a reminder of Christmas, joy, home and family.
-What material were the soldiers equiped with?
-Etc, etc, etc...
and digging, looting,
treasure hunting or collecting
There have been and still are heated debates regarding the use of metal detectors in archaeology, with many archaeologists seeming to hold a strong grudge against anything metal detector related. The behaviour of certain metal detectorists is indeed highly destructive to the archaeological record and partialy explains this bad blood. However, metal detectors are tools that can be used for both good and bad, and metal detectorists are all unique indivudials who should be judged on their personal merits and actions, not as a group. It is now recognised by battlefield archaeologists that metal detectors enable the rapid recovery of large numbers of artefacts over a wide area, enabling a much quicker and effective search of battlefields than traditional archaeological methods.
25 bodies of missing soldiers from 1945 have been located in 2018 based solely
on witness testimony.
The archaeological and historical information that derived from the careful exhumation of the Villeneuve grave and from the contact with the relatives of the soldiers proved to be of significant importance to the local historical record. Before the discovery of the grave, very little was known about the battle that had occurred in Villeneuve-Loubet in August 1944. It was for example not known how many German soldiers had been killed, how they had been killed, what unit they were from, etc... These questions as well as several others can now be answered thanks to the fact that the bodies were exhumed in archaeological manner and that a careful follow up was later done with the relatives of the soldiers, as well as with the Allied soldiers who had participated in the battle. More details about the Villeneuve-Loubet mass grave and the context of the battle can be found in my book Autopsy of a Battle, the Liberation of the French Riviera.
shortly after finding out his father's body had been recovered.
The battlefield of El Alamein is perhaps the battlefield that saw the greatest variety of nationalities fighting within such a small area during WWII, and this large variety is reflected by the bottle fragments that can still be found littering the ground. Indeed, in 1942, soldiers of the following nations were involved in the fighting around El Alamein: Australia, France and it's colonies, Germany and its annexed territories, Greece, Great Britain, India, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and South Africa. Furthermore, men of other nationalities, such as Americans, Canadians, Spaniards and Yugoslavians, could sometimes also be found within these armies, particularly in the French Foreign Legion, the German army and the Royal Air Force. All these soldiers not only brought with them bottled beverages (particularly alcohol) that they had acquired in their homelands, and in the various countries they had crossed through on their way to Egypt; but were also provided with a large variety of bottles by their supply corps.
As a final note, we can add that it is remarkable how much alcohol the troops seem to have consumed on the battlefield, particularly considering the extremely high temperatures and the dehydrating effects that alcohol has. Interestingly, South African veteran Leslie Rose remembered a rather different tale then Jean-Mathieu Boris : "There was no booze. Montgomery wouldn't allow any booze." (quoted in the Daily Maverick, 22.10.2012) The archaeological evidence that has been found casts serious doubt on Mr Rose's recollection!
In the 1954 movie 'Divisione Folgore', two Italian
paratroopers enjoy a bottle of "Whisky englesi".
VIDEO: Recovery and burial of missing soldiers in Stalingrad
The Soviet and German armies suffered disastrous numbers of casualties on the eastern front during World War II. Literally millions of Soviet soldiers were buried in battlefield graves, or were simply left at the spot where they had died, and are still listed as missing in action today. While German graves have attracted large numbers grave robbers (or black diggers) since the early 1990s, Soviet graves have more often been left unmolested, as few valuable items are to be found on the bodies. Nowadays many groups of "white diggers" regularly organise recovery missions on the former battlefields of eastern Europe in order to recover and identify bodies of missing soldiers.
below the surface. The body had been left abandoned
at the scene of death since 1942.
Depending on the nature of the battlefield, the searchers use various tools in order to locate missing bodies, the two main tools being the probe (or "shoop") and the metal detector. Probes are the most commonly used tool, as they are cheap to produce, and can also find non metalic items. The probes simply consist of a thin metal rod that is inserted into the ground in order to "feel" any buried items. The noise and feel produced when the probe touches a buried item enables to differentiate between bone, metal, roots, stone, glass, leather, etc. Needless to say, probes can only be used in terrain with small numbers of stones, and with large numbers of artefacts.
