Todesschlucht, the "Death Ravine" .... there were many at Verdun....
Pionier Max Stark was awarded the Bavarian Silver Bravery medal for digging comrades out of a collapsed bunker during an enemy bombardment.
An unknown Bavarian Soldier who served in the same
division as Stark described the conditions in the ravines during the
week during which Stark won his medal.
"On the 20th of May 1916 we paraded past our Commanding General. We were a
lusty, lively column marching in the spring sunshine. A few days later half
of the men were either dead or rolling in pain and blood on the terrible
battlefield at Verdun. The other half? Well, the next few weeks of hell
would take care of them, melting, shrinking their numbers to almost nothing.
Above: A wartime postcard showing Pioniers attempting to dig survivors out of a collapsed bunker during a savage bombardment
"Verdun! The grave of thousands of our best men! The symbol for the most
terrible war. Yet before her altar I go down on bended knees because I love
her with all my old soldiers heart...
Why? Because there, in the
ravines of the dead, while the furious battle raged, we knew a total inner
silence, a silence we have never known since, the silence men know when they
prepare to die.... when all things puerile and ugly fall away and a man
becomes a child of his God. Verdun, what a overpowering and violent experience! We had never felt closer to God and we asked him not to save us,
but for much more! We asked that he give us an inner strength to do our
heavy and arduous duty....
I page through my diary from those times. On
each page the horror stares out at me, the horror that grabbed our throats
like a wild animal trying to steal our breath, our sanity. I hear the
ceaseless explosions of the shells, the whizz and whistle of shrapnel, the
drone of shells passing overhead. I see the unending fire, smoke and haze
that filled the Chauffour and Albain ravines, see the companies as they
advance through the ravines of death, sense the waves of destruction rolling
over us, smell the rotting bodies, the stink of explosives and gas, feel the
horror in the throat as the explosions cover us in earth and shredded flesh,
see the drawn, hard, dirty faces of the living and the pale, unmoving forms
of the legions of dead. Stammering, calls, the whimpering of the wounded
"Take me back, don't let me die here!" and I see us, exhausted, near
collapsing as we carry the wounded back...
Southerners, Northerners, Flamethrower troops, Pioneers, ... they ran
through the Ravines with us, attacking, being thrown back, attacking
A rare Bavarian silver bravery medal award document to Pionier May Stark. The citation was as follows:
Stark, Max Pionier in the 3rd field company, 1st Bavarian Pioneer Battalion.
In peacetime a worker in Munich. Born on the 30th of December 1893 in
Pionier Stark of the 3. bayerische Feld Pionier
Kompagnie showed excellent conduct on the 26th of May 1916 when he
voluntarily braved the heavy enemy artillery fire to dig out two comrades
out of a collapsed position. He managed to free them, one of them still
alive. Stark was wounded in the action."
Max Stark was born on the 30th of December 1893 in Eichstadt. At the outbreak of the war was working as a laborer in München.
On the 1st of October 1914 he joined the 1. Pionier Ersatz Bataillon for
his training, then on the 18 January 1915 he transferred to the 3. Feld
Pionier Komp in the field.
From the 18.1.1915 to the 6.10.1915 he was engaged in positional warfare
on the Somme, then from the 7.10.-13.10.1915 the “Herbstschlacht bei La
Basse und Arras”.
From the 14.10.1915 till 30.4.1916 the Komp. Took part in positional
warfare in Artois including fighting at Neuville – St Vaast on the
25-28.1.1916 and 8.-10.2.1916
In May the unit moved to Verdun and Stark was involved in the fighting
for the Wabengräben in the Thiaumont Wald and at Thiaumont Ferme on the
22.5.-27.5.1916. On the 26.5.16 he braved artillery fire to dig men out
of a collapsed bunker. He was wounded in the action with shrapnel in the
left arm. On the 27th he was evacuated and went through the following
28.05.1916-15.07.16 Reserve Lazarette Saarlouis
15.07.1916-31.07.1916 Res Laz München
31.07.16-3.10.16 Laz. Perlach
On the 3.10.16 he joined the Genesenden (recovery) Komp 1.
Pionier.Ersatz.Bataillon. On the 23.10.16 he was awarded the Bavarian
Silver bravery Medal. (Silb. Tapferkeits Medaille )
After joining the 4. Ersatz Komp on the 12.11.1916 he transferred to the
bay. Mineur Komp on the 20.11.1916 then later to the bay. Pion. Komp.
Involed in the last days of the battle on the Somme , 22.11.-26.11.16
then positional warfare on the Somme from 27.11.16-13.1.17. Changing to
Flanders Stark took part in positional warfare in the Wytschaete-Bogen
until getting sick in early April. On the 5.4.1917 he was sent to
hospital, then again, on the 6.5.17 to the Genesenden Komp 1. Pionier
On the 2.6.17 he transfered to the 3. Ersatz Komp. 1. bay.Pion.Ers.Batl,
while here, on the 28.2.18 he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, on
the 16.7.18 the Verwundeten Abzeichen (Schwarz).
Transferring on the 1.10.18 to the 1. Ersatz Komp. 1. bay. Pion.Ers.Batl. he was released from service on the 21.12.1918.