World War II German Army ranks and insignia

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The German Army of the Nazi era inherited its uniforms and rank structure from the Reichsheer of the Weimar Republic (1921–1935), many of whose traditions went back to the Imperial Army of the German Empire and earlier. The Reichsheer was renamed Wehrmacht Heer in May 1935. There were few alterations and adjustments made as the Army grew from a limited peacetime defense force of 100,000 men to a war-fighting force of several million men.

These ranks and insignia were peculiar to the Heer and in special cases to senior Wehrmacht officers in the independent services; the SS, Luftwaffe and Navy uniforms and rank system were different. The Nazi Party also had its own series of paramilitary uniforms and insignia.

Contents

Insignia[edit]

National Emblem (breast eagle): Hoheitszeichen or Wehrmachtsadler[edit]

Breast eagles

1935
1939
1940
1944
Tropical

The Reichswehr's visual acknowledgement of the new National Socialist reality came on 17 February 1934, when the Defense Ministry [1] ordered the Nazi Party eagle-and-swastika, now Germany's National Emblem, to be worn on uniform blouses and headgear effective 1 May. The design adopted, in silver for the Reichsheer (Army) and in gold for the Reichsmarine (Navy), was a stylized eagle with outstretched, beveled wings clutching a wreathed mobile Hakenkreuz, later to be called the Wehrmachtsadler ("Armed Forces eagle").[2] On tunics this took the form of a cloth patch about 9 cm (3⅝") wide worn on the right breast, above the pocket. For enlisted uniforms it was jacquard-woven ("BeVo") or sometimes machine-embroidered in silver-grey rayon, for officers machine- or hand-embroidered in white silk or bright aluminum wire, and for generals hand-embroidered in gold bullion.[3] The backing was "badge-cloth" (Abzeichentuch), a close-woven velvetish fabric; this was originally Reichsheer grey, but in late 1935 the renamed Wehrmacht Heer changed its Abzeichentuch color to a dark blue-green called flaschengrün (bottle-green).

The war brought several variations to the breast eagle, although it should be kept in mind that none of them was replaced or de-authorized, and all were being worn side-by-side at war's end. When hostilities began in 1939, on the enlisted Feldbluse or field blouse the eagle was changed from silver-white to matte grey for reduced visibility; and in 1940 backings began to be produced in field-grey (feldgrau). Another version appeared with the advent of the Model 1944 Field Blouse, which used a triangular backing for speed and simplicity of manufacture. Very late in the war some Hoheitszeichen were simply printed on thin fabric.

Machine-embroidered Panzer Hoheitszeichen

There were also versions for other uniforms: both white and grey variants on black for the Panzer uniform, and in dull grey-blue on tan backing for the tropical (Afrikakorps) uniform. A stamped metal pin-on breast eagle was worn with the officers' white summer tunic.

Collar patch (Kragenpatte, Kragenspiegel) [4][edit]

Doppellitze, ca. 1900
Major with Kragenpatten, ca. 1918

CO version
(embroidered)

dress
field & service
Waffenfarbe (cavalry corps)

NCO version
(machine-woven with encircling braid)

dress
field
Waffenfarbe (armored corps)

Enlisted version

Mannschaft Litzen 1935
field 1934
Waffenfarbe (artillery)

In 19th century German armies, Guard and other elite regiments wore lengths of double braid (Doppellitze) encircling all or most of the collar as a mark of distinction. By the middle of World War I these ornate collars had been reduced to an embroidered representation of short lengths of braid joined at the ends, sewn to patches worn at the front of the collar. When the Reichsheer was established in 1921 as Germany's first national army [5] Litzen were prescribed as the universal collar device for all personnel other than generals, and the Third Reich continued the practice.

However, for clarification it has to be distinguished between “collar patch” (de: Kragenpatte or Kragenspiegel), and NCO braid (Unteroffizierslitze or Kragenlitze) – the status symbol of all German NCO ranks – encircling the collar of the uniform tunic. An NCO wore both, collar patches, and the collar encircling braid. COs wore only collar patches.

Design and versions[edit]

On both collar points of any uniform jacket there was a collar patch. Each patch consisted of the padding, and two parallel facings (de: Patten), the so-called Litzenspiegel, symbolising the double braid of the 19th century.

The padding of collar patches showed the wearer's Waffenfarbe (en: corps-, weapon-, or branch color). The dress tunic version was embroidered in fine aluminum thread on a patch of badge cloth (de: Abzeichentuch). The backing also showed through in the space between the two parallel facings of the collar patch, and formed so a colour center stripe.

⇒ see main article Corps colours of the German Heer (1935–1945)

On field – and service uniforms, beginning in late 1935, the collar patch was dark bottle-green to match the collar; the Waffenfarbe "showed through" (in fact colored cord was sewn into) the center strip of each braid, the Litzenspiegel.

For enlisted men, service collar patches were machine-woven in silver-grey rayon; COs´ were embroidered more elaborately in white silk or aluminium thread, and were somewhat larger to match their higher collars.

NCOs (de: Unteroffiziere) wore standard enlisted collar patches but were distinguished by a strip of 9mm silver-grey diamond-woven rayon braid (Unteroffoziers-Tressen, NCO-Tressen), sewn around the collar's front, except on the service – or field uniform, where the NCO-Tresse was more simple and from bright aluminum. However, the rayon braid NCO-Tressen on dress uniforms (de: Ausgangsuniform/ Pardeuniform) encircled the collar's upper edge, the simpler aluminum NCO-Tressen on service – or field uniform encircled the collar's lower edge.

Universal design from 1938[edit]

Enlisted versions

1938
1940
Universal filed design
Field tunic with NCO collar patches and NCO-Tressen, post 1940.

