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A cuff title (German: Ärmelstreifen) is a form of insignia placed on the sleeve, near the cuff of German military and paramilitary uniforms, most commonly seen in the Second World War but also seen postwar.
Cuff titles are generally associated with units of the Waffen SS but were widely used by other branches of the German military, including paramilitary and civilian organizations. The Großdeutschland Infantry Regiment (later Großdeutschland Division) was also well known for their use of cuff titles. The Deutsches Afrikakorps was famous for its cuff title, which was the genesis of future campaign cuff titles (see below).
The base portion of a cuff title is made of either wool, cotton, rayon or a cotton/rayon mix. It is approximately 4 cm (1.6 inches) wide and bears a name or symbol that identifies the wearer belonging to a particular unit or serving in a specific campaign. On cuff titles where the ribbon was of wool, cotton or blended materials, the embroidery of the name or symbol was usually done with rayon or cotton (some wire embroidery was worn on "officer's pattern" titles). These cuff titles were often edged with "Russia braid" (similar to the material used in waffenfarbe soutaches on early pattern German field caps). Cuff titles that were made entirely of rayon were machine woven. The name or symbol on the ribbon is not really embroidered, but rather falsely embroidered into the ribbon during its manufacturing. This is known as the Jacquard weaving method. "Bevo" is a common term used by collectors to describe this type of insignia manufactured with this method in much the same way that "Kleenex" is used to describe facial tissue. Machine woven cuff titles became more common as the war progressed and newer titles were introduced. Waffen SS cuff titles reflected the colours of the SS, (black and silver) and were generally black in colour with grey or white lettering.
Lettering could be in Latin, Gothic or Sütterlin style script, as shown on the Grossdeutschland cuff title above right. Block letters were also used. For other unique uses of devices or script styles, see below.
Method of wear
As worn on Second World War uniforms, the bottom edge of German cuff titles were generally placed at the top of the split seam of a jacket cuff. This is how the measurement of 14.5 cm to 15 cm (5.7 to 5.9 inches) came about, because the split seam of the sleeve of a German enlisted man's field blouse is approximately 14.5 cm. The Germans had no defined measurement in their regulations as to how high the cuff title went, just that it was to be placed alongside the cuff's split seam. Wartime photographic evidence exists of jackets with the cuff title placed lower than 14.5 cm to 15 cm from the cuff edge. This is usually due to a reduced sleeve length. On jackets with a French cuff (the cuff turned back), the cuff title was placed above the cuff if it was an Army (Heer), Air force (Luftwaffe), or Navy (Kriegsmarine) uniform, and placed just below the cuff edge on the cuff itself on SS jackets (usually between the edge of the cuff and the seam of the cuff's edge, approximately 1 mm to 1.5 mm).
In the Army, Air force, or Navy, the unit cuff title was worn on the right arm. In the SS, the cuff title was worn on the left arm. All campaign cuff titles were worn on the left arm. For example, someone who was in the army and fought in North Africa and later transferred to Grossdeutschland had an "Afrika" campaign cuff title on their left arm and their Grossdeutschland cuff title on their right arm (General Manteuffel's leather coat was an anomaly to this rule). An SS soldier who fought in Crete as a paratrooper and later joined 2nd SS Division Das Reich would have both of his cuff titles on the left arm. In this case one would usually see the unit cuff title placed below the campaign cuff title because the chances are that the individual received his jacket with his unit cuff title beforehand and then had his campaign cuff title affixed after the fact, but this was not always the case.
More than one title could be worn if the soldier was entitled. General Manteuffel wore the "Afrika" campaign cuff title over his Grossdeutschland cuff title during the period he commanded that division. Unit cuff titles were not granted as a mark of prior service in the same manner that divisional patches were and continues to be worn on the right sleeve of US Army uniforms. However, members who were entitled to wear a unit cuff title, who were also military policemen, combat correspondents, or members of the Führerhauptquartier (Hitler's headquarters), could wear both their unit's cuff title and the cuff title of their specialty service. An example of this would be a military policeman in the 17th SS Division "Götz von Berlichingen", who would or could wear both this SS-Feldgendarmerie (SS Military Police) cuff title and his Götz von Berlichingen cuff title. In this specific case, they would both be worn on the left arm.
- Unit Cuff Titles - These generally referred to the name of a division, although some regiments also had distinctive titles.
- Branch of Service Cuff Titles - These identified those who served in a specific branch of service like the military police and war correspondents. The cuff title of the Feldgendarmerie (Military Police) wore a distinctive cuff title, often in conjunction with a unit cuff title, if entitled.
- Campaign Cuff Titles - Participation in some campaigns, such as the Kurland, Crete or North African campaigns (seen right), was recognized by the award of a special commemorative cuff title.
There are several hundred patterns of cuff titles known to have been used; some units had several unique patterns. Among the more interesting designs were:
- The 3rd SS Division Totenkopf had a version of their cuff title that was only a skull and crossbones design.
- The 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler had "Adolf Hitler" written on their cuff title in the German Sütterlin script. Contrary to a common belief, the design did not bear any resemblance to Adolf Hitler's signature.
- The British Free Corps had a cuff title in block Gothic script with the name of the unit in English.
- The "Afrikakorps" cuff title (unique in being worn by an entire corps) was worn informally as a campaign title until replaced with an "Afrika" cuff title bearing that name as well as depictions of palm trees. (seen right)
Cuff titles worn by the Waffen SS or Heer were considered a special honour. The history of the Grossdeutschland Division by Helmuth Spaeter describes an instance in which the motorcycle company of the Infantry Regiment "Grossdeutschland" was held to account for losing a position; they were forbidden from wearing their cuff titles until they had earned the privilege back by success in a later battle.
When Waffen SS divisions failed to perform satisfactorily near Vienna in April 1945, Adolf Hitler ordered the units involved to remove their cuff titles as a punishment. SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich was enraged, and reportedly sent his own back to Berlin in a night vase (chamber pot).
Soldiers in training were usually presented the cuff title only on completion of that training, and the award of the title was seen as a rite of passage. This rite is described in the controversial book The Forgotten Soldier.
Post World War II
The West German Luftwaffe (Federal German Air Force) continued the tradition of awarding cuff titles to its Traditionsverbände such as: "Jagdgeschwader Mölders", "Jagdgeschwader Steinhoff", "Jagdgeschwader Richthofen" and "Jagdgeschwader Boelke", which were named after famous fighter pilots of the First and Second World Wars.
The German Army continues to wear some distinctive cuff titles today. The first, used by the German Army Aviation Corps is a stylized silver grey "wing" on a black band with silver piping on the top and bottom edges. The second for its Armoured Training Battalion (and School) which is a silver grey embroidered "Panzerlehrbrigade 9" in Gothic script. The third for its Wachbataillon which is a silver grey embroidered "Wachbataillon" in Gothic script on a black band with silver piping on the top and bottom edges.