|Ensign Paul Peter Babiy, wearing one of his two "Medals of Valor" in the Carpathian Mountains of Galicia, in early 1915.|
__________ PREFACE __________
When I first heard my "Opa's" life story as a child, I heard it in bits and pieces; but even still, knew that it was remarkable and one day, needed to be shared. I vowed that I would do that one day. This is the beginning of me following through on that vow.
My father's father had been raised in an upper-middle class lifestyle in a suburb of Vienna, Austria. He had just completed his officer's training in Salzburg when the "Great War" broke out; consequently, he was called to duty, and sent east to fight....
As a child, I remember my grandfather talking about being in the Carpathian Mountains, yet my geography knowledge was so poor I didn't know where these mountains were. (They range across central and eastern Europe, and are the second longest chain on the continent.) I knew he had earned Austria's two highest Medals for Bravery, first Silver and then Gold, and I knew the basic story of how he earned each, but I didn't understand the circumstances he was in during these times.
World War I seems to be a war my generation and younger don't know a heck of a lot about. Yet it changed the face of the world, and ultimately was what helped establish the U.S. as a superpower. Because we are Americans, we tend to focus on our own history, and not worry too much about other countries. Maybe it goes back to our "Isolationist" policies we had during the beginning of the war. Maybe it's pride. Who knows. Yet, ultimately, each of us has ancestry back in some other country; and today, our world is truly interconnected more than it ever has been in the past. So I think it is important to understand World History -- certainly as it relates to each of our families.
I knew my grandfather was ultimately wounded, captured by the Russians, and kept prisoner for six years in Siberia, but I never appreciated the significance of his story, because everybody in the family thought they knew it, already. My grandfather would speak of how the Russians stole anything the prisoners had that was of any value whatsoever. They searched the prisoners' pockets, checked under their clothing, and tore through their barracks regularly, looking for whatever was worthy of stealing. Since he had his two medals with him when he was captured, he decided to keep them out, and never hid them. He left them on his bedside table in a cup or bowl for all to see, if they were not on his uniform. Because the Russians saw them everytime they were in his barracks, they never appreciated the significance or value of the gold and silver war medals. And they never took them.... Perhaps my grandfather's story has been kind of like that to us....
What did confuse me, however, was the fact that if he was captured in 1915, and the Russians were out of the war in March of 1918 -- when they were going through their own Revolution, why was he still a prisoner until 1921? What did he go through then? And what did he do all this time to keep from going insane?
During the 1930's when my grandfather was Curator of Cornell's Entomology Department, he took the time to write his memoirs of his experience as a P.O.W. It is entitled "Six Years in Siberia", and is a personal account of the everyday goings-on of his captivity, with just brief looks back at his training or fighting. He wrote this, because it was therapeutic to him.
Every winter -- and Ithaca, NY certainly has some snowy cold winters -- he became extremely depressed as the cold and snow reminded him of his P.O.W. years in Siberia. To counter his depression, and add color to an otherwise dreary season, my grandmother would leave their Christmas tree up until March, when the weather began to warm up again. The beauty of the tree was just one touch of brightness to cheer his spirits, and remind him of Love -- and warmth. She also was the one who suggested he write down his experiences, as a sort of therapy for himself. I am so grateful she did, and that he followed suit. (Even if it is not the easiest piece of work to read, at least we have it!)
What he wrote is personal, and doesn't reflect what was going on in the world around him. What the causes were of WWI, was not important to a 20 year-old 2nd lieutenant. All he knew was he was to follow orders. Early on in the war, the miscommunication between the German and Austrian Armies, about who was going to fight/defend/attack which Front (the Austrians thought they would have more support to the East, while the Germans thought Austria would handle the East by themselves, while they focused on their "blitzkrieg" to the West), was irrelevant to the soldiers on the front.
All my grandfather knew was that the Russians had mobilized a whole lot faster than anyone thought they could, and they had a huge army -- vastly outnumbering any of the forces that were with him. Because the Austrians were forced to cover most of the entire Eastern Front, in addition to supporting their attack into Serbia, they were stretched very thinly, and it wasn't long before Russia's superior numbers (even if they weren't as well trained) overwhelmed the Austrians. Only after the Germans had settled into "trench warfare" on the western front, and a "line" was established there in France in 1915, could they then transfer some forces to support their allies in the East.
But my grandfather wasn't worried about that, either. Like many soldiers will tell you, once the shooting started, all he was concerned about was the men around him. His men. His comrades. And doing whatever he had to do to win his battle, keeping his men and himself alive until the next day.
The details that my grandfather has provided of his experiences during his time fighting the war are sketchy. And in an effort to make this as true as possible, I have done research both online (what did we ever do before the internet) and at my local library where I was thrilled to discover in little old Suffolk, a vast wealth of books going into great detail about the First World War. More importantly, I found a couple of books that went into more detail than I had ever seen about the Austro-Russian front and the battles they incurred from 1914 through 1915. The series, The Great War, the Illustrated History of the First World War, was priceless for both photos and blow by blow descriptions of the battles fought in this theatre.
My grandfather's initial injury that he suffered in September, '14 to his legs/feet is a little sketchy in the details we know. Fortunately his mother had written her own life story during the 1930's and mentions the injury; but even she doesn't get into great detail of what happened -- only that he was able to come home then, and be treated by his father, before being sent to the front again in November.
It must be mentioned that one of the items I found to be of great comfort during my readings, were testimonies of faith by both my great grandmother and my grandfather. Faith was real to each of them, and they each tell of how God was there for them in times of need. Something we can all learn from, as I'm quite certain that none of us have ever had a life experience as difficult or trying as either of these remarkable people. (If you read my father's amazing story, you will recount that Peter spent a fair amount of time during the war with his "Grossi" -- that was his father's mother, Marie.)
It is also evident that grace and mercy play a big part in my grandfather's life. Both that he gives (accepting surrender of the enemy, when he could have killed them) and that he receives (when he is ultimately captured, while lying wounded on the ground.) I kept thinking to myself as I read these accounts... "but for a hair's breadth difference in where a bullet hit him... but for the grace of God that this Russian soldier didn't just as easily bayonet him, as nudge him with the butt of his rifle.... and I wouldn't even be here reading and writing this." Grace and mercy, indeed.
Using my great-grandmother's memoirs, my grandfather's autobiography of his time in Siberia, and our family knowledge of what happened during these years, I have tried to make this recount as truthfully accurate as is possible. I have had to take a little creative license here or there-- including regarding some of the minor characters -- , to keep the story flowing evenly; but I have limited it to keep it as historically truthful as I can. Where I get into his thoughts, as well as his parents' (or anyone else's thoughts, for that matter), I have tried to take what I know or have learned of their personalities, and infuse it into the situation. Kind of like Michael Shaara did, when he wrote his wonderful "historical novel" about Gettysburg, called The Killer Angels, back in 1974. It was factual, as far as the actual events occurring, but he had to conjecture about what the various participants of the Battle were actually thinking during these moments. I have tried to do the same.
If there are any inaccuracies, they are unintentional (and I'm sure I will hear it from older, wiser, more educated family members in due time.) There is no need for me to exaggerate his experiences. The known truth speaks for itself. But what I have set out to do here, is recount to the best of my knowledge and understanding, what exactly Paul Peter Gustav Babiy went through, in his young life until his return from Siberia in 1921. I have broken it down into two parts. This first part takes you until that day in May, 1915, when he was shot several times, left for dead by the remainder of his men, and then taken prisoner as the Russians overran the Austrian position. The second part will cover those long and lonely years in Siberia....
In the Spring of 1984 I had a semester in Vienna, Austria. In addition to being a time to learn, it was really a "break" for me. I needed to go back to my roots, per se, and "find myself". I had struggled academically in college, and now knew I didn't want to be a doctor, anymore. The problem was I didn't know what I wanted. So I was grateful to have a semester away from it all, where I could think, and grow. Since we only had classes four days each week, every weekend we had three days off. This allowed plenty of opportunity to travel. And travel, I did!
In addition to getting to know friends that had been friends of my family, literally for generations, I traveled a great deal throughout western and eastern Europe. But looking back today, no memories are greater and more appreciated than the ones when I was with my father's father, "Opa", in Salzburg.
About a four hour train ride from Vienna, the "Mozart Express" took me within walking distance of his apartment. He was 89 and I wanted to get to know him better while I still could. I had been to Salzburg many times before, as my family had lived in Switzerland when I was very young; and we visited my grandparents frequently in Salzburg. But I must say now that I was older, this was an opportunity to get to know the city and my grandfather much more intimately.
My grandmother had passed away in 1977 at the age of 83, and so now, seven years later, while he still missed her tremendously, he had a daily routine that he followed, and dear friends and family that checked in on him regularly. I was determined to get to know this man on a deeper level than just being my "grandfather".... I wanted to understand who he was, and what he was all about.
So it was with great joy that I rode the train that first weekend that I went to visit him in late winter. The snow on the landscape between Vienna and Salzburg was absolutely postcard-perfect, and the last bit of the train ride approaching Salzburg, with the snow-capped mountains, would have put any of the opening scenery in "The Sound of Music" to shame. Salzburg is truly, a magical, beautiful city that must be experienced to be appreciated....
When the train pulled into the "Bahnhof" early that Friday afternoon, I grabbed my carry-on bag, and exited the car. I walked toward the station and was delighted to see my "Opa" waiting for me. Wearing an Austrian hat, and a warm coat, he looked like the quintessential "Austrian", and I greeted him warmly. We walked back to his place together, arm in arm. I did this not just because I wanted to hold and help my elderly grandfather, but because he was legally blind, due to severe cataracts, and couldn't see but so far ahead of him. Consequently, he wore a yellow arm band on his sleeve that warned drivers and other pedestrians of his handicap. Having said that, I must also say, that he did just fine getting around town without me, or anyone else's help, for that matter. He was still totally independent, and proud of that fact.
