Getting Started in WW2 Reenacting
Picking a Unit
By Brian Mead
So, you've decided to get into WW2 reenacting. Now you've got quite a choice...what unit to join. You probably already have an idea of which nationality you'd like to portray, or even know some buddies who are in a unit, but other than that, you've got no idea about the next step. Choosing a impression & unit will be one of the most important choices you make in the hobby. It will determine the types of events you do & how you spend your weekends. Following are a few things to think about.
What nationality? This is a pretty easy one. One thing to think about when you're portraying the generic soldier for any of the impressions. The cheapest to do is Russian. The uniform is basic & the gun is cheap. Guys who do Russian say you can pick up your entire empression for less than $300, including the Mosin-Nagant Rifle! You could choose to do US GI. The uniforms are easily obtained. Any size can be bought as a reproduction, but if you fit original you can pick the stuff up cheap. I personally go with reproductions & keep the originals at home...or as my dress uniform where I know I will not damage them. The basic rifle will cost you since a M1 Garand can cost over $500-$600 for a decent one. The hobby always needs more quality Germans. The uniforms cost a bit more than US uniforms, but your rifle will probably cost you less than $200. But as we all know, you're not in this for the cost of it. Pick a nationality you feel comfortable doing and you'll enjoy researching.
Which Branch of Service? This is getting a little more specific as to what you'll do on the battlefield. The basic options are Infantry, Airborne Infantry, Armored, and Support Services like Signal Corp, Medical, or Transportation. The most common unit on the WW2 battlefield was the Infantry and as such they are always needed. They were the backbone of the army, taking & holding the ground that was fought for. Elite units like the US, UK, or German Paratroopers, US 1st Special Services Force, German mountian troops and German Waffen SS all get cool unique equipment & dashing uniforms. Don't get me wrong here, I've got a Paratrooper impression, but there are generally too many elite units at reenactments. Lets also don't forget the Support troops. I've read that there were about 20 men to support every man on the front. These soldiers can be portrayed at living histories, tacticals, and reenactments as Signal Corp wire layers, Medics, Surgical Hospital staff, truck drivers, Military Police, and much more.
Personality of Unit? Now that you've decided what you want to do, you've got the really tough choice...who to join up with. Remember, these are the guys you'll fight with, sleep with, eat with, and drive 5-13 hrs with. You've got to be totally comfortable with this choice. Some things to think about when meeting the units you're interested in:
- What types of events does the unit do? There are basically two types of events in the hobby: Living Histories and Tacticals/Battle Reenactments. Living Histories are done for the public. You are educating the public about the lives, equipment, and training of the soldiers. For me this is the most rewarding type of event. You generally get to met the vets who were there, learn from them, and also help the public gain an understanding of the WW2 soldier. Judged Tacticals are scored battles held away from the public eye. Battle Reenactments are held for the public to watch. Tacticals and Battles are the most popular type of event in WW2 reenacting. In Tacticals, there are objectives which the Allies or Axis will try to achieve during the battle. This is also a great time to try out the tricks of living in the field you learn from the vets at the living histories. The Battle Reenactments are usually scripted, with a predecided victor & vanquished. If done well, it is a great way to "wow" the masses, if done poorly, it'll make you embarrassed to be a part of it.
- Does the unit drink alcohol? I know, it sounds silly, but this is a big time personal issue for lots of people. (not me =^) After 10 years in Civil War reenacting, I've seen lots of units that turn into a frat party after the public leaves. This is great for some, if you're looking for a good time. Personally, if there is drinking at an event, I like to see the correct WW2 type alcohol being consumed in an appropriate manner. I know that's kinda vague, but think about what & how the soldiers were able to drink & how they were able to obtain it. It's all in what you want to get out of it.
- How does the unit camp? Do they stay at a hotel & drive in for the day? Do they camp in the field in shelter halves and tent flies? Do they sleep out on the ground, with only a poncho for a roof? Do they camp different ways for different events or campaigns? There's nothing worse than enjoying camping at the site & seeing all the guys in your unit head for the hotel at 6:00 to get a shower & dinner...leaving you to watch their stuff. Or vice versa, do you really want to head to a hotel & make other guys watch your stuff?
- How does the unit eat? What level do you want to take your experience to? Personally, I like to portray the soldier as he lived & try to get an idea of his life. I like to eat K-rations, D-rations, and C-rations at events in the field. When there's an enlisted mess tent available, it makes the cook's food all the better when you realize you don't have to eat another K-rat for the meal! Some units eat MREs (modern military food), beanie-weanies, breakfast bars, and bottled water. Will this affect your experience? For some, no, for others, yes.
- How are the unit Officers & NCOs chosen? Generally there are two ways a unit is governed. Either they're Assigned or Voted on. Both ways seem to work, but if you have any wish to work your way up thru the unit command structure, you'll have to be comfortable with the processes of obtaining rank.
- Does the level of authenticity of a unit match your expectations? This is a difficult question to answer for most new people. Basically there are different levels of quality of equipment & uniforms. Without doing some research beforehand, you will not be able to answer this one.
- How does the unit travel to events? Do they rent a van & all ride together? Do they carpool? Also, when do they arrive on Friday and when do they leave on Sunday? You'll want to pick a unit that is committed to the same timeframe as you can commit to. I've been at events where I've had to leave Sunday morning & the rest of the guys are there unit 5:00pm. I've also been at events with other units where all the guys leave on Saturday night, leaving me to camp alone Saturday night! At least that time there were no scheduled events Sunday.
These are a few of the things you'll want to consider when joining a unit. These are just my observations after being in the hobby for a while. You'll want to think about these, and come up with your own prerequisites for your future friends! Just do some research, talk with LOTS of people, and make your choice wisely.