The German Soldier smell

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by sapper, Feb 22, 2008.

  1. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Some folk may find this difficult to believe, but we could smell Germans before we found them. A heavy pungent scented smell.
    I never forgot it...But what caused it?

    Germans Smell !
    Ah! But so did we!
    Germans do actually have a very different smell! When we took over his dugouts or rooms where he had been, this smell was nearly always present. It was a sickly, scented, pungent smell, very distinctive, and one that I have never forgotten. Lots of suggestion on the cause of this smell from other ex service men, but nothing conclusive, Captain Edwards R. E. of my old company, suggested it came from the oil he cooked his bread in, others have put it down to his Ertzats soap. I have heard so many other causes, such as a preservative on his uniform, but none that can be proved, even today, after all these years, I can still recall that smell and I do not think that I will ever forget it. Near the Chateau de la Londe, we found, quite by accident, a German dug out, it had been constructed as a square room dug into a steep bank of earth, in it, he had made a complete home from home, it had a table with chairs and bits of furniture with a stove, all dug out of the earth with just a small door for an entrance, the roof was earth with a bit of support, just a room inside the bank! But, most of all, the German smell, in that room it was very strong,

    The smell of Germans in the vicinity is not that surprising when one considers the smell of our battle dress after it had soaked with rain and sea water, any service man who wore battle dress will be only too aware of the smell if he has ever entered a Nisson hut after battle training.
  2. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    I can confirm your memories.

    I too can remember the distinctive smell on taking over Jerry positions and, on thinking about it, I would put it down to the odour caused by the wet "feld-grau" or field gray uniforms combined with the pink disinfectant that they used and the black bread that I believe was part of their rations.

    When my unit ran a POW camp in Ferdorf the interior of the prisoner's hut were equally pungent but this I would have put down to them living in cramped quarters.

  3. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    My father has said this, too, and several veterans I have interviewed said night patrol work was often made easy by these smells!
    Ken P likes this.
  4. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Could a contributing factor have also been thier diets? Sausage and kraut leeching through the skin?
  5. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I think not. The smell was very pungent and scented........ After 64 years I recall it clearly.
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Now there's a fascinating detail. Certainly not something I'd heard before. I wonder if the Axis soldiers also thought the allied had a distinctive smell?
    I've heard that smell is the strongest trigger of memory.
    Ken P likes this.
  7. A Potts

    A Potts Member

    Possibly the detergent used to wash their uniforms?
  8. A Potts

    A Potts Member

    I guess maybe that they thought that the British and US had a strange smell as well.
  9. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I guess maybe that they thought that the British and US had a strange smell as well.

    I'm sure you are quite right, but we will have to wait until you get an answer from one of them. :rolleyes:

    Sapper & I merely report what were our own experiences ;)

  10. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I like the bit about detergent washing clothes. There was no detergent and its an odd idea that you got a chance to wash your clothes. You would be very lucky if you ever got a chance to take them off.
    Slipdigit likes this.
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    According to reports,the Germans use of leather with their uniform resulted in an odour of sweaty leather being present on the person.

    I remember groundsheets having a particularly smell such when frequent use of them passed the odour on to the person.Its a smell I remember whenever I get a whiff of groundsheets or something similar.
  12. marcus69x

    marcus69x I love WW2 meah!!!

    I read somewhere that they had a strong smell of tobacco too. maybe it was the type of baccy they used.
  13. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    i got a barbour jacket which i used to check my snares with.i used to use a wax on it,which stank like hell when it rained.maybe similar smell.yours,4th wilts.
  14. Trincomalee

    Trincomalee Senior Member

    And in those days we didn't eat garlic !
  15. Marina

    Marina Senior Member

    There was somehting about this on the GWF once. There the belief was that the smell came from the stuff they cleaned their boots with.
  16. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Senior Member

    The Smithsonian Museum has noted the unique smell of German aircraft during restoration too. Apparently, it is simply a national characteristic. I suspect it is a matter of a people having common diet, bathing habits, and social characteristics that causes it. I would also posit that there are other nations that have similar characteristics due to the same reasons.
  17. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    One of the lesser virtues of, let's face it, getting old, is one's automatic response of "that reminds me" to something you have just read.

