The following information is
presented as a general guide for re-enactors and Living Historians portraying German
soldiers of the 20th Century. The German soldier was subject to multiple intrusions
into his personal life, as well as several sets of orders and regulations.
While some practices may have been relaxed in the field, it behooves re-enactors in the
public eye to hold themselves to higher standards than may have been exhibited by those
they seek to portray.
following are based on official regulations as well as informal common practice.
Several hairstyles were popular in the 20th Century, though
soldiers in uniform found themselves restricted to what they were permitted to do with
their hair. In all cases, hair was kept short, the basic standard being that it had
to be kept off the collar and off the ears. In general, extremely short hair styles,
as found favour in the 1980s and 1990s in modern militaries, the were not common during
the Second World War.
The following information from The Haircut Site gives some examples of what
would be considered acceptable or not. (Photos also reproduced from The Haircut
Site). As well, re-enactors should keep their hair a natural hue. Sideburns
are not mentioned, but should net extend past halfway down the earlobe; even better is to
have them cut in line with the top of the ear.
||According to The Haircut Site, the "Businessman's
Cut" is "cut long enough to be either parted or brushed back. The back and sides
may be tapered or slightly longer, and the hair is usually cut above the ears. This cut is
short, but not too short. It's suitable for even the most conservative occupations, and
versatile enough to wear differently in different circumstances."
This style is acceptable for re-enactment, and will not make a re-enactor
stand out when he returns to his civilian life at the end of a weekend event.
||The Haircut Site defines the "Taper Cut" as
"the style of having the hair cut progressively shorter lower down towards the nape
of the head. This is generally done with electric clippers and gives a crisper, freshly
cut look. The degree of tapering can range from a slight taper to a style in which the
hair around the nape and around the ears is shaven." At left is Casper Van Dien
as he appeared in the movie "Starship Troopers."
|Re-enactors should remember to tell their barber to taper
their hair rather than "block" it. "Block" cuts have become
popular among civilians in recent years, but are still not permissible in the Canadian or
American military. The hair is cut straight across at the bottom instead of being
||White Sidewalls, or White Walls, according to The Haircut
Site, refer to "the back and sides of the head when they are buzzed extremely close
to the skin, or shaved clean using lather and a razor. The newly-exposed sides of the head
are often less tan then the rest of the face, and look white (like the white on white
sidewall tires) in comparison." The photo at left is of Ryan Tripp. A
complement to this would be a "soldier's tan", also known as a "farmer's
tan" - being tanned on face and arms, but pale on shoulders, chest and back,
indicating someone spending a long time out of doors with a shirt on.
||Finally, a "buzzcut" is, according to The Haircut
Site, a "generic name used for a variety of short clipper cuts, usually uniform in
length, where the hair conforms to the shape of the head (as opposed to a flattop). The
name comes from the sound of the electric clippers used for the cuts. A buzzcut
typically ranges from 1/2 of an inch to stubble (no guard on the clippers). Variations
include BUTCH - A Buzzcut where the hair is cut to a uniform, short length (usually 1/8
inch or less) all over. A butch would usually be considered shorter than a crewcut, and
the butch is even all over while the crewcut has a little extra length at the front of the
head. CREWCUT - A Buzzcut where the hair is clipper-cut short on the back and
sides, and to an inch or less on top." Matt Damon wore a crewcut in the movie
"Saving Private Ryan."
German haircuts during the Second World War varied from man
to man, but in general, extremely short styles were not seen (though some veterans of the
"Old Army" may have worn brushcuts). Hair tended to be cut very short on
the side (as illustrated by the White Walls cut above), but was left longer on top, often
treated with hair tonic. Commercial hair tonics like Brylcreem are still available
A good source of information regarding German haircuts of
the Second World War is the film STALINGRAD which was released in 1993. The haircuts
of the principal actors capture very well some of the different styles seen in period
At left, German soldiers receive haircuts in the field. At right,
Obergefreiter Georg Ebner, photographed before his death in June 1945.
Even senior officers got their hair cut;
Knight's Cross holder Oberstleutnant Alfred Haase is shown at right, below - note hair
shorn almost to the skin around the ears. Haase was Commander of Pioneer Lehr
Battalion 2, and was awarded the Knights Cross by Hitler on April 1, 1942. Below
left, it can be seen that hair on top sometimes got extremely long - but always kept off
the ears and collar.
Mustaches were generally not permitted in the German Army. Those that did wear
them did not let them extend past the corners of the mouth. Beards were forbidden by
regulation, except by Mountain Troops, or for medical reasons that prevented a soldier
from shaving. Even in these cases, regulations stated that beards could not exceed 2
cm in length.
Pierced ears were not adopted by men, generally speaking,
until the 1960s as the earliest, and did not gain widespread popularity until the
1980s. Men have always been prohibited from wearing earrings when in military
uniform. Other piercings, whether male or female, are a very recent fashion trend
and was unheard of in the 1940s or earlier.
Tattoos have gained popularity among soldiers throughout the
century. By and large, however, tattoos in the Second World War remained modest in
size and crude in design. A wide variety of other designs, non-military in nature,
could also be found. Re-enactors should cover up non-period looking tattoos with the
appropriate garments. Tattoos were usually relegated to the arms, legs, or back by
soldiers in the first half of the 20th Century.
Tattoos and piercings did not become fashionable for women
until well after the Second World War. Piercings were generally limited to the
earlobes, one per ear on the bottom of the lobe. Earrings were to be plain metal
Eyeglasses are not commonly seen in period photos, especially
not in combat units. For those who must wear eyeglasses, acceptable styles are
limited to wire frames, horn-rims, or rimless glasses, always with round
lenses. Mid-temple styles were common in addition to high-temple styles.
