Chow in the snow

Three young soldiers having a food break in a snowy forest. The embroidered regimental numbers on their shoulder boards appear to be “75”, and the Waffenfarbe (branch of service color) is a confusing mix of white (the cap soutache and the center strip of the Litzen collar patches) and the slightly darker color of the shoulder board edging and regimental numbers. Two of the soldiers wear the “M40” uniform tunic, which indicates a 1940 or later date. My guess is that the photo was taken in France in late 1941, and that the soldiers belong to Infanterie-Regiment 75 while it was turned into Jäger-Regiment 75 (from 1 December 1941 onwards).

The regiment was part of the 5. Infanterie-Division. It fought in France in the campaign of 1940, and after occupation duty in France, the division was sent to East Prussia in April 1941 in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. It took part in the heavy fighting until withdrawn to France in November. There, the division was turned into the 5. leichte Division, while the 75th became part of the 5. Jäger-Division, which was sent back to the Eastern Front in late spring 1942. There it was to remain for the rest of the war. In early May 1945, the battered remains of the division retreated across the Elbe river for the chance to surrender to the Americans.

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Happy meal

An Unteroffizier looks happy, carrying lunch in the form of a plate with meats and some fresh white bread in his helmet. The photo appears to have been taken in France in 1940. The young NCO is equipped with a pair of Zeiss 6×30 binoculars and a map case. An M24 Stielgrenade can be seen in his left boot – it was rather common to carry the “potato masher” that way, even if this is the only photo I own showing this practice. He could be a combat engineer, but it’s hard to make out any details on his shoulderboards. Anyway, the food he might have procured from the farm in the background was a welcome break from the standard Army fare.

Still life with bread and cheese

There are some signs that this photo was taken in the West, probably France. The bread is baked from wheat, and isn’t the dark rye Kommissbrot that was a part of the daily ration. The cheese looks to be more than the daily 120 grams, too. I have no idea what the mash in the mess tins could be. Butter? But butter, margarine or lard was usually kept in a separate bakelite container. Semolina porridge? Possibly. Anyway, the M31 Feldflasche and M31 Kochgeschirr (field bottle and mess tin) are standard issue, but the knife is not. Did I say France? The knife with it’s horse head top is of a type more common in Finland, so that makes the location of the photo more likely to be the northern part of the Eastern Front. Well, whatever the location, the soldiers had good eating that day.

Eggstra rations

These German soldiers, perhaps from a field workshop unit, fry up some eggs to be enjoyed on slices of bread. Adding whatever you can get hold on to your allotted rations could give you those extra calories to make it through the day, a truth as old as soldiering. Hidden behind the word “foraging”, it usually meant grabbing whatever you could from suffering peasants, and meant severe problems in wars like the Thirty Years War, where armies were like swarms of locusts. A consequence of an insufficient supply chain, it would be wrong to accuse the individual soldiers of doing whatever they could to survive, though. The guys in the photo don’t look particularily starving, and perhaps they bought the eggs from a farmer for a pack of cigarettes. Barter was a common way of getting extra rations without upsetting civilians, and in occupied zones both sides benefited from a flourishing black market. Now pass me the salt and pepper, please.

Roadside dinner

Chow time somewhere on the Eastern Front, possibly 1942 or thereabouts. It’s in the summer, as evident by the mosquito nets worn by some of the soldiers. The food transport has arrived, and some soup or stew is ladled into the soldiers’ M31 mess tins. The food is kept in 25-liter Essenträger (food carriers) seen in the right center of the photo. Those are like big thermos bottles made from aluminium, keeping the food warm long enough to be transported from the company’s field kitchen to the platoons. Clean water and/or ersatz coffee is in the large aluminium jars, and there are probably some loaves of dark rye bread from the field bakery. All of it has been transported on Infanteriekarren (infantry carts, official designation: Infanteriefahrzeug If.8), which can be pulled by two soldiers, a horse or two, a motorcycle, or a small tractor like a Kettenkrad. It was introduced after the campaigns of 1941, where the need for a light transport cart became evident.

The heavy Essenträger containers were usually carried to the platoons on the backs of soldiers, carrying straps fitted to ring mounts. It could be very dangerous, as the food transport detail might become exposed to enemy fire. Knowing what a blow to morale and stamina a missed meal could mean, the enemy made a point of targeting soldiers carrying food. If the threat level was too high, the meals were delivered under the cover of darkness. If the food made it to the front, it might still be somewhat lacking. German soldiers joked about “Horst Wessel soup”, meaning that any meat “marschier’n im Geist“/”marches along in spirit” (that is, not being there physically), making fun of one of the lines in the (in)famous song “Horst Wessel Lied“. You know the food is bad when people make irreverent references to a song which was practically the second anthem of the Third Reich…

Gulaschkanone

A nice view of a “Gulaschkanone”, a field kitchen which was a WW1 design and the most common source of hot food for the WW2 German soldier. This groβe Feldküche Hf. 11 was pulled by a team of two horses. The nickname derived from “goulash”, the Hungarian stew that was common army food, and “cannon”, as the field kitchen looked like a field gun and its limber. It had a 200 liter cauldron and a 90 liter coffee boiler. The front half of the field kitchen held ingredients.

In the field, a German soldier was supposed to receive the following food as his daily Feldration. This was of course subject to the season and the supply situation.

Cold food:
– 750 grams of bread
– 150 grams of fat (divided into butter, lard, margarine as bread spread about 60 – 80 g,       animal or vegetable fat for the preparation of the warm food about 70 – 90 g)
– 120 grams of sausage (fresh or in cans) or fish preserves or cheese
– up to 200 grams of jam or artificial honey
– 7 cigarettes or 2 cigars

Hot food:
– 1000 grams of potatoes, which could be partially replaced by
+ 250 g fresh vegetables or
+ 150 g vegetable preserves
+ 125 g pasta, rice, grains, etc.
– up to 250 grams of fresh meat
– 15 grams of ingredients (salt, spices, etc.)
– 8 grams of bean coffee and 10 g of coffee substitute (or equivalent tea)

Eggs, fruit, chocolate, etc. depending on availability.

If there wasn’t any chance of food from the field kitchen, the soldiers could break out their “iron rations”, which consisted of hard bisquits or bread, canned food, and coffee substitute.

Edit: the field kitchen is marked with the emblem of the 262. Infanterie-Division.