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#1 ASA1

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 09:05 PM

The war diary of the 9th East Surreys records details of a trench raid carried out on 25th January 1917 near Hulluch. The objectives were:

(1) To obtain identifications
(2) To inflict losses on the enemy
(3) To secure a sample of German ration bread

Has anyone come across an objective like this before? Casualties from the raid were 3 killed and 4 wounded, 1 of whom later died.

Incidentally a sample of ration bread was successfully secured...

#2 IRC Kevin

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 12:49 PM

I wonder if there was a wish to analyse the ingredients of the bread to ascertain the effectiveness of the blockade on Germany?

#3 munster

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 12:55 PM

I agree with IRC Kevin's thought in addition to that the quality or not of the food could give indications of morale amongst troops.john

#4 Simon J

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 08:12 PM

I agree with IRC Kevin's thought in addition to that the quality or not of the food could give indications of morale amongst troops.john


There is also a possibility the British wanted to measure the fitness of opponents by analyzing the calorific value of staples. The value of British rations and their relation to fitness was certainly looked at very carefully.

Cheers,
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#5 ASA1

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 07:01 AM

Good points, thanks for the info.

#6 Colin W Taylor

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 10:54 PM

Asa

I saw this in the 21st Divisional HQ war diaries amongst the intelligence summaries for July 1917. Maybe the fruits of the raid you mention above or maybe from that of a similar enterprise:

'GERMAN RATION BREAD
The examination of a sample of German ration bread shows that it consisted of wheat, rye, potato, beans and a very small quantity of saw-dust and straw. It is a bread of very inferior quality, solid, of considerable density, with a high proportion of cinders[?}
In appearance it is very heavy; it has not been risen, can only be cut with a saw and crumbles superficially under considerable finger pressure.'


Sounds tasty; especially the sawdust!

I had previously presumed the objective of the bread was merely a token item for a raiding party to acquire as proof of having entered the enemy trenches; the above document would suggest my hypothesis would be wrong.

I hope it's of interest.

Regards

Colin

#7 Tom W.

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 11:18 PM

The examination of a sample of German ration bread shows that it consisted of wheat, rye, potato, beans and a very small quantity of saw-dust and straw. It is a bread of very inferior quality, solid, of considerable density, with a high proportion of cinders[?]

What could possibly make sawdust, straw, and cinders taste better than jam and pickles?

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#8 centurion

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 11:24 PM

At the beginning of the war Germany, on paper, was able to feed herself entirely from her own production. However that was only possible if rye was substituted for wheat in most instances and a very high reliance was placed on potatoes as a staple. German agricultural productivity was about two thirds of Britain's (so it was much more labour intensive). However recent improvements in overall production were due to a very high input of nitrates. The structure of land holding did not lend itself to any great mechanisation (lots of small peasant holdings) As the war progressed and manpower was pulled to the front there were fewer men to work the land, nitrates were diverted to explosives manufacture and a shortage of copper (used in anti fungal sprays) had led to a devastating potato blight. Moreover there were not enough horses to work the fields, many having been requisitioned by the army for transport. Food production plummeted. German agriculture was in a mess from which there would be no quick recovery. The 1913 level of agricultural productivity was not regained until the 1950s.There was an "Army First" policy so that, apart from the very elite, the civilian population got second best. An analysis of the composition and quality of German army issue bread would speak volumes about the overall ability of Germany to feed herself. If it was substandard then the stuff available to the home population would be poor indeed.. This would be important strategic intelligence.




I'm working on an  economic analysis of the relative fitness  of the combatants from a basic economic standpoint to fight the war as it progressed. Hope to be able to post some stuff soo if anyone is interested - nor sure where it goes though. 

#9 JonBowd

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 08:43 AM

Hello, just to add to this my grandad was taken POW in September 1917 and describes the food in his POW camps thus: 'We never saw meat nor soap for all that time and the Germans made us work 8 1/2 hours every day. We seldom had breakfast. Our dinner was potatoes and swedes or cow cabbage boiled, not many potatoes. We got that when we came off work at four, at five we got a bread ration four square inches made of straw and potato peels chopped up, no wheat, a drop of imitation coffe made of ground acorns and the red berries we used to call lagar.'

