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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Look it, live it, love it

     Sicherungs-Regiment 195 has authenticity requirements that are very simple. The items we use must be correct to the time before 1945, period. Our members must obtain a basic soldier's kit, and we maintain a list of the uniform and equipment items that every member needs to have and also lists of items that are not permitted. Nowhere in this material do we stipulate that items must be from specific vendors only. We accept and use items from any and all sources as long as they are correct for the time. Despite the fact that our members are entirely free to choose items from whatever supplier they prefer, we would gladly put our impressions up against any group in the country when it comes to authenticity and realism. Why is that?
     There is, in this hobby, a school of thought that the one and only way to a realistic impression is through spending a fortune at glamour vendors. Although we are happy to support vendors who offer top quality products, we reject the view that only the "very best" (that is, most expensive) items should be used by anyone. Instead, we simply judge each item on its own merits. There are items from every supplier that we regard as usable. There are also items from many suppliers, including some with the most devoted fans, which we would prefer not to use.
     Making a silk purse from a sow's ear is an important skill for a reenactor. A brand-new reproduction item fresh out of the box is like a blank canvas. It has no soul. Use, wear, passion, and attitude go a long way to making almost anything look convincing. Minute details of stitching, hardware or color shade lose importance on an item that is grimy, faded, threadbare, reworked and repaired. An item that has been worked on and used hard will have a uniqueness and character that an off-the-shelf piece lacks.
     Give us an array of cheap imported gear and we will pick and choose and hit it out of the park. Offer us a choice between a "low-end" and a "high-end" item, we aren't going to be asking where each was made- we are simply going to go with what looks real. To us, $100 for a 90+ percent accurate item is (generally speaking) a far better deal for most than paying many hundreds more for something so marginally better that the quality difference can only be discerned through hands-on inspection by dedicated enthusiasts. For most reenactors, who are faced with financial contraints when assembling an impression, it is better to save the money and put it towards a German language course, or gas and event fees so that a reenactor can put his face in the place and hone his craft.
     There are people out there who regard themselves as "elite" reenactors simply because they spent the most money while building an impression. We see it differently. For us, being an elite reenactor means being extremely advanced in specialized knowledge gained through study and experience. It also means one has perfected his craft and raised it to an art form. Elite reenactors are almost always in elite reenacting groups (not to be confused with those portraying real-world elite units). Becoming an elite reenactor takes time. It's not something that can be obtained instantly by someone with the funds to purchase the costliest kit. It can't be bought. It comes down to skill, knowledge, style and guts. Hard work. Attention to detail. How you wear it is as important as what you are wearing.
     Ultimate authenticity is a phantom but that won't stop us from striving in that direction. Looking beyond the material is an important step on that road. See you out there.
 
 
 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

WWII German "Booby Traps"

Our impression is based on an isolated, rear area, security outpost. Essentially we are combat ineffective, and passive defense is all we have to offer. One means of soft protection is through the use of booby traps. These were commonly used by the Germans during WWII, especially when abandoning a position, in retreat, or as means of passive defense. This blog post is an introduction to WWII German booby traps. 

Introduction: A booby trap is an explosive or non-explosive device or other material, deliberately placed to cause casualties when an apparently harmless object is disturbed, or a normally safe act is executed, or a normally safe place is occupied. They are not offensive weapons, and no battle, let alone war, can be won with booby traps. They are defensive weapons. They can provide early warning of a foe’s approach. Their main contribution is psychological, and a slowing of the enemy’s advance. For non-combat reenacting purposes, setting (non-active) booby traps is a very “zoney” experience for immersion settings.

Activation: Booby traps are activated by one of a few means. These are the most common forms of bobby trap activation.

Pull Release: A basic trip wire. An explosive charge is anchored, and wire is attached to some other object. A pull on the wire releases a firing pin in the explosive. These are mostly German stick and egg grenades (activated via trip wire). 

Tension Release: When wire is cut, broken, or released

Pressure: Adding weight to an object

Pressure Release: Removing weight from an object

Lever Release: Fuse activated by pulling a safety/arming pin. An “enticing” object is placed on top of a grenade with the lever removed. The “enticing object” has just enough weight to keep the release lever in place. Once the object is moved, detonation occurs. Many Russian and Allied grenades were this style, and could be used in this fashion.

