Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mess Kits- Wehrmacht and Postwar Comparison

I took some photos to compare an original pre-war aluminum Wehrmacht mess kits, with some postwar versions. The most important thing to understand is that there are postwar mess kits that are identical to real ones, as well as some that are very close, and some that are more different.
In the above picture, in the top row, the one on the left is an original pre-war German Wehrmacht mess kit. The one on the right is a postwar Austrian mess kit. It has a postwar maker and date stamp, and the lid of the mess kit is perhaps a fraction of a centimeter taller than the original (although this varies somewhat from maker to maker on originals). Visually, without inspecting the markings, the mess kit itself is indistinguishable from the pre-war Wehrmacht model. The paint is the wrong color. Stripped and repainted, in my opinion, this is perfect for use.

There are two other postwar styles that are identical to the pre-war Wehrmacht kits, that I do not have to show: some 50s dated German ones, some of which were made by some of the same factories that made them for the Wehrmacht; and postwar Romanian issue mess kits.

Back to the group picture, the second row: on the left is a Soviet mess kit from the 50s. This is very nearly identical to the first Wehrmacht model, with two exceptions. I have included photos that show these differences in detail. Firstly, it has three rivets instead of two, holding the handle on to the top part. It also lacks the three small impressed measuring lines that were on the front of the bottom half of the kit. The most common wartime Wehrmacht model also lacked these measuring lines, but these had a steel handle on the top part, instead of the prewar aluminum handle. Original used and issued kits are very often found mismatched, even when they appear to have been used that way during the war; it's not at all implausible that a soldier in the war could have used a wartime "bowl" and a pre-war "lid." There were no Wehrmacht kits with three rivets on the handle; whether or not this difference renders this type unsuitable for reenactment is subjective.

On the right in the group photo, in the second row, is a "Frankenstein" kit put together with a postwar East German NVA bottom, and a postwar West German police lid. The East German kit had a lid with no strap retaining loop, which in my opinion is visually and functionally so different from the Wehrmacht kit to render it unsuitable for reenactment use. The bottom, on the other hand, is very close to the Wehrmacht type. The difference is on the cast attachment fittings for the wire bale. The Wehrmacht type is riveted on with two small rivets. These rivets are not visible on the East German one. The exact size and appearance of the rivets varies on Wehrmacht kits, but they are always there. The top of this "Frankenstein" kit is a from a postwar West German kit. The bottom is in my opinion not suitable for use, and I will show it later, but the top is identical to pre-war Wehrmacht issue, except for the markings. I used to use this "Frankenstein" kit myself, before I found a postwar Austrian one to use.
Of the four types of mess kits previously described, we would allow any of them to be used in Sicherungs-Regiment 195, though we discourage use of original kits as they are historical objects with a collectible value, and we cook with ours over fires and use them at every event; I would cringe to subject an original war relic to that kind of abuse. The mess kits on the bottom row in the group photo have parts that I would not allow to be used in my unit. On the left is a Russian one, a type used from the 50s into at least the 80s (probably even later). This has the aforementioned three rivets on the handle, on the top. On the bottom part of this kit, the attachment fittings for the wire bale are totally different from the Wehrmacht versions. This difference on the bottom part is too obvious for me to regard it as usable. On the right in the bottom row, is the postwar West German police kit lower half. This also has the Russian style bale attachment fittings.
Where to find these? Quantities of postwar Romanian and Austrian mess kits pop up on eBay from time to time. I keep an eye on the various Facebook sales groups where reenactors sell items that are no longer needed, as there are many of these mess kits in circulation. I also look at Soviet buy/sell/trade pages where the Russian ones that I regard as usable (with the German type bale fittings) come up every so often.

Monday, January 7, 2019

WWII German Recipes for Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat groats are a staple grain in Russia. They are healthy and delicious. Where I live, in the USA, there are Russian specialty grocery stores that offer several brands of buckwheat groats.
Wehrmacht personnel fighting on the Eastern Front during WWII had to learn to eat local food that was available, including buckwheat groats. The following recipes were distributed by the supply section of the 281. Sicherungs-Division, in an order dated December 12, 1941.

Buckwheat Groats (Stew) Ration size 100 g

120 g fresh meat
80 g buckwheat groats
125 g fresh vegetables
125 g potatoes
5 g onions
Season with salt

     Trim some fat from the meat, fry it and set it to the side. Dice the meat, fry it, add the finelty chopped onions and fry together for a short time. Add the washed groats, together with water (45 parts water to 1 part groats). Boil for about 1.5 hours. Peel and chop the vegetables, peel the potatoes and slice or dice, add to the pot and cook until done. 
     The finished dish can be seasoned with salt with yeast extract or seasoning, or thickened with soy. 
     The flavor of the stew can be improved by using wurst broth instead of the water.

