Anti Tank crew in action at Demjansk
Expanding on our last article on the Cholm Shield, we touched on Demjansk being a fortress town not dissimilar to Cholm, both in region and in the area of the Russian front, and like the cholm shield, a battle shield was also issued for Demjansk.
The forces at Demjansk were also made up of members from Army Group North, which consisted of the 12th, 30th, 32nd, 290th Infantry Divisions and the 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf", with members of these units being trapped in the Demjansk pocket, for several months with supplies being flown in by the luftwaffe who also removed the wounded to hospitals.
Wounded being picked up at Demjansk by the Luftwaffe
It has been stated that out of the 100,000 men trapped in the Demjansk pocket, over 3,300 were killed and 11,000 wounded.
The shield was symbolic of the campaign in Demjansk and has the wording Demjansk in raised letters under a design of wooden pill boxes flanking an army eagle holding a swastika. Below the wording is a plane and then two crossed swords and the date 1942. The plane signifies the part the luftwaffe played and the crossed swords, the combat.
Variations consist not only to the type of metals used being either zinc or steel, but to the lettering, with some having a part top to the J, whereas others do not. For another example, on some, the air plane having a curved propeller, others a straight propeller.
Demjansk letter types
These can all be put down to manufacturer's individual details, as can the number of pins and pin shapes used to affix the shield to its backplate, cloth backing and paper. This can come in a number of colours from army green to luftwaffe grey, white for summer tunics, black for panzer and blue for navy. The members of the SS who were awarded the shield, wore it above the SS arm eagle, though if more than one was worn, this would, or could be worn below the eagle. A stick pin miniature was also available for private purchase, both in 18mm and 9 mm form and could be worn in a group or singularly.
Demjansk award Document
The award was made by General of Infantry Graf Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, who was commander of Army Group North. The award was given to members who were part of the 2nd Army Corps that took part in the defence of Demjansk provided that they met the following criteria:-
They were in the Wehrmacht or service of the Wehrmacht (Russian Auxillaries could and did qualify as did Dutch NSKK Members etc) and in the Demjansk pocket for 60 days, or wounded in the area or had in the case of the luftwaffe, flown 50 missions in, out, or over the Demjansk pocket in a supply or support capacity.
This shield was approved by Adolf Hitler on 25th April 1943 and was again re-instituted in the de-nazified version in 1957. This type follows the original design but has the eagle and swastika removed. So far, I have never seen a full size 1957 version being worn. The type often encountered though is mounted either on a plain blue ribbon, or on a stick pin miniature. The award document for these shields is usually a plain printed affair with the title of the award, man's name and unit typed in and then a facsimile of the general signature to the base. Compared to the cholm, the demjansk is quite common, even though to get it, a soldier must have gone through quite an ordeal, to say the least.
One such soldier who did receive the award was Leutnant Friedrich Hardenberg, a member of the 3rd Pi.Batl. part of Infantry Regt 258, who, at the end of World War two, spent over 8 Years in a Russian POW camp befor returning to West Germany, where he again served his country.
Demjansk award Document and Picture of Leutnant Friedrich Hardenberg
When awarded, the shield was noted in the soldier's wehrpass and
soldbuch, and a presentation document was given. The shield could be worn on
both service and parade tunic as well as Greatcoat which accounts for why more
shields are around than were issued of any type. Added to the fact that
the shield was sewn onto a tunic and therefore couldn’t be transferred from
jacket to jacket very easily, thereby needing more than one shield per
Original Demjansk Arm Shield Article from the book"Der Lohn Der Tat"
With the re-institution of German awards in 1957, the Demjansk shield lost its
eagle and swastika but other than this the item was unchanged in design.
In 1957 provision was made for the awards to be worn on the medal bar for
all day use so to speak, as well as on a stick pin, like their third reich
Original Demjansk Arm Shield 1957 and a 1939-45 type "
With regards to copies,
As many of you know I am not a great fan of the internet forums, I believe that the individual must do his own research and not piggyback on someone else. We should ask questions and follow up these expert statements. I know some forums do not like this approach and throw off members or hound them out and shout them down because they dare to question these "expert" opinions. But these forums, due to much false information and frightening lack of knowledge on awards and medals, are the ones killing this hobby, the sad result being frequently, reproduction becoming originals and original reproductions. As an example of this, just recently I received a Demjansk shield back from a collector with a letter stating that the shield is a "Floch made Copy" - as identified as such by the moderators and experts of a forum - for the following reasons:
The Shield is zinc not magnetic like Originals
There are vertical lines on the zinc surface
The serif J
The moving prop
All well and good if this knowledge was well founded, but if the information had come from a standard reference book on the subject, none of the above statements would have held water longer than a sieve! Let us go through each reason this shield was deemed a fake.
The first point mentioned is it is a "Floch Copy", (This is an Austrian reproduction maker, who's products have been around since the mid 1980`s, the one who makes the WH Infantry, AS & HA Tank badge to name a few). This is untrue, as he did not make this one!. There is a copy of this type of zinc shield, being English made by Nicholas Morigi and sold by him as such as a copy for £13.95. The shield is non magnetic and made from a white alloy. And I have nit next to an original for comparison, note that the eagle's head is different.
The next statement being the shield is zinc and not steel is true in the fact that the shield is zinc, but just like the other shields, ie the Narvik and Cholm, these shields are made in both zinc and steel. If you look in the latest Niemann`s Price Guide for example, it lists them in this metal.
We now come to vertical lines on the zinc surface, this is a strange one to answer as this is such a common effect with zinc because of how the atmosphere affects it. Other original awards have been and still are, encountered with this feature.
And finally we come to the "J" Serif (this is tied in with the moving prop and is covered together) . In The book "For Fuhrer & Fatherland Military Awards of the Third Reich" Vol 1 on page 283 it mentions the moving prop. This was first printed in 1973 approximately 10 years before Floch made his first badge. The "Combat Medals" by C J Ailsby pictures and mentions this feature, and finally the book "Forman's Guide to Third Reich German Awards and their Values" 3rd Edition" Page 77 shows this type with both the curved propeller and the "J" font to the base and this badge is accredited to Roger James Bender, the book publisher.
Original Demjansk Arm Shield Article from the book""Forman's Guide to Third Reich German Awards and their Values 3rd Edition"
and in an e mail I asked him about the shield. Here is his answer.
Yes of course feel free to use anything from our books that you need for
your article. Glad to help in this most confusing of hobbies...remember when
it was much more simple? I had not heard the story about the curved
propellor. Just checked my example and it still has its original paper
backing (that is hard to fake) and have had it since I was a kid. Sure have
no doubt about it. It is surely possible the fakes have the curved propellor
but would guess they used an original to work from. People tend to forget
different people had contracts and they cut their own dies...don't even want
to think about Infantry Assault Badge or Iron Cross variations due to that
fact. All the best with the article.
So it is safe to say that this type of shield has been around for more years than many of us care to mention and no I am not going to ask Mr Bender's age but lets just say he printed his first book in 1968 on the subject, so the shield pre-dates this time span!!
Shown below is a well known copy made in a white metal alloy
DEMJANSK POST WAR WHITE METAL COPY