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Personal Markings on Gas Masks & Canisters
By Brian McConnell


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.

A German NCO, about to lead his men on a night patrol, instructs them to place their gas masks in the platoon supply wagon before setting out - a seasoned campaigner, he didn't want "those damn things banging around".  Some time later, the sky is just starting to brighten when the patrol returns to collect its gear.  As the NCO clambers into the wagon to begin passing out the masks, one dopey-looking Landser says,

"That one's mine: the green one there!", and receives a bash on the helmet by the NCO.

How does each man retrieve the correct mask?  Imagine the dangers of getting the wrong one: if a real gas attack was launched, you might try to put on a mask that wouldn't fit.  A less fatal, but more imminent danger would be putting on a mask worn earlier by someone with some contagious disease.

As usual, the Germans seem to have overlooked nothing when it came to battle gear.  Although we have been unable to find any official regulations pertaining to gas mask markings, almost every used mask extant in today's military collections display some variation on what appears to have been a common scheme.  Supported by detailed examination of 6 original masks, we have noticed the following recurring trends:

A.  Owner's name and rank on the bottom of the canister.  We have been told that the name was oriented on the bottom of the canister so that it could read easily when slung over the back.  We examined more canisters with this inscription put in pencil than paint, however.
 

B.  Serial number painted on the wide, flat band on the side of the canister.  This is the number which was also entered into the soldier's Soldbuch.  In every example we looked at, it was put in the same position: right-side up on the side of the canister facing you if you hold it so that the top hinge is on the left and the latch is on the right (see diagram).  Early-issue masks are usually in white paint, later one (especially the rubber M38 types) are often in black.

C.  Owner's name and rank on the spare lens holder lid on the inside of the canister top.  Usually, this takes the form of a typewritten strip of paper, glued to either the inside or the outside of the lid.  One example (#5), had a pre-printed label inside which also records a "gas room test".
 

D.  Serial Number on the mask itself.  Many masks also have a copy of the serial number which appears on the lid also painted on the metal projection into which the filter is screwed.  These painted numbers follow the same basic trends as the canister numbers.  See diagram for location of these numbers.

E.  Owner's name on the mask.  Although less frequent than A through D, above, some masks are also marked, although there is very little similarities between the manner and location of the marking.  Some are initials, inked onto the face of the mask itself, others are printed or sewn labels on the head straps.

Details of the various masks I examined are contained in the following table:
 

MASK # NAME ON BOTTOM SERIAL NUMBER NAME ON LENS LID
1 NONE '827' in black paint 'O.Gren Binkowska', typewritten on a paper strip, glued to outside of lid
2 'Albert Armbruster', signed in pencil 'I/130' in black paint NONE
3 'Fritz Hoffman, 3 Komp.' printed in pencil 'D62' in white paint 'Feldwebel Fritz Hoffman' in two lines, typewritten on a paper strip and glued to the inside of the lid
4 'O.Kan. Küchler' in white paint '1432A' in white paint Pre-printed paper tag, glued to inside of lid.
(see diagram)
5 'Pio. Schuchart' in pencil, a large "B" in what appears to be orange pencil '405' in black paint 'Pio. H. Schuchart' hand printed on a piece of paper and glued to the inside of lid
6 'Wehrmachtsgepack----, Paris - Montparnasse' and a large "557" serial number on a pre-printed paper label NONE NONE

The mask described as number 6, above, represents a mask that was actually used by the Wehrmacht but not actually issued to any particular individual.  The depot named on the paper label probably stored a number of masks for emergency use, or perhaps in anticipation of later issue to individuals.  At any rate, it is in near mint condition and obviously never used.

Markings on Masks

MASK # MODEL SERIAL NUMBER ON SNOUT OTHER MARKINGS ON MASK
1 M-38
(rubber)
NONE NONE
2 M-38 'I/130' in black paint "Kan. Armbruster Albert L52297', hand-printed in ink on a yellow rayon ribbon, sewn to neck strap
3 M-30
(rubber-backed canvas)
'D62' in white paint 'F.H.', hand-printed in ink on the outside of the front of the mask
4 M-30 '1432A', with the numbers in white paint, and the "A" added later in black NONE
5 M-30 '405' in black paint 'H. Schuchart' factory-embroidered in red on a white rayon strip, sewn to neck strap
6 M-38 NONE NONE


This article has analyzed a limited number of masks, and I'm sure that collectors and reenactors alike have additional variations from these.  I do hope, however, to stimulate some thought when looking at original pieces and maybe even provide you with some information for that dopey Kamerad when he says to you at the next event,

"Hand me my gas mask, will ya?"  (If he wasn't so dopey, at least he would have said, "Geben Sie mir meine Gasmaske, bitte!")

 



 


Sources:
- The Collections of Greg Woodcook, Eric Toby, and Larue Curren
 

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