Original photos of Zeltbahn tents and shelters

The Zeltbahn was the individual shelter quarter used by German military and paramilitary organizations prior to and during WWII. It was a canvas panel that could be buttoned to others to construct various kinds of tents and shelters, and it could also be worn as a poncho. These unpublished private snapshot photos show various configurations of shelters made with the Zeltbahn. These photos are rich with detail, not only regarding the tents but also specifics of uniform, camp furniture, footwear, and camouflage, as well as rations and other aspects of daily life in the field. These photos range from the 1930s through WWII, and show personnel of Wehrmacht branches and also the Reichsarbeitsdienst. The photos in this gallery are from the collection of Chris Pittman and Günther Baumann and have been scanned and posted at a high resolution to enable study of the various details. The captions, in cases where there are captions, are from inscriptions on the backs of the original photos.

Baking bread in the mess kit

This recipe comes from “Tornister-Lexikon für den Frontsoldaten” by Gerhard Bönicke, published by the Wehrmacht in 1943.

“In a pinch, bread can be baked in the mess kit. Mix 2 mess kit lids of flour (about 540 grams) with a half mess kit lid of cold water, a packet of baking powder [about 16 grams] and a half a teaspoon of salt. Knead it all together well, and form a roll that is as long as a mess kit lying flat. Roll the roll of dough in flour. Lay it flat in the mess kit and put the lid on. Carry it flat to the fire, and lay it flat in glowing wood coals or a burned down camp fire. Cover with hot ash, and allow to bake for 90 minutes. Test it with a wood sliver to see if it is done. Allow the bread to cool, and remove it from the mess kit. Do not eat until the bread has cooled.”

Bekleidungssack 31 – German Army clothing bags

The simple bag known to militaria collectors as the “Bekleidungssack 31,” and listed in Wehrmacht-era German Army documents simply as a “Bekleidungssack” (Clothing bag), was part of the equipment issued to German Army soldiers to store and transport their gear, along with the bread bag and Tornister or Rucksack. These were used to hold clothing that was not being worn, such as extra underwear, the issue work uniform, sweaters, or any other clothing not presently needed. These were purportedly introduced in 1931, and certainly were in use from the prewar period through the end of the war- and indeed, many of these practical bags continued to be used by POWs and later by civilians, for decades after the war; no doubt some are still in use even in our present time. As is typical with Wehrmacht field gear items, these underwent a number of changes and evolved over time.

Looking at issue records in original Soldbuch ID documents, it is common to see one Bekleidungssack issued. Some soldiers got two, while others never were issued any.

Here is a selection of original German Army clothing bags that date from the 1930s through the end of WWII. You will note a range of materials, colors and color shades.

This is a textbook early bag. It features sturdy gray canvas, brown leather, and aluminum buckles.

Here is another early one. This one is made of green canvas and has many repairs.

The “B36” under the flap indicates acceptance at the Berlin depot in 1936.

When I got this bag it had a handful of old straw inside. It likely was still used after WWII and the repairs could be postwar repairs done with surplus material, which was often all that was available in the difficult time right after the end of the war. A section of Zeltbahn shelter quarter was used, that still bears the maker marking and 1935 date from the Zeltbahn that donated the fabric for the repair.

This early clothing bag went through the military mail system as a parcel. The front is addressed to an officer’s home address. It’s marked “Feldpost” for military mail.

The other side of the bag retains the original paper mailing label with typed address as well as the Feldpost number stamp of the sending unit, acting as a postmark. This bag has many neatly done repairs, both hand darned and machine sewn. It can be impossible to say when repairs were done, but the fact that this fragile paper label has survived suggests that this bag wasn’t used much after being mailed; the repairs are likely wartime done.

These bags have the leather reinforcement like prewar bags but these are from the early wartime period. The leather is black, and the roller buckles are steel, rather than aluminum.

Later on, the leather reinforcement was omitted. These are later war bags. The bag on the left below has a black painted steel buckle. The bag on the right has an even later buckle- steel, with no roller, and apparently galvanized.

The bag on the right above is marked inside with an illegible stamp that appears to have been a RB number maker code. The thick cotton canvas of the prewar period has been replaced here with a thin and coarsely woven fabric, perhaps linen or hemp, or a blend.

