Sunday, December 26, 2010

Grosser Generalstabswerk: 3rd Band, 2nd Part-- Battles of Soor and Kesselsdorf

 The General Staff Work (Prussian)
The General Staff Work is a massive series completed around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries by the Historical Section of the Great General Staff of the German Army, telling the stories of the wars of Frederick the Great. They also produced some other works. I don't think they ever quite finished the last part, but what they did get done is superb, as a concise retelling of the course of the campaigns from the Prussian point of view.It got up to somewhere around 1760 or so, not quite to the very end of the story.

Even though it is a massive work in several volumes, the style of the writing still merits the word concise, in my way of looking at it. As a foreigner, I find it relatively easy to read this particular German, compared with even a normal daily newspaper. Of course much of the vocabulary consists of military terms, but for it to seem easier to me means that the sentence structure must be unusually straightforward for German, otherwise I wouldn't get that impression. I can read it noticeably quicker.

For the enthusiast of Frideriziana or 18th Century military history, this work provides something like a 'gold standard' with which other works can be held up for comparison, or as the beginning of a huge argument. For example, Hans Delbruck did not always agree with them, and famously carried on an argument as to whether Frederick's strategy was one of decisive battle, for annihilation, or of attrition, or some third explanation. This went on for years in various publications.

The old historians became very angry with one another during these debates, and cited other articles, dissertations and research as if launching cannonballs at each other, or cavalry charges. However much they would turn red and pound their fists on the table in carrying on the discussion, it makes for very interesting reading. Outside of very obscure articles, there is some of this in Delbruck's books, especially deep in the footnotes and appendices.

Regardless whose points are right or wrong, without the argument many of the points would never have been made at all, so it adds to the value of the discussion as I see it. They are probably both right and wrong, but they would also argue with that characterization.

Something roughly comparable to this would be the 'Historikerstreit' of the past few decades, about interpreting the Second World War, with various points of view. That can be looked up in the Wikipedia under that search phrase for more on that. (The article mentions our own 18C favorite Professor Christopher Duffy, author of many books about the 18th Century Austrians, Prussians, Russians, Scots and Irish, as well as fortifications and siegecraft.)

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What Does This Book Cover?
 The 3rd Band, of the 2nd Part, is about the last part of the Second Silesian War. The earlier Bands were about the disastrous campaign in Bohemia in 1744, and then about when the tables turned in the spring, culminating in the glorious charge of the Bayreuth Dragoons at Hohenfriedberg, June 4, and the defeat of the Austrian and Saxon army.This particular volume came out in 1895, 115 years ago.

This volume picks up the story right after Hohenfriedberg. It covers campaigning in Upper Silesia and Bohemia, with a battle at Soor,  fights at Trautenau, Cosel, and Hennersdorf, and then the battle we have been looking at more closely, Kesselsdorf. After that a chapter on the aftermath and the peace which was signed in time for Christmas of 1745.

Unfortunately there are some drawbacks to this. First for about 100 years the books have been nearly impossible to obtain. They are very rarely found anywhere, and then they are prohibitively expensive, such as 500 to 1000 or more dollars for even partial sets. Then they are written in German, and then complicating that the German is set in Fraktur type.
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This ftill leads to miftakes in tranfcription, fo to fpeak. (fic)
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All that aside, it is still a good book and well worth the effort.

Thoughts on Translating This Chapter or Book
I've translated the only volume I own, the 11th Band of the Seven Years War series, on 1759, about 50 to 75 percent, for my own personal use and enjoyment, but I am not too sure about doing that in a public forum. I don't know what the copyright implications would be for something like that.

The chapter here on Kesselsdorf runs 18 pages, and I could probably make a passable translation in several hours' time, for myself, but would be chary about posting such a thing. Any publishing attorneys are welcome to chime in.

In any case I tend to favor a bombastic translation retaining the original word meanings so that the
colorful terms used are emphasized. Professional translators would edit that away to render it all the way to completely smooth- sounding English, with other words,  and in so doing lose all the flavor from doing it my way. The rough translation from the machine on the computer actually does capture some of that flavor, by mistake. I like it like that, if I can figure out what was intended.

As an alternative for someone really determined, 'simply' retype the 18 pages in Roman type to feed it into the Google Translate machine located front and center of the blog. Those who have Google Chrome might find it easier. I'm not sure whether it can handle Fraktur. I didn't even try, instead I sat there reading it myself the hard way, and taking notes on fresh information not given elsewhere.

There are many facts, figures, details and anecdotes here in 18 pages that exceed anything I've ever seen in English on this battle. I've never seen an English account more than two or three pages, if that, even when they are based on this narrative. They cut out a lot.

Details emerge about Saxon counterattacks, what went wrong, how the guns were divided into Brigades or batteries, and that sort of thing you just can't find in English. Which Saxon cavalry regiment lost its standard, who captured the kettledrums, which regiments were able to play the Grenadiers March as a reward, and which regiment got a further honor in the form of a special badge?

Unfortunately, now that the book is available online, right here and now and does not cost 1000 dollars,  there are still a couple problems, in that the Anhang 26 in the Appendix section at the end, the sheet showing the detailed order of battle, better than all others we have seen, was apparently scanned without unfolding the sheet. Also the maps are not there, and diagrams. There is still an Anhang 28 after that with a regiment by regiment casualty count for the Prussian side. These are at the very bottom, at the end of the book.

The fourth chapter, covering Kesselsdorf runs from page 226 to 244, very close to the end of the volume. That is an 18-page chapter.

General Staff Work, Part 2, Band 3 (Google Books)

EDIT: I've got half of the answer I was looking for:  Once the book is up, there is a place to click for Plain Text, and clicking that will convert four pages at a time from Fraktur to Roman (English-type) letters. But the copy-paster function doesn't work for me to feed it into the translator. Any ideas out there?

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  1. Well, the first problem I had with it, is the fact that google blocks a lot of book for us europeans. The book is fortunatly available on (with a link to the non-existing google version), but at least you can read it on-line. The text version is quite useless, IIRC it's made by an OCR programme by ABYY - and too bad, it's a programme that doesn't quite work for Fraktur, I am still amazed by the fact that sometimes it actually finds words in Fraktur texts, but it also shows that google books is useless when you search in books printed in Fraktur.

  2. Thanks for the detailed input, Rampjaar. That may well help out someone else.

    A large percentage of the readers are in Europe, among other places.

    This happens in the USA also, depending on which book and what deals they have made. It happened to Adam in the UK with the Carlyle, but then we were able to put up a different one, that did work over there, and here.

    I saw a post he wrote on TMP explaining the Plain Text idea; for me I just sat there and stared at the Fraktur until it spoke to me.

    So all in all, I am less frustrated than before, since by getting our heads together we are at least finding some partial solutions.

    I wonder if I would need permission and from whom to run my own translations, or at least write my own account bringing out more details found in places like these.

    It should be okay to redraw the Mona Lisa with colored pencils, since it would be different, maybe uglier.

  3. The book is from 1895, and I think even in german law it is copyright free. So do with it as you please..

  4. Well, that sounds good. I was looking at an online Clausewitz translation that warns the reader this 1877 translation is 'obsolete,' and the 'standard' one by Paret and partner is not online for free.

    We have over 200 translations of the Iliad in English, 6 in the past 15 years, and according to Keats the first one is still the best.

    Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,