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PANZER CREWMAN 1939-45

Camouflage dress

A special version of the Panzer clothing was also manufactured, though in very small numbers, in camouflage material bearing a splinter pattern as used on the German Army's camouflaged shelter quarter (the 'Poncho' or 'Zeltbahn'). Insignia was not always worn with camouflage clothing, but when it was used, it was often restricted to shoulder straps only. A splinter camouflage version of the M1943 field cap was also produced in limited numbers; possibly manufactured by unit tailors using the material from surplus Zeltbahns.

A Panzerschütze wearing the black Panzer uniform as walking out dress with white shirt and black tie. Although against regulations, this practice was widespread. His black wool shoulder straps show a pink thread embroidered 'GD' monogram for Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland.

Uniforms of non-army Panzer units

In addition to the army Panzer units, which formed the vast bulk of the Panzerwaffe, both Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe troops also served in tank units. Though their uniforms were very similar to that of the army, there were some differences worth commenting upon.

Luftwaffe

The Hermann Göring Panzer Division of the Luftwaffe used black Panzer clothing identical in cut to that of the army. Collars and collar patches were piped, however, in white (sometimes in silver twist cord for officers), and the national emblem worn on the left breast was of the Luftwaffe's stylised flying eagle. Later, standard type Luftwaffe Hermann Göring white collar patches were used, but with the Panzer death's head attached rather than the normal gull wing insignia of the Luftwaffe. These white patches were sometimes piped in aluminium twist cord. A black field cap, similar to the navy's, which lacked the scalloped front to the flap, was used, as was a black M1934 Einheitsfeldmütze. Once again, the national emblem used was the Luftwaffe flying eagle, but this time it was on a black backing.

Luftwaffe Panzer troops wore the standard blue-grey Luftwaffe (four- pocket tunic) or the smart, but functional, Fliegerbluse (fliers jacket) when they were not wearing special Panzer clothing.

The special black Panzer version of the M1943 Einheitsfeldmütze. The insignia is that worn by the Waffen-SS, with the death's head on the front of the cap and the SS version of the national emblem on the left side flap.

Waffen-SS

The Waffen-SS used a Panzer jacket of slightly different cut to that of the army. The front flap was cut vertically, rather than slanting as on the army's, and the collar was of a smaller, neater cut. The Waffen-SS also used surplus army stock as well as their own distinct pattern.

No piping was worn on the collar of the Waffen-SS tunic for lower ranks, but officers wore piping in twisted aluminium cord. Standard Waffen-SS collar patches were worn as used on Waffen-SS field grey clothing. There were no special Panzer tabs, though some units did attach pink piping to the standard Waffen-SS tabs for NCO and lower ranks.

The standard Waffen-SS sleeve eagle was worn on the left sleeve, woven in grey, white or aluminium thread or hand embroidered in aluminium wire.

Straps were cut from black wool for lower ranks, with tresse for NCOs. Officers' straps were in matt aluminium, with a pink intermediate piping, all on a black wool base. Those units granted authority to wear a cuffband bearing the unit name wore it on the lower left sleeve.

The black Feldmütze and black M1943 Einheitsfeldmütze worn by the Waffen-SS was identical to the Luftwaffe pattern. For officers, silver piping was worn to the flap of the Feldmütze and to the crown of the Einheitsfeldmütze. The national emblem worn was the SS pattern, and the SS death's head was worn in place of the national colours cockade.

Waffen-SS units also used a camouflaged version of the Panzer clothing, which was cut in lightweight denim in so-called 'pea pattern' camouflage. Although only shoulder straps were to be worn on this tunic, it was also often seen with the sleeve eagle attached. Trousers in identical camouflage pattern were worn with the jacket. Waffen-SS units also made wide use of a one-piece boiler suit in a similar camouflage pattern. This was rarely worn with insignia other than occasional straps.

Members of the armoured recce unit of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitter during the Polish Campaign. They wear the early Panzer beret. Of particular interest is the fact that field grey cloth patches have been sewn over the top of their collar patches. Although not visible in this shot, other photographs from the same series show that unit cuffbands were similarly concealed. (Gary Wood)

Waffen-SS tank troops were unique in making widespread use of leather clothing; much of which was surplus navy engine room crew clothing. The shortish black leather, single-breasted jacket was particularly popular. They were blanket-lined to give extra warmth in winter, and the leather gave an element of protection against burns, an occupational hazard for tank men. The only insignia normally worn with this form of clothing was the shoulder strap.

Of all the uniform types worn by the Panzertruppe, the special black clothing was by far the most popular. Though strictly speaking it was only intended for wear when serving in the armoured vehicle, it was so well liked that it was widely worn as walking-out dress. Given the smart, elegant appearance of this black clothing it is not surprising that it was so popular. In cold weather; the standard field grey wool (field blue for the Luftwaffe) greatcoat could be worn over the black Panzer clothing, though this cumbersome garment was not ideal apparel for the close confines of a tank.

A group of Panzer crewmen from the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, Note that the NCO on the left wears the full two-piece camouflaged version of the Panzer uniform, but with the field grey, not black, Feldmütze. No shirt is worn. The SS-Oberscharführer to his right wears the jacket buttoned up to the neck, a less common practice. The centre figure wears the mouse grey shirt. Once again, the two crewmen, at right, have elected to wear the camouflaged Panzer uniform, one with the collar buttoned up and the other with it opened, in this case with the mouse grey shirt worn underneath. The crewman, second from right, has the single-button version of the M1943 Einheitsfeldmütze. The senior NCO, second from left, wears the metal version of the unit's 'LAH' monogram on his shoulder straps, whilst the SS-Unterscharführer, second from right, wears his in embroidered form on a separate cloth slide. SS-Unterscharführer Horst Schumann, at extreme right, wears straps with the monogram embroidered directly onto them. This shot can be considered typical of the appearance of an SS tank crew from 1943 through to the end of the war. (Schumann)

Later in the war, padded winter parkas became available, and there is no shortage of photographic evidence of these being worn by tank crews. Though still cumbersome and bulky, they were far less awkward than the greatcoat, and considerably warmer.

