World War I: Specialized German Army Units--Pioneer Batalions

Figure 1.--This postcard was sent from Mainz-Kastel (a city near Frankfurt am Main). It was mailed to Heer Heinrich Bellinghausen. Most of the words on the picture are army abbreviations and difficult to read: 5.Mannschaft 4.E. Koenigl or Komp. Pion Batl.21 Mainz-Kastel. (We believe that this means the 4th Royal or Company Pioneer Batallion.) The written text on the back reads, "Today at Pentecostal I am sending you a fairytale and I hope that you experience it the same as I. Greetings...etc. (followed by words that are difficult to read). It looks like the friend is wounded and in a military hospital, because the address says Post Hedge Lazarett (Hedge is just a name). I re-wrote the (complete) German text (except for the very end which I cannot read: "Heute am Pfingstmontag will ich Dir ein Brieflein schreiben. Hoffentlich hast Du andere Pfingsten erlebt wie ich. Es me ein lieber........ (?) Es grt Dich herzlich Dein Freund Gerhard." That means something like . "Today on Monday the second Pentecostal Day (in Catholic Germany that means something). I hope that you experienced other Pentecostal than me. It should be a dear.... Wrmest greetings from your friend Gerhard. Gerhard uses the nickname Heini instead of Heinrich. The last name is Bellingshausen, a famous name in Germany and Russia. The card was sent by "Feldpost" (the Army free post for soldiers.) What we find interesting is how young the soldiers look. They all look to be teenagers.

A German pioneer unit, usually battalions organized to perform engineering and construction tasks. The term pioneer is very similar to sapper. The idea of a pioneer unit was to assist other units in engineering tasks like construction of entrnchments and other field fortifications, military camps, bridges and roads. They were also engaged in the construction and repair of military railways. The were called pioneers because they were originally detachments equipped with pickax, spade, and other tools and assigned to clear and repair roads, bridges, for troops on the march. They were thus placed at the head of a moving battalion. Over time specialized pioneer batallions were organized. It was a commonly used term among European militaries. The actual organization and function varied from country to country. Ioneer units in the Imperial German Army in World War I as largely evolved into modern engineer units., although the term pioneer continued to be used. They were a separate combat arm trained in construction and demolition or fortifications. On the Westetn Front, Pioneer units were used to help build tge trenches and in runderground war as the Allies in particular began tunneling under German positions. The term 'pioneer' was the stndard usage among European armies. The Germans also used pioneer units as emergency infantry. [Showalter, p. 272.] The general practice was to assign one pioneer battalion to each corps.


Showalter, Dennis E. Tannenberg: Clash of Empires, 1914 (Brassey's, London, 2004).


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Created: 4:58 AM 11/4/2010
Last updated: 11:20 PM 8/8/2014