Erbse was born in Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt on the 8th of October 1875.
1899 he joined the Bavarian Infantry Leib Regiment as a one-year volunteer but
was transferred to the reserve at the end of march 1900 in order to complete
his studies. He qualified as a Dr. Med. at the University of Würzburg in 1902.
He returned to the army in September 1902 to complete his Military service in
the Bavarian 2nd Field Artillery regiment and finished the last
month of his service at the garrison hospital on Gemersheim leaving the
military in April 1903.
Above: The Medal Bar belonging to Dr. Fritz Erbse
1914 he was mobilized as the doctor of the III. Battalion of the 7th
Bavarian Infantry Regiment with the additional function of Regimental Doctor. With
the 7th b.I.R. he took part in the battle of Lorraine (20-21.8.1914), Battle of
Nancy Epinal (22.8.-14.9.1914), fighting on the Meuse Heights (19.9.-30.9.1914),
fighting on the Meuse heights between the Meuse and Mosel Rivers in the Bois
Taken ill in mid-November near Apremont he
went to Hospital then on recovery leave transferring as a Medical Officer to the
Reserve Hospital in the Friedrich Kaserne in Bayreuth at the end of January
Right: A soldier from the 21st Bavarian Infantry Regiment
1917 he returned to the front joining the Bavarian 21st Infantry
Regiment as the Battalion doctor of the III. Battalion, once again taking over
the additional responsibilities of Regimental Doctor. The Regiment had just been
relieved from the front and had gone through a training program in July. The
Regiments stint out of the front line would be interrupted by the Allied
offensive on the 31st of July between Bixschoote and Warneton. Known
as “the Battle of Passchendaele” by the British, the “2nd battle in
Flanders” by the French and the “3rd battle in Flanders” by the
Germans the battle would rival Verdun and the Somme in terms of Infamy for the
troops who took part.
Bavarian Infantry Division left the Antwerp area to return to the front and
came under the command of Generalleutnant Freiherr von Stein’s “Gruppe Ypern”.
The 21st Bavarian Infantry Regiment took a section of the frontline
in front of St Julien along the road from Passchendaele-Wieltje-Ypern. The
Regiment was in position on the 9th of August with the Regimental
command post in the “Haus Kirchner” just to the North of Wallemolen where the
main field hospital was also to be found. The month of August saw the regiment
engaged in heavy fighting. When they were withdrawn from the line it was not to
rest, but to replace the Bavarian 16th Reserve division holding the
line from Warneton through Deulemont to Frelinghien. On the 26th of
August the III. Btl. b.I.R. 21 took up positions on the Lys River near
of September passed relatively peacefully with no major actions. On the 7th
of September Großherzog Friedrich Franz IV. of Mecklenburg Schwerin visited the
Regiment named after him and awarded 8 Mecklenburg-Schwerin Crosses 1st
class and 151 Mecklenburg-Schwerin Crosses 2nd class, including one
to Fritz Erbse.
Regiment was to spend 6 months at Deulemont, although a number of small actions
took place the 21st was spared major losses and battled mainly
against the harsh weather and mud of Flanders. During February and March 1918
the Regiment went through a training period preparing for the coming offensive.
night of the 20th of March the Regiment completed the transfer to its
staging area in Marquion. It was a small part of the 50 German Divisions whose
men were impatiently shuffling their feet waiting for the offensive to start.
At 4 am, German time, on the morning of the 21st of March German
artillery shells were churning up the muddy allied front lines. The conditions
for the gas shells fired to hinder the allied artillery were however
unfavorable in the early morning. Infront od the 21st Bavarian
infantry Regiment the wind carried the gas back over the German positions and
the men forced to don their masks.
Above: the advance of the 21st B.I.R.
At 9:40 the
German advance began. The 5th Bavarian Infantry Division in the
second wave following the 1. Garde Reserve Division. At 10:30am, having crossed
the Agache River the 21st Regiment was advancing westwards to the
South of Baralle. The regimental history describes the exhilarating feeling
that went through the men as the fog lifted and they saw the German columns
advancing towards Pronville and Queant.
