The heroism displayed by British defenders during the 'Battle of Langemarck' was matched by the resolution and enthusiasm of the attacking German infantry who suffered enormously high casualties in their attempts to break the defensive lines, giving rise to a powerful and enduring myth about the battle.
The essence of this complex 'epic' story - widespread in Germany during the war and later - was that German 'youth' had been sacrificed to the ruthless efficiency of the British Expeditionary Force but, in losing their lives, had achieved a spiritual and moral victory of innocence over cynical professionalism. This version of the event was encapsulated by the emotive phrase the 'Kindermord von Yperní ('the massacre of the innocents at Ypres'.)
Historical research in recent years has shed some new light on claims of the myth. Certainly many of the German troops involved in 'Langemarck' were untried and inexperienced combatants from the Reserve Corps components of the new German Fourth Army assembled to achieve breakthrough at Ypres. But student volunteers by no means formed the vast majority of these forces. The Divisions of the German Reserve Corps comprised very much a mixture of personnel recruited partly from experienced reservists and Landwehr (2nd Line Reserve), partly from inexperienced Supplementary Reserve ('Ersatz' Reserve) and partly from untrained volunteers, many of whom were students.
For a detailed examination of the 'myth' see 'The Myths of Langemarck', by Colin Fox in the Imperial War Museum Review, No 10, 1995, pp 4-25.
BACK TO MAIN TEXT