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Waffen-SS Infantry 1939-45

SS – two letters which are forever seared onto the history of the twentieth century. From a small cadre of 200 men charged with guarding Hitler at early Nazi rallies, the SS grew to a membership of millions. The SS (short for Schutzstaffel or Defense Squad) was actually comprised of a number of organizations, with various responsibilities:

The Waffen-SS grew to a nominal strength of over 800,000 men in some 38 divisions by 1945. More significantly, it made up a quarter of Germany's tank troops and almost a third of its mechanized forces. Initially looked down upon by the professionals of the Heer, they rose to become the German Army's "fire-brigade", committed as the spearhead of attack or the last line of defense. Romanticized by a few, vilified by most, the Waffen-SS is probably the most-studied military formation in the history of the twentieth century.

 

Officers’ and NCO's field uniforms

The symbols chosen by the SS were both intentional and unintentional. The SS collar runes were supposed to symbolize Germany's Nordic roots. The Death's Head, besides its obvious graveyard menace, was the badge of four vanished regiments of the Kaiser's army. The cuff titles symbolize battle honours won by England's German Legion during the Napoleonic wars (though this claim is spurious at best). The service dress of the Waffen-SS divisions was broadly similar to that of the Wehrmacht, but with a wholly different range of insignia and with certain detail differences of cut and design.

Officers began the war wearing the M1933 officers’ field tunic. It was very similar to that of the enlisted man’s, though of much finer quality (often of private purchase). The main difference was a set of turned-back cuffs, which reached to mid-forearm. The same national emblem was worn as enlisted men, on the right arm. The tunic was worn with flared riding breeches and black riding boots.

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Sturmbannführer wearing fieldgray M36 off tunic, the stonegrey breeches and a Walther P38 pistol as sidearm.
(war-time picture)
This Rottenführer wears the M42 tunic with a cuffband. On his belt, the Mp44 pouches for his Sturmgewehr and a mapcase.   (pic)

Officers were required to wear the M1934 belt with "Sam Browne"-type shoulder strap. Both were a light reddish brown, with a thin line or groove pressed around the edge of the belt and shoulder strap. The buckle was open-faced with two prongs, in matt aluminum. The two-piece shoulder strap was 1 inch (25 mm) wide and fitted with a hook at both ends; these attached to two stud-secured leather belt loops with "D" rings positioned on the belt at the left front and the right rear, with the strap running over the right shoulder. Though principally ornamental, the belt did serve to support any attached equipment, usually a sidearm (pistol, dagger or sabre) and map case in either black or reddish brown leather.

Apart from the steel helmet, officers had three types of headgear to choose from; they seem to have been worn indiscriminately in the front lines. The most common was the sidecap, similar in cut to the enlisted men’s, but with silver piping round the edge of the crown.

The high-fronted (Schirmmutze) was also widely worn. The SS eagle and swastika were worn on the crown, and a metal death's head on the front of the black velvet cap band. Waffenfarbe piping appeared round the crown seam and on both edges of the band. Though the cap was normally issued with a black leather chin strap, for officers is was replaced by a heavy plaited double-cord in silver thread, held in place by two silver buttons. A silver metal eagle badge of SS design was pinned to the front of the crown, and a silver death's-head to the front of the band. Senior NCOs were sometimes to be seen wearing this cap, but with a black leather chinstrap instead of the cords. Waffenfarbe piping followed the crown seam and both top and bottom edges of the band. Insignia was the same as on the officer's version. NCO’s wore the same sidecap as the rank and file.

There was also the "old style officer’s cap" (Offizierfeldmutze alterer Art). It was of similar shape to the peaked cap, but noticeably smaller in outline. This soft and battered-looking cap was quite popular. It had no chinstrap or cords, though officers occasionally added the silver cords. The peak was either of unstiffened black leather or – less commonly – covered in field-grey cloth. Unlike the Army equivalent, it bore metal insignia as on the Schirmmutze.

Officers also wore the officer's version of the M1943 field cap. It was identical to the enlisted man's version, but with silver piping round the crown seam.

Changes to officers' and NCO's equipment were dictated more by experience than any regulation – France 1940 was one thing, but Russia 1942 was quite another! One of the few regulated change came in July 1943, when it was ordered that the M1934 officer's belt was to be dyed black, and new belts be manufactured in black. But most of the changes were dictated by the battlefield. Any front line officer or NCO who wished to stay alive quickly made changes that made him look more like his men. This meant the abandonment of the officer's belt for the enlisted man's, adopting the enlisted man's tunic, and wearing the sidecap or M1943 field cap instead of an officer's cap.

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Clear view on the Schirmmütze (cap), Iron cross 1th class, nahkampfspange and sturmabzeichen. M43 feldmütze, M39 eihandgranade hanging on the pocketbutton and the Iron Cross 1th & 2nd class.

Cuff-titles

Cuff-titles (Armelstreifen) were a common feature of German uniform insignia. Many military, para-military, political and ancillary formations wore such items. They can be divided onto a number of categories. Though many were in existence before the war, new ones were created throughout the war.

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Regulations were laid down for the manufacture and issue of all types of cuff-titles. Definite rules were set out regarding the wearing of these items, though these were often ignored. Many differed between those worn by officers and those worn by enlisted men; usually this took the form of the quality of the material used in the inscription–white or grey machine-stitched cotton for the lower ranks, silver-aluminum hand-embroidery for officers

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