By 1938 the fast-growing Heer had found that it was impractical, for the enlisted field uniform, to manufacture and stock a multitude of collar patches in assorted Waffenfarben which also had to be sewn on and frequently changed by unit tailors. Accordingly, new universal collar patches were introduced with the Litzenspiegel and Mittlestreife woven in dark green to match the backing patch, and which could be applied at the factory; Waffenfarbe was now displayed on the shoulder-straps, which simply buttoned on and were easily switched.

With the wartime change to lower-visibility insignia enlisted collar patches were woven in matte "mouse-grey" with field-grey stripes, which were at first sewn to green collar patches as before but increasingly directly to the collar, which beginning in 1940 was made in feldgrau like the uniform; grey collar patches were never produced. The troops however preferred the green patches (and collars) if they had or could get them, especially on "clean" uniforms for walking-out; and long-service veterans took particular pride in pre-38 versions.

In contrast, officers' service uniform collar patches never changed. While most officers in the front lines wore the enlisted field uniform as per wartime regulations, many opted to have their green-and-silver collar patches added instead of (or on top of) the factory versions.

Enlisted versions, tropic

dress
field & service

On olive tropical uniforms the collar patches were tan with dull grey-blue Litzenspiegel for all personnel; officers again sometimes added their green collar patches. Tropical NCO collar patches were opper-brown, or sometimes olive drab.

Armored vehicle uniforms[edit]

rank insignias armored troops

collar patch
shoulder strap
Death's-head
Waffenfarbe (armored corps)

AFV crew collar insignia

Waffenfarbe (assault artillery)

A major exception to the wearing of special collar patches was the "panzer wrap", the double-breasted jacket worn by crews of tanks and other armored vehicles. When the Panzertruppe were established in 1935 they were issued a distinctive black uniform and as a badge the Totenkopf or Death's-head, versions of which had formerly been worn by the Imperial tank corps and various cavalry units. These skulls took the form of white-metal pins attached to black Kragenpatten which were edged in Waffenfarbe piping.

In mid-1940 crews of assault guns (Sturmgeschützen) received a uniform of their own, identical in cut to the Panzerjacke but in standard field-grey, which they wore with red artillery piping. Over the course of the war a bewildering and changing series of regulations governed the uniforms and insignia for assault guns, tank destroyers, armored cars and self-propelled guns (SPG). Depending on the unit and the date either the black or grey wrap or the standard Feldbluse might be authorized, and on the grey "assault gun" jacket the regulation collar patches could be black with skulls, or grey with skulls, or no device at all. The result in practice was chaos; wartime photos show a mix of uniforms and insignia worn not only in the same battalion, but even in the same vehicle.

Officially both colors of panzer wrap were working and field uniforms to be worn only in or around the vehicle; this regulation was universally ignored. Panzertruppen were issued standard uniforms for service-dress and walking out but rarely wore them, much preferring their unique jackets.

In North Africa, AFV crews wore the same tropical uniform as the other branches, including collar patches; many tankers however pinned their Totenkopf badges to their lapels.

Infanterie Regiment "Großdeutschland"[edit]

NCOs` collar patch and Tressen of I.R. "Großdeutschland"

In June 1939, the Wehrmacht Heer wanted to renew its ties with the Old Army tradition by introducing a new uniform for its most prestigious unit: Wachregiment "Berlin" which was renamed Infantry Regiment "Großdeutschland". The new dress uniform for I.R. "Großdeutschland" had an elongated collar patch with single Litzenspiegel. Although shown to the press, this new uniform was not provided to the unit due to the outbreak of WWII and was placed in depot storage.

General Staff Corps Officers[edit]

Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff as Oberst im Generalstab.

Collar patches of General Staff officers

Offizer im Generalstab Litzen
field & service
dress uniform
OKW/OKH dress uniform
Waffenfarbe (generalstaff)

Generalstaboffiziere were officers carefully selected and trained to represent the German General Staff Corps in both command and staff functions. They ranked from Hauptmann im Generalstab (captain) through Oberst i.G. (colonel). All were before 1939 graduates of the Military Academy, the Kriegsakademie. On division staffs they held the position of Ia (operational chief of staff) or Ib (chief of the rear echelon). In the higher echelons, the intelligence and training staff sections were most of the time in the personal charge of General Staff Corps officers. The General Staff Officers had their own distinctive Litzen called alt-Preußische (old Prussian), or Kolbenstickerei ("lobe-embroidery"). These were the same whether on carmine dress Kragenpatten or green service patches; colored Litzenspiegel were unnecessary. General Staff officers assigned to the supreme headquarters (the Reichskriegsministerium, later the OKH and the OKW), the Kriegsakademie, and military attaches were further distinguished by having their Litzen in gold rather than silver. These Generalstaboffiziere were called "des Generalstabs", Oberst d.G., etc. The special golden Litzen were abolished in November 1942. Only Military attaches kept their Litzen as long as they were in their present position. The Führer wanted a closer union between the front and the OKW and OKH.

In addition to their collar patches, General Staff Officers wore trouser-stripes, of the same design as generals' but in carmine rather than scarlet.

Generals[edit]

German General Collar Patches.jpg
von Reichenau as a Field Marshal

From 1900 Prussian generals had worn ornate collar patches embroidered in a style called alt-Larisch, which had first been worn in the 18th century by the 26th (älterer von Larisch) Infantry Regiment; the Reichsheer and the Wehrmacht continued the tradition. These devices, sometimes called Arabesken (arabesques), were embroidered in gold bullion or golden synthetic Celleon on Hochrot (scarlet) backing. Field Marshals wore the same Arabesken as generals until April 1941, when they were authorized a longer variant with three rather than two iterations of the repeating pattern, for a total of six "prongs." In some cases GFM did not bother to replace their generals' tabs, or did so only on their dress uniforms.

