"On my orders my orderly took a pair of shears
and cut my foot off, it was still joined to the leg by some skin."
It is not often that a Regimental History has the horrific details of of an individual soldiers wounds, so it was coincidence that when I started researching Leutnant d.R. Sperber's history that I found an account of his last battle in the regimental history.
Walter Sperber was
born in 1889. A pastor’s son from Schledehausen he was a dentist in civilian
life. His younger brother August was a Doctor and served in the Prussian I.R.
started the war as a N.C.O. in the Bavarian 19th Infantry Regiment.
He was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder at Apremont / Bois Brule on the 26th
of September 1914.
Above: The Iron Cross 2nd Class award document to Bayer. Reserve Infanterie Regiment Nr. 23 Unteroffizier
Sperber 2. Komp.
The award was made in
March 1915 by General Gaede, commander of the Armee-Abteilung Gaede. The
headquarters was in Schloss Homburg in Nümbrecht. The castle serves as a museum
With the b.R.I.R. 23
he fought in the Münster valley including sectors like the Barrenkopf, Reichackerkopf
and Schratzmännle. Walter Sperber received his Iron Cross 2nd Class
in March 1915 at a time the regiment was engaged in heavy combat on the
Reichsackerkopf. From June to mid July
1915 the regiment fought on the Eastern Front in Galizia. Here the Regiment took
part in the battle of Lemburg, before returning for another stint in the
In July 1916 the
Regiment was on the Somme near Estrées facing the French offensive. The
Regimental historian writes…
The positions were
almost completely flatted. A few half buried underground bunkers still existed
which could protect a portion of the soldiers. A trench line existed just on
the border of the sector. Defensive obstacles no longer existed. The Frenchmen
were just 200-300m away. The positions of the Battalion 2nd line
were slightly better with connected trenches. The positions had changed hands a
number of times as the French attacked time and time again from Estrées.
Further attacks were expected and the situation was tense
In a report Lt. d.
Res Sperber gave an account of his wounding and capture
And so the 24th
of July arrived. In the early morning the Minenwerfer started a heavy
bombardment. By 10am my trenches were barely passable, I had to crawl on my
belly to reach each position. As I expected another attack I had briefed all my
group leaders. By midday drumfire was on our positions. Three enemy aircraft
flew low strafing runs over our positions. During the drumfire I found myself
with two combat groups in the Company commander bunker. There was also a
machine gun in the bunker. Lt. Schlee gave orders that in case of an attack the
machine gun would defend the exit to the bunker which exited into an open
field. He along with eight other men would defend with rifles. I, along with my
men, was to defend the trenches. The drumfire continued. Suddenly 15 men of my
section appeared. They had been in the bunker under the road when a heavy shell
destroyed the bunker burying half of the occupants. The survivors, those who had
managed to struggle out of the debris, now sought shelter in the company commander’s
bunker. A number of them were wounded. Suddenly there was a loud explosion. The
sentry at the entrance rolled down the stairs, dirt and earth following him
down. The entrance to the bunker had collapsed. Right away I gave orders to
clear the entrance; the dirt had to be stored into the bunker. It took about an
hour to clear the entrance and another sentry took over the entrance.
The artillery raged
with an unbelievable ferocity. Towards evening, it must have been about 6pm,
the drumfire stopped. I warned the sentry to keep alert. We all stood at the
ready, grenades in hand. The sentry shouts “Sie Kommen!” I was first out of the
bunker and stopped to fire flares to call in our artillery. My men pushed past
and occupied the trench. The enemy was already so close I could not make it to
the trench; I stayed in the sap with a handful of men and begin firing.
The enemy was about
20m away. I barely got off 10 rounds when I was knocked to the ground. I lost
consciousness for a few moments, but then my head cleared. Looking down I
noticed that my right foot is torn off. Both my thighs were shredded. Next to
me lay Unteroffizier Seiling, victim of the same hand grenade. He was also
missing a foot but was dead; he must have had other wounds.
Right: An unknown soldier wearing the unofficial badge of the Bavarian 8th Reserve Division
The enemy seemed to
have bypassed us and have entered our trenches. I crawled back to the bunker as
best I could on hands and knees. With much effort I succeeded in reaching it.
There I met a number of men, who had been wounded earlier, including my
orderly. They took care of me and laid me on a mattress. On my orders my orderly
took a pair of shears and cut my foot off, it was still joined to the leg by
some skin. They bound the wound as best they could. I gave orders to make a
fire and burn my effects (probably maps, documents etc.).
It was no longer
possible to defend the bunker. The machine gun was badly damaged, its crew
dead. No one returns from the trench, it is occupied by the French. My men had
been overwhelmed by their numbers. In an attempt to reach the trench
Infantryman Stahlmann is shot in the belly and he returns, badly wounded.
Suddenly a hand grenade comes down the stairs. My orderly was wounded and sank
to the floor. He was placed on the mattress next to me but died a few minutes
later. More hand grenades followed and Leutnant Schlee was forced to surrender
with eight men. They climbed out while we wounded stayed in place. The enemy did
not enter. Night fell.
Walter Sperber received
his Iron Cross 1st class while interned in Switzerland. It is unknown if he
received just notice of the award or the medal itself. A number of German
officers received award while interned in Neutral countries.The document was
signed in May 1917 in Vertretung des Divisions Kommandeurs (on behalf of the
divisional commander) by Oberst Ernst d´Alleux, commander of the Bavarian 16.
The badly wounded lay
groaning in all corners of the bunker, they all passed the night in agony. No
one arrived to help us. At dawn I gathered my strength and crawled up the steps.
I moved along the sap towards my old positions. I suddenly found myself in the
middle of a group of Frenchmen who were energetically improving the fieldworks.
Their stretcher bearers brought me to the aid post at Estrées. My bandages were
changed and that evening I was transferred to a field hospital. Right away my
right leg was amputated just under the knee. The next morning I was driven to
Amiens and 10 days later to St Lo. At the beginning of December I was part of a
prisoner exchange and was sent to Switzerland.
A document confirming the
award of the Iron Cross to a badly wounded Sperber who had been exchanged and
was now interned in Switzerland at the Kanton Hospital in Zurich.
Leutnant Sperber was
repatriated to Germany in August 1917. After months in Hospital he was promoted
to Oberleutnant in March 1918 and released from service in April 1918. He
maintained the right to wear the uniform of the 19. b.I.R.