Strangely, whether army, Luftwaffe or Waffen-SS, few tank crewmen adhered to any standard form of dress where shirts were concerned. Regulation mouse grey shirts were often worn with the black Panzer jacket, as were non-regulation white shirts, v-necked, grey wool jumpers or roll-neck sweaters. As, technically, the Panzer jacket was only supposed to be worn when serving in the tank, and not when in barracks or on leave, it was probably felt acceptable to allow crews to wear whatever they were most comfortable with under active service conditions.

ACTIVE SERVICE

Pay

The pay scales for Panzer soldiers were the same as for all other troops. Unlike U-boat crews, they were not accorded a special additional rate of pay, though Panzer troops serving in North Africa did receive a pay addition; the so-called Afrika-Zulage, Soldiers on front-line combat duties were rewarded with the Frontzulage (front-line supplement).

The five-man crew of a Panzer III from an SS Panzer regiment. Only the driver wears the black Panzer jacket, the remainder of the crew being in shirtsleeve order. Of interest is the special sleeve rank insignia, intended for wear on garments without shoulder straps. These, for non-officer ranks, consisted of a simple system of green horizontal bars on a black backing. (Robert Noss)

Ranks

Rank structure for Panzer soldiers was identical to that for other non-armoured troops. In the case of privates, however, the rank of 'schütze' should be prefixed by 'Panzer'. Although the private was a Panzerschütze, as soon as he received his first stripe, he became a simple 'gefreiter' (lance-corporal) as with all other branches, the 'Panzer' prefix was dropped. The Panzer crew was usually a mixture of privates and junior NCO ranks, the individual tank commanders were more likely to be junior or senior sergeant equivalents and the troop commanders were warrant officer or junior commissioned officer ranks.

An SS-Unterscharführer cleans the muzzle brake of his vehicle's main armament. He wears the SS version of the black Panzer Feldmütze. Note that around the death's-head insignia is an inverted chevron of pink Panzer piping. His work jacket bears only shoulder straps; collar patches and sleeve eagles rarely if ever being worn on this dress. (Gary Wood)

The Panzer crew

As previously mentioned, there were a number of similar ides between service in Panzers and service in U-boats. In both cases, a relatively small crew served within a small, claustrophobic and often thoroughly unpleasant environment, where the survival of each crew member depended on not only him carrying out his allotted tasks swiftly and efficiently, but also upon his crewmates doing 1ikewise. In both cases, the vessel or vehicle was a highly potent war machine, which had the potential to wreak havoc upon the enemy, but should it receive a direct hit from enemy fire, the chances of survival for any of the crew were slim. In both services, the death rate amongst crews was extremely high.

A typical five-man crew comprised: driver; radio-operator/ machine gunner; gunner; loader; and commander.

The driver (fahrer) sat in the forward left side of the hull and steered the tank by a combination of steering levers, a steering wheel or both. Foot pedals operated the tank's clutch, accelerator and brakes. The driver's seat could be raised or lowered so that he could drive with his head out of the hatch in safe areas, thereby enjoying better vision. When the hatch was battened down for action, the driver's only source of vision was a narrow view port or episcope sight, making controlling and steering the tank an exhausting task and often requiring guidance from the commander, who benefited from a superior viewing position.

A Czech-made Panzer 38(t) from 8. Panzer Division. Seated on the turret is a Waffen-SS soldier who has hitched a ride. He is armed with a captured Soviet PPsH machine pistol, much prized by German troops. Note that two of the tank crew still wear the older field grey version of the Feldmütze. (Robert Noss)

To the right of the forward hull compartment sat the radio operator (Junker), who also manned the hull machine gun. The radio operator could lay down suppressive lire to prevent any enemy infantry closing near enough to become a threat to the vehicle.

An exhausted tank crewman snatches some overdue sleep in a rather unusual spot, lying atop the running gear of his Panzer III. (Robert Noss)

In the turret, to the right, sat the loader (ladeschulze), whose job was to serve the main gun with ammunition. Loading could be a back-breaking task, manhandling heavy shells in the close confines of the turret. The shells were stored in racks, some of which were awkward to access during combat. The loader was also responsible for making sure that the correct type of ammunition was loaded. A high-explosive shell fired at an enemy heavy tank, for example, would probably do no more than give the opposing crew a headache. Similarly, an armour-piercing shell fired at enemy trenches would do little damage unless it scored a direct hit, and even then, the damage would be confined to the point of impact The loader also maintained the co-axial turret machine-gun, ensuring sufficient ammunition was loaded. To the left of the turret interior sat the gun-layer (richtschütze), who aimed and fired the main gun, on the commander's orders. Sighting was through binocular or monocular sights.

In order to cope with the snow- covered Russian winter terrain, tanks were fitted with so-called 'Ost-Ketten' or 'Eastern Tracks' - specially extended track links. These can be seen to best effect where the track loops over the rear idler wheel. (Robert Noss)

At the rear of the turret sat the commander. At safe distances, he would stand on his small seat, so that his upper body was exposed in the cupola, and observe the battlefield with binoculars. When the enemy was near and in combat situations the turret hatch was battened down, and the commander observed the battlefield through small episcopes set into the cupola surface.

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