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Iron Cross awards to the XIV Reservekorps

July the 1st 2016 sees the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. Although the German and French armies suffered terribly during the five months of battle it was the British for whom the battle became the ultimate symbol of suffering and sacrifice.

Right: The commemorative Death Certificate for Josef rehm, Killed on the 1st of July 1916 at Thiepval

The battle can be divided into three phases.

Phase One

First day on the Somme, 1 July

Battle of Albert, 1–13 July

Battle of Bazentin Ridge, 14–17 July

Battle of Fromelles, 19–20 July

Phase Two

Battle of Delville Wood, 14 July – 15 September

Battle of Pozières Ridge, 23 July – 7 August

Battle of Guillemont, 3–6 September

Battle of Ginchy, 9 September

Phase Three

Battle of Flers–Courcelette, 15–22 September

Battle of Morval, 25–28 September

Battle of the Transloy Ridges, 1 October – 11 November

Battle of Thiepval Ridge, 26–28 September

Battle of the Ancre Heights, 1 October – 11 November

Battle of the Ancre, 13–18 November

Left: Josef Rehm

The point of this article is not to go into any depth about the battle itself, the Somme is already the most well covered battle of the war and I do not for a second think there is anything I could add to the fantastic works out there. For anyone interested in the battle the list of books to recommend is long and I will limit myself to the two I used in creating this page:

Somme 1916: Success and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Paul Kendall

And the bible for anyone interested in the battle from the German side -  “The German Army on the Somme” by Jack Sheldon.

This article is limited to covering the Iron Cross award documents handed out to the XIV. Reservekorps soldiers who fought in the battle. For the large part these were units which were part of, or attached to the 26. (Württembergische) Reserve-Division, the 28. Reserve-Division (Both belonging to the XIV. R.K.), the 52nd Infanterie Division and the 12. Infanterie Division (Both attached for periods of the battle). Some units within the Korps had their own award documents and did not use the XIV. R.K. documents.

The award documents to the XIV are usually related to the Battle of the Somme and are therefore quite easily researchable. They seem to have been introduced in early 1916 and were used to retroactively document awards made from the outbreak of the war. The Regiments can be pinpointed to well documented sectors like Gommecourt, Serre-Heidenkopf, Beaumont-Hamel, St Pierre-Divion, Thiepval, the Schwaben Redoubt, Ovillers-la Boisselle, Fricourt and Mametz.

Feldartillerie-Regiment 103 - Unteroffizier Heinrich Kresse (3. Batr.)
The document was signed on the 11. September 1916 by Major Knorr, Regiments-Kommandeur. At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 52. I.D.

Serre was on the northern edge of the Somme battlefield and will always remain connected with the tragic destruction of the “Pals” battalions of the British 31st Division.

The guns of the F.A.R. Nr. 103 were dug in in the Serre sector hidden from Allied aerial observers. Serre was a critical defensive position to the north of the Ancre and the the Germans had spent the last year strengthening their defenses.

When the British 94th Brigade, 31st Division, went “over the top” on the morning of the 1st of July 1916. It’s commander Brigadier General Hubert Rees wrote “The Germans were determined to protect Serre with a barrage from most of their guns and relied more on M.G.s to stop the 4th Division (to the South. cb). This barrage which fell at Zero was one of the most consistent and severe I have seen. When it fell it gave me the impression of a thick belt of poplar trees from the cones of the explosions.”

Right: Erich Kresse

The force of the German barrage led to efforts by Rees to stop his men attacking, but he was not able to cancel the attack in time.

Private Snailham of the 11th East Lancasters wrote “The lads were slaughtered, fearful, as we got out of the trench; they were knocking them over as fast as they got out… The moment I had to get out over the top there were three men lying dead in the trench… I got over the top, men were lying all over the damn show. I hadn’t run before a shell burst above me. I could see a six inch piece of shrapnel sticking through my leg. That made me take cover and the only cover was a shell hole. I got almost to the German wire. I could hear them in front of me and lads that had gone over were lying all over the place shouting for help but no one could get to them at all. The men in shell holes as I was crawling past them were all suffering from wounds caused by shell fire.”

