By Sebastián Bianchi
The Erkennungsmarke was the oval metal identification, or “dog tags”, that were worn by every active member of the Wehrmacht during war time. Initially presented during general mobilization in August 1939, the tags were composed of a thin metallic disc worn suspended from the neck by an 80 cm chain or cord.
The information on the tag was mirrored on a top and bottom half. This information consisted (officially) of;
Line 1 - The name or abbreviated name of the unit the wearer belonged to when he entered service.
Line 2 - The wearer’s personnel number in the unit listed on line 1.
ID Disk of General Leutnant Josef Lehmann, commander of the 82nd Inf division from Dec 39-Apr 42 (Chris Boonzaier Collection).
After 1941 many tags also contained the wearers’ blood type (A, B, O or AB, not Rh as this factor was not yet understood). The position of the information varied considerably, some were stamped along the arch while others were just lined straight across.
All personnel who joined the military after the war began were issued tags a few days after induction. In these cases, the tag would contain the information of the replacement unit, and not the field unit in which the soldier would eventually serve (though replacement tags would – see below).
All Wehrmacht units of company size were required to maintain a list of all its soldiers and their tag numbers. This list was filed with the Armed Forces information Office for casualties and war prisoners on the 10th month after a unit was formed and updated monthly thereafter. The updates of course included the tag numbers of men who joined the unit and those who were transferred or had become casualties. The field units also kept a supply of tags equal to 20% of their strength, with the result that replacement tags for those who lost them contained the name of the unit to which they belonged to at that moment.
In the even that the soldier was injured or killed in action, the part with the cord/chain was left with the body, while the bottom half was broken off and returned to the unit for processing. Kriegsmarine tags were similar to that of the Heer and Luftwaffe, but smaller (32mm by 50mm). They were also generally gold in color, and contained the wearer personnel identity number and the number of the class from which he graduated from the academy.
Many of the tags survived the war and are now in collectors circles. It is
also not uncommon to find tags that are corroded, indicating that they have
spent time underground. This is also a controversial subject, as the
search for them has been not only on battle sites, but allegedly also in what
amounts to war-graves.
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