Germany - pre-1945
Germany - Pre-1945
text and photos by Henrik Clausen and Eric H. Larson
As a member of the Central Powers, the German Empire fought alongside Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empire forces during the First World War. This was the first large-scale conflict to utilize camouflage techniques for military purposes to any great degree; it was originally developed to disguise artillery emplacements from aerial observation. Still later, camouflage designs would be applied to aircraft, ships, and even tanks. Several nations, including France, Great Britain, and the United States engaged the expertise of artists to develop camouflage designs for battlefield purposes during the early part of the 20th century. German artist and printmaker Franz Marc, a key figure in the German Expressionist movement, was perhaps the greatest contributor to the development of early German military camouflage, having been employed to create more than a dozen different designs to be printed on huge tarpaulins that would be used for the concealment of artillery emplacements. As with most other countries, the implementation of personal camouflage for German forces came later, but was relatively commonplace during WW1 in the hand-painting of various designs on the new Stahlhelm, introduced in 1916. Other techniques, including the art of sniper camouflage, saw some development by German forces during this conflict as well.
Following the First World War, Germany was one of the first countries to introduce mass-produced camouflage, and to apply consistent designs to military vehicles. It was not until the Second World War that camouflage development truly blossomed as a science and an art. Not only was Germany one of the original nations to implement military issued camouflage, but it was unequivocably the most prolific developer and user of camouflage designs during WW2. Both the German Wehrmacht (Army) and the Waffen-SS were issued a wide vareity of camouflage uniforms during the war, with many of the German designs later having significant influence on the camouflage patterns adopted by other nations. Many would consider the German camoufleurs of the 1940s to be the fathers of 20th century camouflage design, although in fact they must share that credit with developers from certain other nations as well.
Early German Camouflage
- During the First World War, much of Western Europe was embroiled in a tedious campaign of trench warfare. The average infantry trench was deep enough to allow men to stand up or travel along its length completely unobserved by the enemy and protected from his rifle and machine gun fire. Nevertheless, the most exposed part of a soldier under these conditions was usually his head. Introduced in 1916, the German Army M1916 Stahlhelm was a fairly advanced protective design (for the time) covering not only the crown of the head, but the sides and neck as well, with a visor to shade the eyes from the sun as well as protect them from small bits of flying debris. The first German examples of personal camouflage to emerge during the war were hand-painted helmets. Although each helmet was essentially unique as they were personally printed by their owners, the designs themselves were similar and tended to consist of geometric shapes of light colors divided by black or dark colored lines. Please note the images below were borrowed from internet sources and are not the property of this site or its administrators.
- The earliest known camouflage pattern developed for mass-production to German militayr forces is the Heeres-Splittermuster 31 (Army splinter pattern), introduced circa 1931. This camouflage design was used on the Zeltbahn 31 - a triangular shelter quarter that would create a suitable four-man tent when buttoned together with three additional pieces. The colouration of the two sides was different but both printed in a splinter pattern. It should be noted that the German design was later copied on the Swiss Zelteinheiten 1901.  The pattern would also be utilized on for a number of uniform items during WW2 and was the basis of the Luftwaffe-Splittermuster camouflage pattern.
- A three color camouflage design consisting of dark russet and green blobs on a dark ochre background seems emerged for use on German tanks circa 1934. This pattern was also printed onto proper canvas tents, as well as ammunition boxes and even personal map cases, but is not known to have ever appeared on individual camouflage garments or on zeltbahnen. Some sources refer to this as the Reichswehr pattern. The photographs shared here, taken from Life magazine, illustrate the camouflage tents used alongside Splittermuster 31 zeltbahnen by members of the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
Camouflage Patterns of the German Wehrmacht
- Each German Wehrmacht soldier was issued with a Zeltbahn 31. This is an example of a Wehrmacht soldier based on the west coast of Denmark who has made his own uniform by sewing a zeltbahn like a M44 jacket and adding pieces of clothing from the zeltbahn to an old pair of trousers.
