The Great War in Stereoviews

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German Army Camp in Wishnew (Vishneva), Eastern Front, 1915-16

        Wishnew (Vish’-nev) is the German name for a small town on the Olshanka River that was on the front line of combat operations on the Eastern Front in 1915-16. At that time, it was part of Lithuania. It has been part of several countries and has gone by several Lithuanian, Russian, and Yiddish names including Wiszniew, Vishnev, Vishnevo, and Vishnive. It is now part of Minsk Oblast, Belorussia. The proper transliteration of its current name is Vishneva, which will be used for the remainder of this article except where the German “Wishnew” appears in photo captions.

        Vishneva was settled by the 14th Century. In 1897, it had 2650 inhabitants of whom 1465 were Jewish. War came to the town in summer 1915 with the entry of Russian troops. Jewish and Gentile residents alike fled to the nearby forest and to other villages. The German army advanced in September 1915 and combat operations reportedly took place in the town itself until March 1916. Trenches were dug in the center of town and in the forest; many houses were destroyed. 

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The heavy black line is the 1916 front line trace of German and Austro-Hungarian forces. Vishneva was located just behind it.The village of Vishneva was located in the middle of a forest between the Olshanka and Beresina Rivers. Several marshy areas were interspersed with forests.

       Active combat in the Vishneva area largely ceased after the failure of a Russian offensive in March 1916. The area became a backwater as Russian army units grew increasingly unreliable during the Bolshevik Revolution. German forces remained in the town until they were withdrawn after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 marked the end of hostilities between the Central Powers and Russia.

        Stereoviews privately made by a German officer show the town and its German occupiers during the lull in fighting in 1916-17. The numbers on the cards suggest there were originally almost 100 stereoviews. Titles were written on the back of each card in old-fashioned German script. Of the three dozen cards extant, about 20 are shown on this page. The photographer is unknown, but it may have been Lt. Clemen or Lt. Schmeyer, both of whom appear in multiple photos.

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Kompagniestellung der Königlich 5te       (Company position of the Royal 5th)

Lt. Wallstein Adjutant
Lt. Clemen

Lt. Shmyer
Lt. Ramsze

Example of German Script Title on Stereoview

        The stereoviews show personnel and facilities of the 329th and 331st Infantry Regiments, which were part of the 83rd Infantry Division recruited from Lower Silesia. While the stereoviews show damaged buildings, field fortifications, and traces of the fighting in 1915-16, for the most part they show a rustic camp. Dvora Rogovin Helberg, a Vishneva resident returning after the war saw m
any modern German ‘bunkers’ in the town (see These bunkers had electricity, toilets, and kitchens, and are no doubt the buildings shown in the stereoviews.

        Vishneva was surrounded by forests. The Germans made a considerable effort to build defensive works to impede Russian access and to ensure German mobility from the town to the fortifications. The top two photos show trenches in the forest and the barrier for an entry point through the chevaux-de-frise (logs with projecting spikes used to defend against cavalry). The forest was thinned out and roads and bridges constructed. Besides ordinary dirt roads, the Germans laid corduroy roads of logs for improved all-weather mobility. The forest blockhouse shown below has windows and a fence, looking more like a rustic cottage than a fortification; the photo was taken after the last fighting in March 1916.

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Schützengraben im Beresina Walde

Trenches in the Beresina Forest
Im Schleierwald ein selbstkonstruierter Hebekrahnen um die spanischen Reiter vor den Kampfaufbau zu werfen
In the Schleierwald (Misty Forest) a self-designed lifting barrier to be thrown for the chevaux-de-frise in front of the fortifications
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Knüppeldamm im Sumpfwalde
Corduroy road in Sumpfwalde (Swampy Forest)
Weg im ausgeholzten Beresina Walde
Road in the thinned-out Beresina Forest
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Brücke über eine Sumpfstelle im Beresina Walde
Bridge over a swampy area in the Beresina Forest
Blockhaus im Beresina Walde
Blockhouse in the Beresina Forest

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