Hermann Kirchner

Hermann Kirchner was born the 6th of May 1890 at Feldbach in Styria as the son of a notary. After attending secondary school and the Infantry Cadet School at Liebenau near Graz he was assigned to the Trient based Infantry Regiment Number 88 as a Fähnrich on the 18th of August 1909 . The following year, his regiment was transferred to Budapest where Fähnrich Kirchner found ceremonial and garrison duties in the Hungarian capital little to his liking. The crisis in the Balkans in the spring of 1912 prompted him to seek from the War Ministry an assignment to one of the regiments garrisoned on the Bosnian-Hercegovinian border and he was accordingly transferred to the 4th Battalion of Infantry Regiment Ernst August Herzog von Cumberland, Herzog zu Braunschweig und Lüneburg Number 42 at Avtovac. Following the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908 and the consequent unrest, IV./I.R. 42 had been deployed to Avtovac in January 1909 as part of the 3rd Mountain Brigade, 18th Infantry Division of XV Corps. Having joined his new regiment he participated in cordon duties, border patrols and field exercises within earshot of the gunfire from the Montenegrin Mountains during the crisis of 1912/1913. In December 1912 the battalion moved to Nevesinje where for much of the winter and spring it remained immediately ready for deployment. However by the late summer the tension had diminished and many of the reservists were released from service and Nevesinje became the permanent garrison of the battalion in September 1913. In June 1914 Kirchner participated in the grand manouvres held in the Konjica-Sarajevo area which Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand had attended prior to his murder on the 28th of June 1914 . Having been commissioned as a Leutnant on the 1st of May 1912 Kirchner was briefly attached to the headquarters of XVI  Corps at Ragusa in 1914 but returned to the battalion on the announcement of mobilisation where he initially served as a platoon commander in the 14th company. Seeing action in Montenegro and Serbia in 1914, on the Doberdo Plateau and again in Serbia in 1915, he was by the commencement of the May 1916 South Tyrolean offensive an Oberleutnant (1st January 1915) and the commander of the 14th company.

In February 1916 IV./42 had left Serbia and had been transported by rail to the South Tyrol along with the rest of the 6th Mountain Brigade to which it was subordinate. After a relatively brief stay at the town of Spree north of Trient, it took up forward positions in the Marsilli position just south of Rovereto and east of the River Adige/Etsch in the valley of the same name in the 57th Infantry Division sector. The battalion’s new positions like much of the Etsch Valley all the way northwards to Trient were under direct observation by the Italian positions on the mountain range to the south and east which lay between the Etsch and the neighbouring Vallarsa Valley to the east. At 1257 metres, the Zugna Torta peak atop this range would be the primary objective for the assault group commanded by Oberstleutnant Marinus Stärk, the commanding officer of IV./42 in the coming offensive.

Astride the Etsch Valley  and supported by 250 guns and comprising the 57th and 59th Infantry Divisions, the VIII Corps commanded by Feldzeugmeister Viktor von Scheuchenstuel constituted the extreme right flank of both Generaloberst Viktor Dankl’s 11th Army and indeed the entire offensive. Although originally scheduled for the 11th of April 1916 , the offensive had had to be postponed on account of the deep snow still prevalent in the alpine areas of the Trentino and eventually would be put into operation on the 15th of May. For the Zugna Torta assault Oberstleutnant Stärk was given operational control in addition to his own battalion of III./38 (Major Steph an von Inselt), Field Artillery Battery 4/G2 (Oberleutnant Klein) and two trench mortar platoons.[1] At 1830 hours on the 14th of May, the order arrived from 6th Mountain Brigade confirming that the assault would commence the following morning. The initial mission of the 14th company was to take the west side of Hill 689 in cooperation with the 16th company of Oberleutnant in der Reserve Dr. Erich Frank. At 0600 hours the artillery preparation started and at 0855 hours 16th company assaulted the first enemy positions which were rapidly taken as were considerable numbers of prisoners. However due to very difficult terrain and the additional need to provide flank support to III./38 to the east, 16th company was not able to continue with its part in the assault on Hill 689. At this juncture Kirchner decided on his own initiative therefore not to assault the west side of his objective but to take the entire position with his 14th company supported by a machine gun detachment and trench mortar platoon 37. With the 15th company echeloned to his right rear he commenced his assault at 0935 hours and quickly succeeded in clearing the enemy trench positions on the objective. Although the Italian infantry then put up further resistance from within caverns to the rear of the position these too were cleared and some 150 enemy soldiers from Infantry Regiment 207, a machine gun and other material were captured. With the eventual arrival of 16th company, Kirchner took up positions on the west side of Hill 689 as per his original tasking before the battalion advanced further south during the late afternoon/evening and took up defensive positions for the night.  

