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What’s in a picture?

Or rather, ‘Who’s in a picture?’  The cover photo of Holding Out – which was found for me by my cousin Justin Lyon – is a slightly cropped version of a photograph from Corbis Historical/Getty Images. 

Their caption is:

Field Marshal General von Hindenburg and General of Infantry Otto von Below pose in a group of corps commanders at army headquarters.  June 1917.

Hindenburg is the figure in the centre staring straight at us, and Below is the officer to his right in the photo, annoyingly turning away from us.

The caption gives us a good steer but isn’t fully accurate.  Below was commanding German Sixth Army at this time, and we know that it had six army corps.  But there are 21 people in the photo, or 19 if you exclude the chap right at the back who is pretty clearly a flunky and the man next to him who is largely obscured.  So who, apart from Hindenburg and Below, are the other 17?

Luckily, Otto von Below kept a diary, which I’ve used pretty extensively in the book.  On 27 May 1917, as the battle of Arras was petering out, he recorded:

Whit Sunday.  After an inspiring church service, our guests at lunch were General Meckel (artillery), Colonel Marschall von Bieberstein (engineers) and the Bavarian Major Reis (First Adjutant).  At 4 o’clock, I welcomed Field Marshal Hindenburg at the station and drove him to Army headquarters, where we briefed him until 5 o’clock.  I first briefed him on the overall situation, and then General Meckel briefed on our counter-battery work.  All six corps commanders were there too.  Then we all drove to my little chateau, where we had cheese and tea with excellent home-made cake.  Also a huge pot of whipped cream, made on our farm and a favourite dish of the Field Marshal’s.  Finally an excellent strawberry punch appeared, which kept us occupied till 6 o’clock, when the Field Marshal departed to Fourth Army headquarters at Courtrai; the other guests stayed on.[1]

My guess is that the photo was taken on this day, 27 May 1917, rather than in ‘June 1917’ as the Corbis Historical/Getty Images caption says; and that it shows Hindenburg, Below, the six corps commanders, their chiefs of staff and a few hangers-on such as the artillery general Meckel. The list here names these 18 officers, and perhaps the 19th in the photo was one of Hindenburg’s adjutants, who we would expect to accompany him.  The photo was probably taken after the tea when Hindenburg was leaving: some of the officers certainly look as if they’ve been enjoying the strawberry punch, such as the man standing next to Otto von Below:

I think this is Colonel Fritz von Loßberg, Below’s chief of staff.  Here’s a close-up from the cover photo (middle), with one of Loßberg as a Major teaching at the Kriegsakademie in 1910 (left) and as a retired general (right):[2]

Any help identifying this man and the other officers in the photo would be very welcome!  Please send in suggestions via the Leave a Reply box below.

[1] Otto von Below diary, BArch, Otto von Below Nachlass, N87/61, f. 41 (diary entry for 27 May 1917).

[2] 1910 photo from BArch, PH21/83; as a retired general, from Wikimedia Commons.

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