At the level of Barralle they were greeted by the British artillery but
the Companies altered their march route to avoid the shells. Shell holes form
the mornings bombardment made progression difficult for the wagons as they had
to stay on the wagon trail to pass Baralle and got stuck in the mud, losing
their connection to the advancing soldiers. The Machine gunners had to empty
their wagons and drag them forward one after another using 4 horses to pull
them out of the mud. By evening the Regiment had reached the Southern Edge of
Right: The Regimental Aid Station
At 9am on
the morning of the 22nd of March the Regiment entered the former
British 2nd line of defense. The road from Quent to Lagnicourt was jammed
with wagons and littered with the bodies of German soldiers killed by machine
gun and rifle fire. The British positions were in good condition and the Bavarians
had to cut their way through the barbed wire to reach them. Crossing the
British lines, they found masses of material, weapons, grenades and equipment
scattered around amongst the bodies of British soldiers. Up ahead there were
the sounds of heavy combat. The British were counter attacking to the South
East of Lagnicourt. Heavy artillery shells caused a number of causalities in
the Bavarian ranks. The III. And II. Batl were in advance, the I. Batl in
reserve in the old British 1st line.
given for the 5. B.I.D. to advance towards the forest at Vaulx. The 21st
b.I.R. advanced over open ground to the North of Lagnicourt losing more men to
the British Artillery. By midafternoon the II. and III. Batl straddled the road
from Lagnicourt-Vraucourt. Still in Reserve the Division waited for orders
before advancing into Vraucourt later that afternoon. The first wave had
cleared the way, the divisions orders called for the division to take the lead
in an attack on St Aubin at Bapaume. German artillery in position at Lagnicourt
would cover the advance. At 6:30 pm the III. Batl was making their way forward
when British tanks attacked from the Road from Lagnicourt to Morchies. German artillery
destroyed one tank and the others turned and fled. Crossing the Vraucourt
positions the men once again found masses of material as well as many dead or
wounded British and German soldiers. Still under heavy artillery fire the
Bavarians came to a halt to the south west of Vaulx-Vraucourt. Night had fallen
and machine gun fire from the heights at Beugnatre seemed to confirm the
positions were still occupied by the enemy.
attack was being planned Stabsarzt d. Res Erbse was in Vraucourt where the
Regimental Staff and the Regimental Field hospital were located. A shell in the
early morning killed Oberarzt d. R. Bloch, a doctor on temporary assignment at
the Regimental field hospital, a shell later that morning wounded Dr. Erbse.
The regimental history comments on the difficulties resulting in the loss of
the two doctors as the number of casualties was increasing at the aid station
and without the Doctors the triage and evacuation was difficult to carry out.
caused by the artillery splinter in his left arm does not seem to have been
very serious and Erbse was soon back with his unit.
Above: An early war French map unrelated to the actions of 1918 but showing the Crepey "Creepy" Wood (Trapezwald) and the Hospital (Lazarettwald) in the direction of Lihu
the morning of the 10th of August 1918 the enemy artillery bombarded
the town of Lihon, including the nearby front lines occupied by the Bavarian 19th
and 7th Infantry regiments. Soon after the enemy followed up with an
infantry assault. Taking note of reports made by wounded soldiers returning
from the front line the commander of the III. Batl, b.I.R. 21 decided reinforcements
were necessary to stop the enemy assault and cover the approach to Lihons. The
12. Komp and one MG Section advanced along the Lihons-Harbonnieres road towards
the “Trapezwald” to the Northwest of Lihons. The 9th company would
advance to their right; the rest of the MG Platoon would stay in covering
position to the South of the road. At 11:00 am parts of the 9th and
12th Companies managed to enter the woods but had to leave again as
it was under German Artillery fire. At 1PM the III. Batl received orders to
clear the woods of enemy troops with the support of a battery of Infantry
assault guns. Before the orders arrived Hauptmann Trambauer had on his own
initiative already advanced on the woods and was able to report that the 9th,
10th and 12th were already in the forest.
