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The German Army of the Nazi era inherited its uniforms and rank structure from the Reichsheer of the Weimar Republic (1921–1935), many of whose traditions went back to the Imperial Army of the German Empire and earlier. The Reichsheer was renamed Wehrmacht Heer in May 1935. There were few alterations and adjustments made as the Army grew from a limited peacetime defense force of 100,000 men to a war-fighting force of several million men.
These ranks and insignia were peculiar to the Heer and in special cases to senior Wehrmacht officers in the independent services; the SS, Luftwaffe and Navy uniforms and rank system were different. The Nazi Party also had its own series of paramilitary uniforms and insignia.
National Emblem (breast eagle): Hoheitszeichen or Wehrmachtsadler
The Reichswehr’s visual acknowledgement of the new National Socialist reality came on 17 February 1934, when the Defense Ministry ordered the Nazi Party eagle-and-swastika, now Germany’s National Emblem, to be worn on uniform blouses and headgear effective May 1. The design adopted, in silver for the Reichsheer (Army) and in gold for the Reichsmarine (Navy), was a stylized eagle with outstretched, beveled wings clutching a wreathed mobile Hakenkreuz, later to be called the Wehrmachtsadler (“Armed Forces eagle”). On tunics this took the form of a cloth patch about 9 cm (3⅝”) wide worn on the right breast, above the pocket. For enlisted uniforms it was jacquard-woven (“BeVo”) or sometimes machine-embroidered in silver-grey rayon, for officers machine- or hand-embroidered in white silk or bright aluminum wire, and for generals hand-embroidered in gold bullion. The backing was “badge-cloth” (Abzeichentuch), a close-woven velvetish fabric; this was originally Reichsheer grey, but in late 1935 the renamed Wehrmacht Heer changed its Abzeichentuch color to a dark blue-green called flaschengrün (bottle-green).
The war brought several variations to the breast eagle, although it should be kept in mind that none of them was replaced or de-authorized, and all were being worn side-by-side at war’s end. When hostilities began in 1939, on the enlisted Feldbluse or field blouse the eagle was changed from silver-white to matte grey for reduced visibility; and in 1940 backings began to be produced in field-grey (feldgrau). Another version appeared with the advent of the Model 1944 Field Blouse, which used a triangular backing for speed and simplicity of manufacture. Very late in the war some Hoheitszeichen were simply printed on thin fabric.
There were also versions for other uniforms: both white and grey variants on black for the Panzer uniform, and in dull grey-blue on tan backing for the tropical (Afrikakorps) uniform. A stamped metal pin-on breast eagle was worn with the officers’ white summer tunic.
Collar patch – Kragenpatte, Kragenspiegel
In 19th century German armies, Guard and other elite regiments wore lengths of double braid (Doppellitze) encircling all or most of the collar as a mark of distinction. By the middle of World War I these ornate collars had been reduced to an embroidered representation of short lengths of braid joined at the ends, sewn to patches worn at the front of the collar. When the Reichsheer was established in 1921 as Germany’s first national army. Litzen were prescribed as the universal collar device for all personnel other than generals, and the Third Reich continued the practice.
However, for clarification it has to be distinguished between “collar patch” (de: Kragenpatte or Kragenspiegel), and NCO braid (Unteroffizierslitze or Kragenlitze) – the status symbol of all German NCO ranks – encircling the collar of the uniform tunic. An NCO wore both, collar patches, and the collar encircling braid. COs wore only collar patches.
Design and Versions
On both collar points of any uniform jacket there was a collar patch. Each patch consisted of the padding, and two parallel facings (de: Patten), the so-called Litzenspiegel, symbolising the double braid of the 19th century.
The padding of full-dress collar patches showed the wearer’s Waffenfarbe (en: corps-, weapon-, or branch color). The dress tunic version was embroidered in fine aluminum thread on a patch of badge cloth (de: Abzeichentuch). The backing also showed through in the space between the two parallel facings of the collar patch, and formed so a color center stripe.
On field – and service uniforms, beginning in late 1935, the collar patch was dark bottle-green to match the collar; the Waffenfarbe “showed through” (in fact colored cord was sewn into) the center strip of each braid, the Litzenspiegel.
For enlisted men, service collar patches were machine-woven in silver-grey rayon; COs´ were embroidered more elaborately in white silk or aluminium thread, and were somewhat larger to match their higher collars.
NCOs (de: Unteroffiziere) wore standard enlisted collar patches but were distinguished by a strip of 9mm silver-grey diamond-woven rayon braid (Unteroffoziers-Tressen, NCO-Tressen), sewn around the collar’s front, except on the service – or field uniform, where the NCO-Tresse was more simple and from bright aluminum. However, the rayon braid NCO-Tressen on dress uniforms (de: Ausgangsuniform/ Pardeuniform) encircled the collar’s upper edge, the simpler aluminum NCO-Tressen on service – or field uniform encircled the collar’s lower edge.
