Landesschützen-Bataillon 232 in combat, January 1942, and the Wehrpass of Gefreiter Franz Nemetz

“Bataillon Command Post, January 22, 1941.

From: Landesschützen-Bataillon 232

To: Landesschützen-Regiment 113, Regimental Headquarters

The Bataillon was loaded onto 26 trucks at 6:00 PM on January 17, 1942, with the assignment to report to the headquarters of the XXXVIII Armee Korps in Raglizy, 36 kilometers west of Nowgorod. We reached Raglizy at midnight. Five trucks had fallen out due to minor damages. These were repaired and these trucks followed on the next day. The Bataillon was attached to the 126 Infanterie-Division and was under the command of Infanterie-Regiment 422. We were to report to Ortskommandantur Podberjesje, 18 kilometers northeast of Nowgorod. We arrived in Podberjesje at 5:00 AM on January 18, 1942. The Division placed us under the command of the Regiment 424. Out of the trucks took place an operation against a detachment of Russians, that had crossed the Wolchow and advanced across the highway connecting Nowgorod, Tschudowo and Petersburg. The operation lasted until 7:00 PM. In this operation the Bataillon suffered two dead and one wounded. The Bataillon was under the command of Sturmbannführer and Major Garthe, whose Abteilung was composed of our Bataillon, a Kompanie of Pionier troops, and a detachment of the Waffen-SS. For the night, the 2. and 3. Kompanie were sheltered in Podberjesje and the 1. Kompanie in Weschki, 6 kilometers northwest of Podberjesje.

For January 19, 1942, Abteilung Garthe was deployed on both sides of the railroad running from Nowgorod to Tschudowo, in the area of the villages Andruju, Linow, Tjuitzy, and Kopzy, in a renewed operation against the Russians who had broken through. In the night from the 18th-19th January 1942, the 3. Kompanie of Bataillon 232 was pulled out, attached to the III. Bataillon of Infanterie-Regiment 424 and sent to Sapolje on the Wolchow. In this operation, the 1. and 2. Kompanie were deployed to the right and left of the railroad line. After a few hours, this operation had to be called off, as in the meantime the Russians had broken through in Kopzy. The Abteilung Garthe was deployed on the attack on the railroad in Kopzy and the forest south of Kopzy, with the Bataillon initially attacking the Kopzy highway and then connecting through a total left turn with Kopzy and the bush terrain to the east. In the late afternoon, Kopzy was taken with the cooperation of an Aufklärungs-Abteilung deployed north of Kopzy, and tanks. On this day, the Bataillon lost 2 dead and 10 wounded. For the night, the Bataillon was quartered in Tjutizy and occupied the terrain east of the highway connecting Tjutizy and Kopzy. The night and following day passed without major attacks.

The 2. Kompanie was transferred to Kopzy on the evening of January 20, 1942. In the course of that day, the Bataillon moved into a defensive position in the aforementioned line. In the night of January 20th-21st, there was an attack by the Russians against this defensive position, and against the neighboring sector in Kopzy, in the strength of multiple Kompanien. This attack was preceded by heavy artillery and mortar fire on Kopzy, and weaker fire on Tjutizy. The attack was totally defeated by the Bataillon. In front of the 1. Kompanie, the enemy left behind around 30 dead. In front of the 2. Kompanie, as a result of the favorable terrain, the enemy was able to retrieve their dead. In Kopzy, the enemy broke through once again, but after lengthy battles they were thrown back into the night.

On January 20, 1942, at 10:00 AM, by order of the Regiment, the 1. Kompanie sent a scout troop in the strength of 21 men against the point 37.0, 2-1/2 kilometers from the northern edge of Tjutizy. Heavy machine gun fire from multiple sides prevented the scout troop from penetrating the forest. In the treeline, strong enemy forces in the strength of at least 4 to 5 platoons were moving. The Regimental commander personally recognized the scout troop leader, Feldwebel Schötzau, 1./232, for the well-led scout troop operation.

January 21 was again relatively quiet, although the enemy hit the villages of Kopzy and Tjutizy as well as the highway with heavy artillery, mortar ind infantry gun fire. Movements of the enemy in the forest east of the highway concluded in a renewed attack in the night of January 22, 1942. Starting at midnight, the enemy attacked the main battle line multiple times, above all in the northern sector. The attacks, which continued until dawn, were again repulsed. Around 4:00 AM individual Russian detachments began to evade the watch posts of the Pionier-Kompanie on the rightmost sector of Abteilung Garthe, to join the attack on Tjutizy. After lengthy battles the enemy was here, too, forced back. The enemy’s forward machine guns now covered the entire highway between Tjutizy and Kopzy, which also lay under heavy artillery and mortar fire. In the night of the 21st-22nd January, we lost one dead and eight wounded.

