Storm of Steel Summary
by Ernst Jünger

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Storm of Steel Summary

Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger is a 1920 memoir about the author's experiences as a German soldier and officer serving in World War I.

  • At the start of the war, Jünger is a nineteen-year-old soldier. After his first brushes with combat, he trains as an officer.
  • Jünger serves on the frontline in France and Belgium, where he faces French and British troops. He engages in combat ranging from small skirmishes to large-scale battles.
  • For most of the war, Jünger senses that the two sides are making little progress, but eventually it becomes clear that the Germans are outmatched.

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Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel is a memoir of a German field officer’s participation in World War I between 1914 and 1918. Jünger focuses on the unadorned happenings of war, in all their violence and ugliness, generally to the exclusion of philosophical or conceptual considerations. Even so, the deeper meanings behind the surface events are implicit in any real understanding of Jünger's account of this great cataclysm of the twentieth century.

The story begins in December, 1914, four months after the start of World War I, when Jünger, at this time nineteen years old, and other German recruits arrive by train in the Champagne region of France. Though Jünger tells us virtually nothing about his home life in Germany, his schooling, and his aspirations, he does indicate that he and most of the others in his group are basically city boys who are now being thrust into a rural environment: the various villages in France and Belgium where they will be quartered and fighting for the next four years.

As in most accounts of World War I, the system of trenches in which the soldiers live and from which they fight is described in detail. In the first four months of being stationed at the front, Jünger sees some action, but it is subdued in comparison with what is to come. The first major battle he experiences is Les Eparges, in April, 1915. The state of things on the field is often one of utter confusion. The sound of artillery fire is deafening, and often one cannot tell whether the fire is coming from the German or the French lines. Altogether it's a scene of horror which Jünger does not spare the reader from seeing in detail. There are graphic descriptions of men being blown up, corpses strewn all over the field, and mutilated and dying men everywhere. When Jünger is wounded by shrapnel in the thigh, it is his first significant injury of many, and he is taken back to Germany on a hospital train. His father encourages him to return to the front after officer training. He is first made a Fahnenjunker (aspirant officer or ensign) and then becomes a lieutenant, holding this rank as a field officer throughout most of the war.

In the year or so after his return to France, Jünger is involved in varying levels of action in places such as Douchy, Monchy, and Queant. The essential pattern of Jünger’s narrative is a constant alternation between intense but relatively brief engagements on the one hand and periods of inactivity and rest on the other. There is frequent drinking. The first five chapters, however, are a prelude to an enormous engagement Jünger takes part in—the Battle of the Somme—late in the summer of 1916. There are endless descriptions of heavy artillery bombings, attacks by airplanes, dozens and even hundreds of men being shot down in the field every day, and gas attacks. Throughout these accounts, Jünger gives the reader every detail but largely makes no commentary upon it. Nor does he offer any resistance to or criticism of the fact that men have been plunged by the millions into unrelieved and incredibly brutal violence. This sets Storm of Steel apart from the more often-read war memoirs and novels of the twentieth century such as All Quiet on the Western Front and, later, Catch-22 and Born on the Fourth of July.

At various times in the war, Jünger is given further training, both as an observation officer and a scouting officer. In...

(The entire section is 1,210 words.)