History of military dog tags

First military dog tags began to surface during American Civil War in around 1865. They become official part of military equipment in US Army in 1906. Their use in larger scale started during the years of World War I where millions of soldiers wore them whilst fighting. In 1914-1918 each country taking part in war had their own symbols that were dispayed on dog tags.


Austro-Hungarian empire used original design for dog tag to be a table with personal details, called ‘Legitimationkapsel’. This was a small box (50x34mm) that contained single plate with all personal details of soldier such as name, surname, date of birth, religion, country, unit’s name and evidence number.

Germany introduced several dog tag’s patterns. These were plates made of zinc and had dimensions of 42x28mm with two oval holes for attachment. Most commonly dog tags contained soldier’s and unit’s evidence numbers. Different type of dog tags used in Germany include ovally shapped tags which were used to store soldier’s names. They were slightly larger than previously mentioned tags with 42x32mm again with two holes. Finally a third dog tag type used was much larger plate (70x50mm) that were able to store all necessary info. Only one such plate was used rather than two like with previous tags.

Russian dog tags were first introduced in 1917 when army issued order no. 47 to create a manner of identification for fallen and wounded soldiers. The effect was a metal box similar to one introduced by Austro-Hungarian empire with dimensions of 50x33x4mm. Within the box a sheet of pergamin was inserted with all details typed by hand using pen or pencil. Due to small size only most important data could be stored such as name, surname, date and location of birth, year of admission to army, religion, company’s and unit’s numbers. This type of dog tag was worn on piece of thread or tape underneath the uniform.  

Until 1925 use of military dog tags was not mandatory in Russia and so during civil war of 1920 and subsequent conflict with Poland in the same year thousands of Russian soldiers died without any way of identification. Majority of wounded/fallen soldiers were listed as missing since there was no way to determine what happened to them during those conflicts. To rectify this oversight, Russian Army issued order no 856 in 1925 to command every soldier to wear an identification medallion, similar to one introduced in 1917.

Regulation of use of identification tags worldwide was first introduced in 1949 as part of Geneva Convention. And so it states that all fallen soldiers were to be buried individually and appropriate markings are to be made on their graves in line with details stored on soldier’s body (which would mean as per details shown on their dog tags.

Most dog tags worn by soldiers consist of two plates. This is not coincidental as one tag is buried with soldier while another is taken to be sent to their family. In several armies there was a directive to rest first dog tag inside of soldier’s mouth before burial to protect it by skull bones in case of subsequent exhumation or move of a body to different grave.

System of identification through metal tags was also used within captives who were held in German prisons/camps. This was to ensure that accurate evidence of all captives was managed. This system worked until 1941 when Nazi authorities have decided to brand Russian captives with numerical tattoos located on chests. Such system took over use of tags in respect of captives and soon spread over to prisoners of any kind.