Here is another later bag. The closure straps and carrying handle here are made of parts of internal suspenders, a component of the German Army field blouse until 1942. The appearance of integral supports in the field blouse in 1942 and later made these internal suspenders obsolete, and surplus inventory was recycled by the Germans in a variety of ways.

This wartime bag is made of blue fabric. This writer has found no evidence for Luftwaffe use of this clothing bag style. The color may indicate use by the Polizei, or by another organization, or perhaps this is simply a German Army bag made of blue canvas.

This bag was modified, presumably after the war, by affixing a pair of shoulder straps taken from a Tornister pack to turn it into a small backpack, likely for a child. It’s an interesting example showing how things were modified and used in the difficult shortages of the postwar years, when production of civilian goods had been curtailed for years, and new goods may not have been available.

German pot roast (Schmorbraten) from a Wehrmacht recipe, prepared in the field

In a previous post we shared a recipe for German style pot roast, from a Wehrmacht cookbook. I wanted to try to cook this over a fire using types of cookware that might have been available to Wehrmacht soldiers. The original recipe is deliberately vague and open to interpretation, as is common for Wehrmacht recipes; they had to be flexible, as what ingredients were locally available could vary from place to place, and from time to time. I altered the recipe slightly based on traditional German Schmorbraten recipes, and what ingredients were readily available for me. The dish was easy to prepare and absolutely delicious.

I started with a chuck roast. I tied it with a string so that it would stay in one piece during cooking. I seasoned it with salt and pepper.

In a frying pan, I seared the meat in a little oil on high heat on both sides, until it was well-browned.

I removed the meat from the pan, and set it aside in a pot. In the same pan I used for the meat, I fried some onions until translucent.

I then added chopped root vegetables to the pan. I used potatoes, carrots and parsnips, as those were what was available in my area.

After the vegetables had browned up a bit, I added some flour, constantly stirring, until the vegetable pieces were lightly coated with flour. The purpose of this is to thicken the sauce into a rich, thick gravy as the roast cooks.

After this, I put the vegetables in the pot on top of the meat. I used a little red wine to de-glaze the pan. The roasted bits from the bottom of the pan add a lot of flavor to the gravy.

I poured the wine into the pot over the vegetables and meat and added water to cover all of the ingredients, and put the pot over a hot fire to bring the water to a boil.

To season the broth, I added a couple of cubes of beef bullion, as well as bay leaves, whole allspice, and caraway seeds. The photo illustrates the amount of spices I used.

After the pot came to a boil, cooking was just a matter of maintaining a simmer over a low heat, and occasionally stirring.

I simmered the roast for three hours, after which the meat was absolutely fork tender, falling apart. No knife needed.

The flavor of the meat was fantastic, the gravy thick and rich. Hearty and nourishing- pure comfort food.

Might Wehrmacht soldiers have access to the meat and other ingredients for this meal? It would depend on where they were, and the local situation, but there is abundant documentation for soldiers obtaining foodstuffs and making meals when they could, to supplement their rations. This drawing, made by a German soldier, shows soldiers shopping from locals in Poland in 1939.

Planning a reenactment event based on historical documentation – a case study

To illustrate how we plan reenactment events based on historical documentation, I will use the example of an event we hosted in Bethel, Maine, in August 2020. The chosen historical scenario for the event was the struggle between 281. Sicherungs-Division and the 2nd Leningrad Partisan Brigade in northwest Russia (near the towns of Iasski and Kholm), August 1942. The scenario was chosen in part based on the easy availability of historical documentation pertaining to the events. Some of the combat actions between these two units are the focus of the Osprey book “Soviet Partisan versus German Security Soldier” which was published in 2019, and this book was recommended reading for all participants prior to the event. In addition, the war diary of the 281. Sich. Div. from this time is available free online as a scanned NARA microfilm roll (T315 R1871) and we were able to use this source for extremely detailed information. We chose a specific scenario that was a good match for the climate, terrain and setting at the site where the event would be held. We also chose to represent actions that would be well-suited for an event with a very small number of participants.

What follows is from the event primer, made available to all participants a month before the event.

“What we will be portraying, specifically, will be the forest outside the town of Woronzowo, August 22, 1942.

