Feldpost 1914-1918

Practice

Field post service.

The flow of mail differed depending on whether it was going from the front to Germany or vice versa.

- From Germany to the front:

Mail bound for the military was collected in collection depots (Postsammelstellen), which were responsible for sorting the mail. Each military post office was responsible for sorting and bagging the mail. In fact, each unit was attached to a military post office.

Bags were then sent to the Leitpunkte. These advance depots were located close to the border but still on German territory. There was one depot for each army. However, several armies could share the same. They were the only ones to know the exact positions of units and their post offices. These depots used a directory that listed the links that each unit had with these offices. This document was known as the "Field Post index" (Feldpostübersicht). This index was constantly updated with information from the army post offices themselves, but above all by the headquarters, which were the only ones to know about changes in unit locations. The Leitpunkt were therefore responsible for sorting wagons of mailbags from the collection depots and distributing them to the army post offices. Whenever possible, a wagon could be packed with only the bags bound for the same army post office. The largest advance depot for the Western Front was located in warehouses near Cologne station.

Until then, it was the civilian post office that handled the routing of mail.

Once sorted, the wagons were sent to the transhipment centres (Postumschlagstellen), which were located either in Belgium or in the area of the Armies' stops along the line or at the terminus. Each army had several transhipment centres to which each unit was attached.

Once out of German territory, the mail was handled by the military post office and was subject to the fortunes of war.

On arrival at the transhipment centre, mail bags were collected by the staff of each military post office and then distributed to the soldiers.

The senders had to know perfectly well the address of the soldier. Otherwise, the mail could be lost, delayed or returned. Addresses were not to include locations alongside the name of the recipient's unit.

Dispatch envelope containing mail sent by the Postsammelstelle in BROMBERG to Feldpoststation no. 407 in VALENCIENNES.

- From the front to Germany:

Soldiers' mail was collected within their company, with an officer and later a postal control office examining certain letters or postcards at random. Mail was checked for the presence or absence of concealed military information and for the presence of the sender's location details.

From there, the mail went to the field post office serving the unit. In the trenches, letterboxes were installed to facilitate mail collection.

At the fieldpost post office, the mail was sorted roughly, mainly by major towns.

The postal bags were then sent to the distribution centres (Postverteilungstellen), which again sorted the mail by province or state. Mail from large towns was sorted separately.

Mail bags were then sent to the sorting centres (Sortierstellen) of the Provinces or States.

Mail from a soldier belonging to one army to another belonging to another army did not follow the same route.

At the start of the conflict, it was impossible to send mail directly between 2 armies. Mail had to be directed to a collection depot (Postsammelstelle) in Germany before being redirected to the Army of destination. This obviously caused a lot of delays.

In October 1914, the Joint Exchange Centres (Heeresbriefstellen) were created. These centres were responsible for collecting, sorting and forwarding mail between the armies. These centres were usually located in a the rear area.

Postal rates.

As in many countries, German troops in the field benefited from unlimited free postage on the number of items they could send.

The Post Office made a distinction between what was private and what was not. Private correspondence benefited from free postage, while non-private correspondence did not.

Postcards, ideal means of communication, were free, but cost 5 Pf until 31 July 1916, 7.5 Pf until 30 September 1918 and 10 Pf from 1 October 1918 if they were not of private matter.

Private letters were free up to 50g. Beyond that, postage was 20 Pf. From 5 October 1914, postage was reduced to 10 Pf. Letters were accepted up to 250g. From the end of December 1916, letters weighing between 250 and 500g were allowed. Postage for these letters cost 20 Pf for private correspondence.

As there could be no weight increments above 500g, the Post Office allowed (without additional tax) a 10% weight overrun. A letter weighing between 50 and 275g cost 10 Pf and a letter weighing between 275 and 550g cost 20 Pf. The Germans called heavy letters "Päckchen" (small packets).

A single non-private letter (up to 20g) cost 10 Pf until 31 July 1916 and 15 Pf until 1919, a letter up to 250g 10 Pf until 31 July 1916 and 25 Pf until 1919.

Letters with insufficient postage from the front to Germany were taxed at the rate of the insufficient postage. Letters with insufficient postage from Germany to the front were returned to the sender.

Letters were only registered for military service mail (Heeressache).

Free military registered letter posted at Feldpoststation no. 45 in VALENCIENNES. This is a service letter between the local branch of the 2nd Army's Secret Military Police (Geheime Feldpolizei, A.O.K 2.) and the 17th Army's High Command (A.O.K 17). The letter was posted on 14 September 1918. The date stamp is not dumb or filed, as it is a registered letter. The High Command of the 17th Army had been in DENAIN since 1st May. We are here in the last days of the presence of the Feldpoststation no. 45 in VALENCIENNES, since this town will be part of the 17th Army zone in September 1918.

