Germany's Thirty Years' War: They View Allies Kept WWI Alive
How Germany was crucified in the First World War: Hidden for 100 years, the astonishing photos by 16-year-old soldier shows how his brothers-in-arms would forever be haunted by the spectre of defeat
They lay forgotten in a dank cellar for almost a century. But these remarkable photos, published for the first time, give a rare and uncensored view of the horrors of the First World War from behind enemy lines.
They were taken by Walter Kleinfeldt who joined a German gun crew in 1915 and fought at the Somme aged just 16. As his haunting pictures, taken with a Contessa camera, make all too clear, life in the trenches was a harrowing experience. The images provide an insight into the epic machinery of war – and capture the darkest moments of battle, with bodies strewn among the rubble.
Returning home in 1918, Walter set up a photography shop in the town of Tubingen, where he worked until his death in 1945. Walter’s son Volkmar discovered the pictures three years ago.
They are now the focus of a new BBC documentary. Director Nick Maddocks said: ‘It is rare to find such good-quality, honest and often beautiful photos that show us war through the eyes of the soldier, particularly from one so young.’
Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs is on BBC4 on Thursday at 9pm.
Carnage: Amid the appalling devastation and bodies of dead soldiers, a crucifix stands tall - miraculously preserved from the shell fire. The powerful image was captured after a bloody skirmish in 1917 - and Walter's son Volkmar says: 'This photograph is like an accusation - an accusation against war'
Final moments: Walter was just 16 when he fought at the Somme but his photos soon took on dark tone. Here he captures a German army medic kneeling beside a dying colleague - but he can do no more than offer comfort
Young life: Walter Kleinfeldt, pictured carrying ammunition in a Somme trench, joined a German gun crew in 1915 and fought at the Somme aged just 16, taking pictures of life on the frontline with his Contessa camera
Calm before the storm: A 16year old Walter Kleinfeldt photographed in the German city of Ulm in 1915. Just a few weeks later, he was on the Somme.
Constantly under threat: Gas attacks were a frequent menace in the Somme during the war so this group wear masks as they load shells into their gun in 1916
Two worlds: A studio portrait of 16 year old Walter Kleinfeldt, taken shortly after he volunteered in 1915, left on the Somme in 1916, right
Eyes in the sky: A German observation balloon takes off to direct artillery fire at the Somme in 1916. Walter Kleinfeldt was fascinated with the latest machinery of war
First day of horror: This photograph of members of Walter's gun crew was taken on the 1st of July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme
James Francis Hurley/ Ullstein Bild
World War I may have ended in 1918, but the conflict and the peace agreements that followed continue to mark the political realities in the Middle East today. The arbitrary borders drawn at the time ensured a century of strife and violence. Here, a 1918 photo showing Australian soldiers of the Imperial Camel Corps in the war against the Ottoman Empire.
Most of the countries created in the Middle East in the wake of World War I were unsustainable from an ethnic and religious perspective. Lebanon is perhaps the most unwieldy of them all. The country's civil war lasted from 1975 to 1990 and resulted in an estimated 120,000 deaths. In this photo from 1986, Lebanese crowd around the scene of a bomb blast in Beirut that killed more than 30 people.
Iraq has remained a focal point of violence in the region, with two US invasions of the country since 1990. This image shows the opening bombardment of Baghdad ahead of the US invasion of the country in 2003.
Map: Borders in the Middle East before and after World War I.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The peace agreement officially ended World War I, but it laid the foundation for the next European conflagration.
Many historians refer to the two wars together as the "Second Thirty Years' War." The connections between the two conflicts are clear. Many in Germany wanted to avenge the Versailles Treaty by defeating France. But there was also unsettled business elsewhere. Here, a plaque celebrating Gavrilo Princip as a hero is given to Adolf Hitler after the Wehrmacht marched into Sarajevo in 1941.
Following the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had to send massive amounts of money, materiel, raw materials and industrial machinery to France. Here, a shipment heading for France in 1920.
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Initially, Roosevelt was in favor of punishing Germany as France had done following World War I. Ultimately, however, fear of Soviet dominance in Russia led Washington to reconsider that stance.
Germany celebrating reunification day in 2009. Throughout the Cold War, it was East Germany that largely had to bear the burden of the loss of World War II. The country became a model of democracy in the decades following 1945.