Beer by the barrel!

Time to celebrate! This post marks the start of the second year of this blog. In the past year, I’ve made 341 posts, all featuring original photos and documents from my collection. For those of you who are new to my blog, the purpose of it to tell the history of World War 2 from the perspective of photos taken by German soldiers. The intent is to take a look at different aspects of the German war effort and the years preceding the war. It shouldn’t in no way be taken as apologetics for the criminal and cruel war, the Wehrmacht, or for the Nazi regime. On the other hand, I want to present a more personal side of the war, giving the often anonymous soldiers a name (if possible) and a context. Sometimes I give their opponents a face, too, honoring the memory of the untold millions who suffered and died. Some photos have presented mysteries that I’ve been able to solve, many times with the help of fellow amateur historians. Thus the photos form pieces in the immense jigsaw puzzle that is World War 2, hopefully making it a fraction more understandable.

Please join me for the second year of the journey. I will present more photos and the histories behind them, hopefully adding to both my and your knowledge of that time over 70 years ago.

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The lighter side of war

These eight cartoons were part of a large photo lot I bought recently. The anonymous artist has captured the men he served with in one of the Army propaganda companies. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling which of the 27 or so companies it might be. The cartoons might’ve been drawn around 1943, judging by the cap in the last cartoon. Anyway, the artist certainly had an eye for people. From top left, we have the company commander, a Hauptmann (Captain) portrayed as the father of the company. The dog might be the company mascot. Next is an Oberfeldwebel, the company master sergeant also known as the Spieβ. The apron and broom alludes to the other name used for the Spieβ: “Mutter die Kompanie” – “mother of the company”. The next guy, shouting in dialect, is another Spieβ, as evident by the two cuff rings and black note book. He shouts “What are you, General?” at some hapless soldier who apparently did something not befitting his rank. Last in the top row is a Leutnant (2nd lieutenant), portrayed as a rooster and by all signs something of a ladies’ man.

First out in the bottom row are two officers reading a newspaper with the headline “What does the elegant gentleman wear in the field?” Could it be that some of the company officers strived for a dapper appearance? They wouldn’t be the first… Next is some sort of legal officer, but I haven’t found any information on the organization of propaganda units that tells what function he would’ve had. Censor? The third guy is a Gefreiter (lance corporal) brandishing a Luger pistol. The “UvD” on his helmet aren’t his initials, but the abbreviation of Unteroffizier vom Dienst (“NCO of the watch”). The loop on his shoulderboard is that of an NCO candidate. Last is a rather bullish man, probably an NCO, and by all apperances a guy of a more practical persuasion.

The propaganda companies were the only media units allowed at the front; there were no free news media or even embedded journalists in the Third Reich. They produced articles and movies, as well as posters and other items for local propaganda. Military and civilian newspapers, newsreels, radio broadcasts, articles for magazines like Signal – all of it were intended to convey the official image of things. Through the filter of Nazi policy, the soldiers and public were kept in the dark when it came to the fortunes of the war. While the quality of the photos and articles was generally high, it served to put a spin on the official version that made readers think that the war could still be won even late in the war. One of the darker sides was the obfuscation of the plight of the Jews in the ghettos, and the justification of the actions taken against them (while not mentioning the organized murder).

World War 2 was more than 70 years ago, but propaganda is still an important feature. We haven’t become more clever, and the ways of influencing our thoughts and attitudes have become if anything more insidious and sophisticated. Stay alert.

The third wheel

The speed of Blitzkrieg warfare required that motorcycle units had to be able to change wheels while moving.

Naah. The riders of that BMW R75 sidecar combination show off a trick that appears to have been rather popular, as I’ve seen a couple other photos featuring the same stunt. Motorcycles were used for reconnaissance and communications (dispatch riders), but there were also motorcycle battalions, a more modern form of cavalry. They were introduced as a cheap way to mechanize units when the Army expanded rapidly in the years before the outbreak of the war. The sidecar could have an MG 34 machine gun as armament. Motorcycle battalions were fast but lightly armed, and part of the Panzer divisions. From 1942, the MC battalions were equipped with armored vehicles instead. About 17,000 BMW R75 motorcycles were built before the war ended. It was rugged and popular, and copied by both Americans and Soviets.

Sports and politics

Let me celebrate the first day of the FIFA World Cup 2018 with this little photo. Putin’s Russia will no doubt turn the tournament into a propaganda event, which is in the tradition introduced with the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin 1936. Authoritarian states have a tendency to use sports as a propaganda tool, despite the vehement claims from some quarters that sports and politics don’t mix. The Berlin Olympics were a big success, and Germany was credited with arranging the best games hitherto. It was a part of the image that Hitler wanted to project to the world, and that his Third Reich might not be such a bad place after all. It worked for a while…

The photo shows football teams from the Heer and the Kriegsmarine prior to a game. If it had been an American war movie, the game would’ve turned into the typical Army vs Navy brawl, but in this case, it seems to be just a training game. The lack of an audience is telling. There were international games during the war, though. The national football team of Sweden met the German team in Berlin 1942. Before a crowd of 98,000, the Swedes refused to perform the Nazi salute, something the British team hadn’t done in 1938 due to pressure from politicians at home. Anyway, the Swedes beat the Germans 3-2, and after a couple more defeats, the German national team was dissolved and the players sent to the front. Few of them survived the war.

