A team of military accountants was set to work. Computers whirred. Worried phone calls were made to battalion commanders, and an answer was found: the figure was wrong.
Eight hundred million sheets - not rolls - of lavatory paper were used last year
. There had, apparently, been a slip of the pen. That equates to about 5.3 million rolls for the ministry’s 360,000 uniformed and civilian employees, although precision still eluded the officials. “It is difficult to say exactly how many sheets are in a roll since some are three-ply,” an official said. Ministry accountants are working on the basis of a 150-sheet roll.
That was not the end of the matter, however. Former soldiers began to spill some of Germany’s more embarrassing military secrets. The true consumption of lavatory paper may not be 800 million rolls, but it was almost certainly higher than the government figures, they claimed.
One blogger recalled that elite mountain troops are given a roll a day as part of the basic equipment, as are troops stationed in Afghanistan.
There is an historic precedent. German corporals used to drum into their recruits: “ Wohin und wieweit ich marschier’, ich geh’ niemals ohne mein Klopapier” (“Wherever and however I march, I never go without my loo paper
”). Personal hygiene, a problem in the First World War trenches, was given a high priority when the Germans mounted the Blitzkrieg of the Second World War.
But the true reason for the fudging of statistics was revealed by one soldier in an internet chat room. “The grey recycled paper is the best way of cleaning small-calibre weapons – every soldier knows that,” he said.