The total losses of the Bataillon from the 18th to the 22nd of January 1942 were 5 dead, 24 wounded. As a result of the extreme cold, frostbite was very common, as the Bataillon was lying in open positions in the snow, and almost routinely a large part of the Bataillon if not the entire unit was in the positions at night. So far, the Bataillon has lost 23 men to frostbite alone.

The fighting strength of the Bataillon has thereby been reduced considerably. The current fighting strength is as follows:

1. Kompanie: 1 officer, 15 NCOs, 65 enlisted men
2. Kompanie: 1 officer, 11 NCOs, 69 enlisted men

Those numbers do not include the losses of the 3. Kompanie. According to the reports received so far, the 3. Kompanie has lost one man to wounds. Larger battles are said to have been underway there since the night of 21st-22nd January. The Kompanie has lost 6 men to illness and one to frostbite.

Signed, Dr. Happel

Hauptmann and Bataillon leader

Losses and departures through January 23 in the 1. and 2. Kompanie:

6 dead, 29 wounded, 36 frostbite, 23 illness. Total 94 men.”

This Wehrpass belonged to Franz Nemetz.

Nemetz was born on March 24, 1912. He was Austrian, from Mitterndorf. He was trained a butcher, but worked as a truck driver.

In November 1939, when this Wehrpass was issued, Nemetz was 27, and single. During the war, he married his wife Minna. He was drafted into the German Army in March, 1940, and sent immediately to occupied Poland. After a little more than one month of training, he was assigned to 2. Kompanie, Infanterie-Regiment 325. He remained in Poland on occupation duty until the end of May, 1940, when he was sent back to Germany. There, his unit was used as a Wachbataillon, for guard duty. In this period Nemetz was promoted to Oberschütze and then to the rank of Gefreiter. On January 1, 1941, his unit was redesignated as Landesschützen-Bataillon 232. This unit was located in the area of Sandbostel and was tasked with guarding prisoners of war. On July 15, 1941, Nemetz’s unit was attached to the 285. Sicherungs-Division.

Preparations to send this unit to Russia began immediately. Nemetz’s journey East began on July 17, and by August 2 his unit had arrived in their quarters in the rear area of the northern sector of the Russian Front. His Wehrpass records that from August 2, 1941, to January 17, he took part in securing the operational area and in combat against partisans as part of 2. Kompanie, Landesschützen-Bataillon 232.

At 6 PM on January 17, Nemetz was one of the men on those trucks, headed to Raglizy. Probably, he was one of the drivers. Could he have known, when he left, that he would be driving almost directly into combat, he and his men facing Red Army Infantry as soon as they got off the trucks? His Wehrpass lists the fighting he participated in on the Wolchow as defensive actions. He was one of the ten men of the Bataillon wounded on January 18. The nature of this wound was not recorded in the Wehrpass but it was severe enough to land him in a convalescent unit for the next eight months.

The Wehrpass provides some detail about Nemetz’s military career. His primary role was as a truck driver, and was also trained as a machine gunner. He was trained on the G98 rifle and MG34 machine gun, and later, also on the MG 26 (t) (Czech ZB 26) and MG 08/15. These foreign and obsolete machine guns were typical of the weapons used by rear area units. For his actions in the winter of 1941 and his wounding in action with Abteilung Garthe, he was awarded the “Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42” campaign medal, and a Wound Badge in Black.

Weapons trained on

In late September 1942, eight months after being wounded, Nemetz was given a physical and deemed to be fit for garrison duties in the homeland only. He would be reassigned to Landesschützen-Bataillon 213 in Tilsit, once again guarding prisoners of war, this time at a subcamp of Stalag 1A Stablack.

For the members of Landesschützen-Bataillon 232 who made it through the fighting around Kopzy without being killed, wounded, or frostbitten, more combat awaited them. In 1942 this unit was redesignated Sicherungs-Bataillon 232. They remained in Russia until the unit was essentially destroyed and disbanded in 1944.

Contents of the gas mask canister, as veterans remembered it

What did Wehrmacht soldiers carry in their gas mask canisters?