He took me to his favorite little restaurant near his apartment for a late lunch, and we ordered our meal. He ordered his glass of red wine (he had two every day -- one at lunch and one at dinner) and I ordered a beer, and we sat in the comfortable benches and got re-acquainted.
|Opa and me together at a later visit, outside in one of his other favorite restaurants in Salzburg. The staff everywhere loved him.|
The "Opa" that I had known when I was young, was a soft-spoken man who amused his grandson by taking him on "hunting" treks along the trails of his home. Armed with butterfly nets, we scoured the bushes, grasses and trees for any "unusual" beetle, butterfly, bee (his favorite), and bug that might get swept up in our nets as we swatted them around. His excitement was contagious, and he truly was thrilled as he identified each captured prize to me, down to its scientific name, as he gently held the specimen within the net. As we sat at the table in the restaurant, I told him I cherished those memories from more 15 years ago. He smiled.
His ability to collect and see insects was now diminished, however, so he had traded his insect collections for stamps. The entomologist had become a philatelist. With stamps, he could still pore over them with his magnifying glass, and appreciate the intricacies of each unique one. His family and friends never sent him a letter without making sure it didn't have at least one unusual stamp inside from somewhere around the world, and they were all appreciated.
But as we sat in the restaurant, I told him I wanted to hear about his life... the parts of it I hadn't heard. The stories of his youth. His experiences in World War I, and his experience when he was wounded and captured by the Russians in 1915. We finished our meal in good time, and then walked back to his small apartment.
The faint smell of years gone by came to me the moment we walked through the door, and I sat down on his old sofa as he disappeared into his bedroom. He returned with a box, and put it on the table in front of me. He opened it, and as he reached inside for two medals, he began to talk....
__________ 1 __________
"It is never too late, if our will is honest and strong. There is never any suffering out of which some good does not come, if our spirit refuses to be broken by it."
"Never discard your belief in God and the world, in your nation or yourself...."*
*(Direct quotes taken from the Preface to Paul Peter Babiy's personal account of his experiences during the Great War and his years as a POW in Siberia.)
Paul Peter Gustav was born one hot summer day, the 25th of July, 1894, to Dr. Theodor Babiy and his second wife Marie. Theodor had two daughters, Bertha and "Hanni", with his first wife, but she had died, and after a couple years Theodor had found love again with Marie. They quickly had a daughter, Marie-Martha, whom they called "Mitz" and the next year Paul was born. Paul was Theodor's first and only son.
|Paul's sisters, Bertha and "Hanni", with their mother, Theodor's first wife.|
Theodor was 44 when his son was born, an established physician, and well-respected for his ability to diagnose and treat even the most unusual illnesses. Unfortunately it hadn't helped him with his first wife. She had died of some unknown ailment, before she ever had a chance to be treated. His new bride was 14 years younger than him, and full of life and spirit. He had met Marie and her family a few years earlier, when she was a patient. But after his wife's death, her family, with whom he had become friends, was sympathetic to him, and would invite him over for visits and dinners -- as well as when one was "ill'. Before long, Theodor sent a letter to Marie's father, asking permission to "court her". He was given their blessing, and shortly afterward, Marie was planning their wedding.
|Paul's father, Dr. Theodor Babiy|
A few years after Paul was born, Marie had another daughter, Katie, who was very quickly loved dearly by all the family. One might even say she was spoiled a bit.... Her nickname was "Sunshine", and it soon appeared that, indeed, the family revolved around this precious little daughter. The family was complete, Theodor thought... again. And much larger! He worked twice as hard, now, to support his wife and children, and never turned down a patient or a call. Still, he was doing what he loved, for those whom he loved....
|Theodor Babiy, with his wife Marie, and daughters Bertha and Hanni, Paul, Mitz and Katie.|
Where Paul's father, Theodor was formal and precise in his character, his mother Marie was more outgoing. She was the more social of the two, while Theodor was the unquestionable leader of the household. He was not a man who showed his emotions outwardly, as neither his personality nor society would allow for that. Consequently he kept quiet, and when he did speak, he spoke softly. But his eyes were sharp, and his mind sharper. He understood people very well.... Better than they often understood themselves. Rarely did he raise his voice. He didn't need to. It was understood by Paul and his sisters what his rules were, and they were simply obeyed.
Theodor was not native to Vienna. He had been born in the region known as Ukraine, more specifically Ruthenia in Galicia, and when he was old enough, his mother promised him to the Eastern Orthodox Church, to be a priest. He, however, was not thrilled with that prospect, so one night after completing his Secondary Education, he left home and traveled to Vienna. There he studied medicine at the University, and a few years later, became a doctor. He found a position at the hospital in Moedling, a suburb of Vienna eight miles to the south, shortly after receiving his degree, and had been there since. He loved Moedling, as it was close enough to the city that he could appreciate the opera, the arts and sciences and all that it had to offer, but could also enjoy the inspiring beauty of the "Vienna Woods", next to Moedling.
These "Vienna Woods" had inspired Johann Strauss, II to write his famous waltz during this time when Theodor first moved here, as Strauss also made famous the "Blue Danube" in honor of the beloved river that divides Vienna and flows down into Bratislava, and then Budapest, before eventually emptying into the Black Sea several hundred miles later. Many a weekend was spent by Theodor and his family in these famed woods, hiking and then having a picnic, before returning to Moedling exhausted but refreshed.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire covered much of central Europe in the late 1800's, and it included many different peoples and ethnicities, but the majority of the people in and around Austria were of "Germanic" descent, as was their beloved Emperor Franz Josef. And while skirmishes and battles had occurred throughout its history as an empire, there had been peace for a couple of decades by the time Paul was born.
Science, the arts, and music thrived in this city known for all three. Theodor, being educated -- a physician and a leader in his community, appreciated the importance and aspects of all three. He even dabbled in painting himself, specializing in miniature paintings on blocks of wood, or even copper. It was his solace, his escape from the pressures of work. Therefore, he knew the importance the arts could be. He would make certain his children would, as well. Each child studied a musical instrument, and "family concerts" on Sunday night were his way to hear how their studies were coming. Paul learned to play the old family violin that dated back to the 1700's.
Marie played the proper doctor's wife in all of the social circles, but she was also much more free with her emotions, in person and on paper. Like Theodor, she loved the outdoors; but instead of painting it, she loved to write. Poems about the area, and stories of their adventures, filled her journal she kept with her at all times. When the family sat down to rest or eat during the picnics, she would sit down and write. She would write letters to friends and family around Europe, and to neighbors right across the street. Ironically, where Theodor was a man who had "run away" from the church, she embraced it (she was Lutheran) and had a strong faith. And it was through her, that Theodor eventually came to have faith again, too -- but it was more of a reformed one now, than the structure of the Orthodox Church.
By the time Katie was born, Theodor had been promoted to Chief of Staff of the hospital. He enjoyed his new position, but was not about to stop being a doctor; because he knew that was his calling -- to help others. Not be just an administrator. In fact, he still spent most of his time with patients, and there was hardly any free time for vacation -- until the fall, when he would try and take off a week or so to be with the family. (Winter and spring were busy, because people got sick most often during these seasons, and in the summer, the number of tourists and visitors to the city increased so much, that he was kept busy then, too.)
As the 19th Century came to an end, however, so did the end of an era. On January 22, 1901, the "Grandmother of Europe", Queen Victoria passed away after her almost 64 year reign. Her nine children had all married into royal families around Europe, as did 26 of her grandchildren, creating a large (albeit bickering) family around the continent. The "Victorian" Age was one of formality and civility, but the Matriarch that had held it all together was now gone. And while traditions and ties last a while, they don't last forever.
__________ 2 __________
Closer to home in 1901, the Babiys had become friends with a family two blocks away, the Gubas. One day Mrs. Guba came over with something of a minor dilemma. Her eight year old niece was visiting from nearby Bratislava, and she had nobody to play with, and no place to play, as the Guba house bordered up against a stream, and consequently had no backyard. Could little Edith Munker come over and play with Paul during her visits. Marie agreed, and the two young children were told to play with each other in the backyard of Marie's parents' summer house a block away.
|Marie's parents, with family and grandchildren, including Peter in their backyard.|
Seven year old Paul made it known he did not like Edith after that first visit. She was bossy and made him play games he didn't want to play! But when his mother gave him a stern look, and explained to him that he must have proper manners when she was around -- after all, she was a young lady -- then he would be a proper gentleman around her, and let her have her way. If there was one thing Paul had learned, it was that his mother was not one to be pushed around or disobeyed. So from that point forward, he did NOT look forward to Edith's visits, but he did go and reluctantly play with her.... He did, however, insist that little Katie play with them, so that she could be bossed by Edith -- as well as him. Katie didn't mind. She was just happy to be included in the play of the older children.
What Paul did enjoy, however, were sports; and in a land that embraces winter, it was only natural he would come to love snow sports. Theodor insisted on having family outings, so he would take Paul and his family to the Vienna Woods on winter weekends for a day of cross country skiing. The scenery was beautiful, and the family would spend a refreshing day among the hills and trees. It was during these outings when Paul saw some other boys on sleds racing down the hill feet first on curved tracks with sloped walls. Almost immediately, the luge was his new love. It seemed so fast and reckless, yet if you were controlled and steady, you could fly at unbelievable speeds! He instantly took to it, and soon had his own luge sled. During the winter months he would now go out, often on his own, and practice the luge.
Lying down on his back on the wooden sled, feet first, and racing down icy hills and sloped courses both natural and man-made, was what Paul really looked forward to when there was snow. There was no greater feeling in the world than going faster than a horse, yet so close to the ice and snow flying by as he sped downhill... The feeling was exhilarating!
It also helped get his mind off the family's recent, tragic loss. During the summer, on one of the family's Sunday afternoon hikes in the Vienna Woods, Katie had suddenly gotten feverish and very ill. Her side hurt, and their father realized her appendix had become perforated. It had burst. They rushed to get back into town as quickly as possible to treat her (appendectomies were a surgery that had been successfully done for the last 20 years or so), but by the time they reached the hospital it was too late. Little Katie, their "Sunshine", who was so young, playful and full of life -- died. The family was in shock.
