German gas equipment - Part 2
Gas mask can (Gasmaskenbüchse)
One of the most iconic and visible pieces of a German soldiers
field equipment was the gas mask carrying can. The can was worn across
the lower back and held in place by means of a canvas / web carrying
strap worn across the chest (officially over the left shoulder although
period photo's suggest this rule was not adhered to in the field) and
then a smaller strap running from the bottom of the can which was fixed
to the wearers equipment belt with a steel hook to stop it from moving
about. The cylindrical designs of the World War 1 tins were adapted
and improved upon and the World War 2 tins were all made from a corrugated
sheet metal with a brazed seam running up one side. The lid was held
in place by means of a hinge and as with the World War 1 design, a
compartment was included in it to house the replacement lenses.
They were issued in the standard field grey paint, although depending on the theatre could be field painted in either Tan for use in the desert, white for use in the snow or even in camouflage patterns depending on if there was paint available.
As you can see from the examples provided, although the basic design principal remained, the tins varied in size and method of closure throughout the war.
The first is a 1935 dated early pattern Reichswehr / Wehrmacht tin which measured around 26cm tall and had a diameter of 12cm. It had a clip and hook closure and a deep lid. Two horizontal fixing points for the long carry strap were welded to the top and one at the bottom for the smaller strap and another vertically placed one in the middle of the can. Next is a 1937 dated 'short model' example which measures 25.5cm. The top is shorter, on account of the shallower compartment for spare lenses, which was introduced on this model. Other notable changes on this can are the introduction of the spring loaded closing catch with web pull tab, the absence of the strap fixing point on the middle of the can and a copper liner around the inside.
Finally the longer variant, which was introduced in 1938 and was in use until the end of the war. This 1943 dated example follows the same basic principle as the previous model, with the spring loaded closing catch, shallow lid and 3 fixing points for the carrying straps. This model is however 3cm taller than the short model. There are many schools of thought on why the longer model was favoured - ranging from more room being needed due to the change from the flexible rubberised canvas of the GM30 to the stiffer rubber moulded GM38 or that as the filters evolved and grew in size more room was needed to carry them in the can (as can be seen when comparing the Fe37 to the Fe42).
This taller model canister was also waterproofed by means of a rubber
seal beneath the lid. Although the seal may have long gone, the tins
were marked with an embossed letter 'D' standing for 'Dicht' (Leak Proof)
on the base of the tin.
Aside from the advantages of a deeper can, these waterproof tins were much sought after as after discarding the Gasmasks, it was possible to keep food, small items of clothing or contraband dry in them. The soldiers took a great risk in doing this as if found out by superiors or the Feldgendarme they would be in hot water for discarding the Whermacht property that they were responsible for after having signed for it in their Soldbuch's at the time of issue.
Inside the tin could be found a protective sheet metal
sleeve insert usually made from aluminum or copper, although this was
Gas Cape and Pouch (Gasplane mit Tasche)
Another essential part of the German soldiers kit was the gas cape and it's carrying pouch.
The cape was designed as a quick means of protection during attacks and if this was ever to happen it was to be removed from the carrying pouch, opened up and the soldier would simply crouch down on the ground, throw the sheet over himself and sit tight until the danger had passed.
The cape itself measured roughly 1m x 2m and was made from a wax impregnated paper and due to it's brittle nature and the difficulty of folding it back up, it was never opened unless needed and then discarded after use.
A paper card was often attached giving the user information of the maker
and year of production
The cape was contained in the field in the gas cape pouch. During the war there were 2 models in service, firstly one made out of a rubberized cotton and later in the war one made from a cheaper cloth. Both styles of pouch measured in their un-packed state 17cm x 22cm. As a means of closure, both were fitted with 2 press-studs to which were affixed 2 fabric tabs to help with easy access.
Shown here are an early Reichswher model which still bears it's stamp, a reproduction of the rubberized early war model and an original cloth example.
Orders of the day stated that the soldier should always have his gas cape about his person and that the pouch be worn on the long carrying strap across the wearers chest. As you can see from the examples, 2 fabric loops were sewn onto the back of the pouch to thread the strap through.
This was a very awkward thing to wear across your chest, especially in the heat of battle when quick and easy movement is the number 1 concern. The pouches can often be seen on period photographs, slid around to the top of the tin at the soldiers back or strapped around the tin and secured by means of either a leather equipment strap or rubber band.
The later method, although commonly seen, was strictly prohibited as it slowed down the process of getting the cape out and due to having to pull the strap around the tin tight to keep pouch in place, the cape itself cracked, tore and thus became ineffective against chemical attacks.
Although the eyes, face and respiratory organs were covered by the mask and filter and the gas cape was there to cover the body, there was still a chance that contaminates could get onto the skin or onto weapons and equipment.
The German soldier of World War 2 was issued with two preparations to help the immediate treatment of wounds should this happen.