Universal Design from 1938
By 1938 the fast-growing army had found did what it impractical, for the enlisted field uniform, to manufacture and stock a multitude of collar patches in assorted colors Weapons Which therefore had to be sewn on and frequently changed by unit tailors. Accordingly, new universal collar patches werewolf Introduced with the Litzenspiegel and Mittlestreife woven in dark green to match the backing patch, and Which Could be Applied at the factory; Waffenfarbe what now Displayed on the shoulder-straps, Which simply buttoned on and werewolf Easily switched ,
With the wartime change to lower-visibility insignia enlisted collar patches werewolf woven in matte “mouse-gray” with field-gray stripes, Which werewolf at first sewn to green collar patches as before but increasingly directly to the collar, Which beginning in 1940 which made in field-gray like the uniform; gray collar patches werewolf never produced. The troops HOWEVER preferred the green patches (and collars) If They Could get them or had, Especially on “clean” uniforms for walking-out; and long-service veterans Took Particular pride in pre-38 versions.
In contrast, officers’ service uniform collar patches never changed. While most officers in the front lines wore the uniform field enlisted as per wartime regulations, many of opt to have Their green-and-silver collar patches added instead of (or on top of) the factory versions.
On olive tropical uniforms the collar patches werewolf tan with dull gray-blue Litzenspiegel for all personnel; officers again sometimes added Their green collar patches. Tropical NCO collar patches werewolf opper-brown, or sometimes olive drab.
Armored Vehicle Uniforms
A major exception to the wearing of strands what the “panzer wrap” (en: armored jacket ), the double-breasted jacket worn by crews of tanks and other armored vehicles. When the armored force werewolf established in 1935 theywere issued a distinctive black uniform and as a badge the skull or Death’s-head versions had formerly been worn End of month by the Imperial tank corps and cavalry units various . These skulls Took The form of white-metal pins attached to black collar Patten Which werewolf edged in arms color piping.
In mid-1940 crews of assault guns ( assault guns ) received a uniform of Their Own, identical in cut to the armored jacket but in standard field-gray, Which They wore with red piping artillery. Over the course of the war and a bewildering series of changing regulations governed the uniforms and insignia for assault guns, tank destroyers, armored cars and self-propelled guns (SPG). DEPENDING on the unit and the date Either the black or gray wrap or the standard field jacket might be authorized, and on the gray “assault gun” jacket the regulation collar patches Could be black with skulls, or gray with skulls, or no device at all . The result in practice what chaos; wartime photos show a mix of uniforms and insignia worn not only in the same battalion, but even in the same vehicle.
Officially Both colors of panzer wrap werewolf working and field uniforms to be worn only in or around the vehicle; this regulation which universally ignored. Panzertruppen werewolf issued standard uniforms for service-dress and walking out but rarely wore them, much preferring Their unique jackets.
In North Africa, AFV crews wore the same uniform as the other tropical branches, Including collar patches; many tankers HOWEVER Pinned Their skull badges to Their Lapels.
Infanterie Regiment “Großdeutschland”
In June 1939, the Wehrmacht Heer wanted to renew its ties with the Old Army tradition by introducing a new uniform for its most prestigious unit: Wachregiment “Berlin” which was renamed Infantry Regiment “Großdeutschland”. The new dress uniform for I.R. “Großdeutschland” had an elongated collar patch with single Litzenspiegel. Although shown to the press, this new uniform was not provided to the unit due to the outbreak of WWII and was placed in depot storage.
General Staff Corps Officers
Generalstaboffiziere were officers carefully selected and trained to represent the German General Staff Corps in both command and staff functions. They ranked from Hauptmann im Generalstab (captain) through Oberst i.G. (colonel). All were before 1939 graduates of the Military Academy, the Kriegsakademie. On division staffs they held the position of Ia (operational chief of staff) or Ib (chief of the rear echelon). In the higher echelons, the intelligence and training staff sections were most of the time in the personal charge of General Staff Corps officers. The General Staff Officers had their own distinctive Litzen called alt-Preußische (old Prussian), or Kolbenstickerei (“lobe-embroidery”). These were the same whether on carmine dress Kragenpatten or green service patches; colored Litzenspiegel were unnecessary. General Staff officers assigned to the supreme headquarters (the Reichskriegsministerium, later the OKH and the OKW), the Kriegsakademie, and military attaches were further distinguished by having their Litzen in gold rather than silver. These Generalstaboffiziere were called “des Generalstabs”, Oberst d.G., etc. The special golden Litzen were abolished in November 1942. Only Military attaches kept their Litzen as long as they were in their present position. The Führer wanted a closer union between the front and the OKW and OKH.
