Roadside dinner

Chow time somewhere on the Eastern Front, possibly 1942 or thereabouts. It’s in the summer, as evident by the mosquito nets worn by some of the soldiers. The food transport has arrived, and some soup or stew is ladled into the soldiers’ M31 mess tins. The food is kept in 25-liter Essenträger (food carriers) seen in the right center of the photo. Those are like big thermos bottles made from aluminium, keeping the food warm long enough to be transported from the company’s field kitchen to the platoons. Clean water and/or ersatz coffee is in the large aluminium jars, and there are probably some loaves of dark rye bread from the field bakery. All of it has been transported on Infanteriekarren (infantry carts, official designation: Infanteriefahrzeug If.8), which can be pulled by two soldiers, a horse or two, a motorcycle, or a small tractor like a Kettenkrad. It was introduced after the campaigns of 1941, where the need for a light transport cart became evident.

The heavy Essenträger containers were usually carried to the platoons on the backs of soldiers, carrying straps fitted to ring mounts. It could be very dangerous, as the food transport detail might become exposed to enemy fire. Knowing what a blow to morale and stamina a missed meal could mean, the enemy made a point of targeting soldiers carrying food. If the threat level was too high, the meals were delivered under the cover of darkness. If the food made it to the front, it might still be somewhat lacking. German soldiers joked about “Horst Wessel soup”, meaning that any meat “marschier’n im Geist“/”marches along in spirit” (that is, not being there physically), making fun of one of the lines in the (in)famous song “Horst Wessel Lied“. You know the food is bad when people make irreverent references to a song which was practically the second anthem of the Third Reich…

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