Garrett E Eriksen takes a look at the kit equipped by Allied and Axis soldiers at the Normandy Landings.
The rest of this article can be found in the July 2017 issue of The Armourer.
The 6th of June 1944 saw the largest seaborne invasion in history taking place along the beaches of Normandy, France as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Western Europe. It has been the subject of many films, books, computer games, historical documentaries and more. Even for those unfamiliar with details of the war will have heard of D-Day and will no doubt have images of Saving Private Ryan flashing through their minds. D-Day conjures up a variety of emotions and thoughts for even the most ardent collector, but a D-Day centrepiece for a World War II militaria collector is almost mandatory and so knowing what to look out for is important to ensure accuracy and legitimacy in one’s collection.
The Allied Forces
Some of the most interesting kit of World War II can be found in the manifest of the average Allied soldier, and especially those of the Normandy landing crews who had an incredible assortment of kit that would allow them to be prepared for almost anything during their extended invasion of Axis territory.
Headgear for the US infantryman and airborne was the M1 Helmet, a mainstay of the US military for all of World War II and used well into the 1980’s. An iconic piece of distinctive design, this armour piece was made of hardened steel with a material liner on the inside sporting adjustable straps and a suspension system for more comfortable wear and adjustment. Many troopers added webbing mesh to the outside of their helmet for flexible camouflage purposes. Not just used for protective headgear, troopers found that, after removing the interior lining, the helmet had a variety of uses, including a wash basin, hammer, shovel and even as a cooking pot. The M1 is a highly sought-after collectors piece and comes in many varieties depending on the trooper’s rank, occupation, personal emblems, markings or names written on the exterior or interior, quality, battle damage, camouflage webbing etc. Collectors can expect to pay anywhere from £80-£800 ($100-$1000) depending on the above factors and if the item is proven D-Day material.
British and Candian infantry would have made use of either the MKI or MKII steel combat helmet, or Salatschüssel (salad bowl) if using the German colloquialism, or the MKIII, also known as the “Turtle” helmet. The MKII was issued from 1940 with the MKIII being issued from 1941, but British troopers may have still had their MKI’s on D-Day depending on supplies and veterancy. Dark green in colour, the only difference between the MKI and MKII was the improved lining and chin strap, however the design did see widespread use amongst commonwealth nations and other European countries such as Norway and Allied countries such as Canada (with Canadians being present with British troops on D-Day). Despite this, the MKI and II helmets are still very strongly associated with the British infantryman and possibly boasts the most number of nicknames of any piece of military equipment. Initially named The Brodie Helmet, after its 1915 creator John Brodie, it is also called the Tommy helmet (named after the name for the British trooper) the tin hat, the washbasin, the Kelly helmet, the shrapnel helmet, and the battle bowler when it was worn by officers. Australians called it the Panic Hat and US soldiers called it The Doughboy Helmet. This iconic item is much sought after by collectors and depending on condition, insignia etc collectors will find them for £50- £150 ($60-$190). The MKIII is more strongly associated with Canadian troops and so collectors may find many labelled as specifically Canadian even if they were issued to British troops. Pricing for such a piece ranges between £80-£240 ($100-$300).
Find out more, including about the Allied Forces Field Equipment and Tunics, in the July 2017 issue of The Armourer.
Allied Field Equipment – Zippo Lighter
Given the large variety of kit out there, collectors will have their own particular affinity towards certain items, from entrenching tools to the more niche paper gas brassards, depending on their collection focus. Thus we shall focus on some more interesting items that may not be part of the average collection.
Zippo lighters are known world-wide and are especially invocative of American culture. This association is thanks to Zippo dedicating manufacturing to the war effort during World War II and their production of a combat lighter. Known as the Black Crackle Zippo, it was waterproof, windproof and featured a rough, cement-like texture which enhanced grip and the black colouring added to this ensured it did not reflect light. Many D-day troopers would have no doubt been sporting these as they had been readily available since 1941. Replicas can be found on the Zippo website, but original lighters are harder to come by and usually not in the best condition as they would have seen years of wear and tear. Still, they make for a very interesting collection piece and collectors can expect to pay £80-£400 ($100-$500) depending on condition.
