Working girl

A Jungführerin of the Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (RAD/wJ, Female Youth National Labor Service) with her floppy hat and swastika-adorned brooch. At the same time that the RAD was officially established in July, 1934, it was also divided into separate sections for males and for females. The Reichsarbeitdienst Männer, or RAD/M, was set up for men, and the Reichsarbeitdienst der weiblichen Jugend, or RAD/wJ, for females. All young women between 18 and 21 years of age were expected to serve. For women the period of service had been six months since 1939, but this was often extended by an emergency service obligation. In July 1941, the service was extended by a further six months to twelve months, extended to 18 months in April 1944, and finally made indefinite in November 1944. The extra (wo)manpower gained by the extended service term of 1944 was mainly used for anti-aircraft defense.

The female RAD replaced male agricultural workers as they entered Wehrmacht service, but they also joined the workforce in offices, in the armaments industry, and in public transport. Their main tasks were to assist peasant families with childcare and as teachers or nurses, or to work in the household, in the field, or taking care of farm animals, milking cows, and so on.

The daily routine, with its detailed schedules, left the members of the RAD/wJ with little time at their own disposal and resembled that of the soldiers: not counting the lunch break, the work hours amounted to about 76 hours per week. Also, the evenings were usually planned, and with no time for activities outside of the camp; this required special permission, as in the case of the military. The RAD completely replaced the existing social environment. Thus, a collective identity was to be developed in the new “community”, indoctrinating the RAD/wJ members into the Nazi state.

Women were also able to serve as Wehrmachthelferinnen (Army female auxiliaries), like telephone operators (“Blitzmädel“). To this end, the period of service was extended by six months. From 1944 the RAD/wJ was also used for the operation of anti-aircraft searchlights in support of anti-aircraft guns and Luftwaffe nightfighter units.

The manpower shortages required that women served, just like in many other countries affected by the war. For the Nazis, women were mainly to be mothers and to take care of the household. The war production relied on slave and forced labor, which often resulted in sabotaged munitions and other war materiél. Had German women been employed earlier, the war industry might’ve run smoother.

Advertisements

Just a flesh wound?

This Gefreiter has lost his right arm, but the war isn’t over for him. Soldiers who became partial invalids were often retrained and put in non-combat positions. The loss of an eye, a hand or even a whole arm wasn’t deemed reason enough for discharge. The most famous crippled soldier was probably Stuka ace Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel, “Panzerknacker“, who flew the last 1½ months of the war with a prosthetic leg, claiming a further 26 enemy tanks for a total score of 519. Another famous colonel was Claus Schenck von Stauffenberg, who had lost his left eye, right arm and two fingers on his left hand in North Africa. His handicap made it hard for him to ready the second charge in the briefcase that held the bomb intended to kill Hitler, so he went with just one, which proved to be not enough…

Disabled soldiers, NCOs and officers could serve in other capacities, like clerks, telephone operators, instructors, staff personnel, etc. In the second half of 1942 there were 10,000 men in retraining programs (Sonderlehrgänge für Kriegsversehrte). In 1953 there were about 2,000,000 disabled veterans in Western Germany alone (out of a total population of  51 million), of whom 1.5 million had more than 25% disability. The soldier in the photo would eventually receive the Wound Badge in silver, and if he survived the war, he would be entitled to a job suitable for a disabled veteran.

 

Thanks to Christoph Awender on Axis History Forum for additional information.

A good start to a good day

The men of what appears to be a mobile field workshop having breakfast. A big pot of ersatz coffee, sandwiches with spreads like jam, liver paste or canned cheese make for a good start of a hopefully productive day. A hammer rests on an anvil. The car is probably a 1939 Horch 830 BL Pullman saloon, a little worse for wear since it joined the Army. The photo is stamped 7 April 1943 on the back, but I suspect it was taken the year before. The chevron painted on the door might be a unit marking, but I haven’t found out which one.

The men sport haircuts typical of the German Army at the time. The skinhead look of the German soldiers in Saving Private Ryan was rather ahistorical. Some soldiers even wore their hair longer than American GIs, something that surprised the Yanks.

The second guy from the left is sitting on a 20 liter gas can. It’s made from stamped sheet steel, and the design has been essentially unchanged to this day. The Allies copied the design, calling it “Jerry can” as in “Jerries” = Germans. The British in particular picked up any they could lay their hands on, as their equivalents were known as “flimsies”, the name indicating their sturdiness (or rather lack thereof). If the cans had a white cross painted on them, they held water instead. Otherwise the morning coffee might be a bit stronger than intended by accident…

A rare bird

I got this photo in an auction lot, but couldn’t identify the airplane. At first, I thought it was a British biplane, perhaps something from Hawker. The lack of any lower wing threw me a bit, though… While researching the previous post, I found a mention about the Belgian Air Force, illustrated with a biplane. I checked the Wikipedia article on the BAF in WW2, and the types of planes that were flown. I checked one, and – bingo! The plane in the photo is a Renard R.31! Further searches yielded a photo that was most likely of the same wreck. This is what makes this kind of research fun.

