Saturday, June 18, 2016

Razors used by German soldiers in WWII, and current production equivalents

     What kind of razors were German soldiers issued in WWII? It's a trick question. Soldiers had to supply their own razors. They could bring them or have them sent from home, or they could buy razors- but the razors made available to them to buy were the same commercial products available to civilians. Many dealers will offer "Wehrmacht issue" razors, this is an inaccurate sales pitch as there simply never was any such thing. Purportedly original razor packaging that says "Wehrmacht Rasierapparat" or "Einheitsrasierapparate für Heereslazarette" is, simply, fake. Shaving soap was issued; razors were not. Soldiers in Germany and in occupied countries, civilians, even concentration camp inmates all used the same razors.
    Here are three razors that were actually used by German soldiers during WWII. All three were excavated from remains of former German positions. Two are brass that once had a silver-colored plating, now mostly gone after decades underground. The Bakelite razor is marked "Made in France." None are marked with a brand name.
      Here are some other period type Bakelite razors. One is also made in France, as was the excavated example; the others are German. None of the German ones are marked.
     Razors like these were available complete with Bakelite cases, but most were sold in simple cardboard boxes which would presumably be discarded.
     The "Apollo" brand razor shown is still marked with the original price- 1.50 Reichsmarks. That's about ten US dollars today.
     An interesting type of wartime-era German Bakelite razor is the "slant." The top part of the razor was not exactly perpendicular to the handle, but was set as an angle. This was advertised as a feature that supposedly yielded better results than the usual type. The degree of slant varied, as you can see. The example at left was made by Merkur.
     Just as with standard Bakelite razors, these were sold with matching Bakelite cases, or in cardboard boxes.
     I have seen it stated elsewhere that all WWII German produced razors were Bakelite as metal was reserved exclusively for strategic purposes. That's not true. Here is a selection of wartime type metal razors. Most are made from a zinc alloy sometimes referred to as "Kriegsmetall"- war metal.
     A plated zinc razor in its original box.
     Razors were also available in various types of travel kits. Shown here, a leatherette case, circa 1930s, and a collapsible razor in a tiny metal box, exact vintage unknown.
     Inside:
     One particular type of razor that seems to have been widely used by soldiers and civilians alike during and before WWII was the Mond-Extra, made by Rotbart. This razor was made of plated brass.
     Rotbart advertised heavily in publications intended for soldiers. Here is an ad for razor blades in a 1940 issue of the German armed forces magazine "Die Wehrmacht."
     The Rotbart Mond-Extra razor was available in a cardboard box, an enameled tin box, or a Bakelite case.
     Rotbart also made various types of travel kits for razors including the Mond-Extra.
     The leather case opens to reveal a razor, Bakelite tubes for a shaving brush and shaving soap, and a booklet about how to shave. There is even a mirror inside the lid. This kit is vintage 1930s.
     A German soldier could have used any of these types of razors depending on personal preference or availability. Double edged safety razors in the same style are still made in Germany today by Merkur, one of the companies that was making razors before and during the war. Here are two current Merkur products: the Merkur 45, made of Bakelite, and the Merkur 33c, made of plated brass.
     The similarity between the Merkur 33c and the Rotbart Mond-Extra is remarkable and certainly not a coincidence. This is a classic, useful design.
     The Merkur 45 Bakelite razor also fits in nicely with its WWII-period counterparts.
     These modern Merkur razors are still in production and widely available as of this writing. Both retail for around $30 or less and hey both are fine razors for shaving.
     Of course, a decent shave requires more than a razor alone. German soldiers were issued soap to shave with. The shaving soap sticks were rectangular and each bar was stamped with a code assigned by the "Reichsstelle für industrielle Fettversorgung." Here is an original package of 10 bars of issue type shaving soap.






