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The "Erkennungsmarke": Landser Dogtags
By Eric Tobey, revised by Jonathan Bocek


The following was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

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:

Issue:

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 tags for the above three men read as follows:

(H. Fuhrmeister, issued in August of 1939): (H. Reiners, issued on September 1, 1939): (H. Rave, issued in August of 1939):
4.gem.Schtz.Kp.I.R.396
75
2.Radf.Div.A.A.1
68
2.A.A.216
146

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 actualstamping 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.  This was the basic format of the master list:

As can be seen in this example, the list had two separate sections: one for the tag inscriptions of tags the men brought with them, and another section listing the tags issued out by the unit itself.  The master copy was kept by the unit, with one complete list being sent back after 10 months, and the change notices going out monthly thereafter.  The only original list we have been able to study was in the form of a large booklet, with plain sheets bound in a pink card-stock cover.  The headings were not written on the sheets themselves, they were put inside the cover and positioned above the hand-drawn blocks on the sheets themselves.

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.  H.M.1942 Nr.479 was an order which dealt with this problem:

     There have been recent incidents where fallen soldiers could not be identified and severely wounded or sick patients could not be processed in hospitals because the soldiers were carrying neither identity disc nor Soldbuch.  We have only to notice the vast numbers of inquiries or photograph searches for the effects of this.
     
     The stress this transgression creates for next of kin (not knowing the fate of a loved one for months, delays in securing last effects, difficulty in making out death certificates and supply requisitions etc..) has already been communicated.  It also causes an increase in written correspondence.
     
     The soldier must wear his tag on a string around his neck; carrying it in his pack, his wallet, or a pants pocket is forbidden,  Likewise is the Soldbuch always to be carried in the tunic pocket, never left in a pack.  Inspections should be made as often as possible at roll-call, quarters inspections, and when falling out for duty.  Every unit (including medical facilities) has the soldier has both his dogtag and his Soldbuch.

And this was not the only official order which demanded attention to this problem.

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.  The pouch illustrated was a common type.  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 amongst the Landsers.

Some Examples:

     1) Here is a fairly typical early-war tag, made of aluminum.  The unit was one of the ones mobilized prior to the invasion of Poland, and the number is fairly low, so there is a good possibility that this was a 1939 vintage tag.  Note also that there is no blood-type number.  Notice how the two inscriptions are both right-side up.  As per regulations, the unit's name is stamped above the serial number.  The letters are also quite large. >>>>>
2) Another early aluminum tag, but this one was altered which was strictly against regulations.  Again, no blood type, and again, both halves can be read right-side up.  True to the regs, the unit name is above the serial number.  Note also the large-sized letters.
<<<<<
3) This aluminum tag is also fairly early, but is definitely not of the first year of the war.13./I.R.109 would not have issued 236 tags on its mobilization.  Furthermore, the "FRW" stamp indicates that the bearer was a volunteer.  This designation would not have been used for a German; this tag probably belonged to a Russian HIWI.  As is typical for a field-unit tag, both halves are stamped right-side up.  The orientation of the name and number are still per regs, with the unit name above the number. >>>>>
4) An early-war Luftwaffe dogtag, issued prior to 1942.  There were more than a few Luftwaffe tags in Füsilier Kp. 272, so we decided to illustrate one here.  This one was issued by Luftwaffe Basic Training Regiment 43, and is made of aluminum.  As is typical for training units, the two halves are stamped opposite to one another.  Note how the size of the unit's name would have prohibited it from being stamped closer to the top of the tag.  In order to make everything fit, the number is stamped above the name, contrary to regulations.
<<<<<
5) Here is a fairly typical mid-war tag which belonged to Obergrenadier Martin Eichenseer who enlisted in September of 1942, and eventually wound up in the 352nd Infantry Division.  This one was worn on a chain, not cord, and has a blood-type stamp.  "St.Kp." does not stand for Stabs Kompanie (HQ company); it stands for Stamm-Kompanie, which was the reception pool of a training unit.  It was a common designation on mid- to late-war dogtags since this unit normally issued a soldier with his first tag.  Again, notice how the two halves are stamped opposite to one another, as most training-unit tags are. >>>>>
6) A fairly late-war zinc tag issued by a unit which only came into being in 1944.  In this case, the lack of a blood-type letter and the pristine condition of the tag suggests that this one was souvenired from unused stores of the training unit.
<<<<<
7) A mid- to late-war zinc tag stamped all in capitals, for a construction training unit (and the two halves are stamped opposite to one another, as was common for training units).  The "NR" (number) prefix to the serial number is not common. >>>>>
8) The 272nd had a few members who were trained by the Landesschützen organization, so this tag and the next one are included as examples.  this zinc tag, although not from an actual training unit, still exhibits the "mirrored" orientation of the inscriptions on the two halves.  This tag originated from the same Wehrkrise (11) as the 216/272 Division.
<<<<<
9) Another Landesschützen tag, this one from a training unit.  The actual unit stamp was a "one-piece" stamp, this avoided the process of hand-stamping each individual letter.  The rather high number would place this tag late in the war, and by researching the unit on the tag, one can get a fair idea of the history of the tag.  After being inducted by the reception company (St.Kp.), the recruit who wore this tag would have been issued his Soldbuch, tag, uniform, etc., and then transferred to the Ausbildungs (training) element of the same organization.  The three associated training units all were eventually absorbed into combat formations: the I.Btl. wound up being stationed near Grave, Holland, and fought the allies in Operation Market Garden.  The II.Btl. was absorbed into the 246th Volksgrenadier Division and wound up fighting in the Siegfried line with the unit which absorbed III.Btl, the 12th Volksgrenadier Division.  Just because a tag originated in a rear-area unit does not mean that the soldier served there. >>>>>
10) Another tag with the one-piece unit stamping.  This one was carried in one of the leather neck purses described in the article.
<<<<<
11) A very late zinc field-unit tag which may have been not only stamped by the field unit, but also made by the field unit.  This unit, the 4th Batterie of Gebirgs Artillerie Regiment 1057, had only been in existance for such a short time, it is likely that no soldier had lost his original tag yet and this one was never issued to anyone.  It was merely picked up off the top of the stack of tags found in the company stores by the GI who brought it home. >>>>>
12) The 272nd also had many ex-naval personnel in its ranks, and this is an example of a very late naval tag.  The material is aluminum and the tag is shown full sized.  There are no slots across the middle, just a stamped-in crease.  The tag has an orange anodized finish that helped protect the tag from corrosion if immersed in salt water.  This was probably an unissued tag; if it had been issued, it would have had a blood-type letter and issue date on it.  the early-war navy tags have the owner's name and number stamped on them.  Mid-war tags often have "Kriegsmarine" stamped on them with a serial number and no owner's name.  A typical naval tag serial number would look like this: 51872/44.  The "44" after the slash indicates the date of issue.
<<<<<
13) This aluminum tag-half was issued to Franz Bajohr of FK272, who was killed in Feb.'45.  He was the company medical NCO and was originally issued this tag in August of 1939 when he was mobilized.  The stampings on the two halves would have been mirrored, like other training units or "zone of the interior" outfits. >>>>>
14) An aluminum FK272 tag-half belonging to one of the victims of Bunker 24: Ernst Bender.  It was issued to him on February 8, 1941.
<<<<<
15) This zinc tag belonged to Herbert Schubert of FK272 and was issued to him on March 25th, 1942.  The "J" was a common substitute for "I" in the abbreviation for "Infanterie".  The "A" stamp which was used to put the blood type in the tag was the same stamp which was used to stamp the "A" in Paul Bajohr's tag.  These two tags received the blood-type stamp from FK272. >>>>>
16) Here is Paul Radek's tag of FK272.  It was issued by the Marschkompanie of Grenadier Ersatz Btl. 440 on December 8th, 1944.  This is an interesting tag, because this unit had not been called Infanterie Ersatz Btl. since November of 1942.  This tag had been waiting in stores for over two years before it was finally issued!
<<<<<
17) This zinc tag was issued to Paul Weiler of FK272 on June 29, 1943. >>>>>
18) This tag is made of steel, and was issued by the same unit as #17 to Alex Harenbrock around June 14, 1944.  This unit (the same as on #17) inducted a large number of recruits at this time, and they all received steel tags.  There are heavy ruled lines scribed into the tag, and the blood type letter was put in with the same dull stamp that put the letter in #19, below. 
<<<<<
19) This zinc tag belonged to Harald Nehring (see NFP #4) and was issued on June 28th, 1944.  It is stamped all in capitals and in the regulation order, with the unit name above the serial number.  Note, however, the difficulty they had getting the whole unit name across the narrow section of the tag. >>>>>

 

 


Sources:
- Leitfaden für die Ausfertigung von Personalpapieren der Wehrmacht by Oberfeldwebel Filges; Berlin 1943
- The collections of: Vince Milano, Dan Liptak, & the author
 

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