Background: The terrain in north-western Russia features dense forests, lakes, and marshland, and is very difficult to traverse in any season. Between July and December 1941, a “Leningrad Partisan Zone” in the area of Lake Polisto grows to a strength of over 1,000 men. These partisans inflict significant casualties in the German rear area units of Army Group North. In response to this growing threat, the Germans undertake a series of anti-partisan operations in August and September 1942. These operations have varying degrees of success, but by the end of September the Leningrad Partisan Zone has been destroyed. In the days prior to August 22 there were numerous encounters between German troops and Partisans in the area of operations of the 281. Sich. Div.:
-August 18: One action results in 2 dead partisans and the capture by the Germans of 1 light machine gun and 2 rifles. A scout troop encounters a band of 100 partisans. A factory is burned down by partisans. German units push into partisan controlled territory.
-August 19: Germans chase a Partisan group that had waged a hand grenade battle against local security forces. A Partisan headquarters with 150 men is reportedly plundering the area.
-August 20: Constant movement of small partisan groups is observed, larger partisan groups are reported. A clash between a German scout troop and 50 partisans results in 3 dead on each side. Local security does battle with partisans, with 6 partisans killed (2 of them women). One of the local security troops is killed, another defects to the partisans. A German force of over 200 men with 3 Flak guns undertakes an offensive operation against a band reported to have 120-150 partisans.
-August 21: Hundreds of partisans surround local security forces. The German offensive of the previous day was not successful. Despite being surrounded, the Partisans slipped away.
-August 22: a fight between German Polizei troops and partisans results in 8 dead partisans, 8 wounded Germans. Partisans attack and partially burn down an industrial building. Small partisan groups are reported.

Soviet overview: In 1941, the 2nd Leningrad Partisan Brigade was very irregularly equipped, but that was changing in 1942. By this stage of the war they were being supervised by an increasing number of officers and other uniformed personnel sent from Soviet lines. Entire detachments were sent by the Red Army, tasked with committing acts of sabotage and diversion. By August 1942 the Partisans were made up of Red Army troops who escaped POW camps or encirclement, mobilized young people from the area, and Red Army detachments. Weapons and equipment were being flown in, airdropped, or brought from Soviet lines. The numbers of light and heavy machine guns as well as mortars were increasing at this time. Soviet participants at this event will be portraying a small Partisan force recently separated from a larger band, having been pushed into a new area by German offensives. You know much larger German forces are active somewhere in the vicinity.

German overview: Sicherungs-Bataillon 869 has just arrived in the town of Woronzowo. Partisan activity in this sector is constant. Our Bataillon is stretched thin, our tiny force has been ordered to establish an outpost outside the town. The size and strength of Partisan bands in this forest is unknown. But we know they are there.

IMPORTANT FOR BOTH SIDES: This forest is vast and unfamiliar. The only thing you know about it for sure is that it is extremely dangerous. Your movements will be dictated by your command. You must obey all orders exactly. If you get separated or lost- you are as good as dead. Expect to remain close to roads and trails. Neither side has the capability for offensive actions of any scale, nor the ability to conduct a sustained defense.”

In addition to this event primer, specific uniform guidelines for German participants were also published well before the event, as well as logistical information about accommodations, food and water:

“-Uniform: We will be wearing the Drillichanzug (HBT uniform). Jackets should be the 2 pocket green M40 style without breast eagle/collar tabs/shoulder straps (rank insignia only). Trousers could be M40 or M42 pattern.
-Equipment: We are going for a fairly uniform look. The belt should be set up with bread bag, canteen, mess kit, bayonet, gas mask canister, and 2 K98 style ammunition pouches. Bayonet can be German or Czech (German preferred). Entrenching tool in carrier is optional. Y-straps should not be worn. Use of a bread bag strap to support the weight of the suspenders (if desired) is preferred.
-Headgear: M34 field cap without soutache, single decal M35 or M40 helmet. Mosquito nets are encouraged.
-Weapon: K98 or Czech VZ24 (K98 preferred)
-Footwear: if you have jackboots, wear them. Low boots only permitted if that’s all you have.

