Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Internal suspender retaining hooks on German Army M36 and M40 field blouses

Every factory made enlisted issue M36 and M40 field blouse was lined in such a way to accommodate the internal suspenders that held the belt hooks in place. Part of this system was two small wire hooks sewn into the field blouse liner, below the belt hook eyelets on each side. These hooks retained the ends of the internal suspenders. There were no corresponding retaining hooks below the rear belt hook eyelets.

A small sample of original enlisted issue M36 and M40 field blouses was examined to determine what types of suspender retaining hooks were used and how they were positioned.

Garment 1: M40 field blouse, Erfurt depot 1940

This field blouse is stamped with a torso length of 41 centimeters and a total length of 68 centimeters. The retaining hooks are 17 millimeters long and are located 21 millimeters from the bottom edge of the lowest belt hook hole (note: this is the distance from the top of the retaining hook to the bottom edge of the eyelet opening- not the stitching). The hooks are blackened steel.

Garment 2: M40 field blouse, depot and date stamp illegible

This field blouse has the exact same length measurements as the previous example. Theretaining  hooks are only 19 millimeters from the belt hook eyelet. The steel hooks have corroded and it was not possible to determine the original finish. These hooks were also 17 millimeters long.

Garment 3: M36 field blouse, Erfurt depot 1939

This field blouse is stamped with a torso length of 43 centimeters and a back length of 71 centimeters. The lower pockets were moved up when this garment was retailored for reissue. The retaining hooks are 16 millimeters long and have a bright finish. They are 47 millimeters below the belt hook eyelets.

Garment 4: M40 field blouse, Erfurt depot 1940

This field blouse has identical length measurements to the previous example, and identical 17 millimeter long bright finish hooks. As on the previous example, the pockets were moved from the factory positioning; this example was retailored for an officer. The retaining hooks on this example are 28 millimeters from the belt hook eyelets.

It was noted that the positioning of the retaining hooks differed on field blouses with identical lengths. Garments 1 and 2 show the retaining hooks applied with the top edge of the hook just at the lower row of pocket flap stitching. Garments 3 and 4 were altered, the hooks no longer line up with the pocket flap stitching- but the traces of the original factory stitching are discernible and on both examples, the top edge of the hook lines up with the lowest row of the original factory pocket flap stitching. The conclusion based on this small sample, then, is that the retaining hooks were positioned not based on the belt hook eyelet positioning, but rather they were positioned immediately below the pocket flap stitching.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Small buttons on the German Army field blouse

A small sample of original WWII German Army enlisted issue uniform jackets was examined to assess what kind of small buttons were applied at the factory. M36, M40, M42 and M43 jackets were examined, as well as one factory converted Dutch reissued field blouse.

M36, M40, M42 and M43 field blouses each had ten small buttons in addition to the larger pebbled metal front placket and pocket closure buttons. These small buttons measured approximately 14 mm in diameter. Five were used in the collar to affix the collar bind, one closed the internal bandage pocket, and two were used to secure each cuff closure. The following types of buttons were observed in this small sample.


Horn buttons were the most common in this small sample. Here are two on an M36 field blouse. These buttons vary in color from a pale gray to nearly black, sometimes (as here) on the same garment.
 On an M40 field blouse:
 On an M43 field blouse made in 1944:


Glass buttons were observed in this sample on M42 and M43 field blouses.
 This was on an M43. A different color shade.

Pressed Paper

Pressed paper buttons were factory applied on two of the jackets examined.


Gray and black buttons made of an apparently synthetic material that appears to be similar to modern plastic were also found. This is an M43 jacket made in 1944.
Black plastic button on the converted Dutch jacket. The collar and buttons were added for Wehrmacht issue.
This M40 field blouse had black plastic buttons inside but horn buttons for the cuff closures. Two jackets had different button types for the cuffs as for the buttons inside this garment. It was not possible to determine if these left the factory in this configuration, or if the cuff closure buttons were replaced.
This M43 field blouse made in 1944 has glossy black buttons that appear to be some painted synthetic material.

