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

Pebbled field blouse buttons – pebbling variations

Our previous post on Wehrmacht pebbled field blouse buttons included a photo of the backs of some pre-war and early war pebbled buttons, recovered from the Stalingrad battlefield. Here is a photo of the fronts of some of these buttons. This pattern of button was standard on Wehrmacht tunics and overcoats, and was used on some other uniform items as well.

These buttons show varying degrees of wear, and also spent many years on or under the ground. The mostly bare metal surfaces reveal details of the pebbled texture- large or small, more or less “pebbles,” arranged in an orderly or chaotic pattern, with more or less defined pebbling.

These are all pre-war or early war buttons, made of zinc or aluminum. They are from a tiny sample of original buttons and do not reflect the full range of pebbling patterns used by all of the manufacturers that made Wehrmacht tunic buttons out of various materials from 1935 to 1945.

How WWII German Uniforms and Equipment were Marked with Names

Before the outbreak of WWII, Wehrmacht regulations stipulated that each soldier’s uniform and equipment items were to be marked with a tag with his name, and a stamp for his unit. Here is a scan from a Wehrmacht manual that showed where these stamps and labels were to be placed in the various items a soldier was issued.

Here is the interior of an early M34 field cap:

This cap follows the regulations exactly. Note that at some point the soldier was transferred and the unit stamp inked out with a new unit stamped in. There is no unit designation on the name tag, this would have been redundant as that information was on the ink stamp. Here is another original pre-war name tag of the same type.

Some of the name tags used before the war also did have ranks and unit designations. Here is one on a Reichsarbeitsdienst Zeltbahn. Various typefaces were used on these tags.

The use of the name tags and stamps was not the easiest or simplest way to mark gear, it was also not the most permanent way as the tags could be removed/replaced, but it was the prewar German regulation way. Wehrmacht units were in charge of stamping the gear with the unit designation and we can assume that the tags were supplied by the units to the soldiers, or at least the tags were made easily available for them to buy. All this changed in 1940 with the following regulation:

“Allegemeine Heeresmitteilungen, Marz 1940

  1. Namenszettel
    Waehrend des Krieges kommt das anbringen von Namenszettel as Stoff bzw Papier in die Bekleidungs und Ausrusestungsstuecke des Mannes (H. Dv. 121 Nr. 142) in Fortfall. Vorhandene sowie bereits bestellte Namenszettel koennen aufgebraucht werden.”

Translation: During the war the use of name tags made of cloth or paper in clothing and equipment of the men (as stated in previous regulation) is discontinued. Existing tags and those already ordered can be used.

Use of clothing labels was not a totally private and optional endeavor before the war, it was by regulation. When a new regulation stated that these tags were to be discontinued, it seems reasonable to assume that they were no longer supplied to soldiers by their units. This is presumably why the majority of surviving wartime issue uniform and equipment items do not have these name labels. Most surviving labels of this style are on pre-war items, though even some late war items can be seen with these; I regard it as probable that the tags were still made available for soldiers (or anyone else) to purchase. Despite the official discontinuation of these name tags, many soldiers did still feel a need to identify personal property and kit items. Here are original wartime field gear items that are marked in various ways. Many wartime items remained in use after May 1945, in POW camps and later, in civilian use, in some cases for decades; there is no doubt that some original Wehrmacht field gear items are out there in use to this day. It may be impossible to look at a wartime object and know when exactly a personal marking was applied, and it can be hard to find wartime photos showing a level of detail that would show if equipment items had small personal markings. For this article, I have chosen what I regard as typical examples that I regard as plausible for having been wartime done.

-Stitching name or initials into fabric, as seen on this gas mask strap:

-Use of simple typed glued-on name labels in place of printed tags, here on a gas mask canister:

-Writing a name on the item in ink, probably most common way for cloth items; here on a Rucksack, a Tornister, and a canteen cover:

-Scratching a name into a metal item, shown here on a belt buckle and a mess tin:

-Scratching or writing initials, a monogram, or identifying symbol of some kind. Here are a couple of canteens with marks on the leather straps, a Zeltbahn with an ink marking, and a mess kit:

Note that none of these examples have any kind of unit designation, divisional symbol or other identifier. Only rarely would a soldier have also added his unit. In such cases the Kompanie was specified, not the Division. A typical way would be the soldier’s name and the number of the Kompanie, as on this 1943 Tornister:

In some cases the Feldpost number of the soldier’s unit might be used, as on this late-war Tornister:

This large Rucksack and captured Soviet map case were also marked with names and Feldpost numbers:

There were also private purchase civilian type identifying items that soldiers could have bought and used as well to mark kit. Here are metal initials on a tailor made officer’s M38 cap, and a woven initial sewn on issue underclothing.

