Potato Gulasch

In wartime Germany, rationing and availability of ingredients required people to change and adapt. It may not have been possible for soldiers or civilians to eat meat every day. In 1942, a new cookbook for vegetarian and low-meat field kitchen dishes was released. The recipes in this field kitchen cookbook were ones that were already in practical use. It was noted that it is easy to make delicious meals with abundant meat, even simply prepared, because the hearty meat juices or drippings form a basis for rich flavor. For meals with vegetarian ingredients, field kitchen cooks were advised to carefully and correctly handle the ingredients before and during preparation, to make proper use of available seasonings and herbs (especially herbs that could be grown in Germany), and to make good, tasty sauces.

The first recipe in the book is one that uses the tasty sauce strategy. It’s for potato Gulasch. Roasting flour, butter and onions together with some tomato paste in the bottom of the pan and then deglazing it with broth creates a richly flavorful coating for the potatoes. The quantity in the recipe is for one person but the book notes that this may be enough for two and indeed, I prepared the one person quantity and got three meals out of it.

Here is the original recipe from “Fleischlose und Fleischarme Feldküchengerichte” by Richard Schielicke, 1942.

“Potato Gulasch

Up to 1000 g potatoes
10 g fat
2 g dehydrated onions
10 g tomato paste or Condimento
10 g flour
0.5 l bone broth or water with seasoning
Season with salt, vinegar, paprika

Lightly brown the flour in the fat, add the onions and roast them together with a very small part of the tomato paste. Add the broth, stir until smooth and boil thoroughly. Peel the potatoes, dice them and slowly cook them in the sauce until done. Season with vinegar, some paprika if available, and the rest of the tomato paste.”

Simple field meals: Potatoes in gravy

Typical German field fare relied heavily on easily prepared meals made with a limited range of ingredients. In many cases, issues with supply and availability of meat mandated the preparation of meals that used little meat, or were vegetarian. The 1942 cookbook “Fleischlose und Fleischarme Feldküchengerichte” (Vegetarian and Low-Meat Field Kitchen Meals) by Richard Schielicke gave tips on how to make hearty meals without relying on large quantities of meat. “Meals prepared with a sufficient quantity of meat, even when simply prepared, have in the hearty meat juices a good flavor basis that meatless and low-meat dishes lack. We must compensate for that, if of course only in part, through proper handling of the ingredients before cooking, better cooking methods, correct and appropriate use of particularly German seasonings, and the use of good, tasty Tunken (gravies).”

The 1941 cookbook “Die Feldküchengerichte” (The Field Kitchen Meals) gives the following instruction on making gravies.

“The basic ingredient is broth, to this is added a thickener, for example a roux (about 8 grams) or grated white bread (about 20 grams per 1/4 liter).
We will differentiate between dark and light gravies.
Light gravies consist of light broth and light roux. Dark gravies consist of dark broth and dark roux.

Gravies with flour as a thickener

a) Light basic gravy
Melt fat, and roast finely chopped onions in this for a short time. Add flour and cook for a few minutes until light yellow, fill with bone broth or meat broth and cook for 20 minutes. The gravy can be improved by the addition of milk.

Variations of light basic gravy:

Herb gravy: add aromatic herbs of all kinds, especially parsley, chervil, chives, also wild herbs.
Dill gravy: add dill
Chive gravy: add chives
Marjoram gravy: add marjoram
Mustard gravy: add mustard
Tomato gravy: add tomato paste or tomato powder
Bechamel sauce: offset the light gravy recipe with one-third milk
Horseradish gravy: Make Bechamel sauce and mix in grated horseradish

b) Dark basic gravy
Melt fat. Add flour and slowly roast until brown, constantly stirring. Add onions and brown for a short time. Fill with dark broth and cook 20 minutes.

Dark broth for filling:

Roast smaller bones with soup vegetables and boil for a few hours. If dark broth is not available, fill with light broth or hot water and improve with yeast extract or seasonings.

Variations of dark basic gravy:

Herb gravy: add herbs, especially marjoram, thyme
Pickle gravy: add pickles and pickle juice
Mustard gravy: add mustard

c) Gravies with grated white bread as a thickener
Cook grated white bread or Zwieback in the broth. In a pinch, it is enough to soak it and stir it into the boiling hot broth.
Flavoring ingredients are as with the light and dark gravies.”

“Die Feldküchengerichte” goes on to provide instructions for “Tunkenkartoffeln” (Gravy potatoes). “Peel boiled potatoes, slice, and heat in one of the light or dark gravies.” The book gives a list of potato meals that can be prepared simply by making the corresponding gravy and heating prepared potatoes in them:

Tomato potatoes
Marjoram potatoes
Herb potatoes
Dill potatoes
Mustard potatoes, etc.

The “Ten Rules for the Field Cook” mandated that field meals were to be cooked thick, not soupy. An ample portion of cooked potatoes in a rich and flavorful sauce is a hearty and filling meal that yields a lot of satisfaction and energy. Even without meat, it is heavy comfort food. Home cooks in wartime were also encouraged to make simple, easily cooked meals like this to save energy for war work, and to be thrifty with raw ingredients in a time of scarcity.

The photo at the start of this article shows potatoes in a light gravy with marjoram. Marjoram was not widely used in the USA until after WWII but it had a long history in Germany where it had over 10 different local common names. “Fleischlose und Fleischarme Feldküchengerichte” says that marjoram is “an excellent seasoning for savory gravies, legume and potato dishes, and the good, old pea soup is unthinkable without it.”