The currently defunct web site of the Erste Zug reenactment group used to host several veteran interviews, most of which were originally published in Eric Tobey’s “Die Neue Feldpost” zine in the 1990s. The interviews were with soldiers who fought in a variety of units, different branches, different fronts. Here is what the veterans had to say on this.

Kurt Wegner, Grenadier-Regiment 914, interviewed by Vince Milano in 1993, when asked, “Did you ever throw away your gasmask?” answered, “Not until June 7, 1944. No one ever checked us for them in the entire time of the fighting.”

Leutnant Eberhard von Machui, of Artillerie-Regiment 28, when prompted to “describe your food in the field,” stated that every soldier was issued an iron ration which he kept in his bread bag. If a soldier could obtain an extra one he would keep it in his gas mask container after throwing away his gas mask. Lots of masks were thrown away in his unit, although the punishment for this was harsh, for example extra guard duty or deductions from pay for loss of the mask.

Josef Bieburger was a late war recruit in the Luftwaffe. In 2006 he described his training to my friend Glenn McPherson. “Our Feldwebel was a good guy. He had a big belly, and liked to laugh. One funny story when we were training. The area we trained and drilled on has a hill – it was called “Idiots Hill” – and nearby there were cherry fruit trees. Our Feldwebel was hungry this particular afternoon, and as I was the youngest and littlest of the unit, sent me on a mission. He gave me his empty gas mask container and sent me into the trees saying, “Josef – there is the Enemy! Go and take them prisoner!” So, I returned with his gas mask full of cherries and he was happy.”

William Lubbeck, author of “At Leningrad’s Gates,” a memoir of his time on the Eastern Front, was asked, “Did you throw away your gas mask?” He answered, “Put it on two or three times during the French campaign in 1940, but did not carry it after we reached Leningrad in 1941.”

Gustav Rewwer, who served on the Eastern Front in a Fallschirm-Panzergrenadier unit, and who I interviewed, told me that he retained his gas mask container, but that he discarded the gas mask and used the carrier to hold extra rations.

Gustav, a veteran of the SS-Panzer-Division “Das Reich,” and who did not want to use his full name, said in 1993, “We were going to have a gas mask inspection. Some men threw their masks away and put their papers in the can because it was waterproof. Before an inspection, the soldiers who had thrown their masks away would find one to borrow in another company who was not having an inspection. But I never threw mine away. While everyone was running around to find a mask, I would rest. We are in formation and the Scharführer gives me the command. I whip my can around and pop the lid. The Scharführer reaches in and pulls out a pair of ladies underwear. Huge ones, big enough for a cow. He’s standing there, they are blowing in the breeze. No mask, someone pinched my mask, Gaenzenbittel pinched my mask. This was not funny to the command, but even the Scharführer looked like he was going to laugh. Inspection over, we got extra work. We had to dig holes for Panzers.”

Gerd Hörner, interviewed by Brad Hubbard in 2002-2003, was asked about his time in Grenadier-Regiment 980. He said, “We put our socks and Fusslappen [foot wraps] in the gas mask canister and our writing implements in the gas sheet bag.”

Hans Melker of Grenadier-Regiment 169 was asked in 1993 if he threw his mask away. He replied, “No, they checked you for them and you could get into trouble if you didn’t have one. There was a special Unteroffizier who checked you for them. I did not want to get into trouble.”

These interview snippets that were compiled from one source provide a wealth of detail. We are lucky that earlier generations of reenactors recorded these interviews. Most veteran memoirs do not mention the contents of the gas mask canister. This detail was probably not seen as important by most soldiers looking back, though there are no doubt many references to discover, among the countless reminisces that have survived.

I find it interesting how consistent the responses are, in the tiny sample of interviews cited here. Clearly, soldiers knew they might be punished for not carrying the mask, and some did carry it. It’s also clear that some soldiers discarded the masks. In some units, it seems, nobody was checking. And even where inspections did happen, some soldiers found ways around it, and avoided punishment despite not having masks.

I have heard it alleged that the idea that German soldiers often carried something other than the mask in the canister or that they threw the masks away was a myth, a reenactorism. I wonder where that “myth” would have come from? In reality, there was an era of reenacting in which it was very common to encounter and interview German veterans, when they were in their 70s, and often with very sharp memories. It used to be possible to ask veterans about this, I asked veterans about this, and many told me they threw away their masks and used the canister for other things. And many other reenactors heard this from many other veterans, and some of these conversations were documented, and this documentation is abundant and clear. There are other sources that support this as well. Lots of soldiers threw their masks away.

