German 'Baumbeobachter' artillery observation post camouflaged as a tree : Oosttaverne Wood, Belgium

Place Europe: Belgium, Flanders, West-Vlaanderen, Messines
Accession Number RELAWM04476
Collection type Technology
Object type Technology
Physical description Lead, Paint, Shell, Steel, Wire, Wood
Location Anzac Hall: Over the Front: The Role of Aircraft
Maker Unknown
Place made Belgium
Date made c 1915-1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

The base section of this imitation tree consists a square section of steel placed horizontally on the ground, with turned up edges and a voided circle in the centre. Around the circle is a tube section with an entrance at one side and four steel 'buttresses' to help support the tree. The top part of the base, is bolted to the bottom part by two L shaped bands. Each of these has the name 'CONSETT', a British iron and steel manufacturer, embossed in the band, although the text on the upper band is upside down and is difficult to read due to rust and wear. On the proper right of the top band are the letters 'CGP' formed by a series of punch marks. The base has rust damage as about half of it was originally placed underground and linked to a trench. Upside down, on the interior of the base is scratched '7028 HJM'.

The inner armoured steel section attached to the base consists of eight oval and one round sections made of steel to form a long tube. Each section is connected by steel brackets which are bolted around the top and bottom of the sections. A two part seat is bolted to the side of second highest armoured section by one 'L' and two 'V' shaped brackets. The first part of the seat is bolted to the tube. The main section of the seat is a composite of a wooden 'cushion' on a steel base that is connected to the bolted section by a hinge. The seat is made to push up,and fall down into its horizontal position. It also has a block of soft metal (possibly lead) to stop the seat from falling down vertically. The base of the lead has two inscriptions; the first is the initials 'CS' , made by a series of centre punch marks; and the second is the date '27/1/18' with the initials 'WMC' scratched into the lead. A thin ladder is attached to the bottom of the viewing section of the armoured tube. The uppermost section of the armoured tube is round, and slightly large than the rest of the tube. It has three viewing holes that can be closed when not in use.

The armoured steel core is 5.722 metres tall, including the base. The outer shell is made to resemble tree bark. It consists of a steel frame, which sits against the armoured section when assembled, including sections of the frame that go across the top of the armoured section. Attached to the frame are pieces of wood that have been shaped to give the outline of a tree. Attached to the outside edge of the wood are sections of sheet steel, which have been shaped and coloured brown to resemble bark and wood. The outer shell is in two pieces, front and back, which join at the sides. On the front section of bark are three observation holes covered in wire gauze which are situated near the top of the bark.These holes correspond with the three viewing holes in the uppermost section of the inner armoured tube. There are signatures and initials written or scratched into the top of the front section of the tree. Most are illegible. Pieces of wood have been wired to the tree in sections, and near the top is a piece of steel tube that may have held, or been attached to resemble a branch. There are also 'lumps' on the outer shell, made of chicken wire and grass like materials to resemble either burls or lumps of moss or lichen. On the back section of the outer shell is the text 'c. X10 / OP' painted in a similar colour to the 'bark'. The 'bark' has a coating that appears to include crushed sea shells to give it a rough texture.

Sections that resemble wood, where the 'bark' has been torn away, are also made of sheet steel, but are smoother and of a lighter shade of brown. When attached to the armoured tube, the front section of the shell sits above the bottom part of the base. The rear section sits above the top of the entrance. When fully assembled, the 'bark' extends beyond the top of the tube 1.585 metres, which gives an overall height from bottom of the base to top of the bark of 7.307 metres. Both the shell and the armoured tubing have shrapnel and bullet damage.