General officers of the Special Troop Service (Truppensonderdienst — TDS) and of the specialist careers (medical, veterinary, ordnance, and motor park) wore the same insignia until April 1944, when they were ordered to exchange their scarlet Kragenpatten for alt-Larisch tabs backed in their respective Waffenfarbe:


  • medical – cornflower blue Waffenfarbe;
  • veterinary – carmine Waffenfarbe;
  • ordnance – orange[6] Waffenfarbe;
  • motor park – pink Waffenfarbe;
  • TDS administrative – bright blue Waffenfarbe;
  • TDS judiciary – wine red Waffenfarbe.

In October 1944, the wear-out period of the scarlet backing color for Generals of the specialist careers was extended for an undetermined period.

Chef[edit]
GFM von Rundstedt in infantry officer's tunic as Chef of the 18th I.R.
Kragenpatte & Epauletteof von Rundstedt

In the Wehrmacht Heer, upon retirement, certain senior German generals were awarded the honorary post of Chef of a regiment, much like the Honorary Colonel in the British Army. It was a German custom dating from the late 18th century. These generals were authorized to wear the tunic and insignia of an officer of the regiment, including ordinary officers’ Litzen. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Chef of the 18th Infanterie Regiment, wore a big 18 on his shoulderboards, and for everyday wear favored the ornamented tunic of an infantry officer with white piping rather than a general's uniform.

Hitler appointed first Generaloberst Hans von Seeckt, ancient "Chef der Heeresleitung", to be Chef of the 67th Infanterie Regiment on his 70th birthday in April 1936, a few months before he died. Only seven German generals were appointed Chefs: in addition to Seeckt and Rundstedt they were General der Infanterie Ritter von Epp (Chef of the 61st Infanterie Regiment in Munich); Generalfeldmarschall von Mackensen (Chef of the 5th Kavallerie Regiment in Stolp); Generaloberst von Fritsch (Chef of the 12th Artillerie Regiment in Schwerin); and Generalfeldmarschall von Böhm-Ermolli (Chef of the 28th Infanterie Regiment in Troppau). Generalfeldmarschall von Blomberg was appointed Chef of Infanterie Regiment 73 and wore a big 73 superimposed over the crossed batons of his shoulder board, but on 4 February 1938 he was dismissed and his name was deleted from the seniority list.

Shoulder-straps (Schulterklappen) and shoulderboards (Schulterstücke)[edit]

Enlisted men[edit]

1935
1938
1940
Panzer
Tropical

The Reichsheer's shoulder-straps were very similar to those of World War I, made of feldgrau uniform cloth with pointed or "gable" button ends. In December 1934 the material was changed to grey badge-cloth (Abzeichentuch) and in September 1935 changed again to dark bottle-green (flaschengrün). These "first pattern" shoulder-straps were not edged in Waffenfarbe piping.

In 1938, simultaneous with the removal of Waffenfarbe from field-uniform collar patches, new shoulder-straps were issued. These "second pattern" straps had round rather than pointed ends, and were edged on three sides with wool (later rayon) piping in Waffenfarbe. This pattern would be used through the end of the war, although in 1940 manufacture reverted to field-grey uniform cloth, and as usual alternate versions were made to go with the Panzer uniform (black), tropical uniform (olive cotton) and HBT summer uniform (reed-green twill). Schulterklappen were not worn with the fatigue uniform, nor with camouflage smocks and parkas which used an alternate system of rank insignia.

For junior enlisted men (Mannschaften), rank insignia if any was worn on the left sleeve. However the epaulettes did indicate the wearer's unit (usually regiment or independent battalion) together with his sub-branch if any, machine-embroidered in branch-color. For example, a Schulterklappe with rose-pink piping and number "4" would indicate the 4th Panzer Regiment; but if it carried a pink number "4" and letter "A" it would indicate the 4th Armored Reconnaissance (Aufklärungs) Battalion. The German Army used a very large assortment of Latin initials, Gothic initials, script ciphers, Arabic numerals, Roman numerals and symbols to designate all its various service branches and installations. Before the war, shoulder-buttons were embossed with the number of the wearer's company as well, this practice was discontinued "for the duration."

Cavalry Oberwachtmeister, tropical

Beginning in January 1940, shoulder-straps with unit insignia were (supposed to be) phased out as a security measure, and removable fabric loops with devices were issued instead. In May 1944 the embroidery was changed from waffenfarbe to light gray.

Non-commissioned officers wore their rank insignia on their shoulder-straps, consisting of braid and pips (pyramidal "stars"). An Unteroffizier's (corporal's) epaulette was edged with Tresse on three sides and an Unterfeldwebel's (sergeant's) on all four. Senior NCO's (Unteroffiziere mit Portepee) added one to three pips; in addition, their unit identifiers took the form of white-metal pins rather than embroidery.

Shoulder-straps were made in both a standard width (4.5 cm, 1¾") and a wider one for three-digit unit numbers (5.3cm, 2"), and in three lengths depending on the size of the man. There was in addition an extra-large size for the overcoat (Mantel).

Officers[edit]

Hauptmann Epaulette.jpg

Officers' shoulderboards were constructed from "Russia" braid, an aluminum-thread double piping. Company-grade officers (Leutnant through Hauptmann/Rittmeister) wore epaulettes constructed by wrapping two side-by-side lengths of braid around the buttonhole and back, giving the appearance of eight parallel cords; the whole was sewn to an underlay (Unterlagen) of Waffenfarbe badge-cloth. Until 1938 the underlay was of the same outer dimensions as the braid, and only visible edge-on; in that year the underlay was made wider, so as to create the impression of edge piping like the enlisted shoulder-strap. Rank was indicated by zero to two gilt-metal pips; unit designators were also of gilt metal.

Major Epaulette.jpg

Field-grade officer (Stabsoffizier) shoulderboards were made by plaiting together double widths of Russia braid and looping them to form a buttonhole, sewn to a Waffenfarbe underlay; rank again was displayed by zero to two gilt pips.

Once the war began, dull grey aluminum braid appeared, but bright aluminum continued in use.