Allied Field Equipment – Luminous marker Disc
The Luminous Marker Disc is a little-known but fascinating piece that was used by both American and British troopers; but more specifically by squad leaders and mainly issued to paratroopers dropping in as part of Operation Overlord as a precursor to the Normandy Landings. The discs were roughly 4cm in diameter and filled with radium – a poisonous and radioactive substance which was used in wristwatches until the 1960’s to give them their night-time glow. Only the US version had a warning of “poison inside” etched on the back, but both versions were shipped in lead-lined cases. The discs were used as a subtle way of allowing troopers to follow squad leaders in the dark when using lights may not have been an option whilst infiltrating enemy territory. They discs could be tied-on, clipped-on, pinned-on, or screwed on to a variety of kit but helmets were the most used. The tied-on version are the most common whilst the pinned-on, clipped-on and screwed-on are significantly rarer. The ideal is to find a collection still in their original packaging in a lead-lined case, or attached to the helmet of a squad leader. A used disc by itself will cost around £12 ($15), but the rarer and more unused versions can cost up to £100 ($125) per unit. A lead-lined case of these in their original packaging can cost up to £1050 ($1300), and there are different types of cases and packing as well which may alter the price.
Ausrüstung – Soldbuch
An item of particular interest for collectors could be the Soldbuch – the ID document for a Landser that had to be on his person at all times. A somewhat intimate piece of militaria, these documents are of particular historical value for not only demonstrating the infamous bureaucracy and meticulous culture of documentation and record keeping of Nazi Germany, but for being a direct connection to an actual name and history of a person who was a member of the Wehrmacht at that time where too often militaria is divorced from the intimacy and humanity inherent in war and the items worn by their previous owners. The tricky part for the collector would be matching a Soldbuch with its owner and ensuring said owner was involved in the German defence of the D-Day Allied landings. If the collector can orchestrate this, the average price of a Soldbuch would be around £80-£160 ($100-$200) for the regular Wehrmacht trooper. If paired with medals or other personal documents, the price can range up £400-£800 ($500-$1000) and up to over £24,170 ($30,000) for a famous soldier or officer. In this case, a name can mean a world of difference in collectability and historical and monetary value.
Ausrüstung – Smoking Pipe
As with the Allied countries, smoking in Germany was still a favoured pastime and on the battlefield it was especially important to soldiers as a way to busy themselves between the stress of combat and as a relaxant. Thus the German soldat also had his share of smoking paraphernalia, usually loose tobacco and rolling paper, however some made use of smoking pipes and these pipes have become a niche, but still relatively popular collector’s item. Though they are exceedingly difficult to find due to the nature of their usage they do make an interesting piece of militaria and collectors can find unused but era-specific pipes far easier than used ones. The pipe used by the German troopers would have had a bowl made of briarwood and stem made from Gutta-Percha; it would have been compact in design, likely for quick and easy storage during deployment and favoured instead of cigarettes as the bowl help keep the ember hidden and thus lowered the profile of a smoking soldier. For an unused pipe, collectors can expect a price-tag of £40-£80 ($50-$100), but the collector is more likely to find them in sets of up to £150 ($190). Used, and authentic, smoking pipes are far harder to find, but the lucky collector can possibly expect up to £240 ($300) in price for a single pipe. It may impossible for the collector to directly link a particular smoking pipe to a D-Day locale, however it would still be an item worth having in a collection as a representation of a highly valued item by the average German trooper as part of their ausrüstung (equipment).
“I smoked a pipe. This was popular with even young men back then. It was a small pipe, I don’t remember what I lit it with, I must have had a lighter. Pipes were better in the front lines. You can see a cigarette burning and so they tend to draw bullets to your face.” ~ Alfred Becker
Find out more, including about the Axis Forces Field Equipment, Helmets and Tunics, in the July 2017 issue of The Armourer.