Corpral Greenwood of the Accrington Pals wrote from hospital “I have a piece of shrapnel just in the bend of my knee of the right leg. I fairly got a peppering while I was on the battlefield. I only got hit in five places, two in the left arm, one in the right arm, one in the left hip… I never thought I should see life again after I went on the battlefield – they were being killed on the left and right of me. I saw some awful, ghastly sights… I got wounded while I was dressing a man’s neck. There was a hole right through it, and blood was coming out like a tap. He was praying to God to let him live. There I left him and went on with it, until I got to the German trenches. Then I got a large piece right through the left arm. It finished me did that, and I crept back all under shell fire until I got to the dressing station to have my wounds dressed. I prayed to see my mother and father whilst I was fighting, and I think God must have answered my prayers.”

The accounts of the British soldiers caught in the artillery fire at Serre are quoted in Somme 1916: Success and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Paul Kendall
Above: The Militärpaß of Erich Kresse including the entries for the battle on the Somme.

3. Magdeburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.66 - Gefreiter Eduard Weber (9th Komp.)

It is not possible to determine at which point in the battle Weber earned his Iron Cross but in November 1916 the Regiment was sent to complete a 3rd stint in the line on the Somme. On the 1st of July the I.R. 66 was on the extreme northern edge of the battlefield and not directly attacked. The men of the regiment were able to pour a deadly flanking fire into the 94th Brigade attacking to the south.

The document was signed on the 3 November 1916 by Major Julius von Stöcklern (zu Grünholzek), Regiments-Kommandeur. At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 52. I.D.

Above: The Iron Cross 2nd Class document for Eduard Weber

Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 110 - Reservisten Wilhelm Lüdwig Heinrich Fritzler (3. Komp.)

The Reserve Infanterie Regiment 110 was at La Boisselle when the morning of the 1st of July started with a huge underground mine exploding under their positions. Most of the 5th Company were killed in the explosion and the British 34th Division made the most of the confusion and succeeded in breaking into the German line, only to be thrown back by the 4th company of Fritzler’s battalion. Jack Sheldon writes in “The German Army on the Somme” that the 34th Division turned the advance of its 12 battalions into a crazy and pointless form of mass Suicide. Oberleutnant Kienitz of the R.I.R. 110 wrote

Above: The Iron Cross award document for Reservist Fitzler

Right: Reservist Ohlenschlegel of the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 110 in early 1916

“Silently our machine guns and the infantrymen waited until our opponents came closer. Then, when they were only a few meters from the trenches, the serried ranks of the enemy were sprayed with a hurricane of defensive fire from the machine guns and the aimed fire of the individual riflemen. Standing exposed on the parapet, some individuals hurled hand grenades at the enemy who had taken cover to the front.

Within moments it seemed as though the battle had died away completely. But then, initially in small groups, but later in huge masses, the enemy began to pull back towards Becourt, until finally it seemed as though every man in the entire field was attempting to flee back to his jumping-off point. The fire of our infantrymen and machine guns pursued them, hitting them hard; whilst some of our men daringly charged the British troops, capturing prisoners. Our weapons fired away ceaselessly for two hours, then the battle died away in Becourt Hollow (Sausage Valley)”.

The British 34th Division attacking la Boisselle was the hardest hit of the 16 attacking divisions and lost 6 380 men on the morning of the 1st of July.

The document was signed on the 7 July 1916 by Hauptmann XXX, Bataillons-Führer. At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 28. R.D.

Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 99 - Unteroffizier d.L. Gerhart Sommers (9. Komp.)

The 9th Company was in the centre of the line facing the attack by the 36th (Ulster) Division on the Schwaben redoubt (Feste Schwaben) and Thiepval on the 1st of July.  The 107th Brigade which attacked the positions held by the 9th Company R.I.R. 99 consisted of four battalions of Belfast volunteers from the Royal Irish Rifles. Gefreiter  Sommers was wounded in the battle.