     These ceramic hones were used to sharpen razor blades to prolong their life. These were excavated from former German positions on what was once the Eastern Front. These would have been private purchase rather than issue items.
     Soldiers also had to fend for themselves when it came to shaving mirrors. Here, a soldier shaves with a small, round pocket mirror.
     A selection of wartime era pocket mirrors with military themes.
     With some creativity, it is not hard to put together a convincing representation of a WWII German soldier's shaving kit using modern items, that can actually be used today. Shown below is a careful recreation of a kit that could have been used by a soldier in the field. The razor is a modern Merkur 33c, everything else is reproduction- the shaving mirror and leatherette case, the RIF-marked soap bar, the razor blade packaging. All fits inside a wooden box with a reproduction Camembert cheese label.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Field expedient stove for Zeltbahn tent


Article by Willi Graf.

Staying warm in cold weather, especially during winter nights, is a problem as old as mankind. For winter deployments, we often struggled with ways to heat our 8-panel Zelt (in a period-correct way). A short clip in a wartime German Wochenschau newsreel film provided an answer. In this clip, a Wehrmacht-issue "Jerry can" fuel container was shown inside a Kübelwagen. The can had been modified into a stove, to provide warmth. Here are screen captures from the film.

Here, the stove’s exhaust pipe, emitting smoke, can be seen sticking out of the side of the vehicle. The next photos show a soldier removing ash from the modified "Jerry can."


This was something we knew we could replicate for our 8-man zelt tent. The photos below provide a detailed explanation of our project.

-The first step was turning a Jerry can into the main body of a stove. The font of the can had to be cut out, and replaced with a fabricated hinged door. A latch was also included to keep the door shut.


-Internally, a “grill” had to be made, to allow for ash to fall away from the fire itself.  This can also be seen in the first photo above.

-On the rear side, another smaller door had to be created to allow for both ventilation/air circulation, and to provide a means of removing smaller ash that fell to the bottom. A latch was also included on this door.


-Next was creating sectional exhaust pipes, with a flue, that exited the mouth of the Jerry can.
-An obvious concern was burning the zelt where the pipe exited the tent. The pipe can get very hot, and we needed a way to prevent contact between the zelt panels, and the pipe itself. Creating a fiberglass insulator and support panel solved this problem. No part of the zelt comes in contact with the hot exhaust pipe. We needed to tie up the sides of the zelt, because we could not button it together anymore (e.g. where the pipe exited the tent).

-At the top of the pipe we added a spark arrestor (to prevent sparks from flying out), and support cables to keep the whole thing from falling over. The cables are staked into the ground. 

-The stove has to be elevated off the ground to keep any ground surface from burning. A few bricks solve that problem (as can be seen in above photos).

-Because the stove, and stove door, is small, wood must be cut up into small pieces to fit inside it. Sawing wood with our period saw provides for a great, and essential, period activity to any immersion event we do; there is indeed much more to being a field solider than just combat.

The stove is amazingly effective. Using straw and wool blankets as bedding, we have spent nights sleeping quite comfortably when outside temperatures plunged down to 20 degrees (-7 Celsius). The only down side is that because the stove is small, it very frequently requires fuel to keep it going.   

Thursday, April 14, 2016

WWII German Wehrmacht unit designations and abbreviations- a basic primer for reenactment

