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The tallest man in the Army

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Just recently received a newsletter from an auction house, featuring historical topics. Noteworthy is a photo of the tallest man at the time in the Prussian Army. It is titled "Der lange Josef", "Seiner Majestät größter Soldat", together with two other soldiers from other regiments, serving at the same time.

Unfortunately, there is no further information with the description. But being the tallest soldier, he automaticly belongs the the Leib Compagnie of the Erstes Garde-Regiment-zu-Fuss in Potsdam. This largest man was also at the same time, the "Flügelmann" (equiv. of "right marker") of the company. From the collar buttons you can see the rank of "Gefreiter". This was an old tradition in the Prussian Army, as old as the Guards Regiment itself, dating from about 1701. The photo could have been taken around 1910. Strangely, enough, he is not wearing the correct regulation belt for infantry, but a cavalry belt with the rectangular frame buckle. The reason for this is not known. Normally the Guards wore the old pattern 50 mm whitened buckskin belt with the respective buckle. Even the long Gewehr 98 would look ridiculously small with this man!



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That's very bizarre Paul, I managed to find his name and some more pictures. :)


"Der lange Josef" was a man named Josef Schippers,who was active with the 1. Garde-Regt. zu Fuß (Potsdam) Garde-Korps, from 1905 to 1907.He was born in Munchen-Gladbach on 15 April 1888. He became known as the tallest soldier in the world, billed at 7'10" (238.8 cm) but that was including the tall hat he used to wear. There was a standing order that he ate two rations a day and consumed a litre of milk daily. Apparently, he was a pain in the rear for his NCOs, he died in 1948.


His real height has probably 6'11.5" (212 cm). Most postcards and other photo's of him are fake to make him look bigger. In 1912 he started with Otto van der Ville the company Schippers & Van der Ville. The company made rides for fun fairs. Joseph Schippers died in 1948. According to one newspaper clipping, he was also known as Josef Handel.


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Have also seen something about him in the past. I think he must have been as tall as claimed, I don't think they would have faked such photos. There was also Kirkland, as you mentioned, apparently from Ireland, I have a photopostcard from the Museum in Charlottenburg, to where I have been several times, As far as I remember, his name was James Kirkland. That was before 1740. In the old days the "Werber" used to go around to inns, etc., get suitable candidates drunk and make them accept the King of Prussia's "Handgeld", after which, there was no escape, and then they were brought (if necessary by force) to the regiment they were destined for. They even "worked" abroad, bringing suitable candidates from other countries. The penalties for desertion afterwards were harsh in those days, Floggings, the wheel and "Spiessrutenlaufen", and desertions were the exception. That of course, was all abolished in the reign of Friedrich-Wilhelm II,, and at the latest under Friedrich-Wilhelm III., who were much more lenient and humane in this respect.

In the early 19th Century any corporal punishment was forbidden, and was an offence liable to punishment or exclusion from the army.


The "tall headdress", which you mention, is at least 30 cm tall, I don't think that would be included in this man's height. Two examples of these I already posted under Helmets & Headdress, on 25th February last.


Here, a picture of Grenadier James Kirkland, painted by Johann Christof Merk ca. 1714, from I. Leibbataillon Garde, during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm I.


Edited by Fritz
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5ft 3in soldier who captured Germany's tallest Nazi awarded highest French honour.Bob Roberts, who was photographed taking the surrender of 7ft 6in Jakob Nacken, has been awarded the Legion d’honneur by the French government.


Cpl Bob Roberts was sent the picture by a historian and instantly recognised himself


Corporal Bob Roberts was overseeing the surrender of dozens of enemy soldiers during the Battle of Normandy when the 7ft 6ins German loomed into his view.

Cpl Roberts, who stood two feet below him at 5ft 6ins, had the daunting job of frisking the German lance corporal for weapons before taking him prisoner.

Out of shot of the photo, Cpl Robert's comrades and even the captured German soldiers sniggered together at the sight of the little and large encounter.

It was a moment of lightness during the grim duty of war.

