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The end of the 5th Company, Bavarian Infantry Leib Regiment

The 5. Komp of the bayer. Inf. Leib Regiment had been pulled from the front line and allowed to rest for a few days after its participation in the attack on Fleury.  

On the 12th of July it was ordered forward again to occupy a part of the front line to the South West of Fleury.  

The "Gefechtsbaggage", responsible for the supplies, brought forward large amounts of bread, tinned meat, cheese and dried fruit which would be needed to feed the company in the front line for the next eight days. Cases of hand grenades, bales of sandbags, boxes of infantry ammunition and flares were distributed. The field kitchen worked overtime, the men would go forward with their bellies full. As a last action the men were given the pay still coming to them.  

The orders came for a departure in the early morning of the 13th of July.

Left: Leutnant Spitzfaden

The stars were still in the sky when the men were awoken. It took just minutes for them to get ready. Blankets and backpacks were left behind. Under command of Leutnant Spitzfaden the company set off at 08:00am. The way was already well known, over Ornes towards the Brülleschlucht. The smell of battle was in the air again. Already, as they passed Ornes, they heard the whine of enemy shells. They arrived at the Brülleschlucht where they would spend the night. In holes in the ground and in bunkers on the southern slope the men seek shelter. Part of the company shelters in the Ermitageschlucht which branches off the Brülleschlucht. The deafening thunder as the German artillery on the heights and in the ravines send their shells over to the Frenchmen. The enemy replies, his artillery probing and feeling its way across the land. During the day more food and schnapps is brought forward with mules. At dusk the company moves forward.  



The Company History continues the Story:  

We move through the "Totenschlucht" which the enemy has under fire. It is only possible to move forward in small groups, but we finally make it to Douaumont where exploding shells send columns of smoke up from the roof of the fort.  

With a final burst of energy we make it through the last dangerous stretch. Once again we were safe in the heart of Douaumont. Instead of the flickering candles we knew from our last visit, there were now electric lights. There was only time for a short rest, the path to Fleury and our new positions behind the village is long. Unusual on that day was the fact that there was only minimal artillery fire in the area, most of it lay far behind us. Even the railway embankment was crossed with little interference. It was an unsettling quiet. About 50m after the railway embankment Lt. Spitzfaden gave the company a short break, then onwards to Fleury which we reached soon afterwards.

We had known the way to Fleury but from here on it was new ground. A dark valley lay in front of us, on the other side was the menacing broad back of Fort Souville. Right away there was a first delay. The point had lost the way.  Noone was sure where to continue, the guide who had been sent with us from Fort Douaumont was no longer to be found. Lt. Spitzfaden hurried forward with an ordanance to seek out the new positions. The message was passed back, the sections were to continue in the direction we had been marching in.  

The disquieting calm hung heavy in the air. The proximity of the enemy made us extra careful. Each time a flare went up the men scattered into the nearest shellhole. There are delays and soon contact is lost between the sections. Suddenly the rattle of a machine guns tears through the silence. Right away two men fall to the ground hit by the fire. That was just what was needed to calm the nerves. Calls came .. "We cant stay here, they know where we are!"  

It seems the enemy has discovered us as a battery of their Field Artillery sends over salvoes of shells. They burst all around us and it is only with great effort that the men can be kept together. The men try and sink into the ground. The messenger from up ahead is still not back, it can only be a matter of minutes now. Shell after shell falls, stones and shell splinters fly around us. At last the messenger arrives. Our new company sector is about 600m ahead. By midnight we have reached our position.

The position consisted of countless shellholes littered with bodies. With 5-6 meters between them we found the survivors of the company we were to relieve. They tell us that the position had been taken 2 days earlier. Where the enemy lines were, they had no idea. We were the left wing of the Leib Regiment, with contact on our left with the Infanterie Regiment 140. There had been no effort made to make shelters or camouflage the holes from enemy aviators. The orders were given to start work right away; the men must be invisible by daybreak. Half the company lay still, peering into the darkness, while the other half worked on the positions. Every now and then a rocket flare went up over the enemy lines, bursting and lighting up the battlefield.  

At daybreak the men crawled into their shellholes and hid. The stars were still visible as the first enemy flyers made their appearance. They were low enough for us to recognise all their details as they flew overhead. Our fears proved justified when the enemy field artillery opened up at 08:00am and took our positions under fire. It seems they had seen us in spite of our efforts to hide. At first they did not really bother us. We were by now accustomed to howling shells and explosions; it was part of the frontline routine. But it did not take long before they really grabbed out attention. The enemy found the correct range and soon the walls were collapsing and large amounts of earth were falling on the men in the shellholes. It was unnerving when a shell landed on the edge of the hole, when you knew that the next one could be a direct hit. Our nerves were stretched to breaking point. Only nightfall could save us. As long as the vultures circled above, it was impossible to change our positions. The day seemed to last for ever. At last darkness began to fall and the fire abated, then stopped altogether. Breathing sighs of relief we climbed out of our holes, the darkness was our shield from the enemy. 

