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The Militärpass of Hermann Briest: Jäger-(Sturm)-Bataillon 3

Eighteen year old Hermann Briest, born June 4th, 1899 in Tangernmünde, was, after his apprenticeship as a Schlosser (locksmith), recruited in June 1917. After his basic Infantry training he was sent in October 1917 to the 2.Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. There he was trained to be Flammenwerfer-Pionier (flamethrower combat-engineer). His weapons training included K 98, Pi 08, MG 08, light MG 08/15 and of course flamethrower.

On April 17, 1918, after completing his Flammenwerfer training, he was transferred to an elite frontline unit. The Jäger-Sturm-Bataillon Nr.3.

Sturmbataillon 3 was the only other Sturmbataillon besides Sturmbataillon 5 (Rohr) that had its own integrated flamethrower unit.

Pionier Hermann Briest became a sapper the Fammenwerferzug of Jäger-Sturm-Bataillon 3.

His first assault engagement as a flamethrower came on July 2, 1918 at St. Albert. Two flamethrower engineers from Sturmbataillon 3 took part in this assault. Hermann Briest survived. Alwin Nistau, the other flamethrower engineer, was not so lucky, he was killed during the assault just after midnight in the first hour of July 3rd, 1918.

Here is an account of the Sturmbataillon 3 assault taken from the battalion’s history:

Sturmbataillon 3 - The assault on July 2 - 3, 1918

On July 1st, 1918 – Jäger-(Sturm)-Bataillon 3 was notified that north of St. Albert in the sector of the 243. German Division, the British had taken the strategically important Hill 110, located on the west bank of the Ancre River. 

The decision was made to retake Hill 110.

Jäger (Sturm) Bataillon 3 was requested to lead the attack. 

Lt.d.R. Sellheim and Lt. Von Lewinski with several Jäger NCOs did the reconnaissance of the area on July 1st.

Lt. Sellheim was given command of the assault detachment from Sturmbataillon 3. He objected to the already drawn-up plan of attack by the 243rd Infantry Division. Lt. Sellheim tried to change the plan of attack since it didn’t coincide with Sturmbataillon tactics. General von der Marwitz sided with Lt. Sellheim and changes were made to the plan according to Lt Sellheim’s suggestions.

An in-depth reconnaissance of the area and breech in the line was impossible during daylight hours since nothing could pass undetected over the Ancre River bridges.  At night the relentless enemy artillery fire made it very difficult to cross the open ground unharmed. 

The assault was to start on the morning of July 2nd but preparations for the attack were not finished and the men of Sturmbataillon 3 had not yet arrived in their positions.  The Sturmbataillon’s supplies were transported by truck on roads and came under enemy Artillery fire, a driver was killed and of the arrival and unloading of ammunition was further delayed.

The new X-time for the assault was to be 10:00 pm (2200 hours) on July 2, 1918. A short 5 minute Artillery barrage was to precede the assault.

Leutnant Sellheim organized three assault groups from Sturmbataillon 3 for the assault.

Assault Group I  under the command of Lieutenant Rutsatz  consisted of an assault-troop led by Gefreiter Krop, one light machine-gun troop and Flammenwerfertrupp. The man on this flamethrower was nineteen year old sapper Hermann Briest in his first engagement.

Assault Group II was led by Oberjäger Liebsch and consisted of two assault-troops.

Assault Group III was commanded  by Lieutenant Lewinski it consisted of one assault-troop (Oberjäger Mendte),  a light machinegun troop and a Flammenwerfertrupp. This flamethrower was operated by sapper Alwin Nistau.

An hour before the assault, at 2100 hours the stormtroopers crawled, one by one, into their start posisions.  At 200 hours, when the storm-troops left their positions, all hell broke loose with enemy artillery and machine-gun fire. Despite this, the men of SB3 made it quickly into the enemy’s trenches where they were out of harm’s way of the artillery fire.  Corporal Krop encountered significant resistance. Two British barricades were overrun with the assistance of the flamethrower and hand-grenades. The British retreated slowly while launching four counter attacks across the trenches. Thanks to the new “August” and “Friedrich” types hand-grenades, these counter attacks were unsuccessful.  Lieutenant Rutsatz went back and brought the, to the assault assigned, Marines up to occupy the trenches taken from the British.

Storm-Group II  took casualties right from the start. The casualties were inflicted mostly by enemy hand grenades.  Storm-Group II was however still able to move forward until they made contact with Storm-Group I.

Storm-Group III suffered heavy casualties during the assault inflicted by enemy machine-gun fire.  Killed in the assault were platoon leader Oberjäger Ernst Mendte and the flamethrower crew Alwin Nistau.  Since the company commander of the assigned Infantry was killed as well some confusion arose amongst the Infantry.  Lt. Lewinski took command of the assigned Infantry and continued the assault.  Shortly after midnight at around 0030 hours all assault group leaders had established contact with each other. However, a 300 meter opening existed between the left and right assault groups. This gap was only lightly occupied by the British but since enemy machine-guns had a clear line of fire into the gap it could not be taken at the time. Also, supplies and ammunition were getting low. The men of the assault teams started to dig in and prepare for defence of the concurred trench.  Lieutenant Lewinski returned to the leader of the operation lieutenant Sellheim and reported.  Sellheim immediately arranged for hand grenades, MG ammunition and supplies to be brought forward.

At 0600 hours on the morning of July 3rd, Oberjäger Liebsch with a new arranged assault-troop tried to take the remaining gap in the enemy trench from the north. This plan, due to the heavy enemy machine-gun fire, was abandoned and Sergeant Liebisch tried the assault from the south and succeeded in taking 200 meters of the 300 meter gap.  A last British machine-gun on a knoll prevented the assault troop from taking the remaining 100 meters of trench.  Sergeant Liebisch directed mortar fire on the enemy machine gun position and thus was able to take the rest of the trench.  The fleeing enemy took heavy casualties. 

By 0900 hours on July 3rd  , the entire trench system of Hill 110 was back in German hands.  An estimated 160 to 170 British dead were counted.

The Assault groups of Sturmbataillon 3 suffered in casualties : 8 Dead and 10 Wounded. (The casualties of the formations from the 243rd Infantrie-Division supporting the attack are not listed.)

On the same day the men of Sturmbataillon 3 were pulled out and returned to their base in Templeur la Fosse. They brought back their dead and buried them the following day at the cemetery in Leschelles.  

Source:  Kriegsgeschichte des Jäger-Sturm-Bataillon Nr.3  - by Claus Just von Lattorf

Hermann Briest remained with the Flammenwerfertrupp of Jäger-Btl.3. until the end of the war.  After demobilisation on Nov. 20, 1918 he was transferred back to the 2.Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. Then on Feb. 1, 1919 he was again transferred to Dragoner Regiment 7 in Tangermünde. On May 12, 1919 he was finally discharged from the German army. He worked as a Fitter and started a family in the early 1920s.

Article and Pics Copyright Hardy Huber