Landser-Sprache – soldier-speak – were the expressions and slang words used by German soldiers. Here’s a selection of some popular words that could be heard at the front. They reflect attitudes towards bad soldiers, non-frontline troops, glory hounds, and much more. The expressions also give an idea about the often sarcastic humor typical for soldiers of all times.

Alter: “elder”; superiors, usually the company commander (“der Alte”)
a.v.: the proper abbreviation for Arbeitsverwendungsfähig, “one who can be used for work” but exempted from combat duty (see k.v.). Used here as a pun for ausgezeichnete Verbindungen (“excellent connections”)
Arschbetrüger: “ass-cheater”; the short M44 uniform jacket

Beutegermane: “booty-German”, a foreign volunteer, also used for the Volksdeutsche
Blechhut: “tin hat”; helmet
Blechkrawatte: “tin necktie”; the Knight’s Cross

Etappenschweine: “rear area pigs”; derogatory name for soldiers in non-combatant positions, like supply personnel

Donnerbalken: “thunderbeam”; latrine (literally the beam laid across a latrine pit)

Feldküchensturmabzeichen: “field kitchen assault badge”; the War Merit Cross
Fernkampfmedaille: “long distance fighting medal”; the War Merit Cross (suggesting the holders were far from the actual fighting)
Flintenweib: “gun woman”; a Soviet female soldier
Frontschwein: “front pig”; a seasoned soldier
Fußlappenindianer: “footwrap Indian”; infantryman

Gefrierfleischorden: “order of the frozen meat”; the Eastern Front Medal (awarded to those who served during the winter of 1941-42)
Gulaschkanone: “goulash cannon”; field kitchen
Gröfaz:Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten“; “the greatest commander of all time”, derogatory acronym for Adolf Hitler

Halseisen: “throat iron”; the Knight’s Cross
Halsschmerzen: “throat ache”; had by someone who wants to earn the Knight’s Cross
Heimatschuß: “homeland shot”; a light wound that would send a soldier home (“million dollar wound”)
Himmelfahrtskommando: “ride to heaven command”; a deployment with little chance of survival
Hitlersäge: “Hitler saw”; an MG42
HJ-Spätlese: “late vintage Hitlerjugend”; the Volkssturm (a militia made up from older men)
Hundemarke: “dog tag”; the German identity disc
Hurratüte: “hurrah cone”; helmet

Iwan: a Soviet soldier

Kantinenorden: “order of the canteen”; the War Merit Cross
Kettenhund: “chain dog”; a Feldgendarm (military police, who wore a gorget in a neck chain as mark of office)
Knarre: “rattle”; rifle
Knobelbecher: “dice cups”; the German high marching boots
k.v.: the proper abbreviation for kriegsverwendungsfähig, “fit for use in war”, used here as a pun for keine Verbindungen “no connections”, kann verrecken “can croak (die)”, or krepiert vielleicht “will perhaps die”

Landser: infantry soldier
Leithammel: “bellwether” (boss ram in a sheep flock); an Unteroffizier (NCO)
Makkaroni: “macaroni”; an Italian
Milchbart: “milkbeard”; a young, inexperienced soldier
Mündungsschoner: “muzzle protection cap”; a bad soldier

Panzer-Anklopf-Gerät: “tank knocking device” (as in door-knocker); term for the 37mm anti-tank gun, which had trouble knocking out enemy armor
Partisanen: “partisans”; lice

Querschläger: “ricochet”; an unpopular soldier

Ratschbumm: (onomatopoetic); a Soviet direct fire gun where the report is heard as the shot hits
Reichsheini: derogatory nickname for Reichsführer der SS Heinrich Himmler
Rückgrat der Armee: “backbone of the Army”; an Obergefreiter, also the experienced Landser

Schütze Arsch: “Rifleman Arse”; the “last” and worst soldier
Spiegelei: “fried egg”; the German Cross in Gold (“Hitler’s fried egg”)
Stalintorte: “Stalin cake”; stale bread