The whole family mourned terribly over their loss, and it was only on the day of her funeral that Paul realized that even his father was weeping. It was the first time he had ever seen him cry. Theodor especially, seemed to go into a shell for a period, as another beloved member of his family passed away, without anything he could do about it. Marie was there for him, a gentle reminder of those still living around him, and the faith he once again held on to tightly. Ironically, Paul realized during this time, it was his mother who showed a quiet strength as the family slowly learned to get back on with their lives.
When he was finally old enough, Paul began entering into regional luge competitions. The family would dress in their warmest clothing and go to watch Paul run his luge. Lugers from all around the Empire, as well as Germany and Switzerland were at some of these contests, and when Paul started to medal in them, his family was very proud. To Paul, it was all about the excitement and the thrill of going as fast as you can; and doing your best... knowing that there was nothing you could have done more. He was fast and he was smart, learning what "line" to follow that would get him the most speed and to the finish line first. And while he was on the course, his mind could think of nothing else but his run... where he should begin the next turn... what "line" to the bottom was the quickest. During that first winter after Katie's death, especially, he appreciated the "escape" that the luge provided.
He left it all out on the track, and sometimes crashed because of his efforts, but he never finished a run thinking he could have done more.... This attitude would help him substantially in the next several years.
__________ 3 __________
When Paul had finished his Secondary education in 1913, he informed his father that he wished to join the army for one year, as a volunteer. And he wished to train to be an officer. Then after his year of service, he would decide if he wanted to continue his service, or return to school to pursue a doctorate. Theodor and Marie approved of his decision, and when he applied to the Institute for Officer Training in Salzburg, he was readily accepted. When the time came in the autumn, Theodor and Marie accompanied Paul to the train station, with his foot locker of belongings. He boarded the car bound for Salzburg, and gave his mother and father a long hug goodbye. As the whistle blew, he shook hands one last time with his father, who wished him well, hugged his mother who gave him one more peck on the cheek, and hopped back up the steps to his seat, along with several other cadets, he noticed. As the train pulled out of the station, he opened the window and waved to his parents, still standing there until the train was no longer in sight. Paul was filled with excitement about what the next 10 months would hold.
The year flew by, and Paul excelled in his training. He received a letter from his mother several times a week, and his best friend and roommate, Eric, made fun of him for the amount of time he spent reading and writing his family. But when he wasn't in his room, he was learning, and he was training.
In the classroom, he learned military strategies that had proven successful through the centuries. The genius of Alexander the Great, especially interested Paul. His military success through surprise and tactics not seen before, intrigued Paul. As did his hubris. Paul went to the library and began to devour books on this interesting man who accomplished so much at this same age he was now....
|My grandfather was so enamored with Alexander the Great, he later wrote a play about him, entitled "The Dream".|
He also learned about modern weaponry and warfare. New weapons now existed, such as the Maxim machine gun that could threaten how warfare was drawn out, he realized. Artillery such as Howitzers and mortars also enabled armies to target enemy troops, otherwise thought to be safe. The older officers who taught the classes, spoke of Napoleon, and even Robert E. Lee, as well as the Franco-Prussian War and the Russo-Japanese War. The latter, especially intrigued Paul -- how a force so much smaller could defeat a much larger, if unorganized force. He took all these studies to heart, and learned well....
When he was in the field, he proved to be adequate with his rifle, the Steyr-Mannlicher M1895, a dependable, sturdy bolt-action rifle used by the infantry, in many differing variations. But he was not the best marksman in the class, he realized. So he knew that should the time come, he would have to depend on strategy and intelligence.... "shocking the enemy, just like Alexander", he thought....
The year went by too quickly, he realized as summer approached. He had made many friends among his fellow cadets, Eric and another Paul, Paul Kreczy, were two of his best friends. But there were many others with whom he had bonded, too.
He was, however, excited to return home to Moedling and see his family. But for a brief respite at Christmas time, he hadn't been home for any significant period at all. And the only other time he had seen his parents was when they had stopped by Salzburg on their way home from a rare vacation around Good Friday. He, his mother and his father had gone and enjoyed a picnic then, with his direct superior, Captain Staneke and his wife, Gilberte. Theodor and his family had been friends with Gilberte's for years, and they used the opportunity of visiting Salzburg to catch up with both their son and their friends' daughter and son-in-law.
It had been a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably warm and sunny (something Salzburg isn't necessarily known for -- especially in the spring), and the mountains had been bright and vibrant with the colors of wildflowers in the fields where they had settled for the day. And now as Paul was studying for his Officer's Examination, he reflected on how pleasant that day had been. He expected that he would continue to serve under Captain Staneke, should he stay in the Army.
He hadn't come to any final decision about his future with the military, yet, but he still had a while to make up his mind, he realized. Perhaps a couple months away from the Institute would help him with his decision. He focused on his studying, determined to do well on the test.... He did, and a week later he was congratulated by the Captain, and officially promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, or "Ensign". So were Paul, Eric and most in his class.
Unfortunately, however, the officials at the Institute had just been instructed not to release any of the instructors, officers, or cadets for any passes of any length. The buzz around all of the Empire, and the headlines of the newspapers were large with bold print with what had just happened in Sarajevo, part of the Balkans -- which had been making trouble for the empire for years, now. Gavrillo Princip, a member of a rebel group called the "Black Hand", (who was coincidentally born on Paul's exact birthday, the 25th of July, 1894), had taken a pistol, stepped out from the crowd, and assassinated the presumptive heir to the throne, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, right after others had tried a failed grenade attempt on their lives.
The Austrian Military was now on high alert, as their government made demands of the tiny border nation, Serbia. If all of these demands were not met soon, then Austria would invade Serbia to squash the rebels and take over the government. The wheels of war (which had already been turning behind the scenes, really for years) had gone too far, and it became quite obvious to all, that there was no other recourse than war.
Neither Paul, nor any of the other officers and cadets at the Institute in Salzburg, or around Austria for that matter, truly understood all that was going on among the various diplomatic circles around Europe; their focus was on training, and preparing for war. That's what soldiers do. They don't question what's going on, they follow orders. And when one night, they were told they would be moving out the next morning, they made sure their gear was packed and they were ready before dawn.
On July 28, four days after Paul's 20th birthday, and exactly one month after the Arch Duke's assassination, Austria invaded Serbia to teach it a lesson, once and for all. It's ally, Germany quickly followed suit by invading Belgium and Luxembourg on its way to France. For Germany knew it must neutralize its threat to the west before the giant to its east had a chance to react. Meanwhile, that "giant", Russia mobilized and sent its forces east toward Germany and Austria, and along its western borders. As part of the "Triple Entente" of France, Russia and England, England then also declared war on the "Central Powers", which included Turkey and Bulgaria, in addition to Germany and Austria. All of Europe was now at war. Soon it would be the world....
__________ 4 __________
As far as Paul was concerned, however, the war consisted of following his orders, and heading east. The men stopped in Vienna briefly before heading to Bratislava and then Budapest. There was no time for visits or rest as the soldiers had been assigned to various regiments, and were getting to know their men and their outfits. Paul was very happy to see that Captain Staneke and he were put in the same regiment the 75th Kaiserliche-Konigliche (Royal-Imperial), as was the other Paul; but Eric was assigned a different one. He wished his friend well and they talked about how they would all get together by Christmas to have a drink and celebrate their victory. Nobody thought the war would last past then....
|Austrian troops outside the arsenal in Vienna, training and getting ready to head to the Galician frontier.|
As Paul's outfit marched north-eastward, he was filled with anticipation about what was ahead.... The night in Budapest, there had been a meeting for the officers to understand what their strategy was to be. There would be three armies, one led by General Dank, one led by General Bruderman, and the 4th Army led by General Auffenberg, whom they were under. They were to march all the way to Warsaw and Brest-Litovsk, up towards Poland. The land between them and their target, Galicia (a region now mostly made up of Ukraine and Poland), was rural and many of the people there, sympathetic to the Austrians. Paul, of course, was familiar with Galicia, as it was where his father had come from. Run away from, really. And now he was returning there.
They didn't anticipate any serious resistance until they reached their goal, as many of the Galician Ukrainians sided with and fought for the Empire. The Austrians also anticipated that the Russians wouldn't be able to mobilize their massive army quickly or efficiently, so that they would be settled into their objective towns, and dug in before any serious threat to them materialized. They would then be reinforced by the Germans, once the battles on the Western Front were resolved.
|Austrian soldiers marching towards the front.|
As the armies began their march through Galicia, bands of Cossack soldiers, wearing their traditional black fur or wool hats, attacked them occasionally riding quickly towards their ranks, firing their weapons, and turning and disappearing again just as quickly. These raids were more of a nuisance than any serious threat to the Austrians, and Paul wondered why these crazy Russians and Ukrainians would risk their lives antagonizing the larger forces. Was there a strategy they were employing -- a method to their madness? Surely, the Cossacks had been known for centuries for their bravery in battles, but there must be more to these attacks than just to intimidate the Austrians....
|Austrians camping in the woods of Galicia for a midday meal -- before the chaos....|
The greater threat to their rapid deployment, however, was the mud and moisture that was everywhere. It had been raining a great deal, and the Austrian artillery was constantly getting stuck -- their wheels not made for these muddy roads. The soldiers, too, were getting tired of the rain, and many were now dealing with sore, blistered and infected feet. Including Paul. The army was marching day and night now, and had run low on food. Whatever food they could scavenge along the way, they did. Raw beets found in the fields in the region being one of the most common. But rest wasn't an option. The Armies were in such a hurry, it seemed, that there was no time for the men to change clothes, or even take off their boots. And many suffered because of it. (Later hindsight would show the foolish leadership and intelligence of the Austrian superiors during this and other campaigns.)
|Austrian soldiers using both manpower and horses to pull artillery out of the mud in Galicia.|
The Austrian Armies quickly discovered that they had underestimated the ability of the Russians to mobilize forces, and, more specifically thousands of Howitzer cannons to the Eastern Front. The Russians had also not done what the Germans had expected to their north, but had countered what German forces were around the region in East Prussia, with a sudden raid that now threatened the German food supply, as well as the city of Berlin, itself. The Germans were forced to quickly retreat, in order to defend their land and food, abandoning the Austrians to defend themselves in this foreign land.
