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Literature / Storm of Steel

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"Bravery, fearless risking of one's life, is always inspiring."

"Brave puny men are always to be preferred to strong cowards."

Storm of Steel (German title: In Stahlgewittern) is the World War I era memoirs of Imperial German soldier Ernst Jünger. It details Jünger's experiences fighting on the Western Front and gives detailed accounts of life in a time when trench warfare was common. Adapted from Jünger's wartime diaries, it begins with him arriving on the battlefield and ends with him being awarded the coveted Pour le Mérite (also known as the Blue Max). Along the way, he both wins and loses many battles, gains and loses friends, finds respect for his enemies, and very nearly loses his brother to enemy fire. The book was published in 1920 and has been translated into English numerous times.

Tropes used in this memoir:

  • Autobiography: The book is Ernst Junger's seminal memoir, detailing what life in the trenches was like for the average grunt.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Jünger relates a story of one officer named Eisen, who had all manner of guns, knives and grenades strapped to his body. At one point, while attempting to draw his pipe, he accidentally pulled the pin on one of the many grenades he kept in his pockets. Fortunately for him, it was a dud.
  • Bayonet Ya: More than once, Jünger is forced to utilize his rifle's bayonet as a weapon in close quarters.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Many of the German soldiers spoke French more or less fluently, which sometimes caused some comical situations. Jünger mentions one time when he and a friend, Clement, visited the barber in a French village and Clement was getting a shave. One of the French villagers waiting in line said to the barber: "Eh, coupe la gorge avec!" (Why don’t you just cut his throat with it!). To the villager's horror, Clement calmly replied: "Quant à moi, j’aimerais mieux la garder." (If it’s all one to you, I’d just as soon hang on to it.’).
  • Boom, Headshot!: More than a few soldiers die this way, usually while exchanging fire across No Man's Land.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: During his final assault, Jünger slips and lands with his knee in "something a frightened predecessor had left behind," and has to have it scraped off of his pants with a knife.
  • Buried Alive: During an artillery bombardment, one soldier, Simon, is actually completely buried by an upheaval of earth caused by a shell going off right next to him. His comrades are able to successfully dig him free unharmed, however.
  • Butt-Monkey: Sergeant Hock, who frequently has bad things happen to him throughout the war.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Largely averted. Although Jünger expresses no particular fondness for the French (and in fact doesn't seem to like them at all), they're portrayed, in his view, as competent and brave soldiers.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: One German captain is a very unusual man who styles himself as "The King of Quéant," and Jünger sarcastically refers to his conference table as his "round table." Another officer named Hambrock is also said to be prone to sneaking up behind his men and firing flare guns off right beside their heads, "to test their courage."
  • Cool Helmet: The German stahlhelm (steel helmet), which the soldiers use for everything from wash basins to mess tins to actually protecting their heads with.
  • Cultured Warrior: Jünger is fond of literature and philosophy, making several references throughout the book to various works of fiction, usually as they pertain to his current situation.
  • The Dead Have Names: Unless he honestly never got the man's name, Jünger often goes out of his way to identify his fallen comrades by name when they get killed.
  • Deadly Gas: More than once, the Germans have to contend with poison gas attacks, something they fear even more than the constant shelling.
  • Due to the Dead: Sadly averted. When they go on raiding parties, the Germans have to fight for every inch of space and cannot afford to bring back fallen comrades, soldiers who die are often left where they fall.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": "The King of Quéant," one of the author's superiors. We are never told his actual name. Similarly, another German officer is referred to as "The King of Inchy."
  • Explosive Stupidity: Narrowly averted with Eisen, who would've blown himself up with one of his own grenades if it hadn't been a dud.
  • Eye Scream: Schulz, one of Jünger's companions, catches a bullet fragment in his eye.
  • A Father to His Men: Jünger looks up to several of his superiors in this manner, although it's unclear if they really were as awesome as he remembers or if it was just hero worship. In any case, as a leader himself, Jünger strives to emulate them and keep his men alive, with mixed results.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Jünger and several of his companions become closer as a result of their experiences. In particular two soldiers named Knigge and Kius become his best friends. In another instance, a Polish volunteer who Jünger took to be "a cretin" at first, impresses him with his bravery and earns his respect.
  • Friendly Fire: A common problem during trench warfare, at least according to Jünger. In particular, there was an episode where a German soldier got drunk, wandered out into No Man's Land, and emptied all his ammo towards his own lines. This even applies to grenades; during one particularly chaotic battle with the British, Jünger's friend Bartels accidentally throws a grenade into the midst of his comrades.
