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NIGEL THOMAS, colour plates by STEPHEN ANDREW
GERMAN ARMY 1939-1945. BLITZKRIEG

Special uniforms for other branches

General Staff officers wore bright aluminium collar and cuff-braids on the Waffenrock and matt aluminium thread collar-patches on the field tunic in the traditional Kolben pattern, whilst OKW and OKH officers wore the same insignia in bright gold thread on the Waffenrock and matt gold thread on the field tunic. These officers also wore general-officers' trouser and breeches pipings and braids in crimson facing-cloth on all uniforms.

Instead of the field cap, Mountain Troops wore the peaked mountain-cap used by German and Austro-Hungarian troops in the First World War - mountain troops were recruited heavily from Austria. The standard model, introduced about 1930, was in feldgrau cloth with a flap secured by two 12mm matt grey painted buttons, matt gold for general-officers. The eagle and cockade insignia was the same as for the M1938 officers' and M1934 other ranks' field caps, but officers did not adopt the aluminium and gold crown and flap pipings until 3 October 1942.

TABLE 2. RANKS OF THE GERMAN ARMY. 1 SEPTEMBER 1939 - 9 MAY 1945
(omitting Army Officials; Sonderführer; Bandsmen NCOs and Men; Qfficer Candidates and Osttruppen)

