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The EK1

Dr. Fritz Erbse was born in Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt on the 8th of October 1875. In October 1899 he joined the Bavarian Infantry Leib Regiment as a one-year volunteer but was transferred to the reserve at the end of march 1900 in order to complete his studies. He qualified as a Dr. Med. at the University of Würzburg in 1902. He returned to the army in September 1902 to complete his Military service in the Bavarian 2nd Field Artillery regiment and finished the last month of his service at the garrison hospital on Gemersheim leaving the military in April 1903.

Above: The Medal Bar belonging to Dr. Fritz Erbse

In August 1914 he was mobilized as the doctor of the III. Battalion of the 7th Bavarian Infantry Regiment with the additional function of Regimental Doctor. With the 7th b.I.R. he took part in the battle of Lorraine (20-21.8.1914), Battle of Nancy Epinal (22.8.-14.9.1914), fighting on the Meuse Heights (19.9.-30.9.1914), fighting on the Meuse heights between the Meuse and Mosel Rivers in the Bois Brule (1.10.-16.11.1914).

 Taken ill in mid-November near Apremont he went to Hospital then on recovery leave transferring as a Medical Officer to the Reserve Hospital in the Friedrich Kaserne in Bayreuth at the end of January 1915.

Right: A soldier from the 21st Bavarian Infantry Regiment

In July 1917 he returned to the front joining the Bavarian 21st Infantry Regiment as the Battalion doctor of the III. Battalion, once again taking over the additional responsibilities of Regimental Doctor. The Regiment had just been relieved from the front and had gone through a training program in July. The Regiments stint out of the front line would be interrupted by the Allied offensive on the 31st of July between Bixschoote and Warneton. Known as “the Battle of Passchendaele” by the British, the “2nd battle in Flanders” by the French and the “3rd battle in Flanders” by the Germans the battle would rival Verdun and the Somme in terms of Infamy for the troops who took part.
The 5th Bavarian Infantry Division left the Antwerp area to return to the front and came under the command of Generalleutnant Freiherr von Stein’s “Gruppe Ypern”. The 21st Bavarian Infantry Regiment took a section of the frontline in front of St Julien along the road from Passchendaele-Wieltje-Ypern. The Regiment was in position on the 9th of August with the Regimental command post in the “Haus Kirchner” just to the North of Wallemolen where the main field hospital was also to be found. The month of August saw the regiment engaged in heavy fighting. When they were withdrawn from the line it was not to rest, but to replace the Bavarian 16th Reserve division holding the line from Warneton through Deulemont to Frelinghien. On the 26th of August the III. Btl. b.I.R. 21 took up positions on the Lys River near Deulemont.

The month of September passed relatively peacefully with no major actions. On the 7th of September Großherzog Friedrich Franz IV. of Mecklenburg Schwerin visited the Regiment named after him and awarded 8 Mecklenburg-Schwerin Crosses 1st class and 151 Mecklenburg-Schwerin Crosses 2nd class, including one to Fritz Erbse.

The Regiment was to spend 6 months at Deulemont, although a number of small actions took place the 21st was spared major losses and battled mainly against the harsh weather and mud of Flanders. During February and March 1918 the Regiment went through a training period preparing for the coming offensive.

On the night of the 20th of March the Regiment completed the transfer to its staging area in Marquion. It was a small part of the 50 German Divisions whose men were impatiently shuffling their feet waiting for the offensive to start. At 4 am, German time, on the morning of the 21st of March German artillery shells were churning up the muddy allied front lines. The conditions for the gas shells fired to hinder the allied artillery were however unfavorable in the early morning. Infront od the 21st Bavarian infantry Regiment the wind carried the gas back over the German positions and the men forced to don their masks.

Above: the advance of the 21st B.I.R.