     WWII German unit designations can be hard for reenactors and reenactment units to fully understand. They are very different from the American military designations that many are familiar with. They are in a foreign language, and many references use English translations instead of the original German terms. Many different abbreviations were sometimes used for the same term, making it challenging to identify which form is most common or typical. It is possible to be an experienced reenactor and amateur historian and still not really have a grip on the correct designation of the unit one is portraying. To that end, I hope that this basic primer will be of some use. 
    Why is this important? Nearly every reenactment group uses a military unit designation to identify itself. This designation is part of the "brand" of a reenactment unit. Facebook pages and web sites will bear these designations, as will camp or barracks signage at reenactment events. An incorrectly rendered designation not only can be embarrassing to a unit trying its best, but it is an authenticity issue, as well.
     The good news is that identifying the correct unit designation, and abbreviating it correctly, is not terribly difficult. The Wehrmacht was a force of millions of men, in thousands and thousands of different units, so possible unit designations and abbreviations are nearly infinite. But nearly all reenactment groups portray the same types of units (largely ground combat units, mostly Heer and Waffen-SS) and the designations for these typical units are easy to identify and describe.
     Let's start at the beginning, at the most basic level. One soldier. In most units, he is in a squad- a Gruppe. Squads are grouped usually into a platoon- a Zug. These are generally really not important from a unit designation perspective. The next level, though, is important. A number of platoons would form a Kompanie (in Artillerie units, a Batterie; in Kavellerie units, a Schwadron). The Kompanie is extremely important for the reenactor. In nearly all units, this Kompanie designation would be in every soldier's Soldbuch, the identity document every soldier carried. The soldier would know what Kompanie he was in. The Kompanie is designated by an Arabic numeral, for example: 3. Kompanie, abbreviated 3. Kp. 
    The Kompanien (plural of Kompanie) would be grouped into a Bataillon. This is designated by a Roman numeral: I. Bataillon, abbreviated I. Btl. For nearly all unit designations, the Bataillon designation is not only unnecessary, but altogether superfluous and would not be used. The reason for this is that the Kompanien were numbered sequentially in a Regiment and assigned in a regular way to a Bataillon. In a regular Infanterie-Regiment, generally speaking, 1.-4. Kp. would be I. Bataillon, 5.-8. Kp. would be II. Bataillon, 9.-12. Kp. would be III. Bataillon. So if you are in 1. Kompanie you would never need to indicate that you were in I. Bataillon because 1. Kp. is always in I. Btl. and there is no 1. Kp. in any other Bataillon in the Regiment. In general, the only time Bataillon needs to be included in a unit designation is when the unit being portrayed is a Bataillon staff. Reenactors get this wrong very often. 
      With Bataillon being superfluous, the next thing that is important after Kompanie is the designation of the Regiment, Abteilung, or, sometimes, independent Bataillon (depending on unit type). This is usually a numbered unit and the number comes after the unit type: always Artillerie-Regiment 3 or Pionier-Bataillon 3, never 3. Artillerie-Regiment or 3. Pionier-Bataillon. This part of the designation is crucial. It is most important. This part of the designation is, in virtually all cases, what determines what unit insignia a reenactor wears. The Waffenfarbe branch color worn on insignia is determined by the Regiment or Abteilung. Before the use of unit numbers on insignia was abolished, the number of the Regiment or Abteilung is what would be worn on the shoulder straps.     
     The next level up from that is the Division. This aspect of structure is of almost no importance at all unless you are portraying a Divisional staff. The reason for this is that the number of the Regiment or Abteilung is unique and only used once in the entire armed forces. There was only one Panzer-Regiment 6, for example. There would be no need to say "3. Panzer-Division, Regiment 6" because there was only one Panzer-Regiment 6 in the whole Army and it happened to be in 3. Panzer-Division. In any other Panzer-Division, each Regiment also had its own unique number, used only once. The designation of the Regiment or Abteilung makes the use of the Division designation totally superfluous. It would not be included because it didn't matter. A designation like "3. Panzer Div. Nachrichten-Abteilung" for a signals unit in a Panzer division is totally wrong. It is missing the important unique number designation (39, in this particular case) and it is including the Division which is superfluous and shouldn't be included. The correct designation for this unit is, simply: Nachrichten-Abteilung 39. The fact that it happens to be attached to a Panzer-Division, not some other kind of Division, is unimportant and has no impact on the unit designation.
     With that out of the way, we can get down to the nitty-gritty of what the unit designation looks like and how it can be abbreviated. The designation of the unit we portray is:


3. Kompanie, Sicherungs-Regiment 195 
abbreviated as: 
3. Kp., Sich.-Rgt. 195 
or more simply- and more typically:
 3./Sich. Rgt. 195

