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

The pre-war system of numerals on the shoulder-strap buttons of other ranks in regiments - blank for regimental staff, I-III for battalion staff; 1-14 for constituent companies - was replaced in wartime by standard blank buttons.

Certain specialised or elite units, or a few units carrying the traditions of regiments of the Imperial Reichsheer, wore special insignia, usually extra cap badges, worn between the eagle and swastika and the cockade, or, in a growing trend borrowed from the paramilitary Sturmabteilung, as sleeve-titles.

Fable 4 gives a list of the principal units in existence from 1 September 1939 to 25 June 1940, with their branch colours, branch insignia, unit and special insignia. Existence of these units before or after these dates is not excluded, nor did all units necessarily see combat at this time.

From 2 May 1939 all ranks of mountain divisions wore insignia incorporating the alpine flower, the edelweiss, originally worn by German and Austro-Hungarian units in the First World War. A white aluminium edelweiss with gilt stamens was worn above the cockade on the peaked cap. A white aluminium edelweiss with a stem, two leaves and gilt stamens (war-time production used grey aluminium with yellow stamens) was worn on the left side of the mountain cap, Austrian personnel often adding a bluish dark-green facing-cloth backing. A machine-woven white edelweiss with yellow stamens, light-green stem and leaves within a mouse-grey rope wreath on a dark-green facing-cloth oval (after May 1940 feldgrau), was worn on the right upper sleeve of tunics and greatcoats.

Six infantry battalions also wore the light-green J#228;ager branch colour to preserve the light infantry tradition, but they remained infantry battalions - it was not until 28 June 1942 that specialised J#228;ager units were raised.

Two commemorative matt aluminium badges were worn by all ranks in certain regiments between the eagle and cockade of the service cap and, unofficially, on the field cap. From 25 February 1938 the 17th Infantry Regiment wore the Brunswick skull and crossbones to commemorate the Imperial 92nd Infantry Regiment. From 21 June 1937 the 3rd Motorcycle Reconnaissance Battalion, and from 26 August 1939 the 179th Mounted, 33rd, 34th and 36th Divisional Reconnaissance Battalions, wore the dragoon eagle, also called the 'Schwedt eagle' to commemorate the Imperial 2nd Dragoon Regiment.

Northern France, May 1940. A section LMG team in field uniform with the section leader (2nd left) watching for the enemy. The LMG34 is mounted on a tripod for use as a heavy machine gun. Note the machine gunner's improvised assault-pack, consisting of an M1931 mess-tin tied to the back of his belt with belt supporting-straps. (Brian Davis Collection)

The Groβdeutschland Infantry Regiment was formed on 12 June 1939 from the Berlin Guard Regiment (Wachregiment Berlin) and developed into an elite unit. Defying field security, their insignia was worn throughout the war. The GD shoulder-board/strap monogram (introduced 20 June 1939) and a woven aluminium thread Groβdeutschland and edging was worn on a bluish dark-green cuff title (introduced 20 June 1939). This was superseded for a short time in summer 1940 by a silver-grey woven Gothic-script Inf.Rgt Groβdeutschland, which was worn on the right cuff of all uniforms. Groβdeutschland personnel assigned to Hitler's field HQ, the Filhrerbegleitbataillon, wore a golden-yellow machine-embroidered, machine-woven or hand-embroidered (also found in silver-grey thread) Gothic-script Führer-Hauptquartier and edging on a black wool sleeve title.

From 21 June 1939 the Armoured and Signals Instruction battalions wore a gold machine-woven 1936 Spanien 1939and edging on a madder-red cloth cuff title on the left cuff to commemorate their service in Gruppe Imker during the Spanish Civil War. From 16 August 1938 personnel of the newly formed war correspondent companies wore a machine- or hand-embroidered aluminium Gothic-script Propagandakompanie on a plain black sleeve-title on the right cuff.

The Military Police was formed on mobilisation on 26 August 1939 from 8,000 German Gendarmerie. Motorised three-company battalions were assigned to field armies, allocating a 33-man Trupp to an infantry division, a 47-man Trupp to an armoured or motorised division and a 32-man Trupp to a sub-district. Initially MPs wore their M1936 Gendarmerie uniforms with Army shoulderboards/straps and a medium-green armband with orange-yellow machine-embroidered Feld-Gendarmerie. This was replaced in early 1940 by Army uniform with, on the left upper-sleeve the Police sovereignty-badge - a machine-woven or embroidered orange eagle and black swastika in an orange wreath (officers wore hand-embroidered aluminium thread) on feldgrau backing. On the left cuff was a machine-woven aluminium Feldgendarmerie on a brown sleeve-title edged in aluminium yarn, later machine-embroidered in silver-grey yarn. When on duty MPs wore the matt aluminium gorget with an eagle and Feldgendarmerie in aluminium on a dark-grey scroll. Traffic Control personnel wore the MP uniform without these three insignia, wearing a black cotton woven Verkehrs-Aufsicht on a salmon-coloured armband on the left upper sleeve. The Army Patrol Service, equivalent to British Regimental Police, wore the obsolete M1920 matt aluminium wire adjutant's lanyard on the field tunic and field greatcoat.

Music Directors wore staff-pattern bright gold, or matt gold, Kolben collar and cuff-patches, and from 12 April 1938 all Bandmaster Officers wore special bright aluminium and bright red silk aiguillettes on formal uniforms. On dress and field tunics regimental bandsmen wore M1935 'swallow's-nest wings' made of bright aluminium NCO braid and branch colour facing-cloth, introduced 10 September 1935, drum-majors adding aluminium fringes. Other specialist badges will be covered in Volume 2.

MEDALS

On 16 March 1936 the Wehrmacht Long Service Decoration was instituted as a cornflower-blue ribbon with, for the Army, a silver or gold eagle and swastika. Four or 12 years' service merited a silver or gold medal, 18 or 25 years, a silver or gold cross, and, from 10 March 1939, 40 years a gold cross with gold oakleaves on the ribbon.

Five pre-war campaign medals were awarded. On 1 May 1938, the matt silver '13 March 1938 Commemoration Medal', usually known as the 'Anschluss Medal', with a red, white and black ribbon, was issued to troops participating in the occupation of Austria. On 18 October 1938 the bronze '1 October 1938 Commemoration Medal' with a black and red ribbon, was issued for the occupation of Sudetenland, and on 15 March 1939, of Bohemia-Moravia. The bronze '13 March 1938 Commemoration Medal' with a red, white and green ribbon, was issued on 1 May 1939 for the occupation of Memel District. On 14 April 1939 the bronze, silver or gold Spanish Cross with swords and, the highest award, with diamonds, was instituted for service in the Spanish Civil War; it was worn as a pin-back cross on the right breast-pocket. Finally, on 2 August 1939 the bronze 'German Defensive Wall Medal' with a white and yellowish-brown ribbon was instituted for service building the Westwall - the 'Siegfried Line' fortifications on Germany's western frontier.

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