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20th July -14th October 1915

Including: Sturm-Abteilung Rohr on the Schratzmännele

The loss of the Reichackerkopf, the key to the Münster Valley, was a setback that the French could not accept. As the Germans did at the beginning of the year, they tried in the summer of 1915 to retake this position from the South. They had to pass through Metzeral at the foot of the Ilienkopf. In mid April they had taken the Schnepenrietkopf and Burgkopfle to the west of Metzeral. From the 14th of June 1915 there was a continuous push and shove between French troops and the German 19. Reserve Division, reinforced by the 187. Infanterie Brigade.

The fighting in the mountains was difficult for the German troops who came largely from the flatland, but they gave their all and managed to hold their positions. As the month continued the Germans abandoned Metzeral and Sondernach puling back to positions that went from Mühlbach, over the heights to the east on Metzeral, on to Hilsenfirst. Once these positions were occupied they managed to hold back all further French attacks in this corner of the battlefield.


Right: A French soldier listens for sounds in the fog on the Schratzmännele

For an account of the actions on the "Schratz" on the 12th of October written by a young French Chasseur please click
HERE


On the 20th of July the French made a new attempt to enter the Münstertal, this time concentrating on the Reichackerkopf and the peaks around the Barrenkopf to the North. The Reichackerkopf was held by the 8. bayer. Reserve Division, a unit that had taken and held the position twice earlier that year. Now back from fighting in Galicia they were back in positions they knew like the backs of their hands. Although they suffered heavy losses they held out through artillery fire and fought back numerous attacks by French Chasseurs. The French pushed towards the Barrenkopf moving closer and closer in a series if seesaw actions until in late August they had occupied the heights and a number of the surrounding peaks.  

On the 31st of August the Bavarians, reinforced with men from the 19. Reserve Division and the 8. Reserve Jäger Bataillon, counterattacked. The French and German positions had been so close that the Germans had to pull back to avoid being caught in their own artillery bombardment. Some French units tried to escape the artillery by jumping forward into the abandoned German positions. When the German attack came both sides had to race for the French lines. After determined resistance by the French Chasseur the Germans managed to retake the quarry on the Schratzmännele on the 9th of September.

For the Germans the 14th of October marks the end of the “Second battle for Munster”. The battle may have been over but in the period afterwards the two sides kept each other on their toes with constant “Kleinkrieg”, wearing away at the enemy with local actions.  

The town of Münster was within French artillery range and suffered accordingly. By 1918 85% of the town was destroyed.

Sturm-Abteilung Rohr in the battle at Munster

Within a month of having taken over the Sturm Abteilung from his predecessor Hauptmann Rohr had improved certain ideas and tossed others out. The first test of his new concept was to be an attack on the Schratzmännle.

In the Vogesen mountains the Peaks Lingekopf, Schratzmännle and Barrenkopf are to be found to the north of Munster.  

The raid on the Schratzmännle was to be carried out by the 2. Sturm-Kompagnie of the Sturm-Abteilung and parts of the Infanterie Regiment 187.


Left: An oil painting of Unteroffizier Friedrich Pöhler, 2. Sturm-Kompagnie, Sturm-Abteilung Rohr.



The company moved to Drei-Ähren on the 6th of October 1915. The company commander (Oberleutnant Krafft) used the days leading up to the raid to scout the frontline positions. He was able instruct the Section and Group leaders as well as the men themselves about their specific roles in the coming attack. Life sized replicas of the German and French positions were built behind the German lines and the assault troops along with the flamethrowers were able to practice their roles.  

At 5:15 p.m. on the afternoon of the 12th of October 1915 the 6 assault groups stood ready in the saps which stretched from the German lines out into no mans land in the direction of the French front line. At 5:29 the Flame throwers belched their streams of fire at fixed points in the French trenches. A minute later the storm troopers rushed forward and forced their way into the enemy positions. Enemy artillery and a machine gun on the flank had opened fire almost as soon as the flamethrowers had fired their first bursts but they were soon suppressed by the German assault guns and Minenwerfer.




As soon as they had occupied the positions the storm troops began to secure the trench. Sandbags and earth were used to close off the enemy saps leading to the  trench. German saps were extended forward to reach it. A machine gun was built in. At 8:30 p.m. an enemy counter attack was beaten off. By 9:00 p.m. the Storm troops were relieved by the 5./187 I.R. and a company of engineers.  

Right: A map showing the proximity of the Lingekopf - Schratzmännle - Barrenkopf just to the North of Munster. The Broken red lines show the final French advance in late August 1915. The orange point shows where the attack on the 12th of October took place.

For a selection of maps better explaining the Linge - Schratzmännle please click
HERE

The 2. Sturm-Kompagnie lost 4 men killed in action (Unteroffizier Hermann Dähne, Pionier Wilhelm Maibuhr, Unteroffizier Friedrich Pöhler, Gefreiter Wilhelm Wollersen), 11 men were wounded.  

These were the first casualties of the Sturm-Abteilung under the command of Hauptmann Rohr. The next casualties would be three days later when the 1st company attacked at Hartmannsweilerkopf.  

The preparation of the positions for defence was a factor that had not been thought of before the Schratzmännle raid, it was to become part of the regular "formula" for a Sturm-Trupp raid.  

The assault was a classic example of what future Sturm tactics would be in the future. Practising on models of the area to be assaulted, reconnaissance of the area, assault guns brought as close to the enemy positions as possible, assault troops advancing in columns taking the enemy positions, helping prepare them for defence, then withdrawing leaving the infantry to occupy the newly taken section of trench.

To return to the section on the 1st Battle at Münster and some better maps please click HERE



Right: The Death Certificate of Friedrich Pöhler

On the 16th of December 1915 Hauptmann Rohr gave a presentation to an exhibition of Sturm-Abteilung tactics. A brief summary of his speech follows.


Preparation  

The raid must be preceded with accurate reconnaissances of the area and use must be made of aerial photographs. (The early raids had shown that observation on the ground was not that accurate). Each Sturmtrupp Führer would receive a map with the zones and enemy blockhouses shown. Exact goals and objectives are necessary. The positioning of the assault columns had to be practised so that they would be able to advance in the dark without problems. The success of the attack depends on careful preparation. Everything needed to take and hold the position should be put in place beforehand. Each leader and man should know the exact objectives so he could later act on his own initiative when needed. Each attack was to be practised on a full scale model.  

 

The Assault  

The barricades and wire should be cut the night before the assault or blown up with explosives. At the moment of the assault each man must concentrate his efforts to the extreme. Steal shields are only an advantage when it is to be reckoned with that the enemy trenches can not be reached in one bound or that it is supposed that the newly captured trench will be object to fire from above or from unprotected flanks. After a position is taken a communication line to the rear must be assured to avoid the troops being cut off.  

The Trench  

The bunkers and barricades in the enemy trenches are designed to shoot through. The best ways to combat them are hand grenades and the flame thrower. The saps leading to other enemy positions must be barricaded at once. Strongpoints can be reduced with satchel charges. The first assault wave should pass over the position and give cover to the second wave who should prepare the defences. Machine guns should be positioned to provide defensive fire from the flanks. All enemy material found should be used to defend the position.  

Rohr went on say that the secret of success was that the commanders and men believed in the success of the mission and that no machines or defence was able to stop the right group of determined men.  

Above: The Militärpass of Friedrich Barthels, Born on the 15th of April 1898 he joined the Army in September 1914 while just 16 years of age.
Above: 2 Months after his 17th Bithday He was wounded on Height 664 near Metzeral. 3 Months later, on the 17th of October 1915,  he was wounded again, this time on the Schratzmännle by a French bullet.
 
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