Placement: The Germans excelled at predicting enemy thought processes in order to develop unpredictable booby trap situations. One famous example involved a crooked painting on a wall. The Germans anticipated that only an anal retentive Officer would want to straighten a crooked wall hanging. They were correct. When an Allied Officer straightened the photo, movement of the picture frame activated a booby trap, and killed him. This illustrates that the key to placement is to think ahead, to anticipate how people interact with their environment, and to place traps that mesh with those actions. That said, there are some general principles that serve as guidelines to where, and how, booby traps should be placed and positioned.

Booby traps are most effective when used in small, confined, spaces. In such spaces there is a higher chance of activation, and greater explosion impact. Examples of such spaces are passages, stairways, doorways, smaller foxholes, narrow paths, etc. Items of curiosity are also great choices: souvenirs, containers, jewelry, food, water, gasoline containers, “abandoned” weapons, etc. Everyday operations can also be nefarious booby trap locations. Opening a window or door, flipping a switch, picking up a phone receiver, etc. The Germans booby trapped almost every conceivable area, and type of moveable object, with assorted prepared charges.
  
In Roadways
-Obstacles in road / near roadside (Very common. Some type of obstacle is placed in road. Log. Barrel. Vehicle. Anything. It is booby trapped to explode when moved. A field of fire can also be set up on the roadblock.)
-Embankments
-Blind bends
-Bridges
-Culverts
-Wooded stretches
-Junctions
-Crossroads
-General debris
-Shoulder of roads (sharp corners), where vehicles/foot solider may swerve off main road
-Near roadside houses or obvious turnouts, where vehicles are likely to pull over, or parking areas
-Entrance to detours
-Railroad crossings

In Open Country
-Woods
-Trees
-Low branches of brush
-Posts
-Gates
-Fences
-Paths
-Hedges
-Obstacles
-Stores
-Dumps
-General debris
-River fords/banks

In Buildings
-Steps
-Floors
-Doors
-Windows
-Cupboards
-Ovens
-Passages
-Furniture
-Fireplace
-Wood piles
-Water traps
-Closets
-Supplies
-Telephones
-Light switches
-Floor coverings
-Pictures
-Documents
-Debris
-Loose floor boards
-Rugs
-Flashlights
-Cigarette Cases
-Pens

Assorted
-Bodies of dead
-Soap
-Jerry Cans
-Food/Water
-Fishhooks hanging dark pathways (inside or out)

Use of Dummy Traps: Dummy booby traps (e.g. inactive) can effectively be used, especially if a few are “obviously” placed to ensure they will be found. Once they have been detected, the enemy will not know which traps are real, and which are inert. He will be extra cautious, and investigate/avoid all that looks suspicions, which will delay his advance. This can help create the illusion of a much stronger defense than is actually present, which can be greatly beneficial to thinly occupied areas. Multiple live, and dummy traps, can be placed in a concentrated area. Inaccurate signs can also be used to further create confusion (e.g. a sign indicting area is mined, when it fact it is not, or vice versa).

Detection: Of course, booby traps can also be used against your own forces, especially by partisans. Being acutely aware of your environment can aid in detection. Below is a list of things to watch for.
-Moveable objects: equipment, souvenirs, etc.
-Minor obstructions of all kinds on roads
-Be very suspicious at sabotage locations. Cut wires, road obstructions, blown bridges/tracks, etc., all which must be repaired are often booby trapped (esp. sites of cut communication lines). 
-Inside trench systems, fox holes, in buildings, etc.
-Disturbed ground, esp. after rain
-Explosive wrappings, sawdust, nose caps from shells, etc.
-Traces of camouflage, withered vegetation
-Breaks or disturbances in vegetation, dust, paintwork, timbering, etc.
-Presence of pegs, nails, electric leads, pieces of wire or cord where there is no apparent use
-Marks on trees, paths, the ground, walls, etc. where there is no apparent reason
-Booby traps will not often be found in inaccessible places. If you make own trail, you will be safer.
-Irregular tracks of foot/wheels traffic where no apparent reason
-Any indication that an area has been carefully avoided
-Any indication of attempted concealment, or indication of all too obvious objects
-Anything out of the ordinary may indicate a booby trap
-Everything movable, seemingly harmless, and enticing should be treated with caution.

