88th Infantry Regiment

This specific pistol – a Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM)-produced Model 1908 9mm Luger – was produced in March 1915.  It has the serial number 3336 c.  The weapon has a unit marking on the front grip strap of 88. R.M.G. 48.  This marking corresponds to the 88th Infantry Regiment, specifically the Machine Gun Company.  The last digits, 48, indicate that it was the 48th weapon in the company’s arms room, undoubtedly belonging to a machine-gunner.

The 2. Nassauisches Infanterie-Regiment (2nd Nassau Infantry Regiment) was formed by the Duke of Nassau on August 13, 1808, when the Duchy of Nassau was an ally of Napoleon.  It went to Spain, where it fought for the French in the storming of the Mesas de Ibor and the Battle of Talavera.  In December 1813, after Nassau left the alliance with France, the regiment fought on the side of the allies against Napoleon.  The unit fought at the key position of Hougoumont at the Battle of Waterloo.  In 1848, it fought in the Baden Revolution and the following year fought against Denmark in the First Schleswig War.  In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, it fought with the southern Germany forces against Prussia.  After Prussia’s victory, the regiment was incorporated into the Prussian Army as the 88th Infantry Regiment (Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 88.)  In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, the regiment fought at Weißenburg (August 4), Wörth (August 6), Sedan (September 1), Mont Valerien (January 19, 1871), and at the Siege of Paris from September 22, 1870 to January 28, 1871.  After the war, the regimental headquarters was located at the Mainz Fortress, moving to Diez from 1894-1897.

By a Prussian imperial order on September 19, 1913, King Konstantin of Greece was appointed to be the ceremonial head of the Regiment, so the unit received the K with a red crown for the their epaulets.  The regiment was part of the 21st Infantry Division (Major General Ernst von Oven) was part of the XVIII Corps (Lieutenant General Heinrich von Schenk) at Frankfurt am Main.  In August 1914, it was part of the Fourth Army (Duke Albrecht of Württemberg), entering Luxemburg on August 10 and Belgium on August 12.  It fought at Neuf Château on August 20, at Bertrix and Orgeo on August 22, at Matton on August 24 and at Brévilly on August 26.  The division crossed the Meuse River on August 28.

During the month of September 1914, the 21st Infantry Division took part on the First Battle of the Marne between Vitry-le-Francois and Sermaize-les-Bains.  It then retired toward Rheims, where it fought northwest of the city from September 15 to 20.  In October, it was reassigned with the XVIII Corps to the Second Army (Field Marshal Karl von Bülow) and was located at Roye.

The 88th Infantry Regiment remained with the 21st Infantry Division at Roye until March 1915, when it transferred to help form the 56th Infantry Division.  The new division concentrated near Vouziers and then went south of Ripont on the Champagne Front in April.  In early May, the 56th Division moved to the Eastern Front as the reserve for the Eleventh Army.

The 56th Infantry Division participated in the combined German-Austrian Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive in late May, initially as the army reserve, at the Battle of Jaroslav on May 18 and the Battle of Rudka on June 18, suffering heavy losses in both.  The division also fought in the breakthrough at Lubaczow and the Battle of Lemberg, ending on June 22.  At the end of June 1915, the division was transported back to the Western Front to Valenciennes, forming part of the high command reserve in the Second Army and later in Army Detachment Falkenhausen.

The division saw action from September through November 1915 in the Second Battle of Champagne, initially in the sector of Maison de Champagne, as part of the VIII Reserve Corps (Major General Friedrich Fleck) at Aure.  Infantry losses alone in the division during the battle were 107 officers and 5,968 men.  It remained in the trench lines at Champagne until April 1916, then went into reserve with the Third Army. 

On May 25, 1916 the division entered the Battle of Verdun, fighting in the struggle for the Dead Man’s Hill (le Mort Homme).  The regiment reinforced le Mort-Homme, helped capture the village of Cumières, remaining at Verdun until July 17, 1916.  German records classified the fighting of May 25-29 as the “Kämpfe um den Toten Mann” and the fighting from May 29-July 17 as the “Stellungskämpfe auf dem Toten Mann.”  The division then moved north to the Flanders and Artois sectors of the front and remained there until August 23, 1916. 

The division joined the Battle of the Somme the following day; it would fight near Ginchy at Delville Wood, until September 9 launching a bloody counterattack northeast of the woods on August 31 against the British 7th Division. 

The 56th Division was then pulled out of the line to receive reinforcements in October 1916 and returned to the trenches in Champagne, near Rheims.  On November 1, 1916, the high command placed the division in the reserve for Army Group “Crown Prince Rupprecht von Bayern.”

