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From Postblatt to Fieldpost - part 4 of 5
Austria also produced regimental cards similar to those of Germany. This card from 1915, illustrated by Hans Denk is typical of his work. While there is a grand scene depicting a long column of troops march off to begin their spring offensive, it is presented in a rather low key manner. Even the dead body caught in barbed wire only adds to the narrative, not to the drama. Austrian publishers did not shy away from producing postcards full of dramatic battle scenes, but it seems that their regimental cards tend to be more quiet, just like their German counterparts. It wasn’t that public taste was averse to depictions of violence for there was plenty of that to be found on other cards. This aspect may have more to do with a distaste for bravado, at least among soldiers. Propagandists would have been happy to present all their empires’s soldiers as invincible heroes and the enemy as cowards; this is how they look on nearly every postcard published for the general public. Soldiers who suffered at the hands of the enemy had a different view. Victories could be celebrated and heroes praised but they did not like having their lives made to look too easy.
This 1916 Austrian card drawn by Edward Schuckl depicts a K.u.K. regiment advancing on a Russian line. While there are casualties, the horror of battle is clearly understated. Cards published in wartime could not completely avoid the hard fact that men would die, but they still had to be attractive enough to find customers. The risk shown here is not overwhelming; victory seems assured. Presenting scenes in somewhat realistic terms was a reminder of the true sacrifice men in uniform were making.
Hungarians had long struggled for independence after being absorbed into the Austrian Empire. In 1867 a compromise was finally negotiated, which formed the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Czechs within the empire were hoping for similar status at this time but it was never granted and the struggle continued. By World War One, regimental cards were being made for Czech units serving in the Austro-Hungarian army but they tend to lack the patriotic trappings found on other cards. Even this one printed in Vienna only shows a lonely soldier in a trench quietly doing his duty under harsh conditions. The regiment’s number only appears on its back. Cards displaying Czech troops were largely made for a Czech audience. Their loyalty was questioned by Austrians and so their cards had limited appeal within the empire.
Harry Sarwin illustrated a number of postcards for the Austrian Imperial Army (K.u.K.) during the First World War. While they depict specific Imperial regiments engaged in combat, they are toned down by eliminating their contact with enemy soldiers. Emphasis is solely placed on the men who serve the empire. They do however pose the question of whether they are true regimental cards or not. Their format is more in keeping with sets produced for collectors than individual regiments. The narrative on their backs appears in four languages of the empire insinuating they were produced for a wider audience. Can they be serving a duel purpose? This is a good example of how military cards grew ever more difficult to classify over time.
Erich R. Dobrich was a prolific military illustrator, producing many generic images of German troops out on maneuver and specific regiments on World War One battlefields. Although Dobrich served in the War, it seems that most of these Continental sized cards were made in the 1930’s. While his first hand experiences undoubtedly contributed to the illustration’s accuracy and immediacy, it helps confuse their dating. Only by comparing his entire output of postcards do we see that there is no distinction between them other than some depict specific regiments and battles while the remainder are generic. Some regiments like those raised in China and Africa were disbanded after German Colonies were seize, and so these cards were definitely not made for their members. They should all be considered military themed postcards, not regimental cards.
German postcards depict named battles more often than those from any other nation. While many illustrators tried to be accurate, their distance from the actual fighting led to a great deal of artistic license. When regimental cards show battles at all, which is rarely, they tend to look very generic. The set of cards made for the First Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry depict a number of the battles they participated in while campaigning in France. Though highly stylized, they are drawn with the intimacy of first hand knowledge. Is this the work of one of the soldiers in the regiment? Its free style seems a little forced, which might indicate that this was a professional attempt at imitating a field sketch. The use of field sketches was widespread on fieldpost cards.
