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Erkennungsmarke Development

Article about: Although I mostly have WWII Erkennungsmarken, it seemed natural to me that a few of its predecessors would help round out my collection some- so over the years I acquired examples of its WWI

  1. #1

    Default Erkennungsmarke Development

    Although I mostly have WWII Erkennungsmarken, it seemed natural to me that a few of its predecessors would help round out my collection some- so over the years I acquired examples of its WWI and earlier forms, back to, more-or-less, the first 'dog tag' the German military ever used.

    Jean Höidal reports in his book Deutsche Erkennungsmarken des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Patzwall, 1999) that the first reported modern use of identity tags was in 1862, during the American Civil War, although I have heard that Leonidas' Spartans at Thermopylae wrote their names on little sticks which they tied to their arms so their bodies could be identified- so the practice may be far older than we might think.

    For Germany it was the battle of Königgrätz in 1866, where shockingly only 429 of 8893 fallen Prussian officers and men could be named, making clear the need for some form of durable identification. I read someplace (can't recall where) that one high officer was prompted to say something to the effect that every dog in Berlin has to have an identification tag, and he was angry that so many of his brave men were left nameless. Potentially this could have been the origin of the term 'dog tag'- that soldiers were following dogs in having to wear an identification tag.

    In 1868 the initiave started by Generalarzt Dr. F. Löffler produced the first 'Recognoscierungsmarken' (recognition marks) for the Prussian army, and they were worn widely by Prussian and Bavarian troops in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War. Höidal reports these first tags were square or rectangular- like this example:

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    5. Rheinishches Infanterie-Regiment 65 (Köln, 1860); 2. Bataillon, 1. Companie, Stammrollennummer 171, made of sheet zinc.

    Interestingly, the word Companie is still spelled with a 'C' at this point, not yet with a 'K' (this is significant because German generally has no hard 'C'- it uses a 'K'). Also it seems the Regiment was not divided up as WWII Regimenter were, with Kompanien 1-4 in the I. Bataillon, 5-8 in the II. Bataillon, etc., but rather a) each Bataillon had a 1. Kompanie (etc.), and Bataillone were given Arabic numbers not Roman numerals.

    Erkennungsmarken were all hand-made (sometimes with engraved text rather than stamped), and forms varied, presumably with the tastes of a Regiment's Oberst.

    A further old example is this one:

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    Simply marked to the city of Ulm, with a roll number- presumably pre-WWI, because at that point, while forms still varied, units seem to have been the standard marking.

    In 1914, the most common form of Erkennungsmarke was a little zinc oval approximately 5cm across, although there was still a fair bit of variation in the exact shape; the discs were worn on a twisted fibre cord, sometimes made up of yarn of the colours of the state the unit was from (blue and white for Bavaria, for example), and there were two primary placements of holes for the cord- either at each end of the oval as in the example below:

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    3. Bataillon, 34. Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment, 9. Companie (still spelled with a 'C' not a 'K')

    Or at the top as these two have:

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    The top one in this photo also illustrates the continued variation in shape and style at the beginning of WWI- the unit text letters are embossed rather than stamped (only one SS unit I know of did this in WWII), save for what appears to be a name, 'ROHR', which is stamped in. Interstingly too the abbreviation 'No.' is present, which is not German, but French- the word in German is 'Nummer' so is abbreviated 'Nr.'- presumably like the spelling of Companie, or perhaps truly 'Compagnie', was truly the French word given that French was the 'universal' language of European courts for quite a long time; apparently Freidrich der Große spoke mostly French in the Prussian court and likely many words continued as standard long after.

    The second disc is the more common form- simply Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 250; note that a capital 'J' is already being used as a capital 'I' since in old German fonts, the 'I' was very similar to a 'J' save without the fully crossing top (weirdly the font I'm writing in here has its capital 'J' like this- technically that's an 'I'!)

    In 1915 the first larger discs were issued- approximately 7cm across with two holes for the Tragschnur at the top. The reason for the size change is that it was at this point that the practice of marking only a unit and roll number was abandoned in favour of putting a man's full personal information on the disc- name, birthdate, home address and units- clearly a lot more space was needed for all that!

    This is a pristine example belonging to one Hauptmann Geiger, commander (presumably) of the 6. Kompanie of the 10. Bayerische Infanterie-Regiment:

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    At some point it was realized, probably due to unfortunate errors and the horrendous casualy rate, that a single disc was insufficient for the task so the three Trennschlitzen separating a disc into two halves and the doubling of the information appeared.

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    This disc belonged to one Bruno Tlüersack of Wollstein (where the famous early microbiologist Robert Koch was born), Kreis Bomst, born 17. December, 1886; note the close spacing of the cord holes and the fact that the centre Trennschlitz is shorter than the two end ones- there was still some variation among disc blanks at this point.

    The type lacked any easy way of carrying the lower half once broken off, so the final change to the design appeared some time in 1916- a single hole in the centre of the bottom half for stringing together with others to prevent loss:

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    Another pristine disc of the final form once belonging to a Paul Beck of Eisenacherstraße 12, Berlin-Mariendorf, born 10. August, 1882.

    This design, apart from a slight increase in the spacing of the cord holes and a slight decrease in width continued to be used through WWII:

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    Last edited by Matt L; 05-15-2011 at 04:07 PM.
    Ohhhhh- pillage then burn...

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Erkennungsmarke Development

    I'm speechless Matt, fantastic information. You have a great writing style, if you don't write books for a living, you should! Thanks for sharing your knowledge, we appreciate it.

    Take care,
    Courage is not the lack of fear, it is the ability to take action, no matter the cost.

  4. #3

    Default Re: Erkennungsmarke Development

    Well done Matt and interesting lesson for us all,


    The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter" 26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke. 26th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers , ( 3rd Tyneside Irish )

    1st July 1916

    Thought shall be the harder , heart the keener,
    Courage the greater as our strength faileth.
    Here lies our leader ,in the dust of his greatness.
    Who leaves him now , be damned forever.
    We who are old now shall not leave this Battle,
    But lie at his feet , in the dust with our leader

    House Carles at the Battle of Hastings

  5. #4

    Default Re: Erkennungsmarke Development

    WOW! Thanks for taking the time to educate us! Your knowledge is so valuable to this forum! I also collect WW1 discs. I posted some the other day in the Imperial section. They're junkers compared to your examples.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Erkennungsmarke Development

    Thanks guys, I'm glad you find it interesting
    Ohhhhh- pillage then burn...

  7. #6

    Default Re: Erkennungsmarke Development

    That's a great piece of work !


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