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Text by MARTIN WINDROW, Color plates by MICHAEL ROFFE. YEAR 1972
Tired Afrika Korps soldiers display several interesting details of kit; note the high-lacing canvas boots, the light-coloured hessian helmet covers, the pouches for the MP. 40, and the thin drill uniforms. (Imperial War Museum)
The plain, double-claw buckled belt was the usual field wear for officers. The earphones and throat microphones are worn even when the soldier leaves the vehicle for a time - it is simpler to pull out the jack-plugs than to remove the hampering cables and then replace them, in the confines of a turret. The boots are now lace-up ankle-length items in many cases, although the old marching boot would continue to be worn for another two years or so, alongside the newer style.
A tank radio operator, as he might appear during the great advance into Russia in the summer of 1941. Not only the tanks wore out - the men themselves became exhausted, and had no time to spend on their appearance. This private wears the black Feldmütze of the enlisted personnel and N.C.O.s, without silver piping. His jacket is unremarkable, except for the small white lightning- bolt badge on the left upper arm, identifying his trade. He wears a common combination of garments for the long weeks of constant living and working in a front-line tank; his uniform jacket belted over an old pair of working over-trousers, which hang loosely to the ground. The pink collar piping began to be omitted from the Feldjacke from mid-1942 onwards, but old stocks were used up.
This captain wears the standard vehicle uniform, with one interesting variation. In recognition of the fact that it was raised from the elite 1st Cavalry Division (the only Panzer formation raised from the cavalry arm) the 24th Panzer Division had the distinction of wearing golden-yellow cavalry Waffenfarbe piping in place of the usual rose-pink. It appeared at all points on the uniform and headgear normally distinguished by pink piping.
This officer displays a common practice: with his black uniform he wears the soft-peaked, rather battered-looking 'officer's old-style field cap' (Offizierfeldmütze älterer Art), without any cords or chinstrap, and with flat woven badges in silver on dark-green grounds. It is piped in cavalry yellow, in identification of his unit. Under his tunic he wears the usual pocketless mouse-grey shirt (Heeres Hemd); as a Ritterkreuzträger, he wears his Knight's Cross on its ribbon passing beneath the shirt collar.
The 'Spiess' was not a rank, but a position within a unit - the senior N.C.O. automatically took over duties analogous to a British C.S.M., whatever his personal rank, and his position was marked by the two silver braid stripes worn on each sleeve. This C.S.M. of self-propelled artillery is in 'reporting order', with his leather-covered pouch at the ready, to report the state of the unit to his commanding officer.
The field-grey uniform worn by self-propelled artillery personnel of all classes was identical in cut to the black Panzer uniform. Note that there is no piping around the collar - this was never worn in the artillery. The grey sidecap, however, has a soutache of artillery red Waffenfarbe piping. The shoulder-straps are piped in artillery red, and one of several types of collar-patch associated with the self-propelled artillery branch is sewn to the tunic. It is the normal Army collar- bar patch of a non-commissioned officer, with an outline of red Waffenfarbe piping. This style was worn by non-commissioned ranks only - officers wore their standard collar-bars on the usual backing patch of dark bluish-green badge cloth. Other types of patch worn by these increasingly vital members of the Panzer Division included collar-bars without piping; and dark bluish-green patches with red piping edging and silvery-grey skulls, identical in design to Panzer patches. As the war progressed, however, the type of patch shown here became the most common, although all styles were often observed alongside one another. As an artilleryman this N.C.O. wears the bronze General Assault Badge rather than the Tank Assault Badge; his black Wound Badge is pinned beside it, and the ribbon of his Iron Cross 2nd Class is worn in the buttonhole.
The upper cuff-title, worn on the right sleeve, was the formation identification insignia, instituted for Afrika Korps personnel on 18 July 1941. It was replaced by the lower type, worn on the left sleeve and basically a campaign honour, on 15 January 1943; all personnel who served six months in Africa, or who were wounded in that theatre, were eligible. The small silver-grey death's-head, identical with that worn on the black collar-patches of the European tank uniform, was pinned to the lower lapel of the tropical tunic. The officer's collar-bars, worn on the collar of the field-grey uniform and the upper lapels of the tropical tunic, are in dull silver thread on a patch of bluish-green 'badge cloth'; pink Panzer Waffen-far be appears in two small strips down the centre of the bars. (Author's collection)