Avoidance: To avoid booby traps, avoid obvious actions (e.g. going through a doorway when there is another option, climbing over an obvious break in stone wall, etc.). These are prime locations for booby traps, as typical human behavior/actions are very predictable in such settings.
-Avoid obvious, well-used path ways
-Climb over low walls rather than use gates
-Check ditches and foxholes rather than just jumping in
-Enter buildings through blasted holes/windows rather than doors
-Be suspicious of anything enemy left behind
-Touch nothing that appears enticing

FUSES

Two of the most common fuses for booby traps were the Z.Z. 35 (pull activation) and the Z.u.Z.Z. 35 (pull and release activation). These can be used in conjunction with egg grenades, S-Mines, teller mines, box mines, and stock mines.


Eihandgranaten 39 (Eihgr. 39)(Egg grenades)

The Eihandgranaten 39 is especially useful for booby traps. When the cap is unscrewed, a pull cord is revealed. Fasten a tripwire to this, or equip with a Z.Z. fuse. Blue capped grenades had a 4.5 second delay. The red caps, used specifically for bobby traps, had a 1 second delay. The types with “protective ears,” and a carrying ring, serve well as securing anchors when used as booby traps.
 
Illustrated Examples

Two teller mines connected by a Z.Z. fuse. Removing one will activate the other.
 

S-Mines were also very common for booby traps.


Teller mine equipped with two Z.Z. fuses.
 
 
Weight of Teller Mine keeping activation lever of grenade underneath in place.



Box mine. These were often pressure activated, but could also be set up with wires.
 
 
S-Mine with Z.Z. fuses.
 
 
S-Mine with pressure activated fuse.
 
 
Stock Mines with Z.Z. fuses.
 

Sources for info and photos:

Instruction Manual for the Infantry, H.Dv. 130/2a
Der Rekruit, 1935
Handbook on German Military Forces, TM-E 30-451, March 1945
World War II Axis Booby Traps and Sabotage Tactics, Gordon L. Rottman

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Wehrmacht Guidelines for Inspections

Wehrmacht Guidelines for Inspections
 By Hans Rödel
 From “Hilfsbuch für den Hauptfeldwebel”, 1942

 
What follows are the original Wehrmacht guidelines for how German soldiers should appear during inspection by their superiors. Among other things, this material documents how uniforms and issued equipment were to be carried and worn. Although the book was published in 1942, some of this information almost certainly dates from the pre-war time period. This material appears to be primarily intended for inspecting recruits in training.


