Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Perspectives on reproduction uniforms

The first WWII reenactors used original and converted postwar items. As originals became more expensive and more scarce, converted postwar uniform items came to dominate the hobby. The first reproductions, made in Germany and the USA, were a huge improvement over converted Swedish wool. The most authentic units soon began to stipulate that their members must wear reproduction uniforms (as opposed to Swedish). It was generally not necessary to stipulate what manufacturer the uniform had to be obtained from, because choices were extremely limited and the available choices were mostly roughly equivalent in quality. Because many sellers had long lead times, a reenactor's choice usually was determined by availability. 

In the late 90s and early 2000s, reenacting was in a period of rapid growth and demand for uniforms was extremely high. The pice for a new field blouse at that time was around $350. Starting around 2004 (give or take a few years) a number of suppliers began to have uniform items made in China, in an attempt to meet the burgeoning demand with a lower price option. Most of the Chinese made stuff was absolutely terrible, Halloween quality. The field blouses appeared to have been made from photos of originals, the details simply were not there, shirt weight wool/poly blend fabric with plastic buttons. For the first time, reenactment units had to specify which reproduction uniforms were and were not acceptable. More and more manufacturers were coming on line and the reenactor for the fist time was faced with a wide array of choices. A new hobby paradigm developed that heavily focused on what gear was acceptable and what was the best. 

Even a child could have seen that the first wave of China-made reproductions were not correct for WWII. But the product quickly improved. Sturm and other vendors began to offer cheap imported products that appeared very similar to those made in the USA. The existing sellers suddenly had to make the case that their field blouses were still worth $350 when you could buy a China made copy for $150 or less. In the rush to disparage the cheaper copies, much reenactor myth and lore was born- much of which echoes down to the present day. 

Let's look now at 2017. The Chinese made cheap uniforms have killed off some businesses, and the sellers that remain have had to turn to having their products largely made overseas. Constant improvements to the cheap uniforms over many manufacturing runs are yielding products that are in most cases superior to the high-end products of 2004 and earlier. The quality difference between the uniform items offered by most manufacturers is extremely small. None are exactly identical to originals but most are extremely close. And yet, the paradigm of obsession over "the best" and which manufacturer offers the most prestigious product still stands. It's an old model of thinking, it's outdated, and we need to get past it, because it is a pitfall for people. 

It was also a pitfall for me. Some USA vendors disparaged Sturm products by saying that they were based on a modern suit jacket and that the shoulders were wrong and the arm holes too big. I repeated this line, I took it as gospel. Only years later did I actually compare Sturm arm holes to originals and discover that they are the same size. It was wrong of me to parrot this bad information. It is still possible to find old posts of mine on the Axis History Forum in which I make statements that are uninformed. My erroneous conclusions were based on study of a tiny number of originals, and dealer propagated myth and lore that I was foolish enough to take as gospel. 

The best uniform is the decent copy that you buy and then tweak and break in and wear and make your own. The decent copy is a blank canvas for your effort to make something that looks realistic. Decent copies are available from almost any manufacturer nowadays. There are some specific exceptions to this, of course. But the old style hype about certain sellers and manufacturers is hype that is not based on fact, and I think it is well past time that we as a community acknowledge that. When we look at (for example) a Heer field blouse, the reality is that insignia choice and application method is almost certainly going to have a greater impact on overall realism, than who made the blouse! 

Original uniform items are in most cases not rare. Original M43 tunics are widely available and accessible. Lots of collectors are happy to share photos and information about the items they own. Unfortunately we are still stuck in a mindset of disparaging copies based on suppositions and lore. If the arm holes on a tunic are too big this is something that we can actually objectively measure and quantify. We can look at original tunics and determine if arm hole size is scaled and graded based on chest size or tunic length, and we can collect data on arm hole sizes and determine what size the arm hole should be on any given tunic size. Unfortunately nobody has ever collected data like this or really done anything like this at all and most of the assessments posted here or anywhere are based on comparing reproductions to other reproductions, or on repeated myth and lore. 

Fact: nobody has ever been able to list an objective reason why ATF tunics or caps are inferior to any other copy. The same can be said for many products made by many other manufacturers. If anyone has given one objective reason backed by data why Hessen field caps are wrong, or Gavin caps, or Sturm caps, or caps from 3_reich on eBay- I haven't seen it. 

I would put my field blouse against any other anywhere in terms of realism. It is made by Sturm. Is it better than an ATF blouse? It is, but only because of the work I have put in. I could have started with an ATF or custom Gavin and the end result would have been the same. In the absence of actual objective quantifiable data points to the contrary, they are all equally good.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Original equipment photo

This is an unattributed photo that I refer to, to help inform my equipment setup at events where I march in/out with my gear. The M34 Tornister by regulation was supposed to have the mess kit in the pouch inside, this worked great for gear kept in a barracks locker but obviously in the field it was impractical. The curled-under strap ends shown here were regulation. I use equipment straps rather than bits of string for my blanket roll.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Recipes from the "Kriegskochbuch" (war cookbook), 1915

The following recipes are from a German "war cookbook" of 1915. The idea behind this cookbook was to provide options for simple, cheap meals, with ingredients obtainable in austere wartime conditions. These recipes were not created from nothing in 1915, and they did not diappear afterward- they are rooted in German traditional cuisine, and simple meals like this were served before WWI and also during the depression, in WWII, and beyond.

