Home Land War Germany and Allies Researching the German Army, 1914-1918

Researching the German Army, 1914-1918

Researching the German Army of the First World War can be a bit challenging to the average individual. Unlike the British, American, Canadian and Australian armies the vast majority of the records relating to the German Army were destroyed in Allied air raids during World War II. While this makes the task difficult it is not impossible. If you know where to look there are still numerous sources of information available today.

Some of the best places to obtain information are the various German historical archives. These archives still hold a great deal of information and are to be considered among the most desirable locations to obtain primary source materials relating to the German Army. Since the German Army of 1914-1918 was not made up of men from one particular area of Germany, the different archives reflect this individual identity. The following is a listing of the various archives:

Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv
Wiesentalstraße 10,
D-79115 Freiburg

Bundesarchiv Koblenz
Potsdamer Straße 1,
D-56075 Koblenz.

Hauptstaatsarchiv München (Bavarian troops only)
Abt. IV, Kriegsarchiv
Leonrodstraße 57,
D-80636 München.
Or
Royal Bavarian Army until 1920:
Bayerischen Hauptstaatsarchiv
Postfach 22 11 52
D-80501 Muenchen

Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart (Würrtemberg troops only)
Konrad-Adenauer-Straße 4,
D-70173 Stuttgart.
Or
Royal Wurttemberg Troops (XIII Army Corps) until 1920
Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart
Konrad-Adenauer-Strasse 4
D-70173 Stuttgart

Royal Saxon Army until 1920
Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden
Archivstrasse 14
D-01097 Dresden

XIV Army Corps in Baden, and other Baden formations until 1920
Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe
Noerdliche Hildapromenade 2
D-76133 Karlsruhe

All personnel rosters and card indices (Stammrollen und Karteimittel) of the Prussian Army, the transition army (Uebergangsheeres), and the Army (Reichswehr) were burned in an air raid on Berlin in February 1945. The records of the Imperial Navy (Kaiserlichen Marine) were also lost. Preserved are medical records of those soldiers who were being treated in military hospitals (Lazarett). The records, most with personnel roster extracts (Stammrollenauszuegen), are for those born from 1870 on, and are stored at:
Krankenbuchlager Berlin
Wattstrasse 11-13
D-13355 Berlin

German military personnel who were reported to be Prisoners of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA) may have records at
Deutsche Dienststelle
Wehrmachtsauskunftstelle (WASt)
Eichborndamm 167
D-13403 Berlin

Another source of information is from the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge - The German War Graves Department. While the vast majority of German war dead are in unmarked graves there is a large number that have been identified. If you have a specific soldier you are researching who was killed in the war you should write to them at
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge
Bundesgeschäftsstelle
Werner-Hilpert-Strasse 2
D 34112 Kassel
http://www.volksbund.de/

There are a number of other methods you can use to trace information concerning individual German soldiers or larger units such as regiments. Many German regiments produced regimental histories in the post-war years, some starting as early as 1919. These regimental histories vary in their attention to detail; some provide extremely detailed accounts of individual soldiers while others give a general history of particular actions or events.

Many of the regimental histories also have complete lists of every fatality in the regiment during the war. These include the company number, name, rank, date of death, location of death and in some cases their hometown and birth date:
An example of this was taken from the 6th Company, 79th Infantry Regiment von Voigts-Rhets (3rd Hannoverian)
Musketier Johannes Beeke, geboren 21 8 92 in Hameln, † 21 3 18 Pronville.
Musketier Gustav Steffens, geboren 12 1 80 in Eggersmühlen/Soltau, † 21 3 18 Morchies.
Or
8th Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 15
July 9 (Ovillers)
Ersatz Reservist Barlmeyer, Gustav, 25 12 94, Ostbarthausen b. Minden, verwundet. † 16 7 16, Reserve Lazarett III, Aachen.
Wehrmann Stödefalke, Friedrich, 5 9 82 Ubbedissen, Bielefeld

The preceding sources are designed for the serious researcher of the German Army. There are also numerous sources of information available in English for the casual researcher. During the war the various Intelligence services of the Allied armies compiled detailed information on enemy units. The American Army compiled these records into a single volume that provided a brief background of the German divisions and their individual regiments, it was called 'Histories of the Two hundred and fifty one Divisions of the German Army which participated in the war (1914-1918)'. The information also gave details of the movements of the various divisions, when formed, casualties, etc. Other intelligence documents were also published during the war including "Historical Notes on German Divisions engaged on the British Front in France up to January, 1918, Part 1, Active Divisions' published by the British General Staff.