Guide for Inspection

Appearance: Clean hands and fingernails, freshly shaved, short haircut, without rings on fingers, without watches.
Underclothes: For each inspection, fresh, mended service underwear. Buttons on the shirt, underpants and service undershirt fully present and buttoned.  Suspender loops sewn on to the underpants. Lace in the back of the underwear pulled in, lower part of the under jacket tucked in the underpants, clean, well-darned socks.
Cloth trousers: Well ironed, buttons fully present and buttoned (also on the pockets), trouser buckles closed; complete, clean suspenders with the loops pulled through the underwear loops. Contents of the pockets: Clean handkerchief, knife, thread, matches, small wallet.
Field blouse: Collar hooked, sleeves buttoned, shoulder strap buttons with Kompanie numbers should not be twisted. Internal suspenders must be pulled through according to regulations. Belt hooks on both sides must be pulled through the exact hole so that the belt sits between the two bottom buttons. Contents of the pockets: Truppenausweis in the left breast pocket, shooting book, range finding book in the left side pocket.
Lace up boots: Foot smooth and oiled, shaft cleaned. Laces blackened, pulled through to the outside and tucked in. Laces not laced crossed over.
Belt: Outer surface of the belt and belt buckle blackened. Uniform, lightly crowned belt buckles. Ammunition pouches on the belt. The ends of the straps on the pouches tucked away. Ammunition in the left foremost pouch compartment, all other compartments filled with wood blocks.
Order of equipment on the belt, from left to right: Ammunition pouch or binoculars (binoculars strap under the gas mask strap), belt hook, right bread bag loop, helmet carrier, right Zeltbahn strap, bread bag hook, belt hook, left bread bag strap, gas mask strap hook, left bread bag loop, right loop of the shovel carrier, belt hook, bayonet, left loop of the shovel carrier (with the wire cutters pouch, the left loop comes before the bayonet), ammunition pouch, and if applicable, the map case under the ammunition pouch. The strap of the shovel carrier should be crossed over the bayonet. The shovel should not protrude too far from the carrier.
Bread bag: Full canteen on the right side, canteen cup handle toward the body, mess tin on the left side, the loop of the strap on the middle of the mess tin lid, the prong of the strap buckle toward the body.
Bread bag contents: Field hat, rifle cleaning kit, red helmet band, per squad one shoe brush and a cleaning rag.
Gas mask: Carrying strap pulled over the right shoulder so that the mask no longer hits against the mess tin, the strap not too tight. The carrying strap fastened so that the end of the strap and the smooth part of the button point to the middle of the mask. Nametag in the lid, fresh replacement lenses.
Zeltbahn: Width of the rolled Zeltbahn approx. 25 cm. The straps are pulled towards the body as closely as possible, the prong of the buckle towards the body. The Zeltbahn fastened to the belt (see above).
Stahlhelm: front visor even with the eyebrows, interior clean, strap well tucked away, loop of the strap generally to the left, with people who shoot left handed, to the right.
Rifle and bayonet: Well cleaned, lightly oiled, Unfleiss [?] well spread, stock well cared for.
Exercise [dummy] bullets: Cleaned and lightly oiled.
Troddel: white troddel, bound long over short.
Sport outfit: Training pants over the lower part of the training jacket.
Shooting books: The cover of the shooting books and the range finding book are covered in blue paper. On the front of each a cut-off name tag is to be glued on. Shooting books to be carried in the left side pocket of the field blouse.
Truppenausweis [troop identification]: With cover, in the left breast pocket of the field blouse. In the cover are found no other papers.
Shooting glasses: To be carried in the right trouser pocket and brought to shooting service and battle observation.
Brustbeutel [small purse worn around the neck]: With name tag, hung at the throat, to be worn over the shirt.

All clothing and equipment items to be inspected must be extremely clean and in a condition suitable for roll call. The cleaning of the leather gear is of great importance. As ordered by the Kompanie, nametags and stamps are to be found in all clothing and equipment items in the prescribed locations (see the hanging by the blackboard). Nametags in poor condition must be renewed.

Guide for Pre-Inspection

After the Kompanie is assembled the first time, the Hauptfeldwebel, Zugfuehrer and other older Unteroffiziere are to look in the following order:
1. Distribution of items on the belt.
2. Ammunition pouches in the loops, ends tucked away. Gas mask strap not twisted.
3. Bayonet properly put away, not too greasy, Troddel bound according to regulations.
4. Position of the helmet, foot placement, laces on low boots tucked away.
5. By the clothing Unteroffizier: Wrinkles smoothed out, collar bind position, belt position.
6. By Hauptfeldwebel: Collar done, all buttons buttoned, look over the entire uniform once again.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

If It Could Talk...

Our last blog post was about expanding the hobby beyond blank fire battles and the inherent problems with only focusing on “trigger time.” Now, we will go much deeper.
Years ago some friends and I came up with a way to make immersion events more realistic. We devised an idea to create a defined area, a "zone", in which nothing after 1945 was permitted, including conversation. Discussion topics were limited to things soldiers might have discussed in WWII. If you were “in the zone,” ONLY period-based things were allowed. People who wanted to talk about the hobby, or TV shows, or who wanted to pull out something anachronistic, had to step away. At first, it was challenging. But with time, we were able to hone this skill. It became possible to exist in a simulated wartime atmosphere for hours at a time, within our "zone."

One thing we quickly learned was that some settings or events were more conducive to our zone than others. It was the same with people. Some were more adept at getting into the necessary mindset, sticking with it, and helping others get there, too. We called these places and people "zoney."

