German World War II camouflage patterns formed a family of disruptively patterned military camouflage designs used for clothing and for Zeltbahn shelter halves. German camouflage developed from the 1931 Splittertarnmuster (“splinter camouflage pattern”), which combined a pattern of interlocking irregular green, brown, and buff polygons with vertical “rain” streaks.
Later patterns, all said to have been designed for the Waffen-SS by Johan Georg Otto Schick, evolved into more leaf-like forms with rounded dots or irregular shapes. Camouflage smocks were designed to be reversible, providing camouflage for two seasons, whether summer and autumn, or summer and winter (snow). Distribution was limited to the Waffen-SS, ostensibly because of a patent. Production was limited by shortage of materials, especially of high quality waterproof cotton duck.
The Reichswehr (Army of the Weimar Republic) started experimenting with camouflage patterns for Wehrmacht uniforms before World War II, and some army units used Splittertarnmuster (“splinter camouflage pattern”), first issued in 1931, and based on Zeltbahn shelter halves/groundsheets. Waffen-SS combat units used various patterns from 1935 on wards. The SS camouflage patterns were designed by Johann Georg Otto Schick, a Munich art professor and then the director of the German camouflage research unit, at the request of an SS Major Wim Brandt. Brandt was an engineer and the commander of the SS-VT reconnaissance battalion, and he was looking for better camouflage. Schick had researched the effect of light on trees in summer and in autumn. These led to the idea of reversible camouflage clothing, with green summer patterns on one side, brown autumn patterns on the other. In 1937, the patterns were field tested by the SS-VT Deutschland regiment, resulting in an estimate that they would cut casualties by fifteen percent. In 1938, a reversible spring/autumn helmet cover, smock, and sniper’s face mask in Schick’s forest patterns on waterproof cotton duck were patented for the Waffen-SS. The patent is said to have prevented the Wehrmacht from using the patterns, which became a distinctive emblem of the Waffen-SS during the war. Production of groundsheets, helmet covers and smocks by the Warei, Forster and Joring companies began in November 1938. They were initially hand-printed, limiting deliveries by January 1939 to only 8,400 groundsheets and 6,800 helmet covers and a small number of smocks. By June 1940, machine printing had taken over, and 33,000 smocks were made for the Waffen-SS. Supplies of high quality cotton duck, however, remained critically short throughout the war, and essentially ran out in January 1943. It was replaced by non-waterproof cotton drill cloth.
Schick’s patterns included:
- Platanenmuster (“plane tree pattern”, 1937–1942) spring/summer and autumn/winter variations, the first dotted camouflage pattern.
- Rauchtarnmuster (“smoke camouflage pattern”, 1939–1944): spring/summer and autumn/winter variations.
- Palmenmuster (“palm tree pattern”; circa 1941–?) spring/autumn variations, used by the Waffen-SS.
- Beringtes Eichenlaubmuster (“oak leaf B”, 1942–1945)
Sumpfmuster (“swamp pattern”, 1943): a blurred form of splittermuster; summer/winter variations: the green-brown smocks were reversible to white snow camouflage.
- Eichenlaubmuster (“oak leaf A”, 1943–1945) spring/summer and autumn/winter variations on reversible Waffen-SS smocks, also used for Zeltbahn tent sheets.
- Erbsenmuster (“pea dot”, 1944–1945) based on oak leaf pattern.
- Leibermuster (1945), a six-colour: black, tan, olive, pale green, white, and red-brown) pattern of irregular black stripes over splotches of reddish-brown and green, on a pale green field. It was designed to absorb infra-red, but saw only limited usage. However, it inspired the postwar US ERDL pattern.