The 56th Division returned to the final phase of the Battle of the Somme on November 13 near Pys under the command of the German First Army.  On the south bank of the Ancre valley, the 56th Division was relieving the 58th Division on November 18 as the British began their attack that would later be known as the Battle of the Ancre – the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme.  The German positions began 300 meters north of the British “Regina Trench” at Alter Dessauer Riegel (Old Dessau Defense Line), which was held by patrols as a decoy away from Dessauer Riegel – Leipziger Riegel (Leipzig Defense Line), the main line of defense 150 meters back in Kleine Mulde (Little Hollow), an eastern extension of Stallmulde (Barn Hollow.)  Stallmulde was 650 meters south of Baum Mulde (Tree Hollow.)  Some 100 meters behind these defenses lay Grimmaer Riegel (Grimm Defense Line,) which the Germans were able partly to reinforce before November 18.  The last line of defense was Grandcourt Riegel (Grandcourt Defense Line) and machine-gun nests along Baum Mulde.  The British attack, in frigid weather made worse by sleet, got forward 550 meters beyond Beaucourt, despite many casualties caused by massed German machine-gun fire and local counter-attacks.  By the evening, German defenders held ground either side of the Pys-Courcelette road, in an arc between Dessauer Riegel and the east end of Regina Trench.

The division remained in positional warfare along the Somme and in Flanders until March 15, 1917.  It then faced the British offensive at the Battle of Arras in April and May, and then after more time in the trench lines in Flanders, Artois and the Argonne, it returned to Verdun on August 13, 1917 at Chaume Wood-Baumont and Cheppy Wood.  The division remained at Verdun until April 16, 1918, and then returned to the Flanders region. 

In 1918, the handwriting was on the wall for the German Army unless it took to the offense.  The spring offensive, known to commanders as the “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle), began with an effort in the north to drive a wedge between the British and French Army sectors at La Fère, southeast of Saint-Quentin, France, commencing March 21.  As weather conditions began to improve after the winter, a second phase of the offensive, codenamed Operation Georgette in the German plan was the start of the Battle of the Lys.  The offensive was launched against the Allied line in the low-lying, British-held sector on both sides of the Lys River in French Flanders. 

At 02:30 hours on April 25, 1918 over 250 batteries of German guns of the Fourth Army opened up on Allied artillery positions of the British First Army with a mixture of gas and high explosive, marking the beginning of the Second Battle for Kemmel.  For the next two hours they concentrated solely on destroying gun emplacements.  After a short pause, at 05:00 hours the German barrage was switched to the French front line.  Opposite a single French division (which had relieved British units at Kemmel Ridge) were amassed three and a half German divisions, including the 56th Division.  An hour of such a furious bombardment was considered sufficient by the Germans and at 06:00 hours they launched their infantry to the attack.  By 07:10 hours, the 56th Division had captured Kemmel Hill, southwest of Ypres, Belgium.

The division continued to fight in Flanders near Ypres in the vicinity of the Yser and Lys Rivers as part of the German Fourth Army (General Friedrich Bertram Sixt von Arnim.)  It ended the war in battle before the Antwerp-Maas defensive line.  From December 26-31, 1918, the regiment demobilized at Bad Orb.  In total during the war, the division spent thirteen months at Verdun, as well as heavy fighting along the Somme, in the Champagne region and north in Flanders.  Total killed in action in the 88th Infantry Regiment from 1914 to 1918 were 127 officers and 3,934 enlisted men.  Commanders of the 56th Infantry Division included Major General Hans Schach von Wittenau (until June 30, 1915), Major General Leo Sontag (until April 22, 1916), Major General Karl Franz von Wichmann (until July 2, 1918) and Major General Helmuth von Maltzahn.

One of the strongest forces militating toward adoption of the machine gun in German service was Kaiser Wilhelm II, well-known as a technophile with a strong interest in modern weapons.  Throughout the testing period, the Kaiser exerted his influence to overcome the hidebound indifference to automatic weapons within the Prussian Army’s command levels.  During the period of the Second Empire (1871 – 1918,) Germany was composed of quasi-independent states, each of which, while having an overall fealty to the Kaiser, fielded its own armed forces.  As a result, the German forces in World War I actually consisted of the armies of the various states, including those of Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony.  Of these, the Prussian Army was by far the largest, and in wartime the armies of the smaller states were subordinated to the Prussian General Staff.  Kaiser Wilhelm II had long championed the Maxim gun as the best available automatic weapon.  Despite this royal patronage, things moved very slowly.  The Imperial General Staff of the 1890’s was heavy with officers who had fought the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  Their experiences led the General Staff to a collective belief that the machine gun was of use only within certain narrow tactical parameters (such as fortification defense or colonial warfare against poorly armed and led native hordes.)  Kaiser Wilhelm II thought differently; and the Kaiser would be proven correct. 

Machine guns quickly proved their worth and within a year, the Supreme Command decided that each infantry battalion would have its own machine gun company, in addition to the regimental machine gun company, although fielding the guns in sufficient numbers took an additional year.  When the war began in August 1914, approximately 12,000 MG 08s were available to battlefield units; production, at numerous factories, was however markedly ramped up during wartime. In 1914 some 200 MG 08s were produced each month; by 1916—once the weapon had established itself as the pre-eminent defensive battlefield weapon—the number had increased to 3,000; and a year later to 14,400 per month.

The Model 1908 (Maschinengewehr 08) was an adaptation of Hiram S. Maxim’s original 1884 Maxim gun.  The weapon was so-named after 1908, its year of adoption.  It could reach a firing rate of up to 400 rounds per minute using 250-round fabric belts of 7.92x57mm ammunition, although sustained firing would lead to overheating.  The weapon was water-cooled using a jacket around the barrel that held approximately one gallon of water.  Using a separate attachment sight with range calculator for indirect fire, the MG 08 could be operated from cover, such as on the reverse slope of a hill.  Additional telescopic sights were also developed and used in quantity during the war.