History / Summary

MICA long field
An observation post is a position from which soldiers can watch enemy movements, warn of approaching soldiers, or direct artillery fire. This observation post, called a 'Baumbeobachter' (meaning 'tree observer' in German) was disguised as a tree. It was used by the German Army to observe the front line and no man's land from Oosttaverne Wood near Wytschaete, north of Messines in Belgium. Oosttaverne Wood was over one and a half kilometres behind the German front line. The exact location of the tree within the wood is unknown but based on the landscape around the wood, it may have been positioned to look towards the German front north of Wytschaete, towards the lower lying landscape.
After the Germans captured the area in October-November 1914, the front line remained relatively stable. Oosttaverne Wood remained under German control for two and a half years. It was eventually captured by the British on 7 June 1917 during the first day of the Battle of Messines. The tree remained in position, now about three kilometres behind the new British front line, until it was dismantled by 3 Battalion AIF in January 1918. 3 Battalion had been in a rest camp near Wyschaete from 15 to 22 January. On the night of 22 January they relieved 1 Battalion at Oosttaverne. The following members of the battalion began disassembling this observation post so it would join the collection of items being sent to Australia. When the battalion was relieved on 30 January by 56 Battalion, they took the tree with them, and passed it on to the Australian War Records Section (the precursor to the Australian War Memorial) in early February.
The Official War Correspondent (and later Official War Historian), CEW Bean noted in his diary on 11 February 'The 3rd Bn the other day got out of Oostaverne Wood for us a "camouflage tree" - a sham tree of iron with a hollow steel tube, up wh[ich] the German artillery observer used to crawl to a seat near the top. The battalion got their tree out for the Australian War Museum - Sergt. Hamilton VC's name is pencilled on it. It is a wonderfully good imitation tree and we must get it to Australia at all costs. Indeed when I saw it I thought that it must be one of the real trees from Pozieres wh[ich] we are getting.'
For the Germans, the placement of the tree was critical. Creating these camouflaged observation posts took a large amount of time and materials to produce. They needed to be placed where they would be most effective, preferably somewhere that was not highly shelled. It was important for the observation post to blend in with its environment. When the Germans decided to place an observation post in Oosttaverne Wood, they selected a real tree in the wood to replace. The tree was carefully studied and photographed, and this realistic looking replica was made in German camouflage workshops behind the lines. One night the real tree was cut down and this tree was erected in its place. The crew erecting the tree may have done so during an artillery barrage, to help drown out any noises they made.
The tree is made of a tall hollow steel tube, made from several oval, and one circular, segments bolted together on top of a base with an entrance. There would have been a trench leading up to the tree, as the base was partially buried. The trench would have been concealed so that it would not be seen in enemy aerial photographs. The steel tube itself was disguised by a steel outer shell made to look like bark and wood.
The observer would enter the tree and climb up a thin metal three part folding ladder, to a seat near the top. The ladder's rungs were constructed close together, as there was limited room in the tube to bend the knees. At some point the ladder was damaged near the join between the middle and bottom sections. It was crudely repaired, by wiring the sections together, but this shortened the ladder slightly. There are three viewing holes near the top of the tree for the observer to see out over no man's land, one at the front and one on either side of it, positioned slightly higher. It would have been difficult to see through the viewing holes while sitting on the seat as they are high for the average height of a soldier of the period, so the observer may have needed a small periscope to see out of the holes. In addition the soldier would have sat a long way back from the viewing holes, which may have allowed for the use of a telescope. The holes could be closed by small sliding steel 'doors' and the corresponding openings in the outer 'bark' shell were covered with wire gauze to help disguise them.
The tree suffered bullet and shrapnel damage, especially to the thinner outer shell. An embedded bullet and pieces of shrapnel have been found in the outer shell. The armoured section shows less damage, however it does have several holes on the rear left side. A piece of shrapnel is embedded across from one of the major shrapnel holes in the tree.
After the tree was disassembled by 3 Battalion on 23 January 1918, some men from the unit serving at the front signed the tree, either with graphite pencils or by scratching into the metal itself. Scratched upside down into the armoured base section is '7028 HJM', the number and initials for 7028 Private Harold John Meyn, a labourer from Tamworth, NSW before he enlisted on 15 October 1916, aged 22. He embarked from Sydney on HMAT Benalla with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on 9 November 1916. In July 1917 he was accidentally wounded in the left arm and leg and sent to hospital in England. He returned to France in November 1917 and served with 3 Battalion until 10 April 1918, when he transferred to 1 Machine Gun Battalion. Meyn returned to Australia in July 1919. The initials 'CS' and 'WMC' are located on the seat, along with the date '27/1/18'. Unfortunately the initials do not have service numbers, so these soldiers' identities may never be revealed.
