The height of the First World War. Germany already fights against France, Russia, England and America, Paul Boyer, on whose behalf the narrative is conducted, represents his fellow soldiers. Schoolchildren, peasants, fishermen, artisans of different ages gathered here.
Rota lost almost half of the composition and nine kilometers from the front rest after meeting with English guns – “meat grinders.”
Due to losses during the shelling, they receive double portions of food and tobacco. Soldiers sleep, eat enough, smoke and play cards. Muller, Kropp and Paul go to their wounded classmate. They four fell into one company, persuaded by the “sincere voice” of the class teacher Kantorek. Josef Böhm did not want to go to war, but, fearing to “cut off all the ways for himself,” he also volunteered.
He was killed one of the first. From the received wounds to the eyes, he could not find shelter, lost landmark and was shot. And in a letter to Kropp their former mentor Kantorek sends his greetings, calling them “iron guys.” So thousands of Kantoroks are fooling young people.
Another of his classmates, Kimmerich, the guys are in a field hospital with an amputated leg. Mother Franz Cimmerich asked Paul to look after him, “because he is quite a child.” But how to do it on the front line? A single glance at Franz is enough to understand – he is hopeless. While Franz was unconscious, his watch was stolen, his favorite watch received as a gift. True, there were excellent English boots from the skin to the knees, which he no longer needed. He dies in front of his comrades. Depressed, they return to the hut with Franz’s shoes. On the road with Kropp happens hysterics.
In the barrack recruiting recruits. The killed are replaced alive. One of the recruits says that they were fed one trout. Extractor Katchinsky feeds the boy with beans and meat. Kropp offers his own version of warfare: let the generals fight themselves, and the victor will declare his country a winner. And so for them are fighting other people who did not start the war and who absolutely do not need it.
The company with replenishment goes on sapper work to the front line. Experienced Kath teaches recruits how to recognize shots and rips and from them to be buried. Listening to the “vague hum of the front,” he suggests that at night “they will be given a light.”
Paul reflects on the behavior of the soldiers on the front line, about how they are all instinctively connected with the land, in which one wants to cuddle when shells whistle. To the soldier she appears to be a “silent, reliable intercessor, groan and cry, he tests her fear and her pain, and she accepts them… in those moments when he clings to her, long and tightly clasping her in his arms, when under fire the fear of death forces him to dig deep into her face and all his body, she is his only Friend, brother, his mother. “
As Cat predicted, firing at the highest density. Cotton chemical bombs. Gongs and metal ratchets proclaim: “Gas, Gas!” All hope for a tightness mask. “Soft jellyfish” fills all funnels. We must go upstairs, but there is shelling.
The guys count how many of them are left from the class. Seven dead, one in a madhouse, four wounded – leaves eight. A breather. Attach the lid of the vaccines over the candle and dump the lice there and reflect on what everyone would do if it were not for the war. Part comes to their chief torturer in the teachings Himmelstos – a former postman. Everyone has a tooth on it, but they have not decided how to take revenge.
The offensive is being prepared. The school laid two coffins in coffins, smelling of resin. Cadaver rats have divorced in the trenches, and they can not cope with them. Because of the shelling, it is impossible to deliver food to the soldiers. The rookie had a seizure. He is eager to jump out of the dugout. Attack of the French – and they are pushed back to the reserve line. Counterattack – and the guys come back with trophies in the form of canned food and booze. Continuous mutual shelling. The killed are placed in a large funnel, where they lie already in three layers. All “exhausted and stupefied.” Himmelstos hides in the trench. Paul forces him to attack.
From the company of 150 people there are only 32. They are taken to the rear farther than usual. The nightmares of the front are smoothed out with irony… About the deceased they say that he “screwed up... his ass.” In the same tone and about the other. This saves from insanity.
Paul is summoned to the office and issued a vacation certificate and travel documents. He looks with excitement from the window of the car “border pillars of his youth.” That’s his house. Mother is sick. In their family it is not customary to express feelings, and her words “my dear boy” talk about a lot. The father wants to show his son in uniform to his friends, but Paul does not want to talk about anyone with the war. He is looking for solitude in the quiet corners of restaurants for a beer or in his room, where everything is familiar to the smallest detail. A German teacher calls him into a pub. There, familiar patriotic educators bravo reason, how to “beat the Frenchman.” They treat him with beer and cigars, and at the same time plan to seize Belgium, the coal regions of France and large pieces of Russia. Paul goes to the barracks, where they drilled two years ago. His classmate Mittelsted, after the infirmary sent here, informs the news: Kantorek is taken into the militia. A military soldier is drumming a class teacher according to his scheme.
Paul goes to the mother of Kimmerich and tells her about the instant death of her son from a wound in the heart. His story is so convincing that she believes.
And again barracks, where they drilled. Near the large camp of Russian prisoners of war. Paul is standing at the camp of the Russians. He reflects, looking at these people with “children’s faces and beards of the apostles”, about who turned ordinary people into enemies and murderers. He breaks cigarettes and half, through the grid, passes them to the Russians. They bury the dead every day and sing the requiems.
Paul is sent to his unit, where he meets old friends. They are chased for a week on the parade ground. Issue a new form on the occasion of the arrival of the Kaiser. Impressions on the soldiers the Kaiser does not produce. The debate is again about who starts wars and why they are needed. Take the French laborer, why should he attack us! This is what the authorities come up with.
There are rumors that they will be sent to Russia, but they are sent to the very heat, to the forefront. The guys are going to the reconnaissance. Night, rockets, shooting. Paul got lost and does not know which side of their trenches. The day Paul waits in the funnel – in the water and mud, – pretending to be dead. He lost the gun and prepares a knife in case of melee. In his crater falls a lost French soldier. Paul rushes at him with a knife… With the coming of the night, Paul returns to his trenches. He is shocked – for the first time he killed a man who, in effect, did nothing to him.
The soldier is sent to guard the food store. Six people from their department remained alive: Kat, Albert, Mueller, Tiaden, Leer, Deterling – all here. They find in the village the most reliable concrete basement. From the houses of the runaway residents, mattresses and even a mahogany bed with a canopy made of blue silk with lace and feather beds are dragged. The soldier’s ass sometimes likes to luxuriate on a soft one. Paul and Kat go to reconnoitre in the village. It is under heavy artillery fire. They find two frolicking pigs in the barn. A large treat is being prepared. The village is on fire, and the warehouse is half-ruined. Now you can drag it all from it. This is used by guards and passing drivers. Feast in Time of Plague.
A month later, the carnival ended and they were again taken to the front line. The marching column is fired. Albert and Paul fall into the Cologne monastery infirmary. Permanently bring the wounded and take the deceased. Albert amputated his leg to the very top. Paul after recovery again on the front line. The situation is hopeless. The American, British and French regiments are advancing on the Germans who have won the battle. Muller was killed by a lightning rocket. Kata, wounded in the shin, Paul on the back takes out from under the shelling, but during the reruns, Kata injures a neck with a splinter and he dies. Paul remains the last of his classmates to go to war. Everyone is talking about a speedy truce.
Paul was killed in October 1918. Then it was quiet and the military reports were brief: “On the Western Front without changes.”