The million men of the Austrian Army still outnumbered the Russians in this region, as there weren't any railways for the Russians to utilize, and only a few roads. Never-the-less, the heavy artillery of the Howitzers began pounding the Austrian Armies, whose own lighter artillery was not nearly as effective. Meanwhile the Russians were divided into two armies that began squeezing the "spearhead" of the Austrian troops, in order to isolate the main forces from any supplies or support. Once they were alone and separated, the Austrians would have no choice but to surrender. Even the Cossacks, themselves, tricked the Austrians south in Lemberg, leading more than a thousand to their deaths when they gave chase to some Cossack raiders, only to be slaughtered by an even larger number of Russians hiding in the woods nearby.
|A map of the area from Budapest (lower left) to Rava Ruska and Lemberg (upper right), and the Russian surprise advance that forced the Austrians in to a disastrous defeat and hasty retreat.|
In Rava Ruska, Paul and his men were surrounded by exploding shells and mayhem. There was confusion among the troops, and Paul held fast to the line of trenches they had dug. But he, his men and finally the officers above him realized, it was a hopeless and suicidal cause. The order was given to retreat, and the men retreated as quickly as they possibly could. Anything that slowed them down was left behind. Artillery, shells, even Red Cross wagons were left behind as the men tried to stay beyond the range of the long-range Howitzers constant barrage.
|Mounted Russian soldiers standing among a number of abandoned Austrian shells, outside Rava Ruska.|
|Austrian trenches abandoned due to the heavy Russian artillery.|
|Russian Soldier standing beside an abandoned Austrian Red Cross Wagon -- that had apparently lost its wheels.|
As the men retreated, a shell exploded near Paul, and he took some shrapnel in his lower legs near his feet. He fell to the ground, and was now unable to move at all. He looked to his men, waved them on as he knew they couldn't carry him with no wagons or horses, and he was abandoned at the side of the road. Reluctantly they left him, only when he insisted he would catch up to them again.... At the end of that day, Captain Staneke had the unfortunate duty to list 2nd Lieut. Babiy as among those "Missing in Action", and sent the report forward to Head Quarters.
Back on the road, Paul spent the night in a trench, continuing to wait for any help at all. Finally, the next morning, more Red Cross wagons came by. He waved to them, and they picked him up. A long and painful week or more later, he had been safely transported to Prague, and was admitted to a hospital there. It was there that he was finally able to have notice sent to his family of his situation.
|While these Red Cross Wagons were also abandoned by the Austrians, fortunately they had enough to finally pick up 2nd. Lieut. Babiy before the Russians overran the area.|
__________ 5 __________
The battle had been a complete disaster for the Austrians. Over 300,000 men had been taken prisoner, and they had lost artillery, munitions, and innumerable supplies along their retreat. From the hospital, however, Paul was just thankful to be alive.
Back in Moedling, the day the telegram came telling his parents that he was alive, but wounded in Prague, was greeted as joyfully as Christmas! They had not heard from him since he had been deployed in July, and weren't sure if he was alive or dead -- especially after the disaster of the Austrian campaign in Galicia became known, and they had received word he was MIA. These had been "hectic and horrible days", his mother had said.
After the war had started, Marie had written in her journal that "Day after day, mobilized citizens called into the army, gathered in front of our windows next to the Town Hall, and sang the 'Kaiser Hymn', and said farewell to their hometown." And with each passing day of hearing no news, she couldn't help but wonder her own son's fate as more and more soldiers marched east. But that was over -- at least for now.
|Young Austrian recruits getting ready to head to war....|
As they held the telegram and read it aloud again, they both breathed a prayer of thanks, and then Theodor made arrangements for him to be shipped from Prague to Vienna, so he could oversee his care. When Paul finally arrived via train several days later, his mother and sisters greeted him with hugs and kisses as he was carried on a stretcher from the car. They were shocked at how gaunt he looked, but made no mention of his appearance to him. They were just thrilled he was alive (even if he was "half-starved", as Marie wrote in her journal) -- and now home with them. Even if would be for just a brief period. His father went right to the hospital, following him, and beginning immediate treatment.
The wounds, swelling and infections on his feet were so bad he couldn't even get any shoes on anymore. Theodor attended to Paul everyday from that point, and his mother visited as much as she dared, without getting in the way of his treatments or his rehabilitation. When Theodor found out that his son's friend Paul Kreczy had also recently returned among a number of invalid soldiers, and was being treated in the hospital for dysentery, he made certain that the two Paul's got to spend plenty of time together as they convalesced.
On November 17, Paul was finally (barely) able to rejoin his regiment, and was given orders to report the following day to the 5th Infantry now in Neuhaus, in Bohemia, where his regiment was now stationed. Once again, he was accompanied by his parents to the train, and once again he gave them each a long hug, kiss, and an extra handshake of gratitude to his father for his care. As the train departed the station, Paul opened the window, even though the air was cold, and he waved to his parents until he could no longer see them. He wondered if, or when, he would see them again.... Things were not going so well with the war, he had realized; and he now knew that Christmas would come and go, and the fighting would still rage. This was not going to be a short, victorious war, after all.
__________ 6 __________
The service train headed north without delay. It was the same one that Paul had ridden home in from Prague, and it's one stop along this express route, was Neuhaus -- a little more than halfway between Vienna and Prague. The train stopped in just a few hours, and Paul disembarked, with several other infantry men.
When Paul arrived at his regiment again, he reported to Captain Staneke, who greeted him like a long lost brother. His battalion was camped within sight of the beautiful old, white castle, which the higher officers now made their residence. Captains and lieutenants, however, had no such luck. That was fine with Paul, however. He was happy to see his men of the 4th Platoon, and find out how they were all doing. And what insight they could give him.
The Captain informed him that they would be working in conjunction with the German "South Army", they were now getting ready to head back to the Carpathian Mountains, to reinforce the troops already there. Things had not been going well there, and if they continued to deteriorate, he anticipated that they would receive orders to march in about a month or so. Paul was grateful he still had time, before his men and he had to head east again. His father had given him advice about how to prevent the infections from affecting his feet again, (take off your boots, daily, and change socks as frequently as possible.) And his mother had made certain Paul had more than enough pairs of warm, thick socks to keep his feet both warm and dry. He could honestly say, the prospect of heading into the mountains in the dead of winter, did not excite him; but he knew he was prepared for it, now, both physically and mentally. He had seen how many of the men were very low in their spirits, due to the horrible losses and experience in late August, and he was determined to make a difference when he got the chance again.
On New Year's Eve they moved out, and Paul quickly realized that the only thing that had changed in the Carpathians and Galicia, was that the rain had turned to snow, and it was cold! Bitter! He was thankful he had the warm socks, in addition to the heavy wool coat the Austrians issued their soldiers. When they reached the front lines, they were welcomed by the troops already there, and quickly filled in the gaps that had been lacking, as many of the troops had been killed, wounded, or were dealing with other issues such as frost bite, trench foot and the like. Transport of munitions was irregular at best, as the constant snowstorms wreaked havoc with the delivery routes the Army used. And at times the snow was so heavy, the supplies were held up for days in the mountains, if not lost altogether. The Austrians broke down the larger supply cars and wagons, and divided them up onto smaller, horse-drawn sleighs. These were able to go directly to the front lines and resupply the troops there with the lighter weight munitions they needed up front.
|An Austrian ammunition sleigh that had just made a delivery. A Russian bullet had just whizzed by this horse's ears, causing it to be startled as the photo was taken.|
The fighting had been fierce, as the Russians were now evenly matched with the Austrians in numbers in the region, and were attacking regularly. To the troops in the area, it seemed like the Russians liked to charge and attack quite frequently, they told Paul. In fact, they said, the Russians were just as fond of using their bayonets in close quarters, as they were in shooting -- if not more so, since they didn't have to replace their cartridges when using their bayonets. Consequently, many of the skirmishes in the region had been quite bloody, leaving the snow red, and the trenches filled with more blood than water.
|Frequent attacks and close fought battles were what, it seemed, the Russians preferred in and around the woods of the Carpathian Mountains, where the bayonet killed as many, if not more than, the bullet.|
|Austrian machine guns like this "Maxim", were often the difference in whether or not the Russian attacks could be repelled or not.|
|Providing support now to the lines, the heavy-duty artillery , such as this Howitzer which shot a 1,000 pound shell, could hit Russian troops from miles away.|
The other strategy employed by the Austrian Army was to move their positions during the night. That way, should the Russians attack, they would be attacking positions based on now obsolete information. On the morning of January 25, after the men had been in the mountains for a couple of weeks, Captain Staneke gathered his officers and told them that they would be doing just that tonight. Their company was to spread out, and move forward, establishing a new position several miles ahead to where the woods broke open to the fields; and they were to be established, entrenched, and send word of their progress before morning. They would begin to move out at exactly 20:00 hours.
Staneke pointed to the map, assigning each of his lieutenants as to where he wanted them and their platoons during the night, and 2nd Lieut. Babiy was assigned the far end - the right flank. Paul walked back to his platoon after the meeting, realizing that his was a very important position. He and his platoon would have the support on his left, of the rest of his company, but there would be nobody on the right -- except the enemy.
__________ 7 __________
Paul went back to his men and informed them of their orders right after lunch. He had grown to admire many of the fifteen men that served under him. They were simple country boys, most of them not well educated, but they never complained about anything. They did what he ordered without hesitation, and had learned to fight bravely against first the Cossacks and now the Russians. They had also greeted him warmly upon his return in November; and only because he had waved them on, during the retreat in the summer, did they reluctantly leave him.
Paul's sergeant was older than him, but had grown to respect the young officer that had selflessly told them to move on and leave him back in Rava Ruska. He knew that this officer was smart, and truly interested in serving both his country and his men -- and not just trying to further a career, like many officers had done before him. With the sergeant's respect earned, the rest of the men followed suit. They had seen how other platoons had been led to disaster by either cowardly leaders or ignorant ones. They were fortunate, they knew, with Babiy as their lieutenant.