Over time, we have come to a different understanding of “zone.” We no longer narrowly define it as just a physical area where modern talk and items are barred. We have come to realize that zone happens in the mind. It requires not only a solid foundation in period historical knowledge, but also imagination, including the ability to look at something absurd, or anachronistic, and be able to work it in to a period mindset. Zone, for us, is both the non-tangible, theoretical metaphysics of reenacting, and the hard, existential aspect of things that exist in the world. It is both mental and physical. If he chooses to do so, one person, alone, in nearly any setting, can put himself in the zone. Zoniness is a word we use that describes those intangible aspects of a person, place or thing that make it suitable for creating a feeling of, "this is what it may have been like." Often zoniness is a subjective evaluation, a quality impossible to measure or quantify. It is entirely separate from the concept of authenticity. A brand-new reproduction bread bag, for example, can be a totally authentic thing from a material culture standpoint. However, a well-used post-war bread bag, showing age and use, with repairs and obvious traces of wear, may be a more zoney thing, even if it is objectively less authentic than a reproduction, due to some minor and easily overlooked construction feature. Zoney items evoke an emotion, a feel. A zoney item, if it could talk, would tell a story about the war. Further, such items allow us to become part of that story. 
 In Sicherungs Regiment 195 we believe that reenacting is mostly a mental and cerebral experience. The uniforms, field gear, food, camp setting, etc. are all simply “props” to aid entering a conceptual realm conducive to a period-based mindset and/or historical-based experience. Zoniness is what we strive for at events. A grassy meadow, a stream at the base of a hill, a dilapidated old barn, an abandoned stretch of railroad track- these are zoney places. Pocket trash, wartime-type rations and carefully-chosen personal items are zoney things. Someone could be wearing all original gear, but if he cannot get in the mindset, and speak and act like the historical character he is portraying- he is zoneless. That is not a zoney dude. His uniform and field gear might be really zoney, but not him. In contrast, 3 people in modern clothes, sitting in a Taco Bell, could have a really zoney period discussion. Rain on the evening before a D-Day event is zoney. Modern conversation topics, period objects used in a non-period manner, and general farb, are not.

Zoniness is the exact reason why all modern items are banned from our unit. It is the reason chairs and camp furniture are banned. It is the reason why every member of the unit is required to have a fully fleshed-out first-person persona. It is the reason we don’t like “trigger time.” It is the reason we are very different type of unit than most living history organizations.

There is more to reenacting than putting on a uniform and shooting blanks at people. This is reenacting 101. It’s how you get introduced to the hobby. It’s the lowest common denominator. Many never grow out of this stage. Others go far beyond it…

See you in the Zone.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Beyond the Blank Fire: A realistic approach to recreating life in WWII


     WWII reenacting has traditionally centered on public displays, which are ostensibly for educational purposes, and private combat simulations that are usually referred to as "tacticals." In tacticals, reenactors take to a make-believe battlefield, and blast away at each other with real or simulated weapons until the end of the event. Participants usually state that they take part in tacticals to get a feeling of, "this is what it may have been like." Unfortunately, as most any long-time reenactor will readily admit, there is simply no way to realistically recreate field combat in WWII. There are few, if any, tanks or aircraft, few heavy weapons, no artillery. Reenactment combat generally happens at, or near, hand-to-hand distances- not the ranges at which Wehrmacht strategists anticipated- which makes reenactment use of correct tactics difficult or impossible. Further, the realities of reenactment sites often necessitate attacking positions from directions that would not be feasible, or defending positions unsuitable for defense. Virtually no reenactment unit actually takes the field in Bataillon or even Kompanie strength -- independent units of 10-15 guys are typical at a reenactment battle. In the reality of war, it is possible to aim, and fire, at a target nearby and miss. Additionally, many soldiers likely were hit by unaimed shots fired from great distances. Blank-fire simulated combat is, on the whole, a very poor way to create a realistic representation of something that really happened.  Worse, "public tacticals," for educational purposes, are entirely unsuitable.

