German Army issue hand towels

The hand towel (Handtuch) was a standard issue item in the German Army. Often, two were issued, but sometimes only one. Not every soldier got a Handtuch, but these were basic kit items, issued en masse; the 285. Sicherungs Division reported that their workshops cleaned and reissued 1,180 hand towels in the one-year period from October 1942 through September 1943. Here are entries from 3 different equipment issue lists, showing issue of hand towels to three different soldiers.

The hand towel was made of linen which was the typical fiber used for toweling at that time. Cotton terrycloth was not yet in wide use for this purpose in Germany, and especially during the war years, cotton became relatively scarce. Linen has many advantages over cotton for use as a towel. Linen is two to three times stronger than cotton and is also more absorbent. It dries much faster than cotton, which is an important factor for field soldiers. It also has natural antimicrobial properties. A linen towel in a bread bag in the rainy season is more likely to be usable for a soldier’s morning shave, and it’s less likely to get moldy, compared to a modern cotton towel.

Purportedly original Wehrmacht hand towels can be hard to authenticate today. Many old linen hand towels have been stamped with recreated property markings in recent years. I will show a few here that I judge to be original based on my expertise and on comparison with other known originals.

The towel on the left above is, in my opinion, a very typical original. It’s made of a natural-colored linen with vertical stripes woven in to the fabric. The top and bottom both have hanging loops made out of thin fabric. These loops are machine sewn into the seam. The towel has a German Army property stamp. “H.U.” is an abbreviation for “Heeres-Unterkunft,” Army lodging. This towel measures about 52 x 100 centimeters.

The other towel in the above photo measures about 48 x 100 centimeters. In comparison to the other towel it is smoother, not as coarse. It has woven vertical stripes as well as a central woven red stripe. It also has two hanging loops sewn in to the seams. The large stamp on this is a size that might have been intended for use on blankets. There were countless variations of these “H.U.” stamps.

Here are two more original towels.

The towel on the left measures about 50 x 94 centimeters. It appears to be well-used. This towel, again, is made of a coarse linen, with vertical stripes in the weave. The hanging loops at the corners are machine sewn. This one has a simple property stamp. This may have been intended for use by a different Reich organization as there is no “H.U.” marking.

The towel with the red stripes was brought back by a GI veteran together with some linen handkerchiefs. The measurement is 60 x 77 centimeters. Unlike the others, there is no striped texture. The weave is smooth and plain. This towel is marked in two places with a Reich eagle, “H. Laz.” indicating Army hospital property, and “R.G. 1938.” The meaning of the “R.G.” is unknown to me.

These towels are all different and must represent only a tiny sample of the types in use at the time. These towels, found in the SS laundry at K.Z. Flossenbürg, and on display today in the museum there, also reflect this variety- with or without stripes in the weave, with and without colored stripes. It’s likely that the towels were the same as some that were commercially available at the time.

There is no doubt that among the millions of men in the German Army during wartime, some would have used their own towels that they bought or brought from home. These would typically have been similar to these examples, made of linen.

WWII German sewing kits

Generally speaking, sewing kits were not issued to personnel of the German military in WWII. The Wehrmacht manual “Hilfsbuch für den Hauptfeldwebel” indicated that enlisted men were to have sewing supplies in the form of a pair of scissors, sewing and darning needles, darning yarn, black, white and gray thread, and various buttons, but that they had to obtain these items by their own means, from what was commercially available. The items they could have bought would be the same items available to civilians at the time.

In addition to sewing supplies, soldiers had to obtain other materials for maintaining their equipment, including leather polish and brushes. Enlisted recruits received a bonus payment of 5 Reichsmarks in order to buy these needed supplies. This bonus was called “Putzzeuggeld,” literally “cleaning kit money.” Five Reichsmarks was the equivalent of about 43 US dollars in 2023. Here are a few wartime Soldbuch entries showing this Putzzeuggeld payment.

These “Kameradenhilfe” sewing kits are typically associated with Wehrmacht use, though I have not been able to find documentation about these. Here are three of the pouches, two with contents.

