Summer of 1941, outside the town of Nevel in western Russia. The wreck of a Soviet T-26 tank stands forlornly by the roadside, while the German signposts signal who the new masters are. Nevel was captured by the Germans on 16 July 1941, and it took almost two years and three months before it was liberated.
The signs show the directions for a medical aid station, a prisoner of war collection point, an ammunition depot, a fuel depot, the headquarters of an antiaircraft regiment, a home leave supervision office, and many more. A collection of signs like this was called a Schilderwald – a forest of signs. It is an indication of the many and varied units and installations behind the front lines, where the system for the units at the front did what it could to support the fighting.
One would think that life behind the front was safe and cushy, and it was most of the time, but with mounting partisan activity, rear area units were prime targets for raids and sabotage. As the fortunes of war turned against the Germans, clerks and support personnel would find themselves sent to reinforce crumbling frontlines, clutching rifles not fired since basic training. In October 1943, the signs were kicked over by advancing Soviet troops, and replaced with similar signs in Russian.