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Landser Pay & Reichonomics 101
By Rob Medley


The German Lansder received 35 Reichmarks (RM) per month as basic pay during the Second World War, with increases for each rank above Private. For the historian, it is difficult to relate the worth of the RM to period and modern equivalents. This article attempts to explain the various pay and allowances of the German soldier as well as its purchasing power both within the Reich and relative to the modern economy.

Soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as with our modern militaries today received a basic pay, supplemented with allowances for being in combat, such as having a spouse and children among other things. If one were fortuitous enough to be of rank, certain other bonuses were paid as well.

During the Second World War, the US Army, as part of its overall intelligence analysis on the German Army, researched practically everything about the German solider, to include pay. This research about the pay of German Lander was included the wartime US Army Publication US ARMY TM-E 30-451 or Handbook on German Military Forces, initially produced in 1941 and revised in 1943 and 1945. Per the revisions in 1943 and 1945, information was supplemented by additional sources as the war progressed, namely taken directly from German Prisoner of Wars along with captured German military pay related documents.
 

Basic Pay
According to the TM-E30-451:

“Every member of the German Armed Forces in active wartime service (except when a prisoner of war) receives tax-free war service pay (Wehrsold), paid to him in advance, monthly or at shorter intervals of not less than 10 days, by his unit paymaster.  If he has dependents, he receives (also when a prisoner of war) family support payable direct to his dependents through the civilian authorities.

A professional soldier receives, in addition to war service pay (but also when a prisoner of war) the equivalent of his regular peacetime pay (Friedens- besoldung) consisting of base pay (Grundgehalt), quarters allowance (Wohnungs- zuschlag), and allowance for children (Kinderzuschlag), less a wartime deduction (Ausgleichsbetrag) which in the ranks from major upward cancels out the war service pay and in the lower ranks offsets it in part according to a sliding scale. This compensation is known as Armed Forces regular pay (Wehrmacht- besoldung); its recipients are not entitled to civilian family support.  Payments, usually by check, are made by a local garrison administration in Germany (usually near the man's home) for two months in advance (until 1 January 1945 it was one month in advance) to the soldier's bank account or to his dependents, if any.  These payments are subject to an income-tax deduction at the source according to a sliding scale based on the amount of pay and the number as well as category of dependents.

Professional Armed Forces officials (Wehrmachtbeamte) receive, in addition to war service pay, their peacetime salaries and allowances (Friedensgebührnisse), less a wartime deduction offsetting their war service pay as a whole or in part in the same manner as for professional soldiers who receive Armed Forces regular pay.

Non-professional soldiers from the rank of senior private first class (Obergefreiter) upward may apply for wartime regular pay (Kriegsbesoldung). They are then paid exactly like professional soldiers and consequently are not entitled to civilian family support.  Therefore, soldiers with dependents will not make this application if the amount of their civilian family support is higher than their wartime pay would be.

Armed Forces officials who have no peace time salary receive war time regular pay without having to apply for it."i

 

German Armed Forces Pay Comparisons
View or download the printable document
   

In the above table, Armed Forces regular pay consists of either (Wehrmacht besoldung) for professional soldiers or wartime regular pay (Kriegsbesoldung) for non-professional soldiers in ranks from senior private first class (Obergefreiter) upward and for wartime officials. The amounts quoted represent the minimum base pay for single men without dependents before deduction of the income tax, which is shown in parenthesis at the minimum rate applying when the soldier has no additional income. Also included are conversions to equivalent amounts of Rubles and Pounds for other Allied Combatants. The pay rises for men with dependents according to a scale which provides for additional amounts up to 10 children. Column 2 shows the war service pay (Wehrsold) for all members of the Armed Forces, including officials, regardless of whether they are also paid under column 1 or not. The amounts are shown in U.S. dollars at the basic rate of exchange (1 USD equals 2.50 RM as of 1943).ii

Comparing the equivalents presented in the chart above to other sources available on the web, such as the Pay Scale available on Panzerworld.net, the table above from “Wehrmacht-Gebührnisse” by Field Marshal Keitel
iii, and Lexicon Der Wehrmacht’s “Die Besoldung eines Soldaten der Wehrmacht” iv one generally arrives as the same results for the pay rates.

In addition to the tax that was levied upon Regular Pay, there was also included a Winterhilfswerk (Winter Charity Campaign or WHW) contribution as mentioned in the Keitel document on Panzerworld.net. WHW collection campaigns took place each winter was primarily geared towards charitable purposes. Campaigns were conducted each year from October through March both at the national and state level.
v

Poster for the 1935 WHW campaign which translates to:
“No one shall go hungry! No one shall be cold!"
 

