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And here's Bernhard Reddemann in the background, the big guy with a notebook and pencil, his overcoat on his shoulder. The flamethrower is the Kleif M.1914. Notice that he doesn't have a Totenkopf sleeve badge. I date this photo to early 1916, probably during the Battle of Verdun. So, according to my theory, the men of the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) may have begun wearing a black Totenkopf on the sleeve, which Crown Prince Wilhelm saw and then awarded to the flamethrower regiment.

By the way, the Austro-Hungarian Strumtruppen began wearing Totenkopf badges after their officers trained at Beuville with Sturmbataillon Rohr and saw the Totenkopf badge worn by the flamethrower pioneers.

Edited by Thomas W
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And here's Bernhard Reddemann in the background, the big guy with a notebook and pencil, his overcoat on his shoulder. The flamethrower is the Kleif M.1914. Notice that he doesn't have a Totenkopf sle

IR92 tankard lid............

Brunswick HR17 flask...............(with Prussian skull !!)

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Thanks again for your thoughts, Thomas. :cheers:

The theory is a very interesting one.

I've been scouring the Internet since I bought that badge, and I've only seen one other example...........the one now owned by Sergeant08. Both came from the same source.

It may be wishful thinking, but I think we have stumbled on something very rare here.

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Another theory about the black Totenkopf: Oberleutnant Ludwig Charles Theune, commander of the 10th Company of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment and author of Sturmtruppen und Flammenwerfer, stated after the war that the regiment evolved from Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr). First came the assault battalion (March 3, 1915), followed by the flamethrower battalion (March 15, 1915) and then the regiment (April 20, 1916). Theune also said that all the weapons and tactics used by the flamethrower regiment were first developed by the assault battalion.

Tom;

The comments attributed above to Theune are very odd indeed. What could Theune have meant by saying that the regiment {Garde=Reserve=Pionier=Regiment (Flammenwerfer), I presume} "evolved from" Sturm=Bataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) ? It is 2:35 in the morning, so I may not have all of the dates nailed down 100%. But Hauptmann Dr. Reddemann was ordered to form the precursor of G=R=P=R, Flammenwerfer Abteilung Reddemann, by the War Ministry in December 1914. In January 1915 10 hand-pumped flame-throwers were ordered, as the suitability of the existing Fiedler devices was uncertain. On February 1, 1915 FW Abteilung Reddemann traveled to Aachen to get their trucks and trailers from Mannesmann, and on February the Abteilung took to the field to launch their first flame attack. The attack at Malancourt was launched on February 26, 1915, and was a signal success. The ten newly ordered wooden hand-pumped flame-throwers, and two Fiedler gas-powered FW broke the French line, and four lines of French trenches were taken, with 1911 POWs, 33 MGs, 7 mortars. Two of Reddemann's men fell, seemingly not in the assault, but due to later French artillery fire. In March Reddemann was ordered to High Headquarters and ordered to form an entire flame battalion.

What was the time-line with Sturm=Bataillon Rohr? The precursor of S=B Rohr, Abteilung Calsow, was formed on the Firing Range Wahn near Cologne on March 4, 1915, comprising two pioneer companies and an infantry gun detachment with 20 Krupp infantry guns of a new design. The purpose was to test the new guns and some associated equipment. The Abteilung was preparing some positions at or near the front, but had not engaged in combat yet, when the French launched a major attack on June 16, 1915. Detachment Calsow was rushed to the area of the attack and ended up getting quite badly shot up in its baptism of fire. The new Krupp guns proved unsatisfactory; the pioneer companies launched a counter-attack and suffered over 75% casualties. Hauptmann Rohr of the Guards Rifle Battalion took over the Abteilung on September 13, 1915. Rohr began filling out the Detachment, adding a MG platoon on October 18 and a platoon of mortars and a flame-thrower "platoon" sometime later, perhaps in November. But already on October 11, 1915 the Detachment had its first combat under Rohr, before it received its own MGs, mortars, of flame-throwers. However, in this attack, on the Schratzmaennele, Abteilung Rohr was supported by heavy flame-throwers from Reddemann's flame-thrower battalion, which at this time was building up from a battalion of four flame companies to a rediculous battalion of nine flame companies a few months later.

It might be added that although the flame-thrower detachment Rohr received about November 1915 was described in the best source on all this as a "platoon", the same source later describes it as the "Flammenwerfer (Klief)=Trupp", or "Flame-thrower Squad". In the entire war this flame squad only lost 14 men, and I believe that it never was commanded by an officer, but by a senior NCO. My best guess is that the "Trupp" was probably a Halb=Zug, or about 30 men, for most of the war. As S=B Rohr eventually grew to a strength of about nine combat companies, the largest storm battalion, this small number of flame-throwers was often not sufficient, and Rohr had to borrow whole platoons of flame-throwers from Reddemann's flame regiment. My father, a flame-thrower operator in Reddemann's G=R=P=R, was detailed several times to S=B Rohr to provide flame-thrower support to supplant Rohr's few FW at Verdun. (He loved "working", as he put it, with Rohr's really professional storm-troopers, as much as he (perhaps unfairly) detested the ordinary German infantry.)

I could go on, but I think that the above narrative clearly shows that Reddemann's formation preceded the formation of Storm-Battalion Rohr, that at all times Reddemann's formation was larger than S=B Rohr, ending up at about 14 companies for most of the war, and its 12 flame field companies dwarfed Rohr's (perhaps) half-platoon of flame-throwers. Reddemann's regiment had an entire Research Company, which alone was six or eight times as large as all of Rohr's flame formation. Reddemann had a modern workshop with the regiment in France that manufactured much of his weapons, including some flame-throwers (there were components that he could not make in the field) and a special light 76 mm mortar that only weighed 20 kilos and could be rapidly carried in the assault.

