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.