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Text by MARTIN WINDROW, Color plates by MICHAEL ROFFE. YEAR 1972
This tank company commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps wears one of many variations of uniform seen in the desert fighting - a campaign which seemed to encourage an individual approach to military dress by all ranks of all armies! This is a relatively smart version. The light, comfortable and stylish desert field cap, forerunner and direct ancestor of the 1943 Einheitsfeldmütze, was extremely popular and almost universally worn as the preferred dress. The national emblem was woven in blue-grey thread on a dull brown background, and the cockade on a diamond- shaped patch of brown. Officers usually wore caps with dull silver piping round the crown seam - and sometimes following the edge of the false 'turn-up' as well вЂ” but it was by no means uncommon for officers to wear 'Other Ranks' caps. The soutache of Waffenfarbe piping followed the upper edges of the diamond-shaped patch; here, in Panzer pink.
Open-necked shirts were the normal dress, but scarves were worn at personal taste. The drill tunic of sage-green lightweight material follows the general lines of the field-grey officer's service tunic, though without the turn-back cuffs. The colour of all items of tropical dress varied sharply. Some batches were green, others a dark, almost 'mustard' shade of tan, still others a light sandy shade. All weathered and bleached in short order after arrival in the desert, and any one unit might contain uniforms of similar cut but of shades ranging through every gradation from deep tan to mid-green. The normal officer's collar-bars are worn here on the upper lapel; Panzer officers pinned directly to the lower lapel the small metal skull badges from the collar-patches of the black vehicle uniform. The breast-eagle is an 'Other Ranks' version, in pale blue-grey thread on brown. The Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Classes are displayed in the usual way; Tank Assault Badge and a black Wound Badge are also worn. The belt is a light webbing pattern, with a circular bronze buckle embossed with an oak wreath and an eagle and swastika motif. The long, loose cotton drill trousers are of a light sandy shade - this contrast with the tunic colour is not deliberate, but merely the result of different batches of clothing being issued to his unit at different times. He wears them gathered at the ankle over the long canvas and leather desert boots, as extra protection against flies and sand. He carries a pair of amber-tinted sun and sand goggles.
The 'AFRIKA KORPS' cuff-title was authorized in July 1941; among the unit insignia for all members of the D.A.K. rather than campaign insignia.
Poorly equipped with specialized mine-lifting equipment in a theatre of war in which the mine played an enormous part, the Afrika Korps soldier was forced to do it the hard way - probing by hand with a bayonet. This cool N.C.O. wears the standard 1935 helmet, painted over with a matt sand colour. His scarf is a personal addition. His tunic is exactly similar in cut to that of the officer in Plate G1, but displays one of the many colour variations observed in the desert. His long trousers are tucked into the high-lacing canvas and leather desert boots. Belt and harness are of webbing, with darkened metal fittings. Shoulder-straps are of the usual design, but the ground colour is a light sandy tan. The rank chevrons are woven in a sand-yellow shade on a greenish-khaki patch; this yellow colour replaced the silver Tresse in N.C.O.'s rank distinctions. The faded blue-grey and brown collar-patches are typical of the tropical pattern insignia, as is the breast eagle in the same colours. The water canteen for tropical use has a conical black plastic cup. The Infantry Assault Badge is pinned to the left breast.
The magnificent 'Panther', PzKpfw. V. Introduced too hurriedly in an effort to counter the superb Russian T-34, the Panther suffered more casualties from technical failure than from enemy fire in the first months of service. The first batch of 300 were entirely 'used up' at Kursk in July 1943, many being destroyed by spontaneous engine fires. (Imperial War Museum)
The rank designations in cavalry units differed in some ways from those in the mass of the Army; Wachtmeister is the equivalent of Feldwebel, sergeant-major. It was the cavalry arm which, logically enough, provided most of the highly mobile reconnaissance units which were the eyes of the armoured divisions. The 33rd Reconnaissance Detachment, a unit of roughly battalion strength, served with the 15th Panzer Division from the earliest battles in North Africa.
It was drawn from Reiter Regiment 6, and was thus entitled to wear on all types of headgear the gold eagle tradition badge of the old Brandenburg Dragoons, the 'Schwedter Adler'. It was pinned between the two usual badges on the fronts of all caps, and to the front of the sun helmet issued when the unit took ship for Africa. This sun helmet, or Tropische Kopfbedeckung, was not a success, and was soon discarded in favour of the less cumbersome field cap - over which it had no j advantages from a protective point of view! The cloth pugaree illustrated here was not a common feature, but has been copied from a photograph of a soldier of this rank and this unit. The universal badges worn on the helmet were two shield-shaped metal plates with pin-backs, their design duplicating the insignia of the decals on the Army steel helmet.