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.

Tips on setting up and sleeping in tents, from “Zeltbau”

The following is from the booklet “Zeltbau” (Tent Building) by Hans Möser, published in 1933. This instructional booklet with information about constructing and living in tent encampments was intended for use by members of the Hitler Youth and presumably other paramilitary organizations.

Set-Up of Tents

In the tents, absolute order and cleanliness must reign. That is even more crucial in small camps where all equipment items, tools, food supply, etc. must be stored in the sleeping tent. The floor of the tent can be divided using poles and the like… With regard to the interior layout, you can let your imagination wander… With large camps, the set-up of tents is relatively more simple, because dedicated tents or storage rooms for equipment and supplies can be laid out.

On Sleeping in the Tent

A basic requirement is that one does not put on too much clothing while sleeping. Why? – The blood circulation is much more lively, when one is not constricted too much. This is the reason why someone in the camp, lying in his bathing suit with only a light covering, can feel less cold than the person for whom two pairs of pants and three vests still seems insufficient as night clothing. On the other hand, there must also be something underneath you (see “ground layer”) that will provide excellent insulation from the ground depending on the weather and season. And another thing: shoes off, belt undone, suspenders unbuttoned, stocking garters off your legs, sports shorts with elastic off your body, thus stripping away everything attached and constricting. Better to be covered up by your clothes, than to lay there in the straw like a Roulade and then suffer an array of back pains and cramps the next day.

The Sleeping Ground Layer

In dry, warm weather, a dedicated ground layer is not necessary, if the tent will shelter sleepers for only a night. On the other hand, it would be irresponsible for a leader to let his men sleep without a ground layer in a multi-day camp. In bad weather, or even if the ground is damp, you cannot go without a carefully laid out, thick insulating layer. Depending on availability this could be straw, dry leaves, dry pine needles, brush broken into small pieces, etc. Especially in spring and fall, a layer of newspaper aside from the remaining ground cover is very appropriate as a protection against moisture and cold from the ground. In general, newspaper forms a warming ground layer. – If it only rained very little before erecting the tent, and the weather is quite warm, then it is enough to just turn the ground under the tent a shovel deep. Then no further ground layer is needed. At the most you can use newspaper.

Heating the Tent

Heating the tent is essential when the tent camp is set up too early or too late in the season. In very cold weather or frost, the tent must be heated. It is always most beneficial if, from the very outset, the tent is built large enough so that a small fire can be kindled on the ground (12-man tent). It can only be glowing embers and not a brightly blazing fire. For the small tent (gable tent) it is recommended to set up a heating channel (see illustration).

In front of the tent, an earthen hearth is built, the exhaust channel of which runs in a zig-zag under the tent floor. At the other end, a chimney is built as high as possible. The heating channel in the tent is covered with thin stones, sheet metal (cut-up food cans!) and the cracks sealed with clay. Over all of this is placed a thin layer of earth. The fire is maintained by the night watch. You will find that it gets nice and warm in the tent. In some places the heating channel is best tried out first. One can also, for example, scatter the embers of the campfire in the tent and cover them with a thin layer of dirt. The ground is warmed very well. However, this does not sustain warmth in the tent. For that, the use of heated stones is much better. They are removed from the camp fire and rolled into the tent. But the simplest, most comfortable and safest thing is definitely the use of a heating stove…

[For this book’s instructions for making an expedient tent stove, see Tent heating charcoal oven made from a food can]

WWII period German methods for waterproofing fabric

Here are some methods for waterproofing fabric, taken from two different pre-1945 German books. Some of these methods are simple and would be easy to duplicate today. Others read as fairly technical chemical formulas, by our modern standards. The books that these recipes are taken from were intended not for industrial or specialist use, but rather for use by ordinary people- by soldiers in the field, or even perhaps by children. It is interesting to note that no brand name consumer products are mentioned. Instead, these recipes use generic chemicals which, apparently, were things that it was possible for people to obtain, in a pre-Internet and arguably less consumerist world. The nature of these recipes gives some insight into how different things used to be in this era, now fading from living memory.

The first source that we will look at is “Tornister-Lexikon für den Frontsoldaten” by Gerhard Bönicke, published by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in 1943. This book was intended for use by Wehrmacht soldiers in the field. The last suggestion is the simplest and would be easiest to replicate today.

