Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Mess Tin Primer, Part II

Part II - Kochgeschirr-type Mess Tins

     It was seen in an earlier post that mess tin designs often developed along parallel tracks. However, one design that undoubtedly influenced many other 20th century mess tins was the German Kochgeschirr (lit.: cookware) Modell 31, commonly referred to as the Kochgeschirr 31 or M31. The Kochegeschirr 31 was shortened and improved derivative of the Kochgeschirr 27. The Kochgeschirr 27 which was an aluminum version of the tinned steel M1915/17, in turn derived from the M1910. The Kochgeschirr 27 was manufactured through 1940. The capacity of the two models were as follows:
                                 body (Unterteil           lid (Kochgeschirrdeckel)
Kochgeschirr 27        2.14 liters                      1.71 liters
Kochgeschirr 31        0.76 liter                        0.54 liter

Kochgeschirr M1910

Measuring marks in ½ liter increments were stamped into the body. Late-war versions of the M31 saw a change in the design of the handle lugs to ease manufacture and the elimination of the measuring marks on the body. Enameled steel staged a comeback in some M31s as aluminum was diverted to more critical areas of war production. Although originally produced without an insert, by 1945 some M31s were being produced with an insert, a somewhat unusual development in light of critical wartime shortages of metals.

German M31 marked with L&SL40 stamped onto the lid and handle lugs. L&SL is the manufacturer's code, and 40 the year of manufacture.   
There are several features that are common to "Kochgeschirr-type" mess tins:
  • two-piece construction, consisting of a body and a lid which fits over the top portion of the body
  • A "kidney" shape when viewed from above; similar types may have an oval or "D" shape. 
  • wire bail attached to the lower section
  • hinged flat metal handle attached to the lid (an exception was the German M1887 Kochgeschirr's handle, which was separate)
For the purposes of this post I have provided an illustrated glossary of mess kit nomenclature. The nomenclature is not “official”, but intended only to clarify references to specific parts of the Kochgeschirr in this post. 

Kochgeschirr-type mess tin nomenclature
Body - the lower part of the mess tin.
Lid - the cover, which can be inverted and used as a frying pan.
Handle lug - a projection on the side of the mess tin body, used to hold the bail in place. Lugs may be in          the form of a loop or a stud.
Bail - a wire handle, attached to the sides of the mess tin, and used for carrying the mess tin or hanging           it over a cooking fire.
Strap loops - metal loops, attached to the body, lid or lid handle, through which straps (ususally made           of leather) are passed to secure the lid to the body and/or the mess tin to the soldier's field gear.

Some Kochgeschirr-type mess tins may be equipped with an insert, a shallow dish that fits inside of the body, and serves as an additional serving bowl.  

Kochgeschirr 31 Descendants
Prior to and during World War II, various nations copied the design of the Kochgeschirr. Several of these are illustrated below.

Soviet M36 mess tin, post-WWII manufacture. The Soviet M36 mess tin was copied from the German M31, with the only major modifications being the shape of the handle lugs and three rivets on the lid handle instead of two.

Finnish Mess Tin. 
WWII-era Finnish mess tins also claim parentage from the German M31. During WWII, Finnland also used German M31s, British mess tins supplied during the 1939-40 Winter War, and captured Soviet mess tins. Note the differences in the lid handle, especially the lack of an upper strap loop.
After WWII a number of nations manufactured copies of the M31. With the exception of the manufacturer’s marks, the Austrian and Romanian versions are virtually indistinguishable from the pre- and early-war M31. The Austrian, Polizei, Bundeswehr and DDR mess kits were issued with an insert.

Austrian post-WWII Kochgeschirr. It has few discernible differences from the wartime M31: there are no manufacturer's marks on the handle lugs, and different markings where the lid handle is attached to the lid. This example is marked with "HV 84" (Heeresverwaltung - Austrian Federal Army; 84 is the date of manufacture, 1984), underneath it "JGB", the manufacturer's abbreviation.
The Austrian Kochgeschirr with insert. The insert has 2 slots that allow the end of the lid handle to be inserted so that both the lid and insert can be carried in one hand.

