Match boxes from occupied Ukraine – reproduction label

Here is an original wartime box of matches made by “Monopolverwaltung Reichskommisar Ukraine.” This was a legal monopoly created to give the German state the profits from the sale of matches.

These matches could have been used by soldiers or civilians. They are packaged in a small wooden box covered with purple paper. Two sides of the box have had a coating applied that allows them to be used as a striking surface for the matches.

The label for the matchbox is crudely printed on thin, inferior quality wartime paper. The print quality is terrible.

The simple graphics and shoddy print quality make this label easy to reproduce from a cleaned-up scan.

Here is that original box again, together with a reproduction I made by putting this label and some purple construction paper on a modern match box. The one at the bottom is a reproduction that I made that was used at a reenactment event, where it got wet and dirty.

With some effort it would be possible to craft a small wooden match box that would be an almost exact copy of the original. Here’s a link to a PDF version of the sheet of labels.

German Army uniform wool specifications, 1939

These new specifications for German Army uniform fabrics were printed in the trade publication “Uniformen-Markt” on May 1, 1939.

The fabric for the Feldgrau field blouse is specified as 20 percent rayon, 80 percent virgin wool. Trousers were to be made from fabric consisting of 10 percent rayon, 90 percent virgin wool. Overcoat fabric was specified as 25 percent rayon, 65 percent virgin wool and 10 percent recycled wool. All of these fabrics for tunics, trousers and overcoats are specified as “A/B” fineness, which was a measure of the thickness of the yarn used to construct the fabric. The Blaudunkelgrün (“bottle green,” literally “blue dark green”) fabric used for collars and Waffenrock cuffs was a finer fabric, “AA” fineness, 90 percent virgin wool, 10 percent noil (“Kämmlinge,” the short fibers removed during the combing process in spinning yarn). Badge cloth used for insignia was 25 percent rayon, 60 percent virgin wool, 15 percent noil, “AA” fineness.

Having handled uniforms from this era of manufacturing, I never noticed any obvious differences in the fabrics used for tunics, trousers or overcoats. Nor did I notice any apparent difference between badge cloth, and the fine bottle green wool used for collars. I do believe that a forensic type analysis of the fibers would show a difference, which may have given the fabrics different properties.

The specifications for uniform fabric did change over the course of the war, as materials shortages necessitated a reduction in quality of uniform fabrics.

Wehrmacht Foot Wraps (Fusslappen)

Foot wraps were a standard issue item in the Wehrmacht. “Fusslappenindianer” (foot wrap Indian) was a common slang term for an infantry soldier.

Foot wraps were very widely issued. A report by the 285. Sicherungs-Division indicates that 1,395 pairs of unserviceable foot wraps were repaired and reissued by their workshops in one year, 1942-43. Fusslappen were one of the standard issue items printed in the list of uniforms and equipment in the second pattern Heer Soldbuch that appeared in 1940. It is normal to see entries showing that they were issued. Here are examples from three books showing issue of socks and foot wraps in various quantities. The column is labeled “Socken/Fusslappen” so in this case an entry of “2/2” would mean the soldier was issued two pairs of socks, and two pairs of foot wraps. These soldiers were issued one or two pairs of foot wraps. Some soldiers were only issued foot wraps. Armored artilleryman Franz Fritsch later recalled, “We weren’t issued socks. We had Fusslappen, a piece of oversized handkerchief put around the feet, army issue, instead of socks. We wrapped it around the foot before putting it in the boot. My family sent socks, thank God, for Fusslappen and socks constantly wore out.”

The September 1942 edition of the German winter war manual “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg” provides this illustration showing how to put on foot wraps.

The manual indicates “foot wraps are warmer than socks.”

What did Wehrmacht issue foot wraps look like? This piece of woven fabric was found in a machine gunner’s tool kit years ago, having been used as a rag. It is similar to postwar East German NVA issue foot wraps, but there are clear differences as well. Use of recycled fibers is evident in the yarn. Could this be a wartime issue foot wrap that was repurposed? It measures about 16 x 13 inches.

These foot wraps were issued to Arbeitsmann Alfred Maletz during his time in the Reichsarbeitsdienst before WWII. Wehrmacht soldiers did use RAD items in some cases. Could prewar Army foot wraps have been the same as this? Each of these foot wraps is marked with the designation of his RAD unit.