     In Sicherungs-Regiment 195 we strive to precisely recreate a historical place and time. This mandates an approach starkly different from reenacting as it has traditionally been understood. Firing a blank at a reenactor and feeling indignant when he does not "take a hit" is boring and puerile, and typically leads to disappointment, animosity, and hobby burnout. We seek a more realistic and immersive experience. Those of us who founded this unit are all "veterans" of the blank-fire "combat" scene. Whatever thrill or rush might once have been obtained from the bangs and flashes of a sham battle are long-gone. What remains, though, is a passion for historical recreation. Bringing the past to life through painstaking recreation of all details of an earlier era is truly central to reenacting; it is the crux of our hobby. That is what is important. The means of this recreation, or the choice of activity being recreated, are secondary things.

Spending a night in a foxhole, without firing a shot, is a very realistic experience. (505th RCT D CO) 
     
     Are there activities that can be recreated in a more authentic way, that can better give a true feeling of "this is what it may have been like?" Absolutely. There is no doubt that the lure of the tactical draws many people to our hobby. But, truth be told, paintball or airsoft, where real projectiles are flying through the air, may be a more realistic option for those who want the feel of hunting and being hunted -- to say nothing of the real military, which undoubtedly attracts many young people yearning for a taste of battle. It is our belief that focusing the WWII reenactment hobby on hoak battles does our hobby a disservice. Demographics are changing, most reenactors are no longer the sons of the WWII veterans. A more diverse hobby with a wider range of options for participants could be larger, and more inclusive, without any compromise on authenticity. It is no secret that many, or most, reenactors would not be considered fit for real front-line combat duty. Yet,  paradoxically, virtually all reenactment groups exclusively portray line infantry units. It is our hope that this will change, and we see ourselves as part of this change. 

 Partisan (Grenadier-Regiment 914)

     Even units portraying combat infantry formations need not be centered exclusively on blank-fire combat. Soldiers in every kind of unit deployed to an area of operations. There, they set up quarters, prepared and issued rations, performed drill, marched, had inspections... As the old saying goes, "War is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror." A focus on battle reenactments means endlessly attempting to repeat those moments of terror, while avoiding all those hours of more typical, and often mundane experiences. Field soldiers constructed positions, manned observation posts and foxholes, performed scout/reconnaissance and security patrols, stood sentry duty, and ran messages to rear areas. All of these are things that can be realistically portrayed, with the men and means available to a reenactment group.

Patrols do not always have to end in engagement. Sometimes nothing is found. (Unknown unit)  

     We are a rear-area unit and we have no shortage of events that we can participate in while being true to our rear-area impression. Last week, a WWII German reenactor in Texas was shot at a battle when a GI reenactor began firing live rounds. That is a commitment to realism that we will not make. In other scenarios, we readily find the authenticity we seek, without any compromise. 

Roadside sentries (Sicherungs-Regiment 195) 

     We reject the notion that tactical battle reenactments are necessary for our hobby. Use of real weapons in an increasingly complex world of state firearm regulations and noise ordinances actually make reenactments more difficult. We embrace the idea of a hobby in which battle scenarios are just one type of private event, no more important than other events, which do not offer a "trigger time" option. We call for all reenactors to keep an open mind, and consider non-combat immersion events with varied scenarios. Our hobby can thrive even without blank-fire tactical if we choose to focus on the historical recreation, which is at the very heart of what we do. Last month, some of our members helped with a Wehrmacht headquarters clerk office vignette at the annual Battle of the Bulge event at Fort Indiantown Gap PA, the largest WWII event on the East Coast. We issued identification documents and passes to hundreds of event participants. The positive feedback on this functional recreation of a Wehrmacht office was overwhelming. While typewriters and fountain pens have a limited appeal, such a vignette could be incorporated as one part of any field immersion event, together with countless other realistic impressions that would not necessitate any opponent at all.


     We understand that tacticals will always be a part of the WWII reenactment hobby. However, we desire to serve as a constant reminder that, just as line infantry is only one of a myriad of possible portrayals, combat is just one of countless activities in wartime soldier’s life. These other countless activities can serve as the focus of an immersive and zoney event. 

Soldiers construct a network of noise makers/listening posts. (3.Panzergrenadier-Division) 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Insert pages for the Soldbuch

Every soldier in the Wehrmacht was issued a paybook and identification document called the Soldbuch. Original Soldbücher commonly had additional pages pasted in to record things for which the book had no space. Here are a few which we have reproduced and used.

