A different perspective?
The BBC drama The Passing Bells tells the story of two ordinary young men who volunteer to fight for their country during World War One.
The series follows the fortunes of German farmer's son Michael Lang and English delivery boy Tommy Edwards, as their experiences unfold over the five years of the war. What would life have been like for a German foot soldier, or 'Landser'?
The patriotic adventure
The Passing Bells
Unlike Britain, Germany had a tradition of compulsory military service, so men aged between 17 and 45 were ready and prepared for the call-up.
This system allowed Germany to mobilise a large body of men, many already trained, within a short space of time. Young men like Michael were encouraged to do their duty for their homeland and, as with many British Tommies, went off to war with enthusiasm.Read more about The Passing BellsThe Passing Bells: A British soldier's tale
Planning for a quick war
German strategists had prepared plans for an invasion of France prior to 1914 and so many Germans, like Michael, expected a swift and successful war.
The Schlieffen Plan envisaged an invasion of France via Belgium, leading to the early capture of Paris. Germany was a young state, formed in 1871, and looking to confirm its rising status as a European power. It was led by an ambitious kaiser, Wilhelm II, who was impatient to achieve national success.Follow a timeline of the events which led to war
You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.
On the Eastern Front
A German soldier was likely to find himself on one of two fronts: facing the British and French allies in the west or the Russians in the east.
While the Western Front soon became bogged down in trench warfare, fighting on the Eastern Front was less static and if anything more bloody. Michael and his comrades would have travelled east by train. Once at the front they would have found themselves outnumbered, but better equipped and better marshalled than the Russian army.
It is impossible for our working people to maintain their full strength if they do not succeed in obtaining a sufficient supply of fat.
Shortages at home
Returning home on leave a German soldier would have soon noticed his family suffering from the effects of a British blockade on food and supplies.
As each side embraced total war, the stranglehold on Germany was already being felt in 1915 with families having to go without. Rationing was introduced, soup kitchens sprang up to feed the hungry and substitute (ersatz) food was developed. More people aged between 16-60 were put to work to boost production but malnutrition would later lead to an increase in German cases of scurvy, dysentery and tuberculosis.
From attack to defence
If in 1914 Michael had seen himself fighting an offensive war to protect his homeland, in 1916 he would have found himself on the back foot.
At Verdun, in north-eastern France, in a battle which raged from February to December, Germany went on the attack against the French. But as the year went on the Germans were gradually pushed back. From the summer onwards the German soldier at the Somme would have felt like he was engaged in a bitter defensive struggle.Learn more about the German Front experience
Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death?
The horror of the Somme
While the British suffered terrible losses on day one of the Somme offensive in July, German casualties rose steadily as it became a war of attrition.
Huddled in underground shelters the German infantry largely withstood the Allies' initial seven-day bombardment. As the months passed, the Landser would have found himself under continual artillery fire, and accustomed to mud, blood and death. Food and drink was scarce. Under orders to retake any lost ground, German losses grew. By November more than a million men on both sides had been killed or wounded, with German casualties outnumbering British. Yet the Germans had not buckled.A German army veteran recalls the Somme bombardment
Prisoners of war
Prisoners of war were taken by both sides from the outset of the war. The first German POWs arrived at a camp in Dorchester, Dorset, in August 1914.
By the end of 1917 the number of German military prisoners of war stood at almost 120,000, with 165 camps across Britain and Ireland. With the exception of officers, POWs could expect to be put to work in construction or farming. They were paid for their labour. Oberleutnant Gunther Plüschow was the only German POW to escape from the UK mainland and make it all the way back to Germany. He made it out of Donington Hall camp in Derbyshire in 1915.Discover what happened to German POWs in Dorchester
The Passing Bells
As the war went on conditions worsened in the German trenches and this undoubtedly affected morale.
Continual Allied shell-fire caused a steady stream of casualties and took its toll on the nerves. Food and drink became increasingly scarce and of a poor standard. To bolster defences in the wake of the heavy casualties suffered in the previous year, the German high command brought in new men and strategies, and improved command structures.What did World War One sound like?
I haven't spent four years watching people I loved die all around me to drop my rifle and run home.
National Library of Scotland
The German offensive in March, codenamed Michael, proved very successful. But for the German soldier this was his last great advance of the war.
The push won a great stretch of territory but came at a heavy cost in terms of German lives lost. The arrival of American troops along the Western Front turned the tide and soon German soldiers began to face the inevitability of defeat. Desertion became rife and in the face of the Allies' decisive Hundred Days onslaught German defences crumbled.
The legacy of defeat
Defeat after four years of war took a heavy toll on Germany. Almost two million men had been killed, with around four million more wounded.
Many of the soldiers who survived the fighting harboured bitter feelings towards their government which they felt had prevented them from winning the war. Returning home they and their families faced extreme shortages and an economy in turmoil after a war which had cost the nation some $40 billion.The Ending of World War One, and the Legacy of Peace
There is but one hope, and this hope is embodied in the national groups which desire our recovery