On the early morning of the 16th of May the advance continued with Kirchner’s company assigned the mission of taking the west brow of the Zugna Torta and maintaining contact with III./38 which was to take the right. Slowly working their way forward up the deeply fissured 600 metre ascent to the objective under enemy artillery fire they eventually lost contact with the other companies of the battalion. Pressing on with support from III./38, by 2300 hours 14th company had reached the area between Hills 1076 and 873 about 600 metres short of the objective. After spending a further night under enemy artillery fire, the company was assaulted at 0500 hours the following morning and was subjected to repeated enemy assaults until about 1100 hours. At this critical juncture Kirchner decided to counter-attack and supported by the machine gun detachment his platoons advanced and in so doing by 1630 hours took out an enemy artillery position, taking in the process another 150 enemy soldiers captive plus two 18cm, one 7cm guns and 1000 rounds of artillery ammunition.

After briefing his officers and senior NCOs in the early morning hours of the 18th of May Kirchner affected the final assault on the Zugna Torta and by 0500 hours the summit was in Austro-Hungarian hands. For much of the remainder of the 18th of May the company was then subjected to fierce enemy artillery fire on the summit. Having successfully taken and held the Zugna Torta, the general advance to the south could continue the next day. In the course of the fighting from the 15th to the 19th of May 1916 , Kirchner’s company had inflicted on the enemy approximately 500 casualties including over 300 unwounded prisoners of war. His own losses amounted to 18 killed, 49 wounded and three taken prisoner. Through Kirchner’s decisive and bold conduct, this most important of objectives on this sector of the front had been taken and would indeed remain in Austro-Hungarian hands for the remainder of the war. For his achievements south of Rovereto he would be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresia at the post-war 190th Promotion on the 16th of December 1922 .

Kirchner remained as the company commander of the 14th company and saw further fighting in the Posina Valley after which the battalion was transferred to Galicia on the eastern front in early July. After being seriously wounded at Hill 1318 near Kirlibaba in the Bukovina on the 14th of October 1916 he was assigned after his recovery to a general staff officers’ course at Laibach at the beginning of 1917. Following the successful completion of the course he was attached to the General Staff and assigned as a brigade staff officer initially to the Combined Brigade Oberst von Papp and then to the 85th Rifle Brigade. Following the brigades transfer to the Piave sector in the summer of 1918 where it remained until the wars end, Kirchner who in the mean time had received an accelerated promotion to Hauptmann on the 31st of January 1918 was taken prisoner during the confusion of the armistice on the 4th of November 1918. Released from Italian captivity in August 1919 he retired from the army on his return to Austria. He was initially active as a businessman but in June 1928 entered the Albanian Army as a Major where he was instrumental in establishing military education and instructional establishments and rose to the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in the General Staff. Following the incorporation of the Albanian Army into that of Italy in 1940 he retired and returned to Graz.[2]

During the course of the war Hermann Kirchner won not only his country’s highest award for bravery but also the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with War Decoration and Swords, the Military Merit Cross Third Class with War Decoration and Swords, the Silver Military Merit Medal (twice) and the Bronze Military Merit Medal. 

Hermann Kirchner died on the 8th of March 1953 at Graz .

[1] Regiments-Geschichte des Infanterie-Regimentes Nr. 42 1674-1918 by Eduard Linke, 1933. III./38 = 3rd Battalion Infantry Regiment Number 38 or its full title: Infanterieregiment Alfons XIII. König von Spanien Nr. 38.


[2] Der Militär-Maria-Theresien-Orden 1914-1918.

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