I took some photos to compare an original pre-war aluminum Wehrmacht mess kits, with some postwar versions. The most important thing to understand is that there are postwar mess kits that are identical to real ones, as well as some that are very close, and some that are more different.
In the above picture, in the top row, the one on the left is an original pre-war German Wehrmacht mess kit. The one on the right is a postwar Austrian mess kit. It has a postwar maker and date stamp, and the lid of the mess kit is perhaps a fraction of a centimeter taller than the original (although this varies somewhat from maker to maker on originals). Visually, without inspecting the markings, the mess kit itself is indistinguishable from the pre-war Wehrmacht model. The paint is the wrong color. Stripped and repainted, in my opinion, this is perfect for use.
There are two other postwar styles that are identical to the pre-war Wehrmacht kits, that I do not have to show: some 50s dated German ones, some of which were made by some of the same factories that made them for the Wehrmacht; and postwar Romanian issue mess kits.
Back to the group picture, the second row: on the left is a Soviet mess kit from the 50s. This is very nearly identical to the first Wehrmacht model, with two exceptions. I have included photos that show these differences in detail. Firstly, it has three rivets instead of two, holding the handle on to the top part. It also lacks the three small impressed measuring lines that were on the front of the bottom half of the kit. The most common wartime Wehrmacht model also lacked these measuring lines, but these had a steel handle on the top part, instead of the prewar aluminum handle. Original used and issued kits are very often found mismatched, even when they appear to have been used that way during the war; it’s not at all implausible that a soldier in the war could have used a wartime “bowl” and a pre-war “lid.” There were no Wehrmacht kits with three rivets on the handle; whether or not this difference renders this type unsuitable for reenactment is subjective.
On the right in the group photo, in the second row, is a “Frankenstein” kit put together with a postwar East German NVA bottom, and a postwar West German police lid. The East German kit had a lid with no strap retaining loop, which in my opinion is visually and functionally so different from the Wehrmacht kit to render it unsuitable for reenactment use. The bottom, on the other hand, is very close to the Wehrmacht type. The difference is on the cast attachment fittings for the wire bale. The Wehrmacht type is riveted on with two small rivets. These rivets are not visible on the East German one. The exact size and appearance of the rivets varies on Wehrmacht kits, but they are always there. The top of this “Frankenstein” kit is a from a postwar West German kit. The bottom is in my opinion not suitable for use, and I will show it later, but the top is identical to pre-war Wehrmacht issue, except for the markings. I used to use this “Frankenstein” kit myself, before I found a postwar Austrian one to use.
Of the four types of mess kits previously described, we would allow any of them to be used in Sicherungs-Regiment 195, though we discourage use of original kits as they are historical objects with a collectible value, and we cook with ours over fires and use them at every event; I would cringe to subject an original war relic to that kind of abuse. The mess kits on the bottom row in the group photo have parts that I would not allow to be used in my unit. On the left is a Russian one, a type used from the 50s into at least the 80s (probably even later). This has the aforementioned three rivets on the handle, on the top. On the bottom part of this kit, the attachment fittings for the wire bale are totally different from the Wehrmacht versions. This difference on the bottom part is too obvious for me to regard it as usable. On the right in the bottom row, is the postwar West German police kit lower half. This also has the Russian style bale attachment fittings.
Where to find these? Quantities of postwar Romanian and Austrian mess kits pop up on eBay from time to time. I keep an eye on the various Facebook sales groups where reenactors sell items that are no longer needed, as there are many of these mess kits in circulation. I also look at Soviet buy/sell/trade pages where the Russian ones that I regard as usable (with the German type bale fittings) come up every so often.
Entrenching tools have been a general issue item for almost every army since the First World War. The German army of the Second World War was no exception. Pre-war the Wehrmacht adopted a flat blade, square head shovel with a short handle that could easily be carried by every soldier. This was essentially the same pattern as the shovels used by the German Army during WWI. This pattern of shovel was produced and used until the end of the war.
Up until 1938 the carrier for this pattern of shovel was made completely of leather. These carriers were made in both black and brown leather. Post-1938, the carriers were a mix of leather and a pressed paper product known as Presstoff or Ersatzleder. These leather/Presstoff carriers came in a variety of mixed shades. Often, these carriers were produced with leather belt loops and closure strap. The body of the carrier would be Presstoff. The leather fittings could be brown or black. The presstoff could be black, tan, or a blue/grey color.