Tentage: We will be erecting a communal tent in which everyone can sleep. Bedding is on you. One or two blankets and/or an overcoat should suffice. No pillows or mattresses of any kind. If you desire, you can bring your own Zeltbahn tent and sleep in it. This is an authenticity compromise but will create the appearance of a larger outpost that will be occupied by more troops “coming later.”

Water: Bring one gallon of water and keep it in your car as a reserve in case we need this.

Food: There will be one communal meal on Saturday. All other meals are on you. Ideas for stuff to bring include unsliced bread, cheese or salami wrapped in wax paper, food in unlabeled cans/jars. You can fit quite a bit of food in your mess kit.

Forbidden: Anything modern, M43 anything. This is a 1942 scenario. Tropical equipment is not authorized. Taking of digital photos should be kept to a minimum. Be discrete or take photos at times when we are not in time travel mode.

Historical note on the use of Czech weapons: This soldier was in the unit we will be portraying, he was initially trained on Czech weapons and later on the K98. https://festung.net/wehrpass-of-a-gefreiter-in…/

The guidelines were illustrated with this wartime image representative of the desired look for this event.

Uniform and equipment standards for partisans at the event were left to the discretion of the Soviet Partisan reenactment group that hosted and helped to organize the event, the 3rd Partisan Brigade.

Signage related to partisans, the unit we were portraying, and the area of the scenario, was created in advance and installed at the site, as a form of visual prop to help set the stage.

The tent erected at the site consisted of Zeltbahn shelter quarters. The communal meal prepared for the event was Szegediner Gulasch, based on this Wehrmacht recipe, and was prepared on site with period style equipment.

The event was a success. Total participation was 10 people, with 8 portraying German Army soldiers and 2 portraying Soviet partisans. These images from the event were taken with cameras from that era.

Wehrpass of Schütze Willy Krinscher, Sicherungs-Regiment 113

This man’s name was Willy Krinscher.

This was his Wehrpass.

He was born in 1904 in the north German town of Burg, near Magdeburg. He was married.

He was drafted in June, 1942, when he was 37, he was drafted. His initial training was in Landesschützen-Ersatz-Bataillon 11, in Hildesheim. He swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, as was mandatory for all servicemen in the German armed forces.

He was trained on the Gewehr 98 rifle.

This page in Krinscher’s Wehrpass shows the military units to which he was assigned during WWII.

Krinscher’s initial training lasted almost exactly two months. He was then assigned to a field replacement unit, during which time he was transported to his first field unit. On August 31, 1942, Krinscher was assigned to 1. Kompanie, Sicherungs-Regiment 113. This unit was at this time assigned to the 285. Sicherungs-Division, engaged in anti-partisan activities in the northern sector of occupied Russia, in the rear area of Army Group North. In October, 1942, Krinscher’s bataillon was redesignated as III. Bataillon, Sicherungs-Regiment 113, and he would remain in this unit, in Russia until the beginning of February 1943.

During Krinscher’s time in Russia with the 285. Sicherungs-Division, the unit was extremely active in combating the Soviet partisan movement. The war diary of the 285. Sich. Div. is not extremely specific about the day-to-day activities of Krinscher’s particular Kompanie during the time he was there, but enough information was recorded to give an idea of his activities. For example, in September 1942, the area of the Division was threatened by multiple partisan bands that ranged in strength from 100 to 300 men. The important railway lines in the sector were being blown up almost daily by enemy parachutists with explosives. The Division was ordered to destroy these partisan units starting on September 15. As part of this action, the 1. Kompanie, Sich, Btl. 972, of which Krinscher was a part, and based at that time in Lsi, was tasked with performing reconnaissance on the road between Nikolajewo and Malyy Utorgosch, in order to establish the location of partisans that had used this road to move to the northeast. Some parts of the Kompanie were to be deployed to the area of Lug, to prevent partisans from escaping into the swamps north of Swad. Following this action, on September 24, Krinscher’s Kompanie was assigned to Feldkommandantur 189, to be used as needed. Feldkommandantur 189 was at this time itself subject to a constant series of partisan attacks, and was organizing countermeasures. In the five days between September 26 and September 30, Feldkommandantur 189 dispatched 3 large detachments tasked with pursuing and destroying partisan bands that were said to number between 30 and 100 men each. Three attempts to blow up railway lines were prevented in this time, with explosives being captured; one such incident resulted in a brief firefight, after which the partisans fled into the woods. Four locals, of whom three were women, were executed in this period for aiding partisans.