Hautentgiftungsmittel / Losantin
The first to become available was Losantin. These were issued in a brown Bakelite box, which contained 10 white tablets. In the event of an attack a tablet was crushed in the hand and mixed with either water or spit to form a paste, which was then applied to the wounds. This was obviously a lengthy procedure, so in 1941 a ready mixed liquid was introduced to replace Losantin, which we shall look at further on in the article. The changeover was however never fully achieved and the tablets were still in production well into the war (probably until 1943 due to lack of information regarding colour coding for 1944 & 1945 issue) and as a result both the tablets and the pre-made ointment were issued until the end of the war.
The soldier was given 4 boxes of Losantin at the time that they were issued with the rest of their gas equipment and the boxes were supposed to be kept in the breast pocket for quick and easy access, although this rule was probably flouted as the threat of gas attacks diminished and the boxes were kept in the tin.
The boxes are stamped with a date in the base, and featured
a coloured adhesive tape, which was stuck around the top. This helped
not only to keep the lid on but for quick and easy recognition as the
colours signified the year of production, which were:
Upto and including
The Instructions on the paper label wrapped around the box translated into English to the best of my abilities reads as follows:
Application: Crush tablets in the palm of the hand and mix with approximately the same amount of water or saliva to prepare a paste. Rub the paste into the poisoned area several times. After 10 minutes rinse off.
To only be externally applied! Do not use in your eyes, mouth and the genitals! After use close lid tightly.
As we have seen, in 1941 Losantin started to be replaced by a new ready mixed preparation called 'Hautentgiftungssalbe 41' - Skin Detoxification Ointment 41 (41 standing for the year of issue).
This ointment was issued in both an orange (for use on the skin) and brown (for use on weapons and field equipment) Bakelite bottle, with a screw top lid, which was attached to the body by means of a thin cord. Underneath the lid was a pointed tip opening, which offered pinpoint accuracy when applying to the affected area.
The bottles also featured a paper instruction label to the face,
which roughly translated into English reads:
Instructions for Hauntentgiftungssalbe (41)
1. Remove chemical off skin immediately - (dry swab or newspaper).
2. Hold the container with the closure pointing down. Shake down vigorously 2 times, unscrew cap and release the ointment by pressing on both sides.
3. Apply thinly (3 drops for an area the size of the dog tag) rub in for 5 minutes and after a few hours wash off.
4. Ensure that the closure is clean and container carefully sealed.
5. Ointment can be applied to genitals except the tip of the penis (only rub in lightly). Do not use on nose, mouth, eyes or already contaminated red, blistered skin!
As with the Losantin boxes, orders of the day stated that these items were to be
carried in the breast pocket of the uniform.
The Hautentgiftungssalbe bottles were issued packed in a plastic coated burgundy coloured box which contained 6 cotton swabs with which to apply the ointment, which are an extremely hard to find item today as they were often discarded.
At the time of issue, the soldier would be given 2 packets of replacement lenses (rising to 4 as the war progressed).
They were made from celluloid and came issued in a greaseproof packet measuring roughly 65mm x 65mm. Inside the lenses were kept from rubbing together by means of a cardboard separator.
The packet was stamped up with the following instructions, which i've again roughly translated into English.:
Klarscheibe so einlegen, daß der Aufdruck "Innenseite" vom Innern der Maske lesbar ist.
Clear disk insert in such a way that the print is readable on the "inside" of the mask.
"Klarscheibe" Vor Feuchtigkeit schützen
nicht wischen, nur am Rande anfassen.
Clear disk and protect against humidity, do not wipe, touch only at the edge.
cloth and retaining spring
For every gas mask canister issued there was also issued a chamois cloth for cleaning the eye piece lenses and a wire retaining spring to hold the cloth in place.
These items were was most commonly found at the bottom of the carrying tin, but during my research I have seen the spring also sited in the groove that runs around the top of the tin holding the contents in place preventing everything rattling around.
Again, both are quite a rare items as they were often discarded.
There were many instruction booklets and leaflets issued to the German soldier throughout the war to help him get to grips with his gas equipment. These are just 2 examples that I have come across and been able to add to my collection. The larger one concerning 'Die Gasmaske 30' and the smaller blue one which served as a quick reference guide to the 'S-Maske' which was supposed to be kept in the soldiers breast pocket.
When the soldier was back in barracks and when the mask was not required for immediate use, orders stated that the mask was not to be kept squashed up in the carrying tin for fear of it loosing it's shape and in turn becoming less effective.
The Maskenspanner, made from aluminum and sprung wire acted as a frame to stretch the mask over thus ensuring it remained in perfect shape.
Having tried this, I have found that it is not the easiest of operations to carry out. Based on illustrations given in the issue manual, the spring should be depressed between the thumb and forefinger and the T-shaped end inserted into the top of the mask sitting in the fold between the mask and the flange, which fits over the users face. The other end fits in the fold at the bottom of the mask, let go of the spring and the whole thing goes taught.
Submitted by Neil Barlow