#10 bob lembke

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 11:36 AM

I have been very active on this Forum for some years, and I generally feel that few members have any grasp of the significance of the food shortages on the German military and civilian populations. I have about 50 family letters from the period (I found them in 2000, and taught myself to read German, Suetterlin, and Kurrent in order to read them.) Most of the letters are my father's and grand-father's from the front. Unfortunately, my father's letters are more about food than military matters, from as early as 1916. For most of the war he was a flame-thrower operator in a Prussian Guards storm unit, and he was sort of a dealer in foodstuffs and soap taken in attacks and trench raids. In one letter from a hospital (he spent much of 1917 in a series of hospitals due to his worse wound at Verdun), this one in Bavaria, he told his father that he had just sent his mother (they were seperated for many years, and lived in different parts of Germany) a tin of 900 grams of coffee taken on a trench raid (this must have been a 2 lb tin; was this a standard-sized coffee tin in an Allied army?), and that he had five more tins under his bed, and that he sent the tin to his mother for her to be able to sell it and then buy staples for her family. (At this time real coffee would have been an extraordinary luxury, almost unknown; German war-time "coffee" was stuff like ground, roasted nut-shells.) My father mentioned that the Bavarians inspected mail to make sure that no Bavarian food was sent out to the less agricultural portions of Germany, but that he had ways of getting around the Bavarian food controls. (I have read of these controls in other sources.) My father also had a food dehydrator under his bed, and as he was ambulatory (he had an upper arm wound.) he would ramble in nearby woods and pick exotic wild mushrooms and dry and sell them.

His father, a staff officer, who since his health was broken by malaria contracted at the front in Russia in 1915 was on staff duties behind the lines or back in Germany, and a person of considerable personal worth and with strong agricultural connections, who had managed the Berlin stockyards for about 11 years, disclosed that he fed himself in Germany by going out and and seeking out a military unit at mealtime, and then simply joining the enlisted men's "chow line"; he was a Feuerwerk=Hauptmann, with 25 years as an active-duty and then reserve officer; by 1917 most German battalions were commanded by captains, and it is unlikely that the mess-sergeant would order him out of the chow line. He said that the food would usually be simply, hearty fare, quite satisfying.

In his letters before Christmas 1916 my father disclosed that he was hoping that they would be served a fantastic food luxury, boiled potatoes, for their Christmas dinner (they were in barracks about 20 miles from the front line), but he was disappointed. (Three days later he was lying wounded in no-man's-land on Dead Man's Hill for three days before being found.) At this time he recounted in a letter that they only received a dinner about every second day, the other times they received two spoonfuls of an awful synthetic jam to eat on any scraps of the daily bread ration that they had left from its morning distribution. The bread ration was measured out by weight (in case you were wondering why they were putting cinders and sawdust in it), and its size, by weight, was steadily shrinking as the war went on.

My father told me that sometimes, during attacks, they had to take ordered breaks for the men to rest, due to hunger-induced weakness, and the elite storm units supposedly were receiving a superior food ration. He told me that they sometimes conducted their own raids at Verdun in order to sieze French rations. (Not as dangerous as it sounds, he said that the French usually ran away when they opened up with the flame-throwers, and the flame regiment's record thru the war was that in most attacks they did not lose (KIA) a single man, they were so expert and feared.)

I am astonished that the German Army and state lasted as long as it did before it began to unravel in mid-1918. I doubt that any Allied army and state would have held together as long.

Bob Lembke

#11 bob lembke

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 11:45 AM

The 1913 level of agricultural productivity was not regained until the 1950s.There was an "Army First" policy so that, apart from the very elite, the civilian population got second best. An analysis of the composition and quality of German army issue bread would speak volumes about the overall ability of Germany to feed herself. If it was substandard then the stuff available to the home population would be poor indeed.. This would be important strategic intelligence.

I'm working on an  economic analysis of the relative fitness  of the combatants from a basic economic standpoint to fight the war as it progressed. Hope to be able to post some stuff soo if anyone is interested - nor sure where it goes though. 