Waterproofing of fabrics

1 part ready-to-use, medium strength joinery glue, 1 part glycerin and 5 parts of water are mixed together and the fabric is painted with this mixture. After drying, the fabric is laid in a mixture of 1 part 40 percent formaldehyde and 9 parts water. Leave the fabric in this second bath for a long while. Or, dissolve the remains of shaving or hand soap by heating and shaking in a hundred times as much water and swish the fabric back and forth in the solution for 10 minutes. Take the fabric off, allow to drip dry and place in 2.5 percent aluminum acetate, leave the fabric in the solution for 5 hours, take it out, rinse well and allow to dry. Or, dunk the fabric for 8-10 minutes in a solution of 1 part fat in 9 parts gasoline (caution, do this work outside!) and limewash [1 kg quicklime and 2 liters water]. Or, vigorously rub the outer side of the fabric with a piece of a candle or beeswax.

The 1933 booklet “Zeltbau,” published by Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung in Stuttgart, was part of a series (“Geländesport-Bücherei,” or Field Sport Library) likely intended for use by the Hitlerjugend and other paramilitary organizations. While it is interesting to know how things were done in the past, I would encourage readers to avoid handling toxic chemicals.

One must know…

How fabrics (Zeltbahnen, wind jackets, cotton cloth etc.) are made waterproof. There are various recipes. Here are a few of them: a) In 2 to 2-1/2 liters of boiling water, dissolve a half pound of alum, then add about 9 liters of cold water, put in the fabric and allow it to sit in the solution for about 24 hours. Afterwards, wring the fabric out well. In the meantime, make a new solution from a quarter pound of lead(II) acetate (very poisonous!!) in 2 liters of boiling water, then pour in 8 liters of cold water. Place the fabric in this solution and allow to sit for 7 hours. Hang the fabric to dry without wringing it out. b) Dissolve 50 grams of zinc sulfate in 20 to 22 liters of cold water, add a quarter pound of sodium carbonate and stir well. Then add 5 to 7 grams of tartaric acid, soak the fabric in this alkaline solution for 24 hours, and hang to dry without wringing it out. c) Dissolve 60 grams of lead(II) acetate in 1 liter of water. Also add 60 grams of aluminum sulfate to 1 liter of water. Mix both solutions together. By slowly pouring into a second container, the solid precipitate that forms is removed. The fabric is painted with this alkaline solution until it is well soaked through. Then the cloth is hung to dry.

“Zeltbau” also includes advice for waterproofing footwear.

One part paraffin mixed with 10 parts gasoline or 150 grams of mutton fat, 45 grams of wax and 30 grams of resin in a half liter of boiling linseed oil (boil the latter in a water bath!), mix all well and rub in to boots or other leather. Rub in vigorously to soles and uppers, knead it and work it with the ball of the hand. The most important thing is to rub it well into the seams (in particular between the sole and the upper).

Was tent canvas waterproof from the factory? Wehrmacht issue Zeltbahn shelter quarters were treated with a chemical called Persistol, which made the canvas water repellent, but not waterproof. The major factor in staying dry under canvas is perhaps more likely to have been the tightly woven nature of the canvas itself, and the way the fibers react to being soaked with water. “Zeltbau” cautioned readers, “in rainy weather, nobody should touch the tent fabric from the inside, otherwise it will nastily rain inside. It can potentially make it like sitting under a shower!”

How waterproof were Zeltbahn tents in the reality of war? Leon Degrelle, in his memoir “Campaign in Russia,” offered his perspective.

Our tents were made of little triangular canvases, slit in the middle, which served individual troops as ponchos. To erect a tent, one had to combine four of these canvases, staking them over an area of about two by two meters. But four canvases meant four men, so we had to sleep four in a tent in a tiny space, as well as shelter a full kit there.

To complicate matters further, the tent had to be taken down during the day so that everyone could have his poncho back to cover himself.

We had neither straw nor dry leaves to stretch out on, nothing except the drenched soil. The storm howled the whole night. We were right at the summit of the mountain. The torrents of rain, hail and snow could carry off our habitations at any instant. The water streamed in, penetrating holes punctured at a dozen places in canvases that had seen a year and a half of service, drenching our faces. Men cried out against the tempest. Their tent-shelters bowled over, soaked to the skin, they struggled and swore.