Rank classRank (Staff & Infantry)Command (Infantry)Rank variants (other arms)British Army
OFFIZIERE (officers)
Reichsmarschall--Reichsmarschall des Groβdeutschen Reiches1-
Generate
(General officers)
GeneralfeldmarschallArmy Group-Field-Marshal
Generaloberst2Army, Army Group-General
General der... Infanterie, Gebirgstruppe12Corps, ArmyGeneral der... Kavallerie13 / Panzertruppen17 / Artillerie21 / Pioniere24 / Nachrichtentruppe28 Generaloberstabsarzt32 Generaloberstabsveterinär33 Generaloberstabsrichter34 Generaloberstabsintendant35Lieut. General
GeneralleutnantDivision, CorpsGeneralstabsarzt32 Generalstabsveterinär33 Generalstabsrichter34 Generalstabsintendant35Major General
GeneralmajorBrigade, DivisionGeneralmajor (W)23/(Ing)27 Generalarzt32 Generalveterinär33 Generalrichter34 Generalintendant35Brigadier
Stabsoffiziere (Field officers)OberstRegimentOberst i.G.7/(W)23/(Ing)27 Oberstarzt32 Oberstveterinär33 Oberstrichter34 Oberstintendant35Colonel
OberstleutnantBattalion, Regiment. Oberstleutnant i.G.7/(W)23/(Ing)27 Oberfeldarzt32 Oberfeldveterinär33 Oberfeldrichter34 Oberfeldintendant35 Lieut. Colonel
MajorBattalionMajor i.G.7/(W)23/(Ing)27 Oberstabsarzt32 Oberstabsveterinär33 Oberstabsrichter34 Oberstabsintendant35Major
Hauptleute und Rittmeister (Captains)HauptmannCompany, BattalionHauptmann i.G.7/(W)23/(Ing)27 Rittmeister14 Stabsarzt32 Stabsveterinär33 Stabsrichter34 Stabszahlmeister35Captain
Leutnante (Subalterns)OberleutnantPlatoon, Company.Oberleutnant(W)23/(Ing)27 Oberarzt32 Oberveterinär33 Oberzahlmeister35Lieutenant
LeutnantPlatoonLeutnant(W)23/(Ing)27Assistenzarzt32 Veterinär33 Zahlmeister352nd Lieutenant
MUSIKMEISTER (Bandmaster Officers)3
Musikinspizienten (Music Directors)-Inspector of MusicObermusikinspizient8L/Col, Dir/Mus
-Inspector of MusicMusikinspizient8Maj, Dir/Mus
Stabsmusikmeister (Senior Bandmaster)StabsmusikmeisterRegimental band-Bandm Capt
Musikmeister (Junior Bandmasters)ObermusikmeisterRegimental band-Bandm Lieut
MusikmeisterRegimental band-Bandm 2/Lt
UNTEROFFIZIERE (Non-commissioned Officers)
Festungswerkmeister & Hufbeschlaglehrmeister (Technical NCOs)-InstructorOberhufbeschlaglehrmeister33 Festungsoberwerkmeister24WOI(SSM 1cl)
-InstructorHufbeschlagmeister33 Festungswerkmeister24WOI(SSM 1cl)
Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (Senior NCOs)StabsfeldwebelPlatoon, CQMS (12 years total service)Stabswachtmeister15 Sanitätsstabsfeldwebel32WOII(RQMS)
Hauptfeldwebel4Company Serjeant MajorHauptwachtmeister15 Sanitätshauptfeldwebel32WOII(CSM)
OberfeldwebelPlatoon, CQMSOberwachtmeister15 Sanitätsoberfeldwebel32CQMS
FeldwebelPlatoon, 2icWachtmeister15 Sanitätsfeldwebel32Serjeant
Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (Junior NCOs)UnterfeldwebelSection (6 years total service)Unterwachtmeister15 Sanitätsunterfeldwebel32Lance-Serjeant
Unteroffizier. Oberjäger11SectionSanitätsunteroffizier32Corporal
MANNSCHAFTEN (Men)
Mannschaften (Men)Stabsgefreiter (neuer Art)5Section member (5 years total service)Sanitätsstabsgefreiter (neuer Art)32Lance-Corpl
Obergefreiter mit mehr als 6 DienstjahrenSection member (6 years total service)Sanitätsobergefreiter mit mehr als 6 Dienstjahren32Lance-Corpl
Obergefreiter mit weniger als 6 DienstjahrenSection member (2 years total service)Sanitätsobergefreiter mit weniger als 6 Dienstjahren32Lance-Corpl
GefreiterSection member (6 months total service)Sanitätsgefreiter32Lance-Corpl
(Obersoldat6) Oberschütze Obergrenadier9 Oberfüsilier10Section member (1 year total service)(Obersoldat6) Oberreiter16 Panzeroberschütze18 Panzerobergrenadier19 Panzeroberfüsilier37 Panzerzug-Oberschütze20 Oberkanonier21 Oberpionier24 Panzeroberpionier39 Bauobersoldat25 /Bauoberpionier26 Oberfunker29 Oberfernsprecher40 Oberkraftfahrer30 Oberfahrer31 Sanitätsobersoldat32 Feldobergendarm36Private
(Soldat6) Schütze Grenadier9 Füsilier10 Jäger11Section member(Soldat6) Reiter16 Panzerschütze18 Panzergrenadier19 Panzerfüsilier37 Panzerzug-Schütze20 Kanonier21 Panzerkanonier38 Pionier24 Bausoldat25/ Baupionier26 Funker29 Fernsprecher40 Kraftfahrer30 Fahrer31 Sanitätssoldat32 Feldgendarm36Private