Generals[edit]

Generals' shoulderboards, Wehrmacht (Heer)

Generals' shoulderboards were constructed similarly to those of field-grade officers, but comprised a length of silver Russia braid between two braided cords of gold bullion or Celleon. Since the resulting combination was wider, generals' boards were plaited in four 'loops' rather than five. Their buttons were gilt, and rank was indicated by zero to three silver pips, or crossed batons in the case of field marshals. The underlay was scarlet, except (from 1944) for generals of staff corps, who were instructed to wear Waffenfarbe instead.

In April 1941, Generalfeldmarschall epaulettes were changed to incorporate a central gold cord instead of silver.

Colonels-in-chief wearing that uniform wore gold generals' shoulderboards underlaid with the Waffenfarbe of the regiment rather than scarlet; GFM von Rundstedt sometimes simply pinned his crossed batons to an infantry colonel's epaulettes.

Retired personnel[edit]

Generalmajor a.D.

By order of Marshal Hindenburg in March 1932, soldiers who retired after 15 years of service received the right to wear the uniform of the unit they left. The shoulderboards and shoulder straps of retired soldiers had a bridle 1.5 cm wide attached under the middle.

Headgear[edit]

Caps and helmets bore two common insignia elements, in various forms: the National Emblem (eagle and swastika) and the national colors. World War I caps had carried dual cockades or roundels, one in Imperial black-white-red and one in the colors of the particular State within the Empire. The Reichsheer changed this to a single cockade in the Weimar Republic's black, red and gold; almost as soon as Hitler took power he restored the pre-1919 tricolor flag, and ordered the Army to return to black-white-red.

Peaked cap (Schirmmütze)[edit]

Schirmmütze cap badges
Schirmmütze, early model (1935)
Schirmmütze
Schirmmütze

Officers' old-style field cap or "crusher" (Feldmütze älterer Art)[edit]

Feldmütze älterer Art
Feldmütze älterer Art
Feldmütze älterer Art

Panzer beret[edit]

Panzer berets without the national emblem
Panzer beret

Garrison cap (Feldmütze)[edit]

Feldmütze
Feldmütze
Feldmützen

Mountain, tropical, and M43 field caps (Gebirgs-, Tropen- und Einheitsfeldmützen)[edit]

Einheitsfeldmützen
Tropenmützen
Gebirgsmützen
Gebirgsmütze

Steel helmet (Stahlhelm)[edit]

See also Stahlhelm

Steel helmet
Steel helmets
Steel helmets
Steel helmet

Pith helmet (Tropenhelm)[edit]

Pith helmet
Pith helmets

Belt buckles (Koppelschlösser)[edit]

Enlisted Koppelschloß

Belt buckles for enlisted men were of box type, made of aluminum or stamped steel with a pebbled surface, and bearing a circular device with a version of the Hoheitszeichen called the Army eagle or Heeresadler (an eagle with downswept wings clutching an unwreathed swastika) surmounted by the motto Gott mit uns, or "God with us." For field wear these were usually painted field-grey to reduce visibility; on the other hand dress buckles were silver-washed.

Officers' field and service buckles were of a two-pronged frame type. With dress uniform officers wore a belt of silver braid with a circular silver-washed or -plated aluminum buckle, in the form of an oakleaf wreath surrounding a Heeresadler. Generals' were the same but gilt or gold-plated.

With the tropical uniform and its belt of cotton webbing, officers wore a buckle identical to the dress buckle but painted olive-drab.

Ranks and rank insignia[edit]

Rank tables[edit]

Mannschaften (Enlisted personnel)[edit]

Enlisted collar Litzen

Mannschaft Litzen 1935
1935
1938
1940
Dress
Tropical
Red Waffenfarbe: artillery

Enlisted Schulterklappen

1935
1938
1940
Panzer uniform
Tropical
White Waffenfarbe: infantry, rose pink: armor
Rank Translation Approx. US/UK equivalent Insignia Notes
Soldat Soldier Private (or equivalent British Army ranks) Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg Soldat was the generic term; for actual ranks see below. Could be advanced directly to Gefreiter.
Fahnenjunker Flag-Squire[7][8] Officer candidate 2nd class OffBWEpaulette.jpg See below
Obersoldat[9]
(from 1936)
Senior Soldier Private First Class/Senior Private Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg
Rank insignia of Oberschütze of the Wehrmacht.svg
Obersoldat was the generic term; for actual ranks see below. Automatic after 12 (later 6) months if not yet advanced to Gefreiter.
Gefreiter Exempted Lance Corporal Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg
Rank insignia of Gefreiter of the Wehrmacht.svg
Historically in German armies, a Gefreiter was an experienced soldier who by virtue of seniority was exempted from more menial duties.
Fahnenjunker-Gefreiter Flag-Squire[8]-Exempted Officer candidate 1st class OffBWEpaulette.jpg
Rank insignia of Gefreiter of the Wehrmacht.svg
See below
Obergefreiter Senior Exempted Senior Lance Corporal Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg

Rank insignia of Obergefreiter (under 6 years of service) of the Wehrmacht.svg
Rank insignia of Obergefreiter (over 6 years of service) of the Wehrmacht.svg

Second sleeve insignia indicates 6 years of service.[10]
Stabsgefreiter[9]
(from 1942)
Staff Exempted Senior Lance Corporal Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg
Rank insignia of Stabsgefreiter of the Wehrmacht.svg
The rank was commonly trusted with positions in food provision supply and quartermaster duties. In the last years of World War II Stabsgefreiter were often used as group leaders Gruppenführer due to a lack of Unteroffiziere (NCOs). Promotions to this rank were suspended in 1934, although existing Stabsgefreiter retained it; promotions resumed in 1942.
Unteroffizier-Anwärter (to 11/43)
Unteroffizier-Bewerber (from 11/43)
Underofficer Candidate
Underofficer Applicant
NCO candidate UOAnwarterEpaulette.jpg Soldier selected for or attending Unteroffizierschule (NCO school); could be of any rank from Soldat through Stabsgefreiter
Obersoldat insignia.