For just a few minutes before the picture was taken, Cpl Roberts faced a life-or-death duel with another German soldier who pulled out a pistol as he pretended to surrender.

Luckily, he raised his gun in the nick of time and shot the enemy soldier dead.

The photo has been unearthed by an amateur historian who sent it to Cpl Roberts, now aged 87 and living in Bournemouth, Dorset, in the hope he could identify the Allied serviceman.

But the great-grandfather went one better than that and instantly recognised himself in the photo.

Holding the picture, Cpl Roberts said: "I didn't take a lot of notice of this guy at the time because I was so focused on what the Germans were doing after what had happened to me.

"I just passed the prisoners on one after the other after searching them.

"But my mates who were watching the rest of the men saw this giant of a guy approach me and I was aware they and the Germans were having a good laugh.

"The Germans were saying that he was the tallest man in the German army, he was 7ft 6ins tall.

"My mates took some pictures of me with him with a camera they had taken from the Germans. Luckily he didn't give me any aggravation.

"I couldn't believe it when I received the photo after all these years. It took me back to a moment of light-heartedness so soon after I had been a blink of an eye from death."

Cpl Roberts, who was 21 at the time, was a member of the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment of the Canadian army and stormed Juno Beach on D-Day in June 1944.

After seeing action in the town of St Aubin - he helped take out a Nazi machine gun nest that was wreaking havoc down on the beach - his company moved north towards Calais.

The men took the cliffs above five pillboxes from which the Germans were bombing Dover 22 miles away with huge guns.

After a four day stand off the Germans waved a white flag from one of the bunkers.

Cpl Roberts, a retired painter and decorator, said: "They had been bombing Dover with shells as big as barrels and we had them surrounded; there was no way out for them.

"It wasn't wise for a whole platoon to go down to capture them as they could have been bluffing and shot us all up.

"So I was chosen to take a small section of seven men to take them prisoner.

"Dozens and dozens of them came out and I just shouted out 'does anyone speak English?'

"This officer came forward and I told him to tell his men to lay down their arms before coming to me so I could frisk them.

"I started to search him and suddenly he put his right hand in his pocket and pulled out a .38 pistol. I raised my gun and shot him in the eye and he went down.

"After that there wasn't any trouble from any of them, especially from this tall chap."

Cpl Roberts carried on fighting with his regiment through Belgium and Holland until February 1945 when he was badly injured in his right leg by a piece of shrapnel at Kappeln on the Holland/German border.

After the war he married wife Vera, who he still lives with today at the War Memorial Homes in Bournemouth.

They have four children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.





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Interesting, I doubt if the tallest soldier was a "Nazi". Sounds like propaganda. The tallest soldier is not going to change the outcome of the war, which was already lost anyway.


Over 7.661.000 war dead, civilian and military, millions of "displaced persons", the destruction of almost all cities, the loss of over 30 percent of all German territory, and a permanent occupation and subjugation by foreign powers was a high price for contesting the rest of the world.


Haven't heard of Kappeln on the Dutch border, but there is another Kappeln an der Schlei in the region of Flensburg, near the Danish Border. The war was over before the British reached this. The British did not occupy Flensburg (Last Residence of the Dönitz Government) until about 3 or 4 weeks after the war had ended, up till then Dönitz as successor and Reichspräsident carried on until occupation forces arrived at the end of May and "arrested" him and his cabinet.

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  • 1 year later...

The tallest man 1939-45 - this might make him seem fearsome to his adversaries, but a soldier of this hight is of little use at the front, he is more likely to get himself killed. An unfortunate character, a bit out of place in a modern war, but certainly would have been a splendid sight in another aera in an elite unit at that time. Friedrich Wilhelm I. would have been "begeistert".

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That is one big man! Like Fritz said he would have made a fantastic sight as a elite member, especially if they could have found another one, a pair of these two flanking a important leader or dignitary could make for an imposing sight. 

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  • 1 month later...

They were not bodyguards in the modern sense of the word, and did not "flank", but remained in rank and file.

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