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The Lowly Gamaschen
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 overall reputation which these items gained for themselves is perhaps best illustrated by the statements of Karl-Heinz Zimmerman, who was a teenage draftee in the Fall of 1943:
 

"When my brother came home on leave he clomped around the house in those nice boots.  I would polish them for him.  Those boots were one of those things which separated a soldier from a civilian; they were the trademark of a Deutscher Soldat.  When I went into the Army, they gave me a pair of lace-up boots like workman's shoes and a pair of Gamaschen.  We all sat around with these things, looking at them like they were some sort of ladies' wear.  We were disappointed.  They made us look like a bunch of Tommies."

This sentiment was probably echoed by more than a few new Landser.
 

ISSUE:
The Gamaschen were originally introduced by an order dated August 8th, 1940 as part of an effort to conserve the leather which was so widely used in the manufacture of German military gear.  This order specified that they be issued to rear area units and all units of the Ersatz Armee (replacement Army), and although they were supposed to eventually replace the jackboot altogether, jackboots were worn by some units right up to the end.

By 1944, the Schnurschue / Gamaschen combination was becoming commonplace for most units of the Army.  In some units, a mix of jackboots and Gamaschen could be seen, since much of what the soldier initially took to the field depended on which training unit supplied him.  There were, however, some important "unit-sized" exceptions, which are supported by both photographic and written documentation:

A.   Certain élite units were totally resupplied with jackboots even in the final year of the war as an emblem of their élite status.  A comment to this effect can be found in Guy Sajer's "The Forgotten Soldier":

"At last we were issued new clothes.  Some of the uniforms were quite different from the ones we'd always known, with blouses like those worn in the French Army today, and trousers tucked into short, thick spats, looking like a grotesque parody of a golfing costume.  This new design was for the most part distributed to new troops.  The GrossDeutschland, as an élite division, kept the old design.  We were even given new boots - a further sign of privilege." (page 354)

B.   Garrison, training, base area, and other "Hinterland" troops who had been issued jackboots earlier in the war and who never had a cause to wear them out.  This case is best illustrated by the comparison of two Soldbuchs of men who were inducted only days apart from one another:

Herbert Ammann was inducted on June 17th, 1941 and was issued marching boots.  By the end of the year he was fighting in Russia.  His clothing and equipment record is full of changes as he went from campaign to refit, from hospital to combat.  By 1943, jackboots were no longer found in his possession.  By 1944, any jackboot he ever wore would have existed in mere fragments, perhaps as faucet seals in some field kitchen or brake pads on some Russian farmer's cart.

Melchior Krzowski (?) was inducted on June 25th, and likewise issued boots.  After training, however, Melchior was posted to La Rochelle in France as part of the Army garrison there.  His clothing and equipment list hardly changed at all over the years, and the last entry made before the Invasion indicates him as the owner of a pair of Jackboots.  Other than kicking some stubborn French cows from the road or booting some drunken U-Boaters, these boots probably saw little hard use and therefore survived with only an occasional re-soling.

Of course one should be careful about drawing broad conclusions from all this; although Gamaschen may have been the most common thing on Landsers' ankles, jackboots were still worn as we have said before.

Because soldiers preferred jackboots over the Gamaschen, some of them would acquire them on their own.  Karl Anderssen, a Navy transferee to the Army in late 1944, lost his Kriegsmarine-issued jackboots to an Army PAK gunner in a wager.

The Gamaschen themselves were obviously not liked by the Landser, who had a number of unflattering nicknames for them: Timoschenko-Socken (Timoshenko Socks), Rückzugsgamaschen (retreat gaiters, so called because they started to appear during the great mid-war reverses), Hunddecke (dog blankets).
 

DESCRIPTION:
Manufactured in lefts and rights and made of brownish or greenish canvas for the Army and blue for the Luftwaffe, there appears to have been two major variations in design (see illustrations).

Gamaschen "A" are of greenish canvas with black leather fittings.  The buckles are black-painted steel with rollers and the strap-end loop is of leather.  The bottom reinforcement is composed of 3/8" wide leather binding sewn along the bottom edge.  There is a 1" wide stiffening strip sewn across the middle of the Gamaschen.

Gamaschen "B" are also of greenish canvas, but have brown leather fittings.  The buckles on this example are of gray-painted steel without rollers and the strap-end loop is of leather.  A few Gamaschen of this style were examined, however, with black leather fittings, and one pair had metal strap-end loops like the Bundeswehr model.  The major difference from style "A" is in the bottom reinforcement: this model has crescent-shaped pieces of leather sewn to the inside front and back.

Most Gamaschen are unmarked, although one pair of type "B" Gamaschen examined had an illegible maker's mark and the date "44".

The Bundeswehr model is basically the same as the WWII model, with the following exceptions: aluminum hardware, leather fittings are always black, and the color is more gray than the Wehrmacht issue.  In addition, every one of the 8 pair of WWII Gamaschen examined for this study had only three holes in the fastening straps.  The typical BW model has five holes and a longer strap.

WEAR:
Gamaschen were able to be worn with any type of long trousers, but the M43 trousers were designed for wear with them.  Gamaschen were always to be worn with the scallops and reinforcements on the bottom, and the strap-ends pointing towards the rear.

Because the blousing of trouser bottoms will lead to wear near the trouser inseam, there was a method prescribed which folded rather than bloused the trouser bottoms when worn with gaiters (see illustration).  In this method, the cuffs were folded from the inside outwards.

There was a practice among combat troops to throw away their gaiters and roll the tops of their wool socks down over the top of the low-quarter boots, as was customary with European hikers.  Although this was against regulations and therefore forbidden, there is both photographic evidence and veteran corraboration that this was done.

 


Sources:
- The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
- Uniforms and Traditions of the German Army, Vol. I by John Angolia
- Interview with Karl-Heinz Zimmermann, dated August 8, 1989
- Interview with Karl Anderssen, dated March 22, 1990

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