WAFFEN-SS UNIFORMS

The perennial interest in the Waffen-SS tends to be concentrated on its uniforms and insignia, and for that reason these merit detailed coverage.

The manufacture of Waffen-SS uniform clothing was undertaken either by private firms or, increasingly after 1941, by the SS-owned economic enterprises operating under the auspices of the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt. The first SS clothing factory, or SS-Bekleidungswerke, was established in Dachau concentration camp, where the main Waffen-SS clothing depot was also located. In 1939 a training school for tailors and seamstresses opened at Ravensbrück, and after the occupation of Poland and Russia the SS Eastern Industries Ltd, or Ostindustrie GmbH (Osti), used local Jews to manufacture winter uniforms and various items of equipment from property and raw materials seized by the Germans. Civilian clothing confiscated from concentration camp inmates was commonly reprocessed and dyed for transformation into Waffen-SS uniforms. By 1944, the vast majority of SS and police clothing was being manufactured in-house at the following establishments:

Bayreuth labour camp, in Bavaria

Dachau concentration camp, in Bavaria

Oranienburg concentration camp, near Berlin

Poniatowa labour camp, near Lublin in Poland

Posen labour camp, in Poland

Radom labour camp, in Poland

Ravensbrück concentration camp, near Fürstenberg

Schröttersburg concentration camp, near Plock in Poland

Straubing prison, in Bavaria

Trawniki labour camp, near Lublin in Poland

Their products sometimes bore the stamp ‘SS-BW’, followed by a code number allocated to the particular bench or workshop concerned. Many items manufactured at the SS-Bekleidungswerke were, however, completely unmarked.

During 1944–5, shortages of raw materials created such a crisis in the uniform industry that even the concentration camps could not meet the clothing needs of the Waffen-SS. The result was that newly recruited front-line SS soldiers ended up wearing captured uniforms, particularly Italian items taken after the fall of Mussolini. Older veterans tended to retain their better quality early issue tunics, caps and boots for as long as possible, often until they quite literally fell apart, and there were at least three fully motorised platoons, the so-called SS-Bekleidungs-Instandsetzungszüge 500, 501 and 502, whose sole job it was to travel from unit to unit repairing uniform clothing.

Each Waffen-SS formation regularly submitted requisition forms to the SS Führungshauptamt ordering specific uniform needs. If approved, the SS-FHA would instruct the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt to make the necessary issue. The SS-WVHA in its turn then arranged despatch of the material to the unit, either direct from the factory or via one of its twelve main supply depots, the Hauptwirtschaftslager. Alternatively, the uniform items could be made available to the unit at the nearest convenient SS-WVHA sub-depot, or Truppenwirtschaftslager, of which there were twenty spread out across the Reich. On the eastern front, SS supply commands or Nachschubskommandantur were established at Bobruisk, Dnepropetrowsk, Oulu and Riga as links between the SS-WVHA and the local sub-depots. Each supply command was empowered to place contracts with, or make purchases from, private firms in its area. Moreover, where field formations of the Waffen-SS were likely to be operating in a particular zone for a prolonged period, for example ‘Prinz Eugen’ in the Balkans, special ad hoc supply bases or Stützpunkte were set up at convenient points.

All Waffen-SS officers were expected to purchase their own uniform items, and newly commissioned officers received a special grant of between 350 and 800 Reichsmarks to that end. Once in possession of his clothing grant the officer was supposed to buy his uniform from one of the SS clothing counters, or Kleiderkasse, at Berlin, Kiev, Lublin, Munich, Oslo, Paris, Prague, Riga and Warsaw. These establishments carried extensive stocks of top quality tailor-made items, including tunics by Mohr & Speyer and Holters, boots by Breitspecher and caps by Robert Lubstein, whose trade mark ‘EREL’ was famous world-wide. However, both the means and opportunity for frontline officers to kit themselves out with expensive uniforms were somewhat limited during the second half of the war, and most relied on their unit stores to provide them with items of field uniform against payment. Standard issue tunics were generally worn unaltered by most officers, although some had them modified to suit individual taste. The most common alterations were to pocket flaps and collars, replacing them with smarter ones. From August 1943, second-hand tailor-made articles began to be collected and resold to officers at three times the listed price of their standard issue equivalents. In that way, those who still retained a desire to look ‘a cut above the rest’ could do so.

When a Waffen-SS soldier was killed or invalided out of the service, all issued items of uniform clothing and equipment had to be returned to his unit. Those pieces still suitable for use were retained intact, and slightly worn items were re-issued to replacement and training units. Any old or damaged clothing was sent to the concentration camps to be pulped down for reworking. Broken metal articles such as belt hooks and buckles were dismantled and sent to the armaments industry for smelting. In that way, the SS maintained a complete cycle of manufacture – issue – wear – pulping – re-manufacture – re-issue in respect of uniform clothing.

The development of the main components of Waffen-SS uniform, namely headgear, tunics, equipment and insignia, gave the SS soldier his own unique appearance, and this development is now covered in detail.

The standard headgear of the armed SS formations continually evolved from 1933 until the end of the Second World War, with every year seeing either a new pattern being introduced, an existing style being modified or an outdated item being withdrawn. In March 1933, members of the SS Stabswache Berlin were issued with heavyweight 1916 and 1918 model ex-army steel helmets, hand-painted or sprayed black, for wear when on guard duty. These plain Stahlhelme, which did not bear any SS insignia at that time, were the first distinguishing items of headgear to be sported by the armed units, and set the latter apart from the Allgemeine-SS. During the summer of the same year, field caps of the peakless ‘pork pie’ type, known as ‘Krätzchen’, were purchased from army surplus storage, dyed black, and distributed to men of the SS Sonderkommando Zossen and SS Sonderkommando Jüterbog for wear during training and fatigues. Standard SS badges were pinned to these extremely unpopular and short-lived caps.

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Men of the Sonderkommando Zossen enjoying a break from their training at Essenfassen, summer 1933. All wear black ‘krätzchen’ field caps and the grey cotton drill fatigue uniform.

At the end of 1933, it was suggested that the 1916 and 1918 model steel helmets were unnecessarily heavy for the armed SS, whose main role was then one of internal security rather than open warfare. A small number of the army’s experimental 1933-pattern vulcanised fibre helmets were duly distributed, but were excessively ugly and immediately rejected. Consequently, during the early part of 1934, the Reichs-zeugmeisterei der NSDAP, or RZM, the Nazi party’s contracts office, placed an order for the supply of new SS helmets which were slightly different in form, weight and appearance from their army counterparts. The RZM-pattern helmet was made of a lighter steel alloy, had standardised ‘one size’ ventilation lugs and a wider quick-release chinstrap. There were two inspection marks die-stamped inside the neck of the blue-black helmet, i.e. SS runes on the left side and the RZM symbol on the right, and the liner generally bore the unit property stamp in ink, an example being ‘II/SS 2’ for the 2nd Sturmbann of the ‘Germania’ Standarte. The RZM helmet was popular, and was distributed for parade and guard duty until 1939.

On 23 February 1934, special insignia were introduced for wear on all SS steel helmets, hand-painted at first and then in decal form. The Leibstandarte, with its unique status, was authorised to use white SS runes on a black shield (soon replaced by black SS runes on a silver shield) on the right side of the helmet, and an army-pattern shield bearing the national colours of black, white and red in diagonal bars on the left side. Troops of the Politische Bereitschaften, and their successors in the SS-VT, wore white-bordered black runes within a white double circle on the right side of the Stahlhelm, and a white-bordered black swastika on the left side. On 15 December 1934, steel helmets began to be painted in so-called ‘earth-grey’, a grey-brown shade, for military manoeuvres, and at the same time a new other ranks’ field cap in an identical colour was introduced to replace the black Krätzchen. The 1934-pattern cap was again intended for drill use only and was shaped like an upturned boat, hence its nickname ‘Schiffchen’, or little ship. Its design was based on the army forage cap, with a scalloped front and side panels which could be lowered to protect the wearer’s ears in cold weather. The first Schiffchen were issued with a machine-embroidered version of the 1929-pattern eagle on the left side and a plain white metal button to the front. Soon after its introduction, however, the plain button was changed to one featuring an embossed death’s head.

In March 1935, troops of the SS-Wachverbände were authorised to wear a large silver-painted Prussian Totenkopf on the left side of the steel helmet, to distinguish them from the Leibstandarte and SS-VT. This insignia was short-lived however, for on 12 August 1935 a new set of standardised helmet badges was introduced for all SS units, to replace those previously worn. The new insignia, designed by Professor Hans Haas, comprised black SS runes on a silver shield to be worn on the right side of the helmet, and a red shield bearing a white disc containing a black swastika to be worn on the left side. The original order decreed that these badges were to be painted on, but on 14 August it was announced that they would be available in decal form from the firm of C.A. Pocher of Nürnberg, at a cost of 25 Reichsmarks per 1,000 pairs. SS units were instructed to have the decals applied to all their helmets in time for the NSDAP rally that September.

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SS steel helmet insignia. These were worn by soldiers of the following units: A – Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ (23.2.34 to autumn 1934); B – Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ (autumn 1934 to 11.8.35); C – Politische Bereitschaften and SS-VT (23.2.34 to 11.8.35); D – all SS formations (12.8.35 to 1945).

Towards the end of 1935, an earth-grey version of the black SS peaked cap was introduced for officers of the Leibstandarte and SS-VT, to be worn on all occasions when a steel helmet was not required. The new Schirmmütze had an earth-grey top with a black velvet band and white piping for all officers up to and including SS-Standartenführer. Higher ranks had silver piping. Officers acting as judges and umpires at military exercises wore detachable white cloth bands on their caps. On 1 November the same year, a supply of the new lighter model army steel helmet, with shallow neck guard, less protruding visor and simple ventilation holes instead of protruding lugs, was set aside by the War Ministry for distribution to the armed SS. The Leibstandarte and ‘Deutschland’ received theirs on 11 May 1936, and the other SS-VT formations followed suit. Nevertheless, the traditional 1916 and 1918 models still continued to be worn for some considerable time, particularly by officers and during parades.

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An NCO of the Leibstandarte wearing the M35 steel helmet outside Kharkov, March 1943. The SS runes decal is clearly shown.

On 31 March 1936, the other ranks’ field cap began to be manufactured in a black version for wear with the black service uniform when walking out, and in ‘earth-brown’ for SS-TV personnel on duty within concentration camps. Insignia remained the same, although the 1929-pattern eagle was replaced by the distinctive SS type later in the year. A new field-grey combat uniform was generally distributed to all branches of the armed SS in 1937, with consequent changes in headgear. The earth-grey and earth-brown Schiffchen were replaced by a ubiquitous field-grey version, and the officer’s peaked cap also began to be made with a field-grey top.

On 25 February 1938, a new field cap was created for NCOs. It was similar in appearance to the Schirmmütze, but the peak was made of the same cloth material as the top of the cap and there was no chinstrap or crown stiffener. It could be folded for storage in the back-pack or in a tunic pocket, hence its nickname ‘the crusher’. Many NCOs who later became officers continued to wear this very popular cap throughout the war, and some individuals hired private tailors to make variants of it with leather peaks, velvet bands and silk linings. The regulation SS badges in white metal were prescribed for the NCO’s field cap, but photographic evidence illustrates a wide variety of insignia, both metal and cloth, being worn with it.

In 1939, a less elaborate version of the field-grey peaked cap was authorised for wear by NCOs in the vicinity of their barracks. It was only after the black uniform had ceased to be worn as walking out dress that other ranks were issued with, or allowed to purchase, the field-grey peaked cap for walking out. It was similar to the officer’s Schirmmütze, but had a black leather chinstrap rather than aluminium chincords, and a simple cloth band instead of a velvet one. In June 1939, officers were permitted to purchase a non-regulation white-topped peaked cap for wear with the new summer uniform.

The outbreak of war in September 1939 witnessed the first use by some rear echelon SS units of the so-called Edelstahlhelm, which had previously been issued only to police and firemen and was manufactured from a thin gauge steel. Soon afterwards, following army practice, an inverted chevron or soutache of braided piping in the appropriate branch of service colour began to be worn on the front of the other ranks’ field cap, above the death’s head button, which was thereafter painted field-grey. Armed SS officers still had no regulation field cap of their own, and during the first few months of the war many of them purchased the 1938-model army officer’s forage cap and replaced or covered the national cockade with either a metal SS death’s head or a small silver one removed from an army panzer collar patch. This obvious shortcoming in SS headgear was remedied in December 1939, however, when a new field cap was authorised specifically for Waffen-SS officers. It was again boat-shaped but did not have a scalloped front, and the side panels were gently sloping in the style of the Luftwaffe Fliegermütze. The top of the flap was piped in aluminium cord, and insignia consisted of the SS eagle and Totenkopf machine-woven in aluminium wire on a black ground. A Waffenfarbe soutache was worn over the death’s head. All officers were instructed to equip themselves with the new field cap by 1 January 1940.

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SS-Gruppenführer Gille was the first Waffen-SS recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. For this presentation photograph, taken on 20 April 1944, he wore a fine example of the SS general’s Schirmmütze, with aluminium piping.