In addition to their collar patches, General Staff Officers wore trouser-stripes, of the same design as generals’ but in carmine rather than scarlet.
From 1900 Prussian generals had worn ornate collar patches embroidered in a style called alt-Larisch, which had first been worn in the 18th century by the 26th (älterer von Larisch) Infantry Regiment; the Reichsheer and the Wehrmacht continued the tradition. These devices, sometimes called Arabesken (arabesques), were embroidered in gold bullion or golden synthetic Celleon on Hochrot (scarlet) backing. Field Marshals wore the same Arabesken as generals until April 1941, when they were authorized a longer variant with three rather than two iterations of the repeating pattern, for a total of six “prongs.” In some cases GFM did not bother to replace their generals’ tabs, or did so only on their dress uniforms.
General officers of the Special Troop Service (Truppensonderdienst — TDS) and of the specialist careers (medical, veterinary, ordnance, and motor park) wore the same insignia until April 1944, when they were ordered to exchange their scarlet Kragenpatten for alt-Larisch tabs backed in their respective Waffenfarbe:
- Medical – cornflower blue Waffenfarbe;
- Veterinary – carmine Waffenfarbe;
- Ordnance – orange Waffenfarbe;
- Motor Park – pink Waffenfarbe;
- TDS Administrative – bright blue Waffenfarbe;
- TDS Judiciary – wine red Waffenfarbe.
In October 1944, the wear-out period of the scarlet backing color for Generals of the specialist careers was extended for an undetermined period.
In the Wehrmacht Heer, upon retirement, certain senior German generals were awarded the honorary post of Chef of a regiment, much like the Honorary Colonel in the British Army. It was a German custom dating from the late 18th century. These generals were authorized to wear the tunic and insignia of an officer of the regiment, including ordinary officers’ Litzen. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Chef of the 18th Infanterie Regiment, wore a big 18 on his shoulderboards, and for everyday wear favored the ornamented tunic of an infantry officer with white piping rather than a general’s uniform.
Hitler appointed first Generaloberst Hans von Seeckt, ancient “Chef der Heeresleitung”, to be Chef of the 67th Infanterie Regiment on his 70th birthday in April 1936, a few months before he died. Only seven German generals were appointed Chefs: in addition to Seeckt and Rundstedt they were General der Infanterie Ritter von Epp (Chef of the 61st Infanterie Regiment in Munich); Generalfeldmarschall von Mackensen (Chef of the 5th Kavallerie Regiment in Stolp); Generaloberst von Fritsch (Chef of the 12th Artillerie Regiment in Schwerin); and Generalfeldmarschall von Böhm-Ermolli (Chef of the 28th Infanterie Regiment in Troppau). Generalfeldmarschall von Blomberg was appointed Chef of Infanterie Regiment 73 and wore a big 73 superimposed over the crossed batons of his shoulder board, but on 4 February 1938 he was dismissed and his name was deleted from the seniority list.
Shoulder-straps (Schulterklappen) and Shoulderboards (Schulterstücke)
The Reichsheer’s shoulder-straps were very similar to those of World War I, made of feldgrau uniform cloth with pointed or “gable” button ends. In December 1934 the material was changed to grey badge-cloth (Abzeichentuch) and in September 1935 changed again to dark bottle-green (flaschengrün). These “first pattern” shoulder-straps were not edged in Waffenfarbe piping.
In 1938, simultaneous with the removal of Waffenfarbe from field-uniform collar patches, new shoulder-straps were issued. These “second pattern” straps had round rather than pointed ends, and were edged on three sides with wool (later rayon) piping in Waffenfarbe. This pattern would be used through the end of the war, although in 1940 manufacture reverted to field-grey uniform cloth, and as usual alternate versions were made to go with the Panzer uniform (black), tropical uniform (olive cotton) and HBT summer uniform (reed-green twill). Schulterklappen were not worn with the fatigue uniform, nor with camouflage smocks and parkas which used an alternate system of rank insignia.
For junior enlisted men (Mannschaften), rank insignia if any was worn on the left sleeve. However the epaulettes did indicate the wearer’s unit (usually regiment or independent battalion) together with his sub-branch if any, machine-embroidered in branch-color. For example, a Schulterklappe with rose-pink piping and number “4” would indicate the 4th Panzer Regiment; but if it carried a pink number “4” and letter “A” it would indicate the 4th Armored Reconnaissance (Aufklärungs) Battalion. The German Army used a very large assortment of Latin initials, Gothic initials, script ciphers, Arabic numerals, Roman numerals and symbols to designate all its various service branches and installations. Before the war, shoulder-buttons were embossed with the number of the wearer’s company as well, this practice was discontinued “for the duration.”
