Original German WWII Wehrmacht Identity Dog Tag Disc Collection - Set of 5

Item Description

Original Item: One-of-a-kind. A set of five genuine German WWII military identity discs (aka; Dog Tag) Erkennungsmarke. Made of steel and aluminum in good to excellent condition. Three of the tags are complete with both sides and two have been snapped in half. All are legible and are from different branches of the military. A nice collection set of five genuine WW2 German dog tags.

The basic purpose of a soldier's dogtag is a rather simple one: to positively identify him when he is killed, and to provide verification if and when his corpse is exhumed at a later date.  "Erkennungsmarken" were issued to every member of the German Armed Forces and were a constant companion of the Landser; they are therefore a worthy subject of study for students of German army life.  What we will be concentrating on will be tags which would be found in a common infantry unit like Füsilier Kompanie 272.

Basic Regulations:
As most of us already know, the basic information included on a tag consists of a unit designation, a number, and occasionally a blood-type letter.  A soldier was issued his tag by a company-sized unit, either when he was inducted or when his unit was mobilized at the beginning of the war.  If he lost his tag, a new one was issued by whatever unit he was in at the time.  The tags were supposed to be worn on a string around the neck, and when the wearer was killed, the tag was broken in half along the axial perforations and the top part left with the body while the bottom half was used as a record of his death.  These are the basics; what follows is further information and analysis which may give the mundane dogtag some new importance as a historical resource:

Erkennungsmarken (identification tags, and often abbreviated "EK") were issued to all existing members of the Wehrmacht on the first day of mobilization in 1939.  For example, of three members of Füs.Kp.272 who were in the reserves prior to the war, all received their dogtags from the units which they were called up for in August of 1939.  For these "Mobilized" reservists, it is axiomatic that the unit designation would be that of a field unit which was mobilized prior to, or early in the war.

The serial numbers on a tag were called "Erkennungsmarken-nummern" by the Germans and every company-size unit started issuing them with the number "1". Therefore, since the field units mobilized in 1939 had only just begun to issue tags with their unit names on them, the serial numbers on these early tags should be relatively low-numbered, as we see in the examples above.  Since the 1939-period rifle company contained about 175 men (the full-strength bicycle squadron in the ca. 1939 Aufkärungsabteilung contained 158), the tag numbers on these early tags should be lower than the strength of the unit at mobilization.

Wartime recruits, of course, did not enter the Wehrmacht directly through a field unit.  New recruits were first enrolled in an Ersatz (replacement) unit and issued their tags within a few days of their induction.  Based on the Soldbuchs of two FK272 men who were inducted in June of 1944, we can formulate a likely scenario for the issuance of their tags: a day or two within the actual time of induction of these men (Horst Swensen & Harald Nehring), they were standing in a line through which they were issued both their dogtags and their Soldbuchs.  The dogtags were pre stamped with the logo "INF.NACHR.ERS.KP.208" and a serial number, but no blood type.  For wartime recruits, as we can see, the initial dogtag would be stamped with the name of some type of Ersatz unit.  Since large numbers of recruits would be issued dogtags from these units, the serial numbers can be quite high; serial numbers for these tags over the 2000 mark are not uncommon.

Like anything else, a dogtag can be lost, misplaced, or otherwise disposed of (one member of FK272 was brought up on charges for attempting to sell his dogtag at a local bazaar!).  When this happened, the unit which the soldier belonged to was responsible for issuing him a new one from their own stores.  According to Wehrmacht regulations, every field unit was required to keep an inventory of pre-named and numbered tags equal to 20% of the unit's authorized full strength.  These field-unit-issued "replacement" tags have several points in common: for one, the unit name on the tag will be that of a wartime field unit, and two, the serial number should be relatively low.

One point that should be obvious by now, after seeing how the tags were independently numbered, is that the dogtag number and the Soldbuch serial number will not often coincide, even though they could both be issued at the same time by the same unit.  When a unit is first organized, especially a replacement unit, it it will probably issue tags and Soldbuchs on a 1-to-1 ratio, and the numbers may coincide for a time.  At some point in time, however, a convalescing soldier would come along who had lost his tag and kept his book, or visa versa.  The issuing unit would then find itself issuing a tag or book without its numerically-corresponding counterpart.  The match would therefore be broken for all subsequent issues.  Dogtag numbers and Soldbuch numbers were independent.