As for the Renard R.31, it was a Belgian reconnaissance aircraft which first flew in 1932. It was the only military WW2 aircraft entirely designed and built in Belgium. The R.31 entered service with the Belgian Air Force in 1935, but it wasn’t popular with its pilots, as it had poor handling and was vulnerable to entering flat spins. Only 34 R.31s were built. It was obsolete when Belgium was invaded in 1940, and those that were not destroyed on the ground in the early hours of the German invasion were savaged by German fighter planes as they attempted to gather information on the invading forces.

Following the German occupation of Belgium, the Luftwaffe showed no interest in the R.31s, and those that had survived were unused or destroyed. Overall, these machines had no significant impact on the Battle of Belgium.

Denied to the enemy

The wreck of a French Char B1 bis sits in a street corner in Beaumont, Belgium, after having been blown up by its own crew on 16 May, 1940, probably after having run out of fuel. Named “Rhône” (painted on the turret lying next to the wreck), it was one of the tanks in the 37th Bataillon de Chars de Combat, serving with 1st Division Cuirassées de Réserve, which was equipped with 69 Char B1 bis tanks. The tank was armed with a 75 mm howitzer in the hull and a 47 mm gun in the turret. Starting in the early twenties, its development and production were delayed, resulting in a vehicle that was both complex and expensive, and already obsolescent when real mass-production of the derived version, the Char B1 bis, started in the late thirties. About 400 tanks were built, costing 1.5 million French Francs each.

The 28-ton tank was crewed by four men, and was among the most powerfully armed and armored tanks of its day. The type was very effective in direct confrontations with German armor in 1940 during the Battle of France, like in the fight for the French village Stonne on 16 May, 1940, where a Char B1 bis commanded by captain Pierre Billotte knocked out 13 German PzKpfw IIIs and IVs in a few minutes, while none of 140 hits by German guns managed to penetrate. Slow speed and high fuel consumption made it ill-adapted to the war of movement then being fought, though. After the defeat of France, captured Char B1 bis would be used by Germany, with some rebuilt as flamethrowers or self-propelled artillery.

The tank is most likely not the same tank as the one on display, painted with the same markings, in the Saumur Tank Museum, France.

Dressed for work

…or perhaps overdressed. With the Nazi fascination with uniforms, it seemed like half of Germany was dressed in one uniform or other. This Feldmeister (rank equal to an army second lieutenant) wears the earth-brown uniform of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD; National Labor Service). The breast pocket is adorned with the Reich Sports Badge and the SA (Sturmabteilung) Sports Badge, while a NSDAP (Nazi party) members’ pin is worn by the tie knot. He carries a hanger – a heavy knife – the grip covered with deer antler and the blade etched with the RAD motto “Arbeit adelt” (“work ennobles”). The sleeve patch over the swastika armband has the number “44”, which means that he belongs to the 44th Arbeitsgruppe in Arbeitsgau IV (Pommern-Ost – Eastern Pomerania). An Arbeitsgruppe was made up from 1,200 to 1,800 men, eight of which made up an Arbeitsgau.

This guy could probably look forward to sit out the war in relative safety, tasked with training new RAD recruits before they went on to military service. As the war progressed and the situation at the fronts became more desperate, several RAD units found themselves deployed from rear-line support to more direct combat. With little or no combat training, most of them fared poorly. So, did the guy above end up at the front, or did he have connections that saved him from the fate of millions of his compatriots? The Eastern Pomerania location is bad news, as that area was overrun by the Red Army. Unless he changed to civilian clothing, or made his way west, the future looked grim…

One of millions

German soldiers are sight-seeing in Paris in the summer of 1940 after the victory over France. They have gathered around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is situated beneath the Arc de Triomphe. The remains of an unknown French soldier, chosen from eight “candidates”, was moved to the Arc on Armistice Day 1920, and interred in its final resting place on 28 January 1921. It has the first eternal flame lit in Europe since the fourth century. It burns in memory of the war dead who were never identified.

A ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every 11 November on the anniversary of the armistice signed by the Entente Powers and Germany in 1918. The slab on top bears the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 (“Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918”). After the interment of the Unknown Soldier, all military parades have avoided marching through the actual arch. The route taken is up to the arch and then around its side, out of respect for the tomb. Both Hitler in 1940 and de Gaulle in 1944 observed this custom.

Did they think of fathers and older brothers, who had fought the unknown French soldier? Did they reflect over their own mortality? Did any of the soldiers in the photo end up in war graves, or go missing in combat? The dead aren’t bothered by such thoughts; it’s the living who are worried about dying without fulfilling their lives.