There are over a dozen signatures and initials on the top of the front section of bark. Some signatures have faded, or are written over other signatures, and are difficult to read. Many of the signatures are now illegible, including that of Captain John Patrick Hamilton, VC, which Bean noted as being on the tree in February 1918.
Several men have been identified from their signatures on the bark:
6882 Private Thomas Murphie was a 25 year old tailor when he enlisted on 17 October 1916. He embarked with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on board SS Port Nicholson on 8 November 1916. On 30 January he was admitted to hospital with influenza, recovered and was released two weeks later. He went into training at Perham Downs until mid March, when he was admitted to hospital again. Upon release from hospital he returned to training. In April he was transferred to 63 Battalion. He received 3 days detention for not attending parade and disorderly conduct in the Company Orderly room, followed later by 21 days detention for assisting Private Fallon to escape from his escort on 8 August 1917. In November he proceeded to France, joining the 3rd Battalion there. In June he was charged with drunkenness and being absent without leave (AWOL) and was sentenced to 35 days Field Punishment Number Two (FP No. 2). Later in June he was admitted with influenza again. In August he was charged with being in Rouelles without a valid pass, drunkenness and possessing a comrade's pass and forfeited 16 days pay. He rejoined his unit in September. In December he went on leave in London, where he went AWOL from 9 to 25 January in London. He later went AWOL from 9 February to 27 February in France. He received seven days FP No. 2 and forfeited 45 days pay. Murphie returned to Australia in July 1919
6802 Private Francis Bernard O'Donnell was a married horse breaker from Sydney when he enlisted on 6 September 1916, aged 28. He also embarked with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on board SS Port Nicholson on 8 November 1916. He went AWOL for an hour for a drink and forfeited two days pay. While in England he was charged with striking a superior officer in March 1917. He was found guilty and forfeited 388 days pay and was sentenced to one year hard labour, this was commuted to detention. In October 1917 he joined his unit in France and the unexpired portion of his sentence was remitted. He served with 3 Battalion in France until 27 May 1918, when he went AWOL for an hour and a half, and assaulted another private while drunk, with a sack full of bottles he was carrying. In June he was again sentenced to hard labour. This was commuted to 60 days Field Punishment Number One and with the time he already served, he returned to his unit in late July 1918. He returned to the front and was awarded the Military Medal for his work at Hargicourt on 18 September 1918 when he single handedly captured a small enemy post with a garrison of eight men. He then rushed an enemy machine gun post with his platoon sergeant and section leader. He killed the crews of two machine guns and helped capture four machine guns and 45 prisoners. He returned to Australia in July 1919.
229 Private Frederick Draper was a farm labourer before he enlisted on 24 August 1914, aged 19. He also embarked on 20 October 1914 HMAT Euripides from Sydney, but with a different unit - 1 Field Ambulance. He landed at Gallipoli in April 1915. Admitted to hospital in October, he returned to Gallipoli after treatment and in December 1915 was attached to 2 Light Horse Field Ambulance until the end of the campaign. After time in Egypt he embarked for France where he was transferred to 3 Battalion on 16 May 1916. He was hospitalised in England with malaria in June, returning to France in November. On 9 April 1917 he was wounded in his right upper thigh. He was wounded in his left calf in March 1918, again being evacuated to England. Draper returned to France in August. He embarked for Australian on '1914 (Anzac) leave' in October 1918.
2772 Private John Patrick Rochrig originally enlisted in Queensland with the service number 6150 and embarked from Brisbane, Qld on 27 October 1916 with reinforcements for 26 Battalion. He disembarked at Sydney on 31 October and re-embarked on 25 November 1916 on board HMAT Beltana with reinforcements for the 35th Battalion. His enlistment papers had not been transferred to his new unit and he re-enlisted15 December 1916 while at sea. He was 27 and had been working as a labourer before enlistment. In mid 1917 he transferred to 3 Battalion. He was wounded in September 1917. Rochrig was awarded the Military Medal for his work at Chuignes on 23 August 1918. He was his platoon's bombardier, and when his Company's advance was held up, moved forward and through his bombing cleared a machine gun post, which allowed the advance to continue. He later covered a returning reconnaissance patrol, while in an exposed position and was severely wounded with shell wounds to his left calf and foot and his right calf and thigh. Rochrig returned to Australia on the Hospital Ship Karoola in early 1919.
2735 Private Thomas Edward O'Neill was born in London. He was a 21 year old carpenter when he enlisted on 20 January 1915. He embarked on 9 August 1915 on board HMAT Runic from Sydney. He served on Gallipoli near the end of the campaign until he was hospitalised with dysentery and enteric fever. He afterwards suffered from typhoid. He injured himself in June 1916 while using a circular saw, and was later admitted to hospital with malaria. He served on the Western Front and was hospitalised with trench fever in July 1917. He went AWOL, or overstayed his leave five times in Australia and overseas and forfeited several days pay. On 9 August 1918 he received a shell wound to his right arm. In September he was arrested by the military police and charged with drunkenness, improper dress and resisting arrest. He forfeited 21 days pay. He returned to Australia on board Kildonian Castle, arriving in May 1919.
