Storm of Steel – Ernst Jünger and the ‘Gibraltars’ 1914-1918
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Ernst Jünger ranks among the most original and influential German writers and intellectuals of the 20th century. During the First World War, Jünger, the storm troop commander, won both classes of the Iron Cross, the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords and Prussia’s highest military award, the “Pour le Merite”. He took part in the battle of the Somme in 1916 and fought at Ypres in 1917, as well as at Artois and in Champagne. He spent almost three years in the trenches in the bloody triangle between the north-eastern French towns of Arras, Albert and Cambrai on the Western Front, being promoted to Leutnant in November 1915. He was as lucky as he was courageous and it is a sheer miracle that he wasn’t killed or permanently crippled. He was hit by 14 projectiles, only three of which came from indiscriminate artillery fire. The other eleven – rifle bullets and hand grenade splinters — were directed at him personally by British or French troops. His company of the 73rd Fusilier Regiment from Hannover was almost completely wiped out on two occasions. When he was wounded the last time at Cambrai, two men who tried to carry him to safety on their backs were killed with shots to the head.
No writer has ever had Ernst Jünger’s experience of warfare, and no soldier has ever written with such sincerity, nobility and grace about the gruesome business of war. During this tour you will be able to walk in footsteps of the man himself, you will hear what he wrote allowing you to experience the war from the perspective from one of the most unique characters of the First World War, one Germany’s most decorated frontline soldiers and of the men of his unit, the 73rd Fusilier Regiment.
On three days we you will be served alcoholic drinks that feature in the writings of Jünger and in the history of his regiment: “Drink of the Day” – see itinerary for details.
Verdun central battlefield
You will be staying 3 and 4-Star hotels within easy driving distance to the sites we will visit
Rest assured that the hotel has been very carefully selected with your comfort in mind.
The Zeitgeist Team take great pride in the quality of our tour accommodation!
Day OneArrival from the UK.
“the torn rags were wrapped around a damp mummy which was emitting a terrible stench. There was no head visible, only something that resembled a lump of chalk. On the knee the kneecap was shining through the torn shreds while the surrounding flesh was white, similar to that of a haddock. A sinew stretched itself like a ribbon through a decaying flesh. Turning my view to the right the area was littered with even more. Some half buried, but most just like they fell when the deadly lead hit them weeks or even months ago (…) To say it clearly, it was an eerie, frightening spectacle. A dance of death of a quality which no medieval imagination could have invented…” – Ernst Jünger, diaries, 25 April 1915
Storm of Steel ‘drink of the day’ : ‘Lütje Lage’ – Regimental drink of FR73
On our second day we will head towards the northern edge of the St. Mihiel Salient, to Vieville and Hattonchattel, where we will have a closer look how Jünger and his unit, Füsilier-Regiment Nr. 73, were accommodated behind the lines, in the Etappe. After visiting the rather beautiful German military cemetery, which was initially set up by and for the use of the 33. Reserve-Division in November 1914, our next destination will be the strategically important Combres Heights where the deep scars of war stand as proof of the heavy and merciless fighting for every single yard of ground and as witness to the brutal and gruesome fighting Jünger was involved in during his first major battle at Les Eparges. Our next couple of stops will lead us along the Tranchee de Calonne, former frontline and part of sector that serves as a kind of a meeting point of the great writers of the First World War. Alain Fournier, Louis Pergaud, Ernst Jünger and Maurice Genevoix, author of the fantastic account ‘Ceux de 14’ (Those of ‘14) all served in along this historic road. Continuing our journey into the Champagne we will look at a decisive engagement in which Jünger himself did not participate, but where his regiment earned its second nickname: The Lions of Perthes. A few miles further to the west you will see the spot where Ernst Jüngers war actually began and where “Storm of Steel” picks up with the famous lines: “Full of awe and incredulity, we heard for the first time the slow grinding pulse of the front, a rhythm we were to become mightily familiar with over the years (..)” After learning more about the Füsiliers’s early operations against the French Army, we move on to our hotel for the night.