More often than not, German regimental cards focus on troops in non-violent situations even when they are serving in the trenches. These can also be generic scenes but many are based on actual frontline sketches. A number of cards of note were produced in 1916 for the 4th Jagar Battalion that depicted various aspects of their men’s lives while serving in trenches. Although published for a specific unit, their renderings of intimate moments are much more typical of German fieldpost cards than regimental cards. Eventually most German regimental cards were issued as fieldpost cards.
Many if not most of the sketches publishers would place on their fieldpost cards came directly from ordinary solders. While their quality varies, their immediacy makes for a more intimate connection, strengthening the bonds between the soldier in the field and his family back home. Areas just back from the battlefront were also the territory of official war artists who provided imagery for postcard publishers. This regimental card drawn by Paul Hey displays the hand work of a professional illustrator matched with first hand knowledge.
Hans Weiss illustrated a very interesting set of Bavarian regimental cards where the troops are represented by scenes of soldier life behind the lines rather than in combat. One shows men playing cards and another pictured above shows a kitchen scene complete with a hungry mascot. Such unglamorous topics were rarely placed on cards because they fail to glorify the regiment. Soldiers however often preferred cards that portrayed them as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Families were probably happier seeing their loved ones in uniform involved in mundane tasks such as getting a good meal rather than fighting. Glory is best suited for peacetime fantasies.
Sometimes scenes of combat could be avoided by simply presenting a general view of the territory fought over instead. There was not always much choice as not all segments of an active battlefront saw continuous fighting. This card commemorates five moths of manning the line before Arras. All units must be honored for their sacrifice however they serve.
The use of panoramic landscapes that dominate a military card’s composition most often come from Switzerland. Some of these are generic and others were issued for use by specific regiments. While it is easy to conclude that this compositional choice has to do with the absence of combat along the Swiss border, it seems more of a trope that derives from somewhere deeper in their national consciousness. Perhaps it is because they rely on their rugged terrain for defense as much as their army and have come to see it as an entity.
The presence of soldiers is so obscured on this Swiss card made for the 22nd Regiment out of Basel that at first glance it does not seem to have a military theme. It is easy to forget that with all the patriotic symbolism usually heaped onto regimental cards that promoting propaganda is not the main purpose for their publication. Regimental cards were primarily made for soldiers to correspond with, and hopefully their illustrations might reflect something of the sender. It would be wrong to assume cards like this one are merely decorative. It does not only depict a rural village but the soldier&rsqu;s homeland, the one he is defending. Even if the message is subtle, this is still a patriotic themed card.
Even though generals were always hungry for troops to man the front lines, soldiers were still needed for essential services that did not involve combat. This card from 1916 represents one such battalion showing its men guarding strategic rail lines and bridges. Perhaps the most unusual thing about this card is the portrayal of their adversary, a tired looking Russian.
In 1914 the German army not only consisted of active troops and reservists, but a home guard (Landstrum), made up of men who had already served in the reserve for eleven years. By this time most had settled into family life so they were normally excused from their light duties upon reaching the age of 45. With the coming of the War they were placed unto active service, which caused quite a hardship to their families. It also created a large market for postcards. German publishers produced many cards specifically focused on these older men, which included large numbers of farewell cards and some regimental cards. The beards they wore ad the pipes they smoked became the signature of their status, and postcards usually depict them this way.
Cards representing different branches of service traditionally provided illustrators with opportunities to stretch their talent. This 1915 card displays four Bavarian Pioneers with the tools of their trade. One prepares to deliver explosives into the enemy line, another cuts barbed wire in preparation for an attack, another digs a trench, and yet another carries tools for the construction of bridges and quarters. Real and imagined are combined to create an appealing image that also expresses the diverse and important functions these types of troops carry out.
The regiment card above illustrates a lesser known but very specific activity carried out by pioneers during the War. After trench lines grew static, tunnels would be dug under no-mans-land until reaching enemy lines where chambers were hollowed out and filled with explosives to destroy strongpoints from underneath. While one gets some idea of the hard work involved from this card, it does nothing to express the extreme danger of such endeavors. The idea was to peak the interest of those unfamiliar with these activities, not make them more anxious over the safety of their loved ones.