Around 1940 a more modern entrenching tool known as the Klappspaten, or folding spade. The Klappspaten had the ability to be used as a traditional spade or a mattock. This allowed for easier digging with such a small shovel. The Klappspaten and flat blade spade served side by side in the Wehrmacht until 1945. The carrier for this pattern of shovel was produced in both leather and Presstoff.
In the above photo, the example at far left is a German made one from 1934. It features a riveted blade and riveted “ears” at the top of the blade.
Second from left is the standard Wehrmacht type that appeared before the war. This example is dated 1945. It features a welded blade and folded over “ears.” Some shovels in this pattern were also made with a riveted blade.
At center is a Swiss shovel. The “ears” at the top of the blade are curved and bent but not folded over as with the Wehrmacht type. This shovel is almost identical to the WWI French type.
Second from right is a postwar Dutch shovel. With its folded over “ears” and welded blade, it is nearly identical to Wehrmacht issue.
At far right is a postwar East German army shovel. The “ears” are slight and the blade is neatly welded with no flange. There were other East German models including a riveted type.
The most immediately noticeable diagnostic difference among these various shovel types is the top of the blade. The following pictures show the different forms and indicate the origin of each. Some forms were used by different armies at different times and this may not be a comprehensive list as it does not take into account less commonly encountered types or manufacturer variations.
Staying warm in cold weather, especially during winter nights, is a problem as old as mankind. For winter deployments, we often struggled with ways to heat our 8-panel Zelt (in a period-correct way). A short clip in a wartime German Wochenschau newsreel film provided an answer. In this clip, a Wehrmacht-issue “Jerry can” fuel container was shown inside a Kübelwagen. The can had been modified into a stove, to provide warmth. Here are screen captures from the film.
WWII German unit designations can be hard for reenactors and reenactment units to fully understand. They are very different from the American military designations that many are familiar with. They are in a foreign language, and many references use English translations instead of the original German terms. Many different abbreviations were sometimes used for the same term, making it challenging to identify which form is most common or typical. It is possible to be an experienced reenactor and amateur historian and still not really have a grip on the correct designation of the unit one is portraying. To that end, I hope that this basic primer will be of some use.
Why is this important? Nearly every reenactment group uses a military unit designation to identify itself. This designation is part of the “brand” of a reenactment unit. Facebook pages and web sites will bear these designations, as will camp or barracks signage at reenactment events. An incorrectly rendered designation not only can be embarrassing to a unit trying its best, but it is an authenticity issue, as well.
The good news is that identifying the correct unit designation, and abbreviating it correctly, is not terribly difficult. The Wehrmacht was a force of millions of men, in thousands and thousands of different units, so possible unit designations and abbreviations are nearly infinite. But nearly all reenactment groups portray the same types of units (largely ground combat units, mostly Heer and Waffen-SS) and the designations for these typical units are easy to identify and describe.
Let’s start at the beginning, at the most basic level. One soldier. In most units, he is in a squad- a Gruppe. Squads are grouped usually into a platoon- a Zug. These are generally really not important from a unit designation perspective. The next level, though, is important. A number of platoons would form a Kompanie (in Artillerie units, a Batterie; in Kavellerie units, a Schwadron). The Kompanie is extremely important for the reenactor. In nearly all units, this Kompanie designation would be in every soldier’s Soldbuch, the identity document every soldier carried. The soldier would know what Kompanie he was in. The Kompanie is designated by an Arabic numeral, for example: 3. Kompanie, abbreviated 3. Kp.
The Kompanien (plural of Kompanie) would be grouped into a Bataillon. This is designated by a Roman numeral: I. Bataillon, abbreviated I. Btl. For nearly all unit designations, the Bataillon designation is not only unnecessary, but altogether superfluous and would not be used. The reason for this is that the Kompanien were numbered sequentially in a Regiment and assigned in a regular way to a Bataillon. In a regular Infanterie-Regiment, generally speaking, 1.-4. Kp. would be I. Bataillon, 5.-8. Kp. would be II. Bataillon, 9.-12. Kp. would be III. Bataillon. So if you are in 1. Kompanie you would never need to indicate that you were in I. Bataillon because 1. Kp. is always in I. Btl. and there is no 1. Kp. in any other Bataillon in the Regiment. In general, the only time Bataillon needs to be included in a unit designation is when the unit being portrayed is a Bataillon staff. Reenactors get this wrong very often.