Above is the Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM)-produced Model 1908 9mm Luger made in March 1915.  It has the serial number 3336 c.  It has a mismatched magazine that has serial number 2689.  Below is the front strap with the unit marking of 88. R.M.G. 48



88th Infantry Regiment2016-05-18T07:16:00-06:00

53rd Infantry Regiment – Vauxstürmer!

53rd Infantry Regiment Luger

     A luger that fought at Verdun.  This specific pistol – a Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM)-produced Model 1908 9mm Luger – was produced in 1915.  It has the serial number 1430 d on the barrel and upper receiver and 741 d on the lower receiver.  The weapon has a unit marking on the front grip strap of 53. R. M.G. 39.  This marking corresponds to the 53rd Infantry Regiment, specifically the Machine Gun Company.  The last digits, 39, indicate that it was the 39th weapon in the company’s arms room, undoubtedly belonging to a machine-gunner.  Throughout Germany, the regiment – along with the 158th Infantry Regiment – received the nickname of Vauxstürmer, “Fort Vaux attacker” after seizing this key French fort during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.
A machine gun or, better, group of machine guns, could deny the enemy safe access to a chosen area of the battlefield.  They could do this to ranges of one mile or more.  At closer ranges, machine guns could sweep enemy parapets, fire on fixed lines and directions, or conduct night fire on lines set during daylight.  Fired from flanking positions, to catch advancing enemy troops in enfilade, they were particularly deadly.  This is because machine-gun fire is far more deadly than rifle fire.  The gun’s mount gives it superb precision and absorbs its recoil.  Also,  , once the gun has been ‘laid’, its aim cannot be disturbed by the effects of fear or excitement on its gunner.  Machine guns are fired in bursts, to avoid overheating, in which the bullets do not follow precisely the same trajectory, but instead form a ‘cone of fire.’  Where this cone intersects with the ground a ‘beaten zone’ is formed: an elliptical area over which the bullets are distributed.  This ‘beaten zone’ is frequently better termed a ‘zone of death.

      In 1914, most infantry regiments had a machine gun company equipped with six Model 1908 guns.  Each company was comprised of two officers, 95 non-commissioned officers and other ranks, 45 horses (each gun was transported by two), three ammunition wagons, one field kitchen, one store wagon, one fodder wagon and one baggage wagon.  There was also one extra machine gun, also drawn by two horses.  A machine gun section consisted of one gun and six men.  A corporal commanded the team; other members were the 1st gunner, 2nd assistant gunner (who helped carry ammunition), 3rd gunner (who helped carry ammunition), and the 4th and 5th gunners to drag the gun for short distances.

      Machine guns quickly proved their worth and within a year, the Supreme Command decided that each infantry battalion would have its own machine gun company, in addition to the regimental machine gun company, although fielding the guns in sufficient numbers took an additional year.  When the war began in August 1914, approximately 12,000 MG 08s were available to battlefield units; production at numerous factories ramped up during wartime.  In 1914, some 200 MG 08s were produced each month; by 1916 – once the weapon had established itself as the pre-eminent defensive battlefield weapon – the number increased to 3,000; a year later to 14,400 per month.

      The Model 1908 (Maschinengewehr 08) was an adaptation of Hiram S. Maxim’s original 1884 Maxim gun.  The weapon was so-named after 1908, its year of adoption.  It could reach a firing rate of up to 400 rounds per minute using 250-round fabric belts of 7.92x57mm ammunition, although sustained firing would lead to overheating.  The weapon was water-cooled using a jacket around the barrel that held one gallon of water.  Using a separate sight with range calculator for indirect fire, the MG 08 could be operated from cover, such as on the reverse slope of a hill.  Additional telescopic sights were also developed and used in quantity during the war.  The gun weighed 58 pounds; the water as coolant nine pounds and the tripod 85 pounds.

      The gun’s practical range was estimated at some 2,200 yards up to an extreme range of 3,900 yards.  The MG 08 was mounted on a sled mount when in firing position; for short distances near the front line, it could be ferried between locations either on carts or else carried above the men’s shoulders in the manner of a stretcher.  Pre-war production was by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken in Berlin and the government arsenal at Spandau (so that the gun was often referred to as a Spandau MG 08.)  During the war, it earned the nickname the “Devils Paintbrush,” based on the fact that the weapon could – and often did – literally mow down hundreds of charging enemy soldiers in no-man’s land.

      The 5. Westfälisches Infanterieregiment Nr. 53 (5th Westphalian Infantry Regiment 53) was formed on July 4, 1860 in Münster in the Prussian province of Westphalia.  In 1864, it fought against Denmark in the Second Schleswig War, participating as part of the 13th Infantry Division at the pivotal Battle of Dybbøl.  Four officers in the regiment won the Pour le Mérite decoration for bravery; the unit suffered 45 killed in action during the war.  In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, it fought with the “Division Goeben” in the “Main Army” in southern Germany in the Battle of Aschaffenburg, Battle of Tauberbischofsheim and the Battle of Gerchsheim, fighting against Bavarian forces that were allied to Austria at the time.  Thirty-three soldiers in the regiment died in the war.  In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, the regiment fought as part of the 14th Infantry Division (VII Army Corps) at the Battle of Spicheren (August 6, 1870,) Battle of Colombey-Nouilly (August 14, 1870,) and Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat (August 18.)  Thirteen regimental officers and 73 men were killed in action in the war.  After the war, the regiment had its headquarters at Münster, Paderborn, Aachen, Jülich and Köln.