Wristwatches began to be common in the first years of the
20th Century; First World War soldiers were more likely to have a pocket watch,
however. By the Second World War, wristwatches were becoming universal. Bands
were in leather or metal "twist-o-flex" and the dial was a simple one with
either Roman or Arabic numerals. Day/date features did not yet exist. Non
period watches should not be worn.
Wedding bands may be worn on the right hand by married
persons (this is the opposite of North American practice); otherwise it is best not to
wear jewellery with re-enactment uniform. Military regulation forbids the wearing of
any other jewellery.
How to Talk to the Public
The main goal of re-enacting is educating people about
military history. Some tips on interacting successfully with the public at large
Thank people who pay compliments on your display or your
Don't argue with people who say that you have done something
wrong, even if they are incorrect.
Don't use profanity.
When talking to veterans, don't ask awkward questions; it is
best to stay away from the question of killing people altogether. Do not expect a
veteran to be overly interested in you until you have shown an interest in
them. Ask them when they joined the military, how long they served, what unit
they were in, and questions of that
nature. Sometimes they will open up, some will not want to talk much at all.
Respect whatever decision they make. Above all, listen
to what they are saying. Do not argue with veterans, even if they appear to be wrong
about something. Be sure and thank them for their service; they will not have heard
it enough, even if they do act humble and tell you "it was only a job."
Admit when you don't know the answer to a question. Do
NOT make something up; it may well come back to damage your credibility. Some people
enjoy asking obscure or trick questions to re-enactors out of a sense of superiority or
mischief. Admitting that you do not know everything there is to know only adds to
your professionalism. Your research may also be aided by having people tell you
things you don't know already. Be open to this.
In general, be polite, be receptive, and remember that a
re-enactor's job is to convey his knowledge to the public, as well as be an ambassador for
the unit he is portraying.
One of the main, and most
difficult, tasks of basic military training is to remove civilian habits
from the recruits. The reinforcement of grooming and dress standards is one
way this is accomplished, and new, "military" habits became ingrained to the
point that civilian re-enactors who have never served can become very
conspicuous by their lack of attention in these areas. Good military units
often concentrated - despite anecdotes to the contrary - on small details,
and well-trained, motivated units came to display these habits.
While away from the field, soldiers were obligated
to present themselves as disciplined and well organized, to their superiors
and to the public at large. Soldiers were ordered (and re-enactors
should seek) to follow many different guidelines of deportment. Note that
exceptions to all of these can be seen in wartime photos. Re-enactors should
generally seek to portray the rule rather than the exceptions.
- Hands were to be kept out of pockets.
- Gum was not to be chewed while in uniform.
- Soldiers were not to lean against walls -
they were to either sit or stand up.
- Uniforms were to be kept clean and pressed,
and not mixed with civilian attire.
- Commissioned officers (and in the German
Army, non-commissioned officers) were to be greeted with a salute appropriate to the uniform
- When addressing a superior, it was customary for a soldier to
stand properly at attention
Headgear was always worn outdoors.
When leaving a billet or tent, proper headgear should be worn. Soldiers
indoors generally uncovered, unless on official business or "under arms"
and performing a specific duty inside. Headdress as also worn when
driving (or riding in) a vehicle.
Items were to be worn, never carried.
If worn, they were worn properly.
Soldiers don't carry overcoats, raincoats, etc., over their
arm -- the item is either worn or left behind (except, of course, as part of the field
equipment). "Proper" wear means all the buttons are secured,
pockets are closed, etc.
(While highly decorated, this German
officer thinks nothing of posing for a photo with a greatcoat draped over his arm;
generally not considered appropriate, the man was probably proud of his medals (or else
the photogapher wanted a better view of them). One must always treat period photos
with suspicion; the intent of the subject and the photographer can only be guessed at,
decades after the fact.)
Complete uniforms were to be worn, and
the proper 'dress of the day' was worn for specific duties. For example,
German soldiers off duty were permitted to wear low shoes and the Schirmmütze
in secure areas.
Soldiers generally shaved once a day,
with exceptions when in close contact or adverse weather conditions.
(Mountain Troops, for example, were permitted to wear beards up to two
centimetres in length when operating in mountains, to help preserve
While it was common for
German soldiers to present a shoddy appearance due to aging uniforms and
equipment (and later in the war the ongoing deterioration of quality of
new clothing and equipment caused by materiel shortages), sloppiness
brought about by neglect was generally not tolerated. Soldiers were held
accountable for their kit (each German soldier's paybook had a section
in which he signed for all the clothing and equipment issued to him). Missing buttons
were replaced, holes and tears were mended either by the soldier, or by
his unit's support services, which had access to sewing machines even in
field conditions. Heavily damaged items were replaced for serviceable
(At left, a studio photo of a
soldier with a pen clip clearly visible under his pocket flap - generally considered a
no-no; pens, watch chains, combs, etc., were supposed to be hidden when in uniform)
While contemporary photos
commonly show soldiers who are dirty, unshaven, and exhibiting all manner of
sloppy habits, good units would tend to return to a natural state of order (ordnung
muss sein) quickly once away from the firing line. Individuals had good
habits trained into them, and good units considered those small details a
sign of discipline and morale.
re-enactment unit's newsletter noted:
Good units are built on the
sort of discipline that results when soldiers can be trusted to do what they are supposed
to without direct supervision. Real or re-enactment, you can tell a
lot about a unit when you see one of its soldiers walking down the street alone; does he
look as good as when in formation, or is he out of control? While not always true,
the old adage "if it looks good, it probably is" is at least a start point for a