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 These unpublished private snapshot photos show various configurations of shelters made with the Zeltbahn.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.

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.

Basic kit issue to one soldier, as recorded in the Soldbuch

The items that a soldier was issued are listed in the Soldbuch. Generally speaking, basic clothing and equipment items are recorded on pages 6 and 7 and special equipment such as weapons and gas protection equipment are recorded on pages 8a-8d.

Scans of Soldbücher for nearly any unit (or at least unit type) can be readily found online, including on this very web site. If you can read these words, you can find this documentation online. There is no need to speculate about what a soldier was issued, what kind of boots he might have had or how many of each item, etc. The documentation for this is readily available and may be surprising as it often contradicts reenactor myth. The Soldbuch will not list what exact model of tunic or field cap was issued but educated guesses can be made based on other extant documentation.

One of the units that we portray for living history is Sicherungs-Regiment 195. An entry in a Soldbuch from this Regiment shows the following issue of basic clothing and equipment on pages 6-7, dated June 1943:

1 helmet
1 field cap
1 field blouse
1 sweater
1 pair of trousers
2 collar binds
2 pairs of underwear
2 shirts
3 pairs of socks
2 pairs of low boots
1 clothing bag
3 greatcoat straps
2 ammunition pouches
1 ID disk
2 hand towels
3 handkerchiefs
1 folding fork/spoon
1 pair suspenders
1 wool blanket
1 pair of gloves
1 toque
1 sewing bag
2 mess kit accessories (illegible)
1 greatcoat
1 Tornister
1 mess kit
1 Zeltbahn with accessories
1 belt
1 bread bag with strap
1 canteen
1 HBT uniform
1 pair gaiters

This photo shows this full scale of issue (minus the illegible entry). I’m not sure what an issue sewing bag might have looked like so I included a private purchase type “Kameradenhilfe” sewing kit. The relevant Soldbuch pages are also shown. This soldier also had a gas mask, and a French rifle and bayonet, recorded on pages 8a-8d. He had a Soldbuch too, of course, which is the source for this information.

Shoe care during the rainy season

From “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg,” 1942

  1. The troops are to be instructed that well-maintained and well-cared-for footwear in the wet period is important for good health.
    Boot inspections are to be conducted as often as possible, as far as the battle situation allows, to check that expert shoe care is being carried out.
  2. Water from melted snow soaks quickly through shoe leather and attacks the leather and particularly the thread at the seams of the footwear. Because leather is not quite waterproof, it needs to be treated in such a way that a level of water resistance can be achieved. For this reason, thorough care of footwear is particularly important during the snow melt. The following guidelines are to be observed.

I. Leather footwear

  1. Small damages are to be fixed as soon as possible, as damages in leather soaked with snow melt water will soon become bigger.
  2. Worn-out hobnails should not be removed, because the resulting holes will make the soles water-permeable. Nail new hobnails next to the old ones.
  3. Soles are not to be worn so much, that the long sole is damaged.
  4. Wet footwear is to be changed as soon as possible (put on low boots!), wipe out the interior of footwear with rags, stuff with paper, straw or other moisture-absorbent materials. Footwear is to be allowed to gently dry in a slightly warm place only. The wetter the shoe, the greater the danger of making the leather brittle by drying it out quickly in a hot place, by an oven or open fire.
  5. Clean footwear of dirt daily with brushes or rags. Lightly grease the upper to the ankle level, then vigorously rub in the leather fat with a rag or, even better, with the heel of your hand. Warmed fat soaks better into the leather. But never use too much fat, so that it soaks through the leather and soils your socks and feet. However, you need to generously spread fat into the crease between the upper and the sole, to make this waterproof. (See illustration)
  6. Once a week thoroughly clean footwear of dirt and any adhered dried leather fat or other shoe care product, by washing it with lukewarm water, allowing it to dry and treating the upper as described above. Greasing the shaft of the boot once a week is sufficient.
  7. Using leather fat keeps shoe leather soft. Shoe cream alone makes upper leather hard and brittle, and clogs the pores of the leather, trapping the moisture created by the feet inside the boot, promoting frostbite.
  8. Material for impregnating the soles, as long as it can be delivered, makes the soles waterproof and more durable.
    How to use: clean the soles, then apply the substance and let dry. Repeat this process until the sole will not absorb any more of the substance. Do this once or twice per month. This sole impregnation material is only for leather soles, never for rubber soles or upper leather.

