(Yesterday evening I had to interrupt my writing here because a German captain was giving a lecture on his adventures in German Southeast Africa; in the evening I and two friends sat down to play tarots and after that it was too late. I slept well again. I now cannot wait for the servant to finish the tidying up so that I can start writing again. My expectations, that these lines will fill my time with agreeable activity, are coming true. Although what I have written so far are only rough sketches from memory, it gives me pleasure and I am beginning to love this book. When I am writing I feel as if I were nearer to you. So let us continue.)
Since my men and I had an easy day, we were liable for night duty. I received orders to secure with my platoon the village against the east, since larger Cossack units had been reported in the vicinity. I took up a guard position at the western way out of Chelm which is a village about 1 ½ km from Golaszcovic. The night was terrible, cold and black and after midnight it began to rain. The rain was nasty and cold; it was horrible. The reported proximity of the Cossacks made particularly strict service necessary and I thanked God when dawn at last approached. A patrol I sent out reported that the Cossacks had actually bivouacked at the east end of the village Chelm.
My guard detachment was recalled and we took up stepwise positions on a wide front; no advance was possible due to the expected approach of the enemy. The Russian army came into view only in the afternoon. Our artillery had still the opportunity to deliver a well aimed salvo and then the order came to retreat. Up hill and down dale we now marched at high-speed westwards and when night fell we reached the established trenches of our regiment. I crept into my cave dwelling and, after the hardship of the previous days; I slept in my primitive quarters like a king. I knew that here was my home now. On 15th Nov, we were woken early by hostile rifle-fire. For a short while I felt something like fear, but for a short while only; then I got up and in the shower of bullets went visiting my men and reporting to the captain. Thus on the 15th November at 6.30am I was under fire for the first time. If until then I was afraid that my nerves would fail me at the first opportunity, I was wonderfully disappointed. I was not bothered by nerves at all, no unrest, no wincing, simply none of the tricks which my nerves used to play me for much less important reasons.
In the afternoon of the same day the matter was repeated in a much more serious form. At about 1p.m. the enemy’s heavy guns began to bombard our positions. My darling, one can really not describe how terrible it is when such a projectile with loud whistling flies through the air, then lands on the ground, buries itself 11/2 – 2 m deep and after a few seconds explodes in the earth with a deafening noise, and throws masses of earth heaven wards. Later I often had opportunities to see the effects of those terrible shells, I was lying for days under artillery fire and I am not ashamed of confessing that I suffered horribly when I heard only the noise of those “four pint jugs” (as the troops called the 15cm shells). But never was I so shattered as on that 15th November. Barely 20 steps from my hide-out was first Lieutenant’s Schmidt’s “Villa Luise”. It was quite a comfortable “flat” with an antechamber, a larder, a desk etc. Around 2 p.m. another shell landed with an awful bang causing the earth to shake and in the next second splinters of wood and half a cartload of earth were blown onto the roof and inside my hideout.
At first I did not know what had happened but when I had dug myself out from under the rubble, I saw that the projectile had hit right into the middle of Schmidt’s hide out. Since I had just shortly before paid the first Lieutenant a visit and had only returned to fetch a cigar from my hole, I had to accept as God’s will that I was not lying mangled to pulp under the wreckage. It so happened that Schmidt had also left his hole just after me, and was now returning pale like the death. We looked one another in the eyes, shook hands and glanced upwards; these were our mutual congratulations and our thanks to God. 2 dead and 2 seriously wounded of whom one died shortly afterwards were recovered from the ruins of “Villa Luise”. During the next three days the situation was quite similar to that on Nov 15th, i.e., gun bombardment and rifle fire from morning to night. On 17th, during a sortie of our 3rd battalion, captains Faitner and Groger were killed. I saw Faitner’s corpse; it was terrible. His skull had been hit by a rifle butt and split so that the brain was swelling out from it.
On the 19th Nov, still nothing unusual happened during the day but at 7p.m. the order came “make ready to move”! At 8 o’clock a general attack began against the enemy front. My company was moving in the direction to the edge of a forest. Again I had a creepy feeling as a new chapter in the conduct of war was about to open for me; attacking the enemy with cold steel. Bullets were whistling around us like a swarm of bees, men were falling right and left but we had not time and without a stop we went ahead.