      Ceremonial heads of the Regiment included Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm beginning in 1864; after he became the Prussian Kaiser, the regiment received the nickname “Sons of the Crown” and the unit began wearing epaulets with a large crown adorned (left), the only regiment in the army with solely a crown on their insignia.  In 1898, the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Viktoria, the Princess of Schaumburg-Lippe, became the honorary regimental commander.

      At the start of World War I, the unit – now known as Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 53, (53rd Infantry Regiment) was originally subordinated to the 14th Infantry Division.  The division, part of the German Second Army (Colonel General Karl von Bülow), VII Army Corps (General of Cavalry Karl von Einem), fought at the Siege of Liege (August 5-16, 1914), the Battle of Charleroi (August 22-23, 1914), the Battle of St. Quentin (August 1914) and the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914.)  The initial aim of von Bülow’s army, which comprised 320,000 men, was to seize the city of Liege (Lüttich), gateway to Belgium, which blocked the narrow gap between the  “Limburg appendix”  and the Ardennes, the best entrance into Belgium.  However Liege was defended by a ring of twelve heavily armed forts built on high ground in the 1880s, six on each side of the Meuse River, each 2-3 miles apart, and some 3-6 miles from the city itself.  The forts contained a total of 400 retractable guns, up to 210mm in size.


     Attacking from the north, the 53rd Infantry Regiment (part of the 27th Infantry Brigade) seized the high ground west of Fort Barchon on the night of August 5-6, 1914.  However, the German infantry forces made little progress and after trying zeppelin bombing attacks, the Germans introduced a weapon which had until that point remained unknown to the Allies, Austrian-built 17-inch howitzers. With the significant aid of the howitzers and a pair of Krupp-made “Big Bertha gun” (a 420mm Gamma Mortar siege howitzer) the forts were finally taken on August 16.

      In March 1915, the Supreme Command created the 50th Infantry Division transferring in the 53rd Infantry Regiment, the 158th Infantry Regiment and the 39th Fusilier Regiment.  Initially, the division was equipped with captured Russian artillery, outdated rifles and inferior gasmasks, but over the next months was modernized.  In May 1915, the division was engaged in mine warfare in the positional fighting in the Champagne Front south of Somme-Py.  From June to October 10, 1915, the division occupied the sector of Tahure, seeing action in the Second Battle of Champagne as part of the VIII Reserve Corps (Major General Paul Fleck.)  From September 22 to October 10, 1915, the 53rd Infantry Regiment suffered casualties of 56 officers and 2,583 men.  Brigadier General Georg von Engelbrechten was the division commander.

      The division subsequently departed the front and reorganized near Vouziers and Juniville until November 7, when it returned to action in the Prosnes-Prunay sector (east of Rheims), where it remained until April 1916.  The 50th Infantry Division then deployed to the Battle of Verdun, where it recorded its greatest glories of the war.  On Friday, April 14, 1916, the 50th Infantry Division arrived to strengthen the XV Army Corps (General of Infantry Berthold von Deimling) near Fort Vaux, making preparations for continuing the battle.  On Monday, May 1 the German attack on Fort Vaux began, the intent of the army command to clear the French lines in the Bois de la Caillette first before the fort is actually attacked.  However, by Sunday, May 7, it became clear that the German attack had failed again.  The French artillery fire, led by observation balloons and aircraft, proved too strong.  Prior to the assault, the men in the regiment had practiced assault techniques.

The Germans tried again during the month, inching closer and on Thursday, June 1, 1916, following a lengthy bombing and with the use of a number of flame-throwers, the Germans finally regained command of the Bois de la Caillette.  The Bois Fumin, situated southwest of the village of Vaux, was also taken with the effect that the German troops in front of Fort Vaux were no longer controlled by the flanking French fire from the Bois de la Caillette and the Bois Fumin.  After this maneuver, the German attack focused on Fort Vaux, a medium-sized fort generally accounting for a garrison of 250 men, but now accommodating some 600.  The commander, Major Sylvain Raynal, suspected a large attack soon: in the morning the fort was caught in a rain of shells, Raynal counting 1,500 to 2,000 direct hits an hour.

      German machine guns – very likely including the gun crew to which this Luger belonged – began firing to isolate Fort Vaux from possible French reinforcements from the south.  The attack began at 4:00 a.m., Friday, June 2, and soon assault groups of the 53rd Infantry Regiment, under the command of Major Hans von Troilo, and the 158th Infantry Regiment (Major Kühl) were able to surround the fort almost completely, seizing a few hallways inside as well.  French soldiers inside the fort stubbornly defended.  On Sunday, June 4, to smoke out the French, the Germans brought up their flame-throwers, but the attempt fails, as wind currents forced the smoke out of the fort and obstructed the attackers in their actions.  The French again launched a few counter-attacks, but were stymied by German machine guns and reinforcements, who forced the attackers back in a man-to-man fight.  The Germans were again hindered in their movement by the French bombardment.  The machine gun company of the 53rd Infantry Regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Werner Müller.

