„…unsere eigene Artillerie in unseren Graben gefunkt.“

Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #8 is dedicated to artillery. Attrition and trench warfare required a massive use of artillery fire to prepare an attac, neutralise enemy batteries or even keeping the enemy morale low. An impressive amount of shells were fired during WWI, of witch 25-30% didn’t explode.  It is said that the number of shells fired reached 1.45 billion. Even nowadays, farmers keep finding unexploded war material under their fields (it’s the so-called iron harvest). Great economical and technological efforts were made to improve power and accuracy of the guns; the production process was made more effective as well. New tactics (like the creeping barrage) were developed to support infantry movements, and gas shells (see episode #5) were introduced in 1915. Despite the improvements, artillery needed huge logistic efforts and an excellent communication between batteries, command posts and front lines: when orders were misunderstood or the telephonic lines were interrupted, consequences were terrible. Unfortunately, such accidents were frequent on all fronts.


The German „Dicke Bertha“. The shells could weigh up to 1 ton.


The first „guest“ of the week is Carl Schmidt, a German soldier (or officer, according to some hints in his letters). He was affected first in France then in Serbia, and managed to survive the war. He committed suicide in 1931 during (and because of) the Great Depression. In a letter dated 24 April 1915 he greatly admires French artillery, stating that it is far better than the German. He then mentions an episode of friendly fire from the German artillery, who shoot on a company deployed on the right side of his sector.
A transcription of his letters is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/436.


The second „guest“ is French soldier Vincent Constant (1892-1979). In December 1917 he wrote a journal relating the most relevant episodes in which he and his regiment were involved. In February 1916 his unit was deployed near the Bois des Caures, at Verdun.

Vincent Constant in 1914
Vincent Constant in 1914

The battle of Verdun (21 February –  18 December 1916) was one of the longest and most costly battles of WWI, and an impressive clash of artilleries.
The aim of the German plan („Operation Gericht„) was not to conquer territory but to lure the French army into defending the position and anihilate it with heavy artillery . As a result, France would understand that the war was lost, and its capitulation would lead to a quick withdrowal of English troops on the Somme. At Verdun, artillery played a major role. The German secretly massed 1220 medium and heavy guns on only 14 Km of front – an astonishing average of one artillery piece every 12 meters.
The fortified city of Verdun became quickly a symbol: the honour of France was at stake, and the position had to be kept at all costs. A slogan quickly spread: „on ne passe pas!“ (they shall not pass). „Operation Gericht“ was a failure, and the price was extreamely heavy. The casualties on both sides (dead, wounded, missing) are estimated between 700.000 and 900.000.

On the 22th of February 1916, one day after the beginning of „Operation Gericht“, Vincent Constant is only a few hundred meters away from the Bois des Caures, a wood destroyed on the 21st by a massive artillery barrage. Constant is an eye witness of the chaos reigning in the french lines: units are retreating, the roads are full of corpses and abandoned gear, the French batteries are neutralised (either destroyed or out of ammunition). Without artillery support a counter-attack on the Bois des Caures is impossible and postponed to the next day. Selected parts of the war journal have been transcripted and are available (together with an english translation) at: http://vincent.juillet.free.fr/cahier-constant-vincent-1914-1.htm.


British Schrapnel shell (Wikipedia)
British Schrapnel shell (Wikipedia)


The third „guest“ of the week is sergeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1, #3 und #7). In a passage extracted from a longer interview he explains what a Schrapnel shell is and how it works. A Shrapnel is an anti-personal shell filled with metal bullets and provided with a time fuse on its top. To be effective the Schrapnel has to burst before hitting the ground, when it is right in front or above the target.
The complete interview can be downloaded at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=1


The fourth and last „guest“ is Italian Officer Emilio Lussu. In a passage from his war memories „Un anno sull’altipiano“ he relates a terrible case of friendly fire. Italian batteries shoot for hours on the first lines, the shelters are built against Austrian artillery and are uneffective against the shells coming from behind. All attempts to communicate with the batteries fail, and panic seizes the infantry. Lussu is an eye witness of terrible episodes. He can hardly prevent a mashinegun section from assaulting the batteries, he meets an artillery colonel, completely crushed by the events, walking and screaming: „Kill us, kill us!„. When he meets the commanding officer of the artillery, Lussu exclaims: „What an awful lot of nonsense we’re doing today!“. „That’s our job„, replies the officer, sadly. His attempts at stopping the barrage have been failing for hours.


Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: David Leberbauer as Car Schmidt, L.J. Ounsworth as himself, Matteo Coletta as Vincent Constant and Emilio Lussu.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.



“ So hatte er seine Dummheit mit dem Leben bezahlen müssen“

In Stimmen aus den Schütengräben #7 we deal again with aerial warfare (see episode #3). The first „guest“ is Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary Red Baron. In 1917 (a few months before his death) he published an Autobiography, from which we selected a passage describing an aerial dogfight between him and an English Pilot – his 32th victory. Richthofen was a very well known figure during WWI: Germans regarded him as a hero, French and English hated him with a passion. With 80 confirmed victories, the Red Baron is the highest ranked flying ace of the whole conflict, and his deeds inspired many books, documentaries and even movies (the latest one, „Der rote Baron“, was released in 2008). His nickname comes from the colour of his planes, painted in a bright-red colour. The title of the Autobiography – „Der rote Kampfflieger“ – has the same origin.

Manfred von Richthofen (Wikipedia)

Manfred von Richthofen is a controversial figure: regarded by many (non only in the German speaking countries) as an extraordinary man, celebrated in movies and literature. But also a young soldier who deeply enjoyed war and showed neither mercy nor compassion for the fallen enemies. His Autobiography is available at: https://archive.org/details/DerRoteKampfflieger

The second „guest“ of the episode is sergeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1 and #3).  In an original interview he relates of a very peculiar episode he witnessed while serving in France. He remembers that once a french plane was diving on the corner of a corn field for no apparent reason. Then, all of a sudden, a detachement of Indian cavalry (according to Ounsworth, the 9th Royal Deccan Horse) surrounded German machineguns and captured at least 34 prisoners and their weapons. The french plane was unarmed and only served as a distraction to cover the movements of the cavalry until the very last moment. The full interview is available at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=1

The last account is by French soldier Maurice Leclerc (see episode #5), who wrote about the tragic epilogue of a dogfight in a letter dated 22/09/1916. Leclecrc witnessed the crash of a french plane and the death of the crew. The observer jumped from the plane but the parachute (see episode #3) didn’t work. The pilot tried to land the burning plane, but the impact with the ground caused the gas tank to explode. The letter can be downloaded at: http://europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/9841

leclerc letter
Maurice Leclerc’s letter (Europeana)



Editing: Laura Leitner, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: David Leberbauer as Manfred von Richthofen, L.J. Ounsworth as himself, Matteo Coletta as Maurice Leclerc.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, „Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.


„Di che reggimento siete fratelli? Parola tremante nella notte…“

WWI War Poetry is a very wide topic, much too vaste to be exhausted in a short radio show: hundreds of texts, many authors and complex cultural backgrounds should be taken into account.

The task could be easier if we limited our task to a single country or even a single author, but this would go against the purpose of this project. Stimmen aus den Schützengräben is, and must remain, a multilingual show where the lost voices of all Europe merge together in unison. We want to broaden horizons, not to narrow them down.

The verses we selected are not only written in different languages but also with different mastery. The first poem comes from the war journal of German soldier Philipp Schopp (see episode #4) and was composed after a night shift.

Digital StillCamera
Philipp Schopp’s identification tag


Auf einsamer Wacht
(Nachts 9-12 Uhr, geschrieben am Morgen von 6-8 Uhr, 9. 10. 15)

