From observing recent WWII events, it seems that only 20% of the reenactors care about authenticity. The other 80% don't care (or don't know) what they're supposed to look like, can't go a weekend without pulling out a Pepsi can or bag of Dortitos chips, and are only out there for five hours of "quality trigger time"! These changes have unfortunately driven a lot of good, quality people right out of the hobby. Why have things changed? Is it apathy or ignorance? Is it because there is so much surplus out there that a piece of equipment that is similar (but not identical) is suddenly acceptable? We have even heard a well known WWII surplus dealer tell a potential customer/reenactor, "...Well, they really didn't have these in WWII, but you can use it for reenacting..." That kind of attitude sickens us, as it should every conscientious reenactor no matter what the period being portrayed! The old adage 'better is the enemy of good enough' really rings true here.
We believe the goal of re-enacting is to recreate WW2 combat and making the experience as close to a 1940's time trip as we can get. It may entail measures that some may find too hardcore or unreasonable: haircuts, authenticity inspections, and dismissal from the event if an impression is so incorrect it can't be remedied. We don't think this is unreasonable; besides, everyone knows quality people will make a quality reenactment, no matter what the numbers are.
As stated before, there seems to be a rising trend of authenticity violations at WWII events -- enough to be noticed by many and even lead some quality people to quit the hobby. (One of president Clinton's politically correct cabinet members might describe the problem as being 'authentically challenged'). To create an all-encompassing list of "acceptable" and "non acceptable" items would be next to impossible. Besides, we believe most everyone knows whether or not their impression is correct; they just choose to take the 'farbe' route out of convenience, cost, etc. Reenacting is an expensive hobby. There are ways to cut some of the expenses, but the reality of it is that a person will have to fork out a considerable amount of money to get started (just like other hobbies such as snow skiing, sky diving, bicycling, getting a private pilot's license, automobile restoring, etc). Many people think the way to cut cost is by using equipment and uniforms that are not identical to WWII, but are less expensive. The sad thing is that it's usually not just one or two incorrect items but a majority of the kit that's wrong. Furthermore, it's usually the same people who've been reenacting for years that keep wearing the same old incorrect stuff, despite repeated attempts at tactfully pointing out discrepancies (and telling them the best places to get the right things!). Any reenactor who cares a lick about what they're doing should agree that a concerted effort is needed to make authenticity the bottom line. It's what separates us from paintballers and 'Cowboys and Indians'. The attitude of "they didn't have it during the war, but it's OK for reenacting' should not be tolerated at WW2 reenactments.
If you are a dedicated reenactor, then you shouldn't have any problems with our guidelines. The only reenactors who should be allowed to participate will have kits made up of: 1) original WWII items 2) exact reproductions of WWII items 3) items that have been altered to look exactly like WWII This does not mean that you can only attend if you're in original stuff. It does mean that if you show up in unconverted items or with equipment that never saw service during the war you should not participate.
The following is a list of items we think are most important, and quite honestly, the most often violated. Keep in mind that we are supposed to look like the AVERAGE WWII SOLDIER.
Whether your impression is U.S., Commonwealth, German, etc, don't pick out the extreme cases you may have seen once in an obscure photograph. Remember, the idea is to portray the common soldier, not the one out of 100,000 that got stuck with something no one else had! This is largely due to the numbers of re-enactors that participate at a given event. Re-enactments are usually have under 200 participants (Fort Indian Town Gap however, averages about 1000!) You might have an original photo of an SS soldier carying a WW1 Mauser. There might have been 1 out of 10,000 SS soldiers that had WW1 Mausers. But at an event, if you allow SS soldiers to carry WW1 Mausers, then sooner or later you'll have a significant number of folks carrying WW1 mausers in numbers that are not historically accurate.
A good rule of thumb is the "movie test". Ask yourself, "If I were in a WWII movie, would reenactors, collectors, and veterans point me out as being incorrect?" The important thing is this: if you think you have something questionable, bring documentation with you to prove your case. The burden of proof will be on the guy with a questionable item, so even if you think 'they had it in WWII', bring documentation anyway. A lot of reenactors are real sharp and have a lot of great reference books. Everyone is encouraged to look at these books to see what they really had.
A WORD TO THE WISE: UNIT LEADERS SHOULD INSPECT THEIR PEOPLE AND KITS BEFORE YOU GET TO THE EVENT!