II. Rubber boots

  1. Rubber boots and rubber overboots have to be treated particularly well, in light of the raw material situation. They are not to be worn on road marches.
  2. Clean with a soft rag and with cold or lukewarm water, never with hot water, oil or gasoline. Don’t use anything sharp to scrape off dirt! To dry, hang somewhere with slight heat, never on or over a stove.
  3. Fix damaged areas by gluing on rubber patches with rubber cement.

III. Felt boots

  1. Felt boots can no longer be worn, when the snow becomes watery. Wet felt boots no longer offer any insulation to the feet. The evaporation of the moisture in the felt in the upper part of the boot will strip the feet of their warmth many times, which can cause frostbite even in mildly cold temperatures.
    In consideration of the leather parts and leather or rubber soles, dry felt boots only in a slightly warm place!

Report on instructional courses on captured weapons from 281. Sich. Div., 1942

Report for the War Diary

24. July 1942

  1. The Division has held the following instructional courses on the handling of weapons since January 1942:
  1. Russian hand grenade model 1933,
  2. Russian light machine gun “Degtyaryov,”
  3. Russian heavy machine gun 39/41,
  4. Russian heavy machine gun “Maxim,”
  5. Russian mortar (Manuals were translated into German by the Division),
  6. Mine detection and clearing courses.

In addition, instructional courses for vehicle drivers and signals units were held.

Starting on July 27, 3 additional courses for training on mortars are scheduled.

[Translator note: besides the Maxim machine gun, the other weapons are more commonly known in English by their Soviet designations of the RGD-33 hand grenade, DP-29 machine gun and, I believe, the DS-39 machine gun. This Division, the 281. Sicherungs-Division, was at this time in the northern sector of the Eastern Front, in the occupied USSR.]

“Stellung Haselhuhn” – Our first bunker

This little structure that we call “Stellung Haselhuhn” was built by the Soviet 26th Rifle Division in cooperation with Sicherungs-Regiment 195 in 2019. It is on private property in western Massachusetts; the involvement of the extremely generous landowner and his family was of course crucial for this project. The design of the structure was chosen by the Soviet group, based on a “Zemlyanka” which was a type of shelter used for centuries by civilians, also built and used in WWII by Soviet soldiers and partisans. Many photos show Wehrmacht soldiers using simple field expedient dugouts like this as well, and wartime German guidelines stressed the importance of dug-in positions as protection from rifle fire and incendiary ammunition. This structure is built into a slope, and although we call it a “bunker,” we use this primarily as a shelter rather than a fighting position. Most of the building materials were salvaged, with some of the beams and the door taken from a ruined barn built around 1915. Some trees at the site were cut to provide logs, and an antique stove provides heat. We did use modern tools to make this; we had limited time and manpower, and we wouldn’t have been able to complete this with hand tools. As of this writing (2021) construction of a second bunker at this site is underway.

Ground was broken for this project in the spring of 2019. The majority of the work was done by members of the Soviet 26th Rifle Division reenactment group.

When the bunker was first completed, access was via a simple earthen trench.

Inside, the bunker features six bunks, a wood stove for heat, and some shelving with a small storage nook for firewood. The bunker is kept stocked with necessary supplies including lamps and lamp fuel for light, cooking equipment and tools.

The old wood stove provides heat and can also be used for cooking.

At one winter immersion event, the outside temperature at 4 AM was 13 degrees F (-10 degrees C), the inside temperature was 96 degrees F (35 degrees C)!

In 2020 the bunker entrance was improved, with wood floor and walls added to the trench.

If you would like to know more about this place or our private reenactment events in Massachusetts, please e-mail us.