These foot wraps are square and measure about 17.5 inches on each side. They are finished on all edges with machine stitching.

The fabric is fairly thick with one soft felted side and one coarse side with a visible weave.

Maletz kept these foot wraps as a souvenir of his time in the RAD, together with other items.

Wehrmacht Toques (Kopfschützer)

The Kopfschützer (toque) was a widely issued item of WWII German winter gear. It was a sort of a knit scarf made in the form of a tube. It looked to the soldiers like something an old lady would wear, and because of this the common slang term for this item was “Oma,” meaning “granny.”

The German winter war manual “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg” includes the following illustration and instructions for how to wear two of these:

“Two toques can be worn most practically with the following method: Pull the first toque over the head and wear it around the neck. Pull the second toque over the back of the head, so that the ears are covered, and over the forehead down to the eyebrows. Pull the first toque that is around the neck from under to over, so that the back of the head, ears, throat, and chin are covered. Over this the field cap or helmet can be worn.”

Not every soldier was issued two of these and in fact, not every soldier was issued this item at all. The Kopfschützer was among the standard issue items listed on the equipment issue insert of the second pattern Heer Soldbuch that appeared in 1940, so it must have been a widely issued item by that time. We can look at the Soldbuch to see how many of these were issued. Often, it was just one.

Here is a selection of originals. The two on the left are unissued. The others, moth damaged, worn and repaired, were worn by German soldiers on the Eastern Front.

We see here a variety of colors and shades which is typical of all WWII German equipment made of textiles. They were not able to standardize color shades across the millions of items that were produced. Huge numbers of Kopfschützer must have been made. In our article on cleaned, repaired and reissued equipment in one Division in one year, we see that the 285. Sicherungs-Division collected and prepared for reissue 19,160 of these after the winter of 1942/43.

Not only the color but also the yarn size and therefore the thickness of the knit material varies. Some of these are almost as thin as a T-shirt while others feel more substantial.

Other variables on these are the type of stitching used to finish them, and the size. The worn ones that are intact are mostly around 12-13 inches long. The unissued ones are 15 inches long. Perhaps washing shrinks them.

These unissued examples are marked with RB numbers, dating them to 1943 or later. None of the worn examples retain any kind of stamp.

The style of wear depicted in the winter war manual is commonly seen in wartime photos, but not every soldier in every situation chose to wear these items this way. This photograph from the book “Winter Uniforms of the German Army and Luftwaffe in World War II” by Vincent Slegers shows the toque used to cover the entire face up to the eyes in an extreme cold setting.

The Kopfschützer was not the only kind of knit winter item of this type that was issued. Here is another photo from the same book showing a soldier wearing a scarf.

Some of the knit items issued to German soldiers were civilian ones. An account from the 3. Infanterie-Division in Russia in January 1942 recounted, “We had clothed as warmly as was possible. Wrist-warmers, gloves, scarves and mittens in all colors up to bright shiny yellow and red told of their origin of improvised donations from the homeland. But two pair of socks still let the icy cold through the boots. And the eastern wind also blew through the two pairs of underpants until we realized that ordinary newspapers, wrapped around feet and legs, served as excellent insulation. Although a scarf covered forehead and mouth, here and there a Kamerad soon showed white specks on his nose and cheeks.” Wear of civilian knit items with the Army uniform, whether issued or brought or sent from home, was permitted by regulation.

Original photos of Zeltbahn tents and shelters

The Zeltbahn was the individual shelter quarter used by German military and paramilitary organizations prior to and during WWII. It was a canvas panel that could be buttoned to others to construct various kinds of tents and shelters, and it could also be worn as a poncho. These unpublished private snapshot photos show various configurations of shelters made with the Zeltbahn. These photos are rich with detail, not only regarding the tents but also specifics of uniform, camp furniture, footwear, and camouflage, as well as rations and other aspects of daily life in the field. These photos range from the 1930s through WWII, and show personnel of Wehrmacht branches and also the Reichsarbeitsdienst. The photos in this gallery are from the collection of Chris Pittman and Günther Baumann and have been scanned and posted at a high resolution to enable study of the various details. The captions, in cases where there are captions, are from inscriptions on the backs of the original photos.