At 19:45 Paul was lined up with his troops as Captain Staneke inspected the men before him. The snow was starting to pick up again, and Paul knew that the falling snow would make the woods more quiet when they moved. It would also, unfortunately, limit their vision and their visibility. After Staneke had left to inspect the next platoon, Paul addressed his men. The woods in front of them were thick and wild, and Paul urged his men to constantly check with the man on either side of them, to verify they would all stay together, and not get separated from each other.
At 20:00 they moved out. Within a hundred yard of moving through the woods, there was no sign of the Austrian line behind them. Between the snow and the thickness of the forest, they were walking blindly. Before long, they had lost all contact with any other platoon in their company, but Paul didn't panic. He knew the objective was ahead, and with the help of his compass, he would reach the forest edge. Around midnight, Paul knew they should be nearing their objective. The snow had let up some, and had not impeded their movement as he feared it may. It had been difficult to compensate for the density of the woods ahead, and there had been times when they had to walk for a while in the wrong direction, before a break had allowed them to return to their "line".
Paul was in the lead now, and as he walked he suddenly raised his hand in a fist. "Halt." He squatted down and turned to his men, pointing at his eyes, with his gloved hand. He had seen something ahead. The men all froze in their position, squatted, and brought their rifles around, readying them. Paul turned again to what he had seen in the dark and snow. A structure, a house was ahead at the woods' edge, and there was a window, with a light on. It was obviously occupied, but the question was, by whom? Were there Germans from the South Army that had moved this far, or were they Russians? Paul knew he must find out. His sergeant came forward silently, and Paul told him what he was going to do.
"I am going to sneak up to the house and find out if it is occupied by either Germans or Russians. Then I'll come back, and we'll decide how to respond."
The sergeant nodded, understanding he was now in temporary command, as Paul started worming his way forward on his belly. What his lieutenant was saying he would do, was risk his life to see what was up ahead. He could have just as easily ordered him or any of his other men to do the same task, yet he took it upon himself to what was an extremely dangerous and risky action. One more reason he liked and respected this young lieutenant.... He watched as his platoon leader wormed himself closer and closer to the building. And then he disappeared for a moment.
Paul was inching along on his belly, when he realized there was a trench straight in front of him he hadn't seen from the woods. He now could also see there was a guard seated outside by the door in the dark, which was on the other side of the house from the lit up window. Paul was not wearing his "winter whites", and hoped he was not obvious lying against the fresh snow around him. He knew he was also still at the edge of the woods, but he had yet to be able to determine if it was friend or foe on the other side.
He made his decision and slunk down into the trench noiselessly on his hands and feet just yards away from the house near the window. He then continued to crawl toward the structure and when he was finally near a dark window, and out of the line of vision of the guard, he stood up against the wall. As he rose up near the darkened window, he could hear men breathing... snoring really, and he realized that there were dozens of men asleep on the other side of the log wall of the shelter. He decided to take a chance, and pulled out his small flashlight he had on him. He held it up to the window and just for a moment, turned it on and then off. That was enough.
In that moment he saw Russian rifles lined up by the door, and Russian overcoats lined up next to them. He was behind enemy lines. He held his breath as he put away his flashlight. Had anyone been awake and seen the flash? If so, they would be getting up now and coming to the window. He drew his pistol and waited for a minute, pressed up against the wall, with his pistol aimed at the window. Nobody came, and he continued to hear the unchanged sound of the heavy snoring. These Russian soldiers slept soundly, he thought. He wondered if even the guard camped by the front door was awake. He didn't want to find out yet. He put his pistol away and got back on his hands and knees, and slithered back to the Russian trench, down and up and over it, into the snow and shadows, and back to his men.
When he made it back, he withdrew his men deeper into the woods so he could have a discussion with them. He gathered them near him and told them what he had seen. He estimated there were about three dozen men in the house all asleep. They couldn't just leave them there, and follow their orders of establishing their flank position as they had set out to do. Therefore what he recommended to his men was the following:
They would spread out as wide as they could, to appear to surround at least this side of the shelter. Then would sneak to within 30 steps of the Russian trench and wait until they were all set and in position. Upon his initial yell, they would all charge the enemy firing as quickly as they could until they were into the empty trench, where they would then demand the Russians to surrender. They would startle the enemy into submission! The men nodded and got into position around the edge of the woods.
As they sneaked forward silently, they could see the guard by the door now. It appeared he was not even paying attention, as he made no notice of the figures in the dark coming towards him. Once Paul saw that his men were ready, he stood up with his rifle and yelled at the top of his lungs, "CHARGE!" and began firing his rifle as quickly as he could towards the building, his objective being as much to scare any of the sleeping soldiers, as it was to actually hit any of them. His men did the same, and in moments they were in the Russian trench firing back towards the house.
|A Russian trench at the edge of the woods looked something like this. But this photo was taken during daylight, and the Russians were obviously awake and defending this one....|
"Cease Fire!" Paul yelled, as he saw the hasty movements of men suddenly awoken through the windows. The guns stopped, and there was no return fire from the house yet. All was silent. He decided to take advantage of the quiet and yell to the Russians.
"We have you surrounded! You are outnumbered, and you will die if you resist and fight. Come out now, with your hands up, and you will live. You have one minute to respond." Or what, he wondered.... Of course what he thought didn't matter right now. All that mattered was what they thought. He hoped they would not see through his bluff. He waited....
In less than a minute the door opened and he heard a voice as a handkerchief tied to the end of a bayonet was waved out the door.
__________ 8 __________
"Don't shoot, we are coming out!" He heard in heavily accented German.
His bluff had worked. The guard came from around the corner with his hands up, ready to lead the surrender.
"Come out single file, with your hands high, or you will be shot!"
The first man came out in his long underwear and his overcoat, holding the bayoneted rifle with the white handkerchief of surrender. And then another. And another. And so on. Each of the men came out, and Paul stepped forward bravely towards them.
"Step over here", he said to the guard and the first man, and he pointed his rifle over to the far end of the yard by the trench. That way there would be plenty of space between each man as they came out. Paul's men stayed hidden in the trench, with their rifles aimed at the men, ready to shoot any that looked threatening to their ensign.
The Russians continued to step out of the house in single file, and Paul told each one where to stand, as he verified each had no weapons on his person. When the 37th man came out of the house, he told his captor that he was the last one. Paul called to his sergeant to verify this, and he hopped out of the trench and ran into the house, bayonet fixed on his rifle in one hand, his pistol in the other. A moment later he came back out, and nodded. It was true. The house was now empty.
He called to the rest of his men and they came up, rifles ready. The sergeant disappeared into the house again, and a less than a minute later came back out with some rope. Paul nodded towards him, and he pulled out his knife and began cutting sections of the rope to tie the prisoners hands. Paul ordered two of the other men to search the house and the surrounding area for any munitions or anything of value they could take back with them, including obviously, the rifles he had seen lined up next to the overcoats. One of them found some additional small munitions, pistols, mortars, grenades and plenty of rounds for the various guns, and they packed them in some canvas bags and backpacks, and distributed them among the remaining troops.
"Who is your leader?" Paul demanded of the guard. He sheepishly was silent, as if knowing he had been derelict in his duty. The first soldier who had had the handkerchief stepped forward.
"I am. I am Captain Dimitrieff," he said proudly in front of his men, as they all acknowledged him. Paul noted the irony of a proud captain, held prisoner in his long underwear and overcoat.
"What are you doing here?" Paul asked slowly and clearly, but in a threatening tone, knowing the Russian was under no obligation to say anything. But he had been bluffing well so far and it had worked, so he might as well not stop now.
"We are reserves that have just been sent up to the front," the Captain said in stilted German, a little unsure if what he had just said, he should have. The pride was dissipating.
That made some sense, Paul thought. The lack of an alert guard.... how soundly the men all slept.... the number of new weapons and ammunition his men had just confiscated. He realized the Russian was telling the truth. These were fresh reserves, alright, and for them the war was over before it ever even had a chance to start.
The sergeant finished tying each of their hands, and then tied the men together in several groups, with long stretches of rope between them. Several of Paul's platoon carried the confiscated weapons, while most of the rest guarded the captives now marching back to the Austrian line. Paul and the sergeant, however, were at the front and back of the line, scouting for any other signs of Russian trouble....
By the time they made it back to the camp, the sun was just rising over ridges to the east. The snow had stopped, the clouds were clearing, and as Paul led his platoon into the camp, the other Austrians came out of their tents to see what was going on. His platoon proudly marched now, Paul noticed, as there was an audience to see them. He smiled at them, and led the men to his major's tent.
The major came out to greet him, having heard the ruckus as the platoon approached, and was surprised when he saw the 2nd Lieutenant with his platoon and all these prisoners.... Paul explained to him what had happened. How they had gotten separated in the thick forest and snow, from the other platoons of his company. How they had independently continued on to their objective. And that once they had reached their objective, they had discovered it was occupied by fresh Russian reserves they couldn't have known about. As Paul was paused to get his breath to continue, his sergeant stepped forward, and saluted. The major acknowledged him. "Yes, sergeant."
"Sir, I want you to know that Ensign Babiy, here, personally was the one who sneaked across the enemy line, through their trench and then up against their barracks to identify who they were. He risked his own life, and then sneaked back to us to let us know what we were up against."
Paul got embarrassed, but said nothing, as the sergeant continued.
"Then, instead of telling us to retreat to get reinforcements to attack this larger number of reserves, he had the idea of how we could startle them, and throttle them into submission with our weapons firing and our yelling. It worked, and that is how one platoon captured all these men and their weapons."
At that point, the soldiers who had been carrying the confiscated weaponry, came and deposited it near the major's tent. He smiled as they stepped back.
"Thank you sergeant," he said acknowledging him. "Thank you Ensign Babiy". I would advise that you and your men to go rest for a while. It appears you've had a busy night."
