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Offizier Stellvertreter Richard Moser had been promoted from the ranks and was serving in the 8th Company of the 12th Bavarian Infantry Regiment when he won his Iron Cross 2nd class in July 1916.  



Above: A map of the sector between Fort Douaumont and the Zwischenwerk Thiaumont in which the account below took place and where Moser won his Iron Cross.


The 8th Company (2nd Battalion) had fought hard during the first phase of the Regiment`s time at Verdun (the period described in the text below). After a brief rest, at the time of the award, the Battalion was in reserve, responsible for supplying the troops of the 1st and 3rd Battalions in the front line.  

The Regimental history says "During the second phase of the Regt`s time at Verdun the II. Bataillon were used as carrier troops. From the Albainschlucht, over the heights to the Wabengraben, then Southwest to the Zwischenwerk Thiaumont. Two companies carried ammunition, flares, hand grenades, orders and reports while the other two were responsible for carrying the wounded, water, coffee, food, sandbags and ammunition. The routes were under constant fire and no carrier troop got away without suffering losses. The service of the 2nd Battalion was as admirable as that of the two battalions in the front line. In the second part of the operation the Regiment lost 22 officers and 932 men, a loss of 82%.

Ludwig Maier of the 12th Bavarian Infantry Regiment describes his experiences on the battlefield. Richard Moser was experiencing  the same shelling only a few hundred meters away.

In mid June of 1916 I lay exposed to the shellfire in the hell of Verdun. For four long days and four long nights I lay, wounded in both feet, the left knee, right thigh and in the head. Terrible days and terror filled nights on the side of the Froide Terre, the "Kalte Erde", alone, abandoned between two fronts. It was an experience that would mark me for life.  

I was not quite alone; I shared the shell hole with the corpse of a Bavarian soldier. My wounded left foot was causing me immense pain and I rested it on him, his body softer than the hard earth. I murmured to him that I would soon be joining him on the other side. Shells had taken his life and soon they would come to take mine. The terrible drumfire continued, day and night, hour after hour. There was almost no break as both French and German artillery combed the wasteland.  

There was no escape; it was a simple question of waiting to die. I could not call for help; there was no one to hear. I saw some French soldiers moving past my shell hole but they would surely kill me if I called out.  

If only I did not have such thirst! It came from the large loss of blood. God had mercy on me and it rains the whole day. I am soaking wet but water had collected in the bottom of the shell hole. With a bloody hand I scooped it up and gulped it down.



As I lay there I had time to reflect on God and the world. The great dome of the church in Passau where I had wanted to take communion... it would no longer be possible, here other bells rang in the form of shells, and they signaled not celebration but death.


Right: Infantry position 323 in the sector where the 12th Bavarians were fighting.

A terrible Verdun night began to fall. Over the dust and smoke the stars began to twinkle. To the East they twinkled over my home village where my mother and father prayed for their son in the field. Stars, greet my dear mother and tell her that her son is badly wounded, struck by enemy bullets. I wonder what they will say when the message arrives saying "gefallen" (killed in action).  

My lips began to mutter goodbye, in my mind I stretch out my arms to hold their hands. It is astonishing how vivid the thoughts of home are at such a moment. The last word of a dying soldier is often "Mother!"  I whisper "Jesus... Mother... Amen...”  

I am shaken awake by the howl of shells, explosions, the chattering of machineguns, the moans and cries of the wounded. Why bother with thoughts of home, I will never see it again. My fate is decided, I will surely die here. I take the rosary that my mother gave me and wrap it around my hand; in the other I clutch a religious medal. I begin to pray, to call and beg like never before. In moments of terror prayer is an automatic gesture. I cannot understand the people who say, "When one has experienced the horrors of war, one no longer believes, prays or goes to church...” I can understand those who say, "In the drumfire, in the trenches, in the frontline... I learned to pray again.”

Left: The same position uder fire at the end of June 1916.
 
My prayers were not in vain. Suddenly a friend from my student days jumped into my shell hole. I could have cried for joy finding an old friend under such circumstances. He carried me to the Zwischenwerk Thiaumont, and then went out to fetch another comrade.  
The official report blandly states, "The 12th Bavarian Infantry Regiment suffered terribly in front of Thiaumont". There is much hidden truth behind this sentence! No mention of the suffering, pain, blood and death exacted from the men, and no mention of the power, strength, courage and bravery they displayed in enduring it.