Fried Dumplings (or "Falscher Hase") Made with Buckwheat Groats 

60 g fresh meat without bones
20 g buckwheat groats
10 g grated Zwieback
10 g whole soy
5 g onions
10 g fat (from supplies or slice from the meat)
Season with salt and pepper or substitute marjoram for the pepper or savory.

     Cook the groats with water (5 parts water to 1 part groats) until you have a firm mass, allow to cool. For meat, take if possible a mixture of half pork ad half beef, and finely grind it in a meat grinder together with the raw onions. 
     Mix the meat and groats together well, add salt, pepper, soy and grated Zwieback as a binder. Marjoram or savory, if used, should be used very carefully. After mixing well, it is recommended to put the mixture through the meat grinder again. The purpose of this is to achieve maximum mixing of the ingredients, which is of particular importance.
     Roll the dumplings (or for "Falscher Hase, the pieces) in grated Zwieback and fry in hot fat.

Bread Spread Using Buckwheat Groats
40 g fresh meat
20 g buckwheat groats
20 g soup greens
10 g sunflower seed oil
5 g onions
Season with salt and pepper

     Cook the groats with water (5 parts water to 1 part groats) until you have a firm mass, allow to cool. For cooked meat, take if possible a mixture of half pork ad half beef, and finely grind it in a meat grinder together with most of the raw onions and soup greens. Mix the meat and groats together well. Fry the rest of the onions in the sunflower seed oil until brown, add to the mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
     If the spread is a little too thick, add some water or sausage broth. The completed mixture yields 120 g.

     The Wehrmacht cookbook "Östliche Speisen nach deutscher Art" has a whole chapter on buckwheat groats:


     Possibilities for use: Buckwheat can be used for soup, porridge, dumplings, risotto, groats, and sweet dishes.
     In addition, buckwheat is a great substitute for potatoes in stews. Cook the buckwheat in the stew 30-40 minutes.
     Buckwheat thickens when it soaks. In general 20-30 g per person is sufficient.
     Buckwheat is a good way to extend ground beef in recipes. 
     In this manner dry buckwheat can be made into a thick porridge: 
     The ratio is 300 g buckwheat to 1 liter water.
     The cooled buckwheat is thoroughly mixed with the ground meat.
     Per person, you need:
          50 g meat
          20 g buckwheat
          65 g water

     Taking into account losses in cooking, it yields about 120 grams.

     Making Grützwurst with Buckwheat
     50 g meat with bones, 20 g dry buckwheat
     Cook the meat until tender. Soak the buckwheat in the broth to make a thick porridge. The ratio is 200 g buckwheat to 1 liter broth. The cooked meat is ground and mixed in with the groats. Season as usual.

Buckwheat Soup 

     Cook 20 g buckwheat and a finely chopped onion in a little fat. Peel and dice a medium potato, finely chop 100 grams vegetables and add them to the fat, cook briefly. Add 1/3 liter water, bring to a boil, add salt, cook until done.

Buckwheat Risotto

     Fry onions in fat, add buckwheat and cook together very briefly. Add liquid (ratio: 3 parts liquid to 1 part groats), bring to a boil, cook on low heat until done. After cooking, mix in some grated cheese or cheese powder.

Buckwheat with Beef or Mutton

     Dice and brown the meat. Add finely chopped onions, up to 100 g buckwheat, 1 teaspoon tomato paste, cook together briefly. Add water (1 part buckwheat to 2 parts water), bring to a boil and cook until done.

Buckwheat Groats with Tomatoes

     Peel and quarter tomatoes and fry in a little fat. Make the buckwheat groats as described above, 10 minutes before being done, add the tomatoes.


     Buckwheat groats with vegetables:  instead of tomatoes, use finely chopped and fried vegetables.
     Buckwheat groats with fried bacon cubes: Mix fried diced bacon into the groats. The bacon could also be sprinkled on the groats when serving.

Buckwheat Dumplings

     Make a mixture of 1 liter buckwheat flour, 30 grams wheat, salt and a little warm milk.  Beat into a thick dough and leave 2 hours in a warm place. Make dumplings using a spoon covered in flour. Drop into boiling salt water, cook uncovered until done. Serve with brown butter or some fried fruit.