During the Great War, the German army began testing out new tactics on the battlefield. This led to a new type of storm troop battalion that was organized out of pioneer regiments. Each storm trooper section was armed with hand grenades, flame throwers, machine guns and a variety of light mortars. These tools were all essential for the quick clearing of enemy trenches. Once the hodgepodge of experimental stormtrooper units proved their worth in battle, efforts began to train more of them. By October 1916, all armies on the Western Front were ordered to create stormtrooper battalions through retraining. By 1918 large numbers of German troops who had learned the methods of stormtroopers were reformed into attack divisions (Angriffdivisionen). Even though these units lacked a long history, they were so romanticized in the publics eye that many regimental cards followed. Storm troopers are usually depicted carrying hand grenades, which became their signature.
While this German regimental card depicts a classic storm trooper with grenade in hand, it is titled Vauxsturmer (Fort Vaux attacker). This is not a military term but a nickname given to the troops that captured the Vaux fortress in 1916 during the battle of Verdun. This was an exceptional victory that was widely publicized, and the name became part of the public lexicon. By attaching the fort’s name to that of the regiment it served as a badge of honor. It also served as propaganda by espousing the prowess of German stormtroopers.
Although storm troopers were a product of the German Army, their effective tactics were eventually imitated by friend and foe alike. The Austro-Hungarian Army would deploy special assault troops (Jagdkommandos) in May 1917 that were trained on the German model. While these elite troops are rarely shown in action as on German regimental cards, they are still given heroic stature.
A number of nations had elite fighting units in the form of mountain troops. They not only had to be trained and equipped to fight, but to deal with the harsh mountainous environments they might be called to fight in. The Germans formed mountain infantry units (Gebirgsjager) who were the first to employ stormtrooper tactics. Austria-Hungary had its own Alpine regiments (Landesschutzen), which often fought against their counterparts on the Italian Front. This Austrian regimental card from 1916 is typically subdued. While we a presented with a well equipped soldier on skis, it has the look of a greeting card. The Alpine setting evokes beauty rather than the harsh environment that killed so many men. These cards were not meant to frighten.
The introduction of innovative weapons created the need to form new units that were of the most effective size to use them. Although they might be deployed on the company or battalion level, cards were made for them as if they were organized into regiments and they can still be referred to as regimental cards. One of these new weapons was the machine gun, which proved to be so effective that Maschinengewehr companies were assigned to support every infantry battalion in the German army. Early guns were very heavy and they required four to six operators to handle all the equipment. Although a belt that feeds bullets into the gun is used to good effect as a decorative border on this card, its most interesting feature is the sweat pouring out of two soldiers. They validate the difficult work that was required just to carry the gun, tripod, coolant and ammunition. The hard work of soldiers must be respected as much as their valor.
France, who was on the receiving end of many of these new German weapons presented the destruction that rained down on their country as acts of barbarity. Countess French postcards were produced depicting burnt out churches and the ruins of towns as part of their propaganda efforts. While it would seam that that German publishers would try to avoid this subject, there are almost as many postcards displaying ruined French towns on German cards as there are from France. To the Germans, such destruction was seen as a natural outcome of war with no moral judgement to be placed on it. If anything images of destruction represented the prowess of their army and the inability of their enemy to defend their territory. Every ruined town brought the War closer to an end. It was not uncommon for German regimental cards to pick up on this theme and display the destruction they had wrought.
Medical personnel were well represented on World War One postcards, and hospital units were also portrayed on cards just like any other regiment. This 1916 card for a German sanitation company displays the makeshift operations of a field hospital. It tells the story of the difficult conditions these men must work under while not showing any real danger. A harsh environment is only meant to show that medical personnel need to be respected for their hard work in the field, and that they are there to help fallen soldiers anywhere. They could not even hint that the wounded did not receive the best care under these circumstances.