"Yes sir," Paul said, and he and his sergeant saluted their superior. When the major returned their salute, they clicked their heels, turned around and went to where the rest of the platoon was standing. Soldiers from the camp had come and taken the Russian prisoners to their temporary holding area, until they could be properly cataloged and sent back to the prison camps miles behind them. Meanwhile, another group of men was just admiring all the Russian weaponry.
|Austrian soldiers sorting through various confiscated Russian weapons.|
When he was awakened, it was by Captain Staneke, who upon hearing about Paul's escapade, had come back to the camp, to see for himself and find out what had happened. Paul was still tired, but came to attention and greeted his Captain. After about 15 minutes, he had told the story, and the captain responded.
"There could be a medal in this for you, I understand," he told Paul. "I understand the major is quite impressed with your initiative and your bravery. Congratulations" He stood at attention, to give an order.
"Tomorrow, after your men have rested well, I want you to report back to me at 12:00 hours." Paul saluted his captain, grateful for the full day of rest he had just been given. The Captain saluted back, and exited his tent.
__________ 9 __________
Two weeks later, Paul and his platoon were recalled with the rest of Captain Staneke's 5th Company for a ceremony with their superiors. The men lined up at attention, divided by their platoons, and waited for the officers to arrive.
The platform in front of the company had been decorated with banners. It must be a special occasion, they thought, for when just the major addressed them, it was not nearly as decorated. Then they noticed the General's flag. After a few minutes of waiting there was a stir as the men noticed several superior officers and staff walking towards the platform. Among the high ranking officers was none other than General Von Auffenberg, Commander of the 4th Army, of which they were part. Even still, it wasn't often that the men got to see their ultimate leader. The major walked up in front of the men onto the platform.
"Gentlemen, soldiers," he said addressing the company, "we are honored today to have among us, the supreme leader of this great 4th Army, General Von Auffenberg, who has come here today, to make a presentation." He turned to and acknowledged the General, then stepped aside in full salute.
|General Von Auffenberg, commander of the 4th Army, under whom 2nd Lieut. Babiy served.|
The General marched up the platform, acknowledged the major, who then stepped down, giving way to the General.
The General spoke for a few minutes about the war, and the noble cause of Homeland and Kaiser, and then started describing how for an army to be successful, they must have men of courage and bravery and instinct. Men, who in addition to following orders, know how to take the initiative when times call for it. He then started to describe the events of the night of 25, January, 1915, and Paul felt his face get flushed. Next to him, his sergeant smiled.
A couple minutes later, as the General had finished the story, he turned and nodded to one of his staff, who came up the platform and handed him a box. He departed just as quickly.
"Ensign Babiy, please step up!", the General ordered.
Paul marched forward and formally walked up the stairs to where he addressed the General in full salute. The General saluted back, and announced, "For showing courage and initiative under extraordinary conditions, I am honored to award you the Silver Medal of Valor, First Class!"
He opened the case and displayed the rare award to the company, before taking it out and showing it to Babiy. Babiy stepped forward, and the General pinned it on his chest.
"Congratulations, Ensign, for a job well done!" The General saluted him again. Babiy saluted back, and was dismissed to join his men again.
The General spoke for another few minutes about how they can win the war with more men like that, and then he thanked them for their service and honor. "Long Live the Kaiser", he said, and he turned and walked off the platform, disappearing again with his staff.
The major stepped up with Captain Staneke , spoke for a moment and offered his own congratulations to Babiy, as did Captain Staneke, who gave him an extra twinkle in his eye of pride. He then dismissed the company.
Immediately the men of the 4th Platoon of the 5th Company of the 4th Army surrounded their 2nd Lieutenant to take a closer look at the rare medal. It was the first one most of them had seen, and Paul let the lack of decorum slide for a moment, before they were dismissed for lunch. He then walked to the Officers mess hall, and was greeted warmly by none other than 2nd Lieutenant Paul Kreczy. The two shared lunch together, as Paul again, had to tell the story of how the night unfolded. It was a good day....
|The Silver Medal of Valor, First Class, awarded to Ensign Babiy for his efforts 25, January, 1915|
The next day, it was back to the business of war as usual. Reports were now coming from the German South Army, who had aerial reconnaissance ability, through the use of airplanes and blimps, that the Russians were mounting even greater forces on the plains of Galicia. Paul's platoon was again entrenched at the front, and they stayed on high alert, watching for another frontal attack by the Russian forces. They didn't have to wait long....
The superior Russian Forces began pressing the Austrians back into the mountains, into the woods, and by the middle of March the Austrians were almost all the way back to the Dukla Pass which they had used to cross the mountains. Some of the ridges around the mountains were already held by Russian soldiers, and Captain Staneke knew that part of their mission, now was to neutralize, if not take back some of these ridges, to ensure that the Austrians could have control again.
On the first day of Spring, Staneke had his officers in his tent again, and on his map, he pointed towards the ridges that brought the most concern. Among them was a ridge marked as "Height 577". The company was to go out again tonight, each platoon to scout the various ridges to analyze troop numbers, and look for weaknesses. At first light, they were to make their analysis, and then return. Paul was assigned to scout 577.
The weather was cool, and the snow had started to melt on the mountains, but it still seemed much like winter, in spite of the calendar. The melting snow would just mean more mud to deal with again. Fortunately, it wasn't unbearable.
Paul went back to his platoon, and gathered his men. Once again, they would leave at 20:00 hours and sneak to their objective through the woods. It was again, several miles away, and Paul estimated it would take several hours to get there.
The march through the mountain's woods was uneventful, his men so well trained at this point, he had full confidence in each of their abilities. As they used both compass and map with his flashlight, they never veered off course, and found they were at the base of the ridge with about two hours to go before daylight broke. Paul began scouting the area around them. There were no trees for the last 15 yards or so before the crest, and he realized that gave any Russian machine guns an advantage of sweeping his men down in just seconds, if he did anything foolish. He looked at the terrain around him, and a plan began to form in his mind. The cover around him was extraordinarily thick -- which was probably why the Russians had only been able to clear the way for about 15 yards so far -- and the enemy above could not tell how many may be below in the woods. If he could just take out the machine guns, then he may have a chance at victory here.
As the first hint of light appeared, Paul looked up through his field glasses and spotted where there were two machine gun nests. One on each side of the ridge. He wondered how many Russians were beyond the ridge, protected by the crest.... He called for two of his men that had experience throwing grenades.
"Do you each think you can throw two grenades into those two machine gun nests to take out any troops there?" The men analyzed the distance from the tree line to the nests. It was a long throw, but they had each made longer. They nodded. "Good. you will each get into position without being seen and await my signal..
He went and gathered the rest of his men. "Gentlemen, I believe we can take this Height. But it will take great courage and coordination from each and every one of you. I want all of you to spread out around the base of this ridge, staying in eyesight of the man next to you. Then, upon my signal you will each begin firing as quickly as you can, as many rounds as you have up towards the ridge. Have your extra cartridges ready to be loaded by your rifle, and have your pistols out and fire them, too."
He looked at each of the men, as they understood their orders.
"We are going to make it appear that we are an entire company of soldiers. We have no support here, and if we wait too much longer, I believe we will not have a chance to take this ridge, as it is now obvious they are clearing more and more of the brush around us every day. Our grenades can still reach the machine guns, but I'm not sure that if we wait until tomorrow we could say that." The men looked at the two grenadiers who nodded with confidence at their ability to reach the targets when called upon.
"We defeated a superior number of the enemy once before, by taking him by complete surprise. I believe we can do it again." The sergeant nodded, "Yes sir", and the men began to disperse.
Paul grabbed the two men he knew to be the most accurate with their rifles, his sharpshooters, with the extended M1895s. I want you each to be near the grenadiers, and if they miss or go down, it is up to each of you to take out the gunners above." They nodded, and each said "Yes sir!" In a minute they were following the grenadiers to their positions on either side, while the rest of the men spread out and prepared their weapons. When each was set, he waved to the next man, who waved until it was understood by the entire platoon all the way around the ridge that they were prepared for battle....
Paul breathed a prayer and pulled out his whistle. With a short loud shrill, the grenades were launched into the air towards the machine guns. Seconds later both nests exploded with successful throws. There were even some additional fireworks, as apparently the second grenade in each set off some ammunition in the nests. The men of the 4th Platoon all opened fire as fast and deadly as they could, as startled Russians began running to the ridge, only to realize their machine guns had already been taken out, and were useless. The sharpshooters each took out the first Russians they saw readying rifles over the ramparts, and Paul let the barrage continue for several minutes. Once again, he realized, he had caught the enemy unprepared, and was ready to take advantage of it.
When he estimated that his men were down to about their last cartridge of ammunition, he blew his whistle again for "Cease Fire." Instantly, the woods around him and the ridge were silent. He yelled up to the ridge.
"This is Ensign Babiy of the 5th Company. We have you completely surrounded, and you have no escape. We are part of the 4th Army and you will be destroyed unless you surrender now. You have one minute to give us an answer." Paul wondered if the same trick could work a second time....
A moment later, a flag came up by the ridge. It was white. Was it a trick? He decided he would find out. Bravely he stepped out from the cover, to give the impression of a man with confidence in the superior number of forces behind him. He started walking up the ridge. He didn't even have his rifle at the moment. It wouldn't matter now, one way or another he realized. The platoon watched in amazement as their leader walked up and over the ridge.
__________ 11 __________
When Paul crossed the barrier, he tried to make it appear that he was calm, but his eyes amazed him. There were hundreds of men here, still scurrying around. He walked to the officer holding the white flag.
"I am Ensign Babiy, and you are..." He hoped the major couldn't hear the tremble in his voice.
"I am Major Ivanoff", he said in decent German. "And we surrender." He handed over his sword as a sign of surrender. Paul called down to his sergeant.
"Sergeant, please come here and take care of Major Ivanoff and the rest of his officers, while we prepare the prisoners to march. And bring up your platoon to handle the weapons and the rest of the men."
