The Zeltbahn

The German Zeltbahn has always amazed me as a brilliant piece of design, a simple triangular piece of cotton that can be used as a poncho or buttoned to other Zeltbahns to create bewildering array of different sized tents, and thats before you’ve used for camouflage, a stretcher or emergency flotation device.

At this years War and Peace Revival they were out in force.

Based round an isosceles triangle the canvas measured 250 x 200 x 200cm[1] and was made of a water repellent material called Makostoff, which is an artificial cotton [2] not dissimilar to Cotton Duck.

The the canvas was printed with the German camouflage splitter-pattern (Splittermuster). I find this curious as the Zeltbahn went into production in 1931, yet the main battle dress remained field grey (feldgrau). Why did the main Wehrmacht battle dress not change to a camouflage pattern before the war? Cost, practicality, manufacturing issues?

The strength of the Zeltbahn was in its versatility. The triangular design allowed four to be buttoned together to create a four man tent, eight could be used for an eight man tent, with sixteen sections a tent covering 25 square meters could be created [3].

With some folding and buttoning you had a poncho with variants for the infantry, riding your bike, horse.


American Pup Tent

The British and Americans supplied their infantry with the Pup-Tent, two pieces of canvas that buttoned together to create one two man tent. Troops would also be issued with waterproofs, for the Americans up until 1943 this was a rubberised rain coat, and from early 1944 a lightweight poncho [4]. The British had their trusty groundsheet which doubled as a cape, not much changed since First World War, made from a vulcanised cotton.

The Russian had the Plash Palatka. Like the Zeltbahn it acted as a wet weather poncho and could be used as a shelter, with multiples being able to be buttoned together. The canvas measured approximately 4’x5′ [6].

Russian Platsch Plash

Russian Plash Palatka

At various times, having spent time “under canvas” the Zeltbahn looks like it would provide the most practical solution for billeting for a number of nights, and on the move be the most practical to carry and use (I believe it’s slightly lighter than the Russian Plash Palatka).

For me the Zeltbahn is such a design classic I can’t believe that someone hasn’t reinvented it for the modern era as the ultimate in minimal two man camping shelter and waterproof.


2] Saiz, A. 2008. Deutsche Soldaten: Uniforms, Equipment & Personal Effects of the German Solder 1939-45Casemate




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