On Monday, June 5, inch by inch, the Germans forced their way into the fort where the French, behind a barricade of sandbags, keep up a stout defense.  Major Raynal organized the defense in a heroic manner, but was concerned about the limited amount of drinking water available within the fort.  The water tank contains less water than the gauge glass indicated and the water ration of 1 liter a day per person was reduced to just 1/8 liter.  The wounded received double this amount.  Raynal sent carrier pigeons with messages begging for reinforcements.  A company managed to reach the fort, but of the original 170 men, only 26 survived.  The Germans attempted to blow up the fort with demolition charges, but the attempt fails due to French artillery fire from the nearby-situated Fort Souville.

By Tuesday, June 6, the situation in the fort was terrible.  In much of the fort, it was pitch dark. Panic attacks started, when a German gas attack was suspected, but it was a false alarm.  The men were going mad with thirst, licking condensed water off the walls and some drinking their own urine.  The stench was unbearable because the latrines were out of reach; Raynal finally decided to surrender.  The next day, a white flag appeared on top of the fort and a French orderly delivered to Lieutenant Kurt Rackow, the German commander of the lead company of the 158th Infantry Regiment, a letter from Major Raynal, requesting an honorary surrender of his garrison.  This was granted and the garrison surrendered in a military correct fashion; arms presented.  The Germans treated the defeated French with respect: souvenirs were exchanged and photographs taken.  The German Crown Prince Wilhelm, who would later review the victorious 53rd Infantry Regiment after the battle (see photo above) received Raynal with full honors, expressed his admiration for the heroic opposition and presented Raynal with a sword as a mark of distinction.  For several weeks, the regiment remained near Fort Vaux, repelling several French attacks.

      German records classified the fighting of the division of June 2 as the “Erstürmung von Damloup; Erstürmung von Fort Vaux” and fighting from June 3-June 7 as the “Kämpfe in und bei Fort Vaux; Kämpfe südlich Fort Vaux, Berg-Wald, Laufee Wald.”  The division’s fight on June 21 was listed in German records as the “Erstürmung der Batterie A und des Steinbruchs südwestlich Fort Vaux.”  The division’s battle on July 3 earned a recording of “Erstürmung der hohen Batterie de Damloup.”  From June 1-9, the 53rd Infantry Regiment suffered five officers and 54 enlisted men killed in action and seven officers, 226 enlisted men wounded in action.

      Exhausted by these battles, the division was sent to rest and reorganized in the vicinity of Étain in July, later occupying the calm sectors of the Woëvre.  At the end of July, the 50th Infantry Division went back into line at Verdun, 500 yards south of Fort Vaux.  It launched an attack on August 1 at the Bois de La Laufée, and defended against the French offensives of August 8 and October 24, suffering heavy losses, holding this sector until November.  On just October 24-25, the regiment suffered 39 enlisted men killed in action and three officers and 107 enlisted men wounded in action.  German records classified the fighting of the division during this period as the “Stellungskämpfe vor Verdun.”  The division was then ordered to the Argonne, where it took responsibility for a sector at Vauquois.

Withdrawn from the Argonne on February 15, 1917, the division remained at rest in the area of Saulces-Champenoise until the end of March, then in the camp at Sissonne, then at Thenailles, near Vervins (beginning of April.)  It was concentrated on April 8 in the Aisne Sector under the Seventh Army; it went into action at Juvincourt-et-Damary and there underwent the French attack of April 15, that became known as the Second Battle of the Aisne.  After a French breakthrough by the XXXII Corps against the German 5th Reserve Infantry Division, a counterattack by the 50th Infantry Division, under Major General von Engelbrechten saved the day and stopped the enemy advance.   After heavy losses, it was relieved at the end of the month and went for reorganization to Nizy le Comte, near the Sissonne Camp.  About May 10, 1917, the division went back into line east of Allement on the Chemin des Dames.  It was sent to rest in July in the vicinity of Mons en Laonnois, Coucy les Eppes and Parfondru.  At the beginning of August, it came back to the Chemin des Dames.  Following the French offensive at the Battle of Malmaison, the 50th Infantry Division retired on November 1, to the north of the Ailette River toward Neuville (outside of Chamouille) and was still occupying this sector in December 1917.

      The 50th Infantry Division was withdrawn from line near Ailles (west of Craonne) on January 9, 1918, and moved to the Chimay area, where it arrived on January 14.  It remained here for a month and trained in open warfare for the upcoming “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle.)  The division then moved to the La Capelle-Fontenelle area for rest and further training.

      In the middle of March, the division, part of the German Eighteenth Army’s IX Army Corps, moved to the front, and on March 21, 1918, attacked west of St. Quentin as part of Operation Michael; it captured the village of Holnon during the day, Étreillers on March 22, Hangest-en-Santerre on March 29 and reached Moreuil on the Avre River southeast of Amiens on March 30.  The division withdrew about April 1, after having suffered severe losses, and went to rest, refit, and train in the Lassigny region.

