Wedding bells (and blades)

Passing under the saber arch formed by his NCO peers, a sergeant and his bride walks down the steps to a waiting carriage or car, which will take them to the wedding reception. It’s probably a year or two before the outbreak of the war. The groom has the four year army service medal pinned to the uniform breast, and – barely visible – what is probably the Deutsches Reiterabzeichen (the German horse riders badge), and another badge which could be the DRL sports badge. A marksmanship lanyard adds further glamor to his uniform. Some of the other NCOs wear similar awards. The man closest to the camera might be a Hauptmann (captain) with a WW1 Wound Badge in black. The NCO next to him has the Hufbeschlag-meister (master farrier) specialist badge on his sleeve, just above the cuff. The one man who presents a challenge is the one behind the groom. He has a NSDAP pin on his tie, but the cap isn’t an armed forces one, nor is it SS. Well, he got an invitation anyway, regardless of what uniformed branch of the Nazi state he belonged to.

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Para bellum

“If you want peace, prepare for war.” It can be convincingly argued that if you want war, you should prepare for it, too. This photo from 1937 (give or take a year) shows a machinegun crew with a MG 13 in its anti aircraft configuration, the large ring sight mounted on top of the barrel shroud and the MG on the AA tripod. The muzzle attachment for blank firing is rather prominent. The soldiers wear the new M36 uniform, the shoulder straps of the first type used 1935-37, and M18 helmets of WW1 vintage. In the background can be seen a couple of the new Sd.Kfz 6/1 artillery halftracks. The Wehrmacht was expanding rapidly, but it was far from ready to go on the offensive. By 1939, things got serious, but some generals thought that there was still much that needed to be done before Germany could take on adversaries like the USSR.

New Year’s Eve mystery

Well, Happy New Year again! The recruits in the photo appears to enjoy themselves, and I guess they would’ve been even happier if they knew what a head-scratcher they created. The photo contains an anachronism…

So I’ve got this photo of soldiers of the Infanterie-Regiment 5 on New Year’s Eve 1937, and some of them are clearly wearing M36 jackets with collars the exact same shade as the rest of the garment, and not the bottle green shade. Why is this a problem? Well, according to all that I’ve read about German uniforms, the feldgrau collar was introduced with the M40, which would date the photo to New Year’s Eve 1940 at the earliest. However, the shoulder straps are of the pattern used between 1935 and 1937, with an angular cut and no Waffenfarbe piping. In 1938, the second pattern shoulder straps were introduced, which were rounded and with the piping. Another indication that the photo can’t be from 1940 or ’41 is the fact that the soldiers are in their barracks in West Prussia; later, they were in Poland and Estonia, respectively.

1937_detalj

Angular, non-piped shoulder straps, bottle green collar seen together with field grey collars – it’s a mystery.

As for the Infanterie-Regiment 5, it was part of the 2. Infanterie-Division, making it one of the original units in the transition from the 100,000-man Reichsheer to the Wehrmacht. In 1937, the division was motorized, and “(motorisiert)” was added to all unit names. It was mobilized in August 1939, and took part in the invasion of Poland. It was then transferred to the Franco-German border, and saw combat in Belgium and France in 1940. Later in 1940, the division was turned into an armored division, the 12. Panzer-Division, making the regiment Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 5. It was among the divisions assaulting the USSR in June 1941, and spent the rest of the war on the Eastern Front until its surrender in April 1945.

So, anyway, if anyone can throw some light on the collar color conundrum, I would be grateful. And with this post, the winter theme is over for this time. Just stay tuned for what I have in store for 2019!

Eins, zwei, drei…

This undated photo posed a challenge, but I think I’ve narrowed down the timeframe to the winter of 1939-40. Three young men – two who appear to be brothers flanking a friend or relative – sport the uniforms of three branches of the German war machine. On the left is an Army Unteroffizier in the old style Waffenrock. His brother wears the uniform of what appears to be a Luftwaffe ground unit; the collar patch is too dark to be the yellow patch of flying personnel and paratroopers.

