One of the most frightening images brought to mind by totalitarian regimes is that of mindless columns of soldiers marching in uniform with perfect syncopation. While the Nazi Wehrmacht was eager to leave a forceful impression with the details of its uniform, many aspects of military dress existed out of practical necessity. German "jackboots" were made with a similar pattern to that which armies of many nations had used for generations, but in the Nazi army they developed a frightening reputation.
German Jackboots of World War II
German soldiers in the Third Reich were issued Model 1939 marching boots. These boots came up to mid-calf, were constructed of brown leather and did not have laces. The term "jackboot" originally referred to reinforced cavalry boots but was later applied to a broader category. Despite being issued brown, Nazi troopers were required to maintain a black finish on their boots by applying bootblack in their free time.
German Marching Terms
The English word "jackboot" evolved without any specific reference to Germany or World War II. In their own language, German soldiers referred to their standard footwear as "Marschstiefel," a compound word meaning "marching boots." The word "Stiefel" would have been used, as it refers to boots in a more general sense. When parading about, Nazis did not use the term "goose-stepping." To march in a goose-step fashion is called, in German, "Stechmarschen," which literally means "to stab-march."
To make the jackboots more durable, the hide leather soles were reinforced with round-headed tacks called "hobnails" nailed into them. The hobnails added to the theatrics of a marching German army by creating a sharp click sound when each boot hit the hard streets. Similarly, the boots had steel reinforcements around the heel that created a loud click when a soldier was ordered to come to attention.
Jackboots Outside of World War II
It must be remembered that the Nazi military used jackboots first and foremost for their simple design and durability. Jackboots have a long history that predates, and survives, their association with the horrors of World War II and fascist regimes. Jackboots were in use since at least the 1700s and they continue to be used by democratic nations in a multitude of settings, including the British Army's Household Cavalry.
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