6984 Private Jack Dalton was a labourer working in Wellington, NSW when he enlisted on 24 October 1916 aged 24. He embarked with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on board HMAT Benalla on 9 November 1916 from Sydney. In England he went AWOL for six hours in December 1916 and in February he went AWOL again for four days. In May 1917 he joined 3 Battalion in the field. He was admitted sick to hospital in June and again in September. On 14 April 1918 he was wounded in the face, left arm and hand. He returned to France in October, but was admitted to hospital two weeks later. In February 1919 he went AWOL for nearly two weeks. He returned to Australia in September 1919.
1305 Private Claude Masterson was a 24 year old labourer when he enlisted on 3 January 1916. During his training Masterson was transferred to Milson Island Isolation Camp for two months, before continuing his training at Armidale. He embarked with 'D' Company 33 Battalion on 4 May 1916 on board HMAT Marathon from Sydney. In September 1916 he transferred to 3 Battalion, joining them in France. On 9 April 1917 he was wounded in the left leg and was transferred to hospital in England. Masterson went AWOL for two weeks in July. He received 20 days of FP No. 2 and forfeited 43 days pay. Some of his punishment was remitted and he was released on 10 August. The next day he was admitted to hospital unwell. In November he rejoined 3 Battalion in France. In June 1918 he was admitted with influenza. He recovered and rejoined his unit in July. He embarked for Australia from England in May 1919 and was discharged on 28 August 1919.
990 Sergeant Ernest Whittaker was a widower, working as an electrical installation assistant before he enlisted on 20 August 1914, aged 30. He embarked with 'E' Company, 3 Battalion on 20 October 1914 on board HMAT Euripides from Sydney. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and received a wound to his right arm. He was evacuated from Gallipoli to recover, returning to his unit in June. He was wounded again in July but returned to Gallipoli in September, where he stayed until the end of the campaign. In March 1916 he embarked for France. On 25 July 1916 at Pozieres he was wounded in the face and eyes and was briefly buried alive by a shell burst. He was unconscious for a few hours and was blind and deaf for nearly a fortnight. He suffered shell shock and was in hospital for two months. In December he went AWOL for two weeks. He had been promoted to lance corporal in July, but was demoted to private and forfeited 13 days pay. In May 1917 he was transferred to 62 Battalion. He was promoted to lance corporal again and underwent training at the Southern Command School of Signalling. On 2 August 1917 he remarried in England. His bride was Florence Edith Paynter. He was promoted to sergeant and he rejoined 3 Battalion in France in October. He was wounded again in April 1918 in the right shoulder. He remained in England for a time after the war until he embarked for Australia, arriving in Sydney on 27 February 1920. He was discharged on 15 March 1920.
746 Private William Frederick Kluth was a 26 year old sawyer when he enlisted on 24 August 1914. He embarked with 'D' company, 3 Battalion on 20 October 1914 on board HMAT Euripides from Sydney. In February he worked as a pack driver for the unit in Egypt. He served on Gallipoli until he was admitted to hospital in August 1915 with rheumatism. He rejoined his unit in late September. In November he was transferred to the transport section in Maadi, Egypt for a month. He was admitted to hospital in January 1916 and after rejoining 3 Battalion on 6 March, he was transferred four days later to 1 Pioneer Battalion. He served in France and on 29 April 1916 was wounded in the jaw with a piece of shell and was transferred to hospital in England. He was admitted ill to hospital on a number of occasions through 1916 and 1917 and remained in England until 20 November 1917, when he embarked for France. In France he rejoined 3 Battalion on 26 November. He sprained his ankle in March 1918 and was invalided back to England. He went AWOL for a few days in May and again in June. He returned to France in late August 1918 and rejoined his unit in September. In January 1919 he received 75 days paid '1914 leave' in England, however he became sick with influenza in February and returned to Australia on board HMAT Euripides in March. He was discharged in May 1919.
7055 Private Frederick Augustus Peck was a 23 year old bookkeeper from Henty, NSW when he enlisted on 27 October 1916. He also embarked with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on board HMAT Benalla on 9 November 1916. He served on the Western Front and was killed by a shell on 14 April 1918. Peck was originally buried at Strazeele and a small cross placed over his grave. His grave was later lost and his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
6885 Private John Parsons was working as a chair maker when he enlisted in the AIF and had previously been apprenticed to T Taylor & Co in Sydney. Parsons enlisted on 4 September 1916 aged 23. He embarked with reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion on board SS Port Nicholson on 8 November 1916 from Sydney. He arrived in England in January 1917 and within a few weeks went AWOL for nearly a day. He proceeded overseas to France in May 1917, joining his battalion there. He was admitted sick to hospital on 14 June, and rejoined his unit ten days later. He was admitted sick to hospital again in February 1918, rejoining the battalion nine days later. Parsons returned to Australia in July 1919 aboard HMAT Aeneas. After the war Parsons returned to chair making until 3 June 1941 when he enlisted in the Citizens Military Force (CMF). Parsons served in Australia until November 1943 when he was discharged from the CMF.