Baking bread in the mess kit

This recipe comes from “Tornister-Lexikon für den Frontsoldaten” by Gerhard Bönicke, published by the Wehrmacht in 1943.

“In a pinch, bread can be baked in the mess kit. Mix 2 mess kit lids of flour (about 540 grams) with a half mess kit lid of cold water, a packet of baking powder [about 16 grams] and a half a teaspoon of salt. Knead it all together well, and form a roll that is as long as a mess kit lying flat. Roll the roll of dough in flour. Lay it flat in the mess kit and put the lid on. Carry it flat to the fire, and lay it flat in glowing wood coals or a burned down camp fire. Cover with hot ash, and allow to bake for 90 minutes. Test it with a wood sliver to see if it is done. Allow the bread to cool, and remove it from the mess kit. Do not eat until the bread has cooled.”

Bekleidungssack 31 – German Army clothing bags

The simple bag known to militaria collectors as the “Bekleidungssack 31,” and listed in Wehrmacht-era German Army documents simply as a “Bekleidungssack” (Clothing bag), was part of the equipment issued to German Army soldiers to store and transport their gear, along with the bread bag and Tornister or Rucksack. These were used to hold clothing that was not being worn, such as extra underwear, the issue work uniform, sweaters, or any other clothing not presently needed. These were purportedly introduced in 1931, and certainly were in use from the prewar period through the end of the war- and indeed, many of these practical bags continued to be used by POWs and later by civilians, for decades after the war; no doubt some are still in use even in our present time. As is typical with Wehrmacht field gear items, these underwent a number of changes and evolved over time.

Looking at issue records in original Soldbuch ID documents, it is common to see one Bekleidungssack issued. Some soldiers got two, while others never were issued any.

Here is a selection of original German Army clothing bags that date from the 1930s through the end of WWII. You will note a range of materials, colors and color shades.

This is a textbook early bag. It features sturdy gray canvas, brown leather, and aluminum buckles.

Here is another early one. This one is made of green canvas and has many repairs.

The “B36” under the flap indicates acceptance at the Berlin depot in 1936.

When I got this bag it had a handful of old straw inside. It likely was still used after WWII and the repairs could be postwar repairs done with surplus material, which was often all that was available in the difficult time right after the end of the war. A section of Zeltbahn shelter quarter was used, that still bears the maker marking and 1935 date from the Zeltbahn that donated the fabric for the repair.

This early clothing bag went through the military mail system as a parcel. The front is addressed to an officer’s home address. It’s marked “Feldpost” for military mail.

The other side of the bag retains the original paper mailing label with typed address as well as the Feldpost number stamp of the sending unit, acting as a postmark. This bag has many neatly done repairs, both hand darned and machine sewn. It can be impossible to say when repairs were done, but the fact that this fragile paper label has survived suggests that this bag wasn’t used much after being mailed; the repairs are likely wartime done.

These bags have the leather reinforcement like prewar bags but these are from the early wartime period. The leather is black, and the roller buckles are steel, rather than aluminum.

Later on, the leather reinforcement was omitted. These are later war bags. The bag on the left below has a black painted steel buckle. The bag on the right has an even later buckle- steel, with no roller, and apparently galvanized.

The bag on the right above is marked inside with an illegible stamp that appears to have been a RB number maker code. The thick cotton canvas of the prewar period has been replaced here with a thin and coarsely woven fabric, perhaps linen or hemp, or a blend.

Here is another later bag. The closure straps and carrying handle here are made of parts of internal suspenders, a component of the German Army field blouse until 1942. The appearance of integral supports in the field blouse in 1942 and later made these internal suspenders obsolete, and surplus inventory was recycled by the Germans in a variety of ways.

This wartime bag is made of blue fabric. This writer has found no evidence for Luftwaffe use of this clothing bag style. The color may indicate use by the Polizei, or by another organization, or perhaps this is simply a German Army bag made of blue canvas.

This bag was modified, presumably after the war, by affixing a pair of shoulder straps taken from a Tornister pack to turn it into a small backpack, likely for a child. It’s an interesting example showing how things were modified and used in the difficult shortages of the postwar years, when production of civilian goods had been curtailed for years, and new goods may not have been available.

