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Packaging for Zwieback
By Jim Pool (Lt.Col., Ret.)

Special thanks to Jim Pool for providing the article below.  Mr. Pool is a well known collector, historian, & author with focus on the topic of WWII German rations items .  He has contributed several articles to this site & we are always excited when we receive a new one as they are always full of great information and images. If you enjoy reading this article, then we highly recommend you pick up his new book, Rations of the German Wehrmacht in World War II.  It is definitely a "must have" for those of us interested in things like this.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood ration items by collectors has been Zwieback. Many assume the war time bread looks like the present day Zwieback, widely available at stores, and sometimes referred to as a "teething biscuit" for children. It was widely used by the Wehrmacht for emergency rations and as a substitute for the standard loaf of rye bread. It was baked to remove most of the moisture for long storage life, which resulted in dry, hard, biscuit type bread. This is how Zwieback is described in the U.S. Army ration report:

German Bread Ration (Biscuit Type): This bread ration had the appearance of a miniature loaf of bread, with a very slightly rounded top. Two docker holes penetrated each bread piece. The average dimensions were 1 x 0.625 x 0.437 inches. The top was a shiny brown, indicating that some wash was used on top of the pieces. The internal color was creamy and slightly dark. Three or four caraway seeds were evident in each piece. The texture was quite hard, flinty, and difficult to bite through. The moisture content was three to four percent higher than that for the U. S. Army "C" ration biscuits, but the texture was harder, because of the low fat content. It had a flat dry taste and would not appeal to the American soldier.

In the book Der Feldkochunteroffizier (The Field Cook NCO), the author describes Zwieback as, "well baked bread, light brown in color, with holes along its surface, which results in a hard, crumbly, almost nonperishable product. Since the product crushes less easily then most bread, it results in less wastage during transport and in the field. It is made from wheat, rye or potato flour, sugar, yeast, salt, seasoning, and water".

H.Dv. 320/4 Wehrmachts Verwaltungsvorschrift für Heeresverpflegungs dienststellen (Administrative Regulation for Army Food Supply Agencies) provides some additional insight into the production of Zwieback. Zwieback was susceptible to moisture and molded easily. Great care was taken to process the product in a dry environment. The majority of the military's supply of Zwieback was provided by the Field Bakery Companies. After the product was baked it was subjected to a rigorous quality control process, before being packed into 250 gram bags (Zwiebackbeutel). One hundred of these Zwiebackbeutel were then placed into a good strong sack for storage and transport.

The lowly Zwiebackbeutel still remains a mystery among the collecting community. Some Soldbuchs are annotated with "Zwiebackbeutel" in the equipment issue section. So was the Zwiebackbeutel a piece of individual equipment or are the Soldbuch annotations simply a means by some units to control packing materials, which were highly regulated. There is some evidence to suggest that it was an issue piece of personal equipment, at least for a short period, and later regulated as a controlled packing material. According to H.Dv. 320/4 Zwieback was packed in Zwiebackbeutels manufactured from fabric (aus gewebe) or plastic/synthetic materials (aus kunststoffen), in paper sacks, or in viscose foil (Zellglass) more commonly known as cellophane. Each of these is discussed below.


Zwiebackbeutel aus gewebe

This is the best known packaging for zwieback and the only style the author was able to verify through wartime photos. From wartime pictures and a surviving example we know that it was of a simple two piece construction, consisting of the body and closure ties. It was manufactured from undyed linen or cotton. The body was manufactured from a single piece of fabric which was stitched along one edge and along the bottom. The closure ties were positioned inside the side seam and then sewn together. This style of bag could be washed, disinfected and reutilized.

Zwiebackbeutel aus kunststoffen
It’s likely that this style of bag was similar in construction to the linen/cotton bag discussed above. The major difference is synthetic materials were used in its construction. The author is fairly confident “aus kunststoffen” refers to the use of rayon. Rayon was widely used in the clothing industry and used in the construction of certain items of field gear. Rayon was a very versatile fabric and took dyes very well. The picture below shows an equipment bag made from rayon. Note that the construction of the bag body is different from the Zwiebackbeutel shown above. The body was made from a single piece of cloth and stitched along each side. There is no stitching along the bottom of the bag.

Paper sacks used to pack Zwieback
H.Dv. 320/4 states that Zwieback was packed in paper sacks by the Field Bakeries. After being filled they were sealed with adhesive tape. Paper sacks were destroyed after they were used. There were a number of firms which produced paper sacks during the war; which resulted in numerous differences in materials and construction. Its likely that many different types of bags were used by the Field Bakeries. The example shown below was used to pack items the German Tank Crew Candy Ration. The bag was described in the U.S. Army ration report in this manner: “This ration was packaged in a two wall (pasteboard) brown bag, made of two sheets, 40 pound Kraft paper. The backing was 6.5 x 10 inches. The gross weight of the wrap was 15.5 ounces”.

Cellophane sacks used to pack Zwieback
H.Dv. 320/4 states that Zwieback was packed in viscose foil (Zellglass) more commonly known as cellophane, by the Field Bakeries. Its assumed that bags were used; as opposed to over wrapping the Zwieback in a cellophane sheet and sealing it with tape. However this method of wrapping was used commercially and shouldn't be completely discounted. After being filled the sacks were sealed with viscose foil adhesive strips. Cellophane bags were destroyed after they were used. There were a number of firms which produced cellophane bags during the war; which resulted in numerous differences in materials and construction. It’s likely that many different types of bags were used by the Field Bakeries. The example shown below was used to pack Knäckebrot. This particular example is made from very thin cellophane. It’s likely that a thicker grade of cellophane was used to pack Zwieback.

Commercially packaged Zwieback
Zwieback was available commercially packaged in a variety of different ways. Wax paper bags, sheets of various types of paper, cellophane bags, and paper bags are just a few types of packaging used. Cans and paper cartons were probably also used. A few examples of commercial packaging are shown below. It’s likely that commercial firms also supplied Zwieback to the military.

Tom and I tried our best to write the definitive study of German rations; however a lack of wartime pictures and references made that goal unachievable. Because Zwieback was a component of the Half Iron Ration it was probably one of the more widely distributed of all bread products. The packaging requirements had to be enormous and consequently it would have taken a number of manufacturers (German and foreign), to fill the orders. So it’s likely that variations in construction, materials, and colors existed in manufacturing the Zwiebackbeutel and that alternate forms of packaging like cans and boxes would have been considered.




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