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Text by MARTIN WINDROW, Color plates by MICHAEL ROFFE. YEAR 1972
The StuG III assault gun, one of several types of 'SP' produced in great numbers in the last two years of the war in an effort to make up Panzer division losses quickly. (Imperial War Museum)
The usual issue belt is worn, and for walking out the bayonet is decorated with the Army N.C.O.'s green and silver brocade Troddel or side-arm knot. Trousers and laced shoes are worn with this order.
The typical soldier, and his field equipment. He wears the grey-painted 1935 steel helmet, with a black shield decal with a white eagle and swastika motif on the left side, and a black/white/red diagonally divided tricolor shield decal on the right. Every soldier was issued with a pair of simple dust and smoke goggles, usually pushed up on to the helmet when not required. The 1936 service tunic with dark-green collar and shoulder- straps is worn open at the neck when in the field. The usual national emblem is sewn above the right pocket, and the chevron of rank on the left upper arm. There are no other insignia. The rather loose trousers are tucked in standard issue marching boots.
This lance-corporal is sorting out his discarded kit after a rest on the march. His Mauser K.98 7-92 mm service rifle is slung on his shoulder for the moment. At his feet are his mess tin, his fluted gas-mask canister (normally worn behind the left hip, slung round the body on a webbing strap), and the cotton bag for his anti-gas cape, normally slung on the chest. The belt and Y-strap harness support six pouches for rifle ammunition, three on each side of the buckle; a canvas 'bread bag' for rations and small kit; a quart-capacity felt-covered canteen, with cup; an entrenching spade reversed in a leather case; and the Mauser bayonet.
The relatively tidy soldier of 1940 has turned into an alert, scruffy, highly skilled veteran in three years of harsh warfare. His helmet is unchanged, except that it is worn comfortably pushed back, and the decals have long since worn off. The tunic and trousers are now of light reed-green cotton denim for summer comfort, and are worn with the sleeves rolled up and the chest unbuttoned, to taste. This sergeant, leading a patrol in Russia or Italy, has knotted an old civilian scarf round his throat as a sweat-rag. His insignia of rank are still worn at collar and shoulder. The ribbon of his Iron Cross 2nd Class is worn in the usual buttonhole, even in the front line; likewise his Sturmabzeichen, identifying him as a seasoned combat infantryman, is pinned to his tunic. On his left upper arm is a campaign shield; these were awarded for service in notably hazardous or successful actions - Kholm, Demjansk, Krim, the Kuban, all led to such awards. As a squad leader he carries field-glasses; on his belt are slung the canted webbing magazine pouches for his MP. 40 Schmeisser sub-machine gun, and he carries a stick-grenade ready in his hand. His main equipment has been left behind in his dug-out; on the back of his belt he would carry only his bread bag, mess tin, one or two canteens and perhaps a home-made canvas haversack of grenades or extra ammunition.
By 1944 camouflage clothing was being worn more and more frequently. This young armoured infantry officer bandaging a minor wound is a member of the elite Panzer Division 'Grossdeutschland'; he wears the unit's name on a silver-on- black cuff-title on his right sleeve, and a gilt 'GD' monogram on his shoulder-straps. His camouflaged helmet cover is in the usual splinter pattern of brown, dark green and light green, with a 'falling rain' pattern of dark green over the other shades. The loops are for extra camouflage in the form of foliage. His camouflaged twill tunic is identical with the usual field-grey officer's service tunic in cut, apart from lacking the deep turn back cuffs and pocket pleats. He wears his normal collar-patches and shoulder-straps on this combat garment, although a simple rank patch on the arm would be more in keeping with the spirit and letter of regulations. A map case is slung on his field service belt. The camouflaged over-trousers, with the distinctive break in pattern caused by the vertical seams, are gathered at the ankle over laced boots.
Despite their image of massive strength, the Panzers were no less vulnerable to the appropriate weapons than the tanks of any other army; this late-model PzKpfw. IV, with extra turret armour, was knocked out in Russia. (Imperial War Museum)
Camouflage clothing was not general issue to all German troops, but a variety of smocks, jackets, trousers and ponchos were available. A constant battle seems to have been waged by the higher command to limit the wearing of insignia on these garments to stylized arm rank patches; from the available photographic evidence, the front-line soldier's liking for his full unit and rank insignia won every time!