Sewing kits like these were handy items that would have been seen as practical and usable items after the war as well. The contents of these could have been changed or added after the war. Both of these currently have very similar contents including cloth-covered underwear buttons, linen thread, and needles in paper packets with wording indicating military use.

Another sewing kit style associated with wartime use is this metal tin. The lettering style and “D.R.G.M.” marking are consistent with Third Reich era commercial production.

The inside of this tin has four divided compartments. This one has no contents.

This sewing kit is in a simple paper envelope.

The back of this paper kit is decorated with a winter scene depicting soldiers in a trench.

The inside of this kit has needles, safety pins, and an assortment of military type buttons.

This simple sewing kit was made by filling a repurposed typewriter ribbon tin. The top of the tin has been painted with an artistically rendered “Kleider Knöpfe,” for clothing buttons. The tin holds buttons, sewing thread, darning yarn, and a packet of needles. This kit has no story or provenance but it is easy to imagine German soldiers using items like this, that could be tucked in a bread bag until needed.

Cleaning kits were marketed to recruits, by companies hoping for some of that 5 Reichsmark “Putzzeuggeld” bonus. The tin container at top is one such example. There were several varieties of these cleaning kits, and presumably these would have had the required sewing supplies in addition to brushes and leather care items. The aluminum “Mica” box at bottom was a personal items kit that contained hygiene items like shaving gear and a toothbrush as well as brushes and shoe cream. These kits were marketed under the brand names “Mica” and “Bico” and were marketed to soldiers and civilians.

This section of the 1937 ASMü (August Schuster, München) catalog shows the Bico kit and its contents, including a small scissors and what appears to be a small tin with sewing supplies. This kit is priced at RM 9.75 complete with a razor. A sewing kit is also shown, housed in a sturdy leather pouch, priced at RM 1.40.

Did German soldiers in the field carry sewing kits? No doubt, in an army of millions of men, some must have. I had a chance to ask a veteran of Fallschirm-Panzer-Regiment “Hermann Goering” about this. I showed him a reproduction of the “Kameradenhilfe” sewing kit and asked him if he had seen any like it. He chuckled and shook his head. “Maybe soldiers in Denmark had something like that,” he said, meaning garrison troops. “We never had that.” He said that in the field, in the combat zone, if your button fell off, you just went without a button. That was one man’s experience.

The existence of the sewing needle packets with wording that indicates military use, suggests that despite regulations that soldiers had to supply their own sewing supplies, some may have been issued. Everything a German soldier was issued was listed in his Soldbuch. This is the only Soldbuch entry I have ever seen for anything sewing related, in this case a “Nähbeutel,” a sewing pouch. Was this the Kameradenhilfe kit, or something like it? Or the civilian-looking paper envelope pictured above, which has the word “Nähbeutel” on the front and includes military type buttons? Perhaps future discoveries will shed more light on this topic.

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.

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.

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.

Resized and reissued M36 field blouse

This original German Army M36 field blouse has many interesting features. Most notably, this has been depot or factory resized.

The original factory applied size stamps are in the usual place, behind the placket on the buttonhole side. This was originally made for a chest size of 128 cm (about 50 inches)- a huge size. The tunic is dated 1939.

On the opposite side of the placket is a new set of size stamps with the new measurements. The new chest size is lightly stamped, but it’s about 90 centimeters (35 inches). This drastic resizing has resulted in some unusual features, including oversized pockets and a seam on the rear of the collar. The new size stamps are also maker stamped with “Brago,” a marking also seen on other surviving reworked and reissued garments.

This tunic boasts a very fine quality, private purchase breast eagle. It is machine embroidered on a backing of dark green wool badge cloth, and has been hand sewn to the tunic.

A few of the stitches used to apply the eagle have separated along the bottom edge. Careful inspection reveals that the private purchase eagle is sewn directly on top of the original Bevo machine woven eagle. This eagle is also hand sewn and may have been applied at the factory when the tunic was originally made.