On 21 March 1940, the gaudy black, white and red swastika decal was ordered to be removed from SS steel helmets for the duration of the war, for camouflage reasons. At the same time, helmets began to be painted in a darker shade of field-grey and given a rough surface texture which was less prone to reflecting the light. In June, an order prohibited further manufacture of the white-topped summer peaked cap. On 15 October 1940, the other ranks’ 1934-pattern field cap was replaced by a new style Schiffchen identical in cut to the officers’ version. It became known as the ‘Feldmütze neuer Art’, or new model field cap, and featured a machine-woven eagle and death’s head on the front of the cap instead of the Totenkopf button and side eagle. On 1 December the same year, the fledgling Waffen-SS alpine units received a field-grey Bergmütze, or mountain cap, to be worn instead of the Schiffchen. It was of basic ski-cap design, with a short peak to provide sufficient shade from the glare of the sun and snow. The scalloped side flaps could be lowered to cover the ears, and fastened at the front by means of two small buttons. Officers’ caps had aluminium piping around the crown. Insignia comprised a woven death’s head on the front of the cap and an eagle on the left side.

In February 1941, the manufacture and retailing of Waffen-SS peaked caps was freed from RZM control, and from then on the Schirmmütze could be made to individual order by private hatters. Four weeks later, the 1916, 1918 and RZM model steel helmets, and any old stocks of earth-grey cloth headgear still in use, were ordered to be withdrawn from service, and sent to the concentration camp and prison workshops for processing and re-issue to Wehrmacht reserve units. The winter of 1941–2 saw the first widespread use of fur caps, particularly captured Russian ushankas, by the Waffen-SS. An almost indescribable range of official, semi-official and unofficial winter caps quickly developed, and the insignia utilised was entirely dependent upon what was available at the time. Metal Schirmmütze badges, cloth Feldmütze insignia, sleeve eagles and even death’s heads cut from SS-Totenkopf-Division collar patches have been observed in photographs.

On 1 August 1942, the smooth inward crimping of the steel helmet rim was abandoned for economic reasons, giving the model 1942 helmet a much sharper silhouette. The next month, the soutache was dropped and no longer featured on field caps. By 1943, practical experience at the front had shown the Schiffchen to be almost useless in comparison to the Bergmütze. On 1 October that year, therefore, a new field cap was introduced to replace all its predecessors. Known as the Einheitsfeldmütze, or standard field cap, it was very similar to the mountain cap but had a longer peak and lower crown. On 1 November 1943, the SS runes helmet decal was discontinued for the duration of the war. The year 1943 also saw the introduction of the fez, or Tarbusch, for wear instead of the field cap by members of the Muslim SS units. The fez was made from heavy field-grey felt, with a dark-green silken tassel and standard woven insignia. The unlined interior had a thin leather sweatband. A version in maroon was sometimes sported by officers when walking out or on parade, but this was an unofficial variant, obtained by converting the standard civilian fez, and was a temporary expedient pending issue of the field-grey type. Albanian Muslims had their own conical fez. In 1944, Italian SS formations made widespread use of former Italian army field caps, peaked caps and steel helmets, with the addition of appropriate insignia, and in 1945 some Indian volunteers transferred from the Wehrmacht wore turbans with Waffen-SS uniform. For Himmler, that must have been the ‘final straw’ in the development of SS headgear!

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On 7 October 1944, Himmler spent his birthday visiting Waffen-SS units on the western front. Most of the young SS soldiers in this photograph wear the Einheitsfeldmütze.

As with SS uniform in general, the aforementioned dates in the story of headgear can be invaluable in dating period photographs of Waffen-SS troops. The same can be said of tunics, so they also merit some detailed coverage. Members of the first armed SS units wore the 1932-pattern black service uniform on all occasions. It was identical to the outfit issued to the Allgemeine-SS, but while it was impressive when worn on parade or when walking out, it proved totally impractical for use in the field or when performing general barrack duties. In order to protect the black uniform in such circumstances, tunics and trousers manufactured from a lightweight grey-white cotton drill were produced in the summer of 1933. Officers and NCOs subsequently wore a drill jacket which was cut very much like the black tunic, although sometimes with concealed buttons, and on which collar patches and a shoulder strap were worn. Other ranks had a less attractive, shapeless, badgeless tunic with a standing collar.

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The floppy, battle-worn appearance of the ‘crusher’ cap made it a popular item of headgear right up until the end of the war. Here it is worn by two NCOs of SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 at Kaiserbarracke in the Ardennes, 17 December 1944. The schwimmwagen driver has kitted himself out with a civilian leather motoring helmet.

At the beginning of 1935 a new earth-grey uniform, identical in style to the black service outfit, began to be distributed to soldiers of the Leibstandarte and SS-Verfügungstruppe, although it was not referred to in official orders until 25 November of that year. Enlisted men’s tunics had five buttons down the front instead of four, and could be worn closed at the neck. Since the standard SS armband with its bright colours was clearly unsuitable for field use, it was replaced on the left arm of the earth-grey tunic by an eagle and swastika. In March 1936, an earth-brown version of the uniform was produced for everyday work wear for SS-Totenkopfverbände personnel on duty within the confines of concentration camps. It was not to be worn by sentries at the main gate, who were on view to the public, or as a walking out dress. The earth-brown tunic sported collar patches, a shoulder strap and the SS armband.

In 1937, the earth-grey and earth-brown uniforms of the SS-VT and SS-TV were replaced by a new standardised field-grey uniform. It was based on that of the army, but the Feldbluse retained the typically SS features of slanting slash side pockets and a black-and silver-piped collar which was the same colour as the rest of the tunic. The following year, the Leibstandarte began to be issued with army tunics, distinguished by their unpiped dark-green collars and pleated patch side pockets, for wear during training.

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Three SS-Hauptsturmführer attached to the ‘Handschar’ division at the end of 1943. Their decorations indicate that they are German nationals. The officer in the middle, a veteran of the SA/SS rally at Brunswick in 1931, wears the blank right-hand collar patch sported by some ‘Handschar’ personnel prior to the introduction of the divisional scimitar and swastika patch. Note also the early use of maroon fezzes and Styrian gaiters.

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A Leibstandarte Obersturmführer is dwarfed by two recruits wearing the lightweight fatigue uniform, autumn 1934. The officer has a tailored grey drill jacket, used in conjunction with the cap and breeches of the black service uniform. Note also the 2nd pattern LAH helmet decals.

At the end of 1939, the sudden formation of the SS-Totenkopf-Division and the Polizei-Division necessitated the widespread and general use of army-issue tunics since there were insufficient quantities of the SS-style field-grey uniform to go round. Because of the basic differences in cut between the two patterns, and Himmler’s desire for uniformity of dress, various contradictory orders were issued during the winter of 1939–40, prescribing which outfits should be worn by officers as opposed to NCOs and other ranks, when they should be buttoned or unbuttoned at the neck, and so on. These orders were generally ignored by all concerned, and the result was a fair mixture of dress worn simultaneously within even the smallest units.

By May 1940, army tunics had begun to make their inevitable appearance in the ranks of the SS-Verfügungsdivision, and they soon became universal throughout the Waffen-SS. During the course of 1940, their dark-green collars were phased out in favour of field-grey ones, and that August the black and silver collar piping was discontinued. From 1942, purely for reasons of economy, patch pockets were made without pleats and in 1943 the lower edges of the pocket flaps were straightened. The wool content of the model 1943 tunic was also drastically reduced, which resulted in poor thermal insulation and a low tensile strength. On 25 September 1944, an entirely new style of field service tunic based on the British army battledress blouse was introduced for wear by all German ground combat units, including members of auxiliary formations such as the RAD and NSKK. This uniform required considerably less cloth than the earlier models, and the normal triple or double belt hook location holes were reduced to only one position. Moreover, the internal field dressing pocket was omitted. A universal colour called ‘Feldgrau 44’, which was more slate-grey-green than field-grey, was devised for the new outfit in an effort to standardise the various military and paramilitary uniform colours hitherto seen on the battlefield. However, in reality, many different shades of it emerged. The 1944 field uniform was very unpopular, and was not issued in sufficient quantities to change the appearance of the Waffen-SS radically.

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LAH, SS-VT and SS-TV officers on parade outside the Führer Building in Munich, 9 November 1938. During this period, the black uniform was still used by the armed SS on ceremonial occasions, here being worn with the aluminium wire aiguillettes and brocade belt of commissioned rank. Most of these men have been issued with the M35 steel helmet, although a few still retain the traditional M16/18 pattern.

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The victors of Kharkov: Rolf Möbius, ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, Rudolf Lehmann and Hubert Meyer in April 1943. Möbius wears a standard issue army pattern field blouse, which is rougher in appearance than the privately tailored outfits of Dietrich and Lehmann. Meyer’s tunic is a converted prewar ‘Rock’, and still bears the 1936–8-style SS arm eagle.

The uniform regulations for Waffen-SS officers differed somewhat from those for other ranks. Until 1939, officers in the Leibstandarte and SS-VT had only one field-grey tunic, the ‘Rock’, which was identical in cut to the black SS service tunic and was always worn open at the neck with a brown shirt and black tie. At the beginning of the war, some SS officers avoided the expense of having to buy a field blouse for combat wear by having their existing tunics converted, with the addition of stand-and-fall collars which could be closed at the neck. Others had dark-green open-necked collars fitted, even though that was expressly forbidden by Himmler. A number of similar stopgap measures were taken until the issue of a general order in December 1939, which stipulated that officers’ field tunics were henceforth to be identical in style to those of other ranks. Throughout the remainder of the war, Waffen-SS officers generally wore either privately tailored field blouses like those of their army colleagues, or basic issue tunics purchased from their unit stores. White summer versions were also produced, although these were officially prohibited in June 1940, and the olive-green waterproof cotton duck from captured Soviet groundsheets was often made up into lightweight unlined field tunics for hot weather use on the eastern front.

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A captured SS-Sturmmann of the Leibstandarte is questioned regarding Russian banknotes found in his possession, autumn 1944. He wears the model 1943 tunic with straight pocket flaps, and a late war round-headed arm eagle.

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Three Waffen-SS medical officers assist personnel of the 15th (Scottish) Division after the liberation of Neuengamme concentration camp, April 1945. The Untersturmführer on the left wears the 1944 field uniform, which bears a striking resemblance to the British army battledress also shown in the photograph. The man in the centre, with the M42 tunic, has contradictory rank insignia, i.e. the collar patch of an Untersturmführer and shoulder straps of an Obersturmführer. The Einheitsfeldmütze worn by the third SS officer sports the rarely seen triangular one-piece eagle and death’s head insignia.

As tunics developed, so too did their matching trousers. The 1937-pattern SS field trousers, or Feldhose, had straight legs for wear with jackboots, whereas the Keilhose, or wedge trousers, of July 1942 had tapered bottoms designed to fit inside the new ankle boots and gaiters. Officers on duty in the field generally wore riding breeches, with grey buckskin reinforcements on the seat and inside leg. In August 1944, however, they were ordered to wear only long trousers, to show a degree of uniformity with their men. Needless to say, that order was seldom adhered to.

While most Waffen-SS units were issued with one or more of the foregoing series of uniforms, depending upon their dates of formation, the Italians alone were not. At the end of 1943, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, the HSSPf in Italy, successfully bargained with the army’s Quartermaster-General for the supply of 100,000 captured Italian army uniforms for wear by his SS and police anti-partisan forces. Many of these items were subsequently used to kit out the 24th and 29th SS divisions, whose members duly sported a hodge-podge of Italian garb in grey-green, colonial khaki and Mediterranean camouflage, with their own unique insignia.

The creation of standardised camouflage clothing was the most significant contribution of the Waffen-SS to the history of military uniform development, and had a profound effect on the appearance of all modern soldiery. In February 1937, SS-Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Brandt, who was a Doctor of Engineering and commander of the SS-VT reconnaissance battalion, began work on the design of camouflage clothing and equipment for use by his troops. He shared his task with the Munich professor Johann Georg Otto Schick, and their prototype camouflage groundsheets and helmet covers were successfully tested by the SS-Standarte ‘Deutschland’ in field manoeuvres the following December, during which it was estimated that they would reduce battle casualties by 15 per cent. In June 1938, patents in respect of these items were granted to the Reichsführer-SS, so that they could not be copied by the army, and by 1 November contracted production was under way using the firms of Warei, Forster and Joring. By January 1939, despite great difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of waterproof cotton duck and the fact that printing had to be done by hand, 8,400 groundsheets and 6,800 helmet covers had been supplied to the SS-Verfügungstruppe. Smocks were also in the course of distribution, and Hausser instructed that at least twenty of these should be held by each company for the exclusive use of assault troops.

Camouflage clothing was not widely worn during the Polish campaign, but even so the revolutionary SS groundsheets and helmet covers earned high praise from Generalmajor Kempf, who sent samples of them to the Army High Command in Berlin for evaluation. By June 1940, hand-printing had been superseded by a much faster machine process using ‘Anthrasol’ and ‘Indanthrene’ dyes, which allowed the mass production of 33,000 smocks for delivery to all field units of the Waffen-SS. The ever-present problem, however, even at that early date, was the shortage of raw materials. It was calculated that over 42,000 metres of waterproof cotton duck would be required every month to produce sufficient numbers of groundsheets, helmet covers and smocks, and by January 1943 supplies had all but run out, resulting in its replacement by drill material which had no waterproof qualities.