1A Wehrmacht rank, held exclusively from 19.7.1940 - 9.5.1945 by Hermann Goering as nominally the most senior officer in the German Armed Forces.
2Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls (Acting Field Marshal) was created in 1935 as the then highest Army rank (with 4 pips) but was never held by any officer.
3 Bandmaster Officers ranked between officers and NCOs. Bandsmen's ranks have been omitted due to pressure of space.
4An appointment, not a rank, usually held by an Oberfeldwebel, but also by a Stabsfeldwebel. A Feldwebel, Unterfeldwebel or Unteroffizier in this appointment was designated Hauptfeldwebeldiensttuer (Acting CSM).
5Stabsgefreiter, introduced 6.1.1928, no further promotions after 1.10.1934, reintroduced 25.4.1942 as Stabsgefreiter (neuer Art), providing an extra pay-grade.
6A generic term, covering all the variations in rank-titles.
7General Staff officers.
8Attached to OKH.
915.10.1942 for infantry regiments.
1012.11.1942 for selected infantry regiments.
11Light and mountain infantry.
12Mountain infantry.
13Mounted cavalry.
14Mounted cavalry, reconnaissance, motor & horsedrawn transport.
15Mounted cavalry, reconnaissance, artillery, smoke troops, signals, war correspondents (until 24.1.1943), motor and horsedrawn transport, veterinary corps.
16Mounted cavalry, cyclist reconnaissance, veterinary corps.
17Armoured troops.
18Armoured troops and armoured reconnaissance.
193.6.1943 for mechanised infantry.
2027.10.1942 for armoured trains.
21Artillery.
22Artillery and Smoke Troops.
23Ordnance officers.
24Engineers.
2527.2.1940 for pioneers.
2611.10.1939 for pioneers.
27Engineer specialist officers.
28Signals.
29Signals and until 24.12.1943 war correspondents.
30Motor transport.
31Horsedrawn transport.
32Medical corps.
33Veterinäry corps.
341.5.1944 for judge-advocate officers.
351.5.1944 for administrative officers.
36Military Police. For ranks Oberst - Gefreiter add '...der Feldgendarmerie'.
37For Groβdeutschland and Feldherrnhalle mechanised infantry.
3812.1941 for artillery regts of Panzer divisions.
3915.4.1940 for engineer regts of Panzer divisions.
40For Signals radio operators.

Mountain Troops also wore M1935 stone-grey (from 1939 feldgrau) ski-trousers with feldgrau ankle puttees and fawn, brown or black leather studded climbing ankle-boots. They occasionally wore the greenish-khaki double-breasted close-woven calico wind-jacket, probably introduced in 1925, with shoulder-boards and straps the only authorised insignia, and the M1938 hooded reversible water-repellent fabric white-feldgrau anorak. Mountaineering equipment included the M1931 greenish-khaki canvas rucksack.

The commando units of Army Intelligence (Abwehr) wore German or foreign uniform appropriate to the occasion. It is known that some Abwehr troops wore Polish, Belgian and Dutch uniforms during the Blitzkrieg period. From 13 November 1939 the inmates of the four Army Penal Battalions wore the standard Army uniform without any decorations, national, rank or branch insignia, and probably also a belt-buckle with a plain pebbled disc.

TABLE 3. Rank insignia of the German Army 1 September 1939 - 9 May 1945

Staff and Infantry ranks are normally given, but are in brackets where the insignia illustrates a rank variant. Most Bandmaster Officer and both Technical NCO ranks are omitted, and insignia on camouflage and fatigue tunics are excluded.

All ranks of mounted personnel of the cavalry or any other branch wore stone-grey (from April 1940) feldgrau riding-breeches with grey leather reinforcements. From 12 November 1934 motorcycle couriers and personnel in motorcycle reconnaissance battalions were issued feldgrau special clothing, consisting of a motorcyclist's protective greatcoat, a woollen turtle-neck sweater, long woollen stockings, and waterproof cotton gauntlets. The feldgrau heavy twill cloth M1934 greatcoat was rubberised on both sides and had a large feldgrau cloth collar, with feldgrau facings from 22 June 1935, bluish dark-green facings from November 1935 and finally back to feldgrau cloth in May 1940. Insignia was confined to shoulder-boards or straps.

A good view of the M1935 field tunic worn by a Wachtmeister of Artillery in France, May 1940. His lack of field equipment and M1935 dispatch-case with modified fastener suggest assignment to the Regimental Staff. (Brian Davis Collection)

Motorised Artillery and Motorised Infantry vehicle crews, Motor Transport drivers, and guards and sentries were issued the feldgrau waterproof M1934 surcoat. It was the same design as the field greatcoat, but ankle-length and cut generously at the waist to allow wear over a field greatcoat. Smoke Troops were issued protective clothing consisting of a dark-brown single-breasted leather tunic, trousers, gauntlets, peaked cap, face-mask and goggles.