Non-commissioned officers (Unteroffiziere)[edit]

NCO Litzen and Tresse

Unteroffizier Litzen und Tresse
1935
1938
1940
Dress
Tropical
Rose-pink Waffenfarbe: armored troops

NCO Schulterklappen

1935
1938
1940
Panzer uniform
Tropical
Rank Translation Approx. US/UK equivalent Insignia Notes
Junior NCOs, Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee [11]
Unteroffizier

Oberjäger (Light and mountain infantry)

Subordinate-Officer
Senior Ranger
Sergeant/Corporal[12] UnteroffEpaulette.jpg Originally only upon completion of NCO school; later also an automatic promotion for acting squad leaders with 4 months of combat experience. Could be advanced directly to Feldwebel/Wachtmeister.
Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier Flag-Squire[13][8] Subordinate-Officer Officer candidate Corporal FJUnteroffizierEpaulette.jpg Unteroffizier epaulette, additional with two silver strips, as on the Fähnriche epaulette below
Unterfeldwebel[9]
Unterwachtmeister[9] (Cavalry, artillery and transport)
Junior Field Guide
Junior Watch Master
Staff Sergeant/Sergeant UnterFWEpaulette.jpg Called Sergeant to 1921. Automatic after 6 years of service and 3 years as an Unteroffizier if not yet advanced to Feldwebel/Wachtmeister.
Fähnrich Ensign Officer candidate Luftwaffe epaulette Faehnrich.svg Unterfeldwebel epaulet, additional with two silver strips
Senior NCOs, Unteroffiziere mit Portepee [11]
Feldwebel
Wachtmeister (Cavalry, artillery and transport)
Field Guide
Watch Master
Technical Sergeant/Staff Sergeant FeldwebelEpaulette.jpg From mid-war an automatic promotion for acting platoon leaders with 4 months of combat experience.
Oberfeldwebel
Oberwachtmeister (Cavalry, artillery and transport)
Senior Field Guide
Senior Watch Master
Master Sergeant/Warrant Officer Class II OberWMEpaulette.jpg
Oberfähnrich Senior Ensign Student Officer / Senior officer candidate Herr Oberfahnrich.jpg Oberfeldwebel epaulette (additional with two silver strips), worn with officer's uniform
Stabsfeldwebel
Stabswachtmeister (Cavalry, artillery and transport)
Staff Field Guide
Staff Watch Master
Sergeant Major/Warrant Officer Class I StabsFWEpaulette.jpg Restricted to career volunteers; automatic after 12 years of service.

Hauptfeldwebel/Hauptwachtmeister: Hauptfeldwebel was not a rank but an appointment: the administrative and mustering NCO of a company and the commander's logistical assistant. He was therefore roughly analogous to a Company Sergeant-Major or First Sergeant, although his duties did not usually involve combat leadership. Der Spieß [14] or die Kompanie-Mutter, as he was called, was not necessarily the ranking Unteroffizier in the company, especially since typically two of the platoons were commanded by senior NCOs rather than officers. A Hauptfeldwebel however had to be of Portepee grade; a junior NCO filling the role was a Hauptfeldwebeldiensttuer, "one doing Hauptfeldwebel duties."

The insignia for a Hauptfeldwebel was a pair of NCO Tressen encircling each lower sleeve, nicknamed "piston rings;" he also carried a leather Meldetasche or report-case tucked into his tunic front.

Senior non-commissioned specialist officers[edit]

In two specialist career paths it was possible to attain rank above Stabsfeldwebel: fortifications engineers (Festungspioniere) and farriers (Hufbeschlagschmieder).[15] They were actual NCOs with command authority, not Heeresbeamten (uniformed Army civil servants). There was no direct Anglosphere equivalent; perhaps the closest examples of the time would be the British Royal Navy's and United States Navy's ranks of Warrant Officer.

Rank Translation Insignia
Festungswerkmeister
Hufbeschlaglehrmeister
Fortress Works Master
Farrier Instruction Master
FestungswerkmeisterSB.jpg
HufbeschlaglehrmeisterSB.jpg
Festungsoberwerkmeister
Oberhufbeschlaglehrmeister
Fortress Senior Works Master
Senior Farrier Instruction Master
FestungsoberwerkmeisterSB.jpg
OberhufbeschlaglehrmeisterSB.jpg

These men wore shoulderboards braided in a unique pattern, orange-red and silver on black underlay with Gothic "Fp" for fortress engineers,[16] and gold-yellow and silver on carmine with a horseshoe device for farriers.[17]

Officer candidates (Fähnriche)[edit]

Officer candidate collar insignia

Offizier-Bewerber
Offizier-Anwärter
Oberfähnrich
To 1940 1940–1941 1942–1945 Translation Notes
Fahnenjunker Schütze (Offizier-Bewerber) Schütze (Offizier-Bewerber) Flag-Squire[18][8]
Rifleman (Officer Applicant)
Officer candidate in basic training
Fahnenjunker-Gefreiter Gefreiter (Offizier-Bewerber) Gefreiter (Offizier-Bewerber) Flag-Squire Lance Corporal
Lance Corporal (Officer Applicant)
Officer candidate in advanced training with the Field Army
Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier

Fahnenjunker-Oberjäger

Unteroffizier (Offizier-Anwärter)

Oberjäger (Offizier-Anwärter)

Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier

Fahnenjunker-Oberjäger

Flag-Squire Subordinate-Officer/Flag-Squire Senior Ranger
Subordinate-Officer (Officer Candidate)/Senior Ranger (Officer Candidate)
Cadet beginning Officer Candidate School or specialist academy
Fähnrich Feldwebel (Offizier-Anwärter)

Wachtmeister (Offizier-Anwärter)