Many styles of camouflage were ultimately manufactured simultaneously, including the so-called ‘oak leaf’, ‘plane tree’, ‘palm tree’, ‘burred edge’, ‘flower’ and ‘clump’ patterns. Four colours were generally used, and the tendency during the war was towards increasingly spotted designs in lighter shades. Most garments made from waterproof cotton duck were printed on both sides and were reversible, with one side predominantly green and the other brown for use as local and seasonal variations dictated. The later drill outfits were printed on one side only and could not be reversed. All of these patterns were issued indiscriminately throughout the Waffen-SS.

The groundsheet, or Zeltbahn, was the first item of camouflage uniform to see widespread distribution among SS units. It was triangular in shape, measuring 203 cm × 203 cm × 240 cm, and could be worn as a cape or poncho, or buttoned together with three others to form a four-man tent. In fact, any number could be combined to make even larger shelters. When attaching Zeltbahnen in such circumstances care had to be taken to use identical, or at least similar, pattern groundsheets to maintain the camouflage effect, and to that end identifying numbers were printed along their bases. Even when combining shelter quarters of different designs, ‘paving slabs’ of colour were provided along the edges at regular intervals so that the various camouflage patterns would merge into each other. In December 1943, it was decided not to issue any more groundsheets to men on the eastern front for economic reasons, and by September 1944 their production had ceased completely.

The steel helmet cover was produced from segments of Zeltbahn material, and consequently occasionally featured the identifying printed pattern number. It was designed to conform to the shape of the model 1935 Stahlhelm and was attached by means of three spring-loaded blackened steel clips held on by bare aluminium rivets, one at each side and one at the rear. The 1937 prototype also had a fourth frontal clip, but that was later replaced by a simple fold of material and was never subsequently adopted for field use. Covers made from 1942 onwards had loops sewn on to hold foliage.

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SS assault troops wearing newly issued camouflage smocks and helmet covers, May 1940.

The camouflage smock was a reversible pullover garment gathered at the neck by means of an adjustable cord and at the wrists and waist by elastic. It had no collar and the first pattern had no pockets, only two vertical openings at the front which gave the wearer access to his tunic underneath. During the war, various modifications were made to it including the adoption of a longer ‘skirt’, foliage loops sewn in threes to the shoulders and upper sleeves, and the addition of two side pockets with buttoned flaps. However, all smocks conformed to the standard manufacturing process, being cut out from a long strip of Zeltbahn material, with a central hole for fitting over the head. Production ceased in January 1944, although smocks continued to be worn widely until the end of the war.

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A captured SS-Unterscharführer being searched in February 1945. His lack of collar tresse indicates that this man was probably recently promoted in the field. The undyed grey-white interior of the camouflage drill tunic is clearly visible.

On 15 April 1942 a camouflage face mask, which had initially been rejected by Hausser during prewar trials, was issued for use in conjunction with the helmet cover and smock. It comprised a series of strings fitted to an elasticated strap and hung like a curtain over the face. The mask was very effective when used in bushy or grassy terrain, and was much prized by snipers. On 1 June the same year, a camouflage field cap, again made from waterproof Zeltbahn material, was introduced. It was shaped like the Bergmütze and was generally unlined and reversible. From December 1942, special insignia woven in green and brown artificial silk were produced for wear on the cap, but they do not appear to have been widely adopted.

On 1 March 1944, a camouflage version of the drill uniform was introduced for both field and working dress. It comprised a tunic and trousers in the same cut as the model 1943 field uniform, but made from lightweight unlined herringbone twill with a standardised spotted or ‘pea’ pattern camouflage printed on one side only. It could be worn on its own during the summer, or on top of a standard field uniform in cold weather, and was designed to replace the smock and, ultimately, the normal field and drill uniforms. Only the eagle and swastika and special rank badges were intended to be worn on the left sleeve of the tunic, but shoulder straps and other insignia were also occasionally seen. Between 1 November 1944 and 15 March 1945, distribution of the camouflage drill uniform was suspended because of intolerable losses during the winter months. In effect, it was never reissued.

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Waffen-SS infantry advancing through the Ardennes, December 1944. The man in the foreground, armed with an MP40, wears the camouflage drill jacket on top of a standard field-grey tunic.

While the vast majority of Waffen-SS troops wore one or more of the foregoing camouflage garments, there were many instances of non-regulation items being adopted. It was not uncommon for tunics to be tailor-made in the field using spare Zeltbahn material, and large quantities of caps, tunics and trousers in German cut were manufactured from captured Italian camouflage cloth in 1944. There were also isolated cases of Waffen-SS personnel, particularly members of the 14th SS Division, wearing German army-pattern camouflage smocks. A photograph even exists apparently showing the capture of an SS sniper in Normandy who is wearing the one-piece camouflage overall issued to US troops serving in the Pacific theatre. However, that may well have been a propaganda shot staged by the Allies. By the spring of 1945 it had become apparent that both the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS should ideally have one common camouflage pattern. After various tests and trials carried out by Schick and three SS officers from the Bekleidungswerke at Dachau, a new design incorporating carbon-black segments which had the effect of protecting the wearer against infrared detection was introduced. It never saw distribution during the Third Reich, but was to form the basis of the camouflage patterns adopted by most post-1945 armies.

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On 9 July 1940, the reconnaissance battalion of the SS-Verfügungsdivision crossed the Hendaye Bridge on the Franco-Spanish border to form a guard of honour at a meeting between Hitler and General Franco. These men are from the armoured car platoon, and wear the SS panzerjacke and the ill-fated Baskenmütze, which was discontinued shortly thereafter.

SS-VT armoured troops received their own black panzer uniform in 1938. Its special headgear took the form of a floppy woollen beret, or Baskenmütze, fitted over an internal crash helmet, the Schutzmütze, which comprised a heavily padded liner. A large embroidered SS eagle and a uniquely designed Totenkopf, not unlike the army’s panzer death’s head but with a lower jaw in the SS style, was sewn on to the front of the beret. The Baskenmütze was discontinued in 1940 after proving impractical in combat. It was replaced by a black version of the Schiffchen field cap, which in turn was superseded by a black Einheitsfeldmütze in October 1943. The Waffen-SS tank tunic, or Panzerjacke, was a short, tight-fitting double-breasted black jacket fastened with concealed buttons. It differed from its army counterpart in that the front was cut vertically instead of being slanted, the lapels were smaller and there was no central seam down the back. The collar of the jacket was piped in silver for officers but was unpiped for other ranks, and only NCOs of the Leibstandarte were permitted to sport their regulation collar tresse.

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SS-Untersturmführer Michael Wittmann and his Leibstandarte Tiger crew after being decorated in January 1944. They were killed near Caen seven months later, but not before they had become the most successful team of tank soldiers in history, destroying over 270 enemy vehicles. Only the gunner, Balthasar Woll (second from left), survived the war.

In the spring of 1941, a field-grey version of the panzer uniform was issued to members of the Leibstandarte’s Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung. By August 1942 this outfit had been distributed to other assault gun units, and four months later its wear was extended to all Waffen-SS anti-tank formations.

On 15 January 1943, SS panzer crews received a one-piece combination work uniform made of camouflage waterproof cotton duck, identical to the material used in the manufacture of the smock and Zeltbahn. At the same time, a winter combination made from two thicknesses of cloth, white on one side and field-grey on the other, was introduced and was worn widely during the Battle of Kharkov. These coverall combinations were never very popular, simply because of the difficulty of getting in and out of them. That fact, allied with the success of the denim gear then on issue and the extreme shortage of waterproof cotton duck, led to the decision being made in January 1944 to discontinue the camouflage combination and produce instead a lightweight version of the panzer uniform in camouflage herringbone twill. It duly appeared two months later, at the same time as the camouflage drill uniform introduced for all other Waffen-SS units, and it was in the same standardised spotted ‘pea’ pattern, unlined and printed on one side only. The camouflage panzer uniform saw widespread service, particularly on the western front. On 1 November distribution ceased for the winter, and the camouflage outfit was never re-issued.

While the clothing of Waffen-SS armoured personnel remained fairly standard, there was one major initiative at divisional level which drastically altered the appearance of many panzer crews participating in the Normandy campaign. During the autumn of 1943, the Leibstandarte had been involved in disarming capitulated Italian forces and in fighting partisans in northern Italy. In the process, the division had confiscated huge quantities of abandoned Italian motor transport and uniform equipment to supplement its own limited supplies. Among the uniform items seized were large numbers of German U-boat leather jackets and trousers, originally sold by Hitler to Mussolini’s navy, and vast stocks of Italian army camouflage material. The latter was quickly used to produce caps, tunics and overalls in the German style, which were distributed to soldiers of the Leibstandarte and ‘Hitlerjugend’ in France. The U-boat clothing went almost exclusively to the young tank crews of ‘Hitlerjugend’, and duly protected many of them against serious burns.

Waffen-SS paratroopers also had their own order of dress. SS-Fallschirmjäger Bataillon 500 was formed for ‘special duties’ at the end of 1943, in the wake of SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny’s much-vaunted liberation of the deposed Mussolini that September, which had had to rely on Luftwaffe glider and paratroop support. Contrary to widespread belief, the battalion was not a penal unit. It was composed entirely of volunteers, fully trained in a paratroop role, and all its officers and NCOs were professional soldiers with a great deal of front-line experience. This expertise, combined with the Waffen-SS ethos, produced paratroopers of outstanding ability.

The first major action in which the battalion was deployed, Operation ‘Rösselsprung’, or ‘Knight’s Move’, involved its being dropped by glider right on top of Marshal Tito’s vast partisan headquarters complex at Bastasi, near Drvar in Yugoslavia, where Winston Churchill’s son, Major Randolph Churchill, was head of the British military mission. The plan was to capture Tito on his birthday, 25 May 1944, and hold him until support could arrive from the ‘Prinz Eugen’ Division and other nearby conventional ground formations. However, the SS paras were too small a force to take on the partisan brigades entrenched in the mountain fortress, and they were surrounded in Drvar cemetery and almost wiped out. The survivors were reformed as SS-Fallschirmjäger Bataillon 600, under Skorzeny’s command, and trained for a drop on Budapest to capture the son of the recalcitrant Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy, who duly capitulated to the Germans. Some SS paratroopers were later involved in the Ardennes offensive and the remainder fought as infantry on the eastern front, going into captivity at the end of the war.

Of all the branches of the Waffen-SS, least is known about the clothing and equipment of the parachutists. No official uniform orders have come to light, and almost total reliance has to be placed on a few extant wartime photographs. It appears that the Luftwaffe assumed responsibility not only for the training and transportation by air of the SS paras, but also for supplying them with specialist dress and equipment. When Skorzeny and his small joint SS and Luftwaffe commando force rescued Mussolini from his imprisonment at Gran Sasso, they all wore regulation air force tropical clothing with full Luftwaffe insignia. At a celebratory rally held in the Berlin Sports Palace soon afterwards, however, the SS men reverted to their normal field-grey uniforms. The members of the SS-Fallschirmjäger Bataillone 500 and 600 wore 1940-pattern SS Schiffchen field caps, SS belt buckles and standard Waffen-SS field-grey tunics with the insignia of their previous units, since there were no specialist SS paratroop badges. The Luftwaffe supplied all their protective clothing, which comprised: the normal paratroop steel helmet, with or without the air force eagle decal and geometric ‘splinter’-pattern camouflage cover; the ‘splinter’-pattern camouflage paratroop smock, with or without Luftwaffe breast eagle; blue-grey or field-grey paratroop trousers; canvas gaiters; and ankle boots. One surviving photograph shows two German paratroopers wearing standard SS-issue camouflage smocks, but these are thought to be Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger personnel in Italy, who would have had the opportunity of obtaining SS smocks from the ‘Hermann Göring’ Panzer Division, which was kitted out with them. Another unique picture illustrates an SS paratrooper apparently wearing the ‘pea’ pattern camouflage drill tunic and trousers while fulfilling an infantry role on the eastern front near the end of the war.

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SS paratroopers entrenched in the defensive positions around Schwedt on the eastern front, February 1945. All wear Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger helmets, and the men in the foreground have standard Waffen-SS field-grey tunics.

While Waffen-SS troops never served in North Africa, there was a special SS tropical uniform. A number of units, primarily the Leibstandarte, ‘Wiking’, ‘Prinz Eugen’ and ‘Reichsführer-SS’, saw action in the Balkans, southern Russia and Italy, where the sweltering summer conditions made the wearing of conventional uniform items very uncomfortable indeed. The demand for hot weather clothing was usually localised and temporary, however, so the development of a tropical uniform for the Waffen-SS was gradual and on an ad hoc basis.

The first requirement for tropical clothing was voiced in April 1941, during the hastily organised invasion of Greece, but on 15 April Himmler specifically prohibited his officers from using the recently introduced army tropical outfit. Consequently, troops of the Leibstandarte and ‘Reich’ completed their race through the country wearing heavy regulation tunics and headgear, which proved far from ideal. Some members took to wearing the basic SS sports kit, comprising vest and shorts, when not engaged in combat, while others went bare-chested. A short-term partial solution was achieved by the issue of German, Italian, Dutch and captured British pith helmets, or Tropenhelme, diverted from the army’s 5th Light Division. However, these items were generally unpopular and were not worn in any great numbers. When sported by the SS, they bore no insignia.