Wehrpass of a Gefreiter in Sicherungs-Bataillon 797

Wilhelm Pfister was born in Bieswang in 1901. He was married and was employed as a stone worker. In March of 1941, when he was 40 years old, he was drafted and sent to a training unit, Landesschützen-Ersatz-Bataillon 13, in Prachatitz (Prachatice in the Czech Republic, annexed by the German Reich in 1938). After a couple of months he was sent to France, to Feldgendarmerie-Feld-Ersatz-Kompanie 7, where he spent two months on occupation duty before returning to his former training unit in Prachatitz. During his training, he was instructed on the use of the German K98 rifle, the French Berthier rifle Fusil 07/15 (Gewehr 302(f)) and the Czech ZB26 machine gun (MG 26(t)). In August 1941, he was assigned to Landesschützen-Bataillon 807, in Nuremberg, where he remained for over a year. After more than a year in the Army, he finally got a new rank, Oberschütze, in April 1942. Eventually, in February 1943, Pfister was deployed outside Germany once again, this time as part of Sicherungs-Bataillon 797. This unit was at that time in the occuped USSR, as part of Army Group Center. Pfister’s Wehrpass indicates that from February through November, 1943, he was engaged in combat against partisans in the area around Polozk and Witebsk, in what is now Belarus. In March, after 2 years of service, he was promoted to the rank of Gefreiter. In February 1944, Pfister became ill and was sent back to Germany to convalesce with Landesschützen-Ersatz und Ausbildungs-Bataillon 12. After a month, he had recovered and was sent back to his field unit, Sicherungs-Bataillon 797, now active as part of the 16th Army. The Red Army reached the border of Latvia on July 17, 1944. A week later, on July 21, Pfister was killed in action in Latvia. It’s not clear if his unit was at that time engaged again in combat with partisans, or (perhaps more likely) fighting defensive actions against Soviet regulars. Such details probably didn’t matter much to the family Pfister left behind. He was 43 years old.

The local Nazi Party district leader sent a letter of condolence to Pfister’s widow, full of patriotic jargon.

Request for Assignment of a Landesschützenkompanie to Reval and Oesel, November 1943

It may be easy to look at the desultory combat performance of Landesschützen units and conclude that they were completely ineffective. But as this document from the files of Sicherungs-Division 207 reveals, these units did serve an important role. Landesschützen units were trained to guard important objectives and, it seems, were better at this task, than units without this specialized training. The war demanded constant observation in the vast occupied lands.

Tasks of the Hauptfeldwebel On Maneuvers and In the Field

Translated from “Hilfsbuch für den Hauptfeldwebel” by Hans Rödel, 1942.

On the March.

Every Kompanie wants to have as few people as possible drop out of the march due to injury. This can be achieved by:
-Instructing the enlisted men on taking care of their feet;
-Checking the fit of footwear;
-Distributing powder and foot sweat salve.

On the march, the Hauptfeldwebel has a bicycle available to him, his place is with the field kitchen. In peacetime marches, though, he will always find the opportunity to march with his Kompanie. Here, he supports the Kompaniechef in inspecting the march discipline. If the unit is to rest, whenever possible he reconnoiters the resting place, which he travels to in advance on the bicycle. If the unit is to receive rations, he inquires at the right time and gives his instructions to the field kitchen. During the rest he takes care of the receipt of rations and checks that everything is in order with marching injuries.

In Camp.

In reconnoitering a camp place, it must be ensured:
-That water is available for the horses to drink, for the enlisted men to wash up, and for filling the field kitchen;
-That the ground is not too soft and damp, even when it rains;
-That a latrine can be set up.
Constructing the tents is mostly carried out by the Zugführer according to the instruction of the Kompaniechef. When orders are given out, which takes place as soon as possible, the following should be mentioned:
-Additional duties (cleaning weapons, etc.);
-Assignment of guards, the password;
-Uniform and conduct in camp;
-Location of the latrine, and the vehicles;
-How far and for how long it is permitted to leave the camp;
-Conduct during alarms;
-Wakeup and departure on the next day:
-Exact time.