EQUIPMENT ISSUE

The first pattern of Soldbuch as made and issued in 1939 had a very limited amount of space on pages 6 and 7 to record the items a soldier was issued. The pre-printed item list omitted many basic items issued to nearly every soldier, such as ammunition pouches, clothing bags, or the Zeltbahn, and there was very little space provided to add these in, and no space for the many other items often recorded on these pages, such as Gamaschen or special clothing items. To fix this problem, later patterns of the Soldbuch had many more items pre-printed on these pages, along with more space to record items not present in the list. However, very many books were made and issued with the first batches in 1939, and stocks of these early books continued to be issued throughout the war. To update these books, and also to add more space in cases where these pages were filled with entries after years of service, a wide variety of inserts were made to be pasted into the Soldbuch. Some were fairly close copies of the equipment issue pages in later pattern books, others were more elaborate fold-out inserts. The equipment issues and checks were fairly frequent for many soldiers, these were conducted when a soldier was transferred, deployed to the field, or at various times when equipment reissues took place. In any Soldbuch that was carried for a few years by a soldier who saw field service, it is typical to find at least one of these inserts
 
 
This page would be pasted at the top onto the top of page 7 in the Soldbuch, then folded in the middle with the lower half folded up and over the upper half, to enable it to fit neatly in the book (you can see the crease from the fold on the line that says "Portepee" in the scan). This particular insert shown in the scan was issued in 1945 and was the last of multiple inserts pasted onto these pages of a Soldbuch issued in 1939. I have reproduced this insert and attached it as a PDF, it is sized to be printed on A4 paper as it is slightly more than 11 inches long. If you want to print it out but don't have A4 paper, you can get some larger sized sketch pad paper and trim it to size, 8.3" x 11.7".
 
SOAP RATION 
 
Soap was carefully rationed and controlled in WWII. It fell under the auspices of an authority called the "Reichsindustriestelle fuer Fettvrsorgung" that controlled soap production and supply. Soldiers in the field may not have been issued soap and if they were it may not have been recorded. But soldiers in the rear- in training, garrison troops, convalescents, etc.- were issued soap and very often these issues were recorded in the Soldbuch, either with a myriad of stamped or handwritten entries, or as here, with a special insert page. This particular soldier was serving as a POW camp guard in Germany during the time indicated on this soap issue insert. 


The insert is printed on both sides and folded in the middle to make four pages. It is loose in the book, it may have been glued in at one time. Only one of the four pages has entries. Both sides are exactly the same.
 
Soap ration insert PDF

To fill this out please refer to the scan of the original. The first column is the date of issue, the next column is to indicate the month for which the samp was issued. The next three columns are for different types of soap: "Einheitsseife" which was an all-purpose soap suitable for whatever purpose, shaving soap, and "Kernseife" which was a type of soap with no natural glycerin that could have been used for washing. The last column, "Zusatzmenge," was for recording additional soap issued. The last two columns are used here for the signature and rank of the soldier receiving the soap, in this case "Mauermann Gefr."

This insert can be used in any Soldbuch for any branch. One exception might be officers as presumably they had to buy their own soap. Virtually every soldier at one time or another was stationed in the rear even if only during recruit training. The original was printed on thin natural-colored paper.
 
SCHIESSLISTE

Since at least WWI if not earlier, marksmanship training was recorded in a document called the Schiessbuch. During the war, the Schiessbuch was at least partially supplanted by a number of inserts intended to be pasted in the Soldbuch.  
 
 
 
This example was printed on typical wartime paper and had a sort of green overprint that was probably intended to serve as an anti-counterfeit measure. The purpose of this insert was to record the "shooting class" of the soldier for each training session but as you can see, here, it was just used to record scores. We have reproduced this document, but without the green overprint.

