Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Alcohol Ration for the German Soldier

Beer Ration Delivered to the Front

The Germans enjoyed a varied assortment of alcohol rations, ranging from small measures of beer, German wine, brandy, and, most famously, schnapps. The daily schnapps rations of 125ml enjoyed by many of the German forces played a pivotal role in defining the war in the German psyche, especially from those who went on to write their experiences of the conflict. Normally, each soldier in the trenches received one of the following: half a liter of beer, 1/4 liter of wine, or 125ml of brandy or schnapps. 

The German army’s experience with alcohol during World War I was more varied than that of their Allied counterparts on the Western Front. This was due in part to the strong degree of regionalism within the German Empire and its army. Units from Bavaria were much more likely to be issued beer as part of their daily ration than units from Prussia or the wine-producing regions of the Rhineland. The German home front also had to deal with food shortages due to the British naval blockade, which placed stresses on the alcohol industry due to an increasing demand for foodstuffs key to alcohol production such as potatoes, barley, and sugar.  This shortage eventually affected those in the front lines.

An Artillery Unit on the Eastern Front Enjoying Their Ration

The machine gunner and Expressionist artist Otto Dix recalled the experience in the trenches as: "Lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, shells, bombs, caves, corpses, blood, Schnapps, mice, cats, gas, artillery, filth, bullets, mortars, fire, steel." During the 1920s Erich Maria Remarque, author of the seminal All Quiet on the Western Front, wrote lovingly about schnapps, saying, "It is easier to write about the psychology of women than to understand schnapps; schnapps has soul." In his postwar novelization of his war diary, Storm of Steel, J√ľnger mentions being issued with schnapps, beer, and wine. He discusses “downing several bottles of red wine” in a dugout after an artillery barrage and spending the last of his money on wine during preparations for the ill-fated 1918 Spring Offensive because there was nothing else his comrades could have spent the money on.

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