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German "Pocket Litter" of WWII
By Jeff Johannes, edited and additional information provided by Doug Nash


Introduction
Pocket litter (as defined in the Interrogation Encyclopedia), is a military intelligence term of art that covers the range of materials and paraphernalia found on or near the prisoner at the time of capture. What a soldier carries on his person, including the contents of his pockets, has always provided valuable military intelligence that might spell the difference between survival and destruction. In general, whatever storage space integral to a soldier’s uniform is usually filled to capacity with the tools a soldier needed to fight with, including the clothes that he wears into combat. For the average German Landser of WWII, this truth was no different than for any other soldier engaged in modern battle.

Pocket Availability on German Uniforms
During WWII, German soldiers wore a woolen tunic (either models M36, M40, or M43) that contained four external pockets, two on the upper chest area of the tunic and two on lower portion of the tunic uniform (Note: late in 1944 Germany developed a shorten tunic, commonly referred to as the M44 Tunic, which contained only two external pockets). Other tunics were developed during the war, such as cotton tunics for wear in tropical climates and Herringbone Twill (HBT) tunics for use in training and in warm climates.  However, they were all patterned after the standard woolen tunic and contained the same type of external pockets. All of them shared the same features, in that their pockets were closed by a single metallic pebbled button that held the pocket flap securely in place. Inside the tunic there was a small, thin interior pocket located in the lower right corner that was designed to hold two first aid dressings.

Trousers, either the woolen or Tropical/HBT versions, usually had two slash pockets located along the side as well as a rear back pocket. There was also a small “fob” pocket located in the front right just below the waistline. This was designed for a pocket watch secured by a metal cord.  However, this pocket was rapidly becoming unnecessary, since wrist watches were becoming more prevalent but experienced Landser soon found other uses for this storage space, such as for carrying condoms.  During winter, overcoats proved handy for carrying personal items, since they had rather cavernous pockets, as did the late-war reversible combat suit, which had two pockets in both the jacket and field pants. 

German soldiers would also place some of their larger personal and field items in the bread bag or Brotbeutel that they were issued. However, the bread bag would often be left behind during combat operations or during reconnaissance missions, where speed and mobility were required and field gear proved cumbersome.  Therefore, many Soldaten left the bread bag, along with their other non-essential gear, back in their fighting positions and donned it once again after the mission was completed.  Once separated from his field equipment, a Landser would then have but one recourse to carry the various items he needed to survive, and that was in his tunic, trouser and overcoat pockets.

Veteran Accounts
Obergrenadier Martin Eichenseer, assigned to the Headquarters (Stabskompanie) of Grenadier Regiment 916, 352nd Infantry Division, fought against elements of the U.S. Army on June 6th, 1944 at Omaha Beach in Normandy.  After the war, he recalled the following: “I was loaded down like pack mule with about seven belts of MG ammunition around my neck, twenty ‘egg’ grenades stuffed in my pockets and twenty stick grenades which I tucked into my belt, boot tops, and pack. With my rifle slung on my back and 500 round ammunition can in each hand, I headed off to the fighting.”

Waffen-SS Sturmann Konrad (Refer to the complete interview of Konrad at the following link: http://www.dererstezug.com/VetKonrad.htm), who was assigned as a combat engineer (Pioneer) and later as a panzer grenadier in the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” simply stated: “Our pockets were always stuffed with what we needed to survive on the front. We often did not go into combat with full gear so we usually stuffed our tunic pockets with ammunition and food.”

Karl Wegner (Refer to the complete interview of Wegner at the following link: http://www.dererstezug.com/VetWegner.htm), was a former member of Grenadier Regiment 914 of the 352nd Infantry Division.  When asked during an interview what common things he kept in his pockets, he replied, "wallet, pocketknife, crust of bread, little books like the bible and my French dictionary. All this sort of useful stuff."