Fahnenjunker-Feldwebel

Fahnenjunker-Wachtmeister

Ensign
Field Guide (Officer Candidate)/Watch Master (Officer Candidate)
Flag-Squire Field Guide/Flag-Squire Watch Master
Cadet completing Officer Candidate School or specialist academy
Oberfähnrich

Unterarzt (physician)
Unterapotheker (pharmacologist)
Unterveterinär (veterinary)
Oberfähnrich im Ing. Korps (Engineering)
Feuerwerker m. b. Offiziersprüfung (Ordnance)

Oberfähnrich

Unterarzt
Unterveterinär
Unterapotheker
Feldingenieur
Oberfähnrich (Waffen)

Oberfähnrich

Unterarzt
Unterapotheker
Unterveterinär
Feldingenieur
Oberfähnrich (Waffen)

Senior Ensign

Subordinate-Surgeon
Subordinate-Pharmacologist
Subordinate-Veterinarian
Sr. Ensign in the Engineer Corps/Field Engineer
Fireworker on Officer Probation/Sr. Ensign (Ordnance)

Graduate serving as acting lieutenant, ensign or 3rd Lieutenant prior to commissioning as an officer.

Officers (Offiziere)[edit]

Officers' collar insignia

Offizier Litzen
Field and service
Dress
Tropical [19]
Gold-yellow Waffenfarbe: cavalry
Rank Translation US/UK equivalent Shoulder Insignia
Leutnante
Leutnant
Assistenzarzt (Medical)
Veterinär (Veterinary)
Lieutenant
Assistant Surgeon
Veterinarian
2nd Lieutenant
  • Wehrmacht Heer Leutnant insignia horizontal.png
    White: Infantry
  • Leutnant Epaulette.jpg
    Hunter-green: Jäger
Oberleutnant
Oberarzt (Medical)
Oberveterinär (Veterinary)
Senior Lieutenant
Senior Surgeon
Senior Veterinarian
1st Lieutenant/Lieutenant
  • Oberleutnant Epaulette.jpg
    Lemon-yellow: Communications corps
  • Wehrmacht Heer Oberleutnant insignia horizontal.png
    Cooper-brown: Motorbike-schütze
Hauptleute
Hauptmann
Rittmeister (mounted branches)
Stabsarzt (Medical)
Stabsveterinär (Veterinary)
Stabsrichter (Judicial)
Heereshilfspfarrer (Chaplain) [20]
Captain (lit. "head man, lead man")
Riding Master
Staff Surgeon
Staff Veterinarian
Staff Lawyer
Army Help-Chaplain
Captain Hauptmann Epaulette.jpg
Golden-yellow: Reconnaissance
Stabsoffiziere
Major
Oberstabsarzt (Medical)
Oberstabsveterinär (Veterinary)
Oberstabsrichter (Judicial)
Heerespfarrer (Chaplain) [20]
Major
Senior Staff Surgeon
Senior Staff Veterinarian
Senior Staff Lawyer
Army Chaplain
Major Major Epaulette.jpg
Blue: Transport/ Technical support troops
Oberstleutnant
Oberfeldarzt (Medical)
Oberfeldveterinär (Veterinary)
Oberrichter (Judicial)
Heeresoberpfarrer (Chaplain) [20]
Lieutenant Colonel (lit. "lieutenant seniormost")
Senior Field Surgeon
Senior Field Veterinarian
Senior Lawyer
Army Senior Chaplain
Lieutenant Colonel Oberstleutnant Epaulette.jpg
Rosa-pink: Armored corps
Oberst
Oberstarzt (Medical)
Oberstveterinär (Veterinary)
Oberstrichter (Judicial)
Wehrmachtsdekan (Chaplain) [20]
Colonel (lit. "seniormost")
Seniormost Surgeon
Seniormost Veterinarian
Seniormost Lawyer
Defence Force Dean
Colonel Oberst Epaulette.jpg
Meadow-green: Panzergrenadier

General officers and marshals (Generäle)[edit]

In addition to their alt-Larisch collar tabs and braided gold epaulettes, general officers' uniforms were distinguished by gold rather than silver cap badges, cap cords, breast eagles, belt buckles and buttons, a pair of 40mm Hochrot (scarlet) stripes down the outside of each trouser-leg, overcoat lapels faced in scarlet, and dress uniforms piped in Hochrot rather than Waffenfarbe.

From May 1944 generals in the various staff corps (medical, legal, TSD etc.) were supposed to replace Hochrot with the appropriate Waffenfarben of their branches of service; in practice this directive was imperfectly heeded and a subsequent order extended the wear-out date for scarlet insignia indefinitely.

Rank Translation US/UK equivalent rank Shoulder Insignia
Generalmajor
Generalarzt (Medical)
Generalveterinär (Veterinary)
Generalrichter (Judicial)
Feldbischof (Chaplain) [20][21]
Major General
General Surgeon
General Veterinarian
General Lawyer
Field Bishop
Brigadier General/Brigadier
Generalmajor Epaulette.jpg

Generalveterinär Shoulder Insignia.jpg
Generalleutnant
Generalstabsarzt (Medical)
Generalstabsveterinär (Veterinary)
Generalstabsrichter (Judicial)
Lieutenant General
General Staff Surgeon
General Staff Veterinarian
General Staff Lawyer
Major General
Generalleutnant Epaulette.jpg
General ...
— der Infanterie
— der Artillerie
— der Kavallerie
— der Panzertruppe (from 1935)
— der Pioniere (from 1938)
— der Gebirgstruppe (from 1940)
— der Nachrichtentruppe (from 1940)
Generaloberstabsarzt (Medical)
Generaloberstabsveterinär (Veterinary)
Generaloberstabsrichter (Judicial)
General
— of Infantry
— of Artillery
— of Cavalry
— of Armoured Troops
— of Engineers
— of Mountain Troops
— of Signals Troops
General Senior Staff Surgeon
General Senior Staff Veterinarian
General Senior Staff Lawyer
Lieutenant General
General Epaulette.jpg

Generaloberstabsarzt Shoulder Insignia.jpg
Generaloberst Senior General/Colonel General General
Generaloberst Epaulette.jpg
Generalfeldmarschall (before 1942)
Generalfeldmarschall (after 1942)
General Field Marshal General of the Army/Field Marshal
Rank insignia of Generalfeldmarschall of the Wehrmacht.svg
Generalfeldmarschall Epaulette (Late).jpg

Smock/parka rank insignia[edit]

On camouflage smocks, camouflage and winter parkas, mountain windbreakers and paratroop jump smocks, epaulettes were not worn. Officers and NCOs instead wore sleeve rank insignia made up of bars and oak leaves.