On October 26, 1942, Krinscher’s Bataillon was redesignated, becoming the III. Bataillon of Sicherungs-Regiment 113, still active in Russia. He remained with Sich. Rgt. 113 until the beginning of February, 1943, at which time he was sent back to Germany, to Landesschützen Ersatz und Ausbildings Bataillon 6. An entry in the Wehrpass notes that Krinscher had participated in the “Campaign Against Soviet Russia” from August 31, 1942 to February 1, 1943. He earned no awards and never got any rank promotions.

It’s not clear why Krinscher was sent back to Germany. The units he was with after December 1942 don’t seem to have made the standard entries in the Wehrpass, which is not unusual. It’s likely that he had become sick in the bitter winter of northern Russia. In September 1942, Krinscher was discharged from the Wehrmacht for medical reasons. He had issues with both lungs, and was no longer deemed fit for medical service. He had spent about 15 months in the German Army, had been deployed for five months, and never did get any rank promotion.

Captured weapons in the 281. Sich. Div., May 1941

In May, 1941, the I. Generalstabsoffizier of the 281. Sicherungs Division supplied this detailed inventory of all of the captured weapons in the Landesschützen and supply units of the Division, to the deputy Generalkommando of the II. Armeekorps.

It was noted that no ammunition was available for distribution for the French “Unique” pistols. Replacement of these pistols with weapons of other calibers was urgently requested.

Basic kit issue to one soldier, as recorded in the Soldbuch

The items that a soldier was issued are listed in the Soldbuch. Generally speaking, basic clothing and equipment items are recorded on pages 6 and 7 and special equipment such as weapons and gas protection equipment are recorded on pages 8a-8d.

Scans of Soldbücher for nearly any unit (or at least unit type) can be readily found online, including on this very web site. If you can read these words, you can find this documentation online. There is no need to speculate about what a soldier was issued, what kind of boots he might have had or how many of each item, etc. The documentation for this is readily available and may be surprising as it often contradicts reenactor myth. The Soldbuch will not list what exact model of tunic or field cap was issued but educated guesses can be made based on other extant documentation.

One of the units that we portray for living history is Sicherungs-Regiment 195. An entry in a Soldbuch from this Regiment shows the following issue of basic clothing and equipment on pages 6-7, dated June 1943:

1 helmet
1 field cap
1 field blouse
1 sweater
1 pair of trousers
2 collar binds
2 pairs of underwear
2 shirts
3 pairs of socks
2 pairs of low boots
1 clothing bag
3 greatcoat straps
2 ammunition pouches
1 ID disk
2 hand towels
3 handkerchiefs
1 folding fork/spoon
1 pair suspenders
1 wool blanket
1 pair of gloves
1 toque
1 sewing bag
2 mess kit accessories (illegible)
1 greatcoat
1 Tornister
1 mess kit
1 Zeltbahn with accessories
1 belt
1 bread bag with strap
1 canteen
1 HBT uniform
1 pair gaiters

This photo shows this full scale of issue (minus the illegible entry). I’m not sure what an issue sewing bag might have looked like so I included a private purchase type “Kameradenhilfe” sewing kit. The relevant Soldbuch pages are also shown. This soldier also had a gas mask, and a French rifle and bayonet, recorded on pages 8a-8d. He had a Soldbuch too, of course, which is the source for this information.

Reproduction First and Second Pattern German Army HBT Uniforms

The German Army introduced a new model of HBT uniform in 1933. This uniform was called the “Drillichanzug,” literally HBT uniform (“Drillich” is the German word for herringbone twill fabric). It was made of undyed fabric, and was a two-piece uniform, with a simple unlined jacket with 2 lower patch pockets, and straight-legged trousers. In 1940, this uniform was replaced with a green dyed uniform in the same style. In 1942, this uniform was again updated. The two-pocket jacket was replaced with a four-pocket version, made very similar to the wool field blouse, and issued with insignia. The straight-leg pants were replaced with a new pattern that had a fastener at the cuffs. There was also a work uniform, called the Arbeitsanzug, in a different cut, made of blue fabric.

