battle of Isandlwana the deficiencies were overlooked and the individual heroism and sacrifice for the Vaterland was perpetuated as the Kindermord or the Slaughter of the Holy innocents.
Although the slaughter was undeniable the legend of Langmarck overtook the truth. Despite the official German Oberste Heersleitung (high command) report stating that the troops sang Deutschland Uber alles the regimental histories state that the usual recognition song used was Am wacht am Rhein. The advancing troops sang in the fog so as not to be confused and becoming casualties of friendly fire and linked arms so that the line would not go adrift and that they would still be in formation. Indeed this song was sung by elements of the 213th Reserve regiment as it attacked the French line at Bixschoote on the night of the 22/3rd October as they returned towards their own line so as not to be attract friendly fire. On the day of the day of the Kindermord the force marched silence and in poor order.

The other myth was that the casualties were all young boys massacred by crack British troops each armed with machine guns. Although they were regular troops the British lines were stretched thin and had suffered heavy casualties, so heavy that command had blocked the gaps with anyone who could wield a rifle including Engineers and Service corps including farriers, grooms, electricians and tradesmen. This was the last line. The German reserves were also not a collection young boys but men in their late 20s and early 30s married with children. Germany maintained mandatory military service for young single men but after their mandatory service they were released to civilian life but held in reserve for a period of time during which they went back to their trades, married and had children their military skills were dulled with lack of practice. German planners believed these troops would not fight as hard as they would think of family before fatherland and that if they did they would not fight as well through a lack of practical drill. Their primary purpose was to be garrison troops, protect transport links, back up major advances, hold the flanks and free up the fighting troops. The casualties at Marne, Belgium, the Frontiers, Ypres and even the Eastern front had robbed Germany of her elite and regular soldiers calling for command to commit the Reserve regiments.

What I saw and experienced... was amongst the sort of images that the wildest imagination can dream up. What was left of our division? ...

The myth of the Kindermod von Ypren or Langmarck (as the German press preferred to use as it sounded more Germanic) grew and grew with the German people and historians post war. It romanticised the death and sacrifice, to rationalise it to the civilians. To tell them that German soldiers bravely marched to their end against barbarous British soldiers armed with machine guns and rapidly slain where they stood, was preferable to their needless slaughter on a muddy field far from home for nothing.

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