Oberleutnant rank insignia

Unteroffiziere

Unteroffizier
Unterfeldwebel
Feldwebel
Oberfeldwebel
Stabsfeldwebel

Offiziere

Leutnant
Oberleutnant
Hauptmann
Major
Oberstleutnant
Oberst

Ranks at the Private/Senior Private levels[edit]

Branch Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg Mannschaft Epaulette 1938.jpg
ObersSleeve.jpg
Infantry
Motorized Infantry (to 7/43)
Schütze (Rifleman) (to 10/42) [22]
Grenadier (from 10/42) [22]
Füsilier (Fusilier) [23]
Musketier (Musketeer) [23]
Oberschütze
Obergrenadier
Oberfüsilier
Obermusketier
Mechanized Infantry (to 7/43) Panzerschütze (Armored Rifleman) [22] Panzeroberschütze
Motorized Infantry
Mechanized Infantry
(from 7/43)
Panzergrenadier (Armored Grenadier) [22] Panzerobergrenadier
Light and Mountain
Infantry
Jäger (Ranger, Hunter) Oberschütze [24]
Cavalry
Reconnaissance
Reiter (Trooper) Oberreiter (Senior Trooper)
Artillery Kanonier (Gunner)
Panzerkanonier (Armored Gunner) [25]
Oberkanonier
Panzeroberkanonier
Engineers Pionier (Sapper)
Baupionier (Construction Sapper) (from 1943)
Oberpionier
Bauoberpionier
Construction troops Bausoldat (to 1943) Bauobersoldat
Signals Funker (Radioman)
Fernsprecher (Telephonist)
Oberfunker
Oberfernsprecher
Armor Panzerschütze (Armor Rifleman) Oberpanzerschütze
Armored Engineers Panzerpionier Oberpanzerpionier
Armored Signals Panzerfunker Oberpanzerfunker
Anti-tank Panzerjäger (Tank hunter) Oberpanzerjäger
Motorcycle troops Kradschütze (Motorcycle Rifleman) Kradoberschütze
Military Police Feldgendarm (Field Gendarme) Feldobergendarm
Transport Fahrer (Driver, horse)
Kraftfahrer (Driver, motor vehicles)
Oberfahrer
Oberkraftfahrer
Medical Sanitätssoldat Sanitätsobersoldat
Bandsmen Musiker (to 1936)
Musikschütze (Rifleman Musician) (from 1936)
Trompeterreiter (Trumpet Rider) (Cavalry)

Musikoberschütze
Trompeteroberreiter

Armed Forces officials and Sonderführer[edit]

Armed Forces officials (Wehrmachtbeamte)[edit]

HV (de: Heeresverwaltung, Army Administration) yellow metal emblem

Officials in administrative, legal, and technical service positions are a category peculiar to the German Armed Forces. They consist of civil service personnel performing functions within the Armed Forces and are recruited, in part, from former professional non-commissioned officers who became military candidates for civil service (de: Militäranwärter) at the end of their 12-year contractual period of active military service.

Up to 1944, none of these officials were classified as soldiers; in that year certain groups were converted into officers in the Special Troop Service (Truppensonderdienst or TSD). These were the higher administrative officers (Intendanten) in ranks from captain to lieutenant general; the lower administrative officers (Zahlmeister) in the ranks of first and second lieutenant, and the judge advocates (Richter) in ranks from captain to lieutenant general. At this time all personnel of the Field Post Office were made soldiers as well, but formed a corps of their own rather than belonging to the TSD. It was also made possible for qualified reserve technical service officials to become reserve officers of the motor maintenance troops.

The officials had titles, not ranks: Intendant, Direktor, Rat, Vorsteher, Inspektor, Meister, Assistent. This is a complex subject as each branch had its own titles.

Wehrmachtbeamten des Heeres[edit]

Shoulderboards[edit]

With certain exceptions, Beamten wore shoulderboards similar to those of soldiers of equivalent rank, but distinguished by the addition of dark green elements: those equivalent to generals had a central cord in their braided shoulderboards which incorporated green chevrons, and those equivalent to officers wore a narrow green stripe between the rows of braid. NCO-equivalent Beamten wore a complex braided shoulderboard made of green, black and silver cords. In nearly all cases the shoulderboard underlay was a double layer of dark green under Nebenfarbe, and metal pins with the HV (Heeresverwaltung, Army Administration) cipher were worn.

Certain services had insignia of their own: for example the Feldpost (Field Post Office) wore shoulderboards with gold rather than green elements and the initials FP; and musical officials wore silver-and-red shoulderboards with a lyre insignia. Beamten in the employ of a military government in the occupied territories wore eagle-and-swastika pins rather than HV ciphers.

Most officials wore in addition to their dark green Waffenfarbe a secondary colour (Nebenfarbe) denoting their branch:

In March 1940 distinct Nebenfarben were abolished and replaced with light grey.

