Georges Scott Soldats de Foch (1918) (detail)

In the two decades that followed the end of the First World War thousands of regimental histories rolled off presses in France, Germany, and the English-speaking world. Whether short summaries scribbled in haste or substantial accounts written at leisure by famous authors, these provide students of that conflict with facts, figures, and perspectives that might otherwise be lost. This post describes the resources that I use to find copies works of this sort that have been digitized and placed on line.

CompGen

The genealogy site Verein für Computergenealogie has created (and, better yet, continues to update) a splendid catalog of the regiments that served in the armies of the German Empire in the First World War. Within this compendium, the page for each unit contains a section marked Literatur that, among many other things, provides links to online copies of regimental histories.

The sites that actually host the online copies employ a variety of viewers. Thus, while most sites allow a reader to obtain, gratis, a copy of a complete book with a click or two, some sites, such as that of the sorry excuse for a national library of the German Federal Republic, require that users print each page of a regimental history as a separate document. (Worse, the Deutsche National Bibliothek will sometimes limit access to books it has digitized to people able to visit a brick-and-mortar reading room.)

From time to time, one of aforementioned links, while taking a reader to the website that hosts the book he is looking for, will turn up the wrong work. Every time this has happened to me, I was able to solve the problem by typing the name of the regimental history in question into the site’s local search engine.

Gallica

The good people at Gallica (the service of the French national library that I like to call “Google Books done right”) have digitized some 385 histories of French regiments that served in la Guerre de 14. That’s the good news. Most of these historiques, alas, are the ‘short summaries’ of the sort that I had in mind when I wrote the first paragraph of this post.

That said, the exception that proves the rule of the all-too-short regimental history à la française, the monumentally complete tale of the service of the 47th Field Artillery Regiment, can also be found on Gallica. (If, while passing in front of the Old Headquarters Building, you hear a squeal of delight, you will know that I am geeking out on the delightfully detailed account of the Ersatzabteilung of this outfit.)

Hathi Trust

Searching the ‘full view’ collection of the Hathi Trust for English-language books published between 1918 and 1939 with ‘regiment’ in their titles yielded 196 volumes, many, if not most, of which were histories of British, American, Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand units that fought in the First World War. Doing the same for ‘division’ turned up 248 books, a lot of which described the service of much larger formations. (As ‘division’ can mean a large number of things, I took care to limit the second search to works filed under the subject heading of ‘world war, 1914-1918’.)

Most of the works found with the help of Hathi can be downloaded at Google Books. (The best way to do this is to use the ‘read ebook’ option that pops up when you click ‘download at Google Books’.)

If, as is the case with a good ten percent of the books that I find via Hathi, Google Books declines to offer a downloadable copy, look, under ‘catalog record’, for other versions of the same book. (Hathi houses, for example, seven separate copies of the History of the Yankee Division.) If such copies can’t be found, you can use a freeware program called Hathi Download Helper to download some (or all) of the pages of the book in question.

Military Books 14-18

For more than twenty years, Military Books 14-18 has been producing high-quality digital copies of regimental histories. While most of these works document the careers of German units that served in the First World War, a few tell tales of units belonging to other countries and conflicts.

In cases in which the original (ink-and-paper) book sported photographs, maps, or substantial drawings, Military Books 14-18 will provide customers with separate copies of such images.

Military Books 14-18 charges a modest fee for each book it supplies, and asks that customers refrain from sharing the files with third parties.

Digital History Archive

The Digital History Archive has digitized a small number of organizational histories of American units and formations that served in the First World War. These can be found on page 206 of the 208-page catalog of products that the Digital History Archive offers for sale (at extraordinarily reasonable prices).

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