Beginning in January 1940, shoulder-straps with unit insignia were (supposed to be) phased out as a security measure, and removable fabric loops with devices were issued instead. In May 1944 the embroidery was changed from waffenfarbe to light gray.
Non-commissioned officers wore their rank insignia on their shoulder-straps, consisting of braid and pips (pyramidal “stars”). An Unteroffizier’s (corporal’s) epaulette was edged with Tresse on three sides and an Unterfeldwebel’s (sergeant’s) on all four. Senior NCO’s (Unteroffiziere mit Portepee) added one to three pips; in addition, their unit identifiers took the form of white-metal pins rather than embroidery.
Shoulder-straps were made in both a standard width (4.5 cm, 1¾”) and a wider one for three-digit unit numbers (5.3cm, 2″), and in three lengths depending on the size of the man. There was in addition an extra-large size for the overcoat (Mantel).
Officers’ shoulderboards were constructed from “Russia” braid, an aluminum-thread double piping. Company-grade officers (Leutnant through Hauptmann/Rittmeister) wore epaulettes constructed by wrapping two side-by-side lengths of braid around the buttonhole and back, giving the appearance of eight parallel cords; the whole was sewn to an underlay (Unterlagen) of Waffenfarbe badge-cloth. Until 1938 the underlay was of the same outer dimensions as the braid, and only visible edge-on; in that year the underlay was made wider, so as to create the impression of edge piping like the enlisted shoulder-strap. Rank was indicated by zero to two gilt-metal pips; unit designators were also of gilt metal.
Field-grade officer (Stabsoffizier) shoulderboards were made by plaiting together double widths of Russia braid and looping them to form a buttonhole, sewn to a Waffenfarbe underlay; rank again was displayed by zero to two gilt pips.
Once the war began, dull grey aluminum braid appeared, but bright aluminum continued in use.
- 1 Generalfeldmarschall (OF10, five-star rank, shoulder strap since 1942);
- 2 Generalfeldmarschall (OF10, five-star rank, shoulder strap until 1942);
- 3 Generaloberst (OF9, four-star rank);
- 4 General of the branch (OF8, three-star rank);
- 5 Generalleutnant (OF7, two-star rank); and
- 6 Generalmajor (OF6, one-star rank)
Generals’ shoulderboards were constructed similarly to those of field-grade officers, but comprised a length of silver Russia braid between two braided cords of gold bullion or Celleon. Since the resulting combination was wider, generals’ boards were plaited in four ‘loops’ rather than five. Their buttons were gilt, and rank was indicated by zero to three silver pips, or crossed batons in the case of field marshals. The underlay was scarlet, except (from 1944) for generals of staff corps, who were instructed to wearWaffenfarbe instead.
In April 1941, Generalfeldmarschall epaulettes were changed to incorporate a central gold cord instead of silver.
Colonels-in-chief wearing that uniform wore gold generals’ shoulderboards underlaid with the Waffenfarbe of the regiment rather than scarlet; GFM von Rundstedt sometimes simply pinned his crossed batons to an infantry colonel’s epaulettes.
By order of Marshal Hindenburg in March 1932, soldiers who retired after 15 years of service received the right to wear the uniform of the unit they left. The shoulderboards and shoulder straps of retired soldiers had a bridle 1.5 cm wide attached under the middle.
Caps and helmets bore two common insignia elements, in various forms: the National Emblem (eagle and swastika) and the national colors. World War I caps had carried dual cockades or roundels, one in Imperial black-white-red and one in the colors of the particular State within the Empire. The Reichsheer changed this to a single cockade in the Weimar Republic’s black, red and gold; almost as soon as Hitler took power he restored the pre-1919 tricolor flag, and ordered the Army to return to black-white-red.
Peaked cap –Schirmmütze
Officers’ old-style field cap or “Crusher” – Feldmütze older type
Garrison cap – Feldmütze
Mountain, Tropical, and M43 Field Caps –Gebirgs-, Tropen- und Einheitsfeldmützen
Steel helmet – Stahlhelm
Pith helmet –Tropenhelm
Belt buckles –Koppelschlösser
Belt buckles for enlisted men were of box type, made of aluminum or stamped steel with a pebbled surface, and bearing a circular device with a version of the Hoheitszeichen called the Army eagle or Heeresadler (an eagle with downswept wings clutching an unwreathed swastika) surmounted by the motto Gott mit uns, or “God with us.” For field wear these were usually painted field-grey to reduce visibility; on the other hand dress buckles were silver-washed.
Officers’ field and service buckles were of a two-pronged frame type. With dress uniform officers wore a belt of silver braid with a circular silver-washed or -plated aluminum buckle, in the form of an oakleaf wreath surrounding a Heeresadler. Generals’ were the same but gilt or gold-plated.
With the tropical uniform and its belt of cotton webbing, officers wore a buckle identical to the dress buckle but painted olive-drab.