The document was signed on the 10 August by Hauptmann von Schilgen, Bataillons-Kommandeur, at the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26. R.D.

Above: A Photograph signed Major von Fabeck, commander of the RIR99 at Thiepval on the 1st day of the Somme, dedicated to a Vizefeldwebel Rimkel in memory of the difficult days at Thiepval

Above: Men of the R.I.R. 99 relax after the battle.

Right: Offizier Stellv. Agram of the R.I.R. 99 in August 1916. He was wounded in the fighting and wears the ribbon for the Iron Cross 2nd Class.

10. Württembergisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.180 - Musketier Johann Jochum (1. Komp.)

In November 1916 the 3rd Phase of the Battle on the Somme came to an end. The I.R. 180 had fought in the sector throughout the battle. In His book “The German Army on the Somme” Jack Sheldon bestowed the regiment the following accolade.

“Ever since Ovillers and Pozieres fell, it was clear to the Germans that Thiepval’s days were numbered. Nevertheless, such was the nature of the terrain and the ferocity of the defence of Mouquet Farm and the sector as a whole, that it took twelve weeks of extremely hard fighting before the British army was in a position to carry out a final assault on the village which had been the lynchpin of the defence for a full two years. Forced to attack on a narrow frontage, attack after attack had been beaten back at the cost on enormous casualties on both sides. When the end ultimately came, the core of the defence of the ruins of Thiepval was in the hands of Infanterie Regiment 180, which had fought so heroically at the beginning of the battle in defence of Ovillers, was reconstituted and deployed in and around Thiepval from the 26th of July. So, for no less than two months, this superb regiment, reinforced from time to time, beat off everything that was thrown at it, without once being relieved. It was probably the most outstanding regimental performance on either side throughout the battle.”

Johann Jochum had fought with the regiment from June of 1915. He was in the front line on the day of the first attack and continued fighting until the 5th of August when he was wounded by shrapnel in the right shoulder. After 3 months of hospital and recovery he rejoined his Company in November.

The document was signed on the 7 November by Major Otto Salzmann, Bataillons-Kommandeur, At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26. R.D

10. Württembergisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.180 – Uffz. (Offz. Asp.) Alfons Riegel (5. Komp)

Vizefeldwebel Riegel served with the regiment from the first day of the battle. On the 1st of July 1916 the regiment suffered 79 killed, 181 wounded and 13 missing. They inflicted terrible losses on the troops attacking their positions who lost a total of 5 000 dead, wounded and missing. Riegel was severely wounded sometime in July-August 1916.

The document was signed on the 19th March 1916 by Major XXX, Bataillons-Kommandeur, At the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 26. R.D.

Reserve Infanterie Regiment 119 – Unteroffizier der Landwehr Christian Strientz

Jack Sheldon writes of the regiment on the 1st day of the Somme, near Beaumont Hamel...

“The Battle Log of the 3rd Battalion Reserve Infanterie Regiment 119 describes, in a few terse entries, the methodical destruction of the first wave of attackers from the British 29th Division….

8.15am Mine Blown in B1

8.20am B1-B3 under attack

8.30am The British are lying down 100m short of the first trench of B3. Own machine guns have opened fire.

8.35am B2 reports: attack stalled. Masses of British soldiers are lying in the hollow in front of Target Area 46. Machine guns are being moved forward from the second to the first trench

8.40am B2 Reports: The British are lying in front of the first trench and are being shot to pieces. No defensive fire is coming down in the hollow in front of Target Area 46; a battalion is gathering there to attack.

Sector Order: Destroy them with machine gun fire.

A series of postcards sold in the Reserve Infantry Regiment 119 canteens.

Each takes a line from the saying....

Ufrichtich und gradraus
Guatmüatich bis dortnaus
Wenns sei muass au saugrob
Des isch a Schwob.

Straight up and true
Goodnatured to a fault
But when it has to be, really dirty/uncouth
That is a Swabian.