See also

⇒ main article Corps colours of the Heeresverwaltung (HV)

File 1: Rank insignias to officials of the Heer

General officer ranks (1 to 3) and Officer ranks (4 to 6)
Officer ranks (7 to 9), and Warrant officer ranks (10-111)
Shoulder straps 1935 until 1945

File 2: Rank insignias to officials on the "Reich´s court-martial" (Reichskriegsgericht)

General officer ranks (1-2), Officer ranks (3 to 7), and Warrant officer ranks (8-9)
Shoulder straps 1935 until 1945


Collar patches[edit]

Heeresbeamten wore distinctive collar patches; these tabs indicated not the official's rank or title, but rather the "grade" of the service in which the official was employed. These were classified by the minimum educational requirement, and ranged from Einfacher Dienst (Basic Services), for which a grade-school education was sufficient, through Mitteler (Middle) and Gehobener (Elevated) Dienst, to Höherer Dienst (Higher Services) which required a university degree.

Officials in the Basic Services wore collar patches similar to (but larger than) enlisted soldiers', grey Litzen on dark green Patten, but the patch was piped on three sides in Nebenfarbe; similarly officials in the Middle and Elevated services wore officer-pattern Litzen, again with Nebenfarbe-piped patches. Officials of the Higher Services wore unique Kragenpatten with alt-Preussische Litzen in gold like Offiziere des Generalstabs, but on dark green with, again, Nebenfarbe piping. General officer-equivalents wore green patches with generals' arabesques, similarly bordered.

Beamter auf Kriegsdauer[edit]

In addition to the career Beamten, wartime needs led to the creation of "Officials for the duration of the war," or Beamter auf Kriegsdauer. These men had needed skills but either did not possess all the qualifications to become full-fledged Beamten, or were effectively drafted from civilian jobs. The matter was further confused by the fact that Beamter a. K. did the same jobs and held the same titles as career officials. Nonetheless, Beamter a. K. wore entirely distinct collar patches.

Military Supreme Court officials (Wehrmachtbeamte beim Reichskriegsgericht)[edit]

Officials of the Wehrmacht who worked in Military Supreme Courts wore shoulder straps without the "HV" and had the secondary colour of Bordeaux red (Bordorot).

Sonderführer (Specialist leaders)[edit]

Certain positions in ranks from major to lieutenant and in all non-commissioned officer ranks (except sergeant) could be filled by specialists in foreign languages, propaganda work, medical service, veterinary service and the like who had been trained to fill such positions as "Specialist leaders" (Sonderführer). They received the pay applicable to the position they were holding, but only by virtue of their temporary appointment and without the command or disciplinary powers vested in the rank.

Sonderführer wore the standard military uniform but with unique rank and collar insignia, the latter resembling but distinct from that worn by Beamter auf Kriegsdauer; in addition their collars and cap bands were blue-grey rather than Army green.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Reichswehrministerium, "National Defense Ministry"; it would not be renamed Reichskriegsministerium "National War Ministry" until the following year.
  2. ^ The Luftwaffe, although a branch of the Wehrmacht, would use its own eagle design.
  3. ^ "Gold bullion" in this context does not (usually) refer to actual gold, but to gold-colored wire, typically a bronze alloy
  4. ^ The term Kragenspiegel is post-1945
  5. ^ The Deutsches Heer of Imperial times comprised several State armies under a single (Prussian) General Staff (Generalstab).
  6. ^ Before june 1944 their Waffenfarbe was bright red.
  7. ^ Junker historically meaning "Young Nobleman" otherwise "Young Lord"
  8. ^ a b c d Duden; Meaning of Junker, in German. [1]
  9. ^ a b c d These ranks were, in effect, dead end paygrades for passed-over soldiers
  10. ^ There is confusion in the published sources; see discussion
  11. ^ a b Portepee "sword-knot": senior NCOs wore swords with dress uniform
  12. ^ Closer to a British than an American corporal in status and responsibilities; Unteroffizier was the normal rank for a squad (section) leader
  13. ^ Junker historically meaning "Young Nobleman" otherwise "Young Lord"
  14. ^ "The spear." This may refer to the sergeant of a flintlock-era company having carried a polearm rather than a musket, or it may relate to Latin pilus prior "leading spear," the senior centurion in a cohort.
  15. ^ Farriers, blacksmiths specializing in the shoeing and care of horses, were a very important component of the WWII German army, 70–80% of which depended on horse-drawn transport. A standard infantry division had nearly 5,000 horses, one for every three soldiers.
  16. ^ Combining the Waffenfarben of the ordnance and engineer branches
  17. ^ Combining the Waffenfarben of the cavalry and veterinary branches; farriers were responsible for basic equine healthcare and assisting veterinary officers
  18. ^ Junker historically meaning "Young Nobleman" otherwise "Young Lord"
  19. ^ All tropical uniforms were issued with generic collar patches; however, officers frequently added the green-backed Litzen and sometimes the entire green collar from the feldgrau uniform
  20. ^ a b c d e Chaplains wore no epaulettes, a cross on the front of the cap, and a cross (Protestant) or crucifix (Catholic) around the neck. In the field chaplains wore a Red Cross armband with purple borders.
  21. ^ A Feldbischof did not wear generals' collar Arabeske, but rather litzen in gold on a violet backing; his overcoat lapel facings were also violet rather than red.
  22. ^ a b c d In October 1942 all infantry Schützen were redesignated Grenadiere. In July 1943 all Panzerschützen and motorized Grenadiere were redesignated Panzergrenadiere.
  23. ^ a b Traditional ranks in certain regiments
  24. ^ Confusingly, Oberjäger was the light-infantry equivalent of Unteroffizier
  25. ^ In artillery regiments of Panzer divisions from 12/41

Bibliography[edit]

  • Angolia, John R. Uniforms & Traditions of the German Army, 1933–1945, Vol. 1, R. James Bender Publishing, (1992), ISBN 0-912138-30-0.
  • Hettler, Eberhard. Uniformen der Deutschen Wehrmacht : Heer, Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe. Berlin : O. Dietrich, 1939.