     Do you see the slash in that second abbreviation? That is something that seems to trip people up all the time. It's not the Division, not the Regiment. The number before the slash is the Kompanie, or the Bataillon. How to know which is which? Kompanie is Arabic numeral, Bataillon is Roman numeral. 3./Sich.-Rgt. 195 was one Kompanie in I./Sich.-Rgt. 195. Please note also that if you are using the abbreviation "Kp." for Kompanie, you don't also use the slash. 3. Kp./Sich.-Rgt. 195 would not be correct, even if it is not inconceivable that even some wartime Germans might have made that mistake. And don't use the slash in any other way.     That's basically it. A Kompanie in a Pionier unit might be 2./Pionier-Bataillon 22, a Schwadron in an Aufklärung unit could be 2./Aufklärungs-Abteilung 207. Note that the umlaut is a really important part of spelling, it's not Aufklarung, or Jager. If you can't type the umlaut you have to put an "e" after the vowel that is supposed to have the umlaut: Jaeger. 
     Lastly, a note about Waffen-SS designations. These will always have "SS" as part of the unit designation to differentiate from Heer units, for example, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25, or 3./SS-Flak-Abteilung 17. And as much as reenactors love the Divisional identifier worn on the cuff title, it really doesn't belong in the unit designation. Some SS units had their own special names, for example SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 6 "Theodor Eicke" or SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 "Deutschland." But most units did not have these names as part of the designation. A soldier in the 5. SS-Panzer-Division "Wiking" might have worn a "Wiking"cuff title if he was not in one of the units in the division with a special name, but it would not have been part of the unit designation- the Panzer unit of "Wiking" was just plain old SS-Panzer-Regiment 5. And a designation like "1. SS" simply makes no sense.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The things one may have carried

Author: Markhard Brünner

I will begin this article by stating that I do not claim to be an expert or authority on German personal items of the second world war. I consider myself to be a guy with fairly decent attention to detail, and someone who is passionate about the material culture of the period. In this article I would like to give the reenactor a bit of a cerebral experience. Personal items are just that, personal. In this article I will share my own approach to personal kit. I invite you to comb through your things the next time you pack, and question what you are bringing, and why.

For the sake of simplicity I will restrict this article to the most common denominator- the German infantry soldier from Germany. I portray a second line infantryman. I began my service as a light towed artillery soldier whose battery was destroyed by rocket counter fire in Russia, 1942. As a disclaimer: the static nature of my impression allows more creature comforts than should be carried by a regular line infantryman. I am not going into captured items or items picked up on the battlefield. Each reenactor is the master of his own impression and may agree or disagree with my approach and conclusions.

Below is an exploded view of the contents of my trouser pockets. Among them, you will find a variety of identity documents and tags that have been issued to me, and a small field post paper chess game that has seen better days. A few Marks in pocket money, a few photos of friends from the past. Handkerchief, my pipe, tobacco pouch, a small tool for cleaning it, and a lighter.
Everything packed up in its configuration to go into my pockets. I use a handkerchief from back home, and keep the army ones with my rucksack. The army issued ones are scratchy and I don't like using them, but I will remain accountable for everything in my clothing issue.
The contents of my Feldbluse pockets. These things are items I feel important enough to have with me all the time. I have my sewing kit, some ammunition, a battery. A small flashlight that is handy for finding things in the dark, some earplugs to retain what is left of my hearing after the Russian artillery took most of it. Ointment, a comb, my knife, keys, and some writing instruments.
Rucksack contents. Everything in here is only useful to me when I am bedding down for the night or when I am need to do some maintenance/hygiene. In here you will find my hygiene kit, some bathing soap, my leather care gear, spare socks, some extra food and tobacco, my Esbit stove and some candles.
All of these items have been chosen by me to best represent a German soldier utilizing German items. There are some items that are not present. Handy civilian items that have been picked up in foreign lands are obviously a real thing, this is impression/scenario based and, if used correctly, can greatly enhance an impression. For captured/ acquired items, I focus on consumables- things that you use and throw away. Cigarettes, tobacco, matches, and food are small items that can broaden your vignette portrayal of a German soldier in foreign lands. But you can never go wrong with the German standard. 

I choose not to go overboard with carrying around food. You received your rations, you ate them, and continued with your day. Why carry around something that you could have enjoyed and not lugged around? How long will you carry that chocolate bar?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Public "battles" in living history


Sicherungs-Regiment 195 focuses mostly on immersion events, where we try to recreate the daily mundane life of WWII German security troops. We also attend living history events where we interact with the public. Although we are not educators, we try to share what we have learned with people interested in the time period. Participating in living history events allows other history enthusiasts to see and handle the equipment we use, and we try to craft interactions that have some educational value. For instance, a recreated field office can lead to a discussion about the importance of bureaucracy in a totalitarian regime. Further, as Sicherung troops, our under-equipped, stripped-down approach often serves as a stark counterpoint to other more sprawling displays which may offer plenty of "eye candy," but little sense of how field soldiers of the era actually lived.

