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We are a non-political organization.

 

We portray a "unit impression”.

Authenticity is strictly enforced.

Must be at least 15 years old.

Must be in good physical health.

Must acquire all required kit.

Practice “first person” reenacting.

We portray average Heer units.

We drill & train in field tactics.

Must learn German commands.







  

  



 

The “Unit Impression”

By Brad Hubbard

 

True reenacting takes place at the unit level, and a quality reenacting unit provides the all-important context into which one's individual impression is able to come alive. The soldiers we portray did not exist in a vacuum; they were tiny cogs in a very large machine. Similarly, our ability to reenact these soldiers and the events that occurred can only be fully realized when we are working alongside others pursuing that same shared experience.

During WWII, every aspect of the German soldier's life was dictated by the particular circumstances of his military service. To that end, the individual soldier's experience varied greatly depending upon the timeframe, theater, campaigns, and unit he participated in. His daily activities, quality of life (or lack thereof), and even his continued existence on earth was determined by factors often well beyond his control. This can be an incredibly difficult concept for the modern civilian mind to imagine, and precisely what we as reenactors seek to understand more fully.

It was not only the existential aspect of his life that was governed by these circumstances but also the material. Understanding what uniforms, equipment, and weapons a soldier might have been issued is a unit-specific question which requires unit-specific research. At the macro level, the German Army was far from the homogenous beast history tends to paint it as, but zooming in to the unit level the homogeny was often far more evident. Therein lies the key to the unit impression.


 

Explained in the simplest way possible, a “unit impression” is the individual members' willingness and ability to subjugate their own preferences to those of the unit at large. It is a social contract of sorts between members of a group to faithfully recreate a specific unit in a specific timeframe. Quality documentation and unit-specific research is the glue that binds the contract together. The better the research, the stronger the glue.

A group that portrays a unit impression has specific standards in uniforms, insignia, equipment, training, etc. that is strongly supported by the historical record and enforced uniformly amongst the membership. In Der Erste Zug we decided which units to portray down to the Kompanie level, did (and continue to do) considerable unit-specific research, and practically employ those findings in the form of our reenacting impressions. It is easy for us to make specific requirements of our members because we are confident that what we require brings us closer to the historical experience we signed up for.




So often when one views a reenacting unit in assembly there is a hodgepodge of equipment, a random camouflage smock or occasional helmet cover, and even some straight 1939 and 1940 impressions in a group claiming to portray 1944. There are NCOs carrying rifles and enlisted men with machine pistols in the same squad. It feels less like a cohesive combat unit and more like a bunch of individuals doing their own thing. There were of course instances where this can be found in the historical record, but they are largely exceptions and usually not what that unit was setting out to do.

There have been several situations when other reenactors have pointed out one or more of our members at random saying “that guy/those guys are Erster Zug” when they have never met us previously. When questioned further, surprisingly the most common answer is “I can just tell”. Though we don't wear any identifying uniforms or insignia, there is a certain uniformity to our group that is perceptible to the observer. That is a unit impression at work. We look like a unit, we act like a unit, we think like a unit, and we perform like a unit.

Our unit impression extends beyond our members outward appearance back to the existential side of our reenacting experience. In accurately portraying a cohesive combat unit one must first have cohesion. For example, in barracks or bivouac when it is time to clean rifles, everybody cleans rifles together just as it would have been done during the war. When it is time to drill, everybody must drill. When it is time to eat, we try to do it as a group whenever possible. These mundane repetitious activities go a long way to create the German WWII military mindset. The homogeny of a uniform set of requirements (not just “uniform requirements”...) which rewards participation at the group level and encourages members to raise the group objective above their own preferences is as close as we can come to the “tiny cog in a great machine” dynamic.


This creates not only an interdependency but a shared responsibility. In many groups the gap between the most and least invested members can be considerable. When employing the “unit impression” model, you only look at good as those standing around you. To use the old cliché, the overall quality of the group is only as strong as its weakest link. It takes just one sub-par impression to break the suspension of disbelief at the unit level. This creates a sense of shared responsibility within the group where each member takes a constructive approach to making sure the men standing next to him are squared away.

The unit impression approach is not for every reenactor or every reenacting unit. It takes a considerable amount of discipline and like-mindedness among the membership. It requires continued research and adaptability, as on occasion new data may cause you to reexamine a long-standing practice or piece of gear. It takes dedication to pull off, but over the years we have found the rewards exponentially outweigh any drawbacks.


 

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