During the autumn of 1942, SS-Division ‘Wiking’ advanced deep into the Caucasus region and the real need for hot weather clothing again became apparent. Following upon Himmler’s prohibition on the wear of the army’s olive-green tropical uniform, some ‘Wiking’ personnel adopted the Luftwaffe’s version instead. It was made from light tan cotton drill and comprised an unlined four-pocket tunic, Schiffchen field cap and baggy trousers. All Luftwaffe insignia were removed and replaced by standard SS badges from the field-grey uniform. On 15 February 1943, SS chevrons in tan-brown on black were created for wear with the tropical tunic by personnel of the ranks of Sturmmann and Rottenführer. At the same time, the use of collar patches with the tropical tunic was forbidden.

In September 1943, a wholly new and, for the first time, formalised Waffen-SS tropical uniform was introduced and distributed on an entire unit basis to the Sturmbrigade ‘Reichsführer-SS’ on Corsica. The uniform was a strange hybrid and may, in fact, have been made by converting Italian clothing which had recently been seized by the Germans. The tunic had pleated patch pockets in the army style, was coloured light tan in the Luftwaffe style, and featured a caped effect across the upper section in the Italian Sahariana style, the peaks of the ‘cape’ forming the upper pocket flaps. Insignia was officially restricted to shoulder straps, tropical sleeve chevrons and a special tan-brown woven version of the SS arm eagle, but normal collar patches were also occasionally seen. An SS tropical field cap, to accompany the new tunic, was in the same shape as the Einheitsfeldmütze, but without the flaps and buttons. Cut like the SS camouflage field cap, it was again light tan in colour and sported a tan-brown woven eagle and death’s head. Photographic evidence suggests that the 1943-pattern Waffen-SS tropical tunic was only ever issued in quantity to the Sturmbrigade ‘Reichsführer-SS’, and even then was not worn by members of that formation after they left Corsica to become the nucleus of the 16th SS-Panzergrenadier Division. The Sturmbrigade, a force of around 2,000 men which grew from Himmler’s escort battalion, appears to have been chosen to field-test and evaluate the new tunic on an experimental basis. Whether it was reported upon adversely, or whether economies and the lack of tropical campaigns after 1943 dictated that no more stocks of the tunic would be manufactured, is unknown. In any event, it was never issued in large numbers again, although a few jackets were used by officers of the ‘Skanderbeg’ Division and by men of the 8th SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment in Greece. The SS tropical field cap, on the other hand, was widely distributed among various units fighting in Italy during 1944–5, and was a popular item of dress.

During the last year of the war, members of SS formations fighting in Italy, Austria and the Balkans reverted to wearing a mixture of Wehrmacht and Italian tropical clothing, as availability and climate dictated. Luftwaffe items were most prized, particularly the tunic and Schiffchen, and the latter could often be seen sporting metal SS badges removed from the peaked cap. Moreover, despite the versatility of the camouflage helmet cover, it was not uncommon for Waffen-SS men to paint their steel helmets sand-yellow while serving in the Mediterranean area.

Various items of protective clothing were widely distributed to Waffen-SS personnel, irrespective of their branch of service. As early as July 1935, the Leibstandarte was issued with an earth-grey double-breasted greatcoat, or Mantel, which bore collar piping and full insignia. This item was superseded by a field-grey version in 1937, and with the military development of the SS-VT and SS-TV there was a tendency to follow closely army greatcoat fashions, which led to the gradual adoption of a dark-green collar and the ad hoc removal of collar patches. By the outbreak of war, the situation as regards greatcoat insignia was muddled and various orders were issued in an attempt to clarify the position. The dark-green collar was officially approved in December 1939, only to be cancelled a few months later. Collar piping for other ranks became obsolete in August 1940, and all surviving examples of the old earth-grey coat were recalled in March 1941. Officers with the rank of SS-Oberführer and above were permitted to wear the greatcoat with the top three buttons undone, in order to expose their distinctive silver-grey lapels, and from 1941 holders of the Knight’s Cross or any other neck award were also allowed to do so, for the purpose of displaying their decorations. As the war progressed, many officers countered the declining quality of the issue Mantel by having greatcoats tailor-made to their own specifications. These items incorporated such refinements as removable blanket linings, reinforced buttons, extra pockets and detachable sheepskin or fur collars. The result of all this was that dozens of variations on the basic Waffen-SS greatcoat came to be produced and worn side-by-side, many of them in contravention of regulations. Moreover, a massive version of the Mantel, called the surcoat or Übermantel, was designed to be worn on top of the ordinary greatcoat by drivers of open motor vehicles or those on static sentry duty.

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‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s field-grey leather greatcoat, with SS-Obergruppenführer shoulder straps. It bears the maker’s label of ‘Schuchart & Tschach, Dresden’.

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A soldier of the 51st (Highland) Division with two Waffen-SS captives in Normandy. The officer in the middle wears the regulation motorcyclist’s coat. Note also the unofficial attachment of cords to his ‘crusher’ field cap.

Officers had the option of purchasing a field-grey leather greatcoat, but this item was extremely expensive and few subalterns could afford it. There were several variants, both in cut and in the use of insignia. As an alternative to the Ledermantel, many junior officers and NCOs bought the much cheaper 1938-pattern field-grey raincoat, the so-called Regenmantel, made of rubberised cotton twill with a leather-like appearance. Others used the regulation motorcyclist’s coat, or Kradschutzmantel, which was first introduced for army despatch riders and eventually came to be widely worn by a variety of Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS and police personnel during inclement weather. Early examples had a dark-green cloth collar, but after 1940 the whole coat was made from rubberised fabric. The skirt could be divided and buttoned around the legs for ease of use on the motorcycle.

Following the disastrous winter campaign of 1941–2, when no adequate warm clothing was provided for German soldiers fighting on the Russian front, preparations were made to design and supply appropriate uniform items with a view to averting a similar crisis. Various fur, sheepskin and lambswool waistcoats and caps were issued in the short term, and snow anoraks originally intended for mountain troops in Norway were diverted and shipped east. Wherever shortages were still apparent, captured Soviet winter clothing was issued, augmented by civilian items collected in Germany. Throughout 1942, the Waffen-SS developed its own winter combat uniform, or Winter-Sonderbekleidung, independent of the Wehrmacht. It consisted of a heavy, fur-lined parka-type coat in a waterproof cement-grey gabardine, with matching overtrousers. When snow lay on the ground, an undyed white cotton hooded smock and trousers were issued. These were designed to be worn on top of the parka and overtrousers and were readily washable. At the end of the year, a padded reversible parka in a waterproof rayon, white on one side and tan or reed-green on the other, was distributed for use as a windcheater.

The definitive Waffen-SS winter uniform did not enter service until 1943–4, and comprised a hood, jacket, trousers and mittens all made from two layers of windproof material with a wool-rayon interlining. The whole outfit was reversible, being white on one side and SS autumn camouflage on the other, and was designed to be worn over the normal field uniform. The white side tended to get filthy very quickly, which defeated its purpose, so troops were ordered to wear the uniform with the camouflage side out unless they were actually fighting in snow-covered terrain. During 1944, a small number of similar garments were made utilising stocks of captured Italian camouflage material. The manufacture of fur-lined items for the Waffen-SS was generally undertaken by the Ostindustrie GmbH, and was a speciality of the SS-Bekleidungswerke in the Lublin area, primarily at the Poniatowa and Trawniki labour camps. Fur garments removed from concentration camp inmates throughout the Reich were ordered to be collected and forwarded to Lublin for reprocessing. It is a sad fact that many Waffen-SS soldiers wore winter uniforms lined with fox-furs and stoles taken from old women who had died at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

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Totenkopf troops in Kharkov, March 1943. The tank commander (whose cap’s death’s head has almost fallen off!) sports an unofficial sheepskin waistcoat, while his colleagues have been issued with the fur-lined cement-grey parka.

Away from the front line, the basic SS sports kit comprised a white vest, black shorts, white socks and black shoes. The front of the vest bore a large black woven badge featuring the SS runes within a circle. A black vest with reverse insignia colours was also available as an alternative for wear during team events where the opponents would be in white. Members of the Leibstandarte had their own shield-shaped sports vest badge, comprising an eagle’s head surmounted by the ‘LAH’ monogram. A two-piece black tracksuit with white SS runes was issued for ‘warming up’ exercises, while SS fencers had silver runes within a black diamond stitched to the upper left sleeve of the padded fencing jacket. Sportswear was not generally issued to the Waffen-SS after 1941, for reasons of economy, and was thereafter reserved for members of sports teams and for wounded soldiers engaged in exercises and physiotherapy associated with their recuperation.

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Even the fur-lined winter combat uniform could not always provide sufficient warmth. This miserable-looking Waffen-SS machine-gunner on a static position in the Toropez Forest at the end of 1943 has had to resort to wrapping a blanket around his legs and feet.

The standard footwear of the early armed SS troops comprised two pairs of high marching boots or ‘jackboots’, one of which was for daily use and the other for parades. From 1934, Leibstandarte non-commissioned personnel were also issued with a pair of the shorter army field service marching boots, the so-called Knobelbecher, or ‘dice-shakers’, and a pair of lace-up ankle boots for barrack duties. Officers generally wore high black riding boots which were privately purchased and so were not of a standard pattern. The first wartime economy measure to hit SS footwear was the reduction in the height of the marching boot in November 1939. The distribution of Knobelbecher to replacement and reserve units ceased completely in November 1940, and from July 1942 a standard lace-up ankle boot was issued to most Waffen-SS personnel instead of the marching boot. However, the very concept of short boots and gaiters was hated by the majority of German soldiers, who spoke of ‘retreat gaiters’ and retained their traditional high marching boots for as long as possible. In fact, the latter made the wearer very prone to developing varicose veins, and many a Waffen-SS infantryman had cause to curse his prized jackboots in later life.

The boots issued to mountain troops had a specially designed lace-up ankle and thick studded soles to aid climbing and skiing. In the summer of 1943, the Waffen-SS developed its own style of mountain gaiters based on the old Austrian army ‘Styrian’ pattern. These were made from various types and colours of leather and canvas, covered the top of the boot like spats, and laced on the outside. Styrian gaiters were widely distributed to the ‘Prinz Eugen’ and ‘Handschar’ Divisions in the Balkans during 1943–4. A number of heavy duty items of footwear, including overboots in compressed and moulded felt, leather or thick layers of plaited straw, were devised to combat the sub-zero temperatures which regularly prevailed on the eastern front. During 1944–5, the quality of issue footwear declined dramatically, and by the end of the war it was not uncommon to see Waffen-SS soldiers wearing captured enemy boots.

While Waffen-SS uniforms were in many ways distinct from those of the other Wehrmacht forces, the Waffen-SS was issued with the same weapons and equipment as the German army during the Second World War. This equipment encompassed everything from belt leathers, straps and small arms, to mortars, armour and heavy artillery. Initially, ordnance and vehicles were painted field-grey or slate-grey, but by 1943 these shades had proved impractical when used on fronts with different terrains. Consequently, a dark sand-yellow was universally adopted throughout the Wehrmacht as the standard base colour for metal equipment. During the remainder of the war, tanks, assault guns, Panzerfausts and even hand grenades left the factory painted dark yellow, the idea being that a secondary coat of any appropriate camouflage paint could be applied locally as required.

A 42 mm-wide black leather waist belt, or Koppel, with 1931-pattern SS ‘box’ buckle in nickel-plated steel or matt grey alloy, was issued to all Waffen-SS NCOs and other ranks and was worn with all orders of dress. Since the belt was traditionally removed for safety reasons when a soldier was placed under close arrest (in case he hanged himself with it), its absence came to be regarded as a degradation, and the only non-commissioned personnel allowed out of barracks without wearing their belts were those in military hospitals or convalescing. The SS officer’s buckle, which was circular in shape, was devised for peacetime use and tended to break or come undone in action. However, all attempts to modify it were rejected outright by Himmler on the grounds that it had been ‘designed by the Führer himself, and based on his own sketches’. As a result, many officers adopted either the sturdier rectangular other ranks’ SS buckle or the basic two-pronged open-face army buckle when in the field.

Most enlisted personnel in front-line SS units were armed with 7.92 mm Kar.98k rifles and M84/98 bayonets, while NCOs and assault squad leaders had MP38 and MP40 submachine-guns. Other semi-automatic and automatic weapons on common issue to the Waffen-SS included the MP28, MG34, MG42, MP43, MP44 and StG44. Entrenching tools, gas masks, bread bags, back-packs, fighting knives, map cases and binoculars were standard army issue, albeit some items of field equipment were made for the SS in their own concentration camp and prison factories. Pistol holsters were usually bought or issued with their accompanying weapons. The service pistols of the Waffen-SS were the 9 mm ‘Luger’ Parabellum PO8 and the Walther P38, although at the beginning of the war large numbers of obsolete weapons such as the ‘broomhandle’ Mauser and captured Czech and Polish pistols were frequently carried as well. The preferred officers’ side-arm was the handy 7.65 mm Walther PPK, which could be purchased from the local SS Kleiderkasse on presentation of the officer’s identity papers. According to an order issued by Himmler on 1 January 1943, the pistol had to be worn on the left hip, barrel facing to the back, when in the operational zone and on the right hip, barrel facing to the front, when on home territory (i.e. when the sword or chained dagger might be worn on the left side). In October 1944, SS officers were instructed to carry loaded pistols at all times when in public, and reminded to take extra care to ensure that they were not stolen when frequenting railway stations, dance halls and the like.