It should also be pointed out that many or most wartime Wehrmacht equipment items were not named at all. Issue items were Reich property, not owned by the soldier; he was responsible for them, but to a soldier, one canteen or mess kit might have been indistinguishable from another.

Wehrmacht aerial recognition flags

The Kriegsausrüstungsnachweisung (KAN) was a detailed list prepared by the Wehrmacht command for every type of unit, showing the gear with which that unit was to be equipped. The KAN did not list items like mess kits and canteens, that were issued to soldiers, but rather unit-level assets like weapons and vehicles. Here are two pages from two different wartime KAN documents. The typewritten one is from a leichte Panzer-Aufklärungskompanie (gepanzert), and the printed one is from a Maschinengewehrkompanie eines Jägerbataillons und eines Radfahr-Maschinengewehrbataillons. Both of these documents list in the “General long-distance signalling equipment” section, a “Swastika flag 1.5 x 5 meters” (Hakenkreuzfahne 1.5 x 5 m).

Here are a couple of photos that appear to show this type of large recognition banner in use. The propaganda film “Sprung in den Feind” also shows one of these at the 21:41 minute mark.

Here is a surviving original aerial recognition flag in this regulation 1.5 x 5 m size. Aerial recognition flags were single-sided, and had grommets for lashing them to objects on the ground. This banner has grommets at the corners and also at the center of each long side. Some of the photos include a German helmet, for scale.

Wehrmacht aerial recognition flags were also produced in smaller sizes.

Here are two originals. The larger measures 1 x 2 m. This is a common size of original aerial recognition flag to find today. The smaller one measures about 80 x 90 cm. Note that on the small flag, both the red field and the white roundel have seams, showing they were made of separate pieces of fabric that were pieced together. This was necessary due to the shortage of raw material for war production.

Some wartime aerial recognition banners used the “Balkenkreuz” military emblem rather than the Nazi swastika. The wartime photo shown here is the only one known to this writer, depicting this flag in wartime German use. The original shown here measures 1 x 2 m.

Aerial recognition drapes can be distinguished from other German 1935-45 national flags by the presence of the grommets and the single-sided construction. For comparison purposes, here is a very long national banner that would have hung from a pole or building. It’s double sided. The bottom end has a small, leather reinforced, web strap with snap hook for anchoring it, while the top end is sleeved for a pole. The pole sleeve on this one was torn by the American soldier who ripped this from its mounting when he took it as a souvenir.

Wartime German Army enlisted issue wool shoulder straps

German Army enlisted field blouses and greatcoats were adorned with shoulder insignia called Schulterklappen (literally translated, “shoulder flaps”). These pieces of insignia are usually referred to in English as shoulder straps, or shoulder boards. I have adopted the collector convention of referring to Schulterklappen as “shoulder straps” to distinguish them from officer “shoulder boards” (Schulterstücke, literally “shoulder pieces”).

During the 1930s, the German Army used several different shoulder strap styles in different colors and styles, finally settling in 1938 on a new pattern with rounded ends, piped around the edges with colored piping that indicated the branch of service to which the wearer belonged. The top of these straps was made from dark green wool. In 1940, these were replaced with straps made of the same field gray wool from which uniforms were made. 1940 was a time of massive mobilization and expansion in the German armed forces. Millions of these field gray branch piped shoulder straps were made. This shoulder strap pattern remained in use until 1945, with some construction variations. The field gray branch piped shoulder strap became the most widely issued German Army shoulder strap of the war.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the construction and materials details of some typical wartime factory made enlisted issue straps. I chose these straps as typical representative examples.

All of the straps in this photo are piped with rayon piping. Wool piping was typically used on 1930s straps. During the war, most factory made enlisted issue straps were piped with rayon. Here are two different variations in the knit of the rayon piping used. The piping on the top has a simple knit. The piping on the bottom is twill, with diagonal bands.

Here are two 1940 pattern straps. These are probably early or mid-war production, and are made from a fairly tightly woven field gray wool, with a small yarn size. The color and type of thread used to make these are the same as the thread used to construct the uniforms- these were made at the same factories, out of the same materials as the uniforms themselves. The buttonholes are the same as those used on the uniforms. You will see that these are two different sizes. I don’t have any documentation at hand to clearly explain why shoulder straps were made in different sizes.