Photos of Landesschützen-Bataillon 716 in Halberstadt 1940

I bought these photos on eBay from one of the various money-hungry unethical ghouls who sadly strips original photo albums and groupings into individual parts. Most of the photos were inscribed by the original owner with “Halberstadt 1940.” The seller indicated the photos depict Landesschützen-Bataillon 716.

Most of the men appear to wear converted Czech uniform tunics. The weapons in the photos are also Czech. 1940 was a critical time for the Wehrmacht supply chain as new waves of divisions were being called up as the war escalated. It was impossible to make enough new uniforms and equipment to supply all the new troops. These captured stocks had to be utilized. The boots, also, are mostly the obsolete Reichswehr model.

The Wehrmacht never was able to get away from using captured and obsolete uniforms, especially in second-line and home front units like Landesschützen troops. I previously posted a 1944 photo album showing converted parade tunics.

Organization of a Landesschützen-Kompanie

We have previously posted an overview of the Wehrmacht unit organizational charts, the KStN. In this overview we looked at the KStN for a Landesschützen-Kompanie. In this article we will look more deeply at the different structures for Landesschützen units in the occupied territories and compare that with the organization of these units inside the Reich.

The April 1942 KStN 4031 for a Landesschützen Kompanie in the “Heimatkriegsgebiet” (Home Front, within the Reich borders) can be found on the WWII Day by Day web site. There were five basic components to the Kompanie, namely a command element, three platoons, and a support element. The Kompanie was commanded by an officer equipped with a bicycle and a pistol. Working for him in the Kompanietrupp were the Hauptfeldwebel, also armed with a pistol, and a staff consisting of 5 messengers on bicycles and 2 clerks. The messengers and clerks were armed with rifles.

The three platoons in the Kompanie were identical. The platoon leader, like the Kompanie commander, had a bicycle and a pistol. He had a staff consisting of a Zugtrupp leader with a rifle, and four messengers, of whom one had a signal trumpet. The messengers were armed with rifles and two of the four had bicycles. There were four squads in each platoon, each with ten men. Each squad was led by a squad leader armed with a rifle. One of the squads had a machine gun team. The machine gun gunner and assistant gunner carried pistols in addition to the machine gun and ammunition, and had a hand cart for the gun. All of the other squad members carried rifles, meaning that in two of three squads, all 10 men carried a rifle.

The Kompanie support and logistics component was the Tross. This consisted of an NCO acting as paymaster, and an NCO in charge of equipment, both armed with rifles. The paymaster had a bicycle. There was also an NCO in charge of clothing, he had no weapon. The Tross also had a wagon drawn by two horses, which was driven by a two-man team, both with rifles.

In our previous KSTN article we looked at this organizational structure for a Landesschützen unit in the occupied West. Let’s look at this again and contrast it with the home front unit described above.

This is KStN 4033, from February 1941. The change in the command element is the presence of a car for the commander, as well as a driver armed with a rifle. There was also initially a horse for the commander, and a person tasked with caring for the horse. In 1943 the horse and caretaker were deleted. The structure of the platoons were exactly the same as described above, with a single machine gun team among the 4 squads. The big changes were in the support element. These units in the occupied territories had to be equipped for field operations if needed. As a result, there had to be a field kitchen, and an enlisted man to cook, with an NCO supervising. There were carts for rations and for luggage, and two horses for each of these carts, with another two horses for the field kitchen. Units that already were equipped with trucks were authorized to keep these. There was a driver for the truck, with the equipment NCO serving as co-driver. 3 enlisted men were tasked with driving the horses. There was also a medical NCO with a bicycle. He carried a pistol. All of the other members of the Tross had rifles.

Here is KStN 4034 from February 1941. This is for a Landesschützen-Kompanie in the occupied East.

These units were at times tasked with occupying large areas and were threatened by partisan activity and enemy breakthroughs. There were a number of changes that reflected this reality. The command element consisted of the Kompanie commander, mounted on a horse, as well as three NCOs- the leader of the Kompanietrupp, a vehicle NCO and an equipment NCO. There were four enlisted messengers, one with a signal trumpet and one who operated a signaling light apparatus. There was a car for the troop, a driver for the car, two cyclists, and a caretaker for the horse. With the exception of the Kompanie commander, who had a pistol, all of these men were armed with rifles.

As before, there were three platoons. Each platoon had a Zugtrupp with one NCO, armed with a pistol, and 3 enlisted messengers, one with a trumpet and one to operate the light signaling system. Each of the four 10-man squads had a leader armed with a pistol. Now, all of the squads had machine guns. The gunner and assistant gunner carried pistols.

The severe logistical challenges faced by units operating in the vastness of the Soviet Union necessitated an expanded support element. The Tross was now three different parts: the Gefechtstross (combat Tross), Verpflegungstross (rations Tross) and Gepäcktross (baggage Tross). The Gefechtstross was led by the Hauptfeldwebel, who had a bicycle. There was a light truck, a combat cart with two horses, and a field kitchen with two horses. The only other NCO was the medical NCO, with a bicycle. Enlisted men served as a clerk (with a bicycle), 4 stretcher bearers, a vehicle driver and a co-driver, 2 drivers for the horses, a weapons NCO assistant, and 2 cooks. The Verpflegungstross was led by the rations NCO, with a bicycle, and had a cart with two horses. Enlisted personnel drove the horses and accompanied the cart. The Gepäcktross was led by the paymaster, again with a bicycle, and there was a cart with two horses for the baggage. There were 2 drivers for the horses, as well as a tailor and a cobbler, all enlisted ranks.

It’s interesting to see the ways that the standard Landesschützen structure was adapted for increasingly challenging deployments. These troops were assigned a huge range of duties.

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
Awards

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.