In addition to these, there were several other items of personal equipment commonly carried by the Waffen-SS, including field torches, goggles, compasses, pencils, maps, prescribed spectacles and sundries such as tobacco and army condoms. On a cord around his neck, every SS soldier wore an oval zinc identity disc which was divided in half by perforated holes and bore details of his service number, unit and blood group (the latter also being tattooed under his arm). In the event of his death in action, the disc was broken in half, the portion on the cord remaining with the body and the other half being taken away for recording purposes.

While the majority of wartime Waffen-SS uniforms were made by SS-owned economic enterprises, the insignia attached to them tended to be manufactured by long-established German private companies. That arrangement necessitated strict standardi-sation and quality control, the administration of which was entrusted to the Reichszeugmeisterei, or RZM, a body which had been set up as early as 1 April 1929 to supervise the production and pricing of all Nazi party uniform items. The basic functions of the RZM were to see that NSDAP contracts went to Aryan firms and to ensure that final products were of a high standard yet priced to suit the pocket of the average party member. It also acted as a ‘clearing house’ between manufacturers on the one hand and wholesalers and retailers on the other. On 16 March 1935, contract numbers were introduced and awarded to every RZM-approved company, and after that date RZM numbers replaced makers’ marks on all NSDAP accoutrements. Thus the buttons, belt hooks and so on of the Allgemeine-SS, which always remained an organ of the Nazi party, consistently featured RZM marks. Those of the Waffen-SS, however, which was in effect a state arm during the war, very seldom did.

Waffen-SS insignia, like that of the SS in general, fell into several distinct categories according to manufacture. Metal badges such as eagles and death’s heads for the peaked cap, Totenkopf buttons for the 1934-pattern field cap, shoulder strap ciphers and rank pips were made in a variety of materials, dependent primarily upon date of production. The most common combinations were:

1.Plated brass or Tombakbronze (1933–6)

2.Copper-plated aluminium with a surface wash (1936–45)

3.Bare aluminium (1936–45)

4.Plated or painted steel (1939–45)

5.Plated or painted zinc (1942–5)

6.Bare zinc (1944–5)

In general terms the quality of metals used declined as the war progressed, but despite that a good standard of overall finish and appearance was always maintained.

Cap eagles and death’s heads, which were common to both the Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS, normally bore RZM marks, either individually stamped on to the badge reverse or embossed into it as part of the die-striking or casting process. Typical examples were ‘RZM M1/52’ (Deschler & Sohn of Munich) and ‘RZM M1/167’ (Augustin Hicke of Tyssa bei Bodenbach). Some items also bore the ‘VA’ inspection stamp of the SS Ver-waltungsamt. During the war, the format of RZM codes used on metal SS insignia changed, deleting the ‘M1’ prefix and adding a year suffix, e.g. ‘RZM 499/41’. No list of these later codes is known to have survived, and so they have never been deciphered.

The earliest SS cloth badges were hand-embroidered, and this form of insignia was worn by soldiers of the armed SS during 1933–5. Hand-embroidery could be in white or silver-grey cotton thread, fine aluminium wire or heavy silver bullion, with the latter two styles normally being reserved for officers. However, in September 1934 non-commissioned and enlisted ranks of the LAH and SS-VT were also authorised to wear aluminium wire insignia with the black uniform, to set them apart from their colleagues in the Allgemeine-SS. No two hand-embroidered badges were ever identical, since they were individually made. Badge companies generally employed women to do this work, or farmed it out to local seamstresses.

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A selection of Waffen-SS cloth insignia: A – 1943-pattern horizontal death’s head collar patch, BEVO machine-woven in silver-grey cotton thread; B – SS runes, or Sig-Runes, collar patch machine-embroidered in silver-grey cotton; C – 1938-pattern SS arm eagle with curved head, machine-embroidered in silver-grey cotton c. 1942–3; D – vertical ‘death’s head/13’ collar patch, hand-embroidered in aluminium wire; E – rank collar patch for an SS-Untersturmführer.

In 1936, by which time the RZM had become effectively organised under Reichszeugmeister Richard Büchner, machine-embroidered insignia began to be produced and widely distributed for wear by SS enlisted men and NCOs. This form of embroidery was cheap and quick to execute, and had a tightly formed and raised appearance. The producers of machine-embroidered insignia were normally fairly substantial firms, as only they could afford the expensive equipment involved in the manufacturing process. Such companies were rigidly controlled by the RZM, and their products had to carry labels bearing the relevant contract numbers. In addition to the standard RZM paper tags used by all NSDAP formations, a system of small black and white woven labels was devised specifically for SS items. Each bore the RZM symbol and SS runes together with the maker’s contract number and year date, an example being ‘RZM 21/36 SS’. Where a firm was engaged only in embroidery work, the letters ‘St’, denoting ‘Stickerei’ or ‘embroiderer’, were incorporated into the label, for example ‘RZM St 459/36 SS’. It was not uncommon for two such labels to be attached to a single badge, particularly a cuff title, if two separate firms were involved in its manufacture due to sub-contracting. One label would refer to the maker of the backing cloth, and the other to the embroiderer. It was also quite common to find the addition of another tag reading ‘Vom Reichsführer-SS befohlene Ausführung’, indicating that the item in question was made in accordance with SS uniform regulations. Because of all the foregoing, machine-embroidered insignia has come to be known as the ‘RZM style’.

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Reverse view of the insignia shown on p. 243. Note the typical RZM paper label affixed to the pre-1940 ‘death’s head/13’ collar patch. Such labels did not appear on later wartime pieces.

Machine-woven badges were produced from 1939, using artificial silk and either cotton or fine aluminium wire. They had a very flat appearance and the manufacturing process, which could result in hundreds of identical insignia being run off on a single continuous strip of ribbon-like material, allowed for the incorporation of very fine detail into the design. The principal producer of these badges was the Wuppertal-Barmen firm of Bandfabrik Ewald Vorsteher, whose trade mark ‘BEVO’ has become synonymous with machine-woven insignia.

The use of silk-screen printing in the manufacture of certain Waffen-SS badges was introduced in 1944, but was primarily restricted to foreign volunteer shields, war auxiliary armbands and the special rank insignia for camouflage clothing. Low production costs were more than outweighed by the poor quality of the finished article, and printed badges were very unpopular.

The procedures governing the approval and manufacture of Waffen-SS insignia were very complicated. Various SS departments, particularly the SS Hauptamt, the SS Führungshauptamt and the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt were continually at each other’s throats over who was responsible for this matter, and the process by which new badges were proposed and introduced was not settled until May 1944, when the following was agreed:

1.The SS-HA became primarily responsible for the design and proposal to the Reichsführer-SS of ‘political’ SS insignia, i.e. national emblems, collar patches, arm shields and formation badges. However, the SS-HA had first to get the opinion of the SS-FHA before submitting samples to Himmler.

2.The SS-FHA became primarily responsible for the design and proposal to the Reichsführer-SS of ‘non-political’ insignia, i.e. rank badges, cuff titles, qualification badges, branch of service insignia and specialist badges. If political considerations arose in respect of any of these, the SS-FHA had to obtain the opinion of the SS-HA before submission to Himmler.

3.The SS-HA would, after obtaining the approval of the Reichsführer-SS, cede badges listed at 1. above to the SS-FHA. The SS-FHA was then responsible for the execution and issue of the badges in cooperation with the SS-WVHA. The SS-FHA and SS-WVHA would collaborate until the completion of final samples of these badges.

4.The method of wearing new types of badges would be decided in relation to the method of wearing existing badges. If changes in the method of wear were necessary, the SS-FHA was responsible for making them. However, if insignia under 1. above were involved, the SS-FHA had to obtain the opinion of the SS-HA first. Such was the case in 1944, when it was decided to move foreign volunteer shields from their traditional location 1.5 cm above the cuff title to a new position further up the left sleeve, 1.5 cm below the SS arm eagle. The SS-HA was besieged with complaints from foreign volunteer units whose members regarded this as a slur, subordinating their national flags and coats of arms to the Nazi eagle!

To complicate the issue still further, Himmler himself also suggested the introduction of special badges, such as cuff titles for as yet unnamed SS regiments and divisions. He was personally responsible for some designs, and often consulted with two artists on his Persönlicher Stab, namely SS-Oberführer Prof. Benno von Arent and SS-Oberführer Prof. Karl Diebitsch. Once a design had been approved by the Reichsführer it would pass to the SS-WVHA which would in turn authorise the RZM to supply the required quantity. The RZM then placed a contract with one of its approved firms and the finished badges were delivered to one of the SS clothing depots, usually Dachau, from where they would finally be supplied to the unit concerned. So, in the production of a single new badge, no less than four departments, the SS-HA, SS-FHA, SS-WVHA and Pers. Stab RfSS might, and probably would, be involved!

By September 1944, pressures on the RZM had developed to such an extent that it was forced to terminate its involvement in the supply of insignia to the Waffen-SS. The following December it announced that Waffen-SS eagles, death’s heads, collar patches, shoulder straps and cuff titles could henceforth be manufactured, without a contract, for direct sale to authorised wholesalers and retailers for the duration of the war. By that stage, no less than twenty-four firms were producing cloth insignia for the Waffen-SS:

Gebrüder Auerhammer, Weissenburg

Albrecht Bender, Weissenburg

Max Dörfel, Eibenstock

Lothar von Dreden & Co., Wuppertal-Elberfeld

Oskar Frank, Eibenstock

Geissler & Hast, Ansbach

August Göbels Söhne, Gross-Schönau

E. Günther, Eibenstock

Hensel & Schuhmann, Berlin

Hinterleitner, Brunnacker & Co., Weissenburg

E. Köhler, Annaberg

Kruse & Söhne, Wuppertal-Barmen

Sigmund Lendvay, Vienna

Lucas & Vorsteher, Wuppertal-Barmen

F. Müller, Rossbach

R. Nitzsche, Eibenstock

J.F. Rieleder, Heilbronn

Julius Riess, Erfurt

Franz Rönnefahrt, Brandenburg

Hermann Schmuck & Co., Weissenburg

Thiele & Steinert, Freiberg

Tröltsch & Hanselmann, Berlin

Ewald Vorsteher, Wuppertal-Barmen

Ferdinand Winter, Treuchtlingen

In common with other Third Reich military formations, the Waffen-SS employed certain colours in the design of its uniforms and accoutrements as a means of unit identification. These colours appeared on tunic shoulder straps, cap piping, and so on and were known as branch of service colours, or ‘Waffengattungsfarben’, normally referred to in the abbreviated form ‘Waffenfarben’. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, all armed SS piping was white, silver or twisted black and silver, like that of the Allgemeine-SS. However, in December 1939, due to the increasing militarisation of the Waffen-SS and its newfound associations with Wehrmacht forces, shoulder straps piped in army Waffenfarbe were introduced. A few officers also began to equip themselves with Waffenfarbe-piped peaked caps and long trousers, made to order through their local SS Kleiderkasse, but Himmler immediately forbade that practice, instructing that the piping on these items was to remain white. Some confusion then ensued, for in May 1940 the Reichsführer backtracked by indicating that peaked caps could thereafter be piped in Waffenfarbe, although all walking out dress trousers were now to be piped in grey. The following November Himmler changed his mind yet again, directing that Waffenfarbe was once more to be restricted to shoulder straps and the soutache on the field cap, with all other piping reverting to white or aluminium depending on rank. It is clear that the Reichsführer wanted his soldiers to retain their own unique appearance, distinct from that of the army, but a number of Waffen-SS officers and men continued to wear Waffenfarbe on their peaked caps until the end of the war, in defiance of Himmler’s orders.

The Waffenfarbe colours officially authorised for use by the Waffen-SS branches are shown in the table below. However, it should be noted that a few shades were withdrawn, reallocated or even renamed from time to time, and in any case the differences in some colours were so slight as to be almost indistinguishable, a situation compounded by variations in manufacturers’ dyes, the bleaching effect of the sun and the general weathering of piping under field conditions.