The Whermacht used many different styles of uniform, but most are derivative of the four most common styles: Model 1936, Model 1941, Model 1943, and Model 1944. Though original uniforms are getting very expensive, German reenactors are fortunate in that in the last 10 years, a lot of good sources for reproduction uniforms have come on the market. These cost more, but proper wool has to be specially made by a textile mill and typically costs around $45 per yard (and that's before you add construction fees). If possible, obtain the proper wool and take an original to a tailor and have it copied. Before you purchase a reproduction, take time to research the original models for all the correct details. Remember that color is as important as the cut. (For instance, Army tropical uniforms are an olive color, whereas Luftwaffe tropicals are a distinctive mustard tan - not khaki - and they aren't cut the same way either!)
There are a lot of good tunics available these days. There is no excuse for not having a correct uniform.
CAMOUFLAGE: Be sure it's the correct color and pattern before you buy it! There are now excellent books available describing German camouflage in detail - find them and do some preliminary research! Just because you spent big bucks on bogus camouflage doesn't mean you can wear it at a WWII event. No West German camo pants/jackets/smocks, no Austrian camouflage, and no SS dot pattern caps. WWII Italian camouflage is different from its post-war cousin, and obviously the garments are cut differently. Also, is it COMMON to find original photos of the unit you portray wearing it? Beware of incorrect M-44 SS dot camouflage! The BAD stuff is usually the least expensive. There are some great reference books on camouflage available today - study them before you purchase something incorrect.
FIELD GEAR: ONLY ORIGINAL OR EXACT REPRODUCTION -- No unconverted East German shovel carriers, no Spanish gas mask canisters, no bundeswher Y-straps with incorrect hardware or padding, no Y-straps with riveted-on 'D' rings (easily fixed by your local cobbler shop), only WWII German helmets or exact copies, no East German canteens, only K-98 bayonets, no French zeltbahns, no tan and water camo zeltbahns, no West German zeltbahns (splinter on one side and white on the other), etc.
BOOTS: The most common combat shoes for WWII Germans are jackboots and low quarter lace-up boots with gaiters. Specialized troops wore foot gear particular to their mission; ie, mountain boots for Gebirgsjaeger and jump boots for fallschirmjaeger. Speed laces (hook-eyelet type, NOT the type on bundeswher or current issue US boots) were only found on tropical/desert boots and at the tops of ankle boots.
FIREARMS: No post 1945 firearms allowed unless they are identical to WWII. The standard rifle was the K-98. There are LOTS of Mausers on the market, so make sure you get a correct one for WWII. Not every axis soldier carried a side arm, but if your impression calls for one, stick to P-38's and P-08's. The general rule with the Germans seems to have been the higher the rank, the smaller the pistol. Privates should not be strutting around with PPK's! Only use weapons that would regularly be seen in that particular theater (PPSH 41's were not COMMONLY found in the Italian campaign or Normandy invasion!).
HAIRCUTS: Only 40's style haircuts will be permitted (basically, a regulation military haircut). If you arrive wearing facial hair, have documentation on hand to prove the entire unit had it during the war. Yes, mustaches were permissible in the regulations, but they are a rarity since this was not in fashion. If you absolutely decide that you can't shave your mustache, it must be neatly trimmed and not even reach the outside corner of the mouth. The FEW pictures of German soldiers with beards show them neatly trimmed 'goatee style', not the flowing 'Grizzly Adams' style prevalent at WWII reenactments! However, if you want to to Volkstrum... facial hair is more unconventional! NOTE: The fashionable haircut at that time (backed up by every picture book featuring WWII Germans) seems to be a little long in front, but 'whitewalls' around the ears and a high taper in back. Also, no facial hair.
GLASSES/SUNGLASSES: Aside from your hair length, nothing ruins a perfect WWII impression faster than a pair of modern prescription glasses or sunglasses plastered on your face. Only 40's style sunglasses/glasses or contact lenses during the event.
JEWELRY: Make sure the watch on your wrist is or looks like those worn in the 40's. Leave your digital watch at home! Same goes for rings, ear rings, necklaces, etc.
CAMPING GEAR: If you are not in a barracks or sleeping authentically in a ditch under the open sky, the most common 'living arrangement' was the zeltbahn tent. That's because every soldier got one! Yes, they have gotten a little more expensive over the years, but they certainly aren't impossible to find. Get some wool blankets to sleep under; if the weather is extremely cold. No gore-tex or nylon 'backpacker specials'.
The thing to beware of when reenacting the German side is that there is an awful lot of BAD reproduction stuff just waiting to be bought. (When was the last time you bought something for your German kit and you didn't have to mess with it to be correct for WWII?) Examine original items as much as possible so you will be able to steer clear of the bad stuff. Putting together a GOOD German uniform and kit is not difficult, but is generally more expensive than the 'other side'.