Construction and Stamping:
Tags were made of several materials, depending on what period of the war they were issued and who issued them.  The earliest tags were made of aluminum, and this material appears to have been common until perhaps 1941 or 1942, when zinc began to become more common.  Zinc remained the material of choice until war's end, even though steel superseded it in some high-volume replacement units during the late summer and fall of 1944.  As you would expect, the use of various materials saw considerable overlapping, with some aluminum tags being issued as late as 1943, especially amongst specialist replacement units or field outfits which would not issue enough tags to have to replace their stocks with tags of a newer material.

The actual shape of the tags also varied, with the oval shape ranging from almost round to almost pointed.  One late-war field-unit tag from Gebirgs Artillerie Regt. 1057 has a series of holes in lieu of the typical three long slots to aid in breaking the tag in half.

There are two variations in the orientation of the stampings, depending on who issued the tag.  For some reason, Ersatz units and many "zone of the interior" units usually stamped their tags so that the bottom of the inscription of each half faced the axial perforations.  In other words, no matter which way you look at one of these tags, one of the inscriptions will be right-side-up and the other will be upside-down.  Field units generally stamped their tags so that both inscriptions are right-side-up when the tag is held with the two neck-cord suspension holes are at the top.  These orientations are not rules, however, they are tendencies; there are sure to be exceptions!

The actual type of stamping also varied.  A few tags are stamped completely in capital letters, but most are stamped in a combination of capitals & lower case letters.  The earlier tags also tended to use larger-sized letters.  Some tags used scribed-in guide lines to help stamp the letters in a straight line, and some do not.  One tag examined still bears pencil marks as guide lines.

According to Wehrmacht regulations, the actual stamping was carried out in a unit's Waffenmeisterei (ordnance section).  In fact, the first tag issued by Füs.Kp.V.Gren.Div.272 (Serial #1), was worn by Heinrich Dietz, the Waffenmeister himself!

Blank tags were requisitioned via battalion from the Bekleidungsanforderungs-Dienstwege (clothing requests channels).

The regs also stated that the unit name be stamped above the serial number, but the shape of the tag leaves more room at the center of the tag for the long unit names; it seems that it was more common to stamp the number above the unit name, especially in the "mirrored" inscriptions of the Ersatz unit tags.

The addition of a blood-type stamp appears to have been a mid-war development, and may have been done by the field units themselves.  Army dogtag regulations of September, 1942, make no mention of blood-type stamps, so they are presumably of a later date.  In addition, close examination of a number of dogtags from FK272 show markings made by the same stamp, even though the tags originated from different Ersatz units!  This would indicate that the blood-type letters on these tags were stamped by FK272 when the soldiers arrived.  Late-war tags without blood-type letters on them may have belonged to soldiers who were not yet assigned to a front-line unit or they may have been souvenired from stocks of unissued tags.

If a man was discharged, the regulations specified that his tag was to be turned in and the inscription struck out so that it could not be reused.  The defaced tag was then turned in for scrap.

The regulations also stated that alterations were never to be made to any tag.  The tag illustrated as example 2, below, shows that this regulation was no more sacred than any other.  Altered tags are rare, however.

Record Keeping:

Since German tags lack the name of the wearer, it was vital that the Wehrmacht keep careful records which would connect the tag to the soldier's identity.  Every unit (of company size) kept a special list of every member of the unit and his dogtag inscription.  This list was known as the Erkennungsmarkenverzeichnis, and a copy was sent 10 months after the unit's formation or mobilization to Der Wehrmachtauskunftstelle für Kriegerverluste und Kriegsgefangene (Armed Forces Information Office for Casualties and POWs) in Berlin.  Every month thereafter, the unit was obliged to send in an update called a Veränderungsmeldung (change report), of the same format, which listed only new tags, replaced tags, or tags lost due to transfers or casualties.

Usage and Wear:
According to the regs, the tag was to be hung around the neck from a field-gray, 0.2 dia. cord which was 80cm long.  We do know, however, from talking to veterans that the Landser occasionally decided to keep his tag elsewhere. 

Some soldiers objected to the feeling of the metal against their skin and solved the problem by purchasing or making a leather pouch similar to that which was used by German children to carry their change. They were normally made of undyed leather and often had the soldier's tag number written on the outside. These pouches were not an issued item, so would not be found with an RBNr. These were very popular among the Landsers.

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