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Beginning sometime in late 1915 or early 1916, when the Central Powers had recovered most of eastern Galicia after their disastrous loss and westward retreat in the first month of World War I, the German Empire’s South Army set up an extensive training ground for their soldiers in the vicinity of Rohatyn. We know very little about this training course or its exact locations, but a series of photographs were taken of the exercises, highlighting some of the spectacular sights with soldiers, officers, weapons, and machinery. From the few notes accompanying the photos, it appears the training ground lasted until at least May 1917.
One set of the photographs was retained by the Austria-Hungary military, and is preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library); the collection has been digitized for free use on the website of their Bildarchiv Austria. Each of the photos is annotated with a small amount of information describing the depicted scene. There is a single image of visiting officers, including leaders of the Austria-Hungary, German, and Turkish armies. The photographer seemed fascinated by the use of fire as a weapon, capturing many action scenes of small flamethrowers and large flamethrowers, as well as routine transport of the inactive weapons. Hand grenade training was a popular subject, as was the use of machine guns and artillery. One image even shows a simulated gas attack. Off the field, one image shows men arriving by bicycle to a training lecture room.
Other images of Rohatyn in the library’s collection from the period of World War I, but unrelated to the military training, show pastoral scenes outside the town, almost too distant to see the severe damage to the town inflicted by battles and scorched-earth treatment from retreating armies. A few scenes near the town center show what life was like for the residents of Rohatyn while the armies were camped outside of town for their training. One of those images is shown here at right.
Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914~1918, Band I–VII; Edmund Glaise von Horstenau (Hrsg); Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen; Wien, 1930~1938; Österreichischen Bundesministerium für Heereswesen und Kriegsarchiv; OÖ Landesbibliothek. English translation Austria-Hungary’s Last War 1914~1918; Stan Hanna; undated, Comroe Studios.