Analysis of German personal items by the U.S. Army
During WWII, the U.S. Army made an effort to examine the contents of what German Prisoners of War (POW) had on them at their time of capture. This analysis was conducted initially by the GI’s of the capturing unit, who usually did this on second thought only after first searching for personal trophies such as medals, food, any items that contained Nazi symbols, etc. Their goal was to hastily determine the POW’s unit information, locate any maps, documents indicating troop movements or strengths, etc. A second, more thorough analysis would be conducted by members of the capturing unit’s S-2 or G-2 (Intelligence) section, analyzing whatever items the POW still had on his person by the time he was brought back to a command post area. The bodies of the dead were also frequently searched in hopes of gleaning useful information. U.S. military intelligence personnel quickly dubbed items found in German pockets as “pocket litter.”

One US Intelligence report from the fall of 1944 stated that some of the items carried by captured German soldiers included salves & ointments (anti-frostbite, anti-gas, etc.), foot powder, money, pieces of bread or crackers, bits of cheese, letters from home, pipes, tobacco, cigarettes, lighters, pencils, can openers, pocketknives, matches, odd bits of paper or string, ammo, condoms, etc. This report also indicated that everything a German soldier carried in his pockets were usually basic items that he would require for his immediate use or convenience in the forward combat areas.

During the Normandy campaign in 1944, the U.S. Army Signal Corps photographed some of the items found on German POW’s. An examination of the photograph reveals the following items:

1. A long pair of scissors in a leather holder
2. Several small scissors & hemostats in small carrying case.
3. Flashlight
4. Two folding pocket knifes
5. Matches
6. Possible first aid bandage dated 1942
7. Eating utensil knife, also known as a butter knife
8. Can opener
9. Unknown dark colored small bottles
10. Folding Shaving razor
11. Possible small mirror
12. Compass with lanyard
13. Metallic box labeled “Asprin”
14. Thin file
15. Shaving brush or shoe polish brush/applicator
16. Pen
17. Package for extra razor blades
18. Razor
19. Rifle cleaning kit
20. Fork and Spoon combination
      21. Loose razor blades
22. Wooden “egg” used for sewing/repairing socks
23. Safety pin
24. Lighter
25. Folding pocket/utility knife with metallic lanyard
26. Pocket map
27. Candle
28. Pencil
29. Buttons
30. Unknown item with label
31. L-shaped or tow hook shaped metallic tool; use unknown
32. Awe
33. Sewing needles
34. Leather bound pocket book
35. Pieces of women’s garter belt
36. Keys
37. Unknown block type item
38. Cigar
39. Whistle with Lanyard
40. Pipe

An analysis of these items indicates the same as previously stated, most were basic items needed on an everyday basis by Soldaten who were operating in the forward combat areas, such as in fighting positions, bunkers, observation posts and so forth. It should be noted that these items listed above were believed to have been taken from German POW’s, but whether they carried them in their pockets on in their field equipment is not known. For example, some of the items, such as the rifle cleaning kit and the large can opener were more than likely discovered in a Grenadier’s bread bag. Other items were simply too large to have been carried comfortably in the pocket of a tunic.

A further examination of these items indicates a high number of personal tools used for uniform and clothing repair, to include a wooden “egg” used for sock repair. Another large number of items include personal hygiene or grooming items. One odd item in the group above is a type of medical case containing small pairs of scissors and hemostats. One can only assume that this case was carried by a soldier in the medical profession.

The one item in this photograph that does not have an immediate explanation is the pieces of a female garter belt. The first thing that comes to mind concerning the later is that they might have been souvenirs from a memorable occasion with a female acquaintance. However, they could have had a practical military purpose as well, such as holding a piece of equipment together or binding a Zeltbahn to blanket, or it could have possibly been a type of shirt stay.  Unfortunately, so much time has passed that we may never know how these items were used by their original owners.

One item that is not shown nor was it referenced in the previously mentioned Intelligence Report was a soldier’s Soldbuch. This key document was supposed to be carried by a German soldier at all times. The only exception was that it could be left behind with his unit when a Landser went on combat patrol or deep reconnaissance mission. If a Soldbuch was lost or captured, it would indicate to Allied intelligence which German unit was operating in their area. If a German soldier was either captured or killed, the Soldbuch was one of the primary items that an Allied soldier looked for in the POW’s clothing. The Soldbuch would immediately tell the Allied unit’s intelligence section which unit they were up against in combat. Upon discovery of a Soldbuch, it would be sent through the chain of command to the Allied intelligence section for detailed analysis.