- Luftwaffe-Splittermuster 41. This was a scaled down version of the Heeres-Splittermuster 31 and was used for some Luftwaffe uniforms - eg. the "Knochensack" (Bone sack), the jump suit of the paratroopers. The photo shows a reproduction.
- Wehrmacht Sumpfmuster 43 ("43 Marsh Pattern"). This pattern still has the geometric shapes of the Heeres-Splittermuster, but additionally some blurred shapes on top of them giving the pattern a much more "fluffier" look. Used for garments from 1943.
- Wehrmacht Sumpfmuster 44 ("44 Marsh Pattern"). The geometric shapes are now gone. Used for garments from 1944.
- Leibermuster was the final camouflage pattern developed by the Germans during WW2. It should be issued to both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS soldiers, but it seems that it was mostly issued to Wehrmacht soldiers in Czechoslovakia in the very end of the war. The pattern is different from the Czechoslovak Leibermuster pattern. The photo shows a reproduction.
Camouflage Patterns of the Waffen-SS
- Block pattern. The very first pattern. Developed and used in small scale 1936-38.
- Waffen-SS Plane Tree (Platanenmuster). The term refers to the Platanaceae species, better known as the sycamore. The first material of this pattern was produced in 1936 and continued until 1944 - there are several variations of this pattern. The pattern is reversible with a summer and autumn side. It is printed in two tones (giving the impression of three) with a black overprint. Used for eg. helmet covers, smocks and zeltbahns. The photo shows a reproduction of this pattern!
- Waffen-SS Blurred Edge (Rauchtarnmuster). 1941-1944. Used for garments and zeltbahns. The pattern is printed as a three-colour Oak Leaf pattern with a black two-tone shadow.
- Waffen-SS Palm Tree pattern (Palmenmuster). Used for smocks and helmet covers. The photo show a reproduction - in fact of a zeltbahn (the pattern was not used for the production of these!). Produced 1940-1942 and saw widespread use during the invasion of USSR.
- Waffen-SS Oak Leaf pattern (Eichenlaubmuster). There are two types of this pattern - A and B (also called "ringed" and regular). Used for garments and zeltbahns from 1941-1945. The photos show the type B:
- Waffen-SS Pea Pattern (Erbsenmuster) - the first non-reversible wartime Waffen-SS pattern. A late war pattern - introduced in 1944. Used for garments. This pattern was used briefly after WW2 by eg. the Hungarian Army using up German stocks. The photo show a reproduction of the pattern!
Several books have been written on the subject of German WW2 camouflage. Daniel Peterson has written two - one dealing with Wehrmacht and one with Waffen-SS camouflage   - both also containing information on postwar uniforms. Werner Palinckx has written a book with Dr. J.F. Borsarello  on German Wehrmacht uniforms. Michael Beaver wrote with Dr. J.F. Borsarello a book on Waffen-SS uniforms 
- Despite the patterns being quite similar there are a number of differences between the Swiss and the German shelter halves/zeltbahns: the Swiss shelter is rectangular, the German triangular; the German zeltbahn does not have the yellow dots on one of the sides; there is green "lines" through the brown areas of the Swiss pattern - sometimes connecting the green areas. The German Zeltbahn does not have these lines. The Swiss shelter often has a stamped metal disk with the manufacturer etc.
- Wehrmacht Camouflage Uniforms & Post-War Derivatives, by Daniel Peterson. Windrow & Greene, London, 1995. ISBN 1 85915 005 5
- Waffen SS Camouflage Uniforms & Post-War Derivatives, by Daniel Peterson. 1995. ISBN 1 86126 474 7
- Camouflage Uniforms of the German Wehrmacht, by Werner Palinckx with Dr. J.F. Borsarello, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, USA, 2002. ISBN: 0-7643-1623-0
- Camouflage uniforms of the Waffen-SS, by Michael D. Beaver with J.F. Borsarello. Schiffer, Atglen, Pa, USA. 1995. ISBN 0-88740-803-6