SS WAFFENFARBEN

Waffenfarbe

Waffen-SS Branch of Service

1. Black

Construction units Engineers

2. Dark (‘cornflower’) blue

Medical units

3. Light blue

Field post office (from February 1943)

Motor Technical School (until July 1942)

Supply units

Transport units (until August 1944)

4. Sky blue

Administration

5. Copper brown

Reconnaissance units (until June 1942)

6. Light brown

Concentration camp staff

7. Dark green

Reserve officers (discontinued 1942)

Specialist personnel (until June 1942)

8. Grass green

Mountain troops (from May 1942)

Police-Division (discontinued 1942)

9. Light grey

General officers

Himmler’s Personal Staff (until June 1942)

10. Dark grey

Himmler’s Personal Staff (from June 1942)

11. Orange

Military police units Garrison troops

Motor Technical School (from July 1942 to August 1944)

Recruiting units

Technical units

Welfare personnel

12. Light pink

Motor Technical School (from August 1944)

Transport units (from August 1944)

13. Rose pink

Panzer units

Anti-tank units

14. Salmon pink

Military geologists

15. Bright red

Artillery units

Flak units

Rocket units

16. Claret (‘Bordeaux’) red

Legal personnel

17. Crimson red

Veterinary personnel

18. Red & grey twist

Specialist personnel (from June 1942)

19. White

Infantry units

20. Golden yellow

Cavalry units

Reconnaissance units (from June 1942)

21. Lemon yellow

Field post office (until February 1943)

Signals units

War correspondents

The Waffen-SS rank structure was very similar to that of the Allgemeine-SS, with a few specific exceptions. The lowest Waffen-SS rank was that of SS-Schütze, or Private, while a Private with six months’ service was known as an SS-Oberschütze. The senior NCO rank was SS-Sturmscharführer, or Company Sergeant-Major, and any man holding Unterführer rank could be appointed to serve as his unit’s SS-Stabscharführer or Duty NCO, who fulfilled various administrative and reporting functions and was nicknamed ‘der Spiess’, or ‘the spear’, a traditional term dating back the to pikemen of the Middle Ages. The ranks from SS-Untersturmführer to SS-Hauptsturmführer were known as company officers, with those from SS-Sturmbannführer to SS-Oberführer being termed field officers. Higher ranks were classed as general officers. All Waffen-SS generals were awarded their corresponding army rank titles in 1940, and were thereafter designated as follows:

SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS

SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS

SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS

SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS

Non-German nationals from Germanic countries serving in foreign legions raised by the Waffen-SS replaced the rank prefix ‘SS-’ with ‘Legions-’ (e.g. ‘Legions-Hauptsturmführer’), while those in non-Germanic units used the prefix ‘Waffen-’ (e.g. ‘Waffen-Hauptsturmführer der SS’). These denoted attachment to the Waffen-SS, rather than membership of the SS proper.

The regular Waffen-SS officer candidate, or Führerbewerber (FB), distinguished by a double lace bar on his shoulder straps, underwent four months’ basic training after which he became an officer cadet, or Führeranwärter (FA), and received the title of SS-Junker with the equivalent rank of SS-Unterscharführer. He then attended a six-month military leadership course which culminated in his promotion to SS-Standartenjunker, equal to an SS-Scharführer. At the end of a further six months’ officer training he was elevated to the position of SS-Standartenoberjunker, equating to an SS-Hauptscharführer, and was allowed to wear officer’s cap cords, belt buckle and aluminium collar patch piping. He was then sent back to his unit where, after a minimum period of two months, he received promotion to SS-Untersturmführer. Officers who did not plan a military career and intended to serve in the Waffen-SS only for the duration of the war were given reserve commissions and were known as Reserve-Führerbewerber (RFB), Reserve-Führeranwärter (RFA), SS-Junker der Reserve, SS-Untersturmführer der Reserve, and so on.

Potential NCOs, or SS-Unter-führerbewerber, were generally trained at a company level, progressing to SS-Unterführeranwärter and then to SS-Unterscharführer. During their training, they wore a single lace bar on their shoulder straps if they had signed up for twelve years or more, and a thin twisted cord in the appropriate Waffenfarbe if they had signed up for less than twelve years.

The Waffen-SS also employed civilian specialists (interpreters, doctors, lawyers, and so on) known as Sonderführer, and later Fachführer, who were given appointments in relation to their tasks. They could hold the ranks of:

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SS-Gruppenführer Walter Krüger, commander of ‘Das Reich’ in September 1943. He wears the heavily embroidered collar patches and shoulder straps of an SS general.

SS-Unterscharführer

(S) or (F)

SS-Hauptscharführer

(S) or (F)

SS-Untersturmführer

(S) or (F)

SS-Hauptsturmführer

(S) or (F)

SS-Sturmbannführer

(S) or (F)

The SS-Fachführer wore a blank right collar patch and shoulder strap piping in dark-green until June 1942. After that date, piping was in a red and grey twist. If a specialist showed that he was capable of commanding a military unit corresponding to his Fachführer rank, the latter ceased and he continued in his duties as a full officer or NCO of the Waffen-SS.

Waffen-SS ranks were indicated by a combination of collar patches and shoulder straps. The earliest armed SS units were technically on the local Abschnitt staff, and as such members wore blank right collar patches. In May 1933, officers’ patches began to be piped in a black/aluminium twisted cord, and those of other ranks in white cord. With the rapid expansion of the militarised SS formations, it soon became clear that some kind of distinctive collar insignia was required for the Leibstandarte and Politische Bereitschaften, and towards the end of the year patches bearing double Sig-Runes, hand-embroidered in silver bullion for officers and white or silver-grey cotton for other ranks, were issued to soldiers of the LAH. In June 1934, the SS PBs attached to Oberabschnitte Süd, Südwest and Mitte were authorised to wear runic ‘SS 1’ ‘SS 2’ and ‘SS 3’ patches, respectively, with the numbers as large as the runes, and three months later non-commissioned ranks in the LAH and SS-VT were further distinguished by being allowed to use aluminium wire embroidery on their collar patches. In October, the piping on officers’ patches was changed to the definitive plain aluminium cord, with the black/aluminium twist now being adopted by other ranks.

The rest of the prewar period witnessed the introduction of machine-embroidered collar patches for the field uniform, death’s heads and other designs for SS-TV and specialist units, and the adoption of the ‘SS 1’, ‘SS 2’ and ‘SS 3’ patches, this time with small numbers, by the ‘Deutschland’, ‘Germania’ and ‘Der Führer’ Standarten.

When army-pattern shoulder straps were introduced for the armed SS in March 1938, it was apparent that the wearing of dual rank badges on both the left collar patch (SS rank) and shoulder straps (army equivalent) was unnecessary. However, Himmler decreed that SS ranks should still be displayed. The situation was exacerbated at the outbreak of war, with the LAH, SS-VT and SS-TV being given specific roles alongside the Wehrmacht. The ordinary German soldier was bemused by the SS rank system, and was at a loss to know which SS men he was supposed to salute and whose orders he was obliged to obey. It therefore became absolutely essential, for practical and disciplinary reasons, that Waffen-SS rank badges should correspond to those in the armed forces and be easily recognised as such. Consequently, during the formation of the first SS field divisions in the autumn of 1939, it was decided that their personnel should not wear SS rank patches. Instead, they received matching collar patches with the runes or death’s head on both sides. Their ranks were indicated solely by shoulder straps, in the army style. However, prewar Waffen-SS officers and men jealously retained their existing collar patches, showing their SS ranks.

The increased use of camouflage smocks, which covered the shoulder straps and, indeed, all insignia except the collar patches, led Himmler to rescind the matching collar patch order on 10 May 1940, and reintroduce the SS rank patch for all Waffen-SS members. At the same time, the need for security during the invasion of the Low Countries and France rendered obsolete all SS-VT and SS-TV collar patches bearing numerals or letters, which were ordered removed. The result was that for a short time during the western campaign-personnel in the SS-Verfügungsdivision wore no collar patches at all. From then on, the basic SS runes collar patch became standard for all German and Germanic Waffen-SS formations except Totenkopf units, whose members continued to wear the death’s head, now produced in a horizontal version more suitable for use on the closed-neck field tunic. In August 1940, the black/aluminium twisted cord bordering other ranks’ patches was abolished, leaving these patches unbordered for the rest of the war.

With the increasing recruitment of non-Germans into the Waffen-SS after 1940, Himmler became concerned about the use of the SS runes insignia by those not racially suitable for full SS membership, and he instructed that such recruits should wear some other form of badge on the right collar patch. The SS thereafter designed and issued a range of appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) collar patches for its foreign units, and pending the distribution of these insignia blank patches were often worn in new units as an interim measure. German SS officers and NCOs serving in foreign formations were still entitled to wear the SS runes collar patch and, from July 1943, if they chose to identify with their men by wearing the distinctive unit patch, they were obliged to sport the SS runes embroidered below the left breast pocket instead. The latter insignia was identical to that worn by SS men in the German police.

The wearing of collar patches did not always conform to regulations. Matching patches and vertical death’s heads, although prohibited in 1940, continued to be worn well into 1942, and officers often used other ranks’ patches in the field, or removed the cording from their own patches. In 1943, machine-woven versions of the SS runes and horizontal death’s head patches were produced, but the earlier embroidered examples were still being issued at the end of the war. Recruits under training often wore no collar patches at all.

The table on p. 253 lists all SS-VT, SS-TV and Waffen-SS unit collar patches which have been confirmed by contemporary photo-graphic or documentary evidence as having been worn. They were produced in embroidered versions only, unless otherwise indicated.

A number of other strange patches were designed for foreign SS formations, primarily the eastern divisions, but these were never worn by the personnel concerned, remaining in storage at the Dachau clothing depot.

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Foreign SS collar patches. These were designed, but never issued to the units concerned: A – Danes in ‘Nordland’; B – 14th Division/30th Division; C – ‘Horst Wessel’; D – ‘Skanderbeg’; E – 29th Division (Russian); F – 29th Division (Italian); G – ‘Wallonien’; H – 30th Division; I – Tartars; J – Caucasians; K – Indian Legion.

Members of the armed SS wore standard Allgemeine-SS shoulder straps on the right side only until 1935, when the earth-grey uniform was introduced. In July of that year, SS-VT officers were ordered to wear their Allgemeine-SS straps on both shoulders of the grey uniform. Other ranks received army-pattern straps made of plain earth-grey material, or earth-brown for SS-TV troops. In 1936, these enlisted men’s shoulder straps were replaced first by a round-ended black version piped in black/aluminium twisted cord, then by an unpiped black type with pointed ends. None of these early straps identified the wearer’s rank, as that was shown by his collar patches.

In March 1938, army-pattern straps with black underlay and gilt stars were issued to all armed SS officers, and NCOs began to wear aluminium lace, or Tresse, and white metal ‘pips’. Rank was thereafter clearly indicated by the straps. From December 1939, officers sported coloured Waffenfarbe piping between the aluminium braid and black underlay, and other ranks received their definitive Waffenfarbe-piped black straps with rounded ends. A large number of unit identification insignia were worn on the shoulder straps. For officers, these numerals and ciphers were initially in gilt metal, then bronze after 1940. Other ranks had them embroidered directly on to their straps or on to removable slip-on tabs from 1940. The table on p. 255 lists the various identification badges known to have been used on Waffen-SS shoulder straps.

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Waffen-SS collar patches. These are known to have been issued and worn by the following units during the Second World War: A – all German and Germanic Waffen-SS formations; B – SS-VT Standarte ‘Deutschland’; C – Totenkopf units; D – SS-Polizei-Division and police regiments; E – specialists and foreign units not allocated other patches; F – ‘Prinz Eugen’; G – ‘Nordland’; H – ‘Handschar’; I – 14th Division; J – 15th Division; K – Latvian Legion/15th and 19th Divisions; L – 20th Division (official patch dating from June 1944); M – 20th Division (unofficial patch dating from October 1943); N – 20th Division (official patch dating from October 1944); O – 20th Division (unofficial patch made in Tartu, February 1944); P – ‘Maria Theresa’; Q – Dutch Legion/’Nederland’ (official patch dating from November 1941); R – Dutch Legion/’Nederland’ (unofficial patch); S – ‘Nordwest’/Freikorps Danmark/Flemish Legion/’Langemarck’; T – ‘Landstorm Nederland’ (unofficially continued from the Landwacht Nederland); U – Dirlewanger Brigade/36th Division; V – Non-SS concentration camp guards.

WAFFEN-SS COLLAR PATCHES

Design

Period Used

Unit/Worn By

Blank

1933–45

Specialists/departmental or HQ staff/units not yet allocated patches

SS

1933–45

LAH, then from 1940 all German and Germanic units not allocated other

patches

   

SS/large 1

1934

SS PB ‘Süd’

SS/large 2

1934

SS PB ‘Südwest’

SS/large 3

1934

SS PB ‘Mitte’

D

1934–7

Dachau Guard Battalion

K

1934–7

Concentration camp staff

Ü

1934–7

Dachau training camp

SS/T

1934–40

Bad Tölz officers’ school

SS/pick & shovel

1934–40

SS-VT Pioneer Battalion

SS/lightning bolt

1934–40

SS-VT Signals Battalion

SS/small 1

1935–40

‘Deutschland’

SS/B

1935–40

Braunschweig officers’ school

SS/V

1935–40

Administration school

Vertical death’s head

1936–42

Totenkopf units

Vertical death’s head/I–V

1936–7

SS-TV Battalion staff

Vertical death’s head/1–26

1936–40

SS-TV Companies

Vertical death’s head/S

1936–40

SS-TV Medical Battalion

SS/small 2

1936–40

‘Germania’

SS/S

1936–40

SS-VT Medical Battalion

SS/N

1936–40

‘Nürnberg’

Vertical death’s head/K

1937–40

Concentration camp staff

SS/small 3

1938–40

‘Der Führer’

Police litzen

1939–42

Police-Division

Police litzen (woven)

1939–42

Police-Division

Horizontal death’s head

1940–5

Totenkopf units

Lion with axe

1941–3

Norwegian Legion

Lion with axe (metal)

1941–3

Norwegian Legion

Wolfsangel

1941–5

Dutch Legion/‘Nederland’

Trifos

1941–5

‘Nordwest’/Freikorps Danmark/Flemish Legion/‘Langemarck’

Lyre

1941–5

Music school

Danish flag

1942

Freikorps Danmark

Odal-Rune

1942–5

‘Prinz Eugen’

Open sonnenrad

1943–5

‘Nordland’

SS (woven)

1943–5

All German and Germanic units not allocated other patches

Horizontal death’s head (woven)

1943–5

Totenkopf units

Scimitar & swastika

1943–5

‘Handschar’

Lion rampant

1943–5

14th Division

Swastika

1943–5

Latvian Legion/15th Division/19th Division

Sun & stars

1944–5

15th Division

E & mailed arm/sword

1944–5

20th Division

Cornflower

1944–5

‘Maria Theresa’

H

1944–5

‘Hunyadi’

Crossed rifles & grenade

1944–5

Dirlewanger Brigade/36th Division

Three lions passant

1944–5

British Free Corps

Double-armed swastika

1944–5

Non-SS concentration camp guards

Flaming grenade

1945

‘Landstorm Nederland’

Flaming grenade (metal)

1945

‘Landstorm Nederland’

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A selection of Waffen-SS shoulder straps: A – M38 strap with obsolete black/aluminium twisted cord piping, for an SS-VT Sturmscharführer; B – M39 strap with white waffenfarbe piping, for an SS-Untersturmführer; C – M38 strap with chain stitch ‘1’, for a Scharführer in SS-Totenkopfstandarte 1 ‘Oberbayern’; D – M40 strap with white waffenfarbe piping and machine-embroidered ‘LAH’ slip-on tab, for an Unterscharführer in the Leibstandarte; E – M40 strap with chain stitch ‘4’ slip-on tab, for a Scharführer in the 4th SS-Totenkopf Infantry Regiment.