      On May 27, 1918, as part of the German Seventh Army (Colonel General Max von Boehn) in the Blücher-Yorck Offensive (which became known as the Third Battle of the Aisne,) the 50th Infantry Division attacked near Craonne, reached Pontavert toward noon and crossed the Aisne River.  The next day it crossed the Vesle River west of Breuil sur Vesle and continued to the south, where it repelled a French counterattack.  On May 30, it reached Goussancourt, and then the Marne River east of Dormans.  After having suffered severe losses, it was relieved by the 28th Reserve Infantry Division during the night of June 12-13, and went to rest and refit near Laon.

      Brigadier General Friedrich von Derschau assumed command of the division on July 9.  On July 19, 1918, the division was thrown into line just southwest of Rheims as part of the Second Battle of the Marne.  It was withdrawn early in August.  About September 30, it came back into line northwest of Rheims, near Prouilly and Cormicy.  The division remained here, and was driven back, fighting stubbornly near Brimont, Guignicourt and Banogne, until it was withdrawn on November 7, 1918; the same day, Brigadier General Georg von Alt-Stutterheim assumed command.  The next day, the division was put back into line on November 8 near Mezières; it had not been withdrawn when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

      The 50th Infantry Division was rated by the Allies as a first-class division.  It distinguished itself in the fighting during 1918.  Major Hans von Troilo, the 53rd Infantry Regiment commander, went on to be awarded the Pour le Mérite.  General Georg von Engelbrechten, the division commander, also won the Pour le Mérite.

      During the entire war, the 53rd Infantry Regiment lost 132 officers, 300 non-commissioned officers and 2,450 enlisted men killed in action.  In just the fighting at Verdun, the XV Army Corps, to which the 53rd Infantry Regiment belonged for the battle, lost 93 officers and 2,931 enlisted men killed in action, 291 officers and 14,659 enlisted men wounded in action and 15 officers and 1,735 enlisted men missing in action.

      Back to the luger.  Given the proximity of the serial numbers serial 1430 d on the barrel and upper receiver and 741 d on the lower receiver, it is quite possible that the pistol with serial number 741 d (and marked with the unit designation) received damage to the barrel and upper receiver during the war and these components were replaced by unit ordnance personnel of the 50th Infantry Division with the barrel and upper receiver from pistol number 1430 d that may have been damaged as well and was stripped of useable parts.  Both serial numbers indicate a production month of April 1915.











53rd Infantry Regiment – Vauxstürmer!2016-05-18T06:59:36-06:00

Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment

This specific pistol, a Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM)-produced Model 1908 9mm Luger, has the serial number 2335 b.  Given the contract between DWM (whose factory was at Berlin) and the German government (for 50,000 pistols) that required delivery of the first 3,000 pistols to the German Army by March 31, 1909, the requirement that DWM provide 2,000 pistols each month thereafter, and the serial number sequence system (9,999 with no subsequent letter, and then 9,999 followed by the letter a, 9,999 followed by the letter b, etc.), it would appear that this particular weapon arrived to the German Army in January 1910.

The weapon has a unit marking on the front grip strap of B. 8. R. 1. 3. This marking corresponds to the Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment, specifically the 1st Company.  The last digit, 3, indicates that it was the third weapon in the company’s arms room.  We do not know exactly when the unit received this pistol, but it was certainly no earlier than February 1910, and probably within that year.

The weapon has the word Germany stamped on the left side of the frame.  This is an export mark stamped on the weapon, probably in the 1920s, when Germany – economically distressed due to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty – exported for sale surplus weapons from the reduced-size military.  This would indicate that the weapon probably remained with the 1st Company for the duration of the war.

Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment

The Königliches Bayerisches 8. Infanterie-Regiment Grossherzog Friedrich II von Baden (the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment, “Grand Duke Friedrich II of Baden”) was originally formed on October 10, 1753.  In the First Schleswig War in 1849, the regiment fought at the Battle of Düppel on April 13, 1849.  In the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, it fought against the Prussian Army in battles at Nüdlingen on July 10, and Helmstadt on July 25.  During the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War, the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment participated in the Siege of Bitsch and the Siege of Paris.

Prior to World War I, the regiment was assigned to the 4th Royal Bavarian Division in the Second (II) Bavarian Army Corps, which was headquartered in Würzburg.  After mobilization, the regiment was stationed at Metz; its parent formation was the 8th (Royal Bavarian) Infantry Brigade, in the 33rd Reserve Division.

At the beginning of World War I, the Bavarian Army had an effective strength of 4,089 officers, physicians, veterinarians and officials; 83,125 NCOs and other ranks, as well as 16,918 horses. With the beginning of mobilization on August 1, 1914, the supreme command of the Bavarian field army passed from the 4th Army Inspectorate to the German Emperor.  Units that remained in Bavaria remained under the command of the Bavarian War Ministry.  The Bavarian Army — consisting of the three Bavarian Army Corps, the Bavarian Cavalry Division — was joined by some additional Prussian units and transported to the Western Front, where it would become a crucial component of the German Army.

