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Wehrpass

By Gary Tankard

     The wehrpaß formed a focal part of the German military administration system in the Second World War.  It traces its roots back to the 19th Century Imperial Army whose equivalent was the Militärpaß. The post-First World War Reichswehr continued the system and in 1935 the new Wehrmacht introduced its own more extensive version, the Wehrpaß. Whereas its predecessors contained brief military-specific information, the wehrpaß of the Third Reich era was a far more complete record, and contained much more personal information, an indication of the more totalitarian nature of the Nazi regime. Its basic purpose was to register and record the military service of an individual. In brief, a wehrpaß can contain the following information:

 

·         Personal details (both military i.e. dog tag number and civilian i.e. trade).

·         Reichsarbeitdienst service.

·         Suitability for military service.

·         Units served with.

·         Awards.

·         Promotions.

·         Weapons trained on.

·         Specialized Training.

·         Operations and battles participated in.

·         Wounds and illnesses

·         Medical examination results.

·         Reserve service.

·         Basic kit sizes.

 

   The wehrpaß did not operate alone; it formed part of a highly evolved administration system. The other main constituent parts of the system were the Soldbuch (held by the individual), and Wehrstammbuch (held by the recruiting office in Germany). In conjunction with these, the wehrpaß formed part of a system in which an individual’s personal and military details could be recovered in the event of a loss of one (and perhaps two) of the three.

 

   The wehrpaß was issued when a man was registered for military service. At this point the personal details would be filled out, photo attached, a basic fitness examination undertaken and its result recorded in the wehrpaß. Note that even if the man was not fit for military service he would still be issued with a wehrpaß. After initial registration the wehrpaß would be given to the owner for safekeeping. When the individual was subsequently called up for military service (or RAD service) the wehrpaß would be handed to the unit for administrative. It was usually held at company level and administered there. One must remember that the company administration services, together with the company supply train, were not usually situated with the company headquarters. In static warfare these company units would be controlled by the parent battalion and situated 3 to 5 kilometers behind the company positions.

 

   The type, frequency and quality of the administrating the wehrpaß depended on the individual unit. In general, early in the war wehrpaß were updated frequently. As the situation deteriorated the frequency and detail with which a wehrpaß was administered tended to decline. This is especially evident from 1943 onwards where updates seemingly only occurred when the man left the unit, be it through injury, death or transfer. With full scale retreats in progress on all fronts one can imagine that the updating of unit records was often the last thing to be considered. As such, lack of entries in a wehrpaß does not necessarily reflect the amount of combat an individual saw.

 

   When a man was transferred to another unit the wehrpaß would be updated and forwarded to the new unit. Also sent would be a personal data sheet that duplicated the most important information from the wehrpaß. One would assume that this data sheet (together with other documentation) would be sent separately from the wehrpaß so that if it were lost a new one could be quickly created. Before the wehrpaß was sent it was updated and all entries were supposed to have been verified with a stamp (either a stamp containing the unit designation or its Field Post number) and signed by the company commander.

 

   If an individual were killed in action the wehrpaß would be forwarded to the next-of-kin as a keepsake. Note that more often and not the wehrpaß was not always completely updated before being sent. As such an individual might be entitled to awards not entered in the wehrpaß. On a similar note the official designation of battles and operations his unit took part in (this was generally on a divisional level) might take months. This also applies to individuals who were wounded and subsequently discharged. In this case the wehrpaß would be given to the individual both a form of identification and a record of his military service.

 

   The collecting of wehrpaß, together with other German documents, has become increasingly popular in recent years. As with most type of collecting the rarer and more desirable items fetch premium prices. In the field of wehrpaß collecting criteria such as units served with, awards, rank etc can all add to the price of an item. In addition wehrpaß to men who served in certain campaigns, such as Stalingrad or North Africa, are also much sought after. The last point gives the collector the best chance of picking up a bargain. Quite often entries referring to campaigns and battles are incomplete and only by researching the man’s unit will a collector discover where a man served. This is often overlooked by dealers. Where faking is concerned this always comes in the form of bogus entries. This is usually done to up the price of a more common piece either by the addition of new, more desirable unit entries or award entries. The collector should take care when buying a wehrpaß to a high profile unit (Waffen-SS, Fallschirmjäger etc) or arm of service (pilots, U-Boat crewmen, tank crewmen etc). The other thing to watch out is dealers claiming the wehrpaß holder served in a certain campaign or action. Again check out the unit and make sure it was where it is claimed to have been.

 The above article was written by Gary Tankard and I wish to thank him very much. To check his site out on wehrpasses click here. For photos of my wife's great Uncles wehrpass click here.