There are many misconceptions about the issue and use of German Army HBT uniforms. These are outside the scope of this article and we will publish something on this uniform, from a historical perspective, at a different time. This article is about reproductions of the first and second pattern (white and green two-pocket) HBT uniforms, from a reenactment perspective.

Original Uniform Color and Material

Looking at original photos showing the first pattern, undyed unifoms, and also at surviving original examples, a huge variety of shades and tones can be seen. It’s likely that some of this is a result of soiling and laundering. It’s possible that when new, the undyed fabric all had an off-white “oatmeal” tone, and that through repeated cleanings, was bleached white, perhaps to then become off-white again, from soiling. This is speculation. The fact is that in reality, these things, were, and are, in a range of shades. This photo of Reichsarbeitsdienst men wearing their version of this uniform in this undyed fabric illustrates this fact.

The green HBT material also varied. German fabric manufacturers were not able to standardize color shades for the millions of wartime uniform and equipment items manufactured, it was no different with the HBT. This photo shows original wartime wool uniforms with scraps of the green HBT material used as reinforcement under the collar. This is a protected place, and while some of the visible differences could be due to wear and laundering, I believe most of the evident differences are a product of manufacturer variation. Some is more smooth and fine, some more rough and coarse, the relative size and appearance of the “stripes” woven in the fabric is different from one to the next. As one would expect, there is a wide range of variation in this fabric.

I have no way to determine the fiber composition of original uniforms. Wehrmacht HBT fabric was purportedly made of linen, but I have no wartime or prewar source that states this explicitly. Whether any may have been made from blended fiber, or cotton, I can’t say. Manufacturers of reproductions make various claims about the fiber content of their fabrics but I have no way to verify this. I also have no insight on the extent to which modern Asian linen fiber may vary from wartime or prewar European flax-derived linen, if these are the same or not. I can say that it is possible to find wartime fabric with more or less sheen, or that feels more soft or rough, etc.

Issues with reproductions

Reproductions will always differ from originals in some way. It is the same with these uniforms. Some of these issues are easily remedied and some are not.

One pattern error that exists with two-pocket HBT jackets from various manufacturers is an issue with the front placket. On originals, the front edge, on the buttonhole side, is cut straight, with the edge parallel to the buttonholes, so that the front edge when worn is straight and in line with the row of buttons. Many reproductions use a placket like that on the wool field blouse, which is slanted, with the edge getting closer to the button row as it moves from the collar to the skirt. This photo illustrates this issue. On the left, an original jacket with straight, vertical placket, and on the right, a reenactor wearing a reproduction jacket, with a slanted, diagonal placket edge. Look how close the edge is to the lowest button and how far it is from the top button; that’s the problem. This can be fixed with a sewing machine by carefully unstitching the edge, folding it to be straight (trimming near the top as needed), ironing or tacking the edge in place and stitching it with a sewing machine.

Another common issue with many reproductions is the use of overlock stitching. Overlock stitching existed in WWII and was used by Wehrmacht suppliers mostly on knit items. It is unlikely this stitching was ever used on these HBT uniforms. Most manufacturers of reproductions use this stitching style on parts of the inside of the uniforms. It is not visible on the exterior. This photos shows overlock stitching inside a jacket and a pair of trousers from two different suppliers of reproductions.

For a reason I cannot explain, some makers of reproductions include two internal lower pockets. I have never seen an original two-pocket HBT tunic with internal pockets.

Original uniforms that I have seen, had hooks and eyes at the collars, for fastening the collar, in the style of the wool field blouse. Some makers omit these details.

A perspective on reproduction HBT uniforms

In the reality of the Wehrmacht, the HBT uniform was not a glamorous thing. It was worn for training, for work details, and in the field. Generally speaking, it was not adorned with fancy insignia or awards. A reenactor, who is using this thing in the manner in which it was intended, may not particularly care about small details, that may not be visible when the garment is worn, on a uniform that is likely to become heavily soiled, stained, damaged, repaired, and perhaps, eventually, replaced. Small details may not affect how realistic the uniform feels when it is worn. Other reenactors may hold every item they use, regardless of how it is used, or how soldiers viewed the item, to the highest possible standard, and may seek out custom manufacturers who can manufacture bespoke items in fabrics as close as possible to the original, using exclusively period correct construction techniques. It is my hope that the information offered here may be of use to any reenactor interested in purchasing one of these uniforms, from any supplier and at any price point, regardless of their personal, subjective perspective.