  • Gorn: Jünger is unflinching in his descriptions sometimes, and it can get pretty nasty. In one instance, he and some of his comrades have to remove the body of a soldier who died from an abdominal wound from a house they intend to use as a base. While they're trying to drag him out, though, they accidentally drag him across a broken wooden beam which jams into his stomach wound, and their efforts to tug him free only make the wound bigger until it just rips him open completely. Cue the guy's guts spilling onto the floor. Ick.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: Jünger and co. will frequently find their grenades thrown back at them by the enemy, and vice versa.
  • Hero of Another Story: Fritz Jünger, the author's brother. He had his own exploits and adventures during the way independent of his brother. The author relates them to the reader secondhand, although Ernst and Fritz do cross path a few times in the book.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Narrowly avoided when a soldier toying with the pistol Jünger keeps on his nightstand accidentally fires it off, barely missing the author's head.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: On at least one occasion, an enemy soldier pretends to surrender, only to suddenly attack his would-be captors when their guard is lowered, prompting them to kill him.
  • In Medias Res: It begins with Jünger and his companions arriving at the front, without much in the way of preamble or introduction.
  • Lifesaving Misfortune: Jünger get hits in the calf by a shrapnel bullet and hospitalised while away from the front during the Battle of the Somme. This ends up saving his life as the rest of his company was sent to the front the day after his injury, where it was destroyed by a British attack, with most soldiers being killed and the few survivors captured.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Jünger frequently mentions that he views all of his opponents, even the French, as as being no better or worse than him and his companions; just soldiers on the other side. His first up close look at an enemy soldier is a very sobering moment for him. Until then, he'd only been exchanging fire with them across No Man's Land.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Audible's audio book occasionally features this.
  • Onrushing Army: During a few battles, the Germans find themselves as both the onrushing army and the army being rushed at.
  • Pineapple Surprise: The heavily-armed Eisen keeps multitudes of grenades strapped to his body "just in case," and at one point while attempting to pull something else off of his utility belt, he accidentally pulls the pin on one of them. Fortunately for him, the grenade turns out to be a dud.
  • Pocket Protector: During the battle against the New Zealanders, a chunk of sharp shrapnel hits Jünger and would've penetrated his chest had it not been for the clasp of one of his suspenders, which the jagged piece of metal simply bounces off of, saving his life.
    • A very similar event happens earlier in the book when Jünger's belt buckle deflects a piece of shrapnel that would have penetrated his stomach otherwise, something he doesn't even realize until his men begin offering him water.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Although not bloodthirsty by any means, Jünger seems to believe that war is a man's duty, and capturing and/or killing the enemy is a large part of that.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Throughout the memoir, many Germans, including Jünger himself, survive a wide variety of injuries that would've spelled certain doom in a fictional story, proving that the human body is amazingly more resilient than many fiction writers give it credit for.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Jünger reports back to HQ only to learn from his superior officers that he has been reported as dead several times in the book.
  • Sniper Duel: At one point, the Germans have to contend with a particularly tenacious British sharpshooter.
  • Swarm of Rats: Rats frequently plague the soldiers in the trenches.
  • Title Drop: In the penultimate chapter: "We all sighed with relief when we finally turned our backs on Puisieux and the storm of steel of the finale."
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Due to leading several raiding parties, Jünger and pals frequently find themselves behind enemy lines. Likewise, their opponents will routinely do the same thing.
  • Undying Loyalty: Otto Schmidt, to Jünger.
  • War Is Glorious: Whereas most accounts of World War I emphasize the pointlessness and horror of the fighting, Jünger takes a different approach, treating it almost as a boys' own adventure, but without ever glorifying the war or flinching away from the violence and terror.
  • War Is Hell: While it is not the main focus of the memoir, Jünger nevertheless does not shy away from showing the horrifying results of bullet wounds, shrapnel wounds, and having to deal with the bodies of the dead after a battle.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: At one point, the author happens upon a valuable first edition of Don Quixote in a house. Although he is initially excited about his find, he realizes it's basically worthless to him in the middle of a war, comparing himself to "Robinson Crusoe and the lump of gold." He leaves the book where he finds it.
  • Worthy Opponent: Jünger views most of his foes on the Allied side as being opponents worthy of a good challenge.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Jünger considers rats verminous pests, and they're so numerous at times that he and his companions make a sport of devising creative ways to kill them.