Taschenflak: “pocket anti-aircraft gun”; a pistol

Untergefreiter: a non-existent German military rank; a civilian

V3: (the last German “miracle weapon” after the V1 and V2 rockets); derogatory for Volkssturm

Wehrbeitrag: “war contribution”; to conceive a child during leave

Zigarettenbüchse: “cigarette tin”; the gas mask canister, which was usually used for other things
Zwölfender: “twelve-pointer”; a career soldier whose term is 12 years, especially used for a Stabsfeldwebel


Let’s party like it’s 1939

With the annual Oktoberfest in full swing right now, partying can hardly get much wetter than this. A Sanitätsunteroffizier (medic, left) enjoys a glass together with a couple of friends. The photo might actually have been taken somewhere in Bavaria, as a Munich address is written on the back of it.

Beer was and still is serious stuff in Germany. Every town of decent size had a brewery or two, and regional styles varied greatly. While in barracks or on leave, German soldiers had access to beer, but in the field it was pretty random whether they could get a bottle or two. Not being picky, Landsers (soldiers) drank what was at hand – wine, brandy, schnapps… For the soldiers’ part, Wehrmacht officers permitted and initially encouraged their charges to consume alcohol as a coping mechanism, believing it essential to good morale. This attitude shifted with the capture of France, when Hitler issued a statement proclaiming: “I expect that members of the Wehrmacht who allow themselves to be tempted to engage in criminal acts as a result of alcohol abuse will be severely punished.”

I don’t know if it was Hitler that Walter Kittel, a general in the medical corps, had in mind when he wrote that “only a fanatic would refuse to give a soldier something that can help him relax and enjoy life after he has faced the horrors of battle, or would reprimand him for enjoying a friendly drink or two with his comrades.” Officers would distribute alcohol to their troops as a reward, and schnapps was routinely sold in military commissaries, a policy that also had the happy side effect of returning soldiers’ pay to the military.

Did the men in the photo get the opportunity to share a bottle after the war? There are two names on the back on the photo, and another photo with two of them makes me think that those are the names of the men in question. The man in the middle is probably Karl Pillmeier, a barber living in Munich, born on 4 April, 1903 in Bad Abbach, Bavaria. He was killed in action on 12 October, 1944, and is buried in Solinka, Slovakia. The man with the newspaper might be Michael Apel, born on 27 January, 1909, in Trier. He fell on 2 April, 1942, somewhere near Chudovo on the Volkhov front. Of course, there might have been other soldiers with the same names, but the ages and ranks, and in Pillmeier’s case also the birthplace, seem to match.

Make beer, not war.

Silly games

A squad of soldiers, probably recruits, goofing off for the camera. The sergeant stands above them, swinging a spade. My guess is that’s sometime late in 1943, judging by the NCO’s M1943 field cap. The soldiers are dressed in the M1935 Waffenrock, which was worn for more formal occasions. Production and issue of the Waffenrock was suspended in 1940. However, it remained authorized for walking out for those who had or could purchase it, and it was a widespread if unauthorized practice to loan a soldier a Waffenrock from regimental stocks to get married in, as evidenced by many wartime wedding photos, some of which I might post in the future. Some of them have tucked their spades in their belts, which was a practice to give some protection from the dreaded gut shot.

Here follows the second part of my exposé over my WW2 interest.

Indulging in other hobbies over the years, my WW2 interest was sometimes on the back burner, but about 20 years ago it flared up again. This time it was more mature (or so I would like to think). Reading histories of battles and campaigns as well as memoirs by veterans gave me a better understanding of the war. ”Saving Private Ryan” was impressive but flawed, but ”Band of Brothers” (2001) made me more interested in the Allied side of the war. Reading about the struggles of American, British, and Soviet soldiers against the armies of the Axis powers broadened my interest respect for the soldiers of the opposing sides. While I hadn’t been a German fanboy (the kind that gushes over Tiger tanks, Waffen-SS, and the exploits of Panzer aces like Michael Wittman – not that much, anyway), it put things in perspective. I hadn’t done any plastic modelling since my teens, but for some years I was active in the 1/6 scale community, assembling highly realistic soldier figures (or ”military Barbies” as some put it). The uniform, weapons, and medals trivia I accumulated in the process has been useful in for example analyzing photos of German soldiers. From the mid-90’s, I also began to game the period on my computer. ”Aces of the Deep”, ”Call of Duty”, ”Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault”, and online games like ”Heroes and Generals” and ”War Thunder” have been a way to immerse myself in WW2 settings.

