Storm of Steel

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Storm of Steel (in German: In Stahlgewittern, ISBN 0-86527-310-3) is the memoir of German officer Ernst Jünger's experiences on the Western Front during the First World War. It was originally printed privately in 1920, making it one of the first personal accounts to be published. The book is a graphic account of trench warfare. It was largely devoid of editorialization when first published, but would be strongly revised several times.

Plot[edit]

Storm of Steel begins with Jünger as a private entering the line with the 73rd Hanoverian Regiment in Champagne. His first taste of combat came at Les Éparges in April 1915 where he was first wounded.

After recuperating, he took an officer's course and achieved the rank of Ensign. He rejoined his regiment on the Arras sector. In 1916, with the Battle of the Somme underway, Jünger's regiment moved to Combles in August for the defence of the village of Guillemont. Here Jünger was wounded again, and fortunately absent shortly before the final British assault which captured the village — his platoon was annihilated. In 1917 Jünger saw action during the Battle of Arras in April, the Third Battle of Ypres in July and October, and the German counter-attack during the Battle of Cambrai in November. Jünger led a company of assault troops during the final German Spring Offensive, 21 March 1918 when he was wounded again. On 23 August he suffered his most severe wound when he was shot through the chest.

In total, Jünger was wounded 14 times during the war, including five bullet wounds. He was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and was the youngest ever recipient of the Pour le Mérite.

Position towards war[edit]

Jünger describes his experiences without apparent restraint, and the result is a quite graphic book. However, Jünger attempts to consistently convey a posture of noble dauntlessness in himself and those soldiers that he praises. Even when the narrator experiences true horror, such as while marching into the Battle of the Somme, he seems more concerned with lucid description of, rather than reactions to, it. Although the book does not gloss over the deaths of many, the most intensely emotional passages are reserved for enthusiastic fighting and for placid moments. The book has consequently been criticised for glorifying war, especially when compared to Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. However Jünger was a combat soldier, who saw extensive front-line service. Remarque did not, and All Quiet on the Western Front is a work of fiction, not a memoir (Remarque was actually a sapper for only a few weeks near the front line).

In the preface to the 1929 English edition, Jünger stated that "Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart.."

Publication history[edit]

The first version of Storm of Steel was essentially Jünger's unedited diary; the original title was In Storms of Steel: from the diary of a Shock Troop Commander, Ernst Jünger, War Volunteer, and subsequently Lieutenant in the Rifle Regiment of Prince Albrecht of Prussia (73rd Hanoverian Regiment). Since it was first published there have been up to seven revisions of Storm of Steel, with the last being the 1978 version for Jünger's Collected Works. For the first revision in 1924 Jünger rewrote the entire book for a new publisher. The result was a highly Nationalistic and bloodthirsty version. The next major revision came in 1934, for which the explicit descriptions of violence were muted. This edition carried the universal dedication For the fallen.

The 1924 version was translated into English by Basil Creighton as The Storm of Steel [1] in 1929 and into French in 1930. A new English translation, based on the final 1961 version, was made by Michael Hofmann in 2003 which won the 2004 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

Critical reception[edit]

The book was lauded by the eventual Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels:

Ein glänzendes, großes Buch. Grauenerregend in seiner realistischen Größe. Schwung, nationale Leidenschaft, Elan, das deutsche Kriegsbuch. Einer aus seiner Generation ergreift das Wort über das tiefe seelische Ereignis Krieg und verrichtet Wunder innerer Darstellung.
(A brilliant book, a great book. Horrifying in its realistic greatness. Power, nationalistic passion, verve—the German book on the [First World] War. A member of his generation rises to speak about the deeply emotional event of war and performs miracles in presenting his innermost feelings.)

— Joseph Goebbels, 20 January 1926

It was also complimented by the left-leaning French writer André Gide,

Le livre d'Ernst Jünger sur la guerre de 14, Orages d'acier, est incontestablement le plus beau livre de guerre que j'ai lu, d'une bonne foi, d'une honnêteté, d'une véracité parfaites [...].
(Ernst Jünger's book on the war of [19]14, Storm of Steel, is unquestionably the most beautiful book of war that I've read; in good faith, of a perfect honesty and veracity. . .)

— André Gide, Journal t. II : 1926-1950, p. 848

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Source: Spine of original dust jacket. With an introduction by R.H. Mottram, Chatto & Windus. Retrieved 2009-9-10.