Soldiers could nevertheless take advantage of declared-value letters. Up to 50g and 150 Mark, these letters were free.

Letters weighing more than 50g and up to 300 M cost 20 Pf, and letters weighing more than 50g and between 300 and 1,500 M cost 40 Pf.

This letter was posted at the Bavarian Feldpoststation no. 407 (VALENCIENNES station). It contained 320 Mark and weighed 32 g. Postage for this type of letter was 40 Pf (under 50 g, over 300 Mark). The registration number of this letter is 545.

Since 8 October 1914, postcards and letters weighing up to 50g addressed in Switzerland were exempt from postage, provided that the soldiers could prove that they were closely related to the addressees (wife, parents, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters). The same system applied to Spain (from 15 February 1915), Uruguay (from 13 March 1915 to 7 October 1917, the date of its entry into the war) and Denmark (from 9 April 1915). Letters had to be posted open.

Postal interruptions.

In preparation for major offensives and to keep its intentions secret, the High Command could order a postal break lasting from a few days to a few weeks. During this interruption, soldiers were forbidden to take mail into the trenches. If they were taken prisoner in a coup de main before the attack, the mail seized by the enemy could have revealed the imminent offensive.

These postal interruptions could be geographical, in this case for units in a particular zone of the front, or they could only concern units that were in transit and that were going to take part in the offensive. Postal interruptions were not announced, so soldiers and their families blamed the Field Post for the delays suffered by the mail, even though the Field Post was also a victim of these interruptions. As a rule, the field post offices marked mail that had suffered a postal interruption with "Auf militärischen Gründen verzögert" (delayed for military reasons).

The effectiveness of these postal interruptions was relative, as soldiers found roundabout ways of getting their mail through. They could, for example, entrust it to leave-holders who posted the mail in Germany or in an area not covered by the postal interruption. In his memoirs, General Ludendorff states: "Postal interruptions were of no value. There were too many channels of information to the country, I couldn't suspend leave, because it was the only thing the High Command could give the soldier".

This card was sent by an auxiliary railway clerk (Hilfsschaffner) who was employed by the Military Railways Directorate No. 1 (Militär-Eisenbahndirektion I.). In April 1915, the mail handled by Feldpoststation no. 77 in VALENCIENNES was subject to a postal interruption.

Postal control.

In addition to the delays applied to soldiers' mail, the German army, like many other European armies, practised postal control. This control was not carried out by the army post office at all, but by army departments with no links to the post office.

From the beginning of the war until April 1916, the control of soldiers' correspondence was not regulated, so it could be carried out within units in the most arbitrary manner, especially as the people carrying out the controls, generally officers, had no expertise in the matter. Some company commanders only checked for the presence of military secrets, others only checked soldiers' private lives, and still others were reluctant to carry out such checks.

This letter to Switzerland was sent as military mail (marked Feldpost) and was franked at the international rate of 20 Pf. As it was not private mail, since it was addressed to a banker, it could not circulate postage-free. Censored on 28 March 1916 by the 6th Army's postal control centre in VALENCIENNES, the letter arrived in BASEL on 2 April 1916. Censor mark: Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee.

Citizens of the Reich territory (Reichsland) of Alsace-Lorraine had their mail censored even more closely. There was still some doubt as to their loyalty to Germany.

As early as 27 March 1914, the Ministry of War published a secret decree imposing the use of postcards for private mail and open envelopes for business mail in the Alsace-Lorraine and Baden territories (under Strasbourg and Neuf-Brisach) as soon as a state of imminent war or mobilisation was declared.

On 20 March 1917, the Ministry of War published another decree introducing postal controls in both directions. It also ordered that the random checks previously carried out (on around 5% of mail) should be carried out on 90% of correspondence. This decree was justified by the Entente's "systematic and increasing excitation" of the population of Alsace-Lorraine.

The above card was written by an airman (Flieger) in training at Jagdstaffelschule II (Fighter School No. 2) near VALENCIENNES at LA SENTINELLE, which had been established on 8 August 1917. This card is bound for MOUTERHOUSE near SARREGUEMINES (Sarregemünd) in Moselle. It passed through the town's postal control centre, which stamped it "SARREGEMUND P.K. GEPRÜPFT UND ZU BEFÖRDERN" (Sarreguemines Postal Control Checked and to be dispatched). The card did circulate uncovered, otherwise the postal control stamp would not be there.

Three postal control centres (Postüberwachungsstellen) have been set up in the VALENCIENNES district:

- The "Postüberwachungsstelle der 6. Armee", which had been part of the Lines of communications of the 6th Army since March 1915 and the High Command of the 6th Army since March 1916. It left VALENCIENNES on 30th September 1916 to move to TOURNAI. It became Postüberwachungsstelle no. 40 (P.Ü.St. 40) in February 1917.

