Herbert Sulzbach was a fascinating man. At the start of the First World War he volunteered to join the army ahead of time (becoming a 'war volunteer'), and apart from a brief trip to the east he spent the rest of the war fighting on the Western Front. He served on the Somme, and in the great German offensives of 1918, then had to take part in the final German retreat. He won the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class during the war. These war diaries were published to much acclaim in Germany in 1935 (even gaining the approval of several Nazi publications). However he was Jewish, and in 1937 he had to flee Germany, finding refuge in Britain. After a period interned on the Isle of Man he was accepted into the British Army in 1940. In 1944 he joined the Interpreters Pool, and in 1945 began to try and convince German POWs of the values of democracy. He was commissioned into the British Army, probably making him the only man to serve as a commissioned officer in the German Army in the First World War and the British Army in the Second. He went on to play a major part in restoring Anglo-German relations in the post-war years.
We get a real sense of the cost of the war, most poignantly when Sulzbach's close friend Kurt Reinhardt was killed later in the war after transferring to the Air Force. They had managed to keep in touch, and even meet up from time to time, so this came as a real blow. Sulzbach also took a keen interest in the exploits of Germany's most famous air aces, and here we see the negative side of that - the boost to morale that came from their successes wasn't as big as the blow suffered when they were lost in combat - the loss of the Red Baron in particular seems to have hit hard.
The entries for 1918 are the most valuable. Sulzbach took part in the great German offensives of 1918, and was caught up in the euphoria of the advance. At the high point of German success victory appeared to be within their grasp, with Russia and Romania already out of the war, and German troops getting dangerously close to Paris. Things then began to go wrong. The final German offensives met with little or no success, and the Allies were soon able to onto the offensive themselves. Here we begin to understand how the 'stab in the back' myth became so firmly established. Even as he was recording German battlefield defeats and retreats, Sulzbach was still blaming failures on the home front for Germany's setbacks. By the time of the Armistice Germany had lost all of her allies, and her army was retreating back towards her borders, but the survivors managed to retreat home in good order. One can understand why it would be hard for someone who had believed military victory was at hand in the summer to be unable to believe that the army had been defeated by the autumn.
This is an invaluable eye-witness account of life at the lower levels of the German Army during the First World War, written by a reasonable, tolerant and patriotic German.
1 - 1914
2 - 1915
3 - 1916
4 - 1917
5 - 1918 - The St Quentin Offensive
6 - 1918 - The Assault on the Chemin des Dames
7 - 1918 - The Third German Offensive at Rheims
8 - 1918 - The Foch Counter-Offensive
9 - 1918 - The End
Author: Herbert Sulzbach
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012 edition of 1935 original