Pocket Items of German Soldiers
Based on the information described previously in this article, plus using some military common sense, a synopsis of what German soldiers might have carried in their in pockets during WWII can be summarized into two categories:

Combat Items:
a. Ammunition: Any and all types of small arms ammunition that would fit in the tunic pockets, specifically the 8mm Rifle rounds and 9mm Pistol and Machine Pistol rounds. Later on in the war, the 8mm Kurz round used in the Sturmgewehr/Machine Pistole 44 assault rifle. The tunic pockets would be able to hold a large number of loose rounds.

b. Grenades: The only grenade that would fit conveniently in a tunic pocket would the “egg” shaped hand grenade. While a Landser might be able to stick one or two stick grenades in the lower pocket of the uniform tunic, they were bulky and easily fell out.

c. Small knives:  Although not a major combat item, a small pocketknife, usually with a fold over blade, would have been carried by many a Landser.  If all other weapons failed, a pocketknife would be the ultimate last resort for hand-to-hand combat.  However, more than likely they would have used for more non common duties such as cutting rope, opening letters, picking fingernails clean, an extra eating utensil, etc.

Non-Combat Items:
a. Food:  Besides ammunition, the second most important item a German soldier would need to carry would be food. Again, the tunic pockets were able to hold a small amount of the rations that a Landser might need during a patrol or while occupying an observation post.  If a Soldat was going into immediate combat, as much gear as possible, including the bread bag and other unnecessary items such as the gas mask container, would be left behind in his fighting position or vehicle. The tunic pockets could hold enough food to last him for a few hours.  However, the type of ration carried depended on what he might have been issued at the time. Bread could be sliced and wrapped in a paper or a small ration bag or simply just stuffed in the pocket. However, a more common sense approach saw Soldaten carrying the kinds of compact rations that could not be easily crushed or smashed while engaged in combat operations. Examples of these rations included canned food, such as sardines, other canned meat products, chocolate (like Scho-Ka-Kola), candies, or packages of crackers. An Esbit folding field stove would also easily fit in a tunic pocket if the Landser wanted a quick warm meal.

b. Personal items: Based on the information presented, sewing kits appear to have been an item that would have been easily stuffed in tunic pockets. Another important item would be tobacco related products. Both cigarettes and pipes were extremely popular items in German culture during the 1930’s and 1940’s and it is reasonable to assume that the average Landser would have tobacco and smoking paraphernalia stashed in his pockets. On the front lines, tobacco was a much needed morale booster, as well as a stress reliever after continuous combat. Cigarettes and pipes easily fit in the tunic pockets, as well as the tobacco pouches or packages need to create cigarettes or stuff pipes. There would also be room for the mandatory Soldbuch and other necessary individual soldier paperwork, such as passes, train tickets, etc. The Soldbuch could fit inside a wallet and would have held money, personal letters and pictures of loved ones or family members. It should also be noted that the two large lower tunic pockets could also hold an extra pair of socks, which would be just as valuable as bullets and food in a cold, wet environment. Woolen gloves or a woolen toque head cover would also fit into the lower tunic pockets for use in cold weather conditions. The M38, M42 or M43 Feldmütze can also be folded in half and stuffed in a lower tunic pocket whenever the Stalhelm was worn on the front lines.

c.  Combat Environment Items:  Other items that would have been seen in tunic pockets might include an extra first aid bandage or two which would augment the bandages in the previously mentioned interior tunic pocket.  Items that were used to treat frostbite and cold weather sores, such as salves and creams, would have been seen in the pockets of Soldaten operating in cold weather areas.  Most of these would have been in commercial containers and tins.  Another common item that would have been seen would foot powder, which also came in the form of small tin container. 

 


Sources:
- Feldbluse: The German Soldiers Field Tunic 1933 - 45 by Laurent Huart and Jean-Philippe Borg. Histoire and Collections, 2007.

- Normandiefront: D-Day to St. Lo Through German Eyes Volume 1: Invasion by Vince Milano. 1994.

- Deutsche Soldaten: Uniforms, Equipment and Personal Items of the German Soldier 1939 - 45 by Agustin Saiz. Casemate Publishing. 2008.

- Personal Effects of the German Soldier of WWII by Chris Mason. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 2006.
 


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