Fried Dumplings with Buckwheat

     Stir 1 part buckwheat into 2 parts boiling water. Bring to a boil, cook on low heat until done, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool and put through a meat grinder with 1 small onion. Mix together with ground meat (1 part buckwheat to 1 part meat). Season with salt and pepper, form into dumplings with wet hands, fry in oil.

Fried Buckwheat Cakes

     Soak 75 g buckwheat in 1/4 liter buttermilk to form a thick porridge. Add salt, fried onion, very little garlic, chopped parsley, 50 g flour. Mix all together and add more buttermilk if too thick. Form into little cakes, fry in hot fat. Meant as a side dish to meat dishes, or in a sauce can also be a main course.

Vegetable Stew with Buckwheat 

     Dice meat, brown in hot fat. Add 50 g buckwheat and up to 500 g finely chopped vegetables and fry together briefly. Add 1/2 liter water, bring to a boil, add salt, cook until done. Season.

Sweet Buckwheat Groats 

     Add 1 part buckwheat to 2 parts boiling milk. Add sugar, lemon peel, a little cinnamon, and cook on low heat until done. If too thick, stir in more milk. Serve cool or warm with fruit sauce or fried fruit. Note: Vanilla, vanilla sugar or vanilla powder are also good for seasoning this.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

WWII German Army M43 Tunic Collar and Sleeve Shapes

Comparison photos showing 5 unaltered original enlisted issue wool Heer M43 tunics. This first photo shows the collar and lapel shape. To take these photos I unbuttoned the top button and held the collar open as if it were pressed open. Many differences are readily apparent. Sometimes the collar extends past the lapel, sometimes the lapel is wider than the collar. The relative widths of the collar and the angles of the various shapes are very visibly different.
This photo shows the sleeve shapes. I laid the sleeves as flat as I could to show the shape. They are not all the same. There is a persistent reenactor legend about "curved sleeves." I'm not sure what is meant by that- but see for yourself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Dienstplan - Daily duty plan for Wehrmacht training

The Dienstplan was the daily duty plan. It would change each day, though some parts likely remained more or less constant. Here is an original example. Every German soldier would have been familiar with a schedule like this from his training time.

6:00 Waking
6:20-6:50 Cleaning duty
7:00 Get coffee
7:30-7:50 Early physical exercise
8:00-8:50 Marksmanship practice in stations
9:00-9:50 Instruction in transport matters
10:00-11:00 Formal training
12:00 Distribution of food
14:00-14:50 Hand grenade throwing, distance and accuracy
15:00-15:50 Games and sport
16:00-16:50 Maintenance of [uniform and equipment] items
17:00 Issuance of orders
17:10 Beginning of the evening meal
22:00 Zapfenstreich [curfew]


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

WWII German field blouse button sewing and wool detail

A small sample of wartime enlisted issue tunics were examined to look at the button stitching and wool material, as part of an ongoing study of details of original uniforms. Previous articles in the series:

Wehrmacht Feldbluse Measurements
Internal Suspender Retaining Hooks
Small Buttons on the German Army Field Blouse

These photographs show original factory applied buttons. The thread used to apply the buttons is a thick button thread. The buttons appear to be hand sewn. The thread itself generally has a sheen that likely indicates linen content. The color varies, but is generally within the wide range of "Feldgrau." Some of the thread may have shifted in color with time due to aging of the dyes. There are also variations in the stitching style, with some of them showing thread wrapped around the stitching, parallel to the wool surface; others lack this feature. All of these buttons are on dated garments, the year of manufacture of each field blouse is indicated in the photo.

The photos above also provide some details about the wool nap and weave. For comparative purposes, here are some photos of the wool used for garments dated in different years. The 1943 image only shows one garment, the other photos compare two different field blouses.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Strategies for promoting WWII reenacting using social media

WWII German reenacting needs a certain number of people worldwide for vendors to be willing to supply products that are mass-produced and economical, and for there to be enough people for there to be large events, and events at certain places. The more participants at an event, the more money an organizer (generally) has to make things happen. Those of us who are reenactors should all want to see the numbers in this hobby grow. Even if you view yourself as a super hardcore guy who scorns more laid-back units, the reality is that most reenactors start in mainstream type groups, and these guys are your pool of potential future recruits for the most part (not to say you should ever actively recruit from other units as this is “poaching” and very bad form). The bottom line is that there is no credible argument that less reenactors is better. The more people there are, the more people will be running events and finding event sites and doing the stuff people need to do for the infrastructure of this hobby to exist. A RISING TIDE FLOATS ALL BOATS.