Mjasnoj Bor battlefield with makeshift probes. The concentration
of bodies is so great that even such primitive tools in the hands of
inexerienced searchers enable the discovery of numerous bodies.
next to a shrapnel damaged shovel.
damage visible on both. The culprit shell fragment was
found still contained within the skull.
pierced by two small shell fragments. The smaller fragment also
penetrated the soldier's skull while the larger fragment seems to
have remained embeded in the scalp, leaving only a rust stain
on the bone. The smaller fragment was found within the skull.
Two Soviet soldiers found in what was probably a shell hole.
The young age of one of the soldiers is made obvious by
the fact that growth plates are still present on many of his
bones, such as the humerus shown below (for more details
on this topic, search for articles on "epiphyseal fusion").
a very efficient form of community archaeology.
WWII era Soviet soldiers were not equipped with identification tags. Instead, they were issued a small ebony tube that contained a sheet of paper on which they were to write their name and particulars. Many soldiers were superstitious however, and considered that wearing an identification tag would bring them bad luck and certain death; so most soldiers did not carry the tube with them. Even if the tube was correctly worn, 70 years have taken their toll, and the paper inside the tube has often disintegrated or become unreadable. In consequence, the vast majority of Soviet bodies that are recovered nowadays can no longer be identified.
Soviet soldiers often engraved their names on their spoon, or on other personal items such as knives, mess tins, or cigarette boxes. When bodies are discovered nowadays, it is such engraved items that most often enable a body to be identified. Digging expeditions frequently take place in April and in late May, and the bodies that are recovered are then reburied on May 9th, the day that victory Europe is celebrated in the East.
Gross Willy Gross 2.3.1913 19.8.1942 11./Inf.Rgt.475 Ohrdruf 61-2.IR.274
Nebe Fritz Johannes Nebe 20.4.1923 20.8.1942 2./Inf.Rgt.534 Niederwiesa 2559-2./Schutz.Ers.Kp.234
Wolf Josef Wolf 15.12.1922 20.8.1942 2./Inf.Rgt.534 Prag 6201-1./Inf.Ers.Btl.385
Rasche Hans Rasche 9.4.1918 10.1.1943 10./Gren.Rgt.261 Bützow (Lehrte Hann) 1218- 4./Inf.Ers.Btl.194
Wahsner/Waßner Johannes Wahsner/Waßner 26.6.1923 1-2.1943 Kdo.Inf.Div.295 Tins Schles 515- Gesch.Ers.Kp.F.Mot.Schtz.Einh.85
Wiede Gottfriede Wiede 31.5.1917 1-2.1943 3./Korps Nachr.Abt.(mot.)44 Pauschwitz 110- Fsp.b]/Kp.N.44
of a Soviet soldier at Stalingrad may enable his identification.
a soldier faintly carved into it: Kalistratov. Such personal items enable bodies to
be identified with a resonably good degree of certainty. In this case, the original
owner was not killed, but was wounded on the Volshow front, and then
captured and sent to a German POW camp in which he died in 1944.
tag is alive. The soldier buried here must therefore remain unidentified."
This soldier served in a medical unit, so was perhaps aware of the shortfalls of the German
ID tags, convincing him of the need of adding his name on the tag.
eagle and swastica stamped on its surface! The date of manufacture as
well as the fuze type can be found on the same fragment.
-Soldiers Mistakenly Reported Killed in Action: Three German World War II Examples Related to Operation Dragoon in August 1944. Jean-Loup Gassend, Lionel Alberti. Journal of Conflict Archaeology 05/2015; 10(2):96-122.
I have made presentations about the topics covered on this page on the following occasions:
-Autopsy of a Battle. 2015 Christmas presentation at Montreux Hospital.
-Découverte d'une fosse commune de soldats allemands datant de 1944 à Villeneuve-Loubet, France. 14th Medico-legal Anthropology Congres, Nice, 4 April 2014.