The last straw

Weary German soldiers take a rest, perhaps during the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. They have crashed on the ground, not bothering to remove their equipment. Some appear to be napping. One would think that none would be up to a prank, but the Unteroffizier in the middle of the photo has another idea. Reaching across der Spieß – the company sergeant – he is about to tickle his colleague in the ear with a straw. There’s always a guy like that: the joker in the platoon.


Kurtz und Lang

I have a few photos in my collection which have the same theme: the tallest and the shortest guys in the company standing next to each other. This photo show two buddies, probably around 1939, posing for comedic effect.

To calculate their height, I measured the ammunition pouches. In real life, they are 10 centimeters high, which gave me something to base my calculations on. Give or take a couple centimeters, “Kurtz” is 160 cm’s (5′ 3″), while his buddy “Lang” is 197 cm’s (6′ 6″). It does the German uniform supply system credit that they were both able to get uniforms that fitted, even if “Lang” wears the older three-buckle laced boots, presumably because his size was hard to find.

Short soldiers were ideal as tank crews because of the cramped confines of the vehicles; the third highest-scoring tank ace of all time, Otto Carius, was about 160 cm’s tall. Another Otto was Otto Skorzeny, who at 192 cm’s towered over even other members of the Waffen-SS, in which he was an officer and known as a fearless commando.

The average male was shorter in the 1940’s, in some cases a result of malnutrition after WW1 and during the financial crisis in the 1920’s. On the other hand, people were more slim due to exercise and healthier diets.

Strike from behind

This photo mystified me for a while, as I couldn’t identify the sword badge on the shirts. There were no known Wehrmacht units with that design, and a request on Axis History Forum Went unanswered. Then I made a picture search on the off chance that it might be something associated with the Reichswehr, the German Army of 1919-35, and lo and behold! It turned out to be the M32 sport shirt insignia (Truppensportabzeichen), as used by the Reichswehr. It was machine-woven design in black on white cotton, used on various Heeres sport shirts and training outfits. This is the Model 1932 sport shirt design as introduced in the Reichswehr period, but later replaced by the well-known sport shirt eagle-on-swastika Hoheitszeichen in May 1935.

So what’s the thing with the ass-slapping in the photo? No idea, but I guess the unfortunate target lost something in a game. A few years later, most of the young men in the photo were probably NCOs or junior officers in the rapidly expanding Wehrmacht.

Happy New Year?

It’s New Year’s Eve, or “Silvester” as the Germans call it. The soldiers enjoy smokes and drinks, celebrating the end of 1943 and hoping that 1944 will bring about a change in Germany’s fortunes. In the background is the Christmas tree, a window covered by a blackout curtain, an icon and a religious painting. Uniforms jackets, equipment and Zeltbähne hang from hooks. If it wasn’t for the Obergefreiter in the black Panzer jacket, it would be hard to tell what kind of unit they belong to. The piping around the collar patch isn’t bright enough to be the golden yellow of an armored reconnaisance unit, which makes me think it’s the pink of the Panzer troops. On his sleeve can be seen the Kraftfahrbewährungsabzeichen, a badge awarded to experienced drivers.

Whatever hopes they had for 1944, they were thoroughly squashed by the end of that year. The Reich was bombed day and night, the Battle of the Atlantic had been definitely lost, the Allies had taken large parts of Italy and landed in France, causing a retreat back to the German border. The Eastern Front had almost collapsed. The last gamble to turn the tide of the war against the Western Allies, the Ardennes Offensive, had stalled. If anything, the prospects for 1945 were even worse, and if any of the guys in the photo survived the war, they probably spent New Year’s Eve 1945 in a prisoner of war camp.

So this wraps up the first half year of this blog. Next year, I’ll probably update it every two days, as I have to attend to other projects. Rest assured that I have hundreds of photos to write about, so it isn’t like I’m running out of subjects.

Happy New Year!

“How’s your girlfriend?”

“I don’t know. She’s been so cold towards me lately.”

Obviously having some free time, these soldiers have built a snow fort and peopled it with a rather frigid lady. If she’s warming to their advances, she doesn’t let on. She’s more likely to have a meltdown sooner or later. They need real girlfriends…

Going downhill

An Obergefreiter, probably belonging to an artillery unit, zooms down a snowy slope, a look of concentration on his face. The photo is probably from around 1938-39 or earlier, as he wears the three-buckle boots that were replaced by the classic jackboot.

The German Army had several divisions that used skis. Those were the Gebirgsjäger-Divisionen (mountain ranger divisions) and the 1. Skijäger-Division. The personnel came primarily from Bavaria and Austria, but there was also a Skijäger battalion in the 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division “Nord”, consisting of Norwegian SS volunteers.

My own personal experience of army issue skis is 31 years back, when I checked out the bindings on the ironically named “White Lightning” wooden skis of 1940’s provenience. I never had to use them.

Waiting for Santa

Two privates playing chess, wearing their best uniforms, while the Christmas tree is decorated with tinsel, shiny glass pinecones, and candles. They are probably serving in Infanterie-Regiment 4 in Kolberg, Prussia. At home in the barracks or in a dugout on the frontline, German soldiers always tried to create some Christmas cheer. The tree could be just a pine branch decorated with tinsel cut from cigarette packages when living in a bunker. If they were lucky, mail had arrived from family back home. Perhaps the package contained a Christstollen, a heavy fruit cake as traditional as Christmas pudding is for the British. Maybe there was a pair of socks, a scarf or a pair of mittens, knitted by a mother or wife, a welcome addition to the winter uniform. If the enemy was quiet, so much the better.