Monday, February 28, 2011

The Kaiser's Military Manoeuvres - Elbing, Germany

You can't visit Elbing anymore, or at least no place that goes by that name. The northern German city of Elbing was severely damaged during World War II. After the war, the German citizens were expelled and the city was repopulated with Polish citizens and given the name Elblag.
I bought this card because I thought it was a beautiful street scene. I also found it charming because it looked like it had been sent from a group of international students to their teacher's wife.  Oh, but I was very wrong about that. I actually had written up the post based on that assumption when I decided to do a quick search of the name S.G. Shartle.

Samuel G. Shartle was not a teacher, but the U.S. Military Attaché to Berlin from 1909 until 1915. Although military attachés were not spies, they were the army's eyes and ears abroad at a time when there was no satellite photography or sophisticated electronic intelligence. Captain Shartle was a frequent guest of Kaiser Wilhelm at events and dinners, and especially the military manoeuvres of which Kaiser Wilhem was so fond. A New York Times article from September 16, 1909, entitled "Kaiser Sees Airship at Work with Army" starts out like this: Surrounded by a brilliant company, including the King of  Württemberg, the Grand Dukes of Baden and Hesse, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Winston Spencer Churchhill, The Earl of Lonsdale, and Capt. Samuel G. Shartle, the American Military Attache at Berlin, Emperor William witnessed the dramatic appearance of the military dirigible balloon Gross II, which emerged from the clouds overhanging the valley of Tauber this morning.

A year later, and the Kaiser is once again holding his military manoeuvres, this time in Elbing, Prussia. Once again, Captain Shartle and other important international visitors were invited to observe. Captain Shartle took the opportunity to send a postcard to his wife in Berlin, which he seems to have passed around the table for others to sign as well. It was sent on September 9, 1910. If only I could make out all the names!

Here's what I've been able to decipher so far (with lots of big question marks, so please offer suggestions.) Some of the names are highlighted with links, in case you're interested in finding out more about them.

Greetings from
  • Lt. Col. Pellé, French Military Attaché (updated 3/2/2011 -  Thanks to Peter H. from Australia for that information.)
  • Von Palten ?
  • L. Calderari (Maggiore Generale Conte Luigi Calderari, Commander of an Italian Infantry Division during WWI, but I'm not sure what his title was in 1910...Attaché?)
  • Shartle  (U.S. Military Attaché to Berlin)
  • Dorrin
  • Alick Russell (British Military Attaché and son of Lord Odo Russell, 1st Baron Ampthill)
  • Schenfelt  (update 3/1/11 - Gustav Oskar Von Schenfelt, Swedish Military Attaché - Thanks to PB in Germany for that information)

Hearty Greetings from
  • M. Mehdi Khan   (presumably Malik Talib Mehdi Khan, Deputy Commissioner Ambassador to Kabul and former Prime Minister of the Princeley State of Bahawalpur)
  • A. Lüttwitz (General Major Arthur Rudolf Freiherr von Lüttwitz, German Military Attaché to England and Russia, and during World War I, commander of several infantry brigades and divisions. Here's another picture of him - standing on the right.)
  • Hironobu Ono (from Japan, but not sure who he was)

And then, the Turkish signature with the EB in the box appears to be none other than
  • Enver Pasha (known as Enver Bey at the time or Ismael Enver Efendi.) He was the main leader of the Ottoman Empire in both Balkan Wars and World War I.
There is also a small illegible signature for which I have no ideas.

Finally, written very small at the bottom it says: Your husband behaved very well.

