Military Music of the Bundeswehr…

Continuing the theme of widening out Tomahawk‘s WW-II German Archive to just before the First World War, then coming forwards to the German Democratic Republic up until the Fall of the Berlin to complete our story of that county’s military music, along with our post-war East German  CD ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’, we also released an exciting a CD containing military music from the West German Bundeswehr’s first Musikkorps and its maiden studio recording from 1957 to keep the balance:

The new German Federal Republic was created 8 years earlier on September 7th 1949 with the formation of the Bundestag under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer but it wasn’t until 6 years later that this new West German state was permitted by its former enemies to raise its own independent Armed Forces. However the first West German military in-take did not take place until November 12th 1955 and that primarily comprised volunteers from the Federal Border Guard, with all candidates pre-screened to prevent former Third Reich-era Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS members from re-enlisting in the new post-war military.

Nevertheless, I know from my various discussions with senior Bundeswehr military musicians that despite this tight screening, at least four former musicians from Hitler’s bodyguard division, the Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and a number of younger Wehrmacht musicians were known to have ‘slipped though the net’ and it was these experienced WW-II veterans that would help continue Germany’s famous military musical traditions into the early days of the fledgling Bundeswehr in the late 1950s and so keep the ‘Janissary’ feel of their pre-1945 counterparts, at least for a few more years.

However it would, sadly, eventually be the Germany’s Greens and their allies who would, in later years, almost single handily destroy the whole historic might & pomp of West Germany’s Prussian military music by watering everything down to an almost unrecognisable image of its former self.. and indeed it was those self-same politicians that were behind the decision to remove the most obvious German Military musical uniform accoutrement, the Schwallbennesten (bandsmen’s swallowsnests), as well as also initially banning the other great totem of the German Musikkorps: the Schellenbaum (’Jingling Johnny’) and of course the ‘goose-step’ with all its Third Reich connotations

So it was odd that their East German counterparts, (who had a pathological hatred of the Nazi era), retained not only the Schwallbennesten & Schellenbaum but also the ‘goose-step’.. in fact  NVA Musikkorps even retained the distinct-sounding musical instrument, the Schalmei that was a favourite of early Sturm-Abteilung & Hitler Youth bands of the 1930s… but whenever this was raised, the brusque answer was always: “these are Prussian Traditions, not National Socialist!” )

However back to 1957 and that early, brief window when the newly formed West German musical arm could still perform in its proud, pre-1945 janissary style and the creation of the Stabsmusikkorps der Bundeswehr (Staff Band of the Army) on February 16th 1957 under a training designation, or Lehrmusikkorps, at Rheinbach near Bonn, initially with 16 musicians.

Some 4 months later, on June 16th 1957, Hauptmann Friedrich Deisenroth took over musical command and just a month after that increased this new musical strength to 50 bandsmen, with their first duties being to play alongside the Bundeswehr’s Wachbataillon Honour Guard in the new capital city of Bonn. In September the Stabsmusikkorps gave its first  performance in public and then in November 1957 it undertook its maiden studio recording session…

Tomahawk’s stirring CD Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen..! is that very recording, played in the true, pre-war Janissary style that harked back to the musical glory days of the Third Reich and includes the wonderful Der Badenweiler and a differing rendtion of the newly de-nazified German National Anthem or Nationalhymn as it was known then.. and as I say a rare and very short-lived window in time before the Germany’s Green Party got their hands on the Bundeswehr’s re-built musical arm and, (according to those former West German musicians I have spoken with), totally neutered and effectively wrecked what was always a very proud tradition within the German’s military psyche…

Indeed when the ‘dust had finally settled’ after the massive upheaval surrounding the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a number of former East German NVA musicians enlisted in the Bundeswehr, but were absolutely horrified at how far their janissary style of music had slipped and were appalled at the ‘lightweight’ music they were now expected to perform in the musikkorps of the newly reunified Germany… and so it is that this 1957 West German recording lives on as a well-preserved example of how military music would still have been played in todays’ Bundeswehr, but for political interference…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Military Music of Hitler’s Reich – A Review by Brian L Davis

When I was about 13 or 14 I think, I was given Brian L Davis’ terrific book: ‘German Army Uniforms & Insignia Uniforms’as Christmas present: my first really exciting and in-depth look at the actual kit that the German Army wore in World War Two…

I still remember how thrilled I was to get this fabulous tome as I was suddenly a collector with ‘real knowledge’ and I jealously guarded it and read it at every opportunity.  For years this single reference book was my bible..still is in many respects.. and the author,who is a brilliant and very well-known military expert across a number of differing areas of expertise, (both in print and as a film advisor), became something of a hero to me back in my days as young German militaria collector… and he still is today!

