Our Reenacting Philosophy and Authenticity Guidelines

by Don and Gregg Calder, FJR 6

After observing recent WWII events, it seems that only 20% of the reenactors care about authenticity. The other 80% donít care (or donít know) what theyíre supposed to look like, canít go a weekend without pulling out a Pepsi can or bag of Doritos 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 are this way? Is it apathy or ignorance? OrÖ is it because there is so much surplus out there, that a piece of equipment that is similar (but not identical) to WWII German issue is suddenly acceptable? We have even heard a well known WWII militaria dealer tell a potential customer/reenactor, "...Well, they really didnít 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 reenacting WWII is to recreate the combat of the time, while still making the experience as close to a 1940ís "time-trip" as we can get. This may entail measures that some may find too hardcore or unreasonable: haircuts, authenticity inspections, and even dismissal from the event if an impression is so incorrect it canít be remedied. We donít think this is unreasonable; besides, everyone knows quality people will make a quality reenactment, no matter what the numbers are.

Authenticity Guidelines

As stated before, there seems to be a rising trend of authenticity violations at WWII events--enough to be noticed by most and even lead some quality people to quit the hobby. (One of President Clintonís 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. Our belief is that most reenactors know whether or not their impression is correct; they just choose to take the "farb 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 pilotís license, automobile restoring, etc). Many people think the way to cut cost is by using equipment and uniforms that are not quite identical to WWII, but are also less expensive. The sad thing is, itís usually not just one or two incorrect items but a majority of their whole kit thatís wrong. Furthermore, itís usually the same people whoíve been reenacting for years that keep wearing the same old incorrect stuff, despite repeated attempts at tactfully pointing out discrepancies (and at the same time, telling them the best places to get the right things!). Any reenactor who cares a lick about what theyíre doing should agree that a concerted effort is needed to make authenticity the bottom line. Itís what separates us from paintballers and "Cowboys and Indians." This attitude of "Well, they didnít have it during the war, but itís OK for reenacting." should not be tolerated at WWII reenactments.

If you are a dedicated reenactor, then you shouldnít have any problems with these guidelines. The only reenactors who should be allowed to participate are those who 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 youíre in original stuff--it does mean that if you show up in unconverted items, or with equipment that never saw service during the war, then you should not get to 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.

Donít pick out the extreme cases you may have seen once in an obscure photograph

Whether your impression is U.S., Commonwealth, German, etc. donít pick out the extreme cases you may have seen once in an obscure photograph. Remember that the idea is to portray the common soldier, not that one out of 10,000 soldiers that got stuck with something no one else had! This problem is largely due to the numbers of reenactors that participate at a given event. WWII reenactments usually have under 200 participants (Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania however, has over 1500!). So for example, you might have seen an original photo of a Waffen-SS soldier carrying a WWI, Gewehr 98 Mauser rifle. However, except prior to, and early on in WWII, the Waffen-SS were among the best supplied troops in the German Wehrmacht. WWI and foreign weapons/equipment were usually issued to second-line troops. And so, although there might have been only 1 out of 10,000 SS soldiers that was issued a Gew. 98. If however, you allow Waffen-SS soldiers to carry Gewehr. 98s, then sooner or later, youíll have a significant number of folks thinking that they should be allowed to carry them, and in numbers that are not at all historically accurate.

A good rule of thumb in reenactin, 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 they get to the event!

 

Uniforms: Only WWII Original or Exact Copies

The Wehrmacht 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. Good repros cost more, but proper wool has to be specially made by a textile mill and typically costs around $45 per yard (and thatís 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, German Army tropical uniforms are an olive color, whereas Luftwaffe tropicals are a distinctive mustard tan--not khaki--and they arenít cut the same way either!)

There are a lot of good repro uniforms available these days and there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for not having a correct uniform.

CAMOUFLAGE

Be sure the camo you buy is the correct color and pattern before you buy it! There are now excellent books available describing German camouflage in detail--find them and study them well before you purchase something that ends up being incorrect. Also, is it COMMON to find original photos of the unit you portray wearing camouflage? Just because you spent big bucks on bogus camouflage doesnít 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. Especially, beware of incorrect M.44 SS dot camouflage! The BAD stuff is usually the least expensive.

Field Gear

Only Original or Exact Reproduction--No unconverted East German shovel carriers, no Spanish gas mask canisters, no Bundeswehr Y-straps with incorrect hardware or padding, no Y-straps with riveted-on "D" rings, only WWII German helmets or exact copies, no East German canteens, only K-98 bayonets, no French Zeltbahns, no tan/water pattern 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 Gebirgsjäger and jump boots for Fallschirmjäger. Speed laces (hook-eyelet type, NOT the type on Bundeswehr 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 German rifle was the K-98k Mauser. There are LOTS of Mausers on the market, so make sure you get a correct one for WWII. Also, not every Axis soldier carried a pistol, but if your impression calls for one, stick to P.38ís and P.08ís. 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 a Walther PP! Only use weapons that would regularly be seen in that particular theater (PPsH 41ís were not COMMONLY found in the Italian campaign or Normandy invasion!).

Haircuts

Only 40ís 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 canít 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 some WWII reenactments! However, if you want to portray a member of the ĄVolksturm"... 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 íwhitewallsí around the ears and a high taper in back.

Glasses/Sunglasses

Aside from hair length, nothing ruins a perfect WWII impression faster than a pair of modern prescription glasses or sunglasses plastered on your face. Only 40ís 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 40ís. 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. Thatís because every soldier got one! [well, actually NOT, the most common living arrangement was sleeping in a building, bunker or just in the open--Zeltbahns don't seem to have been actually set up into shelters much after training. Still, you SHOULD have a "Zelt."--MW] Yes, Zelts have gotten a little more expensive over the years, but they certainly arenít impossible to find. If the weather is extremely cold, get some grey wool blankets to sleep under. No Gore-Tex or nylon "backpacker specials."

The thing to beware of when reenacting the German side is that there is just an awful lot of BAD reproduction stuff out there waiting to be bought. 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.