German pot roast (Schmorbraten) from a Wehrmacht recipe, prepared in the field

In a previous post we shared a recipe for German style pot roast, from a Wehrmacht cookbook. I wanted to try to cook this over a fire using types of cookware that might have been available to Wehrmacht soldiers. The original recipe is deliberately vague and open to interpretation, as is common for Wehrmacht recipes; they had to be flexible, as what ingredients were locally available could vary from place to place, and from time to time. I altered the recipe slightly based on traditional German Schmorbraten recipes, and what ingredients were readily available for me. The dish was easy to prepare and absolutely delicious.

I started with a chuck roast. I tied it with a string so that it would stay in one piece during cooking. I seasoned it with salt and pepper.

In a frying pan, I seared the meat in a little oil on high heat on both sides, until it was well-browned.

I removed the meat from the pan, and set it aside in a pot. In the same pan I used for the meat, I fried some onions until translucent.

I then added chopped root vegetables to the pan. I used potatoes, carrots and parsnips, as those were what was available in my area.

After the vegetables had browned up a bit, I added some flour, constantly stirring, until the vegetable pieces were lightly coated with flour. The purpose of this is to thicken the sauce into a rich, thick gravy as the roast cooks.

After this, I put the vegetables in the pot on top of the meat. I used a little red wine to de-glaze the pan. The roasted bits from the bottom of the pan add a lot of flavor to the gravy.

I poured the wine into the pot over the vegetables and meat and added water to cover all of the ingredients, and put the pot over a hot fire to bring the water to a boil.

To season the broth, I added a couple of cubes of beef bullion, as well as bay leaves, whole allspice, and caraway seeds. The photo illustrates the amount of spices I used.

After the pot came to a boil, cooking was just a matter of maintaining a simmer over a low heat, and occasionally stirring.

I simmered the roast for three hours, after which the meat was absolutely fork tender, falling apart. No knife needed.

The flavor of the meat was fantastic, the gravy thick and rich. Hearty and nourishing- pure comfort food.

Might Wehrmacht soldiers have access to the meat and other ingredients for this meal? It would depend on where they were, and the local situation, but there is abundant documentation for soldiers obtaining foodstuffs and making meals when they could, to supplement their rations. This drawing, made by a German soldier, shows soldiers shopping from locals in Poland in 1939.

Planning a reenactment event based on historical documentation – a case study

To illustrate how we plan reenactment events based on historical documentation, I will use the example of an event we hosted in Bethel, Maine, in August 2020. The chosen historical scenario for the event was the struggle between 281. Sicherungs-Division and the 2nd Leningrad Partisan Brigade in northwest Russia (near the towns of Iasski and Kholm), August 1942. The scenario was chosen in part based on the easy availability of historical documentation pertaining to the events. Some of the combat actions between these two units are the focus of the Osprey book “Soviet Partisan versus German Security Soldier” which was published in 2019, and this book was recommended reading for all participants prior to the event. In addition, the war diary of the 281. Sich. Div. from this time is available free online as a scanned NARA microfilm roll (T315 R1871) and we were able to use this source for extremely detailed information. We chose a specific scenario that was a good match for the climate, terrain and setting at the site where the event would be held. We also chose to represent actions that would be well-suited for an event with a very small number of participants.

What follows is from the event primer, made available to all participants a month before the event.

“What we will be portraying, specifically, will be the forest outside the town of Woronzowo, August 22, 1942.

Background: The terrain in north-western Russia features dense forests, lakes, and marshland, and is very difficult to traverse in any season. Between July and December 1941, a “Leningrad Partisan Zone” in the area of Lake Polisto grows to a strength of over 1,000 men. These partisans inflict significant casualties in the German rear area units of Army Group North. In response to this growing threat, the Germans undertake a series of anti-partisan operations in August and September 1942. These operations have varying degrees of success, but by the end of September the Leningrad Partisan Zone has been destroyed. In the days prior to August 22 there were numerous encounters between German troops and Partisans in the area of operations of the 281. Sich. Div.:
-August 18: One action results in 2 dead partisans and the capture by the Germans of 1 light machine gun and 2 rifles. A scout troop encounters a band of 100 partisans. A factory is burned down by partisans. German units push into partisan controlled territory.
-August 19: Germans chase a Partisan group that had waged a hand grenade battle against local security forces. A Partisan headquarters with 150 men is reportedly plundering the area.
-August 20: Constant movement of small partisan groups is observed, larger partisan groups are reported. A clash between a German scout troop and 50 partisans results in 3 dead on each side. Local security does battle with partisans, with 6 partisans killed (2 of them women). One of the local security troops is killed, another defects to the partisans. A German force of over 200 men with 3 Flak guns undertakes an offensive operation against a band reported to have 120-150 partisans.
-August 21: Hundreds of partisans surround local security forces. The German offensive of the previous day was not successful. Despite being surrounded, the Partisans slipped away.
-August 22: a fight between German Polizei troops and partisans results in 8 dead partisans, 8 wounded Germans. Partisans attack and partially burn down an industrial building. Small partisan groups are reported.