The number of people involved in reenacting is always changing, it goes up and down. Some people are always going to leave due to moves and career changes, divorces or because they simply lose interest. That’s unavoidable. Recently the reenacting hobby has also had to deal with some additional external political pressure, that has certainly caused some people to leave reenacting. Reenactors should be proactive and do what we can to counteract this.

The best way to increase numbers is probably to beat the bushes and find new members for your unit in your local area. But that’s not the only way. It is my belief that it is possible to broadly promote WWII German reenacting as a hobby, via social media. In today’s world, this does entail some risk. Here are the strategies I have been using to do this. Have they worked? I can't prove it, but I think so. I certainly don’t think it has hurt. I think if other reenactors would get on board and use the same or similar tactics it would be much more effective.

My strategy has two basic components:

1. Get great photos at events and share them as widely as possible.

 2. Be an ambassador for the hobby and a public face and point of contact on social media even if your real name and identity are concealed.

1. Photos
Part of the reason why I got into this hobby in 2000 was from one single photo that looked so good. This guy looks super real, and looks like he is having fun.

Look at reenactment photos you think are great. Figure out what you love about them and either take photos like that, or identify a guy in your group who can take the photos. When you are out on the battlefield, or inundated with spectators, you are not going to want to pull out a modern camera or phone. Maybe set aside some time before the event, after you are set up. Or after the public goes home. Or at the end of the event. It doesn't have to take much time to make some great images. Ideally you want to get pictures that showcase not only your group, but the good things about the event site that make it unique and special. If you have a period camera, or if you are in a situation where it won’t destroy the setting if you pull out a digital camera, you can take some in-the-moment candid shots. Most wartime photos, though, were staged or at least posed in some way. A thought out photo is always going to be more impactful than unflattering candid shots of people eating (for example).

Once you’ve got the photos, comb through and select only the best ones. Never post a photo with some modern thing in it and caption it “Apologies for the modern vehicles” or whatever, this is embarrassing and may well end up being shared elsewhere without your explanatory caption. If you can’t crop the farb out, share it with your unit, but not with the world; images should stand on their own merits. Only post around 5 photos maximum on social media at a time. Social media is designed for instant gratification and short attention spans. Most people don’t want to scroll through two dozen pictures of your guys pointing rifles; if you post big sets of photos many people will be overwhelmed or lose interest and the impact is diminished. Sometimes you will only get 3 good pictures from an event. Other times you might get 30. In that case, you need to space out posting these. Post a small batch of around 5 photos each day. Separate them into unique batches that highlight a specific aspect you can talk about. Post the pictures on your reenacting-specific Facebook account if you have one (and you should). There are lots and lots of WWII reenacting and historical discussion groups on Facebook where you can post the photos. Don’t spam these groups, do one post only with a few of the very best photos and a description of the event. Maybe post in one group one day, and make a different post with other photos in a different group a day or two later. You never know where your photos are going to find the one guy on the other side of the world who is going to be so blown away he immediately jumps in with both feet. Your unit should also have a public Facebook page and also maybe a web site. You could also look around and find Internet forums with active memberships where you could post this stuff. Make sure your members are OK with having their photos shared. Some may not be, and that's understandable. There are ways to show people where they are not going to be recognized. Use some creativity. It is always best if you can share any photos without revealing your actual name/identity.

I will often post event photos on social media in a very specific manner that I believe drives interest. As soon as I am set up at a reenactment event I will post one photo that shows some aspect of how we are set up, or where we are. This makes some people wish that they had attended that event or that they were going to some other reenactment at that time. Right after the event, on Sunday, I will post what I feel is the best digital picture that came out of that event. Then, over the next week, I will post the rest of the digital photos, and eventually the film photos, in small batches.

Instagram: You might want to have a personal reenacting Instagram account and one for your unit. I have come to regard Instagram as evil and insidious. Your phone has some way of figuring out what Google/Facebook/Instagram accounts you have and showing your various Instagram accounts to people you interact with elsewhere. A private Instagram account has no promotional value but a public one entails some risk if there is a chance there could be someone who will use this against you. On our unit Instagram we never show any close-up portraits or any photos in which anyone is easily identifiable at a glance. Lots of group shots, photos of the camp, photos taken from behind a marching column, etc.

Facebook or Instagram could delete any profile or group at any time, just for posting historical content related to WWII Germany. Back up stuff you want to keep.

