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GORDON WILLIAMSON, colour plates by RON VOLSTAD
AFRIKAKORPS 1941-43

A mixture of Kriegsmarine tropical dress, more practical than elegant. The officer at left wears the tropical peaked held cap, shirt with added rank shoulder straps, shorts, and ankle boots. The officer in the centre wears shirt and shorts, with pin-on gilt metal breast eagle, and white-topped summer Schirmmütze; he seems to wear long socks and sandals. The officer on the right has the gold-piped dark blue naval officer's boarding cap, shirt, shorts, and laced shoes. (Josef Charita)

A formal parade of Kriegsmarine personnel; tropical tunics, shirts and slacks are worn with the blue (or white-topped) headgear from continental uniform. The use of tropical breeches and jackboots (by the officer at centre) was rare in the navy. (Josef Charita)

The Greatcoat

Styled closely on the field grey continental greatcoat, the tropical version was made in darkish brown woollen cloth; it was double-breasted, with two rows of six olive-painted buttons, and featured an integral half-belt at the back. Unlike the continental version, which had a contrasting dark green-faced collar, the tropical greatcoat was cut all in the same material and colour.

The Motorcycle Coal

A tropical version of the motorcyclist's rubberised coat was manufactured in a similar olive colour to the tropical field blouse. Double-breasted, the coat featured two large side pockets and an angled document pocket in the chest. The coat could be fastened between the legs to make it less cumbersome when riding a motorcycle.

Luftwaffe Tropical Uniforms

The first Luftwaffe personnel to reach North Africa wore the standard Army tropical uniform, to which they attached their Luftwaffe collar patches. In late 1941, however, the Luftwaffe's own tropical clothing began to appear.

Headgear

The Pith Helmet

The Luftwaffe's version of the pith helmet was identical in basic construction to that of the Army; it differed in that it was covered in tan-coloured canvas, and in place of the eagle and swastika shield emblem it featured a 'flying' Luftwaffe eagle and swastika. This 'flew' in the same direction (i.e. right to left) as the Luftwaffe emblem on the steel helmet, the opposite to that on the cap and breast insignia.

The Sidecap

The Luftwaffe's tropical sidecap was identical in cut to that for the blue-grey continental uniform, lacking the scalloped flap of its Army counterpart. It was made in lightweight tan-coloured cotton and normally lined in bright red cotton (some tan-lined examples were also made). The eagle and swastika emblem on the crown was in light grey machine embroidery on tan backing, above a raised boss cockade in national colours. Officers were issued with a cap distinguished by silver cord piping to the flap, but generally with other ranks' insignia.

The Peaked Field Cap

A tropical field cap, similar to that of the Army but in tan rather than olive cloth, was produced, but does not appear to have been widespread official issue. Some had two-button front fastening on functional, rather than imitation flaps. Numerous variants were produced. Insignia were normally as those on the sidecap.

The Tropical Peaked Cap

This unique cap, which saw only limited wear, was basically similar in design to the standard officer's Schirmmütze peaked cap, but with all parts, including the large stiffened peak, made in tan cloth. No Waffenfarbe piping, as commonly found on other ranks' peaked caps, was applied, nor was silver cord piping for officers. (Some officers, however, did elect to wear the double silver bullion chin cords from the continental Schirmmütze on the tropical model.) The cap was lined in red cotton; and featured button fastenings on the lower edge of the band at the side and rear, to which a cloth protective neck flap could be attached. The standard chinstrap, as issued, was in leather and could be either natural leather colour or darkened to a dark brown, black or dark blue colour.

Insignia on this cap were based on those for the standard peaked cap, i.e. a flying eagle on the front of the crown, over a winged oakleaf wreath and cockade on the band. The insignia could be either machine woven or machine embroidered in light grey thread on tan. Occasionally, the cap could be seen with only the cockade worn on the band.

This cap was often jokingly referred to as the "Hermann Meyer' cap, a reference to a boast made by the Luftwaffe's commander-in-chief Hermann Göring that if a single enemy bomber managed to attack the Reich, his name would be Meyer.