During World War I, the regiment was commanded by the following officers: Colonel Hannappel (until October 9, 1914); Colonel Ernst von Rücker (October 10, 1914 – April 22, 1917); Major Anton Ritter von Löhr (April 23, 1917 – May 1, 1918); Major Oskar Vogel (May 25, 1918 – August 26, 1918); and Major Bauer (August 27, 1918 – November 11, 1918.)

After the Armistice in November 1918, the regiment moved from the Western Front to Bad Kissingen, where it was demobilized on December 18, 1918.  The former regimental staff became the nucleus for the 46th Infantry Regiment in the Reichswehr beginning in June 1919.

During the first year of World War I, the 33rd Reserve Division served on the Western Front, fighting in the Battle of the Frontiers against French forces in the early stages, as a part of the XVI Corps (General of Infantry Karl Bruno Julius von Mudra) in the Fifth Army (Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia), initially moving through Luxembourg and southern Belgium.  In August 1914, the division took part in the battles of Nomèny and went to Verdun by way of Gondrecourt, Rouvres and Étain (halfway between the nearest German town and Verdun,) suffering heavy casualties in the latter on August 24 and 25.  On August 26, the 10th Company of the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment, for example, had only 75 men left.

At the beginning of September 1914, the division occupied both banks of the Moselle River south of Pont è Mousson and about September 15 moved to the vicinity of Thiaucourt.  The division remained there until the end of September and the beginning of October it went back into the sector south of Étain at Riaville and Bracquis.  On October 8, 1914, the 8th Bavarian Brigade attacked at Champlon and Fresnes.  After these battles, the 33rd Reserve Division took up defensive positions on the Cótes de Meuse (Combres, Les Éparges), 20 miles southeast of Verdun, and remained there until July 1916.

The regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Eparges (in German, the Combres-Höhe Schlacht) in March and April 1915.  The hill, actually an elongated ridge about three-quarters of a mile in length, elevated 300 feet above the Woëvre Plain.  On either side of the rise were the villages of Combres (on the German side of the front) and Les Eparges (on the French side.)  The fighting began in January 1915, when the Germans fortified trenches on top of the hill, while the French 12th Infantry Division dug in on the northern and northwestern slopes.  The French detonated a huge underground mine on February 17, 1915 that breached the German forward line.  On March 18, 1915, traversing a sea of gelatinous brown mud, the French attacked up the Combres Heights, penetrating the German positions on the northwest slope.  The 33rd Reserve Division, now under the V Corps (General of Infantry von Oven) launched a counterattack late on the morning of March 19 and regained much of the lost ground.  The French finally captured the summit on April 9, but the 33rd Reserve Division immediately established a trench system to the east of the crest, which they named the Kamm-Stellung (Kamm Position) that the French were never able to seize.

In August 1916, the high command transferred the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment to the newly-formed 14th Bavarian Infantry Division (commanded by Major General Otto Ritter von Rauchenberger), along with the 4th Bavarian Infantry Regiment and the 29th Bavarian Infantry Regiment.  The division, part of the XVIII Reserve Corps (General of Infantry Kuno Arndt von Steuben) took up positions at Verdun, going into the line at the end of August, 1916, in the Vaux-Chapitre Wood, northeast of the city.  It launched a violent attack (see red arrow on map) against French positions on September 3, one kilometer to the southwest of Fort Vaux on both sides of the Ravin des Fontaines, advancing to just one kilometer from Fort Souville, fighting heavily until September 9, and continued to hold this sector until October 10, as part of the Battle of Verdun.

Fort Souville dominated the heights from which the “Nez de Souville” (Souville Nose or Souville Nase in German) protruded.  While the “Nose” was occupied by the French, the Germans were in position on the slopes to the west (in the direction of Fleury) and east (in the direction of Fort Vaux) to utilize the Ravin des Fontaines (Fontaines Ravine, known to the Germans as the Souville Schlucht) to advance south.  Covering the “Nose” was the remains of the Chapitre-Woods, which bordered on the Fumin-Wood east of Fort Vaux.  The Fontaines Ravine became known as the “Ravine of Death.”  With German capture of Fort Vaux on June 7, 1916, the first of two lines of French permanent fortifications had been breached.  If the Germans breached the second line on the heights overlooking the town, Verdun would fall.  Fort Souville was the focus of German attacks on the second line, and its successful defense was the turning point in the battle.  On July 12, German troops reached the fort, but were repulsed by an artillery and infantry counterattack.  The attack by the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment and other units was the last desperate gasp to break through.  During the entire battle, the German Army at Verdun suffered 143,000 killed in action out of its 337,000 total casualties.

At the end of October, the division’s 29th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, whose losses around Vaux were considerable, was dissolved and replaced by the 25th Bavarian Infantry Regiment.  After this reorganization, the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division went back into line on the Hauts de Meuse (“Calonne Trench,” a long road running for more than 25 kilometers through the wooded area south-east of Verdun into what became known as the Saint Mihiel Salient) on October 22.  Relieved at the beginning of November 1916, and sent to rest, it was then sent to the Somme, where, about November 26, it took over the sector north of the Ancre River.