 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Paperwork for a living history impression

Reenactors interested in the finer details of an impression often ask what would constitute an ideal set of paperwork for a first-person persona. The answer is always that the best paperwork that a reenactor can carry is paperwork that he understands and that he can relate to his portrayal. The Soldbuch is the crux of personal paperwork and knowing what is written in there and what everything means is a key step in a first person impression. The flap in the back of the Soldbuch is a good place to keep things like reproductions of period photos, most are small and fit in there easily. Anything that a reenactor can understand and explain and build a story around will be better to carry than even perfect reproduction paperwork if one doesn't know what it means or how it relates to the character being represented.

In the realities of war, there were an endless number of variables regarding what paperwork was carried. There were regulations, of course, but these regulations seem to have been more or less widely disregarded, and much of what was actually carried on a day-to-day basis seems to have depended heavily on such variables as personal preference, unit or type of unit, area of operations, etc. It seems like there were few hard and fast rules as to what was carried and what was not, what was retained and what was discarded. The Wehrpass was not supposed to have been carried by the individual soldier but some soldiers went into captivity carrying these so this must have happened at some times, for some reasons.  Having said all that, here are our conclusions based on studies of more-or-less untouched paperwork groupings. Others may have come to different conclusions.
SOLDBUCH: As stated, this was the basic individual ID and is the cornerstone of personal paperwork from a reenactment perspective. Some soldiers were issued Merkblätter which were small leaflets about topics including gas warfare and various ailments, these leaflets were supposed to have been glued into the Soldbuch but the majority of original Soldbücher, including many books issued early on and carried throughout the war on all fronts, do not have these (even when other various documents are still associated with the Soldbuch) and so their issue was either rather limited or the mandate to keep these in the Soldbuch was widely ignored.

OTHER ID DOCUMENTS: Soldiers were issued many different kinds of lesser ID documents which were issued right down to Kompanie level in some cases. This category can include things as simple as small signed and stamped paper scraps attesting that the soldier belonged to a particular unit, as well as various kinds of photo IDs such as the military driver's license or the Dienstausweis, and all kinds of passes and permits.
TRAVEL DOCUMENTS: Soldiers do seem to have retained various kinds of travel documents such as the Dienstreiseausweis or the Wehrmachtfahrschein even when the travel was completed, for whatever reason. There were also documents that permitted soldiers more or less free travel in specific areas for specific purposes, these also seem to have been retained. There were also passes to enter certain cities, some of these were valid only for a specific occasion, others were valid for longer periods.

AWARD DOCUMENTS: Some have stated that award documents were to be kept in the Soldbuch. Based on our studies, we do not believe that award documents were carried in the Soldbuch most of the time. No doubt they were carried in the field for a period immediately after issue, but the official entries in the Soldbuch would seem to make carrying the associated documents redundant.

LETTERS FROM HOME: Regulations stipulated that letters from home were not to be carried in the field to deny the enemy any intelligence contained therein. In reality, soldiers did keep and carry these, sometimes accumulating large numbers of them when circumstances permitted. Feldpost was second only to ammunition in the supply system, and getting mail from home was an important feature of the life of the Landser.
PERSONAL STUFF: By this, we mean really personal. Many soldiers carried small booklets in which they would record addresses or keep records of mail sent and received. Some soldiers kept journals in these small notebooks. They seem to have been very common. Photos of loved ones were also carried by very many soldiers.

EPHEMERA: We find lots of stuff in paperwork groupings that were intended to be discarded but that were kept for whatever reason. A page from a calendar, a little piece of newspaper, a blank form or a receipt for hay or for cabbage, perhaps these were used as bookmarks, perhaps they had some personal significance known only to the soldier, or maybe it was just pocket trash. Some companies would even send advertisements in various forms to soldiers at the front and sometimes the recipients would hold on to these.

CIVILIAN STUFF: Many soldiers seemed to have carried documents related to their civilian lives, even when these documents would seem to have been useless at the front. Insurance cards, post office box receipts, paperwork regarding bank accounts, or similar stuff.

The paperwork that you can carry is limited only by your imagination. We have held many untouched paperwork groupings as carried by German soldiers and have never found one loaded with Reichsmarks and porn as carried by so many reenactors. It is far more common to find a couple of plain-looking pictures, a local provisional ID or travel permit, perhaps a letter from home or a certificate relating to the soldier's civilian life, and a scrap of paper with seemingly random notes, their significance lost to time.