The sergeant understood this as part of the bluff. Of course there was just the one platoon, so he called out, "Men of the 4th Platoon, advance and line up the prisoners!" Each of the men came up from the woods and over the ridge, each of them trying not to show the shock of surprise at the number of Russians now surrounding them. They all had to just do their duty.
|Austrian troops rushing up a ridge, where Russian troops are surrendering.|
Paul addressed the Major. "Major Ivanoff, we have every intention of treating you, your officers and your men with the dignity and respect they deserve, as long as I have your word of honor, as an officer and a gentlemen, that you will not try to make trouble for us as we lead you back to our facility."
The major nodded that he understood, and stated that he and his men would give no further trouble. Upon that assurance, Paul walked over to the ridge again, thankful that chivalry and civility still played a part even during wartime, and yelled down to the thick, but empty woods,
"Captain Staneke, the 4th Platoon has everything under control here. We can take responsibility from here, so that you and the rest of the company can continue!"
There was silence in the woods, as Paul's voice echoed around them. He quickly turned back to the major before any suspicions might be realized. "Thank you, sir." He nodded to the Major.
He turned and called to his corporal.
"Corporal, please oversee the surrender of weapons over here," he pointed to where a pile of rifles were already lain, "and take three men and search the area for any notes, maps, paperwork." The corporal nodded and disappeared with three men.
An hour or so later, the men were lined up, and Paul was still trying to keep his heart in his chest. His sergeant had counted over 300 captives, including the major -- and they were just 15 men of the 4th Platoon.
The platoon encircled the men as they made way back to the Austrian command post, and during that time, Paul stayed right next to Major Ivanoff, keeping him occupied with questions of his homeland, his family, his interests and hobbies -- anything to distract him from the possibility of trying to think about fighting back and escaping this inferior number of Austrians.
It worked, as the Major was more than content to talk of his lovely wife and family, as well as his enjoyment of crosscountry skiing. Something Paul could relate to. The major even admitted that he had been west to Austria ten years earlier, after he had leave from the Russo-Japanese war, and he had enjoyed the beautiful mountains around Semmering. Paul smiled at him, acknowledging their beauty. It was there he had learned his German.
After a tense, but uneventful several hours of walking the men back to the Austrian lines, Paul sent the sergeant up ahead to get reinforcements. He saluted and disappeared ahead into the camp. Within a few minutes, Captain Staneke and the rest of the 5th Company had come forward, bearing their rifles. They saw that everything was under control, and Staneke gave Babiy a nod as Ensign Babiy announced,
"Captain Staneke, I would like to report to you that this is Major Ivanoff and his men of Height 577. The ridge has been neutralized, and there are still plenty of supplies and weapons, including two machine guns to be salvaged, sir."
Captain Staneke smiled. "Well done, Ensign. You don't cease to amaze me."
Major Ivanoff looked at the young ensign now, and realized what had happened. It was obvious that Captain Staneke and the rest of his company hadn't been around the ridge, as they looked with shock at the Russians around them, well-guarded now.
His eyes widened at first with shock, himself, and then a smile crossed his mouth.
"Ensign Babiy, you and your men were alone around my position, yes?" Paul nodded.
The major continued, "There were no other soldiers below us in the woods?" Paul shook his head.
The major then exclaimed, "Never in my years of military service have I seen such bravado and courage by any man, friend or foe. You have beaten me, with inferior forces, but a superior mind." He stood back.
"I salute you, and I thank you for being a gentleman, yourself." Paul saluted back, but the major wasn't done.
He pulled a badge off his own uniform, and gave it to the young ensign. "I would like you to have this, as a token of my respect." He handed the badge over to Paul, who thanked him, and then saluted again, as he walked away, relieved of the prisoners by Staneke and his men.
Paul gathered his platoon, and they all retired to their camps. An hour later, Staneke came to Paul's tent. Paul was holding on to the Russian badge, and placed it on the backside of his cap.
He got up from his cot, and stood at attention.
"At ease, Ensign," Staneke said. "I just want you to know that the entire 4th Army is buzzing about your triumph today. You have made us all very proud."
"Thank you, sir," Paul responded. "I was just doing my duty."
"You are too modest, Paul, you have gone above and beyond the call of any duty. And it has been noted." He saluted again, and walked out of the tent.
__________ 12 __________
A couple weeks later, again, the 5th Company was called to an assembly. Once again, the platform was set up, and once again the General's flag was among the banners and decorations.
The major stepped forward, and announced he was pleased to say that once again, General Von Auffenberg was there for a presentation. The General walked up the platform, and as before acknowledged the major and all the men around, before addressing Ensign Babiy.
"Monday, the 22nd of March would have been a completely disastrous day for the Austrian Army, but for one man and his platoon." (The men around knew that he was addressing the devastating loss the Austrians had incurred that same day in nearby Przemysl, where 135,000 men had been captured by the Russians.)
"But once again, there is a young Austrian soldier who gives all of us hope, with his courage and his wit." He paused. "I have absolutely no doubt that if we had an army full of men like Ensign Babiy, we will be victorious!" The men shouted "Hurrah!"
"Ensign Babiy, please step forward." Paul, in his full dress uniform, the Silver Medal of Valor shining on his chest over his heart, again walked up and saluted the General. He saluted back, as he opened another case. Inside this one was the highest medal an Austrian could earn, the Gold Medal of Valor. Again, he showed it to the men, before taking it out and pinning it on Paul's chest, next to the Silver Medal he had just earned not two months earlier.
|The Golden Medal of Valor, Austria's highest award for bravery: earned by Ensign Babiy for actions taken on 22, March, 1915. Total enemy combatants captured that day - over 300, as well as two machine guns, and supplies.|
"I salute you," the General said, and he stood back, while Babiy stood still for a moment, before acknowledging the General's salute. He returned it, and from the crowd, one of the men shouted, "Let's hear it for Ensign Babiy, 'the Russian Catcher'!" Paul recognized the voice as one of the men in his platoon.
The men broke into cheers, as Babiy stood next to the General taking it all in. In the past couple weeks, he had heard other men in the company referring to him as the "Russian Catcher", but now even the General knew his nickname.
__________ 13 __________
The General had been somber that day, because except for few examples such as Paul and his platoon, the war was not going well at all for the Austrians. The Russians continued to push them and defeat them in battle after battle, and the German Army under General Mackensen had suffered its own series of defeats against the Russians. As winter turned into spring, and April turned into May, there was little for the Austrian Army to celebrate. Which was why men such as Ensign Babiy were so important to the overall morale of the troops.
A new offensive was planned, coordinating both the German and the Austrian Armies. The large Austrian Army under the command of Archduke Eugene was to work its way up to Dniester,and then in conjunction with the Germans, they were to envelop Lemberg from the east, and cut off Russian communications. At this same time, however, up in the Carpathians the Russians continued to mount attack after relentless attack in their efforts to control the mountain passes. Babiy and his platoon and his company, were there.
Paul didn't hear about what the Austrian objectives in the region were; they didn't concern him and he had no need to know. He was concerned about defending his position with the rest of his Company in the foothills of the Carpathians. He knew that if the Russians overran the passes and controlled them, then the Austrian Armies would be without any arteries of supplies from this direction.
The 4th Army was now deeply involved in battle almost every day with the Russians. Paul and his troops had little time to rest between patrols, and his company was now starting to dwindle in size, as more soldiers were killed and wounded. Even Paul had lost a couple of men now to Russian bullets. It was with a heavy heart when this first happened, but he also realized his duty to the rest was to keep going, regardless of his emotions. So lead on, he did.
On the morning of May 17, the entire 5th Company was given orders to move towards the plain again, beyond the foothills of the mountains. There were supposed to be no Russian troops until miles into the plains.... Paul received these orders with a grim expression. It didn't sound good, as it didn't seem like they would have much support once they were beyond the safety of the thick trees and the mountains, and there were no shortage of Russians once you left the confines of the woods and the foothills. Still, he knew he must follow orders.
As the men headed out, they also appeared tenser than normal. They were all tried and true veterans by now, having survived numerous "baptisms of fire" with the Russians, and while other platoons and companies had fared poorly, the 5th Company, and certainly the 4th Platoon had been able to succeed time and time again. Perhaps that is why they were the ones chosen for this mission, the men wondered....
The platoons all worked their way through the familiar terrain, and then went beyond where they had been, yet. They were extra cautious, now, and their senses on high alert. The men all came to a clearing ahead, scanned the field for any signs of trouble. Beyond the field was another grove of fairly dense trees before another sloping hill, and Paul pulled out his field glasses and swept them across the plain and the front line of the trees ahead. He saw nothing, but he knew to not necessarily trust his eyes. He called his scout forward to him, and signaled for him to advance quickly and cautiously ahead.
The scout started scurrying ahead, while the majority of the men lay at the fringe. When he was a little more than half way across the 500 foot expanse, he fell to the ground and lay still. After a few moments, he raised his left hand and signaled for Paul to come forward. Paul ran across the field, darting until he, too was next to his scout. He threw his body down, knowing there was no cover here. No trench, no trees, no boulders. Just the ground beneath him and the grass that was maybe a foot high.
"Can you see there," the scout whispered, acknowledging something suspicious. "Where the path leads into the wood?" Paul followed his vision and saw the path ahead.
"There is a little mound, newly broken ground that does not seem natural...." Paul saw the mound less than 70 yards ahead.
Suddenly the sound of a "whip" screeched past him and the scout, and all hell broke loose. The mound came alive as machine gun fire was now peppering their location. He and the scout ducked tightly, while behind them their troops began charging, beyond the cover of the trees. Wild screams filled the air, mingling with the sound of the machine guns and rifles. One of Paul's platoon came up behind him, and kneeled firing his rifle towards the line of Russian guns ahead. His bullets whizzed over Paul's head as he fired until his cartridge was empty.
Paul yelled back towards his men and the other platoons, "FIRE! The enemy is in the woods ahead!" At that moment, Paul saw a Russian in his brown uniform slink into the bushes just ahead of him. He got his rifle and aimed at the figure and fired. The figure slumped over and disappeared in the grass.