This rather matter of fact 1915 Austrian card drawn by Otto Barth for a hospital unit is not as gritty as the card further above, but it still captures the spirit of the unit. Its highly decorative style makes it attractive, which also allows it to avoid the horrific details of ghastly wounds and mutilated bodies. While there is no attempt to insert propaganda beyond stating that wounded soldiers will receive good care, it is still propaganda by omission. It was very difficult to overtly insert propaganda into hospital scenes without looking exploitive.
This Fieldpostkorrespondenzkarte from 1917 aligns a profile of an Austrian soldier from a K.u.K. regiment with that of Nike, the personification of victory. She wears a helmet here to represent victory in battle. A likeness of the goddess was often placed on medals given out at athletic games in ancient times. The Austrian soldier has similar medals for his feats pinned to his hat. Most soldiers could not comprehend the reasons behind the War, they only new they were defending their homeland. Tying them to established traditions helped to give purpose to their cause. Regimental cards did not only provide soldiers with a means to correspond, they helped to mold character in a direction that supported the empire.
Allegory was allowed to proliferate on postcards produced during World War One because the symbolism found in the classics were a part of the general population’s vocabulary. Newer symbols that had long been used to promote nationalism were also widely recognized. The Great War made the more obscure visible when it connected to current events. It had already been common among gunners to evoke the name of St. Barbara, the patron saint of artillery, as protection against sudden death by explosions but her name gained wider recognition after her presence began being placed on postcards. Rather than the personification of nation or victory, it is St. Barbara that stands by the gunner on this Austrian regimental card.
France produced an enormous amount of postcards during the Great War, most of it vitriolic propaganda. Relative to Germany, little attention was paid to the lives of ordinary soldiers in any realistic way. Cheap postals were made for soldiers to correspond with but few honor specific regiments. The French regimental card pictured above is postmarked 1915 but the style is more typical of an earlier era. A roster of campaigns and battles is provided but all of these predate World War One. The card was most likely produced prior to the conflict. Postmarks are never a foolproof method of dating.
This French regimental card used just before World War One is a semi-generic. Though made for a specific type of light cavalry (chasseurs), a blank space is left open so that a regimental number can subsequently printed in. A list of battles dating from the Napoleonic Wars is included to make sure we know of their heroic deeds. This is unusual for a generic for it opens questions of accuracy. Perhaps its most unusual feature is its lack of artistic quality, at least when compared to regimental cards from other nations. Although simple cards were printed everywhere to make sure they were affordable, there is the possibility that less care was taken when making cards for a captive audience.
Some regimental cards were produced in France during World War One though they are exceptional finds. A rare example is an entire set produced for the 79th Infantry. These cards depict named battles as well as quiet moments in camp. Even without postmarks or the names of places, the type of combat shown and the weapons used firmly set it in time. While battle scenes from the Great War were placed on postwar regimental cards, it is very unlikely that an entire set would be made after the conflict ended.
The coming of war put unforeseen demands on publishers to fill various needs. The probably also views these extraordinary times as an opportunity to rake in profits if they could only produce the right product. This led to experimentation and old standards were not always adhered to. In order to create a larger customer base, many German publishers began making cards that only referenced types of units. A good example is the one above from a set drawn by K. Beathold. Similar cards, which relied on exceptional artistry for sales were already being published in prewar years. These newer cards also tend to be of high quality. Even though they do not name specific regiments, these cards should be understood as a derivative of the regimental card.
This Italian postcard made in 1915 contains no writing but it displays a broad brimmed hat with a black capercaillie feather belonging to a Bersagliere. While it denotes a very specific type of light infantryman, it could be used by any such battalion or even any member of the general public. Military themed cards were often singled out for purchase on the Homefront as a patriotic gesture.