Most of the buttons examined that appeared to be factory sewn had been hand stitched with field gray or taupe colored thread.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Der Winteranzug der deutschen Soldaten"

     The Winter Clothing of the German Soldier

by Oberfeldzahlmeister Wortmann

published in "Deutsche Uniformen-Zeitschrift", February 1944
Translated by Chris Pittman

     The winter of 1941/42 showed that our German winter clothing, built for central European conditions, does not measure up to eastern European degrees of cold. Through the unparalleled donation by the German people of fur and wool items, the troops in winter 1941/42 were provided with the necessary additional cold protection. The donations were even so generous that considerable surplus remained, which was professionally stored and partially reworked, and made usable for the troops for the next year. Additionally, the clothing that had been worn in the winter was collected again in Spring 1942 and prepared with much care for the winter of 1942/43- disinfected, cleaned, repaired.
     This stock of winter uniforms formed a foundation that could be built on, but in no way did it achieve an adequate supply for our troops deployed in the East in winter 1942/43. Totally new clothing, suitable for the eastern European winter, had to be developed. For this, the experiences of the first winter were extensively used. Clothing pieces were needed that adequately protected the soldier from the rigors of Eastern weather, while at the same time not hindering his ability to move. The heavy fur coat was not suitable for these requirements, because it was unusable in combat and on the march. Other ways had to be pursued.
     Through wear trials, tests in cold chambers, and tear tests, the so-called Winteranzug (padded winter uniform) was developed in painstaking detail. It consists of a hood, a padded jacket, padded trousers, mittens, leg warmers and felt boots.
     The clothing was, in all parts, originally white on one side for snow camouflage, with the other side kept in the normal field gray camouflage color. This Winteranzug was to have been on hand for every fighting soldier in the winter of 1942/43, according to our ambitious goal. Between development, planning and manufacture there was still a long and thorny journey. Everyone in the positions concerned with manufacture of the winter clothing had to be brought up to speed. The production of the Winteranzug required large quantities of wool, spun rayon, leather, impregnation material, etc.- all materials, that we had a shortage of in Germany. The raw materials had to be procured, and they were procured. Also,  the manufacturing difficulties that arose due to wartime conditions were energetically attacked and overcome.
     Already in fall of 1942 the total supply of entirely newly developed and manufactured winter clothing stood behind the Eastern Front, ready for distribution to the troops.
     The winter or combat clothing, that was worn over the usual uniform, was still only intended for the real combat troops, for whom the fur coat or large overcoat was too heavy and too much of a hindrance to movement. All other soldiers, who did not get the Winteranzug, instead received the large overcoat, fur overcoat, fur jackets and the like. In any case, by the winter of 1942/43 there was not remaining one soldier on the Eastern Front who was not adequately equipped with outstanding winter clothing.
     In this new eastern winter, as a rule, every soldier in the east and in the north had in addition to the Winteranzug or fur coat or large overcoat at least two toques, two pairs of gloves, two sweaters, and one pair of felt boots, or felt shoes, or fur boots, or cloth overboots. Along with that came also padded undertrousers and oversocks for those soldiers not equipped with the Winteranzug. To compensate for unexpected demands, reserve stocks of paper overgarments (used to good effect in Japan and Finland) and straw boots were built up in all battle areas.
     Of course, there were some growing pains with the Winteranzug and the entire usual winter clothing, nothing that reduced the value of the winter kit, but instead led to valuable suggestions for improving the supply for winter 1943/44. Spring and summer of 1943 were extensively used for the further development and production of additional winter clothing articles. The Winteranzug was given additional camouflage effectiveness by replacing the previous field gray side with splinter pattern camouflage, and additional improvements were made to manufacture. The felt boots got leather up to calf height and a sturdy leather sole, so that they could also be used as marching boots. Gloves, the padded hood, large overcoats, and other winter clothing articles were improved on the basis of previous experiences.
     In the winter of 1943/44, on the entire eastern and northern fronts, every soldier was splendidly equipped with winter clothing. The combat troops got the previously described Winteranzug, gauntlet gloves and felt boots, in which they could confidently hold up even in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero, and lower. The members of the troop trains and units deployed to rear areas were equipped with fur coats, large overcoats, felt boots, felt shoes, etc. Special camouflage garments, such as snow smocks, snow jackets and pants, anoraks, wind jackets, etc., are available in large quantities for ski troop and scout troop operations.
     For our troops in the East, everything possible is being done to supply them with the best in winter clothing. Our soldiers also thankfully acknowledge the work being done in this regard in the homeland.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Just wear it" versus reenactment realities

