Monday, September 29, 2008

Interesting gear: The Zeltbahn shelter-quarter

I'm typing this from inside a Zeltbahn, an ingenious triangular shelter-quarter developed and issued by the Wehrmacht during WWII. The design was subsequently copied by the French, Russians, Swiss and probably others that I am unaware of. I ran across a good deal on some surplus French versions and decided to indulge my curiosity both historical (my college major) and personal (some of my great uncles spent many nights in them). (I'll spare you the stories, but note the Knight's Cross.)

Each soldier was issued one shelter-quarter, a section of tent pole, a peg, and some bits of rope. With those accoutrements, a zeltbahn weighs a total of 2 1/2 pounds. It can be pitched singly as a very minimal shelter, or buttoned together with others in configurations of 2, 3, 4, 8 or even 16. They also have head slits so that they can be worn as ponchos, and two can be buttoned together and combined with a couple poles to make a stretcher. How's that for versatile? 

I buttoned eight of them together. I'm glad I didn't do it the first time in the dark or with cold fingers. Efficient assembly requires a degree of familiarity I don't have, and there are a lot of buttons. I wore my fingers out, especially since I seem to have done everything wrong at least once.

Supposedly this would accommodate eight men, but it's difficult to see how unless half of them were off on guard and KP duties at any given time. It was roomy enough for me, a squirming, gassy six-year-old, and a squirming, gassy Great Dane. I was like the roast beef in a squirmy, gassy sandwich. 

Here's a view from the rear, and the poncho head slits are visible. (If it's pouring rain, do you wear your zeltbahn or make a tent out of it?) 

Gratuitous squirming, gassy Great Dane pic:


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