The smaller numbers of men that served in specialized units limited the number of regimental postcards they could buy. This made it disadvantageous for publishers to produce these types of cards unless commissioned to do so by the unit itself. What often appears in its place is a generic card that illustrates very specific weaponry but without the unit&esquo;s designation on them. Pioneers working trench mortars (Minenwerfer) are often found on such cards. These short barreled high angled guns were usually placed in fortified bunkers at the front lines in preparation for an assault. There very effectiveness raised their esteem in the public’s eye, which meant they were a topic publishers could not overlook. While cards depicting these guns benefited their crews they also served as propaganda. They say our soldiers are so well equipped with the best weapons that they cannot help but achieve victory.
The oversized fieldpost card above came from a booklet that depicts German troops of the 9th Army serving in Romania. While uncommon it was not unheard of for a set of cards to represent the actions of a single military campaign. Divisions and Armies had the ability to commission the publication of cards fore their men where cost might have been prohibitive for individual regiments. The practice of buying in bulk however blurs the line between regimental and fieldpost cards. Even if traditions were eroding, these cards were still made for the exclusive use of soldiers.
This German card depicting a night raid on enemy lines is typical of the many military themed postcards published during the Great War. Though it is issued as a fieldpost card, it has been produced for the use of soldiers in the 26th Reserve Division. Without searching out printed information on a card, their is no telling its purpose. Unlike early regimental cards, unifying styles disappeared during the war years. Cards issued by larger units than regiments blurred distinctions further. They needed to be more generic if they were to be embraced by more soldiers.
The Swiss army was largely composed of reserve troops rather than a large standing force. Combined with a tradition of neutrality, it was not only difficult for individual regiments to afford their own cards, they did not have a long military history to celebrate. Just as in Germany, larger units commissioned cards as the one above from a beautiful set made for the 6th Division in 1914.
Special cards were printed for the Italian Royal Army that are a far cry in quality from their traditional regimental cards. Even though they were made cheaply to meet the growing need for correspondence during the Great War, they go beyond the most simple fieldpost cards. On one side is the common preprinted layout for name, unit, etc., while the other carries bold propaganda imagery printed in a limited palette. This card from 1916 was overprinted with a specific regiments name in an attempt to personalize it. This is a prime example of how a simple card can be made to be very effective.
When it came to holiday cards, publishers tried to satisfy the needs of the largest audience possible. This was easily accomplished because of the wide variety of highly recognizable tropes available. There was no reluctance to add military themes to these cards because of the large number of men serving during wartime. Even so, it was financially difficult for publishers to single out a specific regiment for limited use cards and few regiments could afford to commission them. Sometimes larger units stepped in to spread out the cost. One of the best examples of this is an Austrian Christmas card set illustrated by R. Kutzer for the Second Imperial Army.
Although the vast amount of holiday cards were produced for Christmas, and then New Years, Easter received a great deal of attention, especially in Austria. Above is an Easter card produced for the 4th Imperial Austrian Army In 1917. One of the oldest and most common symbols associated with Easter is that of the hare or rabbit and it appears on Easter cards more often than religious themes. The rabbit on this card looks like it is more afraid of being eaten than having its eggs stollen. Humor was often and important element to these cards.
While most German military holiday cards were issued as generic fieldposts, some specific regiments did manage to publish their own. This oversized card drawn by Artur Krumn for a Pioneer regiment in 1917. Rather than depict a celebratory scene as found on most other cards, it combines an evergreen with the tools used by the unit. This simple design gives it extended use, either as a Xmas card or a New Year’s card. The regiments number is placed on the same type of identification tag found on early regimental cards.
The card above was issued as a 1917 New Year’s greetings for a specific machine gun company. While a holiday card it does not carry traditional holiday tropes. Here the gun is manned by devils and directed by a skeleton. Such symbolism is not rare on German cards, coming out of the Gothic tradition of the macabre that reminds us that death is never too far away. Here however, war has updated its meaning; those who work this gun do deaths work. The enemy will not be having a happy new year.
This article consist of four parts; click on the links below to continue reading.Postblatt to Fieldpost part 1
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 2
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 3
Postblatt to Fieldpost part 5