Several other volumes published during the war give additional details of German units as well as the makeup of the different branches of the German Army, 'Handbook of the German Army in War. January, 1917' and a later version, 'Handbook of the German Army in War. April, 1918'. Another excellent source of the makeup of German units can be found in 'The German Forces in the Field, November 1918'. All of the above mentioned books have been reprinted in the last few years which makes research even easier.

Basic details on German units and brief translations can also be found in the footnotes in the British Official History of the War. These details should be used to give direction to further research of a particular regiment or action. More detailed accounts of the German actions can be found in the German Official History of the War, Schlachten des Weltkrieges. The Reichsarchiv published this history. The volumes in this series cover most of the major actions fought in the war. Unfortunately both German and British series have left out large sections of the fighting that took place outside the major actions of both sides.

Research into individual soldiers is unfortunately very difficult unless one is able to locate a reference to the person in question within a regimental history or other official records that still survive today. There are other sources of information that can be used in certain cases but finding these are often a matter of luck rather than detailed research. These include checking with the hometown of the soldier if this information is known. Many towns and villages have set up memorials to the men who died in the war and additional details may be obtained from the town records.

Some other good sources of information are photographic postcards and death cards or death notices. The postcards can be a wealth of information whether mailed or not. The death card or memorial card was often printed up by family members after the death of a father, son, or brother. The following example depicts Soldat Max Heichele, a member of the 11th Company, 15th Infantry Regiment who was killed on 4 April, 1918. Many of these memorial cards have appeared for sale in Germany as well as on Internet auctions.

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In looking at this particular death memorial you can establish that this soldier probably joined his regiment in 1915 as his birthday was in 1895. A soldier was liable to be called into service on his 20th Birthday and the 1915 Class was called up in April 1915. Another clue is the type of equipment and in particular the helmet. The spiked helmet was used in 1914 and in 1915. In late 1915/early 1916 the spike was often removed from the helmet as it was considered an impediment. The steel helmet did not come into use until mid 1916 and was not universally distributed until 1917.

By checking into the background of the 15th Infantry Regiment we can determine that it was part of the 26th Infantry Brigade along with the 55th Infantry Regiment. This brigade was part of the 13th Infantry Division that came from the 7th Corps District - Westphalia. By 1917 the character of the division had changed when new recruits and replacements were men taken from Brandenburg, Baden and Thuringia. This was especially the case with the 15th Infantry Regiment. In 1918 this division was in reserve of the 18th Division in the attack on 21 March 1918 near Roisel. After being engaged in fighting over the next few days it went into reserve at Morlancourt. On 4 April 1918 it returned to the fighting front at Dernancourt. Soldat Heichele unfortunately did not survive the fighting on his first day back in action. By using this information you can determine which enemy unit was opposite them at the time of his death and piece together a fairly detailed account of the death of an individual soldier. This information can be augmented by reviewing the regimental history, Infantry Regiment Prinz Friedrich d. Niederlande (2. Westf.) Nr. 15 im Weltkriege 1914-18.

Photographic postcards also serve as a similar source of information, both from the actual details from the photograph as well as from the information contained on the reverse side if the card contained a message or had been mailed. All of these details can help in determining the unit, rank, location and other pertinent details of the subject.

The first example shown below is of two Sanitäts Unteroffiziers, or Medical non-commissioned officers, who were serving in the XIV Corps.

ger3ger2This example we would not have been able to identify the particular unit that these men belonged to without the aid of the post stamp indicating it was mailed from the Feldpost of the '14 Armee-Corps' on September 21st, it was then passed by the censors and sent on for delivery. However the year it was mailed is not known.

The soldiers shown on the postcard are both wearing collar which indicate their rank as non-commissioned officers. Both men are wearing the Red Cross armbands as well as being armed with the 9 mm Luger P 08'.

The next postcard is easier to identify due to the clues given in the photograph. The card was not mailed which prevents an accurate dating of the photograph but due to the warlike nature of the pose I would tend to state that it was an early war photograph, taken before the reality of war had set in on the soldiers and civilians. Fortunately the German uniforms and equipment offer clues to their identification. In this instance the original photograph clearly shows the regimental shoulder strap as No. 74, 1st Hannoversches Infanterie Regiment Nr. 74. This regiment was in the 19th Division, X Corps. One unusual aspect of this regiment was the addition of the title 'Waterloo' on the helmet plate indicating it was one of the German units that had fought in this battle.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 27 May 2008 16:21 )  

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