Richard Mosers Iron Cross 2nd class award certificate for commanding a supply party from Douaumont on the night from the 29th to 30th of June 1916.

The Zwischenwerk Thiaumont was under a constant maelstrom of shells. In front of the bunker Leutnant der Reserve Spitz - with a ragged band of 60 men - fought a desperate defensive action. With his brave men they decimated wave after wave of French attackers. On the 30th of June the
French made a third breakthrough attempt, at the end of it Leutnant Hunger counted only five survivors from the 1st company.  

My friend carried me into the Zwischenwerk, it was an immense relief that there was a lull in the shelling and machine gun fire as he carried me. I lay on the hard stone surrounded by badly wounded of all types. Hastily bandaged men who had been carried by comrades through the danger of the battlefield and who now lay in the shelter, protected from the elements. The groaning and whimpering is terrible, we felt helpless and we despaired.  

Next to me sat a soldier with a hole in his forehead, with a dirty finger he poked in the bloody hole staring wildly. The hell we were in had driven him insane. Next to him is a man with a stomach wound, he begged for water without pause calling to the soldiers who were unwounded, guarding the French prisoners. Some comrades are fetching water from the cellar, up and down the stairs from the cistern. I drink it down in deep gulps; the taste is terrible and it smelled of death. Were there bodies in the well? I don’t know what caused the taste but we drank it to quench our thirsts.

What would happen if there was a direct hit on the Zwischenwerk? No sooner had I had the thought, than suddenly it happened. An explosion and a flash followed by smoke and dust, helmets fly through the air and the walls shake. A direct hit! Tense moments, an incendiary grenade explodes and sulphur bites into our eyes. There is screaming from the wounded as they choke and suffocate in the smoke. Stones fall from the roof, large and small. Light and heavy rocks falling on the soldiers, I am beside myself as I crawl over the dead and wounded. With my smashed foot I clamber over the stones and make for the entrance to escape from the falling debris and smoke. I reach a small passage near the exit, but the stones are still falling. A large piece of concrete falls near my head landing on a soldier. Maybe he was dead before it fell on him, I could not tell.

I hear a moaning to the right, "Comrade, what’s the damage?" I ask.
"I don’t know," is the reply “Pain in the head, chest and foot".
"How long have you been here?"
"Ten days..." I squeeze his hand in sympathy, it is covered in blood.
"I have a wife and seven children," he moans quietly.
"If only I could help," I sigh, but I could not and that broke my heart.  

Back home a wife and seven children worried ceaselessly about their father at the front. In the coming days a message would arrive, "Killed at Thiaumont". The woman would cry bitterly, their children would ask when father would be home. Children never! He bled to death at Thiaumont.





Above: Trenches between Douaumont and Thiaumont as they look in 2007

How long would it take until the Zwischenwerk is buried, shot to pieces between the fronts? It is better to crawl out into the open, it is better in a shell hole, but I cannot, my foot is shot to pieces. At the entrance French machine-gun bullets go tack-tack-tack against the concrete. Maybe they will arrive soon with their hand grenades and bayonets. Suddenly we hear voices... Could it be an attack?

A Prussian Hauptmann, pistol in his hand, arrives with a handful of men. "Don’t shoot! We are Germans," they call. For the time being the Zwischenwerk is still in German hands, protected by a hill of bodies and a hill of wounded.  

I see my old friend again; he looks terrible, he is badly wounded but still able to walk back to the German lines and out of this hell. For me the last chance of being saved seemed to have disappeared. "Well, that’s it," I say to the dead comrade next to me, “soon I will join you". A few more days and death will take me. But no! The Hauptmann wants things orderly in the Zwischenwerk. Each wounded man is carried back by two unwounded Germans and a French POW. Two rifles and a poncho (Zeltbahn) are used to make stretchers, and then the men are carried back to the Albainhang. Carried out of the hell of Thiaumont... How many more would escape its clutches?

 
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