I think that it is nonsensical to think that Rohr's half platoon of flame-throwers were developing the theory and tactics for Reddemann's flame regiment, when Reddemann was carrying out flame attacks more than a half year before Rohr got his first flame-throwers, and when Reddemann had about 3000 flame soldiers, and Rohr about 30, and had to borrow more from Reddemann.

Perhaps Theune was smoking some of that famous California medical "weed" when he made those rather odd assertions. I always had a good opinion of Theune. (These assertions sound a bit like the odd belief that never goes away that storm-trooper tactics were developed in Russia in late 1917 by von Hutier, when he actually had to borrow West Front storm troops and FW troopers to train his men and carry out his attacks.) Tom, can you give us some specific citations for Theune's assertions? Are they in Sturmtruppen und Flammenwerfer ?

Bob Lembke

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Whoops! I got it backwards. I went back and looked at Theune, Sturmtruppen und Flammenwerfer, p. 248, and he says that Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) evolved from the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment. [Aus dem Flammenwerferegiment ging das erste Sturmbataillon Rohr (5. Armee) hervor.] The reason I got it wrong is because this assertion is clearly wrong. The first assault detachment (Sturmabteilung Calsow) was established March 3, 1915. The first flamethrower battalion (III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon) was established March 15, 1915. Assault Detachment Calsow became Assault Detachment Rohr on September 13, 1915.

Assault Detachment Rohr became Assault Battalion Rohr (Sturmbataillon Rohr) on April 1, 1916. The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment was established April 20, 1916, so Theune was wrong, and I was wrong about Theune. Also, records show that the first of Rohr's flamethrower pioneers came from either the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon or Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon Nr. 36, which provided replacements for the two poison-gas regiments. According to the history of Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr,) written by von Schwerin, the detachment's first flamethrower pioneers were unable to function during the detachment's operation of December 1915.

There are three possible explanations for this statement: 1. von Schwerin misremembered the action and was wrong; 2. the flamethrower pioneers came from the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon but were poorly trained by Reddeman; 3. the flamethrower pioneers came from Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon Nr. 36 and were poison-gas specialists not trained in the the use of flamethrowers or flame tactics and thus were unable to complete their mission. At any rate, von Schwerin says Rohr had to retrain these flamethrower operators in flame warfare and how to operate with infantry.

I don't know what this does to my theory about the black Totenkopf. The photo still shows a single flamethrower carrier wearing what appears to be a very dark Totenkopf in the Rohr position, during an exercise in which the commander of the flamethrower battalion(s), Reddemann, is not wearing any sleeve badge. Reddemann's men NEVER wore a flamethrower badge in the Rohr position. Reddemann himself never mentioned Rohr in any of his writings, so I think he wasn't a fan.

As for Theune, he told the Americans after the war that he himself invented the flamethrower and offered to sell them patents for some kind of super-duper flamethrower that was even more effective than the ones the Germans used in the war. Here is what Theune looked like, so maybe we need to take everything he says with a grain of salt.

Edited by Thomas W
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Whoops! I got it backwards. I went back and looked at Theune,

Tom;

Perhaps you remember, several centuries ago, I was ordering a copy of Theune from the German National Library, and I asked if you wanted me to order one for you as well, and you declined, and I imagine later got a copy or probably an original from somewhere else. I have to confess that I have not to this day actually read it right thru, although I have poked thru it and used it in one way or another, even though I probably have averaged reading German for at least two hours a day for years and years. Some day.

Although S=B Rohr in fact rarely fought as an entire unit, but usually sent out sub-units to stiffen other attacking units or carry out specific difficult tasks, and therefore in fact usually operated much as Garde=Reserve=Pionier=Regiment (Flammenwerfer) did, it got a very focused public identity, while G=R=P=R never got the same sort of recognition, although it was the first storm unit (In the context of WW I, of course), and was also the largest. One factor might have been both the secrecy which often obscured the flame warfare and also the distaste that many, including some German officers, had for the flame weapon. (Much preferring getting disemboweled by shards of steel, I imagine, or drowned in mud or something.) When you read Graf von Schwerin's history of Storm=Battalion Rohr (he was its long-time Adjutant, and wrote the history, as Rohr had died at an early age.) and notice him almost never mentioning the battalion's use of Flammenwerfer, even when the weapon took a major role in an engagement which he described in some detail. Of a very prominent (and very literate and large) aristocratic family, with real estate named for them, he very likely had a considerable distaste for the weapon, and therefore did not mention it.

Bob Lembke

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In regard to the fighting that Rohr did in December 1915, I have considerable material on the fighting, which was on or near HWK in the Vosges, and none of the sources state clearly whose FW were being used here and there. Using nuances of expression, several sources suggest that on the Schratzmaennele Rohr attacked on December 15, 1915 using their own FW, but on December 22/23 and on December 24, 1915 Rohr attacked on or near HWK using FW that, in the way the sources wrote the passages, suggests that the FWs they used came from another unit. In regard to the fighting on the 24th the phrase "cooperated with small flame-throwers" was used, suggesting, to me, FW from another unit. The French also used at least one FW defensively at the same point. Sounds quite dramatic; FW vs. FW on the peak of a (small) mountain.

Bob Lembke

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's a photo that's always puzzled me: Very young members of 9. Westpreußisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 176, whose instructor is a Totenkopf-Husar. Why a hussar? Is he a dismounted trench-warfare expert? Why would he be their instructor?

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