On 26 August 1939 220 1,700-strong pioneer battalions were formed from members of the RAD (Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi labour service) for construction duties along the eastern and western frontiers. Personnel wore RAD uniforms and insignia, changing to Army uniforms during the winter of 1939-40.

All Medical Corps personnel wore the M1937 white armband with a red cross on the upper left sleeve, introduced 6 March 1937. Orderlies also carried their first-aid kit in two smooth brown leather pouches.

The uniforms and insignia of Army Officials, including Chaplains and Sonderführer will be covered in Volume 3.

RANKS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

The rank structure of the German Army used a system established on 6 December 1920. Officers were divided into four groups: general-officers, field officers, captains and subalterns. By tradition the lieutenant-general rank indicated the officer's original branch of service, but in the case of officers of combat branches there was no differentiation in the insignia.

The first and second gunners of the section LMG team in field uniform operating their LMG34 machine gun in France in May 1940. Both soldiers have rubbed mud on their helmets as makeshift camouflage. Their M1935 field tunics have M1938 rounded shoulder-straps with unit numbers removed as per regulation. (Brian Davis Collection)

From 31 March 1936 Bandmaster Officers were grouped as a separate rank-class as Music Directors, Senior and Junior Bandmasters. Lacking power of command, they wore officers' uniforms and insignia, enjoyed officer status and were the equivalents of officers in the British and United States Armies. Music Directors, based at the OKH, were regarded as staff officers, while the Bandmasters supervised infantry, light infantry, cavalry, artillery regimental and engineer battalion bands.

NCOs were divided into three groups. Technical NCOs, established 23 September 1937, for senior instructors in the Fortress Engineers and later the Veterinäry Corps; Senior NCOs, called 'sword-knot NCOs'; and Junior NCOs, or 'NCOs without the sword-knot'. The Stabsfeldwebel rank, introduced 14 September 1938 for NCOs re-enlisting after 12 years service, was initially held by First World War veterans. Hauptfeldwebel was not a rank, but an appointment, introduced 28 September 1938. He was the senior NCO in a company based at the company HQ and nicknamed der Spieβ - 'the spear'. Usually an Oberfeldwebel, he outranked a Stabsfeldwebel (who could also be promoted to this appointment). Other NCOs receiving this appointment were designated Hauptfeldwebeldiensttuer (acting CSMs), but usually received rapid promotion to Oberfeldwebel.

The rank-class of 'Men' included all privates and lance-corporals, the latter, as experienced privates, constituting a larger proportion of this rank class than would be found in other armies.

Most ranks had alternative rank titles. Some, as in the Medical Corps, differentiated specialist officers without the power of field command. Others, such as Rittmeister or Oberjäger, preserved traditional titles.

Almost all officers held substantive ranks - the British system of acting ranks did not exist - so that German officers and NCOs often held higher commands than their British equivalent. It was therefore not uncommon for a Leutnant to be a company commander. While the first platoon of a typical rifle company was under a second leutnant, the second and third were often commanded by an Oberfeldwebel or Feldwebel. Promotions to the infantry ranks of Unteroffizier, Feldwebel and Oberfeldwebel depended on a unit's table of organisation, and were the normal progression for a capable NCO. All other NCO and lower ranks were awarded on seniority. The rank of Obersoldat was held by a soldier lacking even the qualities for promotion to Gefreiter, while a Stabsgefreiter was an 'old sweat' unfitted for NCO rank. The ranks of officer candidates will be covered in Volume 2.

France, June 1940. A Hauptfeldwebel in service uniform, displaying the double cuff braids and report book of his appointment. He has reversed his shoulder-straps to conceal his unit insignia. Note his Wehrmacht long-service ribbon. His relaxed attitude and lack of equipment suggest that the Battle of France is over. (Friedrich Herrmann)

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