In October 1943, Himmler cancelled the use of these ciphers for the duration of the war, on security grounds. In any case, units and specialist personnel were still readily identifiable by other badges. The only exception was the Leibstandarte, whose members were permitted to retain their LAH monogram as an honorarium.

Cuff titles, woven black tapes about 28 mm in width and 49 cm in length which were worn on the lower left sleeve of the tunic and greatcoat, became very distinctive features of SS uniform and, apart from identifying the unit of the wearer, were partly responsible for the remarkable ésprit de corps of the Waffen-SS. All prewar regiments and most ancillary formations of the SS-VT and SS-TV had their own cuff titles, which were handed over as part and parcel of the clothing issue. Each man received four, one for each of his uniforms, and they were expected to last him nine months. These early cuff titles were embroidered in Gothic lettering with the exception of the Leibstandarte’s ‘Adolf Hitler’ insignia, which featured the old German form of script known as Sütterlin, officially reserved for the Führer’s guards from 1936. This archaic handwriting style had been promoted by Berlin graphics teacher Ludwig Sütterlin (1865–1917) and was widely taught in German schools until 1941.

WAFFEN-SS SHOULDER STRAP BADGES

Badge

Unit

A

SS-VT Artillery Regiment

A (Gothic)

SS-VT Reconnaissance Battalion

AS/I

Artillery School I

AS/II

Artillery School II

Cogwheel

Technical units

D

‘Deutschland’ Standarte

DF

‘Der Führer’ Standarte

E/Roman numeral

Recruiting Offices

Fl

SS-VT Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battalion

G

‘Germania’ Standarte

JS/B

Junkerschule Braunschweig

JS/T

Junkerschule Tölz

L

Motor Technical School

L (Gothic)

Training establishments

LAH

Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’

Lyre

Bands

MS

Musikschule Braunschweig

N

‘Nordland’ Standarte

P (Gothic)

SS-VT Anti-Tank Battalion

Serpent

Veterinary units

Serpent & staff

Medical units

SK/D

Dachau garrison

SK/P

Prague garrison

US/L

Unterführerschule Lauenburg

US/R

Unterführerschule Radolfzell

W

‘Westland’ Standarte

1–17

Totenkopf Standarten

On 1 September 1939, the Gothic ‘SS’ used on certain cuff titles was replaced by a runic version, and three months later all Gothic script was discontinued in favour of standard Latin lettering. In May 1940, the cuff titles worn by ancillary Waffen-SS units, for example ‘SS-Pioniersturmbann’ and ‘SS-Nachrichtensturmbann’, were abolished because they constituted a security risk. Regimental titles such as ‘Deutschland’ continued to be used, however, even after the introduction of divisional titles. The latter did not materialise until 1942, and were worn by divisional personnel not entitled to regimental cuff titles. So a member of the signals battalion of the SS-Verfügungsdivision would wear the ‘SS-Nachrichtensturmbann’ title until May 1940, then no cuff title at all, and finally the ‘Das Reich’ title from September 1942.

image

The Leibstandarte’s ‘Adolf Hitler’ cuff title, hand-embroidered in Sütterlin script. This photograph of a captured tunic was taken by a British war correspondent in 1945. The Crimea campaign shield has been placed for effect only, and would normally be sewn on to the upper sleeve.

As the war progressed, cuff titles took on a new significance and were presented at solemn ceremonies during which unit commanders would remind recipients of the great honour being bestowed upon them and that they should do nothing to disgrace the names which their cuff titles bore. The exact criteria for awarding names and cuff titles are not known, but what is certain is that many SS divisions, such as the 14th and 15th, were never named, while some of those which were, such as ‘Handschar’ and ‘Maria Theresa’, never received cuff titles. Himmler apparently judged every application on its own merits, refusing some new units on the grounds that a cuff title had to be earned on the field of battle, and turning down others because they had been formed as a temporary wartime expedient from personnel considered racially unsuitable for SS membership.

Any Waffen-SS soldier transferring from one unit to another had to remove his old cuff title and replace it with that of his new unit. However, if the latter had not been awarded a cuff title, the man was permitted to continue to wear the title of his former unit. That explains why ‘Adolf Hitler’ and ‘Der Führer’ cuff titles featured among the officer cadre of the 24th SS Division in northern Italy at the end of the war, and why miscellaneous cuff titles were worn by SS paratroopers. On occasion, two cuff titles could be worn together. Officer cadets being trained at Bad Tölz, for example, were initially allowed to wear the ‘SS-Schule Tölz’ cuff title above their own regimental or divisional titles, while war correspondents and military policemen often wore the ‘SS-Kriegsberichter’ and ‘SS-Feldgendarmerie’ titles below those of the regiment or division to which they were attached. The wearing of more than one cuff title in this fashion was forbidden in August 1943.

Cuff titles fell into four categories according to their method of construction:

1.Hand-embroidered in aluminium wire or thread

Produced from 1933 until June 1942. For wear by all ranks until 1936, and thereafter by officers only.

2.Machine-embroidered in white or silver-grey cotton thread

The so-called ‘RZM style’. Produced from 1936–43 for wear by other ranks only.

3.Machine-woven in aluminium thread

Produced from 1939–43 for wear by officers only.

4.Machine-woven in flat grey cotton or silken thread

The so-called ‘BEVO’ pattern. Produced from 1943–5 for wear by all ranks.

While the foregoing details the intended recipients of the various manufacturing styles, it was not uncommon for officers to use other ranks’ cuff titles on their field uniforms, or for NCOs to acquire officer quality titles for wear on their dress tunics. Moreover, old stocks of some early cuff titles continued to be worn long after they had been officially discontinued. A few rare or even unique styles are also known to have existed, one example being ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s wartime ‘Adolf Hitler’ cuff titles, which he had embroidered in gold bullion in the manner of a Wehrmacht general officer.

The table on p. 262 lists all SS-VT, SS-TV and Waffen-SS cuff titles which have been confirmed by contemporary photographic or documentary evidence as having been authorised and worn.

A small number of unapproved localised cuff titles, such as the ‘Narwa’ and ‘Estland’ titles worn by some members of the 20th SS Division, have also been confirmed from photographs.

The cuff titles in the table below were authorised during the war, but were never issued for a variety of reasons.

The SS arm eagle also came to be a distinctive part of Waffen-SS uniform. The eagle and swastika was established as the national emblem, or Hoheitsabzeichen, of the Third Reich on 7 March 1936, but the first SS tunic eagles were sported by ‘Sepp’ Dietrich and others as early as the summer of 1935, with the newly introduced earth-grey uniform. The use of eagles on the right breast was restricted by law to the army, navy and air force, so members of the LAH and SS-VT took to wearing theirs on the upper left arm, in lieu of the gaudy Allgemeine-SS armband which was clearly unsuitable for field use. The pattern of sleeve eagle officially adopted by the armed SS in May 1936 was that introduced simultaneously for the railway police, with a right-facing eagle with dipping wings. It was discontinued after only two years, but was still being worn by some SS veterans as late as 1943. The second and definitive pattern of SS national emblem, with a left-facing eagle and straight wings tapering to a point, was devised in 1938 and was eventually produced in several variations. The commonest manufacturing method was machine-embroidery, in white or silver-grey cotton thread on black, and these RZM-style eagles came in the following three types, depending upon period of production:

UNISSUED CUFF TITLES

Title

Authorised For

Artur Phleps

Gebirgs Rgt. 13, 7th SS Division

Charlemagne

33rd SS Division

Finnisches Frw. Bataillon der Waffen-SS

Finnish Volunteer Battalion

Hinrich Schuldt

Grenadier Rgt. 43, 19th SS Division

30 Januar

32nd SS Division

Landstorm Nederland

34th SS Division (n.b. this title already existed for the Dutch Germanic-SS unit of the same name)

Latvija

2nd Brigade, 19th SS Division

Osttürkischer Waffen-Verband der SS

Tartar SS Regiment

Woldemars Veiss

Grenadier Rgt. 42, 19th SS Division

ISSUED WAFFEN-SS CUFF TITLES

Title

Year

Introduced

Unit/Worn By

Adolf Hitler

1933

Leibstandarte/1st SS Division

Brandenburg

1937

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 2

British Free Corps

1944

British Free Corps, 11th SS Division

Danmark

1943

Grenadier Rgt. 24, 11th SS Division

Das Reich

1942

2nd SS Division

Death’s head (insignia)

1938

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 1

Den Norske Legion

1941

Norwegian Legion

Der Führer

1938

‘Der Führer’ Standarte

De Ruiter

1943

Grenadier Rgt. 49, 23rd SS Division

Deutschland

1935

‘Deutschland’ Standarte

Elbe

1937

SS-Wachsturmbann II

E SS/TV

1939

SS-TV training units

Florian Geyer

1944

8th SS Division

Freikorps Danmark

1941

Freikorps Danmark

Frundsberg

1943

10th SS Division

Frw. Legion Flandern

1941

Flemish Legion

Frw. Legion Nederland

1941

Dutch Legion

Frw. Legion Niederlande

1941

Dutch Legion

Frw. Legion Norwegen

1941

Norwegian Legion

General Seyffardt

1943

Grenadier Rgt. 48, 23rd SS Division

Germania

1936

‘Germania’ Standarte

Götz von Berlichingen

1943

17th SS Division

Hermann von Salza

1944

Panzer Battalion 11, 11th SS Division

Hitlerjugend

1943

12th SS Division

Hohenstaufen

1943

9th SS Division

Horst Wessel

1944

18th SS Division

Kdtr. Ü.L. Dachau

1935

Dachau training camp

Kurt Eggers

1943

War Correspondent Regiment

Langemarck

1942

Infantry Rgt. 4, 2nd SS Division; and 27th SS Division

Legion Niederlande

1941

Dutch Legion

Legion Norwegen

1941

Norwegian Legion

Michael Gaissmair

1944

Gebirgs Rgt. 12, 6th SS Division

Nederland

1944

23rd SS Division

Nordland

1940

11th SS Division; and Grenadier Rgt. ‘Nordland’, 5th SS Division

Nordwest

1941

‘Nordwest’ Standarte

Norge

1943

Ski Battalion, 6th SS Division; and Grenadier Rgt. 23, 11th SS Division

Oberbayern

1937

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 1

Ostfriesland

1937

SS-Wachsturmbann IV

Ostmark

1938

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 4

Police eagle (insignia)

1942

4th SS Division

Prinz Eugen

1942

7th SS Division

Reichsführer-SS

1943

16th SS Division

Reichsführung-SS

1940

SS high command staff

Reichsschule-SS

1943

School for female SS auxiliaries

Reinhard Heydrich

1942

Gebirgs Rgt. 11, 6th SS Division

Sachsen

1937

SS-Wachsturmbann III

Sanitätsabteilung

1936

SS-VT and SS-TV Medical Battalions

Skanderbeg

1944

21st SS Division

SS-Ärztliche Akademie

1939

Medical Academy

SS-Feldgendarmerie

1942

Military Police

SS-Heimwehr Danzig

1939

SS-Heimwehr Danzig

SS-Inspektion

1936

SS-VT Inspectorate

SS-KB-Abt

1941

War Correspondent Battalion

SS-Kriegsberichter

1940

War Correspondents

SS-Kriegsberichter-Kp

1940

War Correspondent Company

SS-Musikschule Braunschweig

1941

Braunschweig Music School

SS-Nachrichtensturmbann

1937

SS-VT Signals Battalion

SS-Pioniersturmbann

1937

SS-VT Pioneer Battalion

SS-Polizei-Division

1942

4th SS Division

SS-Schule Braunschweig

1935

Braunschweig officers’ school

SS-Schule Tölz

1934

Bad Tölz officers’ school

SS-Totenkopfverbände

1937

SS-TV Staff and Police Reinforcements

SS-Übungslager Dachau

1937

Dachau Training Camp

SS-Unterführerschule

1940

NCO School

SS-Verwaltungsschule

1935

Administration School

Theodor Eicke

1943

Grenadier Rgt. 6, 3rd SS Division

Thule

1942

Grenadier Rgt. 5, 3rd SS Division

Thüringen

1937

SS-Totenkopfstandarte 3

Totenkopf

1942

3rd SS Division

Wallonien

1944

28th SS Division

W.B. Dachau

1935

Dachau Economic Enterprises

Westland

1940

Grenadier Rgt. 10, 5th SS Division

Wiking

1942

5th SS Division

Type 1

with a pronounced square head (1938–41)

Type 2

with a less pronounced curved head (1942–3)

Type 3

with a shallow round head (1944–5).