With Bataillon being superfluous, the next thing that is important after Kompanie is the designation of the Regiment, Abteilung, or, sometimes, independent Bataillon (depending on unit type). This is usually a numbered unit and the number comes after the unit type: always Artillerie-Regiment 3 or Pionier-Bataillon 3, never 3. Artillerie-Regiment or 3. Pionier-Bataillon. This part of the designation is crucial. It is most important. This part of the designation is, in virtually all cases, what determines what unit insignia a reenactor wears. The Waffenfarbe branch color worn on insignia is determined by the Regiment or Abteilung. Before the use of unit numbers on insignia was abolished, the number of the Regiment or Abteilung is what would be worn on the shoulder straps.
The next level up from that is the Division. This aspect of structure is of almost no importance at all unless you are portraying a Divisional staff. The reason for this is that the number of the Regiment or Abteilung is unique and only used once in the entire armed forces. There was only one Panzer-Regiment 6, for example. There would be no need to say “3. Panzer-Division, Regiment 6” because there was only one Panzer-Regiment 6 in the whole Army and it happened to be in 3. Panzer-Division. In any other Panzer-Division, each Regiment also had its own unique number, used only once. The designation of the Regiment or Abteilung makes the use of the Division designation totally superfluous. It would not be included because it didn’t matter. A designation like “3. Panzer Div. Nachrichten-Abteilung” for a signals unit in a Panzer division is totally wrong. It is missing the important unique number designation (39, in this particular case) and it is including the Division which is superfluous and shouldn’t be included. The correct designation for this unit is, simply: Nachrichten-Abteilung 39. The fact that it happens to be attached to a Panzer-Division, not some other kind of Division, is unimportant and has no impact on the unit designation.
With that out of the way, we can get down to the nitty-gritty of what the unit designation looks like and how it can be abbreviated. The designation of the unit we portray is:
Do you see the slash in that second abbreviation? That is something that seems to trip people up all the time. It’s not the Division, not the Regiment. The number before the slash is the Kompanie, or the Bataillon. How to know which is which? Kompanie is Arabic numeral, Bataillon is Roman numeral. 3./Sich.-Rgt. 195 was one Kompanie in I./Sich.-Rgt. 195. Please note also that if you are using the abbreviation “Kp.” for Kompanie, you don’t also use the slash. 3. Kp./Sich.-Rgt. 195 would not be correct, even if it is not inconceivable that even some wartime Germans might have made that mistake. And don’t use the slash in any other way. That’s basically it. A Kompanie in a Pionier unit might be 2./Pionier-Bataillon 22, a Schwadron in an Aufklärung unit could be 2./Aufklärungs-Abteilung 207. Note that the umlaut is a really important part of spelling, it’s not Aufklarung, or Jager. If you can’t type the umlaut you have to put an “e” after the vowel that is supposed to have the umlaut: Jaeger.
Lastly, a note about Waffen-SS designations. These will always have “SS” as part of the unit designation to differentiate from Heer units, for example, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25, or 3./SS-Flak-Abteilung 17. And as much as reenactors love the Divisional identifier worn on the cuff title, it really doesn’t belong in the unit designation. Some SS units had their own special names, for example SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 6 “Theodor Eicke” or SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 “Deutschland.” But most units did not have these names as part of the designation. A soldier in the 5. SS-Panzer-Division “Wiking” might have worn a “Wiking”cuff title if he was not in one of the units in the division with a special name, but it would not have been part of the unit designation- the Panzer unit of “Wiking” was just plain old SS-Panzer-Regiment 5. And a designation like “1. SS” simply makes no sense.
Author: Markus Brunner
I will begin this article by stating that I do not claim to be an expert or authority on German personal items of the second world war. I consider myself to be a guy with fairly decent attention to detail, and someone who is passionate about the material culture of the period. In this article I would like to give the reenactor a bit of a cerebral experience. Personal items are just that, personal. In this article I will share my own approach to personal kit. I invite you to comb through your things the next time you pack, and question what you are bringing, and why.
For the sake of simplicity I will restrict this article to the most common denominator- the German infantry soldier from Germany. I portray a second line infantryman. I began my service as a light towed artillery soldier whose battery was destroyed by rocket counter fire in Russia, 1942. As a disclaimer: the static nature of my impression allows more creature comforts than should be carried by a regular line infantryman. I am not going into captured items or items picked up on the battlefield. Each reenactor is the master of his own impression and may agree or disagree with my approach and conclusions.
