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The EK1

Hauptmann Hermann Burchardt started the war as a company commander of the 6. Komp. in the Infanterie-Regiment Prinz Louis Ferdinand von Preußen (2. Magdeburgisches) Nr.27, based in Halberstadt. 

Burchardt's Battalion Commander was Major Max Bayer (Article to follow)

The Regiment was one of the first to see action as it was part of the Brigade that was specially designated to undertake a lightning strike on Lüttich. The objective of the strike was to open the door through which the German armies could march on their way across Belgium. After Lüttich the Regiment was part of von Klucks 1. Armee, moving through Belgium and Northern France. Le Cateau and Peronne being just two of the many battles and skirmishes the Regiment was involved in. 1915 saw the Regiment facing French offensives in Artois and suffering relatively heavy losses.

Right: A young soldier named "Max" from the 27. I.R. wearing his Iron Cross 2nd Class

A Letter written by Unteroffizier Becke, serving in the Inf. Regt. 27 describes the first days of the war in which Burkhardt won his Iron Cross 2nd Class.  

At half past midnight on the night of the 5th-6th August the order to march came. We passed through the almost completely destroyed town of Soumagne and crossed the railway line at the crossing to Meline and Retinne – Herve. What we saw was breathtaking. The flashes of lightning and bursts of the shells fired from Fort Fleron united to form a terrible and beautiful tableau. In front of a guest house outside the village “Sur Fosse” we are brought to a stop by fire from the Belgian rearguard. Our field artillery fires a few rounds and the Belgians pull back. The passage in front of the guest house was barricaded with furniture and cupboards from the houses. As was common in Belgium the street was lined with thick hedges so we could not leave the road. We cleared the road and advanced into the village “Sur Fosse” where we right away came under heavy fire. We were not sure if it came from the enemy or from our side. We attacked, our officers in front, advancing and reaching a depression in front of the village Retinne. Hear the fire was very heavy. To see who was firing at us we called the password “Der Kaiser” all the time during the advance. The German troops in the area realized that they were firing on their comrades. They right away stopped shooting at us and concentrated their fire on Retinne. The depression was 400 – 500 meters from the entrance to the village. Behind us marched more troops as well as our Regimental and Brigade staffs. They reached a height behind the depression we were sheltering in when artillery fire from the village came flying over our heads. It passed over us and exploded on the heights. Our brigade commander (General v. Wussow) and Regiments commander (Oberst Krüger) were killed.  

The artillery Kompagnie sent its first section forward to try and engage the Belgian Field Artillery. There fire was so withering that the first line of houses in the village crumbled under the machinegun fire. The return fire of the enemy field artillery was so heavy that the machine gun section was wiped out, one Unteroffizier and one soldier came back.

“27th Forward!” came the call and we rushed forward with the 4th Jäegers taking the field gun closest to us. The Gun crew had fled into the village. We turned the Field gun around and with the help of a gunner (Who happened to be with us) fired into the village of Retinne. We were ahead of the others and advanced with our new gun. As we advanced into the village we received fire from Belgian soldiers in the houses, there were none on the streets. We opened fire on house after house with our gun, each time forcing them to abandon the building and go out onto the street, where they either died fighting or surrendered. I cannot judge how strongly the village was defended. We were also fired on from the church. Although most of us wished to turn the gun around and fire on the church, this was forbidden. Instead we fetched them out one by one and shot them. Retinne lays on a height, with half the village on the height, the other half on the slope. By now it was 08:00am (6th of August). Due to the bad weather it was still rather dark. Our advance and the fighting had happened with such speed and excitement, and our thoughts so jumbled, many did not know if it was evening or morning. We assembled on a field on the heights, our artillery had caught up with us. The Artillery opened up on the fleeing Belgians with great effect. When we later reached Lüttich we were told we had exacted heavy losses from the defenders of Retinne. The march into Belgium and the fighting at Retinne had cost us heavily as well."  

(Belgian records claim that 40 civilians were shot by the men of the 27th and 165th Infantry Regiments on the 6th of August)

Above: Hauptmann Burchardt at the head of his Company before the outbreak of the war

In November 1915 Hauptman Burchardt transferred to the R.I.R. 27 (54th I.D.) taking command of the III Btln. The Division had just returned from Russia and had taken up positions on the banks of the Oise. In May 1916 the Division moved onto the west bank of the Verdun front and found itself on the slopes of the Höhe 304. Burchardt had taken command of the Sturmbataillon of the 54th I.D. and participated in the seesaw attack and defense on the heights, one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war. At the beginning of September the Division was relieved and moved to Fleury on the east bank of the Meuse. The R.I.R. 27 was at Douaumont on the 24th October when Nivelles offensive crashed through the German front lines, the regiment fought bravely but had to give way loosing the fort. On November the Division was pulled out of the fighting and left Verdun for the relatively calm sector of Flirey in Lorraine.

Right: The Iron Cross 2nd Class award document for Burchardt's EK2

In April 1917 the division moved to the Aisne front and took up position at Berry au Bac in preparation to meet the Nivelle offensive. On the 4th May after having already suffered serious losses the regiment was on the Juvincourt Ridge and met a French attack in the early morning. After a short but furious shrapnel and gas barrage the French attacked, breaking though the defensive line of the battalion in the Hillerwald and advancing rapidly towards the Battalion headquarters. Burchardt, rifle in hand, did not wait for his reserve company, but instead rallied his staff and counterattacked with hand grenades driving the attackers back. When the Regt was relieved on the 10th, they had lost 916 men, dead, wounded and captured. Burchardt had lost 3 of his 4 company commanders.  

August 1917 saw Burchardt and his Regiment in Ypres, occupying part of the Wilhelmstellung to the west of Haanebeck. Here, just to the South East of Zonnebeke, in the aptly named "Eisernen-Kreuz-Wäldchen" the III. Batl. had its headquarters. At 5:30 am on the morning of the 16 August 1917 the British barrage on the regiment’s positions intensified, then rolled forward, followed by columns of Infantry. Breaking through the III. Batl. positions and those of the neighboring I.R. 84 the British pushed on, ignoring the little pockets of resistance left behind. It must have been like Deja Vue for Burchardt as the enemy approached his Battalion headquarters.

As he had done three months before, he gathered his staff and the battalion reserve and rushed forward rifle in hand. This time the outcome was different and Burkhardt died with a bullet in the forehead.

On the 18th of August the Regt was relieved. It left the sector having lost 31 officers and 1045 other ranks. Of 15 Company commanders 9 were dead or wounded. 2 of the battalion commanders (including Burchardt) had been killed in action.