Printed name label for gas mask

It was common for the inside of the gas mask canister to have a simple paper label on the anti-fog lens insert compartment, with the name of the soldier typed or hand written. These small typewritten labels are perhaps the most typical wartime style. For more information about how uniforms and equipment were marked with names, see this article.

Here is an example of a pre-printed label being used for this purpose. You can see that the unit is printed on the label here. Presumably, these unit-specific labels were printed at Bataillon level, for use by every Kompanie.

You can see that the old unit designation of this unit is crossed out and the new one inked in. This designation changed in April 1940. This can was made in 1942, so the obsolete labels remained in use for at least 2 years after the designation changed.

Note that the last line is for “number of the can” which is the unique number assigned by the gas protection NCO to keep track of the unit’s masks. The number of the can is not the ID disk number, the Soldbuch number, the Feldpost number or anything else. Typically this number would be painted on the outside of the can. Here are a few original examples.

I made a reproduction of this printed label with a dotted line for the unit so you can stamp, write or type any unit desired and use it for your own can as part of your living history impression. Here is a link.

Ten Rules for the Field Cook

The following is translated from “Die Feldküchengerichte” by Dr. W. Zieglmayer, 1941. These directions are for people assigned to cook food for military units, using field kitchens. Many of these basic principles apply to any kind of field cooking, or even making period recipes at home.

  1. Portion sizes indicated in the recipes are the maximum amount.
    Cook only the required amount!
    Be frugal with the amount of fat you use.
    Reason: Help to save!
  2. Make the most of all foodstuffs. Avoid excessive waste when cleaning vegetables and peeling potatoes. Vigorously boil down bones, tendons, woody vegetable parts and stems. Make skillful use of every remaining usable part.
    Reason: Fight against waste!
  3. Foodstuffs, whenever possible, should be kept whole, then immediately before preparation they should be quickly but thoroughly washed!
    Reason: Water leaches out nutrients!
  4. Whenever possible, fresh meat should be cooked in 2 to 3 kilogram pieces in the kettle until done, then stored in available containers (such as food carriers). Potatoes, vegetables etc. should then be cooked in the meat broth until done. Finally, cut the meat into portions on a cutting board, keep the cut portions warm in food carriers and serve the meat portions individually.
    Reason: The soldier wants to see meat!
  5. Dried foodstuffs (potatoes, vegetables, fruits) should be soaked in available containers for 3 hours, legumes for even longer! Don’t discard the soaking water, use it for cooking!
    Reason: Greater productivity, shorter cooking time, no loss of nutrients!
  6. In a tightly covered kettle, only cook until done, not longer!
    Reason: Tastier food, shorter cook time, no “boiled to death,” no “straw flavor”!
  7. Stir the kettle sparingly!
    Reason: Otherwise it’s always mush!
  8. Cook field meals thick, not soupy!
    Reason: A lot of water means it’s less filling!
  9. Cook meals together with fresh food (potatoes, vegetables, herbs), even in the smallest amounts from the field and garden!
    Reason: Fresh food promotes health!
  10. Cook with care and consideration! Season it well!
    Reason: Good meals promote the energy of the troops!

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.

Rutabaga recipes from wartime Germany

The rutabaga is an interesting and often misunderstood food. It’s a natural cross between cabbage and turnip, cultivated in Europe since the 17th century. The role of this vegetable in 20th century history is sometimes clouded by issues of terminology. English-speaking history buffs may be familiar with the “Turnip Winter” of 1916-17, a time of great hunger and hardship for the German civilian population. And people may also have read that the first Halloween jack-o’-lanterns were turnips, carved to resemble faces, in parts of Ireland and Scotland. But I think many would be surprised to learn that the first jack-o’-lanterns were probably rutabagas rather than turnips, and that the crop that sustained the Germans during that terrible “turnip” winter was also the rutabaga.

Part of this confusion comes from the fact that rutabagas have different names in different parts of the English-speaking world. In many Commonwealth countries they are called swedes or turnips, but in Scotland they are called neeps. Rutabaga is said to be the most common term in the USA, though my family in Massachusetts always called them turnips, and the name yellow turnip is also used. My local supermarkets call them rutabagas or wax turnips. Even when they are labeled as rutabagas, the cash register rings them up as “Rutabaga (Turnip).”

