The rucksack was a fairly obscure item of equipment in the German Army and there is not a lot of documentation available. Before the war, rucksacks were issued only to cyclist and machine gun troops. With the massive expansion of the army in 1914-15, there was a need to equip mass numbers of troops with something for them to carry their kit in. Normally, this would have been the Tornister which was the issue knapsack but with bottlenecks in production, alternatives were sought and the rucksack was one of them. Intially, rucksacks were bought on the open market so there was a degree of variation. Also, non-infantry troops that were in possession of Tornisters were ordered to turn them in and instead were issued rucksacks.
For the cavalry, prior to the outbreak of the war they were not issued any sort of knapsack or rucksack; it was supposed that whatever kit they had would either be lashed down to the saddle, placed in the pommel bags, or incorporated into the blanket roll. However, with the end of the initial mobile phase by late 1914, cavalry was increasingly being used in a dismounted role and there needed to be some what for the cavalry soldat to keep his necessary kit close at hand to they were also issued rucksacks, at least at first.
Here’s a little information from Jürgen Kraus (please excuse my poor translation):
Apart from rucksack-like models for machine gun troops and cyclists, no rucksacks were provided in the German Army before the war. In the first months of the war, bottlenecks were encountered in equipping the newly-established formations with knapsacks that rucksacks were alternatively obtained on a large scale for equipping reserve troops- Landwehr and Landsturm. Rucksacks were readily available commercially and they were also faster to produce than knapsacks. Already on August 27, 1914 the Bavarian Army administration had ordered 20,000 rucksacks to be delivered by the end of September.
For the newly established snowshoe and mountain troops, the rucksack was an integral part of their equipment. Even for those troops in the field who had no knapsack, rucksacks were sometimes issued for carrying their equipment. So on November 25, 1914, the Bavarian War Ministry ordered the transfer of 5,000 rucksacks from the Bavarian Cavalry Division; since March 8, 1915, their replacement troops were equipped with Tornisters. At the beginning of 1915 there was still a great need for knapsacks.
In order to at least fully equip the infantry, on January 18, 1915 the Prussian War Ministry ordered that Tornisters issued to those troops (i.e. non-infantry), were ordered to be removed and replaced with rucksacks; this applied to the machine gun companies, field artillery, telegraph, air service and train units. In addition, for the time being this would apply to all units- except for the infantry equipped with rucksacks from the outset- in order to keep the Tornisters for the infantry. This action was followed by Bavaria on February 1, 1915, Saxony on January 27, 1915 and by Württemberg on January 24, 1915.
Initially, the military administration bought all available civilian rucksacks styles to meet the sudden demand. Later, delivery contracts were awarded by simplifying the patterns, although they could vary depending on the corps area clothing office. In Bavaria, where the procurement of the war clothing was carried out, a relatively large rucksack made of soft waterproof canvas with outside pockets for ammunition and other items was developed. Under the flap there was a special bag for the messkit, while inside the rucksack, five bags were installed. This rucksack pattern was judged to be too large and the material it was made out of was too thin.
Below are some views of the 1915 pattern rucksack:
And here are a few more views:
And now for the 1918 pattern rucksack:
In regard to the above two patterns, Kraus states:
There are two preserved originals provide a picture of the provision all backpacks that the Prussian Military authorities procured. The 1915 model, consists of reed-green cotton fabric of about 57 x 57 cm in size and carries on the back of a 23 cm high and 37 cm wide, patch pocket. At the strap are quilted cotton short Schnallstücke (patches?)made of leather aresewn on.The other model (1918)ischaracterized by amilitary marking of UhlanRegimentNr. 20and is from 1918. The 1918 large rucksack was approximately 43 x 52 cm and also made of reed-green cotton fabric, with elaborate trimmings and straps in brown leather; the flap is made entirely of brown leather. The leather straps match those of the Tornister. The different patterns or rucksacks that existed early in the war were consolidated by order of the Prussian War Ministry on June 3, 1916 by release of a standard pattern for rucksacks.
After this, the rucksack was made of gray waterproof cotton fabric, just like the Tornister, and the carrying bag was approximately 58cmwideand 48cmhigh with an approximately10cm wide floorarea. Ithadinsidetwo pocketsof gray or brown fabric withafallingover-flap:a larger40x 35cm in size at the back anda smaller30x 20cm in size at the front. (It’s a little ambiguous here)
At the top, reinforcedby a 5 cm wide strip of canvas edge, a round cord of hemp ran through 16 eyelets with which one zuschnurte (secured?) the backpack. For closurewas a 36 x 32 cm large, rimmed with a leather protective cover (flap), which was sewn tothe back of the bag underneath the eyeletsand inside partially reinforced with canvas. It was fitted with two22 cm long leather straps and two 20 cm below the upper edgebackpack roller buckles closed. On the capwere four leather straps to unbuckle the messkit.Sideways was on the front, about 27 cm below the upper edge, depending on a loop for belt buckles of the jacket. A strong, 4 x 22 cm Leather web obliquely recognized straps were – as for the knapsack – riveted.
The above, somewhat choppy translation, provides an interesting overview and it’s clear that the rucksack was viewed as mostly an interim measure although it was being more and more being seriously considered for general issue as was the case in the Austro-Hungarian Army.
For reenactment purposes, the only reproduction German rucksack on the market (or was on the market) is something that sort of looks like a cross between the 1915 and 1918 models and given the multiplicity of designs in use in 1914-16, I can see using a somewhat “non-standard” model. From a utility perspective, adding leather patches through which carrying straps passed, as depicted in the 1918 illustration above, would be useful for securing the Kochgeschir and the Zeltbahn pole and peg case.
It would be nice to see another pattern of reproduction rucksack be developed because as a pratical matter, we need something to carry and contain our personal kits. From experience, I have discovered that while pommel bags modified for ground use makes an interesting visual, they have limit carrying capacity and are awkward to carry and use. In short, a real pain in the rear. Besides, modified pommel bags was only done as an experiment by one cavlry regiment and it was never adopted for widespread army use.
No doubt there will be more to follow….
P.S. I have a scanned pdf version of the pages from the two-volume work by Kraus and I’d be more than happy to share it with anyone seeking to make their own translation. Who knows? I might have gotten it all wrong. 🙂