Right: A privately bought decoration for a vetern of the Bavarian Leib Regiment. These could be bought for various regiments.

Lt Spitzfaden and the Section commanders decided to move the company forward and out of the area where the enemy knew us to be. As the enemy positions were not known Unteroffizier Baumann (Adolf) and Waldemeier did a reconnaissance of the ground ahead. Listening posts would be sent out 50m ahead of the position. A series of earth mounds were discovered ahead of us, either bunkers or machine gun positions. The patrol discovered these to be abandoned bunkers. Pushing a further 50m to the other side of these bunkers there were still no enemy to be found. Lt Spitzfaden advanced the company to within 10m of these positions, the listening posts 50m further, on the other side of the bunkers. Using wooden beams that littered the area and Zeltbahnen (Shelterhalves) the shellholes were covered over, dirt spread to camouflage them. No sooner was the task finished when dawn came, bringing with it the French aviators. Each shellhole had one man on watch. The field artillery shells flew just over our heads and exploded in our old positions.

Less than an hour had passed then suddenly the sentries sounded the alarm. At first there were just scattered rifle shots, then the shots grew in intensity. The situation was right away clear, the French were attacking. Masses of men were advancing down the slopes of the Souville heights a few hundred meters ahead. We fired our double red flares to call in our own artillery and our infantry weapon fire swelled to a crescendo. In front of us the French soldiers were knocked over like skittles. They had not expected this reception but right away adapted. They abandoned the waved attack and began working forward in groups. We were fired on from all directions with rifle and machineguns. The masses of French infantry seemed to suffocate us. In vain we waited for our own field artillery. Our new positions began to show a critical weakness... as they advanced the French Infantry fell into a blind spot created by the earth mounds. No orders were needed, on their own initiative our men sprang forward, seeking better positions to fire from. At the same time, when our men left their cover the enemy was able to pinpoint our new positions and we were soon under heavy and accurate fire. Their artillery, which had still been firing on our abandoned positions was able to adjust their fire and fire on our new positions.

At the same time the first salvoes of our own artillery began to fly overhead. Their shells exploded in the advancing French ranks sending fountains of earth and grotesque figures into the air. The harsh bark of bursting shrapnel sent clouds of powder and sulphur across the battlefield. Those of us who were not able to get a place on top of the earthen mounds stood or kneeled in the open, firing as fast as they could. Our rifles were so hot we could barely hold them. Our losses mounted alarmingly but at least the French seemed to have given up their efforts to advance. In their fury at having lost the encounter they fired wasteful salvoes of 75mm at us. We had to take cover and the rifle fire died down as the artillery fire of both sides suppressed the Infantry. The French heavy artillery joined in the fray, taking the slopes to the South of Fleury under fire... Their barrage increased, we were being cut off from our own lines.

Left: German Infantry take cover in a shellhole. 

The situation in our own positions was unclear. We would have to wait till nightfall to find out for sure. Between occupied shellholes the ground was littered with dead and wounded. To get a rough picture Unteroffizier Baumann and Gefreiter Weisenberger jumped from shelhole to shellhole. It seemed that in case of another French attack we would be able to field just 25-30 men. Vizefeldwebel Rauh and Demmel were wounded. Leutnant Spitzfaden was missing (soon established to be dead).

Dispersed in the shellholes lay the ragged remains of the company. Shells exploded relentlessly around us. Necks tucked in, trying to disappear into our steel helmets, knees hugged to our chests as the chunks of mud and splinters rained down on us. Vain attempts to chit chat, to escape the reality of the situation for a moment, each attempt failing by the next salvo. The sun was still high in the sky. It gave us little pleasure that the French infantry in front of us were no better off because our artillery was active as well, their shells screaming over our heads, exploding in front of us and adding to the tremors of the earth. Every shell that fell 50m short added to our misery, not the enemies. Only nightfall could help, its shadows releasing us from our hell.  

In the late afternoon there was a crackling of French rifle fire. A group of wounded men had decided not to wait for nightfall and had tried to make their way back, one by one they were shot down.

Below: A French infantry attack breaks up under German fire

To continue to the next page of this account go HERE

 
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