The Tropical Field Blouse

The Luftwaffe's tropical field blouse differed from that of the Army in two principal respects. Firstly, it was in the typical golden tan colour of the Luftwaffe rather than the Army's olive green; and secondly, it was designed to allow it to be fastened at the collar. Minor differences included the use of pleated breast pockets, but plain skirt pockets.

The blouse was worn without collar patches. Officers wore the shoulder straps from their continental service dress tunic. The breast eagle was in grey thread on tan for all ranks, though once again officers occasionally had hand-embroidered silver wire badges on tan backing made up for their tunics.

The Tropical Shirt

Similar to that of the Army, the Luftwaffe tropical shirt was of the pullover style, with two breast pockets. It was, however, made in golden tan cotton, and was issued with a breast eagle already attached. Shoulder straps were worn.

The Trousers

Luftwaffe trousers were similar to those of the Army but much more loosely fitting with very baggy legs. They featured ankle straps to blouse the legs, and a single large pocket on the front of the left thigh.

Full naval tropical dress, including the Kriegsmarine version of the peaked field cap, worn at an award ceremony in 1943. Note false turn-back cuffs of the officer's tropical blouse. (Josef Charita)

Award document for 'Afrika' campaign cuffband - the more elaborate of two typical patterns, with the palm tree motif. It is unusual among German award certificates in giving only name and rank, not the recipient's unit. (Haul Anderson) Unissued certificate for the halo-German campaign medal, bearing the Arco de Fellini, also the central motif of the medal itself.

Naval Tropical Uniforms

The Pith Helmet

The naval pith helmet was identical to that for the Luftwaffe, being covered in tan cloth. The standard eagle and swastika shield badge was worn in gilt on black.

The Peaked Field Cap

A tropical peaked field cap was produced for the Navy which was identical in style to that of the Army, featuring a false flap. It was, however, made from tan cotton and had green cotton lining. The eagle and swastika insignia was in yellow-gold silk weave on a tan backing.

The Tropical Peaked Cap

Like the Luftwaffe, the Navy introduced a special tropical version of the Schirmmütze. In typical Navy style it featured a large peak and a leather chinstrap. It was made in tan-coloured cloth, including the stiffened peak, which lacked the gold embroidery which decorated that of the blue peaked cap. Insignia were of the standard naval style but in gold embroidery on tan rather than dark blue backing. Some officers and admirals wore chincords on this cap rather than the leather chinstrap.

The Tropical Field Blouse

The naval tropical field blouse was similar in style and cut to that of the Luftwaffe; but examples varied from a bright tan colour to a khaki brown. Pockets were in the Army style-pleated, with scalloped flaps, on early models and unpleated with straight flaps on later issues. The blouse could be buttoned up to the throat but was generally worn open. Buttons were a simplified version of the gilt anchor buttons worn on dark blue dress, having a fouled anchor in the centre, on a plain background, with a plain raised edge. These buttons were in olive- or tan-painted zinc. The cuff's differed from those on Luftwaffe and Army tropical field blouses in being non-adjustable.

The breast eagle was in golden yellow machine embroidery or machine woven silk on a tan background, though officers occasionally used the gilt metal pin-on breast eagle from the white naval summer tunic. Although most personnel seem to have worn the shoulder straps from their continental issue clothing on this field blouse, special tropical patterns were made. These were in tan coloured cloth and, for warrant officers, featured blue silk woven Tresse.

The Trousers

Extremely baggy tan tropical trousers in the Luftwaffe style were issued and worn with the tropical field blouse.

The Tropical Shirt

The naval tropical shirt was also in tan cotton, with two breast pockets, and was worn with a breast eagle and shoulder straps.

Personal Equipment

Virtually the full range of equipment, i.e. belts, braces, some pouches, frogs, etc., was issued to troops bound for tropical service in a webbing rather than leather form, with metal equipment, such as gas mask containers, repainted in tan. Belt buckles were also issued painted in olive colour for tropical use.

(NOTE. Steel helmets have not been described here as there was no special tropical version. Individual soldiers merely repainted the exterior of their helmets in tan coloured paint, often with sand mixed in to give a roughened effect and aid camouflage. The decal insignia were sometimes obscured, sometimes painted around.)

