The First World War

’’ Tonight the lights are going out all over Europe . They will not be lit again in our lifetime.’’

This was how British Foreign Minister Grey commented on the outbreak of war on August 3rd, 1914. It was the ‘mother of all wars’ of the 20th century, which hit the whole of Europe and as a result also the ’’Imperial Voluntary Automobile Corps’’ in a more or less-prepared way.

On July 31st, 1914, the Kaiser announced the situation of ‘threatening war’, which one day later was followed by general mobilization.

The German Heer had only a few automobiles available at the beginning of the war. Correspondingly the corps vehicles, including their status officers came into action, they even brought their own technicians, who were also well placed in the status of non-commissioned officers. It must be pointed out: we are referring to a loan of services, and not military rank which had been earned.

Members of the Corps were put into action on all Fronts. They were irreplaceable for the journeys of high-ranking Staff Officers, reporting services, transport of enlisted ranks and materials, as well as First Aid Services.

Front page of the official minutes of the Kaiserlichen freiwilligen Automobile Corps meeting held Thursday 25 February 1915 in Charleville.
The reader is directed to the reference in the minutes to Freiherr von Reitzenstein whose personal named Auto Corps dagger is featured in this article. Victor Diehl Collection

Cyril Brown, an American journalist, has given us information about the utilization of the Imperial Automobile Corps. This talented man remained at the centre of German events, at the main Headquarters, against all German instructions, of course before America entered the war.

In his article for The New York Times he doesn´t reveal the name of where he was, but we know it is Charleville. In his vividly and excitingly written report he expressly draws attention to the presence of the Chief of the Volunteer Automobile Corps under the military Commanders in Chief. He describes the Kaiser´s journeys to the Front, in a motor vehicle, a Kaiser who had lost some of his pre-war pomp. He describes the attitude of the German troops as being correct sometimes even friendly. But let´s hear how he reported himself:

„ ... Here one gets more and more the impression that the Ger­mans in their war-making have learned a lesson from the hustling Americans—that they have man­aged to graft American speed to their native thoroughness, making a combination hard to beat. For in­stance, there is a regular relay service of high-power racing motor cars between the Great Headquarters and Berlin, the schedule calling for a total run­ning time of something under a day and a half, beating the best time at present possible by train by four hours.

One of the picked drivers, who has the last lap—through France—said his running schedule required him to average sixty miles an hour, and this running at night. A network of fast relay automobile services is also run from the Great Headquarters, through Belgium , linking up Brussels and Antwerp , and to the principal points on the long line of battle.

How great a rôle the motor car plays among the Germans may be gathered from an estimate made to the writer that 40,000 cars were in use for military purposes. Many thousands of these are private automobiles operated by their wealthy owners as members of the Volunteer War Automobile Corps, of which Prince Waldemar, son of the sailor Prince Henry, is chief. Their ranks include many big business men, captains of industry, and men of social promi­nence and professional eminence. They wear a distinctive uniform, that of an infantry officer, with a collar of very dark red, and a short, purely ornamental sword or dagger.”

This is one of the best and most accurate descriptions of the Corps and its side-weapon in the time of the Great War. Cyril Brown has not only left us a fascinating , highly readable and authentic report, he has also made perfectly clear that these daggers were also carried during wartime. A brave journalist, of those days.

The first member of the Corps who received the Iron Cross, 1st Class, was the Imperial Baron Friedrich Erdmann von Reitzenstein, who also took part in the attempted coup made by  Hitler in Munich , in 1923. He carried a Bavarian style dagger, recognisable by the large crown of the Royal House of Wittelsbach. The House of Wittelsbach ruled in Bavaria until 1918.

The Reichsfreiherr Friedrich Erdmann von Reitzenstein Automobile Corps Dagger.

When considering the small size of the Bavarian Automobile Corps and the fact that the owner ist documented as receiving the first Iron Cross 1st Class, this named dagger is one of the rarest of it type. The weapon itself is a fine example of the ornate Bavarian dagger with the owners name finely chiseled on the rear of the nickel-plated steel upper scabbard fitting.  All parts are numbered with “57”. This dagger would be the center piece of any Kraftfahr Corps Dagger display. It is truly a collector´s dream.


The German Imperial Automobile Corps and its daggers - By Vic Diehl and H.Hampe