Day Three“As we dug ourselves in we found them in layers stacked one upon the top of another. One company after another had been shoved into the drum fire and steadily annihilated. The corpses were covered with the masses of soil turned up by the shells, and the next company advanced in the place of the fallen. The sunken road and the ground behind were full of German dead; the ground in front, of English. Arms, legs, and heads stuck out stark above the lips of the craters. In front of our miserable defences there were torn-off limbs and corpses over many of which cloaks and ground sheets had been thrown to hide the fixed stare of their distorted features. In spite of the heat no one thought for a moment of covering them with soil” – Storm of Steel
Storm of Steel ‘Drink of the Day’ : Cherry Water
We’ll start the day by heading to Villers and Assevillers New British Cemetery, where we will take a glance at an patrol engagement which resulted in the death and subsequent burial of a British officer of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. From there we will take you to the city of Peronne where you will be given ample of time to explore the fantastic collection of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, one of the best First World War museums in France. Later our journey will take us to the battlefields of the Somme where we will visit a number of places and engagements that became defining for both Jünger and the 73rd Fusiliers. Among them, Monchy and Douchy, so-called ‘quiet’ sectors of the front, where the regiment nevertheless lost 210 men killed in less than a year. Guillemont and the ‘Sunken Road’ – focal points of FR73’s war against the British at the Somme and engagement which Jünger described in great detail in both his diaries and Storm of Steel – “¾ of the men will probably snuff it, but always in a cheerful mood!” – and Fresnoy, which has an entire chapter in Storm of Steel devoted to it. After a visit to Vimy Ridge we will head to the German military cemetery of Neuville St. Vaast on which a great number of Gibraltar-Fusiliers found their final resting place and which today holds the memorial of the 164th Infantry Regiment from Hameln, the sister regiment of the 73rd Fusiliers. We’ll then head towards Flanders, Belgium where we will check into or fantastic 4-Star hotel in Ypres.
Day Four“There, down at the Steenbeek, the time had come. At about 21:00 h the English attacked in the cover of nightfall. The Fusiliers greeted them with rapid fire, keeping it up until blood ran from their noses. Filled with immoderate hate they fired into the enemy ranks, not only from a prone position, but also while kneeling and even standing up. Red signal flares rose whistling into the sky and immediately, a well aimed German defensive barrage crashed down….” Regimental History of the 73rd Fusiliers
Storm of Steel ‘Drink of the Day’ : ‘National Drink’
Having plundered the breakfast buffet at the Ariane Hotel we will take you to one of the most iconic places on the former Western Front, the German military cemetery of Langemark. We will take a look at a number of burials and will address some of the myths that persist about this cemetery. During the Dritte Flandernschlacht, the Third Battle of Flanders, Jünger and FR73 served in the area and it was there where he, in command of only 35 men, fought a most successful delaying action in defence of the so called Steenbeek Line. We will take you to the Ratten- and Mäuseburg, Rat and Mouse Castle, fortifications held by the regiment during the battle and will introduce you to the Egg of Columbus, the Kolumbus-Ei – locations heavily entwined with the story of Jünger’s brother Friedrich-Georg, whose life was saved by Ernst during the battle – a story which is described in detail in the writings of both brothers. Depending on his availability we will be joined at this place by Flemish battlefield archaeologist Simon Verdegem, who will give us a glimpse of the battlefield as it survives beneath the soil. From there we will head to the fabulous Hooge-Crater Cafe where we will have the chance to enjoy some Flemish meat and cheese specialties and have relaxing drink. Hooge Crater is not only the place of the first ‘liquid fire’ attack of the First World War, it also home to one of the best war museums in Belgium and you will have enough time to explore it. In the second half of the day we will explore some things related to the German Army that deserve a closer look. Heading down to Plugstreet Memorial we will look at the story of a German officer buried on a British cemetery after which we will explore the myth and reality of the Christmas Truce of 1914 before heading back to Ypres to attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Day FiveAfter another hearty breakfast, we will head back to the UK.
Your Guide:Robin Schäfer is a full-time German military historian, public speaker and published author who has made his specialist study the life of the German soldier in wartime. He has acted as a historical consultant for television companies and is a regular contributor to a number of British and German specialist military history magazines. He acted as historical consultant for the Department of Media, Culture and Sports and the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme of the UCL Institute of Education and Equity. He has also worked as an historical advisor and contributor for a number of British television programmes including the BBC’s ‘Great War War Interviews’, ‘Voices 16 – Somme’ and Channel 4’s ‘Battle of Britain: The Last of the Few’ and Channel 4’s ‘Last Heroes of the Somme’. His latest book ‘Fritz and Tommy: Across the Barbed Wire’ written in conjunction with Professor Peter Doyle was published by the History Press.
Your Guide:Christoph Höpfer is a former combat medic in a ‘Gebirgsjäger’ (elite mountain/alpine hunters) unit of the German Bundeswehr. After basic infantry training, Christoph specialized in ABC decontamination with the forward dressing station of his battalion. During his studies of ABC warfare he became fascinated by the development and use of chemical agents on the battlefields of the First World War. After being introduced to the “Grünkreuz” offensive of June 21 1916 during his German Army training, he visited the Verdun battlefield for the first time. He has returned many times since and he continues to study the battle both on the ground and in German archives. He is a member of his hometown regimental association, the Royal Bavarian Infantry Regiment No.20. He also studies the other places of engagement of the regiment all along the Western Front.
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Prices for this tour start from £1175 per person for two people sharing a double/twin room . All meals are included. You will receive the Zeitgeist TourPal, an extensive booklet that will help you to better understand the First World War as seen through the eyes of Ernst Jünger.
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