Through proper conduct and good singing, the Kompanie can win over the heart of the cantonment host as soon as they enter the quarters. The person in charge of the quarters will almost always approach the Kompanie and report on the accommodations of the Kompanie and where they will be staying. It is practical, when the Kompanie arrives at the quarters for the first time. Here the rations and the packs of the enlisted men will be given out. The Hauptfeldwebel assigns the guards, gives the time and location of the foot inspection, the next location and exact time is made known. On rest days he proposes a weapon inspection to the Kompaniechef. Before he seeks out his own quarters, he inspects the accommodations of the Tross and a part of the Kompanie. Through the foot inspection, he determines the state of march injuries.

If there is to be a ball at the end of maneuvers, the Hauptfeldwebel is to attend and to check on the orderly conduct of his people.

In the field.

The tasks of the Hauptfeldwebel in wartime will be carried out under much more difficult circumstances. But if he has constantly worked to care for his Kompanie in peacetime, he will also master these difficulties.

Recipes from a Wehrmacht cookbook – “Improvement of Cold Fare”

What follows is translated from an original cookbook titled “Östliche Speisen nach deutscher Art” (Eastern Dishes in German Style), with recipes tested and compiled by the Oberkommando des Heeres. It was published during the war by Alfred H. Linde Verlag in Berlin and was intended to be used as a field cookbook for German soldiers in the East. This section entitled “Improvement of Cold Fare” is particularly interesting and useful for living historians, as it gives insight into some easy ways that German soldiers may have prepared canned meat and other field rations.

Improvement of Cold Fare

To stimulate the appetite, and especially during the warm season, cold fare should be prepared in a flavorful way.

The following instructions can be combined with each other to be adapted in various ways.

Bread spread from canned meat

300 g beef (canned)
100 g sardines
100 g tomato paste

Finely chop the beef and sardines, add the tomato paste and prepare as a pate.

Note: If the mixture is too dry, add some butter, margarine or oil.

Fleischsalat (Meat Salad)

400 g canned meat
200 g diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
100 g finely chopped onions
Vinegar, oil, salt, pepper

Cut up the meat, gently combine with the tomatoes and onions. Mix with a marinade of the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Note: Bell peppers can be used as a substitute for the tomatoes.

Cold Meatballs with Potato Salad

To make fried meatballs from canned meat, the meat must be finely chopped and then air dried for a time. The meat is then seasoned with salt and pepper and well-mixed with flour. This can also be mixed with bread crumbs, soaked bread, finely chopped onions, egg or only egg white, or egg substitute. Mix everything well together and form into meatballs. Coat with flour or bread crumbs and fry in hot oil until cooked through.

For the potato salad, boil the potatoes with the skin on, peel while hot and slice. Immediately mix with a marinade of water and vinegar brought to a boil and seasoned with salt, pepper and finely chopped onions. Pour this over the hot potato slices and either shake or carefully mix until the salad is bound together.

Note: The salad can be refined with oil, finely chopped herbs or diced pickles.

Canned meat and sausage

Canned meat and sausage are particularly appetizing when fried and roasted together with finely chopped onions and tomatoes.

Canned sardine salad

Mix sardines for five potions with 200 g sliced tomatoes. Marinate with the oil from the sardines, 200 g finely chopped onions and lemon juice.

Note: If tomato paste is used, it should be mixed in to the marinade.


Fry the sardines in their own oil while adding finely chopped onions. Drizzle with lemon juice as a dressing.

Canned sardines in the style of fried herring

Fry the sardines and lay them in a pot. Make a marinade from vinegar, onions, salt, pepper, bay leaf and allspice, allow to cool and pour over the sardines.

Tuna fish in oil

Tuna fish in oil can be prepared just as the canned sardines.”

Note: For reference, a couple of pictures of original Wehrmacht-issue aluminum food cans. Here are two variations of a can that held fish or perhaps some other kind of meat. The one in front is stamped with a 1944 date code.

Here is a tin of Norwegian sardines, these are commonly recovered from former German positions. This one was found at Stalingrad.

For more information about steel and aluminum food cans issued to Wehrmacht soldiers, check out the fantastic reference “Rations of the German Wehrmacht in WWII” by Jim Pool and Tom Bock. Thanks to Peter Speiser for providing the original cookbook mentioned above.