Because these uniforms are perhaps not as evocative of the WWII Wehrmacht soldier as other uniform types in the minds of collectors, and perhaps because of their often simple and plain nature, they are less sought-after by collectors, and therefore less expensive. It is my personal opinion that wearing originals in the way in which they were originally intended, will inevitably cause damage to these collectible historic objects, and that this is at odds with a desire to preserve history. I would only ever wear a reproduction and would only allow reproductions to be used in my reenactment group.

Challenges of evaluating reproductions, and a disclaimer

A challenge of evaluating reproduction items is the fact that suppliers will have items made in different runs and possibly from different manufacturers at different times. These uniforms have been reproduced by various suppliers for perhaps 15 years, maybe more. A uniform purchased from one supplier today may be totally different from one sold by the same vendor a year ago. In fact, depending on the vendor, you may order a uniform in one size, and the same uniform in a different size, and get items made by different manufacturers at different times. The information in this article is the information that I have. It is the information I would give to members of my reenactment group looking to buy one of these, and if possible, I will update it, if things change. It should not be regarded as a final, authoritative word. I have not exhaustively studied every variant of original that might possibly exist.

Comparisons of original fabric with reproduction fabric used for uniforms from various suppliers

This is the part of the article where I will finally discuss who actually makes and sells these uniforms and where one can get them.

Here are some photos I took in 2019 showing reproduction uniform parts compared to original fabric. The uniforms sold by these vendors in 2019 and before may or may not use the same fabric as uniforms sold by these vendors today. My camera may capture colors differently from how I see them, and colors may look different on different monitors. It’s my opinion that, generally speaking, the available reproduction fabrics, visually, appear to fall within the original range.

This photo compares a fragment of an original Wehrmacht HBT uniform, to fabrics used by At the Front, Hikishop, Gavin Militaria, and Hessen Antique.

All of these images show reproduction fabric compared to two original samples: the uniform fragment shown above, and an original undyed first pattern jacket (click to enlarge).

Where to buy these?

Note: I am not evaluating the buttons as these are easily changed. The pebbled buttons on the original jackets were removable for laundering, affixed with S-rings.

At the Front offer only the green, second pattern tunic. At the time of writing, the size availability is limited. It’s my opinion that these are as good or better as any reproduction of these that has been made. I strongly recommend these to members of my group if they are available in a suitable size. The rear inside seam uses the selvedge edge of the fabric which is correct (most other makers use overlock stitching here). The attention to detail with these is superb.

Hessen Antique stocks both the green and white tunic and trousers. These are quality reproductions, made of a durable, sturdy fabric that wears beautifully over time. The colors of the items are within the original range, the green will fade nicely from sun exposure. The jackets do have the (fixable) placket error, and overlock stitching is used inside. I regard these as very usable if the placket is fixed.

Hiki also sells white and green pants and tops. The green uniforms are in a grayish shade that I do not believe is incorrect. The jackets have the placket issue, and internal pockets. I bought a pair of green pants from them and a small hanging loop that is supposed to be on the inside waist in the rear was sewn to the outside. It was an easy fix. They do have the oveerlock stitching. The white trousers shown on their web site are a fantasy item, a later pattern, not correct.

Gavin sells the white and green tunic and trousers. The second pattern items use a bright green material that does not fade. I do not believe the color is incorrect. The fabric is linen or a blend, with a nice sheen when new. The jacket in the photo on their site has the correct front placket, and no internal pockets. It does have the overlock stitching, as do the trousers. The fabric is fairly thin and, in my opinion and experience, not as durable as that used by ATF, Hessen or Hiki, but it is thicker than that used by Epic.

Epic Militaria sells the first pattern jacket and trousers, mislabeled as a “workers” uniform. This same product was also previously sold by Zib Militaria. The jacket has a correct placket, but is missing the collar hook and eye (easily added). The material is very thin, almost shirt weight, and not likely to stand up to extended, heavy use.