In most movies and games, the German soldiers are portrayed as rather faceless enemies, whose main purpose in their short lives is to run into the machinegun fire of the Allied heroes. Their officers are either Prussian aristocrats who don’t hesitate to sacrifice their men for Führer and Fatherland, or as flawed anti-heroes who usually pay the ultimate price for their reluctant service to an evil cause. Then there’s of course the usual gaggle of SS officers and Gestapo agents who are unfailingly evil, and when they’re not torturing captured Allied heroes, they make life difficult for the flawed anti-hero German officer. The stereotypical portrayal of Germans has made more than one WW2 buff curious about the truth behind that image, one of them being yours truly. I will expand on this theme in a future post.

Next: Who in their right mind want to read about Nazis?

3 September, 1939

While this photo isn’t likely to have been taken in September 1939 (more likely around New Year’s Eve 1939-40 during the “Phoney War”), I use it to illustrate the cockiness of the young German soldiers before the Scheisse hit the fan in the spring of 1940. On 3 September, 1939, as a reaction to the German invasion of Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. French troops even crossed the border, and had they known how weakly defended Germany’s western border was, or how low the ammunition stocks were, they might have pressed the attack and caused Hitler great trouble. Adolf himself wasn’t too happy with the British declaration of war. It was a miscalculation of his, as he didn’t think the British or French would honor the pact with Poland. After all, they had folded when he invaded Czechoslovakia a year earlier. With the British and French colonial holdings involved, the war began to become global.

Party time!

This is the 100th post, and that calls for a celebration. These German soldiers, who appears to be reservists on occupation duty in France, 1940, have dressed up and broken out a few bottles of wine. A grammophone provides the music. On the back of the photo is a short caption which I have trouble reading, but the word “Etappenschweine” stands out as a self-deprecatory name for them. “Rear area pigs” was the derogatory name the frontline troops used for soldiers in non-combatant positions, like supply personnel who lived in relative comfort and had the first pick of any supplies going to the front. This was something that was rather common in most armies.

Unless they were deployed to the Eastern Front a year later, the men in the photo probably went on serving in France, enjoying the comforts befitting conquerors. Four years later, they would be less comfortable, either sent to combat against the Allies, or retreating towards Germany as the frontline crumbled. Unlike them, this blog won’t see an ignominious defeat. Onward to the next 100 posts!

Three amigos

A trio of cheerful guys, bespectacled and with classy straight pipes. The back of the photo only says “Januar 1944”. The place is western Europe – France, Belgium or the Netherlands – and their branch of service is probably the coastal artillery, which was the responsibility of the Kriegsmarine (Navy). There are some subtle differences to their uniforms that make me think that, mostly the style of their sidecaps and an emblem on their shoulderboards (visible under magnification on the original photo). Anyway, little do they know that they’ll probably be in combat in five months. Hopefully the three friends survived the war.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

In the skies above Paris… Not really. An army Unteroffizier and his navy buddy have their photo taken in a studio in Paris, 1940. I have seen this very set used in at least one more photo, so I guess it was a rather popular souvenir back then.

Those were the happy days being a German soldier. Sure, at least 27,000 of them had been killed in the Battle of France, but the campaign was short and triumphant, and the humiliation of the defeat in 1918 paid back. The war against the Soviet Union was a year off in the future, and instead the German soldiers could enjoy occupation duty in France. There were plans and preparations for the invasion of Britain, Operation Seelöwe, but while the Luftwaffe fought in the skies over England, soldiers on leave had a fun time in Paris. A year and a half later, many of them would be freezing to death on the Eastern Front…