All recipes serve 4 portions.

Cabbage Soup

One small head Savoy cabbage or white cabbage
2 tbsp. fat
4 tbsp. flour
1-1/2 ltr. water
Pinch of pepper, salt

Clean cabbage, cut in strips, wash. Heat the fat, add cabbage and braise. Sprinkle with flour, stir well, add water and boil 1-1/2 to 2 hours, to taste.

Pickle Soup

1 small pickle or 1/2 a large pickle
2 tbsp. fat
4 tbsp. flour
1-1/2 ltr. water
1-2 tbsp. vinegar, salt

Make a roux of fat and flour, slowly add water. When boiling, add diced pickle. Add salt and vinegar to taste.

Sauerkraut Soup

As pickle soup above, instead of pickle use sauerkraut.

Carrot Soup

3 large carrots
1 small onion
2 tbsp. fat
4 tbsp. flour
1-1/2 ltr. water from cooking carrots
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. sugar, salt

Peel the carrots, cut into small pieces, cook until done then push them through a strainer. Cook fat, onions and flour together, then pour in the carrot water. Add carrots, boil well, season with salt, parsley and sugar. If desired, you can replace half the carrots with potatoes; just use 1 less tablespoon of flour.

Baked carrot and potato dumplings

2 lbs. potatoes
2 lbs. carrots
2 tbsp. milk
salt, pepper
60 grams fat

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. fat
2 tbsp. flour
3/8 ltr. water from cooking the carrots, salt
1 tbsp. parsley, a little sugar

Boil the potatoes and carrots and push them through a strainer. Mix with salt and pepper, then form dumplings. Press them a bit flat, and fry in a frying pan until brown. To make the sauce, fry the flour and fat until yellow, pour in the carrot water, and bring to a boil. Season with salt, sugar and parsley.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Uniform and equipment issue lists for soldiers in Landessch├╝tzen and Sicherung units

The Soldbuch was the standard identity document carried by every Wehrmacht soldier. Among the information recorded in this document was a complete list of uniform and equipment items, that the soldier was issued. This information is an extremely valuable resource for anyone trying to learn what was issued to soldiers in specific units, or types of units.

Gefreiter Josef Foschiatti was assigned to occupation duty in Norway with Festungs-Bataillon 655, Sicherungs-Bataillon 668, and Feldkommandantur 200. In his Soldbuch picture, which dates from 1943 or 1944, he wears an M36 tunic. His collar Litzen are improperly folded and crudely hand sewn with thick dark thread.
The uniform and equipment issue insert in his Soldbuch is very interesting. The "Tornister 34 m. Trager." and "Tornister 39" are printed as separate items. Foschiatti had the 34 model, with integral shoulder straps, as late as April 1945. He also had 3 collar binds and 1 pair "Tragegurten" which I were the internal suspenders for the M36 and M40 model field blouse. He had jackboots. It is likely that this soldier in 1945 had what we might regard as an "early war" appearance.

His uniform and equipment issued by Sicherungszug 280 in April 1945:

1 field cap
1 field blouse
1 HBT jacket
1 pair wool pants
1 pair HBT pants
2 pair underwear
1 pair sports shorts
1 overcoat
1 Zwieback bag
3 collar binds
2 shirts
1 sweater ("Schlupfjacke 36")
3 pairs socks, 1 pair foot wraps
1 pair jackboots
1 helmet
1 Tornister 34 with straps
1 pair slippers
1 butter dish
1 Zeltbahn and accessories
1 belt with buckle and bayonet frog
3 equipment straps
1 bread bag with strap
1 canteen with cup
2 mess kit straps
2 ammo pouches
1 mess kit
1 ID disk
2 hand towels
1 eating utensils
1 handkerchief
5 cleaning brushes
1 pair internal suspenders
1 sewing pouch
1 blanket

Foschiatti also had a rifle, a bayonet, an entrenching tool, a gas mask model 1930, a gas sheet, 4 Losantin containers, an RG34 rifle cleaning kit, and bandages- 1 large, 1 small.

Here is the uniform and equipment issue record for another soldier, Gefreiter Rudolf Mainz.
Mainz was issued the following while serving with Landessch├╝tzen-Btl. 442 on September 23, 1944:

2 field caps
1 field blouse
1 HBT uniform...
2 wool trousers
2 pair underwear
1 overcoat
2 collar binds
2 shirts
1 sweater
1 toque
1 pair gloves
1 pair leg warmers
1 pair socks
1 pair low boots
1 Waffenrock
1 helmet
1 rucksack
1 belt
3 equipment straps
1 bread bag without strap
1 canteen
1 ammo pouch
1 hand towel
2 handkerchiefs
1 pair suspenders
1 ID disk
3 pairs shoulder board unit slip-ons

He also got a captured French rifle and bayonet on the same date. Specifically, a Berthier Mle 1907/1915.

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.