    Smell, did you say?.....That reminds me .........................

    I know that Sapper will bear me out when I say that one of the less pleasurable memories of life in the line was the un-mistakeable and un-forgettable smell of death....cloying, sweet, and even nausea evoking.

    On the BBC Archives I posted this small item about life in Sicily in August 1943

    We'd been driving North and pulled off the road at nightfall. Our resting place was in a small park and as I drove the truck in I felt it go over a heavy bump. Because I'd been seeing bodies all day I knew instinctively that we'd parked on top of a corpse but I was too shattered to alter the truck's position and we so we stayed where we were. I was on duty on the set all night and the smell got progressively worse.

    When morning came I finally investigated under the truck and found to my relief that all we'd done was to park on top of a pile of horse manure.

    I can still remember the pong!
  18. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    War! Bloody War!
    It stinks!
    One of my abiding memories, is that of incredible noise, heavy battleships were firing over our heads into the Enemy areas, the noise, as the shells screamed overhead plus the noise of our artillery and mortars gave me a headache so bad that I was glad to move forward. As we moved inland and captured enemy gun positions we were surprised to find just how efficient the Germans were, they had oil paintings near their guns with a panoramic picture of the country side and with all the ranges laid out in detail

    This part of Normandy is a mixture of corn fields and "Bocage" little fields with sunken lanes and high dense hedges, undulating and twisting dusty roads with trees and lots of cover, for the infantry, a nightmare, and for the Enemy, a fortress easy to defend. At times the fire was intense, without our "Foxholes" we would not have lasted, and a terrible price was paid for each move forward, Every yard had to be fought for, It was now, that we quickly learned to be Veterans!,

    There is nothing like the threat of death to instruct one in what is necessary to survive. One always had the smell of death, it was with you continually, the sweet sickly smell of death, Humans, and animals, bloated, with their legs stuck stiffly in the air, our soldiers did not always get buried, dead cattle were a continuing problem, the stench was overpowering and the sound of wounded cattle in pain was pitiful. I still have a picture in my memory of the pale orange coloured faces of those recently killed, they quickly bloated and then turned black as corruption overtook them. I hated the sound of spandau fire, it always reminded me of someone tearing a dry bit of canvas. The sound of the moaning minnies or multiple mortars was something else that I have not forgotten, it started off like the moaning of a banshee in the distance and then the sound grew as the missiles approached.

    Oh yes I remember! The concrete gun emplacements, the barbed wire, the expert use of Enemy mortars, they always knew where we were. Having to live and sleep with the dead all around you, my most abiding memory is that of exhaustion. Sleep was at a premium.

    It takes very little time to make a Veteran, I remember an event that was typical of Normandy, one night I arrived back to our area after being in contact with the Enemy all day, so tired that I did not dig a hole, I just lay down and fell asleep, when I awoke in the morning I found that I had slept with Germans buried all around me, so shallow that their boots stuck out of the ground, the telling thing about this, is that I thought nothing of it at the time.

    No sooner had we dug our hole to get some rest, than we were dragged out again to go somewhere else. Normandy was a murderous place, a murderous place! One other memory I recall was the superiority of the German weapons, while we were armed with the "Sten" a gun that fired when you did not want it to, and would not, when you did! My Sten fired on its own when I put it on the ground and nearly shot my best pal Harry Grey we learned not to keep it loaded for fear of killing your own, something that nearly had a tragic outcome later. I remember the "Sten" cost about 7/6p to make, cheap and nasty, and very unreliable.
    Ken P likes this.
  19. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I've also read that in The Great War the Germans had a particular smell too.
    A National trait in wartime it seems.
  20. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    my friend told me his mates or section always tried to shelter in german positions,much better than scraping out your own slit trench.yours,4th wilts.

Share This Page