Rare German photographs from Eastern Front, World War I

 Offizier-Korps der Flieger Abt. 27
Offizier-Korps der Flieger Abt. 27 (Officer corps of Flight Squadron 27), Spring 1918

SMU DeGolyer Library’s Der Vormarsch der Flieger Abteilung 27 in der Ukraine (The Advance of Flight Squadron 27 in the Ukraine) is now available online.  This portfolio, comprising 263 photographs mounted on 48 pages, is in effect a photo-documentary of the German occupation of and military advances through the southern Ukraine in the spring and summer of 1918. As such, it provides a rare glimpse into German military and reconnaissance maneuvers in the Eastern Front at the close of World War I.

Both the full portfolio and the 263 individual photos, scanned at a higher resolution, are available.

Gesprengte Bruecke ueber die Samara
Gesprengte Bruecke ueber die Samara (Bombed bridge over the Samara), Spring 1918, Samara Fiver, Dnipropetrovs’ka Oblast, Ukraine

The photographs in this collection include dozens of rare aerial views; German and Russian military equipment; German and captured French aircraft; city and rural scenery; railroads, ports, bridges and infrastructure; landmarks and historic buildings; local civilians; military parades, funeral processions and burials; and soldiers, officers, and political figures.

The photographs show troops, people, and scenery in cities and towns such as Kovel, Rivene Zhytomir, Smila, Kiev, Yekaterinoslav (Dnipropetrovs’k), Taganrog, Rostov-on-Don, Novocherkassk, Sevastapol, Yalta, Kerch, and more. The portfolio contains numerous aerial shots, presumably taken for reconnaissance purposes, including many photos that depict battles and/or destruction underway. Of particular interest are photographs we have identified of Kaiser Wilhelm II, General Karl Albert von Knoerzer, Generalfeldmarschal Hermann von Eichhorn, and Pavlo Skoropadsky.

Brennende Ziegelei westlich Rostow
Brennende Ziegelei westlich Rostow, (Burning brickyard west of Rostov), Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast, Russia, ca. May 1918

Another set of photographs in the portfolio show the take-over of Rostov-on-Don by the Germans and their allies in May 1918. One page shows photographs of the negotiations underway during the take-over. We have tentatively identified the Bolshevik negotiators, who are blind-folded, as Kliment Voroshilov, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, and Sergei Syrtsov.

Bolschewistischer Panzerwagen
Bolschewistischer Panzerwagen, (Bolshevik armored train car), Chaplino, Dnipropetrovs’ka oblast, Ukraine, Spring 1918

Many images in the collection illuminate the juxtaposition between the professional and personal sides of the men in the squadron. There are 11 photographs that show Bobby, a French Bulldog, who belonged to one of the members of Flight Squadron 27. Several photographs show squadron members posing with civilians, including women, peasants, servants, and gypsies. Other photographs show an outdoor concerts and carnivals, as well as images of squadron members swimming. A number of photographs show the burials and/or funerals of various people who died during this time, including the burial of several members of Flight Squadron 27, who died in a railway collision at Oleksandriya on March 27, 1918.

The aerial photography is notable. The photographs include aerial shots of Kiev, Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovs’k), Taganrog, Novocherkassk, Yeysk, Rostov-on-Don, Bataysk, Sevastopol, and Simferpol.

DeGolyer Library digital collections are part of CUL Digital Collections, which contain thousands of digitized photographs, manuscripts, imprints, and works of art held by SMU’s Central University Libraries special collections.

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