Here's a picture of Enver Pasha from a German postcard:
Enver pasha ww1

As a postscript, I also found this letter written to Time magazine from Col. Shartle in 1929:

May I call attention to an error in the title below the picture on p. 14, TIME, Nov. 25? It should read "Theodore Roosevelt and Friends," omitting "Kaiser Wilhelm," for he was not there. This picture was taken early in the morning, May 10, 1910, at the exit of the private waiting room of one of Berlin's railroad stations (Stettiner Bahnhof, I think), while the Colonel and members of the American Embassy there to receive him waited for their conveyances to come up. The crowd outside was cheering. I recall this occasion very distinctly and even more distinctly the actual meeting of Theodore Roosevelt and Emperor Wilhelm, which took place the next day at an entrance of the Neu Palais, Potsdam; the Emperor stepped forward and heartily greeted the ex-President as he alighted from his carriage. I happen to know, because I was present on both occasions—as the Military Attache at Berlin and, for the week of the Colonel's visit, his Aide. The four figures in the doorway, shown in the picture in question are, left to right, Theodore Roosevelt, myself, a German officer (probably an adjutant representing the Emperor), Irwin Laughlin (the First Secretary of the Embassy).
Colonel, C. A. C. (Dol).

*Many thanks to Yasuko and Jens for the Japanese and Arabic translations for this post.*


  1. What an interesting post. Thank you. I have several similar Post Cards of Cottbus in Germany which were sent to my aunt by my father who was a prisoner-of-war in Cottbus-Lager at the end of the first world war. His incarceration marked him for life. He occasionally spoke of the wide range of nationalities who were in the Camp with him. He did admit, though, that being taken prisoner in 1918 probably saved his life during the Kaiserschlact.

  2. I'm reading "von Palzler" more as "von Salzen"

  3. This is an interesting thing to see and to read. You really have some piece of history with that card and the people who handled it.

  4. Wow, good research C, no wonder I haven't seen much of you recently... Getting back to the lovely street scene on that first card, why did people walk in the road when there appear to have been nice wide sidewalks to use? I would think the carriage traffic and horse manure would,make a leisurely stroll down the middle of the street rather unappealing. Also, I find the 'snout' over the bay on the building gable about half way down the left side of the street an interestingly zoomorphic change in character from the other buildings.

  5. A fascinating post and great detective work! Do you have a photo of the Shartles?

  6. What a fantastic find! good work on decoding the names.

  7. Lisa,
    I couldn't find a single image of the Shartles. Based on his letter, I know there's one in the November 25, 1929 issue of Time magazine, but I couldn't find one of those either.

  8. When I'll catch you posting a boring blogpost, I'll let you know, in no uncertain terms.
    Until then, assume it's all interesting.

  9. Das ist eine wunderschöne Karte, irgendwie traurig, das die Geschichte dieser Stadt unwiderruflich vorbei ist.
    Du hast ja mal wieder detektivische Arbeit geleistet.
    Ich kann daraus gar nichts erkennen.
    Ich wünsch dir eine schöne Woche

  10. What a thrilling historic find!

  11. Not just the signatures of these world figures, but to have it on a postcard of a town that no longer exists...

  12. That card sure turned out to have an interesting background.

  13. Great information great postcard.

  14. We always tend to overuse words such as "fascinating" when we comment on posts. But this is truly fascinating. Wonderful cards and research to match.

  15. What an excellent find! I am so impressed!

  16. Christine, I appreciated the view of Elbing. The shifting of borders in Central Europe around the end of World War Two doesn't get as much attention as it should.

  17. Terrific postcard history. This week I happen to be watching the TV mini-series Downton Abbey set in an English grand house of 1914. I can easily imagine the amazing dinner where all these people were amusing themselves with signing a postcard. A true ephemeral moment captured for history.

  18. my best guess about the second signature would be von Palten, which should be a local Nobleman from the area around Elblong, as the place is pronounciated now, or von Salten, by some chance Felix von Salten, the writer of 'Bambi', who was a regular vacationer at the Baltic Sea and a writer for several Berlin newspapers at that time. Besides that his military enthusiasm would also speak for his presence at the maneuvers.

  19. Everest,
    Thanks so much. I suppose von Palten makes the most sense, although I love the idea of the Bambi author hanging out with the Kaiser and military officials.



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