Allowances
In addition to regular and war service pay, soldiers of the Reich received allowances for just being married, having children, and being a Zwölfender (having completed 12 years of service).  According to TM-E30-451:

“All soldiers in ranks from general to private receive $0.40 (1 RM) daily as combat area, service compensation (Frontzulage). This is granted not because of the danger to life and limb but for the "more difficult living conditions". On trips taken in the line of duty, the soldier, regardless of rank, receives an allowance for overnight quarters and $2.40 (6 RM) per Diem additional. Every member of the Armed Forces is entitled to free rations, quarters, and clothing; those who must or are allowed to take their meals outside receive $1.20 (3 RM) per diem as ration money. No additional allowance is paid for living quarters in view of the fact that this is already included in the regular pay, whereas soldiers who receive only war service pay are entitled to civilian family support. Clothing is free except for officers, who receive a one-time clothing allowance of $180.00 (450 RM) ($280.00 – 700 RM - for those wearing the blue naval uniform) and a monthly upkeep allowance of $12.00 (30 RM). Soldiers contracting for professional service receive a cash bonus, known as Kapitulanatenhandgeld, of $120.00 (300 RM) (12-year contract) or $40.00 (100 RM) (4 1/2-year contract).”
 

Pension
For this, the TM-E30-451states:

“Regular officers and professional soldiers are entitled to various benefits upon their discharge; the extent of these depends on length of service. They include lump-sum compensations, unemployment assistance, and, in some cases, pensions. Discharged professional noncommissioned officers are encouraged to go into civil service or agriculture; particularly in the latter case they receive substantial cash sums for the purchase or lease of land. All honorably discharged soldiers receive a mustering-out pay of $20.00 (50 RM).” vii
 

Monthly Pay
Drawing it all together, a Grenadier in 1943, not a professional soldier at all, will have free room and board and plenty of people trying to kill them, but will be only drawing around 148 RM (59.20 USD) a month; broken down into regular pay of 78 RM (31.2 USD) a month, war service pay of 35 RM (14 USD), and front pay 35 RM (14 USD) for being shot at every day. Now that a figure of monthly pay has been established, a study of the relative worth of this pay will be undertaken to determine the value of the pay.

“Here begins the Ass of the World!”

 

The value of a Reichsmark
What was the actual purchasing power of the Reichsmark during the war? Actually, in 1943 terms, your 148 RM would allow you to live frugally but without hardship. The difference in value of the RM in today’s terms is negligible. 1 USD in 1943 is worth 19 USD in 2010. A RM in 1943 was worth .40 USD, therefore a 1943 vintage 10 RM wristwatch bought in 2010 would cost 76 dollars.viii  Let’s apply this logic to your 148 RM monthly pay. In today’s terms, a private in the Wehrmacht would receive roughly 1,124.80 USD per month or 13,497.60 USD a year in pay – less tax of course. A comparison of RM value during each year of World War 2 is as follows:

Year Convert 1943 USD to Year 1943 USD worth in Year Inflation
1938

0.854268

1.170593

-1.53%

1939

0.841042

1.189001

-1.55%

1940

0.86091

1.161562

2.36%

1941

0.913879

1.094237

6.15%

1942

0.97349

1.027232

6.52%

1943 1

1

2.72%

1944

1.013234

0.986939

1.32%

1945

1.046327

0.955724

3.27%

 
In order to calculate the current value of RM, first take the total RM, divide by 2.50 (the number of RM a 1943 USD could purchase) to arrive at the 1943 USD value of the soldier’s RM. Next, take the total 1943 USD amount and multiply it by the value in column one to calculate the value of the USD in a year other than 1943. Finally, use the table below to convert the USD to 2010 values.

Year

Bring Old Dollar FWD

Send Current Dollar Back

Inflation

1938

22.258376

0.044927

4%
1939

22.608395

0.044231

4%
1940

22.08665

0.045276

4%
1941

20.806486

0.048062

4%
1942

19.532409

0.051197

4%
1943

19.014611

0.052591

4%
1944 18.766258 0.053287 4%
1945 18.172718 0.055028 4%

 
How much is my RM worth in occupied territory?  The following table is a distillation of a truly disturbing 1943 document used at the Nuremberg trials in the prosecution of an SS officer but shows the exchange rate for many countries in Europe during this time.
ix

Currency

RM to Equal 1 Unit (1943)