Soviet overview: In 1941, the 2nd Leningrad Partisan Brigade was very irregularly equipped, but that was changing in 1942. By this stage of the war they were being supervised by an increasing number of officers and other uniformed personnel sent from Soviet lines. Entire detachments were sent by the Red Army, tasked with committing acts of sabotage and diversion. By August 1942 the Partisans were made up of Red Army troops who escaped POW camps or encirclement, mobilized young people from the area, and Red Army detachments. Weapons and equipment were being flown in, airdropped, or brought from Soviet lines. The numbers of light and heavy machine guns as well as mortars were increasing at this time. Soviet participants at this event will be portraying a small Partisan force recently separated from a larger band, having been pushed into a new area by German offensives. You know much larger German forces are active somewhere in the vicinity.

German overview: Sicherungs-Bataillon 869 has just arrived in the town of Woronzowo. Partisan activity in this sector is constant. Our Bataillon is stretched thin, our tiny force has been ordered to establish an outpost outside the town. The size and strength of Partisan bands in this forest is unknown. But we know they are there.

IMPORTANT FOR BOTH SIDES: This forest is vast and unfamiliar. The only thing you know about it for sure is that it is extremely dangerous. Your movements will be dictated by your command. You must obey all orders exactly. If you get separated or lost- you are as good as dead. Expect to remain close to roads and trails. Neither side has the capability for offensive actions of any scale, nor the ability to conduct a sustained defense.”

In addition to this event primer, specific uniform guidelines for German participants were also published well before the event, as well as logistical information about accommodations, food and water:

“-Uniform: We will be wearing the Drillichanzug (HBT uniform). Jackets should be the 2 pocket green M40 style without breast eagle/collar tabs/shoulder straps (rank insignia only). Trousers could be M40 or M42 pattern.
-Equipment: We are going for a fairly uniform look. The belt should be set up with bread bag, canteen, mess kit, bayonet, gas mask canister, and 2 K98 style ammunition pouches. Bayonet can be German or Czech (German preferred). Entrenching tool in carrier is optional. Y-straps should not be worn. Use of a bread bag strap to support the weight of the suspenders (if desired) is preferred.
-Headgear: M34 field cap without soutache, single decal M35 or M40 helmet. Mosquito nets are encouraged.
-Weapon: K98 or Czech VZ24 (K98 preferred)
-Footwear: if you have jackboots, wear them. Low boots only permitted if that’s all you have.

Tentage: We will be erecting a communal tent in which everyone can sleep. Bedding is on you. One or two blankets and/or an overcoat should suffice. No pillows or mattresses of any kind. If you desire, you can bring your own Zeltbahn tent and sleep in it. This is an authenticity compromise but will create the appearance of a larger outpost that will be occupied by more troops “coming later.”

Water: Bring one gallon of water and keep it in your car as a reserve in case we need this.

Food: There will be one communal meal on Saturday. All other meals are on you. Ideas for stuff to bring include unsliced bread, cheese or salami wrapped in wax paper, food in unlabeled cans/jars. You can fit quite a bit of food in your mess kit.

Forbidden: Anything modern, M43 anything. This is a 1942 scenario. Tropical equipment is not authorized. Taking of digital photos should be kept to a minimum. Be discrete or take photos at times when we are not in time travel mode.

Historical note on the use of Czech weapons: This soldier was in the unit we will be portraying, he was initially trained on Czech weapons and later on the K98.…/

The guidelines were illustrated with this wartime image representative of the desired look for this event.