The collar of this tunic features backed Litzen. The Litzen are a very early pattern, with a light green central stripe and pink Waffenfarbe for Panzer or Panzerjäger units. These Litzen are machine applied, and though the application is plausible for a factory style, it’s likely these were changed at some point during the course of the war. The NCO Tresse is an interesting variant that appears to be made of celleon, and shows age toning.

The previous owner of this field blouse told me that when he got it, it had light blue piped shoulder straps, for Nachschub units. Because these did not match the color of the Waffenfarbe on the collar tabs, he removed and sold them. I think it is possible that these were original to the tunic, as wartime photos do show these mismatches in some cases. I added the straps currently on the tunic, prewar Panzerjäger straps with rayon piping.

This pocket shows original loops for a ribbon bar and two badges.

The interior of this tunic shows indications of the extensive rework process this garment underwent. The top pockets have been reapplied, sewn through the original prewar style twill lining, making it impossible to use the internal suspenders intended to be used with this tunic model. Belt hook support tabs of the sort used in uniforms after 1942 have been added, but only in the rear. The lower pockets have been moved up, and the skirt shortened, reducing the height of the small internal bandage pocket and the rear vent opening. Presumably this uniform was reworked for reissue no earlier than 1942.

Dutch field blouse, converted and reissued by the Wehrmacht

This is an original Dutch enlisted issue tunic that was converted and reissued by the Wehrmacht. The collar and the pocket bellows are made of German wool. The insignia are factory applied; these photos give a good sense of the neat stitching that is typical of factory hand sewn breast eagles, and also the collar Litzen application (a mix of hand stitching and straight machine stitching) which is one of several common period techniques.

In this set of things, the tunic, breeches and field cap are all of Dutch origin, modified and reissued for use by the German Army.

These converted Dutch uniforms saw limited use in many kinds of units. Photos show them in wear in training, on surrendered/surrendering combat units, and everything in between.

Cleaned/Repaired/Reissued Equipment in One Division, in One Year

These lists are from the war diary of the 285. Sicherungs-Division.

The first list is all of the unusable clothing and equipment that was cleaned/repaired by the workshops of the Divisional supply depot and reissued to the troops in the one year period between October 1, 1942 and September 30, 1943.

887 field caps
2010 field blouses
635 wool trousers
268 breeches
1299 greatcoats
1854 HBT jackets
1470 HBT trousers
101 work jackets
4970 shirts
3533 underpants
141 helmets
615 belts
514 belt buckles
195 bayonet frogs
757 ammo pouches
906 canteens
1419 mess kits
139 rucksacks
620 Tornister
165 A-frames
132 Y-straps
1180 hand towels
463 handkerchiefs
160 sweaters
634 various armbands
381 collar binds
135 belt loops
1225 equipment straps
210 rain capes
4297 mosquito nets
760 pair jackboots
1315 pair low boots
376 pair Gamaschen
4613 pair wool socks
1395 pair foot wraps
638 Zeltbahnen
505 bread bag straps
159 sport trousers
180 sport shirts
260 night shirts

The second list is winter gear issued for the winter of 1942/43 that was collected, repaired, cleaned, washed, deloused and made ready for reissue.

2146 fur caps
19160 toques
5208 hoods for the padded winter set
4980 wool scarves
6199 ear protectors
4632 surcoats
1651 fur coats
1758 fur jackets
3813 jackets for the padded winter set
4677 trousers for the padded winter set
4107 sweaters
4016 fur vests
1483 motorcyclists pullovers
5386 chest and back warmers
2161 lung protectors
3076 wrist warmers
11469 belly bands
461 muffs of all kinds
1600 trouser liners
394 foot sacks
670 snow shirts
1302 snow overcoats
830 snow trousers
950 snow jackets
4423 shirts
4758 underpants
12934 wool blankets
100 fur chest protectors
26 fur pants
135 camo cover for Tornister
190 camo cover for helmets
8500 pair gloves
4850 pair mittens
6271 pair wool mittens
735 motorcyclists gauntlets
2471 oversocks
7754 knee warmers
3362 knit leg warmers
6500 felt boots
919 sentry boots
7417 wool socks
470 overgloves for the padded winter set