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.

German Army uniform wool specifications, 1939

These new specifications for German Army uniform fabrics were printed in the trade publication “Uniformen-Markt” on May 1, 1939.

The fabric for the Feldgrau field blouse is specified as 20 percent rayon, 80 percent virgin wool. Trousers were to be made from fabric consisting of 10 percent rayon, 90 percent virgin wool. Overcoat fabric was specified as 25 percent rayon, 65 percent virgin wool and 10 percent recycled wool. All of these fabrics for tunics, trousers and overcoats are specified as “A/B” fineness, which was a measure of the thickness of the yarn used to construct the fabric. The Blaudunkelgrün (“bottle green,” literally “blue dark green”) fabric used for collars and Waffenrock cuffs was a finer fabric, “AA” fineness, 90 percent virgin wool, 10 percent noil (“Kämmlinge,” the short fibers removed during the combing process in spinning yarn). Badge cloth used for insignia was 25 percent rayon, 60 percent virgin wool, 15 percent noil, “AA” fineness.

Having handled uniforms from this era of manufacturing, I never noticed any obvious differences in the fabrics used for tunics, trousers or overcoats. Nor did I notice any apparent difference between badge cloth, and the fine bottle green wool used for collars. I do believe that a forensic type analysis of the fibers would show a difference, which may have given the fabrics different properties.

The specifications for uniform fabric did change over the course of the war, as materials shortages necessitated a reduction in quality of uniform fabrics.

Wehrmacht Foot Wraps (Fusslappen)

Foot wraps were a standard issue item in the Wehrmacht. “Fusslappenindianer” (foot wrap Indian) was a common slang term for an infantry soldier.

Foot wraps were very widely issued. A report by the 285. Sicherungs-Division indicates that 1,395 pairs of unserviceable foot wraps were repaired and reissued by their workshops in one year, 1942-43. Fusslappen were one of the standard issue items printed in the list of uniforms and equipment in the second pattern Heer Soldbuch that appeared in 1940. It is normal to see entries showing that they were issued. Here are examples from three books showing issue of socks and foot wraps in various quantities. The column is labeled “Socken/Fusslappen” so in this case an entry of “2/2” would mean the soldier was issued two pairs of socks, and two pairs of foot wraps. These soldiers were issued one or two pairs of foot wraps. Some soldiers were only issued foot wraps. Armored artilleryman Franz Fritsch later recalled, “We weren’t issued socks. We had Fusslappen, a piece of oversized handkerchief put around the feet, army issue, instead of socks. We wrapped it around the foot before putting it in the boot. My family sent socks, thank God, for Fusslappen and socks constantly wore out.”

The September 1942 edition of the German winter war manual “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg” provides this illustration showing how to put on foot wraps.

The manual indicates “foot wraps are warmer than socks.”

What did Wehrmacht issue foot wraps look like? This piece of woven fabric was found in a machine gunner’s tool kit years ago, having been used as a rag. It is similar to postwar East German NVA issue foot wraps, but there are clear differences as well. Use of recycled fibers is evident in the yarn. Could this be a wartime issue foot wrap that was repurposed? It measures about 16 x 13 inches.

These foot wraps were issued to Arbeitsmann Alfred Maletz during his time in the Reichsarbeitsdienst before WWII. Wehrmacht soldiers did use RAD items in some cases. Could prewar Army foot wraps have been the same as this? Each of these foot wraps is marked with the designation of his RAD unit.

These foot wraps are square and measure about 17.5 inches on each side. They are finished on all edges with machine stitching.

The fabric is fairly thick with one soft felted side and one coarse side with a visible weave.

Maletz kept these foot wraps as a souvenir of his time in the RAD, together with other items.

Wehrmacht Toques (Kopfschützer)

The Kopfschützer (toque) was a widely issued item of WWII German winter gear. It was a sort of a knit scarf made in the form of a tube. It looked to the soldiers like something an old lady would wear, and because of this the common slang term for this item was “Oma,” meaning “granny.”

The German winter war manual “Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg” includes the following illustration and instructions for how to wear two of these:

“Two toques can be worn most practically with the following method: Pull the first toque over the head and wear it around the neck. Pull the second toque over the back of the head, so that the ears are covered, and over the forehead down to the eyebrows. Pull the first toque that is around the neck from under to over, so that the back of the head, ears, throat, and chin are covered. Over this the field cap or helmet can be worn.”

Not every soldier was issued two of these and in fact, not every soldier was issued this item at all. The Kopfschützer was among the standard issue items listed on the equipment issue insert of the second pattern Heer Soldbuch that appeared in 1940, so it must have been a widely issued item by that time. We can look at the Soldbuch to see how many of these were issued. Often, it was just one.

Here is a selection of originals. The two on the left are unissued. The others, moth damaged, worn and repaired, were worn by German soldiers on the Eastern Front.

We see here a variety of colors and shades which is typical of all WWII German equipment made of textiles. They were not able to standardize color shades across the millions of items that were produced. Huge numbers of Kopfschützer must have been made. In our article on cleaned, repaired and reissued equipment in one Division in one year, we see that the 285. Sicherungs-Division collected and prepared for reissue 19,160 of these after the winter of 1942/43.

Not only the color but also the yarn size and therefore the thickness of the knit material varies. Some of these are almost as thin as a T-shirt while others feel more substantial.

Other variables on these are the type of stitching used to finish them, and the size. The worn ones that are intact are mostly around 12-13 inches long. The unissued ones are 15 inches long. Perhaps washing shrinks them.

These unissued examples are marked with RB numbers, dating them to 1943 or later. None of the worn examples retain any kind of stamp.

The style of wear depicted in the winter war manual is commonly seen in wartime photos, but not every soldier in every situation chose to wear these items this way. This photograph from the book “Winter Uniforms of the German Army and Luftwaffe in World War II” by Vincent Slegers shows the toque used to cover the entire face up to the eyes in an extreme cold setting.

The Kopfschützer was not the only kind of knit winter item of this type that was issued. Here is another photo from the same book showing a soldier wearing a scarf.

Some of the knit items issued to German soldiers were civilian ones. An account from the 3. Infanterie-Division in Russia in January 1942 recounted, “We had clothed as warmly as was possible. Wrist-warmers, gloves, scarves and mittens in all colors up to bright shiny yellow and red told of their origin of improvised donations from the homeland. But two pair of socks still let the icy cold through the boots. And the eastern wind also blew through the two pairs of underpants until we realized that ordinary newspapers, wrapped around feet and legs, served as excellent insulation. Although a scarf covered forehead and mouth, here and there a Kamerad soon showed white specks on his nose and cheeks.” Wear of civilian knit items with the Army uniform, whether issued or brought or sent from home, was permitted by regulation.

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.”