Uniform and equipment standards for partisans at the event were left to the discretion of the Soviet Partisan reenactment group that hosted and helped to organize the event, the 3rd Partisan Brigade.

Signage related to partisans, the unit we were portraying, and the area of the scenario, was created in advance and installed at the site, as a form of visual prop to help set the stage.

The tent erected at the site consisted of Zeltbahn shelter quarters. The communal meal prepared for the event was Szegediner Gulasch, based on this Wehrmacht recipe, and was prepared on site with period style equipment.

The event was a success. Total participation was 10 people, with 8 portraying German Army soldiers and 2 portraying Soviet partisans. These images from the event were taken with cameras from that era.

Wehrpass of Schütze Willy Krinscher, Sicherungs-Regiment 113

This man’s name was Willy Krinscher.

This was his Wehrpass.

He was born in 1904 in the north German town of Burg, near Magdeburg. He was married.

He was drafted in June, 1942, when he was 37, he was drafted. His initial training was in Landesschützen-Ersatz-Bataillon 11, in Hildesheim. He swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, as was mandatory for all servicemen in the German armed forces.

He was trained on the Gewehr 98 rifle.

This page in Krinscher’s Wehrpass shows the military units to which he was assigned during WWII.

Krinscher’s initial training lasted almost exactly two months. He was then assigned to a field replacement unit, during which time he was transported to his first field unit. On August 31, 1942, Krinscher was assigned to 1. Kompanie, Sicherungs-Regiment 113. This unit was at this time assigned to the 285. Sicherungs-Division, engaged in anti-partisan activities in the northern sector of occupied Russia, in the rear area of Army Group North. In October, 1942, Krinscher’s bataillon was redesignated as III. Bataillon, Sicherungs-Regiment 113, and he would remain in this unit, in Russia until the beginning of February 1943.

During Krinscher’s time in Russia with the 285. Sicherungs-Division, the unit was extremely active in combating the Soviet partisan movement. The war diary of the 285. Sich. Div. is not extremely specific about the day-to-day activities of Krinscher’s particular Kompanie during the time he was there, but enough information was recorded to give an idea of his activities. For example, in September 1942, the area of the Division was threatened by multiple partisan bands that ranged in strength from 100 to 300 men. The important railway lines in the sector were being blown up almost daily by enemy parachutists with explosives. The Division was ordered to destroy these partisan units starting on September 15. As part of this action, the 1. Kompanie, Sich, Btl. 972, of which Krinscher was a part, and based at that time in Lsi, was tasked with performing reconnaissance on the road between Nikolajewo and Malyy Utorgosch, in order to establish the location of partisans that had used this road to move to the northeast. Some parts of the Kompanie were to be deployed to the area of Lug, to prevent partisans from escaping into the swamps north of Swad. Following this action, on September 24, Krinscher’s Kompanie was assigned to Feldkommandantur 189, to be used as needed. Feldkommandantur 189 was at this time itself subject to a constant series of partisan attacks, and was organizing countermeasures. In the five days between September 26 and September 30, Feldkommandantur 189 dispatched 3 large detachments tasked with pursuing and destroying partisan bands that were said to number between 30 and 100 men each. Three attempts to blow up railway lines were prevented in this time, with explosives being captured; one such incident resulted in a brief firefight, after which the partisans fled into the woods. Four locals, of whom three were women, were executed in this period for aiding partisans.

On October 26, 1942, Krinscher’s Bataillon was redesignated, becoming the III. Bataillon of Sicherungs-Regiment 113, still active in Russia. He remained with Sich. Rgt. 113 until the beginning of February, 1943, at which time he was sent back to Germany, to Landesschützen Ersatz und Ausbildings Bataillon 6. An entry in the Wehrpass notes that Krinscher had participated in the “Campaign Against Soviet Russia” from August 31, 1942 to February 1, 1943. He earned no awards and never got any rank promotions.

It’s not clear why Krinscher was sent back to Germany. The units he was with after December 1942 don’t seem to have made the standard entries in the Wehrpass, which is not unusual. It’s likely that he had become sick in the bitter winter of northern Russia. In September 1942, Krinscher was discharged from the Wehrmacht for medical reasons. He had issues with both lungs, and was no longer deemed fit for medical service. He had spent about 15 months in the German Army, had been deployed for five months, and never did get any rank promotion.