TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. — Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



1. General

German Army insignia are intended to establish clear differentiation between ranks and types of service, and at the same time to encourage individual combat efficiency and proficiency in military arts. Direct appeal is made to vanity and to the human tendency to show off military prowess as expressed in terms of insignia and decorations. Many of these insignia are based on traditional German military insignia selected from units famous in German popular and military history.

2. Insignia of Rank

Insignia of rank mainly are determined by shoulder-strap devices (Plate IV and V). While there are many minor complexities having to do with fine differentiation among various ranks, services, and functions, these do not concern the average case. A clear distinction is made among commissioned officers (Offiziere), noncommissioned officers (Unteroffiziere) , and enlisted men of various grades (Mannschaften). Because of the importance of noncommissioned officers in combat and on the drill field, they are accorded special distinguishing marks beyond the normal insignia of rank. Along the lower edge of their coat collar they have a silver or gray braid .4 inch wide. First sergeants, as senior company or battery noncommissioned officers, wear two bands of similar braid on each coatsleeve. Distinction is made between the upper three and the lower two grades of noncommissioned officers. The former are known as Portepeeunteroffiziere; the latter as Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee. The former are entitled to special considerations and privileges, as are the first three grades of U.S. Army noncommissioned officers. These include wearing on certain occasions an officer's saber and a tassel known as the Portepee, hence the title. Fatigue clothing carries the type of noncommissioned-officer insignia used on Reichswehr uniforms.

3. Insignia of Arm and Specialty

In order to clarify an individual's duties, to afford easy recognition of line troops, and to avoid jealousy arising from rapid promotion of qualified specialists, the German Army has made a somewhat ill-organized effort to distinguish line personnel of the arms; personnel of special and administrative services; and personnel of both preceding categories who are so proficient or qualified that rapid promotion to suitable rank is necessary. The first group wear insignia of the line arms (normal insignia of rank and of arm); the specialists and administrative officials tend to be designated by varied insignia (usually by introducing a basic dark-green color); the third group (Sonderführer) wear modifications of normal insignia. Sonderführer insignia for line duty is shown in color plates; insignia for Sonderführer of the Corps of Administrative Officials is somewhat similar as regards the collar patch, but the shoulder strap is more difficult to differentiate. In peacetime and during the early part of the war, further differentiation was made to indicate reserve officers, Landwehr officers, officers recalled to active duty, and officers over the retirement age who might be required from time to time for consultation.

4. Fourrageres

All German officers are entitled to wear the fourragere shown on the officer's service dress in Plate II. Adjutants wear a single cord. The adjutant's fourragere must not be mistaken for one of the 12 grades of markmanship awards (Plate VII), and 1st sergeant in service dress (Plate I). The marksmanship awards sometimes are worn in combat.

5. Use of Numbers and Letters on Shoulder Insignia of Rank

Although the wearing of numbers and letters furnishing unit identification is forbidden in forward areas, German soldiers do not always observe this regulation. Soldiers of the Field Army, however, usually wear such identification in the form of slip-over cloth strips, with the numbers running across the shoulder strap with the length of the strip. In rear areas, numbers are worn as shown in Plates IV and V. Arabic numerals indicate the number of the regiment or battalion to which the wearer belongs. Enlisted men and the lower two grades of noncommissioned officers wear numbers in the color of their arm; other noncommissioned officers wear silver numbers, as do officer candidates. Officers wear gold numbers. Letters may be combined with Arabic numerals. In some cases (See Plate VI), these indicate units of special arms or of special branches of arms. In other cases. the letter D and an arabic numeral indicate division headquarters personnel. Since regulations have changed frequently since 1939, the system of identification by numbers and letters is difficult to follow without the aid of complex guides.


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