US Dollar 2.50
Hungarian Pengoe 0.60
Russian Ruble 0.10
English Pound 9.30
Canadian Dollar 2.50
Spanish Paseta 2.40
Czech Krone 0.50
French Franc 0.50
Dutch Guilder 1.33
Swiss Franc 5.80
Italian Lire 0.13
Bulgarian Leva 0.10
Romanian Lei 0.20
Belgian Belga 0.40
Latvian Lat 0.10
Swedish Krona 0.60
Norwegian Krone 0.60
Ukrainian Karbowanet 0.10
Lithuanian Lita 0.10

 

Precious Metals RM per Kilogram
Gold 2,784.00
Silver 40.00
Platinum 5,000.00

 
With a firm grasp on exchange rates, the cost of everyday items can be extrapolated:

Item Value RM Value USD 1943 Value USD 2010
Volkswagen 900 360 6840
Automatic Pencil (Gold) 30 12 228
Fountain Pen 10 4 76
Ladies Platinum Watch 300 120 2280
Man's Gold Pocket Watch 500 200 3800
Man's Gold Wristwatch 300 120 2280
Ladie's Gold Wristwatch 250 100 1900
Man's Pocket Watch 20 8 152
Man's Wristwatch 10 4 76
Spectacles 3 1.2 22.8
Razor 2.5 1 19
Scissors 0.5 0.2 3.8
Flashlight 0.5 0.2 3.8
Alarm Clock 6 2.4 45.6
1 kg Bread 0.35 0.14 2.66
1 kg Pork 2.04 0.816 15.504
1 kg Butter 3.6 1.44 27.36
1 kg Sugar 0.74 0.296 5.624
5 kg Coal 1.59 0.636 12.084

 
Comparisons of Wehrmacht pay to other common professions of the time as seen below:

Occupation Monthly Wage (RM) Monthly Wage (1943 USD)
Grenadier 148.00 59.20
Male Skilled Factory Worker 192.00* 76.80
Female Factory Helper 96.00* 38.40
State Opera Star (Tenor) 30,000.00 12,000.00
Prima Ballerina 3,000.00 1,200.00

* Note: This assumes the worker puts in a 12 hour day, 5 days a week with no holidays.

 
Conclusion
Initial impressions of a Wehrmacht soldiers pay as insufficient are not necessarily the case when adjusted for cost of living increases over time. Instead we find that a soldier could be well fed, become horrifically drunk, acquire a place to stay and have companionship for the night fairly cheap. According to Georg Grossjohan in his book “Five Years, Four Fronts”:

“Five marks was generally enough for an evening. To get into the mood to go to a dance hall, for example, one had to have the means to purchase the necessary potions; a little beer and maybe a shot of rye whiskey were usually enough to dispel any hesitation. The bottle of beer cost 25 pfennigs in a tavern; cognac cost twenty, and a shot of clear whiskey was ten pfennigs. Once fortified, we would make our way to the close combat ball. Once at the objective – a dance hall – one had to carefully protect one’s remaining resources, as the entry fees were usually about three marks. To remain in the place, one must always have a drink in front of him, so we had to use our soldierly initiative to find ways of staying. There was usually a long bar in the room adjacent to the dance hall, and this is where the poorest among us could be found. Grizzled veterans of the First World War made the best companions here, as they would happily refresh our drinks while regaling us with their stories of their heroic deeds at Verdun or on the Somme. A truly virtuoso sponge could extend this act for hours by reacting with expressions of wonderment and astonishment as these old boys spun their tales. In the end, however, it often took equal imagination to pry oneself away from these beneficent old men; usually, conjuring up the illusion of bodily needs was the answer.” x

 


i TM-E30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces 1945.
ii Again from TM-E30-451, however the paragraph has been modified to incorporate expansive material.
iii Der Chef Des Oberkommandos Der Wehrmacht Keitel. Wehrmacht-Gebührnisse; Einsatzgebührnisse - Amtlische Texte. Berlin : Führer-Hauptquartier, 1945.
iv http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Soldat/Besoldung.htm
v http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterhilfswerk
vi "German Propaganda Archive”. Calvin University http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/posters2.htm
vii TM-E30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces 1945.
viii http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/88/pg88.txt
ix “Document No-061 / Prosecution Exhibit 475 - Report By SS Sturmbannfuehrer Wippern 27 February 1943, Concerning Value Of Money, Precious Metals, Other Valuables, And Textiles Of Jews, Delivered Up To 3 February 1943”
x Grossjohan, Georg, “Five Years, Four Fronts” Random House 2005, Page 8.

 
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