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A freely translated account by  Hauptmann d.Res. Karl Bruno Hock, temp. Commander of the 2. bayerische  Jäger Bataillon. The 2nd Jägers had taken part in the assault on the Zwischenwerk Thiaumont at the end of June and had spent the following month fighting in the Fleury – Thiaumont sector.  

On the 8th of August the Jägers returned to the front, they were not pleased.

It was with heavy hearts that we left our quarters. We had been out of the line for fourteen days and the Regiment that had relieved us had managed to loose what we had gained at an incredible cost in blood.   Already during the relief they had managed to loose the ammunition magazine to the south of Fleury, then soon after that, Fleury itself fell into French hands. As we were moving forward we heard that they were in the process of loosing our hard fought for prize of Thiaumont. We shuddered as we realised we would have to fight to recapture the positions.  

(The Jägers relieved the Regiment; the bitterness they felt towards the departing unit could be felt in the Jäger history, written 20 years after the event.) 

Right: A map showing the attack. From north to south, 2nd Bavarian Jägers, 1st Bavarian Jägers, 2nd Bavarian reserve Jägers, 14th reserve Jägers.

The two Regimental staffs bade each other an icy farewell, the departing staff feigning ignorance as to who was in possession of the redoubt.  

“We went out into the Verdun night which we had hoped never to see again. The men took the news nonchalantly. Leutnant Neckermann, the indestructible, drew a deep breath and sighed...”Thank God we are back. This is just what my father’s son needs.”

Above: The Iron Cross 1st Class award document to Vizefeldwebel Richard Wagner of the Machine-Gun Kompagnie of the 2. bayerishe Jäger Bataillon. Wagner fought throughout the battalions campaign at Verdun.

The new recruits watched the old hands intently but even the young ones had a certain feel for the land. They had spent the last fourteen days carrying the wounded back, along the path from Fleury to Douaumont. Their experience could in no way compare with that of the veterans who had survived seven bloody assaults in the six weeks they had spent in front of Thiaumont. As we neared the front memories shot up like flares and our dead seemed to leave their muddy graves, marching next to us in endless silent rows.  

Our worst expectations were confirmed. The redoubt was almost totally destroyed, there was little left to relieve and the ruins occupied by Frenchmen. We set up our Battalion HQ in a ruin that had served as an aid station for many weeks. There was a smell of decaying flesh, iodine and carbolic, the conditions were somewhat improved when our doctor evacuated the bodies of four French soldiers who had probably been there since May.  

The Companies started reconnaissance patrols in their own initiative making contact with the units on our flanks. These were often affairs in which involved close combat and bit by bit our men approached the Redoubt. Lt Neckermann reported he would be willing to take the position with a surprise raid by his company; all that was needed was that the 21cm Artillery discreetly pushed their fire to the rear. As we were trying to arrange this orders came down ordering an assault by the complete Regiment.  

The morning of the assault was a beautiful morning, calm and silence over the “Kalte Erde”. It was the hour of the day when the artillery of both sides seemed to rest. At the given moment the gates of hell opened, from the barrels of hundreds of artillery pieces a storm of steel and destruction rained down on Thiaumont punctuated with the dull thumps of the very heavy mortars, bursting on the concrete of the redoubt.

Above: The memorial card for Franz Xaver Kollmer, a officer-Aspirant in the 1. bayerische Jäger Bataillon. he was killed on the day of the assault, his battalion attacking on the left fland of the 2nd Jägers.

After five minutes the barrage leapt like a panther, to the rear of the redoubt.. Already our Sturmkompagnien were on their way forward, advancing just behind the barrage, sometimes within it, eager to throw themselves at the enemy. The French defenders had been awakened by the numbing barrage and now came stumbling out of their dugouts. A few isolated grenades, some rifle fire and a few rattles of an isolated machine gun fire…The attack was carried out in a text book fashion, the defenders stood no chance, the Sturmabteilung were on them before they could coordinate any defence. Ten minutes after the start of the barrage streams of prisoners were crossing back to our jump off point, as usual the French machine gunners shooting wildly at their surrendering comrades.  

A group of Jägers continued their advance, Leutnant Neckermann leading. He was determined to continue to the Redoubt “Froide Terre” but did not take the barrage laid down by his own artillery into account. He continued through the barrage, his group of men getting smaller and smaller as they chased the enemy from shellhole to shellhole… until he burst through the ring of fire and found himself surrounded by a Company of French soldiers who then proceeded to capture him.  

True to habit the French launched a rabid counter attack, then another, then another, each attack was beaten back. The price of our victory was high, the Regiment  loosing over one thousand men, but it proved that the young replacements possessed the fighting spirit and iron will, and like a Phoenix the rising up through a sea of blood and mountains of dirt, the ashes of the dead would forge a new fighting force (Battalion histories words, not mine!).  

No better compliment could be paid to our men than was paid by the French magazine L’illustration who called it an “Formidable attack” and called the 8th of August a “Terrible day,” The praise from our own high command was more withholding, reports simply mentioning the capture of a few hundred French Prisoners in the Thiaumont area, because, according to the unit we had relived, the position had never been lost........”

On the 12th of August the exhausted combat units of the Alpenkorps were withdrawn from the front at Verdun and sent to the Argonne to recuperate. Arriving in the sector of the XVI R.K. they received not only new men from their garrison towns, but also new equipment and uniforms to replace kit that had been damaged and worn out at Verdun. The field hat pictured was issued to one of the survivors as they reformed in the Argonne and prepared for the coming combat in Romania….