Below is an exploded view of the contents of my trouser pockets. Among them, you will find a variety of identity documents and tags that have been issued to me, and a small field post paper chess game that has seen better days. A few Marks in pocket money, a few photos of friends from the past. Handkerchief, my pipe, tobacco pouch, a small tool for cleaning it, and a lighter.
All of these items have been chosen by me to best represent a German soldier utilizing German items. There are some items that are not present. Handy civilian items that have been picked up in foreign lands are obviously a real thing, this is impression/scenario based and, if used correctly, can greatly enhance an impression. For captured/ acquired items, I focus on consumables- things that you use and throw away. Cigarettes, tobacco, matches, and food are small items that can broaden your vignette portrayal of a German soldier in foreign lands. But you can never go wrong with the German standard.
I choose not to go overboard with carrying around food. You received your rations, you ate them, and continued with your day. Why carry around something that you could have enjoyed and not lugged around? How long will you carry that chocolate bar?
Reenactors interested in the finer details of an impression often ask what would constitute an ideal set of paperwork for a first-person persona. The answer is always that the best paperwork that a reenactor can carry is paperwork that he understands and that he can relate to his portrayal. The Soldbuch is the crux of personal paperwork and knowing what is written in there and what everything means is a key step in a first person impression. The flap in the back of the Soldbuch is a good place to keep things like reproductions of period photos, most are small and fit in there easily. Anything that a reenactor can understand and explain and build a story around will be better to carry than even perfect reproduction paperwork if one doesn’t know what it means or how it relates to the character being represented.
In the realities of war, there were an endless number of variables regarding what paperwork was carried. There were regulations, of course, but these regulations seem to have been more or less widely disregarded, and much of what was actually carried on a day-to-day basis seems to have depended heavily on such variables as personal preference, unit or type of unit, area of operations, etc. It seems like there were few hard and fast rules as to what was carried and what was not, what was retained and what was discarded. The Wehrpass was not supposed to have been carried by the individual soldier but some soldiers went into captivity carrying these so this must have happened at some times, for some reasons. Having said all that, here are our conclusions based on studies of more-or-less untouched paperwork groupings. Others may have come to different conclusions.
SOLDBUCH: As stated, this was the basic individual ID and is the cornerstone of personal paperwork from a reenactment perspective. Some soldiers were issued Merkblätter which were small leaflets about topics including gas warfare and various ailments, these leaflets were supposed to have been glued into the Soldbuch but the majority of original Soldbücher, including many books issued early on and carried throughout the war on all fronts, do not have these (even when other various documents are still associated with the Soldbuch) and so their issue was either rather limited or the mandate to keep these in the Soldbuch was widely ignored.
OTHER ID DOCUMENTS: Soldiers were issued many different kinds of lesser ID documents which were issued right down to Kompanie level in some cases. This category can include things as simple as small signed and stamped paper scraps attesting that the soldier belonged to a particular unit, as well as various kinds of photo IDs such as the military driver’s license or the Dienstausweis, and all kinds of passes and permits.
TRAVEL DOCUMENTS: Soldiers do seem to have retained various kinds of travel documents such as the Dienstreiseausweis or the Wehrmachtfahrschein even when the travel was completed, for whatever reason. There were also documents that permitted soldiers more or less free travel in specific areas for specific purposes, these also seem to have been retained. There were also passes to enter certain cities, some of these were valid only for a specific occasion, others were valid for longer periods.
AWARD DOCUMENTS: Some have stated that award documents were to be kept in the Soldbuch. Based on our studies, we do not believe that award documents were carried in the Soldbuch most of the time. No doubt they were carried in the field for a period immediately after issue, but the official entries in the Soldbuch would seem to make carrying the associated documents redundant.
LETTERS FROM HOME: Regulations stipulated that letters from home were not to be carried in the field to deny the enemy any intelligence contained therein. In reality, soldiers did keep and carry these, sometimes accumulating large numbers of them when circumstances permitted. Feldpost was second only to ammunition in the supply system, and getting mail from home was an important feature of the life of the Landser.
PERSONAL STUFF: By this, we mean really personal. Many soldiers carried small booklets in which they would record addresses or keep records of mail sent and received. Some soldiers kept journals in these small notebooks. They seem to have been very common. Photos of loved ones were also carried by very many soldiers.