At 9:40 the German advance began. The 5th Bavarian Infantry Division in the second wave following the 1. Garde Reserve Division. At 10:30am, having crossed the Agache River the 21st Regiment was advancing westwards to the South of Baralle. The regimental history describes the exhilarating feeling that went through the men as the fog lifted and they saw the German columns advancing towards Pronville and Queant.  At the level of Barralle they were greeted by the British artillery but the Companies altered their march route to avoid the shells. Shell holes form the mornings bombardment made progression difficult for the wagons as they had to stay on the wagon trail to pass Baralle and got stuck in the mud, losing their connection to the advancing soldiers. The Machine gunners had to empty their wagons and drag them forward one after another using 4 horses to pull them out of the mud. By evening the Regiment had reached the Southern Edge of Lagnicourt.

Right: The Regimental Aid Station

At 9am on the morning of the 22nd of March the Regiment entered the former British 2nd line of defense. The road from Quent to Lagnicourt was jammed with wagons and littered with the bodies of German soldiers killed by machine gun and rifle fire. The British positions were in good condition and the Bavarians had to cut their way through the barbed wire to reach them. Crossing the British lines, they found masses of material, weapons, grenades and equipment scattered around amongst the bodies of British soldiers. Up ahead there were the sounds of heavy combat. The British were counter attacking to the South East of Lagnicourt. Heavy artillery shells caused a number of causalities in the Bavarian ranks. The III. And II. Batl were in advance, the I. Batl in reserve in the old British 1st line.
Orders were given for the 5. B.I.D. to advance towards the forest at Vaulx. The 21st b.I.R. advanced over open ground to the North of Lagnicourt losing more men to the British Artillery. By midafternoon the II. and III. Batl straddled the road from Lagnicourt-Vraucourt. Still in Reserve the Division waited for orders before advancing into Vraucourt later that afternoon. The first wave had cleared the way, the divisions orders called for the division to take the lead in an attack on St Aubin at Bapaume. German artillery in position at Lagnicourt would cover the advance. At 6:30 pm the III. Batl was making their way forward when British tanks attacked from the Road from Lagnicourt to Morchies. German artillery destroyed one tank and the others turned and fled. Crossing the Vraucourt positions the men once again found masses of material as well as many dead or wounded British and German soldiers. Still under heavy artillery fire the Bavarians came to a halt to the south west of Vaulx-Vraucourt. Night had fallen and machine gun fire from the heights at Beugnatre seemed to confirm the positions were still occupied by the enemy.

While that attack was being planned Stabsarzt d. Res Erbse was in Vraucourt where the Regimental Staff and the Regimental Field hospital were located. A shell in the early morning killed Oberarzt d. R. Bloch, a doctor on temporary assignment at the Regimental field hospital, a shell later that morning wounded Dr. Erbse. The regimental history comments on the difficulties resulting in the loss of the two doctors as the number of casualties was increasing at the aid station and without the Doctors the triage and evacuation was difficult to carry out.

The wound caused by the artillery splinter in his left arm does not seem to have been very serious and Erbse was soon back with his unit.

Above: An early war French map unrelated to the actions of 1918 but showing the Crepey "Creepy" Wood (Trapezwald) and the Hospital (Lazarettwald) in the direction of Lihu

On the morning of the 10th of August 1918 the enemy artillery bombarded the town of Lihon, including the nearby front lines occupied by the Bavarian 19th and 7th Infantry regiments. Soon after the enemy followed up with an infantry assault. Taking note of reports made by wounded soldiers returning from the front line the commander of the III. Batl, b.I.R. 21 decided reinforcements were necessary to stop the enemy assault and cover the approach to Lihons. The 12. Komp and one MG Section advanced along the Lihons-Harbonnieres road towards the “Trapezwald” to the Northwest of Lihons. The 9th company would advance to their right; the rest of the MG Platoon would stay in covering position to the South of the road. At 11:00 am parts of the 9th and 12th Companies managed to enter the woods but had to leave again as it was under German Artillery fire. At 1PM the III. Batl received orders to clear the woods of enemy troops with the support of a battery of Infantry assault guns. Before the orders arrived Hauptmann Trambauer had on his own initiative already advanced on the woods and was able to report that the 9th, 10th and 12th were already in the forest.