Above: Exhausted Australian troops at Crepey Wood on the 10th of August 1918
they were not able to hold and at 3pm the 10th, 11th and
12th Companies had to make a second effort to take the wood after a
short but heavy bombardment. With 2 Companies of the 19th Bavarian
Infantry Regiment reinforcing them the 3rd attack took place. At
6:35pm the Battalion had captured much of the wood when suddenly heavy enemy
machine gun fire pushed them back to the edge of the wood again. German
machines guns took up position to suppress the enemy machine gunners then night
fell and the 2 sides licked their wounds waiting for the dawn. Heavy artillery
fire lit up the night and at 6:10am on the morning of the 11th of
August the waves of allied infantry advanced on the depleted ranks of the 19th
and 7th Infantry Regiments and the supporting III. Batl. The action
took place very rapidly. Hauptmann Trambauer was on the Lihons-Framerville road
at the fork towards Vauvillers. He wrote “The first and only report came from
Oberleutnant Braun (12. Komp.) on the left flank of the Battalion “The enemy is
passing the left flank, please send reinforcements”. It had been impossible to
send anyone as we had no reserves left. With me was only my Adjutant and 2-3
runners. The 12. Komp was told to use their machine guns to disrupt the enemy.
A message came from the company of Lt. Walz, the enemy was bypassing our left
and right flanks. Freiherr von Lochner on the right flanks company disappeared while
trying to escape being enveloped by the British. In the so-called
“Lazarettwald” (Hospital wood) to the east of Trapezewald and Lihu Farm I order
the company Walz to halt. I intend to make contact with the companies on the
left and right flank but British machine guns open up from close by. Without
contact to the flanks holding the wood was impossible. My goal was to extract
the battalion from the woods and reassemble on the Ziegelhöhe were the infantry
assault guns were positioned.
Walz was not able to make a coordinated withdrawal and presumably fell captive
to the British troops advancing to the South of Lihons.
no one to be found on the Ziegelhöhe, the assault guns had pulled back after
firing their last rounds. On orders of the Brigade the III. Batl was to
assemble as Brigade Reserve by the remains of the Chateau Vermandovillers.
25-30 men assembled. As the day passed a few other stragglers were directed to
the assembly point.
Battalions losses, Dead, Wounded and missing were heavy. One of the Missing was
Dr. Fritz Erbse who was captured by the British on the 11th of
Fritz Erbse was released from captivity at the end of
release he returned to practicing medicine in a village in the Coburg area.
Medalbar of Dr. Erbse left to right
1) Prussian Iron Cross 2nd
Class awarded 14.11.1914 2) Bavarian Militär Verdienst Orden 4th
class with swords awarded 17.4.1917 3) Mecklenburg-Schwerin Cross 2nd
Class awarded 7.9.1917 4) Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer 5)
Prinzregent Luitpold Medaille in Bronze 1905
awarded 12.3.1905 6)
Bayerische Landesverein von Roten Kreuz Dienstauszeichnung
for 20 years of service (1923 model) 7)
Bayerische Landesverein von Roten Kreuz
Ehrenzeichen 2. Klasse (1923 model) 8)
Fürstlich Schwarzburgisches Ehrenkreuz 3.Klasse
There may be a logical explanation as to the unusual positioning of the
Shwarzburg Rudolstadt cross is on the extreme right of the bar, but it is
unknown to me. As the mounting must have taken place when Fritz Erbse was about
60 years old, no longer in Service and living in a small village in Bavaria I
can only assume he had them mounted as he saw fit for reasons best known to
Not on the bar is the König-Ludwig-Kreuz 1916. Regulations required this
to be removed if a soldier received a Militär Verdienst Orden/Kreuz. Dr. Erbse
received the award on the 15.7.1916 while serving at a reserve hospital in
Bavaria and would have worn it until the award of the M.V.O. 4th
class in April 1917.
The Iron Cross 1st class was awarded on the 20.1.1920 and is
a standard KO made piece with a personalized security catch.