The reinforcement fabric under the tongues of these straps, is a tan twill cotton material, the fabric most commonly used for lining field blouses and overcoats through the midwar period.

Later in the war, a new construction style appeared. These are referred to by collectors as “M44” shoulder straps although I have not seen any documentation specifying when this style appeared. This was a simplified pattern. The tops were made from a single piece of wool, without the backing piece that had been used previously. Instead of being fully lined, these had a simple reinforcement strip down the middle of the underside. The stitching for this reinforcement strip is visible on the tops of the boards. These shoulder straps are made of later war materials. The strap on the right has nap wear, which reveals the larger yarn size as compared to the earlier straps above. The stitching on the left strap shows that the tension on the sewing machine used to produce it was not properly adjusted- a sign of hasty manufacture.

The undersides of these straps show details of the reinforcement. With no backing fabric, all of the piping can be seen, not just the edge. The strap on the right has the most common reinforcement style, a strip of rayon (artificial silk) which was the typical uniform lining fabric in 1944-45. The strap on the left is reinforced with a piece of HBT woven gray tape.

This “M44” strap is piped in lemon yellow, indicating membership in a Nachrichten unit. It’s made out of Italian wool, a coarse, bluish fabric widely used for German uniforms in 1944-45.

The “tongue” of this strap is made of “Feldgrau 44” wool. This was a brownish field gray shade introduced in 1944. The reinforcement is the typical rayon uniform lining fabric. It’s likely that the blue Italian wool and the brownish German wool used to construct these straps, were scraps left over from uniform production.

There was also a style of shoulder strap that used simple tape loops rather than the “tongue” for uniform attachment. I have not seen any documentation to indicate when this style appeared, whether it was just a manufacturer variation or perhaps intended for some specific purpose. These are generally regarded as late war pieces, with some speculating that these may have been introduced later than the “M44” style. The example on the left here is made out of a typical late war coarsely woven wool.

One of these boards is heavily worn, and the HBT woven tape attachment loop is broken. The other shows only light wear and has the attachment loop intact.

The underside of the left board is made of three pieces of scrap wool that have been pieced together. German uniforms made use of pieced-together scrap fabric for hidden areas of uniforms, even before WWII.

Factory made enlisted issue shoulder straps are interesting and helpful to study, as the materials used and construction details are all the same as what was used on other types of uniforms.

Wehrmacht M40 field blouse, depot repaired and reissued

This German M40 pattern Feldbluse (field blouse) was made in 1940.

This was offered for sale by a seller who claimed it was an untouched and all-original field blouse, found in an attic. Many collectors scoffed and insisted that because the breast eagle is not a factory application, this must be a jacket that was worn postwar and restored. I saw the typical depot type repairs and suspected that this was a reissued jacket, worn by more than one soldier, in which case reapplied insignia would be normal. I took a chance on it and having it in my hands, I am sure that the insignia are wartime applied, that it was worn like this. The presence of the EK2 buttonhole ribbon and ribbon bar is non-regulation and the ribbon bar could have been added after the war, perhaps even by the original owner (and perhaps not), but I have left it as found.

It is very hard to find an original uniform like this, worn by a soldier in his daily life. Most surviving uniforms were hanging in closets or were in factories, depots or tailor shops at war’s end. Those are the types of uniforms most collectors are accustomed to seeing.

I took these pictures to showcase the various personal and depot repairs to this threadbare and hard-worn jacket.

The buttonholes have been repaired or reinforced, possibly by the soldier himself.

One corner of one lower pocket was replaced, and a new flap was added to that pocket, in a slightly different color shade. These are depot repairs done to prepare this worn-out garment for reissue.

The sleeve ends were altered, with a reinforcing strip of wool sewn to the inside of each cuff. It appears that the sleeves were shortened.

There is a machine sewn repair to a wear hole in one armpit.

Half of one sleeve panel has been completely replaced, as well as the elbow area of the other panel of that same sleeve.

The elbow areas of both panels of the other sleeve have also been replaced. These elbow repairs are all typical depot repairs, seen on reissued items.

Some of the belt hook eyelets are repaired by hand, possibly by the wearer.

-One of the hooks for retaining the internal suspender ends tore off, leaving a hole in the lining. This hole was neatly patched by hand, the edges of the patch neatly tucked underneath, the patch applied with tiny whip stitches.

This photograph illustrates the difference in wear between the exposed collar edge, and the protected wool that was underneath the collar liner (Kragenbinde).

Faded size and depot markings are still visible in the lining.