Either all our people were heroes or this advance was due to high level of their apathy. We officers were driven further and further forward by moral strength. Suddenly a single voice cuts through the air: Hurrah! ;and the reply comes in hundred voices; hurrah hurrah! The tempo of our charge, pretty fast already, increases further as we storm forward with raised revolver and the troops with fixed bayonets, being shot at all the time. We can already see nearby the outline of the enemy position and can discern every single man. The breach of the enemy’s front must happen in a second, the adversarial riffles suddenly become silent and whoever of the foe wants and can save himself relies on his legs. We send a hail of bullets after the fleeing soldiers, prisoners are led away; still a short thrust forward in pursuit of the enemy and the night’s engagement near Zarzece ends in our victory. Collecting the companies after the fight is difficult since during our fierce charge they got thoroughly mixed up. We stumble over dead bodies in the darkness, find our way past waiting wounded, until we arrived at the ordained place.
The night that now followed was probably the most disagreeable one in my whole martial career. With my platoon I was placed on a bare rocky hillock. We were lying there without any protective holes or recesses, exposed to the wind and rain. We had not been lying there long, when 8 of the feared heavy grenades arrived one after another and landed close in front of and behind us; we could only thank our luck that we survived in one piece. As I said before, it was the most horrible night of my life. The rain changed into snow and we were lying there waiting for another salvo of grenades and the death they would bring. In that night I saw old reservists, who had been on the front for 4 months already, crying bitterly, others were praying with their rosaries. Even that horrible night came to an end and dawn came at last.
Early in the morning I received a message “Captain Meszner will take over the command of the 3rd Battalion, Lieutenant Feldmann the command of the 14th company”, so suddenly I was Company Commander! I had a queer feeling, first because in Captain Metzner I was losing a kind superior who had led the company successfully for 4 months and under whose command one served willingly; secondly because he had always treated us in the most friendly fashion. Now I was standing here with inadequate experience and with responsibility for the 14th Company. My dear, 14th had at that time 128 men, most of them reservists, married men, fathers of children who like my own loved ones were praying for their daddy and waiting for him. And this daddy might be lost because of my clumsiness or a rash order from me.
I did not have much time to wallow in sentimental feelings since soon came the order; “Advance to be continued, 4th Battalion in direction of church tower of Dluzec”. The mentioned church tower was not visible but we were able to find our bearings with the help of map and compass, and so we went forward again. At first we were not fired at and the advance went smoothly. However, when we reached the Lgota-Wolbromska plane the enemy artillery started bombarding us and we had to stop and provide ourselves with provisional cover. Since the outlook here was not good we had to advance some further 500 steps. Under intense rifle and artillery fire I crept ahead found a position for my company and asked the men to follow me one by one. Our situation here was not to be envied either, a fierce battle raged all day and we had heavy losses. Only when darkness fell it became quiet again and I was able to lie down in a half destroyed empty house and rest my tired limbs. I even slept well till morning. In the garden in front of the house where I had slept we buried our two dead and then waited for further orders which arrived before long.
The interrupted displacement of the foe from the day before, was to continue and the locality Dluzec was to be taken at all costs. The day was very bloody again and I will not describe it now, so that I do not deprive myself of all material for what follows below. We advanced, took Dluzec and at 10p.m. I occupied together with the 42 men who still remained from my company a designated position at the east front of Dluzec. During that night I wrote the little poem which I already sent you but which I will happily write down again:
The fog is rising, the morning begins,
In the village a cock is crowing,
And the soldiers in our trench arise
Where they spent the night with watchful eyes,
Rifle shots sound the different sides,
The enemy sending his morning tides,
Cannons are booming not far away,
We know- it will be a different day,
The major stands on a hill and muses,
His map and his compass he now uses,
The officers round him stand in a throng,
A handshake – good-luck- and so long!
So now begins the terrible fighting,
Whistling and crashing the shells come like lightening,
Orders are heard calling the troops to go forth,
Forward we go on foot and on horse
Forward we go to death and destruction
Who will survive the day? Who will die?
No questions now, we must conquer today,
Nobody cares that some dead now lie,
As the sun rises we shed our blood
For hours and hours in sand and in mud,
Persevere comrades, just that last heave
Then victory is ours, the enemy must leave
The fog is sinking, night is on its way,
Noises die down, it’s done for today,
Men lie and rest and so tired they seem
As of their deaths and victory they dream.