Belt and Buckle
All enlisted men, regardless of rank, were issued with a black leather belt and the standard Army
buckle, which featured an eagle sat atop a swastika with the phrase “Gott Mit Uns” or “God is with
us” written above it and oakleaves beneath. The buckle was a redesign of the belt buckles worn
during the First World War which also bore the same phrase which was originally stamped upon
Prussian belt buckles. Quite often in the field these buckles would be painted green, so that the
shiny metal would not show and make the wearing a target for enemy fire but experienced men
soon found that this paint wore off over time exposing the bare metal beneath.
These pouches were based on a common design used throughout Europe during both world wars. Made of leather, they consisted of three connected pouches, each with an individual divider in the centre of the pouch. Each of the three compartments could house two 5 round clips of 7.92mm ammunition for the Mauser K98 rifle. Each soldier was issued a pair of these pouches, which were worn on the front of the belt. At full capacity, these pouches gave each soldier a maximum firepower of 60 rounds. Each pouch was closed by large stud which sat at the bottom of the pouch, which kept the pouches tightly shut, keeping away dirt and debris which might cause problems when the rounds were placed in the weapon.
Throughout WW2 these pouches were made of black leather. This was an unchanged design from the First World War, the only difference being the colour of the leather which was changed between brown to black.
One of the most important items of the belt order was the bread bag. A simple canvas bag which sat upon the back of the belt via two canvas loops and a metal hook upon the soldier’s right buttock. On the outside, the bag had two metal d loops and two leather loops which the soldier’s canteen and mess tin could be strapped to.
Inside the bag, there are two large compartments. Here the soldier would house a lot of the day to day items he needed to survive in the battlefield. Often the German emergency iron ration would be stored here, along with the fat dish, a small cooking stove, other additional food items, cutlery, cleaning tin for the K98 Mauser rifle, spare socks and other assorted items.
Each soldier was issued with an aluminium oval canteen, which was covered with a felt jacket to retain heat and attempting to keep the water inside from freezing. On top was an aluminium cup, which was either a wide rectangular shape or a cone shape (during the latter years of the war, made from Bakelite), painted either green or black. The whole item was held together with a leather strap (later replaced by a web strap), attached to which was the Bakelite bottle cap with rubber seal and upon its back was a metal hook which allows it to be connected to the bread bag.
M31 Mess Tin
Again the design for these tins was common throughout Europe at this time. The M31 was a cut down version of from the First World War. It consisted of a two-part aluminium tin. The lid can be removed from the main tin, giving the soldier two compartments to cook with. The main body has a thin wire handle which allows the soldier to remove the tin from a fire without touching the hot metal body or to carry numerous tins at once with the aid of a stick or rod. The mess tin would have had an equipment strap running around, which allowed it to be threaded through the loops on the bread bag.
All soldiers armed with a Mauser K98 rifle were issued with the accompanying bayonet. Bayonets featured prominently during WW1 and the Army believed they’d be vital during WW2 as well. Two different variants were issued during the war, one variant with wooden grip handles, the other made from Bakelite. The bayonet sat in a leather frog, attached to the belt on the soldier’s left hip.
Straight Handled Shovel
Soldiers have always had to dig positions. Each soldier was issued a shovel, the most common of which was the straight handled version seen above. These were useful to dig in positions, dig firepits and often sharpened to be used as a weapon in itself. Housed in a black leather carrier, it sat on the left hip with the K98 bayonet tucked in leather cross strap on top of the handle.
A Zeltbahn is a triangular waxy cotton poncho. During WW1, these ponchos were a drab green or grey colour but in 1931 the German Army started developing camouflage patterns and these ponchos were printed in splinter pattern A camouflage. The main function of the zeltbahn was to act as a waterproof garment for a soldier but to also act as a camouflage item as well. Along the edges of these ponchos were a number of buttons and in the centre is a large hole which allows the soldier to poke his head through. The buttons allowed the soldier to button up the Zeltbahn in a number of different fashions. When not in use, the zeltbahn would be rolled up into a sausage shape and secured to the back of the belt by two equipment straps.
However the Zeltbahn had another function. In each corner was a large metal gromet. When combined with three other ponchos, four soldiers could build a makeshift pup tent by buttoning their ponchos together. The gromets could have rope laced through them to secure the tent to the ground, while at the top, the four gromets would hold a pole or stick in position to give the tent its pyramid shape. A fully erected four-man zeltbahn tent would sleep three men with equipment, while the forth was outside on guard duty.
Gas Mask Cannister and Gas Cape Bag
Although gas was never used during WW2, most sides, especially during the early years of the war, equipped their troops with gas equipment. All German soldiers were issued with a gas mask in a cylindrical steel tin which attached to the soldier via a canvas webbing strap which went over the soldier’s head and then attach to the back of the belt with a metal hook, sitting just above the bread bag.
Inside the can was housed the gas mask, its charcoal filter, spare lenses, cleaning cloth, anti-gas ointments and decontaminates. Alongside the gas mask, each soldier was issued with a gas cape in its wax rubber bag. This cape was folded up inside its bag and was worn on soldier’s breast, hung from the gas mask tin’s web strap, then later when the threat of gas diminished, the cape was strapped around the can. The purpose of the cape was to be a quick release shield that the soldier could throw over himself when threatened with ground based gas.
As the soldier’s equipment advanced, the army decided in 1939 to introduce shoulder straps for the belt order. These were leather straps, which formed a Y shape, with two straps coming over the front to connect with metal d loops on the K98 pouches and a central strap running down the back attaching directly on the belt by a metal hook. Two additional straps ran alongside the front straps, which in tandem with two metal hooks which sat upon the soldier’s shoulders, would attach the assault frame or tornister backpack, with the two straps running underneath the soldier’s armpits to connect with the bottom of the assault frame or backpack.
The Tornister was a horsehair backpack issued to all troops, especially in the pre-war years and earlier years of the conflict. The design remained pretty much unchanged from Napoleonic times, when such backpacks were also commonplace for infantry use. However the Tornister wasn’t a combat zone item, more a marching pack to be left in the rear, either stored within a lorry or cart while the soldiers were fighting. Inside the soldier would house the majority of his day to day kit he did not require in the direct combat zone. Often the mess tin was placed inside, alongside a pair of short boots or shoes, spare socks, pullover, rations and other food items, wash kit, boot polishing kit and other cleaning items. Quite often the soldier’s grey blanket and occasionally zeltbahn were wrapped around the tornister by means of leather equipment straps.
As the war progressed, these tornisters were reduced in size from their pre-war models and eventually during the middle of the war, some began to lose their distinctive horsehair coverings, being replaced for a more simpler canvas construction. They remained in production until 1944, when they were phased out for the more cost effected and modern designed rucksacks.