Photographs confirm these types time and time again as period, rather than manufacturers’, variations. The squareheaded ‘Type 1’ eagle can regularly be seen in prewar shots and pictures taken during the western and Balkan Blitzkriegs of 1940–1, while the round-headed insignia never features in these photographs. Conversely, the round-headed ‘Type 3’ eagle is consistently seen on camouflage drill tunics during the Normandy and Ardennes battles, with the ‘Type 1’ badge being conspicuous by its absence at that stage of the war.

In 1939, a BEVO machine-woven version of the 1938-pattern SS sleeve eagle began to appear, in flat grey cotton or silken thread for other ranks and fine silver wire for officers. It was widely worn on all types of Waffen-SS uniform throughout the war, and was even used as a cap badge by female SS auxiliaries. The BEVO eagle was also produced in tan-brown from 1943, for the tropical uniform. Officers frequently had their arm eagles hand-embroidered in silver bullion, and ‘Sepp’ Dietrich again highlighted his unique status by having his insignia executed in gold wire.

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The BEVO machine-woven version of the SS arm eagle for other ranks.

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An Obersturmführer of the SS-TV Medical Battalion temporarily seconded to the army for training purposes in 1939. In addition to the standard SS sleeve eagle, he wears the army eagle above his right breast pocket. This is one of only three known photographs showing both of these insignia being worn simultaneously.

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A selection of foreign volunteer shields, many of which were Wehrmacht issue and continued to be worn when the units concerned were absorbed by the Waffen-SS during the last year of the war. Those shown identified: (a) – Ukrainians; (b) – Armenians; (c) – Terek Cossacks; (d) – Flemings; (e) – Russians; (f) – Croats; (g) – Don Cossacks.

In addition to the various regulation types of the 1938-pattern SS Hoheitsabzeichen, other eagles were sometimes worn on the left arm of the Waffen-SS tunic. A number of exarmy officers who transferred to the Waffen-SS, and foreigners who had previously served in Wehrmacht legions, wore the army breast eagle on the sleeve, either to emphasise their origins or simply because the army eagle was more readily available to them. The use of army eagles was particularly common during the rapid expansion of the Waffen-SS in 1939–40, when SS eagles were in short supply and army-style Waffenfarbe piping and matching collar patches were the order of the day. A few SS-VT and SS-TV men on secondment to army units even wore the army eagle on the right breast while still sporting the SS eagle on the left arm! The Italian SS had their own version of the sleeve eagle, which was right-facing and clutched a fasces instead of a swastika, and between August 1942 and October 1944 the German police eagle in orange thread was worn by members of the SS-Feldgendarmerie.

In addition to the foregoing insignia, which were common to most Waffen-SS personnel, a number of related badges existed which merit only brief coverage. A range of arm shields was created for foreign volunteers in the Waffen-SS, and generally took the form of machine-embroidered national flags on a black cloth ground measuring around 60 mm × 50 mm. These were standardised in 1943, and most were produced by the Berlin firm of Tröltsch & Hanselmann. The shields were at first worn above the cuff title, and later beneath the arm eagle, and gradually replaced the army versions hitherto worn by many foreigners. The flags of Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Holland, Latvia and Norway featured on these shields, while the badges for Albanian, Croatian, Finnish, Flemish and Ukrainian volunteers bore suitable heraldic motifs.

A series of trade badges to identify skills and specialities was designed in the shape of black cloth diamonds for wear on the lower left sleeve. Each badge was awarded after the successful completion of the relevant SS training course, and those who graduated from army schools were obliged to wear the army trade badge in lieu of the SS one. From October 1943, mountain troops sported a machine-embroidered edelweiss on the left side of the Bergmütze and on the right tunic sleeve, above the Honour Chevron of the Old Guard if the latter was also worn. Uniformed female SS auxiliaries had a unique badge consisting of a black oval containing silver SS runes, which was sewn to the left breast pocket. Other civilian employees were given embroidered, woven or printed armbands bearing the wording ‘Waffen-SS’ or ‘Im Dienste der Waffen-SS’ when on duty, and brassards featuring national colours were worn by the young SS flak helpers from the east.

During the Second World War, Waffen-SS soldiers were eligible for the whole range of Nazi military decorations, including the Iron Cross, the German Cross, the War Merit Cross, and so on. Participation in the Crimea, Demjansk and Kurland battles earned the appropriate campaign distinctions for men of the Leibstandarte, SS-Totenkopf-Division and 6th Waffen-Armeekorps der SS, while troops of all units wore Infantry Assault Badges, General Assault Badges, Flak and Panzer Battle Badges, Wound Badges, Tank Destruction Awards and the Close Combat Clasp. Among the plethora of Third Reich combat decorations, however, only the Guerrilla Warfare Badge was singled out as being of specific relevance to the activities of the Waffen-SS, and for that reason it deserves some detailed coverage.

Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 soon resulted in the Wehrmacht facing an entirely new type of enemy, professionally organised partisans who attacked in large groups capable of taking on and defeating German units of battalion or even regimental strength. The partisan movement stemmed from the presence in German-occupied territory of whole Red Army units which had been cut off by the rapidity of the German advance. As early as July 1941 the Central Committee of the Communist Party called upon Soviet citizens to join these units and take up arms, and the following year the Soviet High Command took steps to co-ordinate guerrilla activity by establishing the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement. Liaison officers, wireless equipment, weapons and supplies were provided in ever-increasing numbers and partisan operations were fully integrated into Red Army strategy. In addition to widespread attacks on German communications, partisans made specific efforts in support of Soviet offensives, notably at Kursk, and were able to ease the progress of conventional forces by securing bridges and key installations in the path of their advance. The vastness of the area behind the German lines and the terrain of forests, mountains and marshes lent themselves to guerrilla attacks and the partisans went from strength to strength. They eventually numbered around 400,000 in Warsaw, 390,000 in Yugoslavia, 230,000 in the Baltic states, 150,000 in Byelorussia, 50,000 in northern Italy, 40,000 in the Ukraine, 40,000 in Greece and 35,000 in Albania. The largest German anti-partisan sweep of the war, ‘Operation Cottbus’, which took place in Byelorussia in June 1943, involved nearly 17,000 German troops and was conducted so brutally and ruthlessly that nothing, human or animal, was left alive in the zone of operations. Nevertheless, as was typical in this sort of warfare, ‘Cottbus’ failed to trap its quarry and was a major setback for the Germans. The struggle between the Nazis and the partisans was always one where no quarter was asked or given. Atrocities committed against captured German soldiers were met with a policy of extermination on the part of the occupying forces. On entering Taganrog, for example, the Leibstandarte found the mutilated remains of six of its men who had been killed and thrown down a well. During the next three days, Dietrich’s troops shot some 4,000 Russian prisoners as a reprisal. Antipartisan duties increasingly tied down large numbers of German soldiers from all the fighting services, and vast tracts of German-occupied territory soon became virtual no-go areas, allowing even better co-ordination of partisan activity.

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SS trade badges. These were worn on the left sleeve, above the cuff title, and denoted the following specialist appointments or qualifications: A – Farrier; B – Technical Officer; C – Signaller; D – Transport NCO; E – Veterinarian; F – Medical Officer; G – Medical orderly; H – Musician; I – Legal Officer; J – Administrative officer; K – Armourer NCO; L – Coxswain.

The campaign against this ‘invisible enemy’ took a significant turn when Himmler was made responsible for all anti-partisan operations in October 1942. In a speech given shortly afterwards, he stated that the new enemy did not deserve the title ‘partisans’, which had patriotic connotations, as they were simply members of what he called outlaw gangs, or ‘Banden’. He ordered that in every case these gangster guerrillas were now to be rooted out and executed without trial. Himmler appointed SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach as his counter-guerrilla chief, a man who was such a pathological Slav-hater that he had dropped ‘Zelewski’ from the end of his name in November 1940 because he felt it sounded ‘too Polish’. Himmler and von dem Bach arranged for the formation of large numbers of SS-Police regiments, police rifle regiments and Schuma battalions to combat the partisans, thus releasing the army for front-line service. In August 1944, the partisan ‘Polish Home Army’ rose up in Warsaw, in anticipation of approaching Red Army assistance which never materialised. The rebels initially gained control of two-thirds of the city, but the ferocity of the SS and police response, which levelled Poland’s capital, forced the guerrillas underground, into the sewers, where they were gradually reduced and defeated by forces equipped with armour and flamethrowers, supported by Luftwaffe Stuka squadrons. Among the SS troops most active in Warsaw were the Kaminski and Dirlewanger Brigades, terror units composed of convicted criminals specially selected for their brutality and expendability. The crushing of the Warsaw uprising was the most notable anti-partisan victory achieved by the Germans during the war. Von dem Bach, who personally commanded a battle group in the action, received the Knight’s Cross after the successful conclusion of the fighting.

The ferocity of the war waged against the partisans eventually necessitated the creation of a new decoration to reward those who had been engaged upon it for a prolonged period. On 30 January 1944, Hitler instituted the Bandenkampfabzeichen, literally ‘Bandit Battle Badge’ but more accurately ‘Guerrilla Warfare Badge’. It was officially designated as a ‘Kampfabzeichen der Waffen-SS und Polizei’, or ‘Waffen-SS and Police Battle Badge’, and was the only military decoration of the Third Reich attributed specifically to the SS. Award of the badge was not made in the name of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, as was usually the case with military decorations, but in the name of the Reichsführer-SS. An order issued from Himmler’s field headquarters on 1 February 1944 laid down the following:

1.The Guerrilla Warfare Badge recognises the bravery and meritorious conduct of the recipient.

2.It is awarded in three grades, Bronze, Silver and Gold.

3.The Guerrilla Warfare Badge can be awarded to all officers, NCOs and men engaged in anti-guerrilla operations.

4.The qualification for award is:

(a) Bronze – 20 combat days

(b) Silver – 50 combat days

(c) Gold –  100 combat days.

5.A combat day is reckoned to be one during which the recipient has taken part in close combat (man against man) with guerrillas.

6.Combat days may be reckoned as from 1 January 1943.

7.The Guerrilla Warfare Badge may be worn on the left breast pocket of all SS, police and NSDAP uniforms.

8.The Badge is awarded with a citation.

9.Posthumous presentations of awards in respect of those who have qualified for them prior to being killed in action will be made to their next-of-kin.

Qualification for award was therefore very high, making the Bandenkampfabzeichen far more difficult to achieve than similar decorations such as the Infantry Assault Badge.

The design of the Guerrilla Warfare Badge was based on that of the insignia of the Silesian Freikorps of 1919 and featured a wreath of oakleaves enclosing a sword with sunwheel swastika (representing the German and auxiliary forces) plunging into a hydra (the partisans). The Hydra was a fabulous multi-headed sea serpent of Greek mythology, and was almost impossible to destroy since its heads grew quickly again if they were cut off. The parallel with the partisan forces, which sprang up vigorously time and time again, is obvious. At the sword’s point was a death’s head, which was doubly appropriate since it symbolised both the SS involvement and the deadly nature of the struggle which was being carried on.

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The Guerrilla Warfare Badge in Bronze. The first awards of this rare decoration were made to SS officers and men during the second half of 1944.

Himmler reserved the right to award the gold badge personally, which is not surprising since it was the equivalent of winning the prestigious Close Combat Clasp in Gold twice. The Völkischer Beobachter of 21 February 1945 reported that: ‘The Reichsführer-SS yesterday presented the first Guerrilla Warfare Badges in Gold to four members of the Waffen-SS engaged in the fighting on the Adriatic Coast’. The first recipient was SS-Obersturmführer Erich Kühbandner of the 24th SS Division, which had been raised specifically to combat partisans in the Carso and Julian Alps. Given the late stage in the war, and the time taken to process award applications and arrange presentation ceremonies, it is unlikely that any further awards of the gold badge were made. Even the bronze and silver badges were highly prized by the Waffen-SS and police, and were seldom bestowed since the chances of surviving more than a few days’ close combat with partisans were slim indeed.

In many ways, the design and story of the Guerrilla Warfare Badge represent the desperate and friendless straits in which the Waffen-SS found itself in the last year of the war. It is still difficult to reconcile the substantial battlefield achievements of the SS with the undoubted atrocities which some of its units committed against soldiers and civilians alike.

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