During the period of the Third Reich, there were literally hundreds of types of civilian, para-military, and military ID documents, passes, booklets, and tags. A German soldier might be required to carry any number of these items during the time of WWII as it was often required that nearly every detail of a person’s life be recorded and carried for identification purposes. Only the most important and fundamental military ID documents and tags are covered by this article.
All German soldiers in all branches of the Wehrmacht kept at a minimum the following items pertaining to themselves and their military service.
The basic field personnel record for all draft-eligible males. It was created and issued during the first visit to a draft/recruiting office by the soldier in question and was maintained by the individual at home until called up for duty, including in the service of the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD). Upon entry of duty by a soldier, the Wehrpass was turned over to the soldier’s unit for administration. The Wehrpass usually contained a civilian-dress photo on the inside front cover, unless the individual was already on active duty when his draft was reinstituted. A plethora of items were recorded in each soldier’s Wehrpass including unit administrative notes and records, dates of assignments, promotions, awards, battles, major injuries or illnesses, etc. Upon a soldier’s discharge, his Wehrpass was returned after all the field entries were transferred to the Wehrstammbuch – a series of documents covering national veterans used to document a soldier’s service for claiming benefits, etc. If a soldier was killed or became MIA while on duty, the Wehrpass was sent to his next of kin by the soldier’s original recruiting office.
The basic pay and identity document booklet for all active-duty German soldiers. The Soldbuch was created and issued to a soldier soon after his entry into active duty service during wartime. Before the war, simple ID documents such as a Truppenausweis were used which were to be kept by a soldier on his person at all times for purposes of identification. Initially, the Soldbuch did not contain a photo, but a military-dress photo was later required around 1943 as a security measure. Other security measures added later included the addition of a quarterly check by the soldier’s unit. The Soldbuch contained information on the soldier’s paygrade, clothing, equipment, weapons issued, current unit of assignment, as well as his assigned replacement unit. All previous replacement units were crossed out in such a way as to remain legible. Medical information such as eye and tooth care and hospitalizations was also included, as well as awards and leaves. The Soldbuch was the document the “Chain Dog” (Not-so-friendly term for the armed German military police soldier), was most interested in when stopping soldiers for questioning, etc. A soldier was required to have the equipment listed in the Soldbuch on his person and to also be wearing the correct awards as listed – or else the soldier could be in serious trouble! The Soldbuch was first conceived as a document for receiving payments from units other than a soldier’s initial home unit, but as seen above, soon evolved into a much more detailed identification document. Upon discharge, the Soldbuch was intended to be destroyed, but due to the collapse of the Wehrmacht, many soldiers retained their Soldbuch as a surrogate Wehrpass, and many exist today for collectors and researchers to study.
The permanent personnel record for all draft-eligible males created simultaneously with Wehrpass and kept at the soldier’s original recruiting office.
This was the standard-issue German military identification tag, often called a “dog tag”. The Erkennungsmarke was instituted and first issued in August of 1939 to all members of the German Wehrmacht. Thereafter, the tag was issued to all soldiers shortly after they were first inducted into the Wehrmacht. The tag itself consisted of thin aluminum, zinc, steel, or tin oval disc that was worn around the neck on a chain, string, or lace. Wear of the tag was required at all times by all soldiers in the field or field conditions. It was perforated in the middle and was stamped with the identical information above and below the perforation line. The tag was designed to be broken into two pieces when the soldier wearing it was killed. The lower half would be collected if at all possible, and given to the unit HQ for grave registration and notification. The upper half would remain with the body itself. The information on the tag varied throughout the war but generally consisted of the designation of the individual’s initial replacement unit (the unit all soldiers were inducted to before being sent to a regular field unit), a soldier number, and the soldier’s blood type. Initially, all German units of Kompanie size were required to maintain complete lists of all soldiers and their Erkennungsmarke. These lists would be updated as needed once a month with any additions and subtractions based on men lost as KIA, MIA, through transfers or sick leave, or that were gained through replacements and transfers or soldiers returned from sick leave. This official Kompanie listing was registered with the German Armed Forces Information Office for Casualties and War Prisoners and was kept as up-to-date as possible.