Life on the Front 1918 - Karl Kirchner (1899-1988)

Second Battle of the Marne


Karl's Diary
Karl's Diary
Images courtesy of Gertrud Quast © 2010

12th July 1918. 3:15 march from Ferrière la Grande. Gloomy weather, gloomy mood. 6:15 departure from Maubeuge via Ohain and Charleville. In Charleville overnight. No sleep because of lice and fleas. Final destination of the railway trip is the station of Vouziers. 12:00 noon on 13th.

Then a trip by Feldbahn (60cm standard military gauge) railway, followed by 1 hour on foot. Arrival at the battery 6:30 in the evening. Rest in tents in a forest camp. I did not sleep for a long time there because of constant enemy artillery fire.

14th July. Next morning at 9:00 I was awoken by anti-aircraft fire; an enemy aircraft swooped over us. Our forest camp was in the vicinity of Navarinferm [Ferme de Navarin]. 10:30 that evening started marching with the munitions column from Ferme de Navarin towards Sommepy and our firing position. On the way we were fired on by the enemy, but no losses. At 1:30 arrived on a hill below our firing position. Here I now received my baptism by fire. The earth began to tremble when our artillery barrage started. As I was between our batteries, I thought all hell had broken loose and only gradually got used to the fierce shelling.

Ferme de Navarin Memorial 1
Ferme de Navarin Memorial 2
The Ferme de Navarin Memorial in May 2010
Images courtesy of Robin and Sarah King © 2010

We were also intensely shelled by the French and suffered our first losses. The very first shot was a direct hit - 4 horses died immediately and 4 drivers were severely wounded. So we awaited the morning under steady shell fire. During the night and all the morning, I assisted in bringing wounded back from the line of fire.

Early that day our artillery ceased firing and our infantry stormed the first and second objectives. We too changed position and advanced but were so fiercely shot at that we had to withdraw with the munitions vehicles. Towards noon we advanced once more and again we came under heavy enemy fire and suffered losses of men and horses. We stayed the night in the new position because the Infantry could not move further forward. The following night we had to vacate our position again. I spent a terrible night in the shelter but got accustomed to the horror of artillery combat. At 4:30, under heavy shelling, the battery had to retreat once again with loss of men and horses.

Navarin Postcard
Postcard of German blockhouse. The Ossuary can be seen in the background
to the right of the blockhouse. The Ossuary was completed in 1924.

17th July. Our infantry again retreats to the first enemy position. The night of 18th to 19th July was a terrible night. For three hours I wandered back and forth in rain and darkness under heavy shell fire.

Because of the whole division's heavy losses, we were ordered to withdraw from the front line on 19th July. Changed position at midnight, marching 12 km under heavy French fire. At 3:00 on the 20th arrived at the grenadier camp. Here rest until 5:00 in the afternoon. Lost 40 men and 30 horses. Then departure with a 32 km march via Vouziers until 2:00 in the morning. Accommodation in a vacated building in the village of Voncq - 1 day rest.

Then departure again at 11:00 on the evening of the 22nd - 2 hours march then boarded a train. Travelled until 12:00 noon on 23rd. Disembarked and marched from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. then camped in a forest. Departure at 6:00 the next morning. March until 11:00 a.m., again encampment in a forest near Pontavert. Crossed the Aisne river.

The next morning, 25th July, departed 6:00 Marched until 1:00 p.m. Stayed in the camp from 25th to 28th. 12:00 at night on 28th back again to the forest camp. Stay here until 29th. On 30th again advancing and establishing position. From 31st July to 2nd August on front line. We saw tracer bullets the night of August 1-2 for the first time. 3rd - 6th August consolidate position. Enemy fire on 5th, also from 6th to 8th August. Still in position from 11th to 12th - terrible night. In position until 24th. Frequent French attacks and also shelling or mortars. Meet with Otto Beppler on 25th August. In position until 2nd September. Move position back 5 km back during the night of 2nd-3rd.

END

Click this link to see Gertrud Quast's recollection of her father, Karl Kirchner.

Click this link to see Robin and Sarah King's account of producing an English version of Karl Kirchner's war diary.

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