It was therefore even more of a ’schoolboy dream’ and certainly incredibly flattering & highly enouraging for me when later on, when it became ‘my turn’ to go into print some 30 years on from reading that Brian’s book, that the great man himself so kindly offered to write a very generous appraisal of my work, the product of some 6 long years of my in-depth research on this very particular and hitheto uncovered subject of German military history: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945:

“This book is a delight to both dip into and read: it is landscape in format with a hard, laminated cover. The text is contained on 320 pages and its content and production has obviously been a labour of love, a task that took the Author six years.

The book contains a plethora of fascinating information, contemporary photographs – 386 by my reckoning, some in colour, the rest being contemporary black & white photos, the majority of which have never before been reproduced together with masses of items, mostly illustrated in colour and many of which are of military, para-military and political insignia.

It tells the story of the development of German military music from the time of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, through the Great War, through the period of depression in Germany in the 1920s, the rise of national Socialism in the 1930s, through the Second World War and onto the post-war divided Germany and up to the present time.

It covers subjects such as the training of musicians of the Third Reich, the Musikkorps of both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, musical instruments, personal documents, sheet music and song books. The subject of the German radio, records and propaganda aimed at the German Home Front has a chapter to itself. Details of composers, lyricists and performers are set out accompanied by photographic illustrations of these people.

There are photographic illustrations of post cards, in particular those with the words of popular and patriotic tunes, song sheets,  song books, performance and concert programmes, posters, actual gramophone records, musicians wings known as Swallow Nests, musical instruments of every kind (even mouth organs).

Army, Navy and Air Force, SS, Waffen-SS, SA, RAD and HJ insignia including items such as musicians shoulder straps, collar patches, cuff-titles, arm bands, trumpet banners, kettle drum drapes, flags and banners, contemporary commercial adverts for musical instruments, steel helmets and their insignia, various forms of headdress, rubber stamps, sleeve chevrons, breast eagles, naval cap ribbons, basic military equipment, medals, decorations and war badges awarded to Bandsmen together with their printed citations, campaign arm-shields, various sports and merit badges, pay books, Wehrpasse and Soldbuch, identity discs, identity cards both SS (SS-Ausweis) and military (Truppenausweis), personal weapons, side arms and their hangers.

A bonus to any potential reader/purchaser the book has two sections on military musicians outside the historic period covered by the title of the book. In addition to the music and musicians of the Third Reich, Brian Matthews has devoted a section each to the musicians and bands including their uniforms and related insignia, of the West German Bundeswehr and the East German Volksarmee.

On the final pages of this work are the words to 79 songs, mostly military, some political, but all popular, marching or sentimental songs. Those  that I can recognise are the Horst Wessel Lied  which became the anthem of the National Socialist Party and which was always sung in conjunction with the Deutschland Lied, the German national anthem and Stille Nacht a most evocative song frequently sung on Christmas Eve.

Lili Marleen as sung by Lale Andersen, a song that was popular throughout Germany and which became a firm favourite of both the Afrikakorps and the 8th Army fighting each other in the Western desert; other tunes I can recognise such as Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden  and Das Engeland Lied…

I commend this book highly and suggest that you place an order for your copy now as privately published books have a habit of selling out fast and once sold they seem to disappear from the book world and then you kick yourself…”

To have one of your author-heroes that you have grown up with so generously take up his pen to both appraise & recommend my ‘first go’ at a really big, definitive military reference work is something  I could only have ever imagined… the fact that it then actually happened later on in life, is quite something… and not only am I very grateful to Brian, but I shall certainly treasure his support through his smashing write-up for many years to come, that’s for sure..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013