Centurion;

In addition to being interested in the food situation generally, I also have info on agriculture. Interestingly, my father reported to his father in an organized way in his letters on the state of the local agriculture, for example in France; the rainfall, the state of the harvest. My grand-father was an explosives expert, but also an important food industry executive, from a farming background.

If you want to bounce anything off me, or ask an opinion, I would be happy to respond if I can aid your effort. I also have a strong educational and work experience in economic planning. Do you know of the special economic volume of the Reichsarchiv's Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918?

Bob

#12 bob lembke

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 11:52 AM

Hello, just to add to this my grandad was taken POW in September 1917 and describes the food in his POW camps thus: 'We never saw meat nor soap for all that time and the Germans made us work 8 1/2 hours every day. We seldom had breakfast. Our dinner was potatoes and swedes or cow cabbage boiled, not many potatoes. We got that when we came off work at four, at five we got a bread ration four square inches made of straw and potato peels chopped up, no wheat, a drop of imitation coffe made of ground acorns and the red berries we used to call lagar.'


I was reading a source, and it mentioned a Brit POW having dental work done on him while he was a prisoner, and complaining to the dentist that he did not use an anesthetic. The dentist responsed by advising the prisoner to write a letter to the King to ask him to lift the blockade of Germany, so dentists could have materials for pain.

I have a letter from my father, in which he repeated a conversation with one of his doctors in 1917, who apologized for having to perform about 10-15 minor operations on my father's arm (inserting a new drain, moving a drain, etc. in his arm wound) without any anesthetic.

Bob

#13 JonBowd

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 01:48 PM

Was there formal rationing in Germany during this period (as I beleive was introduced in 1918 in Great Britain for limited items) and again in 1940 for round two ? Or was it simply a case of 'we havn't got it so find what you can...' ?
My grandfathers account goes on to say: 'In March 1918, we got some food from England and what a glorious feed we had. It came just in time to save our lives for we were nearly all finished and done up. However, from then onwards we began to recover, as the food came fairly regular and by the end of the summer we began to look like human beings again. As we got better the Germans got worse and what finished them up and lost the War was lack of food. They had to live on next to nothing towards the end. Not only the civil population, but the army and everyone else was short of necessaries. Our navy's blokade preventing anything from going in from abroad made them find a substitute for almost everything they used to import.'
Personaly I think my grandads assetion may have been coloured by his near starvation in the camps, I am sure the decisive defeat(s)
of German forces in the field and 100 days of advance played there part.

#14 centurion

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 10:29 PM

Was there formal rationing in Germany during this period (as I beleive was introduced in 1918 in Great Britain for limited items) and again in 1940 for round two ? Or was it simply a case of 'we havn't got it so find what you can...' ?
My grandfathers account goes on to say: 'In March 1918, we got some food from England and what a glorious feed we had. It came just in time to save our lives for we were nearly all finished and done up. However, from then onwards we began to recover, as the food came fairly regular and by the end of the summer we began to look like human beings again. As we got better the Germans got worse and what finished them up and lost the War was lack of food. They had to live on next to nothing towards the end. Not only the civil population, but the army and everyone else was short of necessaries. Our navy's blokade preventing anything from going in from abroad made them find a substitute for almost everything they used to import.'
Personaly I think my grandads assetion may have been coloured by his near starvation in the camps, I am sure the decisive defeat(s)
of German forces in the field and 100 days of advance played there part.