Draußen im Felde auf einsamen Wegen,
Sitzen 8 Männer im rieselnden Regen.
Dunkel ist die Nacht;
Schwarze Wolken ziehen mit großer Macht.
Scheinwerfer blitzen hüben und drüben,
Leuchtraketen schießen deutsche und finnische Schützen.
Rechts über der Strypa, da brennt ein Panjehaus.
Das Stroh verbrennt mit Frucht, Maus und Laus.
Vor und links davon sitzt der Feind,
mit Raketen er unsere Front bescheint.
Deutsche Patrouillen gehen und kommen,
Das neueste vom Posten wird mitgenommen.
Und unter den 8ten, da sitzt ein Rekrut
Tapfer und treu mit frischem Mut.
Hatte vor kurzem noch auf der Schulbank gesessen,
Dann vom 7. 9. Galizien durchmessen.
Hatte geträumt von Alpen, Rhein und Mo(se)l,
Mußte hinaus bis vor Tarnopol
Hatte gerungen und errungen seinen Stand.
Lehrer war er geworden im hessischen Land.
Fern liegt er nun von Mutter und Bruder,
um zu kämpfen gegen das russische Luder.
Er denkt an die Heimat, an seine Lieben,
an sein späteres Leben, an den ersehnten Frieden.
Der Herrgott wird geben ihm seinen Segen,
Und ihn beschenken auf all seinen Wegen.


The second poem belongs to the collection „L’allegria“ (1931) by Giuseppe Ungaretti, perhaps the most influential Italian poet of the 20th century. „Fratelli“ was composed on the 15 July 1916, after one year of war against Austria. The verses are broken like the man who wrote them.

Giuseppe Ungaretti during the war
Giuseppe Ungaretti during the war

Di che reggimento siete


Parola tremante
nella notte

Foglia appena nata

Nell’aria spasimante
involontaria rivolta
dell’uomo presente alla sua



Like Ungaretti, many felt the urge to abandon traditional poetry and experiment with new ways of expression. Others, on the other hand, kept using conventional meters and forms. The following sonnets were written by Hans Ehrenbaum (1889-1915), German soldier who died on the Eastern front.

The sonnets were kindly made available by the Brenner-Archiv (Universität Innsbruck). Their publishing history is listed in: “Eberhard Sauermann (Hg.): Schützengrabengedichte. Online-Anthologie. http://www.uibk.ac.at/brenner-archiv/editionen/ged_wk1/schuetz_ged.html.”

Sonette aus dem Schützengraben

Wir haben die Gewehre in den Händen
Und stolpern langsam durch die schwere Nacht.
Wir hören flüstern, wenn das Astwerk kracht,
Und keiner weiß, wo unsere Reihen enden.

Da kommt vom Feind, der sern verborgen steht,
Ein Stoß von Licht ins Dunkel. Und wie Glas
Sind plötzlich dünner Wald und hohes Gras
Von einem triefend weißen Glanz durchweht.

Und wir, vereinsamt unter seuchtem Laub,
Weglos hintastend und in starrem Lauschen
Auf jeden Schuß, der in die Täler hallt.

Sel/n die Kolonnen, schattenhast geballt,
Augenblickskurz über die Stoppeln rauschen….
Da wirst uns ein Befehl jäh in den Staub.

Hungrig und schlaflos seit drei langen Tagen
Liegen wir immer noch im Waldgefecht;
Durch unsere Pulse, die ermüdet schlagen,
Schleppt sich der Blutftrom traurig und geschwächt.

Hart Platscht der Regen in die Schützengräben
Und läßt uns frieren wie ein kleines Kind,
Daß wir bald steif wie Gliederpuppen sind
Und starr im aufgeweichten Boden kleben.

Und von den Schüssen, die sich langsam lösen,
Wissen die krummen Hände nicht mehr viel.
Wir denken nur noch „Schlafen“ oder „Brot“.

Da tacken leicht und rhythmisch wie im Spiel
Vom ausgebrannten Dorf die Mitrailleusen
Und reißen uns elektrisch hin zum Tod.


The last verses are a selection from the long poem „Les Martyrs„, by Henry-Jacques (pseudonym of Henri Edmond Jacques). The poem belongs to the collection „La Symphonie Heroïque“ (1921), written in the form of a symphony. The full text is available at: https://archive.org/stream/lasymphoniehro00jacquoft#page/98/mode/2up. „Les Martyrs“ is at pages 98-103.


Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Philipp Schopp, Matteo Coletta as Giuseppe Ungaretti und Henry-Jacques,  Hans Peter Reuber as Hans Ehrenbaum.


Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hans-Peter Reuber, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.