“Ring, ring, why don’t you give me a call?”

This photo is probably from around 1940, possibly earlier. It is hard to determine the Waffenfarbe – the corps colors – piping on the shoulderboards, but it could be signals troops yellow, judging by the brightness of the sidecap soutache (chevron). The M39 uniforms, the lack of combat suspenders, and the gloss paint on the helmets indicate that this is early in the war and that it’s during training. The Feldfernsprecher 33 field telephone was a simple phone in a brown bakelite casing, which held a handset, a generator crank, a battery, a headset, and a throat microphone, in total weighing around 2.5 kilos and carried in a leather shoulder strap when not connected. It was used for communications within a company, between companies and upwards, by artillery batteries and their forward observers, between bunkers, and many other units and situations.

In the photo, a reel of telephone wire can be seen next to the phone. The leather case next to the phone operator’s hand probably contains pliers and other tools for setting up the telephone line. Phone wire can be seen wrapped around the tree trunk. Usually, the rest of the wire was suspended from branches or secured by a single turn around a tree trunk at least three meters up.

The Swedish Army adopted a domestically-made version of the FF33, the m/37 field telephone. When I made my military service in 1986-87, I served as a corporal in the headquarters of a rifle company. We used the field telephones mainly for communication with battalion headquarters. Even now, when I’m a volunteer in a Home Guard unit, we use the m/37 as a way for guard posts to contact the company commanding officer.

Mortar Combat

Three Gefreiter (lance corporals) using a light mortar, the 5 cm leichter Granatwerfer 36 (5 cm leGrW 36). It could lob a 0.9 kg grenade up to 520 meters, and provided fire support at platoon and company level. It was easy to transport, but over-engineered, with not enough of a range and too light a round. Still, it was useful in the early years of the war. Production was discontinued in 1941, and the weapon phased out as mortars were lost and ammunition stocks dwindled.

The soldiers wear greatcoats, the second guy from the right clad in the all-grey version introduced in 1940. His comrades wear the M1939, which has a dark green, more narrow collar. They all wear double decal helmets; the black-white-red national colors shield was eliminated in 1940, and the eagle decal in 1943. Still, helmets could still be seen sporting decals by the end of the war.

Mystery uniform

Young artillerymen training with a 7,5 cm leichtes Infanteriegeschütz 18 (7,5 cm le.IG 18), autumn of 1936. This light artillery piece was introduced in 1932, intended to provide artillery support on regimental level. It was crewed by five, and could fire a 6 kg grenade up to 3.5 kilometers.

The uniforms of the gun crew are a bit of an enigma. They look like police uniforms, with their dark, two-button cuffs and many front buttons. The boots seems to be police issue, too. The Army-style national eagle over the breast pocket wasn’t a feature on police uniforms, even if there were exceptions. The M1918 Stahlhelm doesn’t add to the mystery, though, as the newly introduced M35 helmet hadn’t been produced in sufficient numbers by then.

This is one of those photos that raises more questions than it answers. Were they issued police uniforms because of shortages due to the rapid expansion of the Wehrmacht that began in 1935? This is what makes researching even a rather trivial photo an interesting challenge.

“Links, rechts, links!”

Recruits of the 1. Zug (1st platoon) of some unknown company marching, commanded by Leutnant (2nd Lieutenant) Förster. This is probably in 1940 or 1941, as Förster wears a Wound Badge on his uniform, indicating that he has participated in the campaigns in Poland and/or France. The soldiers wear Drillich linen fatigue uniforms in a mix of off-white and olive green items.

Learning to march was one of the first things that new recruits were taught. To function as a unit, follow orders, and build up stamina were some of the goals. Later the soldiers were able to march up to 40 km (25 miles) in a day, as the bulk of the divisions weren’t motorized. Those marching boots would see many kilometers…

Totally RAD

An Arbeitsmann from the Schleswig-Holstein Arbeitsgau, 76. Arbeitsgruppe, 3. Abteilung, stands among the dunes of the German North Sea coast. He wears the brown uniform of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the State Labor Service. Basing RAD on earlier labor organizations, the Nazis made service compulsory and nationwide. Every man aged 18 to 25 had to serve for six months before they were called up for army service. Before the war, the RAD was mostly deployed in agricultural and similar projects in Germany. While not a part of the Wehrmacht as such, once WW2 began, the RAD supported the army in many capacities, like building fortifications and airfields, laying minefields, repairing roads, loading and unloading supplies, etc, from Norway to the Mediterranian Sea. Later in the war they were even deployed as troops, but with minimal military training, they didn’t do well.

By organizing the RAD, the Nazi government achieved several goals. They got a useful workforce, the men got used to work as a unit (if they hadn’t been in the Hitlerjugend already), and they were subjected to more indoctrination. The RAD was another aspect of the totalitarian state.

Too heavy machinegun

The crew of an MG 08 training in the use of the weapon. The Maschinengewehr 08 was the German version of Sir Hiram Maxim’s water-cooled machinegun, originally patented in 1883. The scourge of the battlefields of World War 1, the gun was relegated to second-line units in time for WW2. At 69 kilos (cooling water included), it was very heavy, and thus not practical for aggressive battlefield tactics. It was better suited for static positions, for example trenches and bunkers. Lighter machineguns, like the MG 34 and later MG 42, became the standard weapons.

The soldiers in the photo belong to a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit. Closest to the camera is the commander, an NCO, observing the target through a pair of Zeiss 6×30 binoculars. The loader feeds a cloth belt holding 250 rounds. The gunner fires in bursts to prevent the weapon from overheating, averaging about 600 rounds per minute. Two riflemen support the gun crew, and also act as ammunition carriers.

The British referred to the MG 08 as the “Spandau”, after the arsenal in Berlin, a name that spilled over on other German machinguns.

Sons of a gun

The crew of a 15-cm Kanone 18 taking it easy during training. They belong to the heavy artillery battery of Artillerie-Regiment 132, which in turn is part of 132. Infanterie-Division. Like so many other divisions in Army Group North, it was trapped in the Courland pocket and surrendered to the Red Army in March, 1945.

Artillery was (and is) an important part of warfare, but the Germans often suffered from ammunition shortages. They had to be conservative with grenades, and fire them off in short, concentrated barrages. The Red Army could amass huge numbers of field guns and howitzers, and let loose massive barrages. The US Army was proficient in concentrating artillery fire in such a way that all grenades arrived at the same time (“time on target”), and seldom had any real ammunition shortages. As in so many other cases, it is a mystery how the Germans could hold out for so long, considering the shortages of just about everything.