- The "Postüberwachungsstelle der 1. Armee" was part of the 1st Army. In VALENCIENNES from 1st October 1916 to 18th April 1917. It became Postüberwachungsstelle no. 36 (P.Ü.St. 36) in February 1917. It is often referred to as the "militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post- und Güterverkehrs der 1. Armee". (Military post and goods control center of the 1st Army). It left VALENCIENNES for CHARLEVILLE on 18 April 1917.

- Postüberwachungsstelle no. 39 (P.Ü.St. 39) under the 2nd Army. Based at ST QUENTIN until the beginning of 1917, than moved to MAUBEUGE and  to VALENCIENNES in April 1917 where it remained until at least 30 September 1918.

In addition to the VALENCIENNES postal control centre, from February 1917 until the end of the war, there were 9 postal control centres on the Western Front:

P.Ü.St. 26a: METZ, Armeeabteilung C.

P.Ü.St. 26b: CONFLANS-VALLEROY, Armeeabteilung C.

P.Ü.St. 28: SEDAN, 3rd Army.

P.Ü.St. 30: VERVINS, LAON, 7th Army.

P.Ü.St. 31: MONS, 6ème, puis 17th Army.

P.Ü.St. 33: GAND, 4th Army.

P.Ü.St. 38: VIRTON, 5th Army.

P.Ü.St. 44: MAUBEUGE, since January 1918, for the 18th Army.

Card sent by a Territorial soldier (Landsturm). Feldpoststation no. 77 was at VALENCIENNES until June 1915.

Letter sent by a soldier undergoing treatment at Bavarian military hospital no. 24. This hospital was located in the Ecole Pratique de Commerce et d'Industrie in DENAIN. This letter was handled by the Bavarian Feldpoststation no. 419, whose filed date stamp can be seen.

Fragment of a heavy letter from the front to Germany franked at 20 Pf for a weight of up to 550 g. This letter was processed by the Bavarian Feldpoststation no. 411 of ST AMAND.

Label for a heavy letter from Germany to the front franked at 20 Pf for a weight of up to 550 g.

Need to find out more?

The occupation and liberation of Valenciennes are covered in 2 excellent works written a long time ago and now unfortunately out of print:

- Valenciennes, occupation allemande 1914-1918 (2 tomes) René DELAME. 1933.

- Valenciennes 10 octobre 1918-11 novembre 1918, l'évacuation, le bombardement, la délivrance J. THIROUX. 1920.

If you are interested in the subject of German Military Mail during the 1st World War and have no knowledge of German, you will need a good dictionary, as there are no works in French.

In any case, I recommend the following books:

- Geschichte der deutschen Feldpost im Kriege 1914/18 (Histoire de la Poste militaire durant la guerre 14/18) Karl SCHRACKE.

- Die deutsche Feldpost im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914-1918. (La poste militaire allemande pendant la première guerre mondiale 1914-1918) ANDERSON, BORLINGHAUS and KOOP.

- Stempelhandbuch der Deutschen Feldpost im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914-1918 Horst BORLINGHAUS.(2006).

- Die deutschen Feldpoststempel 1914-1918  Karl Heinz SCHRIEVER.

- La poste militaire allemande dans les territoires français occupés 1914-1918. L'arrondissement de Valenciennes. Emmanuel LEBECQUE. Feuilles marcophiles, 2016

As far as slightly more specialised works are concerned, in which you will find information on the posmarks of the units and the places of use. I recommend the following:

- Die Armee-Postdirektion 6 im ersten Weltkrieg 1914-1918 Burkhard KOOP. 2008

- Die Armee-Postdirektion 6 während des ersten Weltkrieges B. KOOP. 2010

- Handbuch und Katalog der deutschen Fliegertruppe im 1. Weltkrieg 1914-1914. H. BORLINGHAUS.

- Les Estampilles Postales de la Grande Guerre. Stéphane STROWSKI. Editions Yvert et Thellier 1976.

- Die Post im Westlichen Etappengebiet und ihre Abstempelungen. E. HEBERLE. 1928.

- Die Deutsche Heerespost an der Westfront. K. ZIRKENBACH 1935-1936.

- Le courrier civil dans le Nord de la france occupée 1914-1918. Gerhard LUDWIG, André Van DOOREN. 2018

Some works on the German armies and their orders of battle during the war may be useful. After 15 February 1917, date stamps no longer mentioned divisions and only regimental stamps or handwritten entries by soldiers gave us information about divisions and their military post office. However, how can we tell from this fragmentary information whether or not a unit belonged to a particular division? The German archives on this subject are practically non-existent (destroyed by bombing during the 2nd World War). However, a great deal of information can be found in 2 books:

- Histories of the 251 division of the German army which patricipated in the war 1914-1918. LONDON STAMP EXCHANGE LTD. 1989.

- German Divisions in World War I (Volume 1 to 7) de Dirk ROTTGARDT. Nafziger Collection.