20 Mar 2008

The “half-left” problem in following Ernst Jünger's footsteps the 20th March 1918

Photo: Nils Fabiansson © All rights reserved.
Leere Schrapnellgehäuse am Bahndamm. Aufnahme an einem frühen Wintertag.
Empty shrapnel-cases at the railway embankment. Picture taken an early winter day.

The “half-left” problem in following Ernst Jünger's footsteps the 20th March 1918

Quoted from Nils Fabiansson & Hedley Malloch, "Making sense of eyewitness accounts in locating historical sites: Ernst Jünger at Bullecourt: 21 March 1918", Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association, January 2004, no 69, pp. 15-22.

Ernst Jünger writes in The Storm of Steel (1929):
"Half-left of us was the great Ecoust–Croisilles railway embankment, which we had to cross, rose out of the mist. From loopholes and dugouts windows built into the side of it rifles and machine-guns were rattling merrily. Rifle and machine-gun fire streamed from the windows of the dugouts and loopholes in its sides."
However, both on the IGN map and out in the field it is obvious that, given Jünger’s direction, the embankment does neither “rise”, nor does it give a “great” impression to the half left of Jünger, given his direction. On the contrary, south-east of the crossroads, the embankment is sunken. If he was facing the embankment, a great embankment would instead rise in front of him, or to the half right of him.

Of even greater significance is that his account in Feuer und Blut, published five years after In Stahlgewittern, is rather different (Ernst Jünger, Feuer und Blut, pp. 115–116, translated):
"In front of us, out of thick smoke, a long black earth barrier rises, on whose crown there is still another chain of impacts. That must be the railway embankment."
After describing how his men jump down into the sunken road he writes:
"Reinforced we climb the opposite remblais of the sunken road and are faced quite closely with the railway embankment, which rises powerfully in front of us."
The problem is that in the text of In Stahlgewittern, Jünger mentions the embankment to his half-left before he enters the sunken road. Although Jünger continually revised In Stahlgewittern, he never changed his statement of the embankment being to the half-left.

Strangely, in Jünger’s original diary notes (diary notebook no. 13, pp. 2–5.) the embankment is not mentioned at all. Here the only feature described by Jünger as being on his left at this point is a machine-gun nest in a fox-hole (”M G Nest auf Aufwurf links”).