The 14th Bavarian Infantry Division left the Ancre front (east of Amiens) at the end of January 1917, passed the month of February at rest in the Denain area, and came back into line on the Somme northeast of Gueudecourt (south of Bapaume) on February 26.  It was withdrawn on March 20 at the time of the German retirement from the area.  At the beginning of April, under control of the Sixth Army (Colonel General Ludwig von Falkenhausen) it went into action against the British 1917 offensive (Battle of Arras.)  Falkenhausen favored the “gruppe” system of flexible battlefield command, in which corps headquarters formed the nucleus of responsive formations organized and equipped as necessary.  As a part of Gruppe Vimy (General of Infantry Karl von Fasbender) the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division took up defensive positions on the northern side of the Scarpe River and fought against the British 34th and 9th Infantry Divisions of the XVII Corps near Roclincourt (a village just east of the road from Arras to Lens), suffering heavily (about 2,800 prisoners on April 9, 1917.)  The second and third battalions of the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment were rendered combat ineffective.

Sent to rest in Belgium, the division remained for several days in the Ghent area, and then entrained for the Eastern Front on April 26.  About May 14, it went into the line near Lipsk (south of Baranovichi); in June it took over the sector of Tsirin, where it remained until the end of the August, when it transferred to the Riga Front.  At the Battle of Riga, as part of the German Eighth Army (General of Infantry Oskar Emil von Hutier) and German LI Corps, the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division, at 9:10 a.m. on September 1, 1917 crossed the 200-yard-wide Daugava River (also known as the Western Dvina River and in German the Düna) at Űxküll (Ikšķile in Latvian, 20 miles southeast of Riga) on assault boats, neutralizing a heavily-fortified island in the middle of the river, before continuing on to the north bank.  To its left was the 2nd Guards Infantry Division; while to its right was the 19th Reserve Infantry Division.  Once the three divisions were on the far bank, they quickly overran the forward defensive positions of the Russian Twelfth Army (General Vladislav N. Klembovsky) using new assault-troop (Stosstrupp) infiltration tactics to breach the forward defensive positions beginning in the dunes on the riverbank and continuing to the rear in three to four lines of trenches.

It marked the first time that such tactics were used on a large scale combined with new fire support tactics developed by Colonel Georg Bruchmüller – characterized by bypassing any strong points as they move forward, assault troops armed with light machine-guns, grenades and flame throwers focus on quickly infiltrating the rear areas to disrupt communications and take out artillery.  German pioneers quickly constructed pontoon bridges and three additional infantry divisions reinforced the attack.  By the end of the day, the German bridgehead was eight miles wide.  Riga fell late on the afternoon of September 3 as the German Army marched into the city.

The advance gained 24 miles by September 21 and sent the Russian Army reeling.  At the end of October 1917, the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division was sent south to Galicia, moving to Tarnopol.

The defeat at Riga boded ill for the Russian Kerensky government that had overthrown Tsar Nicholas II earlier in the year.  On November 7, 1917, an armed uprising led by radical Bolsheviks toppled the provisional Kerensky government; Vladimir Lenin rose before the newly formed All-Russian Congress of Soviets the following day to call for an immediate armistice with the Central Powers.  This occurred on December 2.

With an armistice secured, massive numbers of German divisions were free to move west and the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division left the Tarnopol area on December 19 for the Western Front.  On January 12, 1918, it relieved the 7th Reserve Infantry Division in the Mont Haut sector.  It was relieved by the 80th Reserve Infantry Division on April 22.  On April 26, the division began moving to a new sector.  On May 3, it relieved the 208th Infantry Division in the Hangard sector (southeast of Amiens.)  It was subsequently relieved on May 21 by the 225th Infantry Division.  The division remained in close support, and relieved the 15th Infantry Division one sector to the south two days later.  On June 20, 1918, the high command withdrew the division from the front line and it rested in the rear of the front for the next month.

About July 23, the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division received the order to return to the front and relieved the 21st Infantry Division in the Castel-Bois Senecat sector.  It was assigned to the Second Army (General Johannes Georg von der Marwitz.)

In the fighting that followed, known as the Battle of Amiens, the division (see red quadrangle on map) suffered heavy losses, especially in the French XXXI Corps (General Paul-Louis Toulorge) attack of August 8, 1918.  It was withdrawn five days later in a badly shattered condition, having lost some 2,500 prisoners.  Total German losses were estimated at 30,000 on August 8, while the Allies suffered about 6,500 killed, wounded and missing.  The collapse in German morale led General Erich Ludendorff to call the day, “the Black Day of the German Army.”

The division was in the line again on August 29, 1918 northwest of Villers-Carbonnel (southwest of Albert-Péronne), but was withdrawn on September 2.  Soon thereafter, the 14th Bavarian Infantry Division was disbanded on September 10, with the Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment going to the 16th Bavarian Infantry Division.   With this division, the regiment was engaged north of Ypres and west of Roulers (Westroosebeke) from September 28 to October 5; losses were heavy.  Pulled out of the line for ten days, it returned to combat on October 15 southwest of Thourout.  Within four days, it was forced back to the southeast of Bruges.  The Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment was located in Belgium when the Armistice went into effect.

If only that Luger could talk!  Having said that, with the unit marking, it is talking.

Royal Bavarian 8th Infantry Regiment2016-05-18T07:04:51-06:00
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