Other insignia

In general, trade badges, rank badges, etc., produced for the Afrikakorps were of identical design to their continental counterparts, but on an olive twill base rather than dark green or field grey wool; rank chevrons were copper-brown in place of silver-grey. Special insignia unique to the Afrikakorps were few and include the following.

Cuffbands

Prior to the introduction of the official formation cuffband for the Afrikakorps in July 1941, unofficial, privately made examples were already circulating. These were in black cloth with the legend 'Afrikakorps' machine embroidered in silver-grey thread block letters. This style can be encountered both with and without braid edging.

The official cufftitle was machine woven on a tan cloth band with a dark green central strip with aluminium weave bordering; the legend 'AFRIKAKORPS' in block letters was also executed in aluminium metallic weave. The band was 3.3 c ide and was worn on the lower right sleeve. Although widely issued it was not always worn; it appears that many troops did not bother to attach it to their tunics. This cuffband could also be worn on the field grey continental uniform when home on leave.

Award document for an Iron Cross 2nd Class, bearing Rommel's distinctive signature. He did not sign many such documents personally, a facsimile or rubber stamp version being used instead.

Officer's version of the Luftwaffe's 'Afrika' cuffband; the legend is hand-embroidered in aluminium thread on dark blue cloth. For other ranks the lettering would he in silver-grey cotton.

The Luftwaffe also introduced its own African theatre cufftitle, to be worn by troops stationed in North Africa. This was in dark blue cloth, 3.3 cm wide, and bore the legend 'AFRIKA' in block letters, in silver-grey thread machine embroidery for other ranks and hand embroidered aluminium thread for officers. Before its introduction some Luftwaffe personnel wore, unofficially, the Army cuffband. In the Luftwaffe Museum in Uetcrsen there is displayed a variant of this cufftitle which is said to have belonged to the great Luftwaffe fighter ace Hans-Joachim Marseille. This piece has the legend in Gothic 'Frakturschrift', and the band is edged with black braid. Like its Army counterpart, the Luftwaffe cufftitle could be worn on the continental uniform when home on leave.

The Kriegsmarine is also known to have introduced an 'AFRIKA' cufftitle with the legend in yellow thread block letters (gold for officers), on a dark blue base. Photographic evidence exists to prove that this title was worn, but little is known about the regulations for issue, dimensions, materials, etc.

Campaign Decorations

In February 1943 Hitler ordered that the 'AFRIKA' cufftitles used by the Navy and Luftwaffe and the 'AFRIKAKORPS' title of the Army be replaced by a new title which would be accorded the status of a campaign decoration rather than a formation emblem.

This band was 3.3 cm wide and was in khaki brown camel hair material with the legend 'AFRIKA' in silver-grey letters, flanked by silver- grey stylised palm trees; the band was edged in silver-grey cotton braid. It was worn on the lower left sleeve.

To qualify for the cufftitle servicemen had to have served in North Africa for six months, or to have been wounded in action, or have contracted an illness in the theatre which required the recipient to be invalided home. All three requirements were waived if the recipient was killed in action, though in this case the next of kin received only the citation and not the actual cufftitle. Various amendments to the regulations were later made, such as the reduction of the qualifying period to four months for those who took part in the closing stages of the campaign.

Obverse and reverse of the Italo-German medal for the African campaign, struck in bronze or bronzed zinc. Wear by German personnel was forbidden after the Italian Armistice of September 1943.

Italo-German Campaign Medal

Introduced in early 1942, this decoration was actually an Italian award, yet only ever seems to have been awarded to German troops. It featured, on the obverse, two armoured knights, representing Germany and Italy, wrestling with the jaws of a crocodile, representing the British Empire. The reverse showed the Arco de Felini with a fasces to the left and a swastika to the right, all over the knot emblem of the House of Savoy. The legend 'Italo-German Campaign in Africa' in both languages was lettered around the raised edge on the reverse. The ribbon was black/white/red/white/green, thus encompassing the national colours of both Italy and Germany. After 29 March 1944 an order was promulgated banning any further wear of Royal Italian military decorations.

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