Military Harbor is the newest maker of these, as far as I am aware. The white and green tunic and trousers are offered. A friend bought the white set and raved about the quality of the material, which he regards as fantastic. The jacket uses modern overlock stitching inside, and has internal pockets, as well as provisions for shoulder boards, which should not be there. I have not handled the HBT uniforms from this maker myself.

My personal, subjective buying recommendations

White tunic: if you can fix the placket, or know someone who can, or if you don’t care about this, get it from Hessen. It’s a sturdy fabric, a nice reproduction, cheaper than Military Harbor. Otherwise, if you can’t fix the placket, order from Gavin.

White trousers: Hessen, Gavin or Military Harbor

Green tunic: ATF if possible, otherwise Hessen or Gavin.

Green trousers: Hessen, otherwise Hiki if you want a grayish-green, Gavin for bright green. I haven’t handled the green HBT from Military Harbor.

Shoe care during the rainy season

From “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg,” 1942

  1. The troops are to be instructed that well-maintained and well-cared-for footwear in the wet period is important for good health.
    Boot inspections are to be conducted as often as possible, as far as the battle situation allows, to check that expert shoe care is being carried out.
  2. Water from melted snow soaks quickly through shoe leather and attacks the leather and particularly the thread at the seams of the footwear. Because leather is not quite waterproof, it needs to be treated in such a way that a level of water resistance can be achieved. For this reason, thorough care of footwear is particularly important during the snow melt. The following guidelines are to be observed.

I. Leather footwear

  1. Small damages are to be fixed as soon as possible, as damages in leather soaked with snow melt water will soon become bigger.
  2. Worn-out hobnails should not be removed, because the resulting holes will make the soles water-permeable. Nail new hobnails next to the old ones.
  3. Soles are not to be worn so much, that the long sole is damaged.
  4. Wet footwear is to be changed as soon as possible (put on low boots!), wipe out the interior of footwear with rags, stuff with paper, straw or other moisture-absorbent materials. Footwear is to be allowed to gently dry in a slightly warm place only. The wetter the shoe, the greater the danger of making the leather brittle by drying it out quickly in a hot place, by an oven or open fire.
  5. Clean footwear of dirt daily with brushes or rags. Lightly grease the upper to the ankle level, then vigorously rub in the leather fat with a rag or, even better, with the heel of your hand. Warmed fat soaks better into the leather. But never use too much fat, so that it soaks through the leather and soils your socks and feet. However, you need to generously spread fat into the crease between the upper and the sole, to make this waterproof. (See illustration)
  6. Once a week thoroughly clean footwear of dirt and any adhered dried leather fat or other shoe care product, by washing it with lukewarm water, allowing it to dry and treating the upper as described above. Greasing the shaft of the boot once a week is sufficient.
  7. Using leather fat keeps shoe leather soft. Shoe cream alone makes upper leather hard and brittle, and clogs the pores of the leather, trapping the moisture created by the feet inside the boot, promoting frostbite.
  8. Material for impregnating the soles, as long as it can be delivered, makes the soles waterproof and more durable.
    How to use: clean the soles, then apply the substance and let dry. Repeat this process until the sole will not absorb any more of the substance. Do this once or twice per month. This sole impregnation material is only for leather soles, never for rubber soles or upper leather.

II. Rubber boots

  1. Rubber boots and rubber overboots have to be treated particularly well, in light of the raw material situation. They are not to be worn on road marches.
  2. Clean with a soft rag and with cold or lukewarm water, never with hot water, oil or gasoline. Don’t use anything sharp to scrape off dirt! To dry, hang somewhere with slight heat, never on or over a stove.
  3. Fix damaged areas by gluing on rubber patches with rubber cement.

III. Felt boots

  1. Felt boots can no longer be worn, when the snow becomes watery. Wet felt boots no longer offer any insulation to the feet. The evaporation of the moisture in the felt in the upper part of the boot will strip the feet of their warmth many times, which can cause frostbite even in mildly cold temperatures.
    In consideration of the leather parts and leather or rubber soles, dry felt boots only in a slightly warm place!