Above: Exhausted Australian troops at Crepey Wood on the 10th of August 1918

Unfortunately they were not able to hold and at 3pm the 10th, 11th and 12th Companies had to make a second effort to take the wood after a short but heavy bombardment. With 2 Companies of the 19th Bavarian Infantry Regiment reinforcing them the 3rd attack took place. At 6:35pm the Battalion had captured much of the wood when suddenly heavy enemy machine gun fire pushed them back to the edge of the wood again. German machines guns took up position to suppress the enemy machine gunners then night fell and the 2 sides licked their wounds waiting for the dawn. Heavy artillery fire lit up the night and at 6:10am on the morning of the 11th of August the waves of allied infantry advanced on the depleted ranks of the 19th and 7th Infantry Regiments and the supporting III. Batl. The action took place very rapidly. Hauptmann Trambauer was on the Lihons-Framerville road at the fork towards Vauvillers. He wrote “The first and only report came from Oberleutnant Braun (12. Komp.) on the left flank of the Battalion “The enemy is passing the left flank, please send reinforcements”. It had been impossible to send anyone as we had no reserves left. With me was only my Adjutant and 2-3 runners. The 12. Komp was told to use their machine guns to disrupt the enemy. A message came from the company of Lt. Walz, the enemy was bypassing our left and right flanks. Freiherr von Lochner on the right flanks company disappeared while trying to escape being enveloped by the British. In the so-called “Lazarettwald” (Hospital wood) to the east of Trapezewald and Lihu Farm I order the company Walz to halt. I intend to make contact with the companies on the left and right flank but British machine guns open up from close by. Without contact to the flanks holding the wood was impossible. My goal was to extract the battalion from the woods and reassemble on the Ziegelhöhe were the infantry assault guns were positioned.

Company Walz was not able to make a coordinated withdrawal and presumably fell captive to the British troops advancing to the South of Lihons.

There was no one to be found on the Ziegelhöhe, the assault guns had pulled back after firing their last rounds. On orders of the Brigade the III. Batl was to assemble as Brigade Reserve by the remains of the Chateau Vermandovillers. 25-30 men assembled. As the day passed a few other stragglers were directed to the assembly point.

The III. Battalions losses, Dead, Wounded and missing were heavy. One of the Missing was Dr. Fritz Erbse who was captured by the British on the 11th of August.

Fritz Erbse was released from captivity at the end of January 1919.
Upon his release he returned to practicing medicine in a village in the Coburg area.

The Medalbar of Dr. Erbse left to right
1)      Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class awarded 14.11.1914
2)      Bavarian Militär Verdienst Orden 4th class with swords awarded 17.4.1917
3)      Mecklenburg-Schwerin Cross 2nd Class awarded 7.9.1917
4)      Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer
5)      Prinzregent Luitpold Medaille in Bronze 1905 awarded 12.3.1905
6)      Bayerische Landesverein von Roten Kreuz Dienstauszeichnung for 20 years of service (1923 model)
7)      Bayerische Landesverein von Roten Kreuz Ehrenzeichen 2. Klasse (1923 model)
8)      Fürstlich Schwarzburgisches Ehrenkreuz 3.Klasse mit Schwertern

There may be a logical explanation as to the unusual positioning of the Shwarzburg Rudolstadt cross is on the extreme right of the bar, but it is unknown to me. As the mounting must have taken place when Fritz Erbse was about 60 years old, no longer in Service and living in a small village in Bavaria I can only assume he had them mounted as he saw fit for reasons best known to him.

Not on the bar is the König-Ludwig-Kreuz 1916. Regulations required this to be removed if a soldier received a Militär Verdienst Orden/Kreuz. Dr. Erbse received the award on the 15.7.1916 while serving at a reserve hospital in Bavaria and would have worn it until the award of the M.V.O. 4th class in April 1917.

The Iron Cross 1st class was awarded on the 20.1.1920 and is a standard KO made piece with a personalized security catch.