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 a shortage of materials, especially of high-quality waterproof cotton duck.
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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 onwards.
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.
Types of Patterns:
- Splittertarn – Splinter Pattern, 1931 – A four-color military camouflage pattern developed by Germany in the late 1920s and first issued to the Reichswehr in 1931.
- Blocktarn, 1936 -1940 – A rarely described pattern from most sources. The camouflage pattern was produced in small numbers in 1936-1938 and issued to the SS- Verfügungstruppe. It was used exclusively for steel helmet camouflage and camouflage slip shirts. There are photos from the Western Campaign in 1940, on which soldiers are seen with Blocktarn helmet covers or Blocktarn-slip shirts.
- Platanenmuster – Plane Tree Pattern, 1937–1942 – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter variations, the first dotted camouflage pattern. The first camouflage pattern used in the Waffen SS. It was already tested in 1936/37 but only issued in the Summer of 1938 to the troops. The Platanenmuster pattern of the Waffen-SS and the Blocktarnmuster pattern of the SS-Verfügungstruppe were therefore developed quite at the same time. Already in 1937, there were the first SS-Zeltplanen in Platanenmuster pattern. Previously, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) used the Wehrmacht tents in Buntfarbendruck 31.
- Rauchtarnmuster – Smoke or Blurred Edge Camouflage Pattern, 1939–1944 – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter variations.
- Palmenmuster – Palm Tree Pattern, 1940-1942 – Spring/Autumn variations, used by the Waffen-SS especially for units on the Eastern Front. The Palmenmuster camouflage pattern was first produced fully mechanically in roller printing. There were only Palmenmuster camouflage jackets in the first version without side pockets and helmet covers in Palmenmuster camouflage pattern. Zeltbahnen in the Palmenmuster camouflage pattern are not known. Remaining stocks of the Palmenmuster camouflage jackets emerged after the war, especially in Czechoslovakia and were applied for lack of other options as work jackets.
- Buntfarbenaufdruck 31 or Splittertarn A, 1942-1945 – For army use, a smock and helmet cover, both of a lightweight herringbone twill linen, were issued. Only one side of each was printed in splitter pattern; the other side was left white for snow camouflage.
- Buntfarbenaufdruck 41 or Splittertarn B, 1941-1945 – Developed in 1940/41, the Luftwaffe used a variant of the Buntfarbenaufdrucks 31. The main difference to the 1931 splinter camo is that the splinter spots have been reduced and using a more complexity in the patches is obvious. The pattern was used for the Fallschirmjäger’s parachute Knochensack (jump smock) and Luftwaffe Field Division field jacket. Other material produced with this equipment included camouflage helmet covers, ammunition bandoliers, and grenade bags. The production of the splinter camouflage B ended in 1944.
- Beringtes Eichenlaubmuster – Ringed Oak Leaf A, 1942–1945. The first introduced pattern being the ring oak. Many sources confuse the A and B patterns.
- Eichenlaubmuster – Oak Leaf B, 1943–1945 – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter variations on reversible Waffen-SS smocks, also used for Zeltbahn tent sheets.
- Sumpfmuster – Swamp Pattern, 1943 – Blurred form of splittermuster; summer/winter variations. The green-brown smocks were reversible to white snow camouflage. In 1943, the Wehrmacht introduced a new camouflage scheme, the first variant of the color print. It was named after the war Swamp Camouflage 43 and was mainly suitable for undercover missions in spring, summer, and autumn. The Sumpfmuster was issued to snipers and Panzergrenadiers.
- Erbsenmuster – Pea Dot Pattern, 1944–1945 – Based on Oak Leaf pattern was originally designed to replace all other Waffen SS camouflage patterns. Two-piece uniforms, winter clothing, and Fallschirmjager Knochensäcke were produced in this camouflage pattern.
- Telo Mimetico – Italian Pattern, 1944 to 1945 – Made from the seized Italian Army stores after the surrender of Italy to the Allies with at least three color variants. This was used for Waffen-SS field jackets being the M44 and Zeltbahnen and occasionally for Panzer jackets and Kharkov Winter Parkas. Issued to the members of the 1st SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” and the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth”, but also other SS divisions such as the 17th SS Panzer Division “Götz von Berlichingen”. They were distributed for the fight in Italy and for the invasion front in the West. Telo Mimetico was also used by army troops, to what extent, this is unknown.
- Leibermuster – Buntfarbenaufdruck 45 or Splittertarn-C, 1945 – A six-color of 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. This was to replace all camouflage schemes of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS with Leibermuster. It was designed to absorb infra-red but saw only limited usage. However, it inspired the postwar US ERDL pattern.