The enemy machine gun took the moment of Paul firing his rifle, and centered on that location. Bullets hit the earth all around him, and he scooted and slid around to avoid the gun's aim. But still, a bullet hit the hard, dry ground next to his right hand, and the dirt exploded up hitting his fingers, stunning them momentarily. And then another hit his knapsack beside him. Yet another bullet hit to his left, and again the dirt exploded with a cloud. Then one splattered right in front of him. He looked over to his rifle and saw that it had been hit by a bullet, and the stock was cracked. He pulled out his pistol from his holster and waited for a target to appear. Meanwhile his scout and the soldier behind him were down and not moving. They had each been shot.
The woods in front of him came alive, as several Russians broke from the trees and rushed to the bushes nearby. Paul fired his pistol several times, as he heard his men firing their rifles behind him. The Russians disappeared, either retreating or hit.
Paul then got up, turned and yelled towards his men, "Quick!..."
He never finished the order. The tremendous shock of a mortar threw him to the ground. Then he felt two explosions on the right side of his neck and shoulder. And then another that knocked the pistol right out of his hand. His head sank to the ground, and he realized he had been shot. The machine gun had finally found him. The initial shock wasn't a mortar, but the first round hitting him in the cheek and mouth.
He lay on the ground, motionless, as he felt blood start to fill up in his mouth, mingled with pieces of his teeth. It felt like the first bullet had gone clear across his right cheek up to his ear, before exiting his mouth, and now the blood was gushing from his mouth and the hole through his cheek. He was in a state of shock, and he couldn't feel his right arm anymore. He wondered if it had been severed by an explosion. Looking over toward it in his daze, he saw that it was lying lifeless beside him. He forced himself to move two fingers, but that was all he could do. It was paralyzed.
He saw that two of his men, including his sergeant, were racing towards him to carry him back, but as they neared him the machine gun mowed them down. He didn't see any more of his men. His mouth and throat were filled with blood again, and his head sank down onto the ground. The blood was threatening to choke him now, so he turned over slightly, still in shock. Explosions and bullets continued to hit all around him, and he wondered if this was it. How foolish of the machine gunner to continue to fire towards him, he thought, when he was already disabled if not dying. He waited for the final bullet that would end it all for him.
The noise of the guns and explosions, which had been incessant, was now slowing down, and in the growing quiet Paul had a comforting feeling overcome him. He was going to bleed to death from his head, neck and shoulder, and he realized that he was okay with that thought. When the gunfire had ceased, he started hearing the strange, wild cries of the attacking Russians. Soon the field was overwhelmed with the brown uniforms of the Russians, and then he saw a bayonet flash.
"Surely this is it. Now, now is the end."
__________ 14 __________
The long brown overcoat standing before him suddenly turned his bayoneted rifle around, and nudged Paul with the butt of the rifle. He was yelling at him threatening, but there was nothing Paul could do right now, stretched out on the ground, unable to move -- and content to die.
At last the Russian soldier understood his captive's predicament, and leaned over, taking him up. He put his arm around Paul, and led him slowly back into the "Russian World". As Paul realized what was happening, a terrible depression overcame him. The table had turned, and it was he who was now a Prisoner of War. For him the fighting had come to an end. And he realized he would, indeed, get to see how this terrible, tremendous struggle would come to an end.
The shooting was still continuing, Paul realized, and as they approached the Russian side, another Russian rushed towards him, threatening him. He seized Paul's sword which hung uselessly under his immobile right arm, and they walked to the woods edge. As they entered the grove, Paul saw a long Russian trench filled with hundreds of Russians all armed to the teeth. It had been a slaughter for his men! They lifted Paul up and over themselves, and then let him slide to the ground.
The shooting died down for a while, but Paul still had hope for a loud shout from his comrades, as they came to rescue him. It was not to be. Of course, if they did come, he realized, he would probably be the first victim. Another skirmish of shooting to his right heated up, and the Russians around him got more and more nervous and excited; but then that gunfire died down, and it was quiet.
The Russian who had captured Paul was now searching his pockets for bandages, and he found three which he placed on Paul's face and neck, to stop the strong flow of blood. Paul nodded towards him in gratitude. Another Russian was going through Paul's belongings, and picked up his field glasses, excitedly. When he realized they had been damaged by a bullet, he threw them down in disgust. He then picked up Paul's hat.
The Russian badge given to him by Major Ivanoff was still there, and one of the Russians recognized it. he fiercely asked Paul how he got it. Paul knew that it was better for him to say nothing at all. He couldn't explain how he got it.... They wouldn't understand....
Another Russian joined the group, having been where Paul had fallen. He had picked up Paul's knapsack, and he grabbed Paul's pistol. Still in a fighting mood, the Russian said something Paul couldn't understand, and then jumped on him. He held Paul's pistol up to his forehead and grinned. He pulled the trigger....
Click. he pulled it again. Click. All the other Russians stared in full astonishment at the action, while the grinning Russian snarled and looked down the barrel of the pistol. It was empty, and that alone saved Paul's life.
When the battle beyond them was finally over, Paul was both relieved and frustrated when he saw two of his platoon brought over to him, also as prisoners. Painfully, he tried to speak.
"How is it that you were captured, and you are not wounded?" He asked the two men.
"We were charging the Russians, and when we came to the bushes, two more Russians came from there, and knocked our rifles from our hands before we had a chance to use them." It was Herbst, the former circus rider, who responded. (He had been a stunt horseman traveling throughout Europe before the war.)
"Was there anyone else?" Paul could barely get the words out, but the two knew what he meant. Sadly they shook their heads.
A Russian officer came over, another Ensign, and he saluted Paul. Looking at his men around him, he ordered them to disperse immediately, and they all walked away... but not too far. With the other men gone, the Russian ensign asked Paul to empty his pockets in Czech. But there was little Paul could do with his injuries.
Immediately, Herbst, who understood the Officer, stood forward and stepped in front of Paul, offering to help. He took that moment to find Paul's purse, and slid it under his uniform. Paul appreciated the cleverness of the former circus performer, and gave him a subtle tip of his head. Herbst then started handing the officer the contents of Paul's pockets.
Herbst handed over Paul's new watch he had just received from home, his old one having been broken during a firefight months ago. His handkerchief was next, followed by his pocket knife -- a Swiss Army knife with a dozen different kinds of instruments on it. The officer was amazed at this knife, and nodded approvingly. The men had come back and were on the perimeter watching everything come out of the pockets. They, too, spoke excitedly about the knife.
Next, Herbst grabbed Paul's diary, which fortunately he hadn't had time to write in for a while, so there were no secrets to disclose. Besides, it had been shot through, Paul noticed, and the pages were falling like confetti. Then he brought out some toilet paper in a colorful wrapper that the Russians hadn't ever seen before. In fact, they didn't even know what the toilet paper was for. They grabbed the paper and argued over what it was for a minute, before ultimately deciding it must be cigarette paper. They took it and stepped away again.
The officer asked Paul if he had any other valuables on his possession. He was going to make a list, and make sure that nobody would take anything away from him. Paul contemplated what he should do, and then he told Herbst to help him bring out the two medals. They were in his purse, so with very subtle movements again, Herbst reached inside Paul's uniform shirt, found the purse, opened it and felt for the two large medals. He brought them out without ever disclosing the purse still tucked away in Paul's shirt. Paul handed over the medals to the ensign, who looked at them with great interest. Again, the men on the perimeter stepped closer to see the large gold and silver medals.
|The backsides of Ensign P.P. Babiy's Silver Medal of Valor, First Class; and his Golden Medal of Valor.|
The officer then grabbed Paul's knapsack, took out the two photos Paul had in there of his family, and his last pay, which was also all shot through, as it had been in his diary, and put them together with the two medals. Then he grabbed a piece of newspaper, wrapped them all up together, and personally put the packet into Paul's shirt. He stepped away, nodding in respect to the fellow Ensign.
At that moment, another soldier walked up with a rag, and warm water from a teapot, and washed the blood from his face. Then they were told it was time to move on. The officer gave orders to several guards, and two Cossack soldiers on horseback came riding up. The guards surrounded the three men, and Paul was now supported by his two soldiers on each side. One Cossack rider took the lead, and the other rider brought up the rear. The numerous other guards on foot stayed surrounding the three.
As the men walked slowly, Paul tried to memorize any unique features of their surroundings. While he hoped for escape, he also knew that he was far too weak to attempt any effort now. As they continued along a small wood path, the three prisoners noted several strong positions around them, one above the other, on the slope of the small hill -- each fully manned, equipped and even reinforced so that they were shell proof. Herbst leaned over and told Paul he counted six machine guns in just the first position alone. Paul shook his head in disbelief. They had been told that these woods were completely unoccupied. To that lousy horrible "intelligence" they owed their fate. And now, while they were alive, their freedom was gone.
Paul walked along in silence. He was thinking about all the men that had been killed. His men. All because of the poor reconnaissance his men had received. But it was all irrelevant now. Now he was a prisoner. Now he was away from his people, his country, his family. And he wondered when, or even if he would ever see those he loved again.
He couldn't think about that, he realized. He must focus on what ever the future held. He must focus on his faith. His faith in himself. And his faith in God. And whatever the future did hold, he resolved he would be ready. He knew he wasn't alone....
And the three men kept marching towards the East.
END OF PART ONE.
My references to the names of the men Paul captured are fictional. We have no record of who they were. He did, however, receive a badge from one of his captives, as a token of respect. That is true.
While General Von Auffenberg was the Commander of the 4th Army, it is not known whether or not he actually presented Paul with his two medals. I just believe that for something so rare and highly regarded as the Medals of Valor are, if it was at all possible, the General would have been the one to present them.
And except for "Herbst" the "circus rider", there is also little mention of who the men were in my grandfather's platoon. The sergeant, in addition to the other soldiers I describe, are all fictional. What is true is that on that fateful day in May, 1915, the records state that Paul, Herbst and the other unnamed soldier were the only survivors of the company.
Captain Staneke was a real person, and the opening part of him picnicking with his wife and Paul's family is true. However, I have taken creative license with the rest of his story, too.
PART TWO ABOUT PAUL'S SIX YEARS IN SIBERIA WILL COME AT SOME FUTURE DATE....