German Wartime Canteens -cleaning it up!

German canteens are one of the easiest items to find for WW2 Reenacting. Originals are reasonably priced, but are usually unsanitary and smell, well lets say, like a dead cat. Over the years, this is one of the items you will go through the most- either breaking straps, crushing the bottles, or just losing them. Most reenactors now use reproduction canteens with post war bottles. However, it is possible to clean the original bottles and make them useable again.

The only method I have found to sanitize the canteens and clean them up a little is to put several tablespoons of baking soda in the bottle, pour an agitator in ( I use uncooked macaroni noodles- beans may work, or crushed ice), and then pour vinegar in the bottle. You don't want too much or you will have the volcano effect. Do not- DO NOT put the lid on. Place your finger over the opening and shake well. I have found this method will clean up the aluminum and take the funky smell out. Make sure you wash the canteen out really well with soap and water as soon as you are done cleaning it with the vinegar and baking soda mixture.

Another great trick I have learned over the years is how to take dents out of your canteen. Fill it with water to the very top. Screw the lid on (I suggest finding a metal lid for this) and place it in the freezer. When it freezes, the water expands and pushes out any dents. You may have to thaw it and re-freeze it to take out big dents. Also, the concave area in the back may get pushed out too if you do it too many times.

In this section, I am going to show you a few styles of german canteens. There are more variations of original canteens than you can imagine, and all are correct for reenacting. Most units require the brown wool covered bottle, green aluminum cup, leather strap version pictured at left. These usually have postwar straps, postwar aluminum bottles and postwar aluminum cups painted the correct color. The early war years had brown wool covers and black painted cups. Later in the war, about 1942 onwards, the wool covers changed to differing shades of grey and brown and the cups were painted olive green.
The next most encountered canteen is the "Tropical", or more correctly labled "mid war" style. These usually have web straps and wool covers, with a bakelite cup. The bakelite cups are easy to break, but look good if members in the unit use them. It is not uncommon to see photos of soldiers carrying canteens with no cup- some stored the cup in their bread bag to keep it from banging around on the gas mask can. As a side not on safety, do not ever drink from an original steel cup or bottle. It should be assumed that the germans used lead based paint, and it's not worth the risk of contamination.
The style at left is also referred to as tropical. These were actually issued in small numbers to Afrika Korp troops, but the majority never made it to Africa. These were used in other tropical climates, but were generally issued throughout the rest of the war in all theaters of operation. Numerous examples are found in trenches and bunkers in Russia every year. It is not incorrect to use this style, but again the bottles are usually corroded or just plain nasty. The bottle is aluminum covered in a wood/resin mixture. These were made from 1941 until 1945 and will be found dated as such. Some examples lack straps, with only a strap around the neck to hold the lid and hook, with no provision for a cup. There is a postwar version of this canteen that is identical in appearance, and is acceptable for reenacting.
The last major style encountered is the late war pattern. These are generally not acceptable for reenacting due to the fact they have steel bottles and cups. Most of the time the bottles are rusted and paint is peeling- not good to drink from. The example at right has a porcelain covered cup with no handles, and this style was issued late 1944 to the end of the war in 1945. Most of the straps are ersatz leather, or pressed paper, and will not hold up to the rigors of reenacting. The covers are made of a wool lined cloth, and are of inferior quality. These are best left for collecting.
The last canteen to look at is the post war West German Police canteen. It is not like the Luftwaffe canteen- the Air Force did not use any blue wool covered canteens during WW2. These are good for several reasons. They are cheap, they are the same size as WW2 canteens, and they are made like the WW2 canteens. However, they are only good for parts! You can keep the cup, bottle, and straps, but the wool cover has got to go. Don't get caught with a blue wool canteen- they never used them and neither should you!