     In a previous post on this blog we discussed artificial "aging" of reproduction items used for reenactment as a way to make them look more like originals. The term "aging" as used here means applying artificial means to create the appearance of something that was extensively worn and used over a period of time. It does not mean trying to replicate the appearance of something that is simply old- in fact, there is no way to achieve that, because the passage of time, alone, does not necessarily leave any trace on an object. Here is a case in point:
     Both of these packs were made within a year or two of each other, circa 1943-44. The green one is in brand new factory mint condition. The leather is smooth, straight, unblemished. The stitching and drawstring are bright white. The fabric is pristine. The metal hardware retains all of the original paint. This rucksack was never issued or used. The passage of more than 70 years has not altered the appearance of this object in any way whatsoever. Compare that to the blue pack. The leather is stretched out, the straps have curled up. The paint is worn away from the hardware and the metal has rusted. There are large and small holes and quite a few careful hand-sewn repairs. The fabric is frayed and torn, the bottom is stained. This is a pack that someone used a lot, and it shows. It is not time that makes an item look like this. It is wear and use.
     For field soldiers, war was a harsh reality. The rigors of their existence took a toll not only on the fighting men, but on their uniforms and equipment. Items worn and used in these demanding conditions very quickly took on a very obviously used look. This look became a recognizable characteristic of soldiers in the field. It's why costume designers creating wardrobes for war movies artificially distress items used as props. It's a visual thing.
     There are reenactors who believe that the best way to create an impression of a veteran field soldier is simply to wear the uniform and equipment until it appears visibly worn. Their mantra is, "Just wear it." Is that reasonable? Reenactments are usually only a weekend long and few hobbyists attend more than one event a month. Some events may include long marching, digging field positions, or other arduous activity, but others may recreate garrison tasks that incur no serious wear on gear. Soldiers in WWII were wearing their uniforms every day, sleeping in them, marching for miles, living in holes in the earth. They were fighting for their lives. Does reenactment put an equivalent amount of wear on gear? Not a chance. But even if it did, a reenactor would have to go to events each month for several years to achieve the look of something continuously worn in the field for just a few weeks. A soldier wanting to present a realistic visual impression of a soldier who has been living in the field for some time may not want to wait years to look believable. That is the purpose of aging. It's not about making something look old, but it is necessary if new items are to be used as stand-ins for objects that, in reality, were very visibly used.
     It is true that some soldiers were fortunate enough to be issued new items. Others had to make do with reissued uniforms and equipment. But even the new stuff, in those conditions, did not look new for very long at all. The visual aspect of reenacting is crucial, hobbyists strive to prevent a convincing appearance. The "just wear it" approach is great if one is portraying a recruit being trained in a garrison. But to take an impression consisting of all brand-new items, subjected to a year of reenactments, and state that the impression being portrayed is of a guy who has been living in the field for weeks or months? Frankly- I'm not convinced.
     How many years of "just wearing it" would it take before a reproduction Rucksack looks like the blue one in the photo above? How many decades?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tactical employment of Wehrmacht security units

Excerpts from "The Soviet Partisan Movement 1941-1944" by Edgar M. Howell, Department of the Army, 1956.

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.
     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.