2. Being a hobby ambassador on social media
You want to act as a cheerleader for the hobby, how ever and where ever you can. If you love an event, post on social media about how great it was. Go in the event group page and say what a good time you had. If it’s an annual event, when it is coming around again next year, post a highlight photo from the year before and talk about how great it was. You will be helping to promote the event. Event organizers appreciate this.

If an event sucks, don’t go back. Maybe some other people or groups like it, let them like it. Don’t disparage those events in an attempt to promote the events you do like. It’s a bad look.

Try to find spaces online that are open to reenactment discussion and post about your group. This is not just self-promotion. It promotes the hobby as a whole, everywhere.

Try to keep it professional and positive at all times. Don’t throw shit at other reenactors in public. Potential recruits could see this and get the wrong idea, it could turn them away. Nobody wants to wade into a morass of name-calling. Keep reenactment drama off the Internet at all times. Keep it private and go through the chain of command. Airing dirty laundry in public on social media is NEVER productive.

Find social media accounts for reenactment groups and follow them. Like their posts and comment on them. This makes them visible to a wider audience, it’s how the algorithms work. If you can’t say anything nice, just hold your tongue. But really, even with a total clown group, you should be able to find some little thing to appreciate.

Saying bad things about the hobby as a whole is not being a good ambassador. You want to talk it up and promote it. That’s not to say that you can't go to a reenactor discussion group on Facebook and comment on stuff that is too heavily represented, or dispel myth and lore. That’s fine and good. But nobody wants to read about how reenactors are too old/fat/drunk/farby/real Nazis. If you feel like you need to vent, call a buddy from your group, or just back away from the computer for a bit and clean your rifle or something, until the urge passes.

Don't post modern political stuff on reenactor accounts and ESPECIALLY don't ever post anything that could be construed as "racist" by people trying to make you look bad. Even if it is an obvious joke (to you). They will hang you with this stuff. This makes us all look bad when they inevitably find you and make a stink about it.

At all times: share good information, lead by example, be the change you want to see in the hobby.
If you are not already a WWII German reenactor and you have read all this way, you should get started. It’s a ton of fun and you will make new friends and you won’t regret it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

WWII German straight entrenching tools and similar postwar and foreign variants

by Gregor Fleischer and Chris Pittman

Entrenching tools have been a general issue item for almost every army since the First World War. The German army of the Second World War was no exception. Pre-war the Wehrmacht adopted a flat blade, square head shovel with a short handle that could easily be carried by every soldier. This was essentially the same pattern as the shovels used by the German Army during WWI. This pattern of shovel was produced and used until the end of the war.

Up until 1938 the carrier for this pattern of shovel was made completely of leather. These carriers were made in both black and brown leather. Post-1938, the carriers were a mix of leather and a pressed paper product known as Presstoff or Ersatzleder. These leather/Presstoff carriers came in a variety of mixed shades. Often, these carriers were produced with leather belt loops and closure strap. The body of the carrier would be Presstoff. The leather fittings could be brown or black. The presstoff could be black, tan, or a blue/grey color.

Around 1940 a more modern entrenching tool known as the Klappspaten, or folding spade. The Klappspaten had the ability to be used as a traditional spade or a mattock. This allowed for easier digging with such a small shovel. The Klappspaten and flat blade spade served side by side in the Wehrmacht until 1945. The carrier for this pattern of shovel was produced in both leather and Presstoff.
The following photos illustrate differences between original WWII German shovels and similar looking foreign made shovels that are sometimes confused for Wehrmacht issue.

In the above photo, the example at far left is a German made one from 1934. It features a riveted blade and riveted "ears" at the top of the blade.

Second from left is the standard Wehrmacht type that appeared before the war. This example is dated 1945. It features a welded blade and folded over "ears." Some shovels in this pattern were also made with a riveted blade.

At center is a Swiss shovel. The "ears" at the top of the blade are curved and bent but not folded over as with the Wehrmacht type. This shovel is almost identical to the WWI French type.

Second from right is a postwar Dutch shovel. With its folded over "ears" and welded blade, it is nearly identical to Wehrmacht issue.

At far right is a postwar East German army shovel. The "ears" are slight and the blade is neatly welded with no flange. There were other East German models including a riveted type.

The most immediately noticeable diagnostic difference among these various shovel types is the top of the blade. The following pictures show the different forms and indicate the origin of each. Some forms were used by different armies at different times and this may not be a comprehensive list as it does not take into account less commonly encountered types or manufacturer variations.