The food blockade is much misunderstood


In 1914 Germany was self sufficient in food in balance of trade terms in that official published figures show that it exported more food than it imported. What was happening was that a burgeoning middle-class was demanding superior wheat based bread, coffee etc and importing expensive foods whilst the peasant types (still the majority of the population) was producing more rye and similar grains (used for black and grey bread) and potatoes than was needed to feed men and livestock and so the surplus was exported. The German government knew that imports would be difficult or impossible once war with Britain and France began and had stockpiled enough food to meet any shortfalls until the harvest of 1915 assuming victory by then. The middle class might have to "rough it" and eat more black bread etc to make up any shortfall in fancier foods. Any subsequent gap would be made up by an increase in potato production.
Germany had undergone a huge increase in agricultural productivity in the 30 years before the war but the effectiveness of the individual German farmworker was still only 66% of their British equivalent. However a much greater proportion of the population was involved in agriculture. The increase in German productivity was much due to the interest shown by the Kaiser in agriculture (emulating his Gt Gt Grandfather George III) and was in great part due to a major increase in nitrate inputs (mainly imported from Chile). The pattern of German land owning was such that farms in general were too small to benefit that much from increased mechanisation. Only in Alsace were individual farms in general much larger.
The war did not end in 1915. By 1918 German food production had fallen by 50%. This was in part due to the blockade starving Germany of nitrate imports. The advanced German chemical industry was able to produce nitrates from fossil fuels and similar sources but this was all channelled into explosives production. At the same time the countryside was stripped of man and horsepower. The expected increase in potato production was more that thwarted by shortages of copper (again partly due to the blockade) which meant no fungicides were produced and potato blight broke out. Even forced imports from conquered territories in Poland were insufficient to make up for this even though many East Europeans starved to feed Germany's armies..


The blockade prevented Germany from making up for lost production by increasing imports. It was not originally intended to starve her by cutting off existing imports. It was primarily aimed at industrial raw materials in which it succeeded greatly. The truth is that Germany could not sustain a protracted war and continue to feed herself at the same time.

#15 Robert Dunlop

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 06:14 AM

I'm working on an  economic analysis of the relative fitness  of the combatants from a basic economic standpoint to fight the war as it progressed. Hope to be able to post some stuff soo if anyone is interested - nor sure where it goes though.

If you are going to post more stuff then please have the courtesy and decency to add references. It is wholly inappropriate to keep putting out secondary or tertiary analyses that do not give due recognition to the people who did the original hard work. In respect of this particular topic, for example, it will also enable others to weigh up the sources that you have used and the conclusions that you might draw with other published sources. Otherwise, the stuff should go in the food waste disposal unit (to put it politely).

Robert

#16 centurion

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 09:46 AM

If you are going to post more stuff then please have the courtesy and decency to add references. It is wholly inappropriate to keep putting out secondary or tertiary analyses that do not give due recognition to the people who did the original hard work. In respect of this particular topic, for example, it will also enable others to weigh up the sources that you have used and the conclusions that you might draw with other published sources. Otherwise, the stuff should go in the food waste disposal unit (to put it politely).

Robert


I find this offensive and rude please exhibit some common courtesy and decency yourself. If I go to the trouble to post a short observation it is inappropriate to smother it with references as an academic paper . If I produce a longer posting then I will do so. My analyses are my own work and not secondary or tertiary - I do not plagerise

#17 loganshort

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 09:32 PM

Centurian, I second your response. Why berate a fellow member of the forum for simply offering some info. As Centurian suggests, if it is a long posting or an obvious use of someone else's words then a ref is useful. Nowt so queer as folk. Now who originally said that - sorry - I cannot remember!

#18 JonBowd

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 06:41 PM

Thanks for the information Centurian, helpful and most enlightening.

#19 Jonathan D'Hooghe

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 09:41 AM

Keep going Centurion - I was enjoying and soaking up everything that you posted. It was a topic totally new to me and you clearly stated at the beginning that it was your work.
J

#20 centurion

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 11:36 AM

Thanks for the support guys

I'm just about to leave for a hotel near Gatwick and from there off tomorrow to Salonika (I've staunched the bleeding caused by getting the cats into their travel boxes and off to the cattery). When I get back I shall make a concerted effort to complete my look at Germany's fitness for a long war (covering feeding herself, access to strategic raw materials and manufacturing capacity). It's amazing how much one can get by analysing the raw statistics (but as someone with a degree in economics I ought to know this). For example just how much of the world's production of some strategic ores was based on mines inside the British and French empires and therefore unavailable to the Central Powers.



#21 JonBowd

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 12:44 PM

Hope you have a nice time Centurian, incidently John Bowds (quoted above) older brother William (95008) served in Salonika with the RFA. Its a small world.

#22 Blackblue

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 01:03 PM

Most interesting thread I have read for ages. Well done.

Rgds

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