Public battles, though, are a different story. Simply put, our unit does not participate in them. Ever. We will not perform mock battles as part of any "edutainment" scheme. It is our view that public battles can never be realistic, and that they do history a disservice by presenting a sanitized and glorified caricature of combat. Promoters who claim that the public can see what WWII looked like, by watching a public battle, are simply being dishonest. Spectators, who walk away from these spectacles believing that they have seen something realistic, have unfortunately been misled. WWII combat was not something that was suited for spectators, and can not be adapted for “edutainment” without an overwhelming vast compromise that destroys any attempt at historical integrity. The result is, at best, a clumsy cartoon; at worst, public battles put a glorious shine on mass violence and loss of life of an enormous scale. If a realistic depiction of a WWII battle could be created, any spectators would probably run away screaming, and certainly would not be offering up applause at the battle’s end. Individual members of our unit may have different personal views, and may choose to participate in public battles, with other units for their own reasons. But Sicherungs-Regiment 195 has chosen not to support public battles as a unit. Our policy is to focus on more productive, positive, realistic and educational efforts when interacting with spectators.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Gruppe as Feldwach

     In our portrayal of security troops, our main activity in the field is setting up a Feldwach, a guard outpost. Generally, we guard important roads or other targets that could be subject to sabotage or attack by partisans. What follows is a translation from the German Army manual H.Dv. 130/2a, "Ausbildungsvorschrift für die Infanterie, Heft 2a: Die Schützenkompanie," from 1942. This material is intended for rifle squads in a regular Infantry unit, no doubt there were differences in how the Feldwach was set up by undermanned, underequipped security forces in the rear. But the general principles of how such outposts were to be arranged likely still applied, and we attempt to conform to these principles whenever possible, though we are limited by our lack of manpower and equipment.

The Gruppe as Feldwach

     The Feldwach when serving as a forward post is often in Gruppe strength [squad strength, 8-10 men]. It can also be formed with stronger security forces.
     The Gruppe as Feldwache helps protect resting troops from surprise or attack by the enemy.  They prevent breakthroughs of enemy scout troops. Thrusts of motorized enemy forces, especially armored forces, are defended against.
     If no other orders are given, the position must be defended.
     The Gruppe as Feldwach is always reinforced by anti-tank weapons, and often by heavy machine guns, light or heavy mortars, and/or Infantry engineers.
     They are generally equipped with flare pistols, a bicycle for a messenger, hand grenades, and armor-piercing ammunition in drum magazines.
     They can be supplied with entrenching tools, materials for obstacles, Tornister [field packs] and rations.
     At night, in weather conditions with poor visibility, in terrain that offers limited observation, and when the enemy is near, the number of Feldwachen is increased. The terrain between Feldwachen is observed by scout patrols.
     The position must be chosen so that good observation and fields of fire can be achieved. Mostly, the position lies along a road or another path.  The possibilities of movement for enemy armored forces or vehicles must be considered. Proximity to terrain obstacles or use of terrain that is unsafe for tanks is to be strived for.
     Construction of a battle-ready roadblock on the road to be secured increases possibilities for defense. This roadblock must be dominated by the fire of weapons, especially anti-tank weapons, and it must be able to be defended.
     The position, when possible, must be chosen so that it is concealed. A concealed path that leads to the securing troops makes it easier for messengers and for reinforcement in case of enemy attack.
     The Gruppe must know their task. This includes the field of fire, the location of strongpoints, and the time to open fire.
     The Gruppenführer [squad leader] sets the Gruppe up in such a way that the field of fire is controlled by their weapons. For this purpose the Gruppenführer stays with the light machine gun. He arranges the rifle positions on one or both sides of the machine gun.
     The Gruppe strongpoint is made up of multiple foxholes. They should not extend over more than 30 meters. Each foxhole is occupied by 2 or 3 riflemen.
     The foxholes are irregularly staggered, 4 to 8 meters apart depending on depth. As a further step they can be connected by shallow trenches, or connecting trenches.
     If the machine gun has the task of firing at long ranges, it should fire whenever possible from one or more alternate positions. Concealed paths between alternate positions are a prerequisite.
     If no enemy activity is expected during construction of the positions, and if time is available, ongoing reconnaissance and preparation can go ahead of the construction.
     The construction is mostly limited by camouflaging and arrangement of the position and by the construction of a battle-ready roadblock.
     For observation of terrain on which an enemy would approach, for local protection of the roadblock and of anti-tank weapons as well as for their own security, the Gruppenführer can set up one or more guard posts in strengths of 1 to 3 men, depending on situation and terrain.
     The remaining members of the Gruppe, after the position is constructed, remain battle-ready in the defensive positions. If the situation allows, they can take cover in the rear of the defensive positions.
     During the day, the guard must observe the terrain over which an enemy would approach and especially the roads leading to the enemy and the areas between them. He himself must stay out of sight of the enemy.
     Occupation of high ground is advantageous for observation and listening. At night, and in weather conditions with poor visibility, the guards mostly remain in immediate proximity to a road or other path.
     The guard is equipped with binoculars and a method for signaling, and often also with a machine pistol.
     Smoking can be permitted. It is recommended that the guard sit or lie down if possible.