These days, sports has more to do with entertainment and big business than politics, but the political angle is still there when it comes to big international events. Sports and politics do mix, but badly.

Splish splash I was taking a bath

With the warm temperatures in Sweden right now, it’s not without some envy I look at the German Pioniere (combat engineers) having a battle on the water in the summer of 1941. They play around in two große Schlauchboote (large inflatable boats), of which there were twelve in a Pionier battalion. Used for river crossings, they could take about 12-15 soldiers each, or be used as ferries (two or more with added wooden decking) or for provisional bridges. The combat engineer battalion also had assault boats and pontoons, which made for speedier crossings and sturdier structures, respectively, but the inflatable boats were easier to bring up to the frontline. It took some courage to cross a river with enemy troops on the other side, as inflatable boats aren’t exactly known for being bullet-proof… The soldiers in the photo would soon experience the crossings of many rivers in the USSR, under circumstances far removed from that summer day.

Tubmarine

A Luftwaffe Unteroffizier floating a suggestion on how to invade Britain. Well, it had about as good a chance as Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), the projected German invasion of the UK. While the Brits felt real fear of an invasion, especially after losing lots of heavy weapons and vehicles in France and Belgium, they still had a formidable navy and air force. The invasion was never attempted, as the Germans didn’t achieve air supremacy over England – a major requirement in order to make a safe passage across the English Channel. In 1974, an invasion of Britain was played as a war game at the British military academy at Sandhurst. While the Germans managed to land, they couldn’t get enough men, weapons and supplies across in the second wave, and suffered a crushing defeat. The idea of a German invasion of Britain has been the theme for several novels, movies and TV series, though, like Len Deighton’s SS-GB.

As hard as an invasion of Britain would’ve been, invading the United States would’ve been an impossibility. One has to ignore many known facts in order to imagine a Nazi occupation of the US. If crossing the 40 km wide Channel was a challenge, crossing the Atlantic – a distance 130 times longer – was a pipe dream. Also, bringing enough men and gear to occupy the vastness of North America would’ve been totally outside the scope of the German Army. Sorry, authors and games designers – I don’t buy the idea!

You too can be a winner!

This is an odd photo, with no explanation written on the back. The guy to the right has a couple of bike pedals mounted on his “Cross of Iron”, which makes me think that the soldiers are from a bike-riding infantry unit, probably during the first years of the war. And now on to…

The Grand World War 2 in Photos Contest!

This is my 300th post, and it’s time to celebrate with something special! Why not a little contest? As you might have noticed, I like to make puns and references to movies, books, and songs, and a number of the headlines in my posts are just that. So the challenge is the following: find as many of those puns and references you can. The three best contestants will win genuine German photos from WW2.

The rules:

  1. The contest ends on 31 May 2018, 24:00 CET.

  2. To enter, the contestant has to register as a follower of this blog (the WordPress page). A contestant cannot enter more than once. Failing to register as a follower or trying to enter more than once are grounds for disqualification.

  3. The contestant who can identify the greatest number of sources for my puns and references will win. Two more contestants will win the 2nd and 3rd prizes.

  4. Points are scored by properly identifying the source or inspiration for a blog post headline. This could be a book, movie, TV series, song, or game. There are about 50 such headlines, counting from the beginning to 30 April, 2018. Any post made during the time for the contest (1 – 31 May, 2018) aren’t part of it and doesn’t count towards that total. Each correct answer scores one point.

  5. A post headline were the source is identified in the post doesn’t count. (Example: “Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major”, as the song is clearly mentioned in that post.)

  6. Write down the headline of the post and what you believe is the inspiration or source for the pun or reference. (Example: If there’s a blog post about field bakeries in WW2 named “The Baked and the Bread”, the answer should include that headline and the source, which is the novel “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer.)

  7. Make a single list of your answers and send it to bjorn.hellqvist[at]comhem.se before the contest ends. Once the answers have been submitted, you can’t make additions to the list.

The 1st prize is 30 photos, the 2nd prize is 20 photos, and the 3rd prize is 10 photos, worth about 5 USD/Euro per 10 photos (sorry, no photos of tanks or other cool stuff). If two or more contestants get the same score, they’ll receive an equal number of photos. Two 1st prize winners get 25 photos each, the 3rd winner gets 10, or in the case of two 2nd prize winners, the 1st prize is 30 photos and the two 2nd prizes 15 photos each. If all three get the same score, they’ll win 20 photos each. In case there are more than three contestants with the same scores, those who sent in their answers first will win.

Good luck!