Rutabagas at the supermarket

It also does not help that there are many regional German names for this vegetable. Steckrüben is the most common term for these, but they are also called Kohlrüben except in Austria where this word may be used for kohlrabi. Rutabagas can also be called by other names including Runkerüben and Wruken.

The rutabaga is an extremely versatile crop. It can be used for animal fodder or for human consumption. It can spend all winter in the ground, and can be harvested at any time from fall through the spring. In cold storage, rutabagas remain fresh for months. The greens of the plant are also edible, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

It was not only during WWI that this crop was relied on in a time of hunger. In the food shortages at the end of WWII, and later, many Germans turned to the rutabaga for nourishment; they were strategically planted during the war to feed people in difficult times. The rutabaga has been indelibly linked to famine and conflict in the twentieth century. And that is really a shame. Rutabagas are delicious, with a robust savory flavor that is balanced by a delicate sweetness. They are also very nutritious, high in antioxidants and vitamins.

Raw rutabaga, peeled, sliced and ready to cook

Let’s look at some wartime German recipes for rutabaga. In early October, 1941, the 281. Sicherungs-Division distributed a list of tested and approved recipes for preparing vegetables that were widely available in their area of operations (the northern sector of the Eastern Front). The recipes were for corn, pumpkins, and rutabaga. These recipes were intended to be used by the units and kitchens of the Division. Here are the rutabaga recipes.

Rutabaga as a vegetable dish

The rutabagas are to be peeled, washed, chopped and boiled in salt water, then mixed with a roux, and seasoned with pepper. This is sufficient as a vegetable side dish for all meat dishes.

Rutabaga as a stew

The rutabagas are to be peeled, briefly washed, chopped, and boiled in broth or water with beef or pork. This is to be thickened with a roux, or by stirring in flour, or, alternatively, with potatoes. At the end, season them with salt or pepper.

Salted rutabaga

This recipe, which is completely new and largely unknown to the troops, is intended for the troops particularly in the winter months, during which most cases of vitamin deficiency arise. The units can prepare from this large supplies for the winter time. For mobile and fighting troops, this may not always be possible due to time constraints and transportation difficulties. As a result, this preparation style should predominantly be considered during rest periods. The rutabagas are to be peeled and washed, and using a vegetable slicer, finely shredded, and then salted in casks, just as cabbage is salted to make sauerkraut. After 6-8 weeks the distribution and use of this vegetable can begin.

Schmorbraten with rutabaga

“Die Feldküchengerichte” (The Field Kitchen Recipes) was a book of field kitchen style recipes that were adapted from the 1941 German Army cookbook for use on the home front. This book contains suggestions as well as recipes for cooking rutabagas. Rutabagas are said to be particularly well suited for use in stews, and also as a vegetable dish on their own. Boiled or steamed, they can be used in salads. Caraway seeds are good with rutabaga, and should be added at the start of the cook time. Basil, too, can be used, though this should be added to the dish when it is almost ready. It is noted that rutabaga can be included in a diet to reach requirements for Vitamin C intake.

A basic vegetable stew recipe from the book is as follows: Place fresh, pickled, or smoked meat in boiling water. To this, add 600 grams of fresh vegetables or 30 grams dried vegetables, and 750 grams of fresh potatoes or 75 grams of dried potatoes, and cook until done. Season this with salt, onions cooked together with the stew, and fresh herbs, chopped, and added to the finished dish. Two variations of this basic recipe are given that use rutabaga. To make rutabaga and potato stew, use 800 grams of rutabaga and 500 grams of potatoes, and cook this together with marjoram. To make a stew with rutabaga, noodles and pickles, use 600 grams of rutabaga and 75 grams of noodles. Cook and rinse the noodles, then add them to the rutabagas, and mix chopped pickles in at the end.

The “Tornisterlexikon für Frontsoldaten” says that turnips and rutabagas can simply be peeled, chopped, and boiled in water with a little salt for about 2 hours, until soft, and that this recipe is good with fatty meat.

Bratklopfe with rutabaga as a side dish

It’s my experience that the delicious and nutritious rutabaga is extremely well-suited to simple, hearty meals of the type often prepared for soldiers in WWII. It can be used together with, or in place of, other root vegetables, in virtually any dish. Generally, the rutabagas available at American supermarkets are coated with a food-safe wax that keeps them from drying out. They will last a very long time in the fridge and they are easy to transport and store in field settings as well. I regard rutabaga as a severely underrated food.

Match boxes from occupied Ukraine – reproduction label

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

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

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

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

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

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