 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Formation of a distant outpost of Sicherungs-Regiment 195

We are honored to announce the formation of "Sicherungs Regiment 195 im Süden", another Sicherungs Regiment 195 “outpost” in the Pennsylvania area.

When we formed Sicherungs Regiment 195, we sought to break the standard mold of what it meant to be a “reenacting” unit. We do not have unit dues, we do not have any attendance policy. Going to our events does not lead to awards and rank promotions in our group, we want members to attend purely because they want to be there. Our members are free to also belong to whatever other units they may please. We are amateur historians looking to create an authentic portrayal together, that alone drives everything that we do. All we ask of our members is that they do what they can, to help achieve our goal. Our membership policy is different than that of most other reenactment units, but it mirrors, in a way, the historical reality of the type of unit that we portray.

Sicherung units, especially on the Ostfront, were often composed of small, remote, outposts separated from each other by huge swaths of land. While they may indeed have been under the same overall command structure, local conditions, local command, supply, orders, numbers, landscape, weather, needs, partisan activity, etc. could vastly fluctuate from one outpost to the next. We surmised that if any other Sicherung units were to form in the reenactment community, that we could reflect this wartime reality of remote, distant outposts within the present day. This is exactly what we are now doing, as we welcome Sicherungs Regiment 195 im Süden into our family. This “remote outpost” will be run by the local commander. He is free to command his outpost as he sees fit. We do not impose conditions on him, how the outpost is run is at the discretion of the commander and his men. However, we will all be functioning as part of the same overall unit impression. We will be sharing historical research, photos, event AARs, Feldpost, and other zoney, period-based activity with each other. All of this is done with our aim to push the hobby into new, progressive, innovative approaches. Sicherungs Regiment 195 is not one, single, reenacting unit. We hope eventually to be a collective of outposts that dot the countryside. Each post will be run according to its own local need and situation, yet all working towards the same goal: expanding the hobby well beyond powder-burn tacticals.

This approach entails some risk. Traditionally, most reenactment units have competed with each other for members or for prestige. Units zealously protect their unit identities and gnash their teeth when another unit adopts a similar portrayal. The reality, though, is that none of us own history. None of us served in the real-world military formations that we seek to recreate. We believe that a cooperative approach will pay dividends and we are open to others, in whatever region, who want to be a part of the unit impression we are crafting.

Imagine an event scenario jointly crafted by a number of outposts. At the same time, each outpost takes to the field. Each outpost plays its part in the larger scenario. Perhaps there is some limited contact between the widely separated outposts during the event. At the end, the various outposts share photos, compare what happened and begin to plan for the next joint endeavor. The combined experience helps make the next event even better. We believe that this vision could become reality, with time.

If you are in the Pennsylvania area, and are interested in becoming a part of a unique approach to living history, please contact Sicherungs Regiment 195 im Süden via this link.