All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 11
Spring comes to the front. It is 1918, the final year of the war. Paul and his friends are able to endure simply because they have reduced their existence to necessities. Every action they take is motivated only by the desire to survive. There is no room for anything else. The only bulwark against madness is the presence of their comrades.
But for the German forces, the situation is rapidly disintegrating. Detering loses his mind. He picks a branch from a cherry tree that is in blossom because it reminds him of the cherry trees at home. One night he slips out of the house where they are all billeted, behind the front line. A week later Paul hears that Detering has been caught by the military police in Germany. He will be court-martialed. Paul and the others hear no more about his fate.
It is clear that the Germans are losing the war. Their trenches have been shot to pieces, and they are surrounded by the English army. During the battle a German soldier named Berger loses his judgement and is wounded trying to rescue a messenger dog. M�ller is killed after being shot in the stomach. He bequeaths his boots to Paul.
The Germans fall back. The enemy, including fresh English and American troops, are too numerous for them, and too well supplied with food and military equipment, including almost unstoppable tanks. The Germans, on the other hand, are emaciated and starved, and lack artillery and experienced soldiers.
Bertinck, the commander of Second Company, is killed fighting bravely during an attack. Leer sustains a fatal wound in the hip.
Months pass by. The summer of 1918 is the most terrible of the war. The dying goes on, even as rumors of an armistice and peace are in the air. The Germans continue to be driven back by overwhelmingly superior forces.
Kat is injured in the shin, and the wound bleeds badly. Paul hoists him on his back and starts off to the dressing-station with him. Arriving at the dressing-station, Paul is relieved that his friend is saved. But unbeknown to him, Kat was hit by a splinter in the head a few minutes before they arrived. He is dead.
This chapter describes the collapse of the German army in the face of superior numbers of enemy troops, including fresh American soldiers recently introduced into the war. Germany's opponents had also developed superior weaponry, including the tank and the flame thrower. The Germans were reduced to throwing young, inadequately trained troops into the conflict. These raw recruits know nothing of warfare; they "merely know how to die," as Paul puts it. And the ill-advised, almost mad actions of Detering and Berger show that the mental condition of the German troops is deteriorating rapidly.
And yet the "great brotherhood" theme (comradeship) continues to the end. The men are utterly loyal to each other. Loyalty is all they have left. But it is in this chapter that Paul loses the remainder of his friends, M�ller, Leer and finally Kat. Paul valiantly tries to help Kat, as he had earlier helped Kropp, but it is in vain. And with Kat's death there is nothing left for him to live for.