EPHEMERA: We find lots of stuff in paperwork groupings that were intended to be discarded but that were kept for whatever reason. A page from a calendar, a little piece of newspaper, a blank form or a receipt for hay or for cabbage, perhaps these were used as bookmarks, perhaps they had some personal significance known only to the soldier, or maybe it was just pocket trash. Some companies would even send advertisements in various forms to soldiers at the front and sometimes the recipients would hold on to these.
CIVILIAN STUFF: Many soldiers seemed to have carried documents related to their civilian lives, even when these documents would seem to have been useless at the front. Insurance cards, post office box receipts, paperwork regarding bank accounts, or similar stuff.
The paperwork that you can carry is limited only by your imagination. We have held many untouched paperwork groupings as carried by German soldiers and have never found one loaded with Reichsmarks and porn as carried by so many reenactors. It is far more common to find a couple of plain-looking pictures, a local provisional ID or travel permit, perhaps a letter from home or a certificate relating to the soldier’s civilian life, and a scrap of paper with seemingly random notes, their significance lost to time.
2014 was the first year of our reenactment group. With the year ending, we want to reflect on our progress and also to share our best photos from this year of reenacting.
This unit was started by experienced reenactors looking to try something new. To our knowledge, there never had been a reenactment group that portrayed security troops. Dissatisfaction with the lack of authenticity inherent in mock battles led us to something more cerebral than a grown-up’s version of Cowboys and Indians. It was important to be a field-based impression; an impression with a second-line focus, less oriented toward combat, and more toward basic camp and field life. We settled on a Sicherung unit after discussing many options.
At first, the learning curve was steep. We began research to forge this new impression. Initially, only a few sources yielded information. From the very start, however, the information discovered strongly validated our impression choice. We had not realized how thinly spread Sicherung units were. Sparsely-manned outposts were used to garrison vast swathes of countryside in the rear areas of the various Army groups. This historical reality meshes perfectly with our small unit model. From this, we devised a standard model of an “outpost”-based scenario for field deployment.
Selecting the exact unit to portray was also a challenge. We quickly identified a number of Sicherung units with interesting histories. Sicherungs-Regiment 195, however, was an obvious final choice. Elements of unit were actually deployed both in the West and in the East simultaneously. From a reenactment perspective, we were very pleased to choose a unit impression that offers such vast versatility.
Our first event was an immersion/training scenario. More than anything else, this event served as a test of our new concept and approach to the hobby. We were the only people on the site, there was no need for an “enemy” to fight against. All of our members attended and it was a total success. We planned and prepared for the event, then deployed to a farm where we conducted patrols, searched for partisans, did some training on language and tactics, prepared rations, and cleaned our rifles. Everything went just as we hoped, and we all enjoyed some incredibly realistic experiences. The lessons learned from this event paid dividends throughout the year.
With initial training complete, we were ready to deploy to the field at a regular tactical. When the combat troops moved out, we moved into the rear to perform observation and security details. Rifle fire echoed in the distance while we guarded a road and set up observation positions. Again, the end result was an incredibly realistic-feeling experience. We had proven the value of our concept and it was very gratifying.
As the year wore on, we made some changes to reflect new information about the historical reality of how Sicherung troops were equipped. Many of our existing late-war uniform and equipment items were replaced with mid-war equivalents. This served to reflect the low supply priority of under-equipped rear-area troops, who were unlikely to have been issued the newest equipment. German K98 rifles were replaced, in part, with Czech VZ24s. Members also obtained a mix of paramilitary-type, and obsolete, gear as we dialed in to our new impression.
The unexpected discovery of an original Soldbuch from Sicherungs-Regiment 195 provided very encouraging validation. The soldier was issued a captured foreign rifle and bayonet. He was also issued a Tornister and a HBT uniform, both items we had decided to include in our portrayal. All of this fit perfectly with what we learned about the wide variety of weapons and equipment that these troops were issued. Further research led to some additional primary sources, which were very helpful. We now have an ever-growing body of documentation to work with, as we settle into our impression.
The response from others in the WWII reenactment community has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received positive feedback from all over the world. We also had the opportunity to take to the field with our like-minded friends in 3. Panzergrenadier-Division, and the Finnish JR7 unit (which debuted this year). We attended new events that none of our members had ever participated in before. In the process, we had a lot of fun, and made a some new friends. At some of 2014’s events, we were the largest attending German unit. We are proud to support local events, and especially Eastern Front scenarios. We continue to share information via this blog, Facebook, and on our web site (upgrade coming soon).
Things look bright as we head into 2015. Our year will begin in February with our annual planning meeting. We expect another busy and successful season.