"Erkennungsmarke": Landser Dogtags
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.
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.
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:
(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:
Fuhrmeister, issued in August of 1939):
Reiners, issued on September 1, 1939):
Rave, issued in August of 1939):
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
were requisitioned via battalion from the Bekleidungsanforderungs-Dienstwege
(clothing requests channels).
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
And this was not the
only official order which demanded attention to this
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
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
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.
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. >>>>>
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.
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. >>>>>
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
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. >>>>>
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.
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.
Another tag with the
one-piece unit stamping. This one was
carried in one of the leather neck purses
described in the article.
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
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.
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. >>>>>
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.
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. >>>>>
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!
This zinc tag was issued
to Paul Weiler of FK272 on June 29, 1943.
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
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. >>>>>
- Leitfaden für die Ausfertigung
von Personalpapieren der Wehrmacht by
Oberfeldwebel Filges; Berlin 1943
- The collections of:
Vince Milano, Dan Liptak, & the author