This Romanian Post-WWII Mess Kit is nearly identical to the German M31, with the exception of smaller handle rivets and the complete absence of manufacturer's markings or stamps.

A variant produced for the West German Police was similar to the M31, except that the handle lugs were similar in shape to those of the Soviet M36.(

The West German Bundeswehr adopted a modified version of the M31 in the 1960s. It had a higher lid; note the approximate 8 mm space between the top of the upper strap loop and the ridge on the lid. The handle lugs were changed to a circular socket type.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Iron Curtain the DDR (East Germany) produced a simplified descendant of the M31. The handle lugs were similar, but smaller, than those on the original M31. It also lacked the upper strap loop. The lower strap loop could be a full loop, or sometimes only a flange on either side of the handle. The handle was secured to the lid with 3 rivets.

Comparison of (left to right) East German, WWII M31, and West German Kochgeschirr. Again, color is not a reliable indicator, especially in the case of the East German Kochgeschirr. I have examples in varying shades of gray/green, and have seen some repainted to mimic WWII Kochgeschirr.
Some models were nearly exact copies of the M31, others were slightly modified, but many types follow the M31’s dimensions so closely that the lids and bodies are interchangeable. To illustrate the point, the photo above shows lids interchanged between a Soviet M36, East German and Austrian Kochgeschirr.
Kochgeschirr M31 Look-Alikes
Though not necessarily derived from the German WWI or WWII Kochgeschirr, numerous other mess kits are often incorrectly identified or misrepresented as such. The Wehrmacht's policy of utilizing captured equipment, including mess tins, further adds to the confusion. Some examples of captured mess tins were repainted before re-issue.

Post-WWII Polish Mess Kit M.23/31 (Menazka wz.23/31). The prewar Polish M.23/31 was constructed of tinned steel. Post-war versions had no manufacturers markings and were made of aluminum. Note the higher "shoulder" on the lid and the vertical strap loop on the lid handle.

Polish wz.70, replacement for the wz.23/31. The shorter body and high lid give it a squat appearance.

Hungarian 65M, another post-WWII variant.
Appearing at first glance to be an M1910 Kochgeschirr, it's big (2 liter capacity), impressive, and ....Swiss, not German. However, the "D-shape", stud-type handle lugs, lack of German-style strap loops, and the cutout in the handle are identifying features that distinguish it from the German M1910.

Basically a shortened version of the Swiss mess tin, this type of Norwegian mess tin was manufactured from 1960 through 1975. The Norwegian mess tin is often confused with the Swiss.

Comparison of Swiss (left) and Norwegian (right) mess tins.

German WWII M31s are much sought after by collectors and reenactors. Unfortunately there are vendors who, either through ignorance or willful intent, have listed many a post-WWII mess tin as a German WWII Kochgeschirr. There are a number of ways to determine whether that M31 you are eyeing is genuine or not:
  • The date and manufacturer’s mark on lid and handle lugs. This may not be present on all late-war handle lugs, but its presence is a good indicator of authenticity. 
  • The date should either be pre-war or wartime dates. Sometimes the dates or manufacturer's codes may not match, but the dates in both areas should be pre-war/wartime dates. Two-digit dates after 45 are not wartime mess kits.
  • Presence of strap loops on the lid handle, both top and bottom.
  • Type of handle lugs: cast aluminum loops or steel plate (late1943-1945, illustrated below).
  • Color is not a reliable indicator. 
  • There is no substitute for good research.
There were wartime M31s produced without a lid handle or manufacturer's mark, usually in unpainted aluminum. These are believed to have been produced for civilian workers.

The handle lugs can also help to identify the type of mess tin.
 Close-up of handle lugs:
Pre-war and early WWII German M31

Late-war Kochgeschirr 31. 


Soviet M36

East German

Norwegian (Swiss is nearly identical)

 H.Dv.86/2 Verpflegungstabellen, 25 August 1938, Berlin (excellent information and photographs of German WWII mess tins and  accessories) (good descriptions of German WWI mess tins)
    All photographs not cited are mess tins from my personal collection.