The most interesting uniform is that of the man in the center. The collar patches appear to be those of a Sturmmann (private) in SS-Standarte “Deutschland”. The single, braided shoulder strap is also typical of early SS uniforms. The brown shirt and black tie were seen in the early years of the war. He wears an SA Sports Badge and a Wound Badge, the latter forming the basis for my guess that the photo was taken in 1939, as the “Deutschland” regiment fought during the invasion of Poland. A couple of months earlier, the SS-Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT) regiments Deutschland, Germania and Der Führer were organized into the “SS-Verfügungs-Division” with Brigadeführer (Generalmajor) Paul Hausser as commander.

After the fall of France in 1940, the SS-VT was renamed Waffen-SS, while the division was to form the nucleus of the “Das Reich” panzer division. Given the heavy losses Das Reich sustained during the war, as it was often in the thick of the fighting, it’s uncertain that the man in the photo survived the war. The division had a reputation for being an elite formation, but it also racked up a series of atrocities and war crimes that tarnishes its legacy.

There’s a fourth person in the photo – a boy on skis. I guess he’s about twelve years old. If I’m correct, he was probably called up in 1944. If he was lucky, he survived the war; as for the young men, their chances were perhaps 50/50. Theirs was a lost generation.

Wehrmacht 1943 fall/winter collection

Unlike yesterday’s photo, this one was taken in more clement weather. My guess is that it was shot in the early winter of 1943. A Major stands next to his Kübelwagen car, two junior officers next to him. The officer in the middle wears a 1942 pattern fur cap and the reversible winter parka introduced in the fall of 1943, featuring the M31 splinter pattern camouflage. This is worn together with riding breeches. Both the major and the man on the left wear M36 greatcoats, officer pattern M43 field caps, and open-buckled officer belts. The officer on the left carries a pistol holster in the belt, probably holding a Walther P38 pistol.

I will return to uniform styles and the development during the war in future posts, but this photo shows that the uniform had become more practical even for officers.

All bundled up

The harsh winter of 1941-42 was the coldest in memory, and the effects were aggravated by the German army’s lack of planning for a prolonged campaign. This photo was taken on 6 March 1942, somewhere on the Eastern Front. By this time, some winter equipment had reached the front and been issued to those who had survived the winter. The NCOs in the photo look comfortable enough, despite the frost that has formed from their breath. The fur caps aren’t German, though; judging by the style, they are Russian ushanka caps with the Red Army stars removed and replaced with German national insignia. Desperate for any warm clothing, German soldiers used items taken from Soviet soldiers and civilians, making the dapper field uniforms to take on a rather rag-tag appearance. Realizing that the Wehrmacht was in for the duration, a decision was made to produce winter uniforms – including fur caps – for the next winter. They turned out to be needed for a further couple of winters.

I’m back!

The blog has had a short hiatus, as I’ve been busy with a trip and visiting family. Also, my vacation is over and I’ll have to fit the updates with my overall schedule. Anyway, August will hold some interesting posts, I hope.

The photo shows a couple of soldiers, possibly on the Eastern Front in 1941. Some common pieces of German Army field gear are visible. The water bottle was carried by most soldiers, and consisted of a metal bottle with a felt cover and a metal or bakelite mug. It’s strapped to the bread bag, a cloth bag used for things like rations, the rifle cleaning set, and other odds and sundries. Next to it is the ubiquitous gas mask case, a water-tight, ridged metal tube that held the gas mask. As the use of chemical agents was exceedingly rare (neither side wanted to experience the gas warfare of WW1 again), many soldiers chucked the gas mask in the luggage and used the case for stuff that needed to be kept dry, like cigarettes. It was also perfect for holding a bottle.

Not quite visible is the entrenching tool, a short spade carried in a leather carrier. The bayonet was strapped to it, which reduced any clatter while moving in the field. Other items not visible are the ammunition pouches, worn next to the belt buckle and holding 60 rounds of rifle ammunition in 5-round stripper clips. There was also the pouch for the gas protection sheet, which as the war progressed was usually strapped to the gas mask case instead of worn on the chest. The metal mess kit was often strapped to the bread bag, but the soldier in the photo probably carries it on his combat pack.

This was the basic personal equipment. Items like the combat pack, the Zeltbahn, and specialist equipment like wire cutters, machine gun accessory case, etc, can be seen in some photos. I’ll post those as I find nice examples in my collection.