World War II reenactment
World War II Reenactment is the historical reenactment of the various combatants involved in World War II. Additionally, it has grown to involve the portrayal of civilians on the various Home Fronts, as well as services involved in home front activity - such as ambulance crews, fire brigades and police units.
While some dramatic recreations of wartime events had been staged for theatrical purposes (the movie Theirs is the Glory, for example, was filmed on location in Arnhem using veterans of the battle) and for military purposes (the last days in Adolf Hitler's bunker were recreated by the actual participants at the insistence of their Soviet captors), the reenactment of World War II as a hobby traces its roots to the Historical Reenactment Society (HRS).
Not long after the first HRS event in 1975 — an offshoot of American Civil War reenactment — World War II reenactors began to form permanent groups, each adopting the designation of a specific military unit that had served during the war. Some of the earliest organizations were the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler reenactment group in Missouri and the 352nd Infanterie Division 916th Grenadier Regiment II Bataillon 5 Kompanie reenactment group in New England. Since that time hundreds of units have formed across the world, representing nearly every nationality involved in the conflict. World War II reenactments also began in Canada around the same time, though evolving independently of their American counterparts.
The typical WW2 reenactment will last two to three days, with each unit establishing an encampment. Allied units will bivouac together in an organized camp while Axis units will bivouac nearby but in a distinctly separate area differentiated by either open space or physical barriers. Generally, these encampments will attempt to establish a general representation of soldiers in the field, organized in a military manner but modified slightly to permit display of particular items such as weaponry, personal gear, historical charts and pictures, and equipment. Participants will often sleep with their gear, so arrangements for existence gear (such as food, water, and toilets) is often made as well.
Living history and tactical events
Centered on specific types of historical interpretation, participation within the hobby has usually focused on one of two different aspects of the lives and appearances of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen that were involved in that conflict.
The first, known as living history, sometimes called a "barracks impression", emphasises the garrison life of the average serviceman or servicewoman. Within this impression various types of gear are displayed in a static manner for example, in a 1940s or war period setting.
The other form of reenactment, tactical events, involve simulated combat operations within predesignated urban or rural areas. These tactical events are usually held on large tracts of private land, although events are sometimes held on military bases.
Participating units often bring restored original or reproduction World War II-era vehicles and heavy weapons to these events. These vehicles and weapons include Hetzer self-propelled assault gun, Sdkfz 251 armoured personnel carrier, PaK 40 anti-tank guns, as well as many others from various countries. These vehicles and equipment can be costly to operate and maintain, and represent a significant investment for the organizations that use them. Initial costs for uniforms and personal gear are usually around US$1000 (£640/€750) per person, and may be much higher depending on the nationality that is being portrayed.
In World War II reenacting there are three general event types; Private Tactical Battles, Public Living History Events, and Community Events. A number of reenactment groups only attend Private Tactical Battles, whilst others attend Living History Events with the public admitted. Lastly there are Air Shows which are predominantly a feature of the US reenactment events calendar.
Private Tactical Battles
These battles are large-scale events, usually held on national guard bases, boy scout camps, or private land/estates. A smaller event will average 50 to 100 participants, and large-scale battles will average 250 to 300 participants. The large-scale battles involve full armor, which includes both Allied and Axis tanks, halftracks, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, artillery pieces, and aircraft.
Public Living History Events
These events are staged by community organizations or individual reenacting units and involve unit(s) putting up a tent(s) and creating some sort of encampment. The objective of these events is to interact with the public and educate them on the history of the unit being portrayed, when in the war the portrayal is from, and the history surrounding that particular unit. These events may also involve a scripted public display battle.
Two major events in the UK that include a large number of reenactors from World War II are the War and Peace Show and Military Odyssey. In the US, major reenactments include the D-Day landing reenactment at Conneaut, Ohio, Von Kessinger's Express in Parrish, Florida, and the annual Currahee Military Weekend in Toccoa, Georgia.
These events include air shows, parades, public service events (such as school presentations, library displays, and non-profit veterans groups events), and gun show displays. In the case of parades, schools, and libraries, they typically only have Allied units attending due to political concerns.
Public battles in WW2 reenacting differ from the public battles staged for other forms of military reenacting, such those done for the American Civil War. In WW2 reenacting, because the weapons are semi-automatic or fully automatic, the soldiers involved are spread out, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder as is done for other time periods that use black powder muzzle-loading rifles. Often, vehicle-mounted fully automatic weapons (machine guns) will be powered by propane gas fed into the breech and ignited by a spark plug. Other weapons will use brass-cased blank ammo, with ejected shells that can't be reused. Such spent casings can become prized souvenirs by younger spectators, who are permitted onto the battlefield only after it has been declared safe to enter.
In 2007, BBC investigative reporter John Sweeney produced a documentary entitled "Weekend Nazis" that delved into the reenactment scene in the UK. Members of German units, especially the Second Battle Group, were interviewed and investigated about their hobby. Secret recordings did capture some other reenactors from Europe making racist remarks.
Within the UK, a number of events now only allow the portrayal of Allied service personnel and ban the wearing of any German uniform featuring the symbols of the Third Reich. In some cases events permit only Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, whilst specifically refusing any SS uniforms.
In 2010, Rich Iott a Republican candidate for US Congress, came under intense scrutiny after images were released showing him wearing an SS uniform. Iott defended his interest in historical reenactment.
- List of historical reenactment groups, including WW2 reenactors
- "Nazi uniforms banned at Lancashire Railway WWII event". BBC. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Nazi uniforms banned from 1940s weekend after visitors came as SS officers". The Telegraph. 13 June 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Call for Europe-wide swastika ban". The BBC. 17 January 2005. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Joshua Green (8 October 2010). "Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "House Candidate Rich Iott Defends Nazi Uniform Photos". ABC News. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
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