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WWII German Helmet Insignia

Discussion in 'German WWII Uniforms and Equipment' started by Jim, Sep 21, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    Beginning as early as 17 February 1934, the Chief of Army Administration issued orders for the creation and application of helmet insignia (Stahlhelmabzeichm) to denote the wearer’s arm-of-I service. The creation of these insignia coincided with the overall reorganization and expansion of the military following the electoral success of the National Socialists on 30 January 1933. Prior to this date Reichsheer helmets had borne hand-painted crests in the colours of the province in which they were garrisoned. Instituted in approximately 1923, this shield shaped insignia (Wappenschild) was painted on the left side of the World War I helmets used during this period. From 26 January 1924 the Reichsmarine adopted a gold and white shield with anchor devices on the left side of the helmet. These crests were discontinued by both the Reichsheer and Reichsmarine on 14 March 1933, and replaced with a new shield in the national colours (black, white and red) of the newly instituted Reich battle flag. The service emblem for the German Army and Navy instituted in April 1934 superseded all previous insignia, including those for the predecessor and constituent organizations of the Luftwaffe. The service emblem for the Luftwaffe began to appear on World War I model transitional helmets in approximately 1936.

    A petty officer (Bootsmannsmaat) of the Navy's coastal artillery wears the M1940 helmet with single gold-coloured decal. Naval helmets used by land-based units were factory-finished in the same field-grey paint used by the Army


    Decal manufacture and application

    Prior to 1934 Reichswehr helmet insignia were typically hand-painted. For the sake of uniformity, the clothing office within a unit often painted the insignia. Nevertheless, the application of emblems hand painted by individuals naturally resulted in a wide range of variations dependent on artistic skill. Following the introduction of the new national shield in March 1933 there was a brief attempt at using a pressed metal shield on M1933 helmets, and in addition some decal transfers were printed in the three colour design; but before April 1934 neither type of emblem was used extensively, and hand-painted shields were still the norm. With the coming of the Third Reich, various firms with expertise in print media and lithography were contracted by the Reich’s Ministry to produce helmet insignia in the form of high quality decal transfers (see Table 8A). Specifications called for printing in fade-resistant colours using flax oil varnish. Army decals utilized a layer of aluminium foil to create a metallic appearance like that found on uniform insignia. Decal dimensions were consistent from one firm to the next, with little variation in the final design (see Table 8B).
    Decal transfers were printed in both lacquer-based and water-slide formats. Lacquer based decals were printed face down on a thin layer of transfer paper with the metallic side exposed. Application required painting the underside with a thin layer of Ducolux, Kopal, or Damar lacquer prior to placement on the helmet. Once the decal was bonded to the helmet a thin laver of varnish or lacquer was brushed onto the surface to increase durability - although in practice many decals never received this final protective coat. Difficulties experienced with the lacquer-based transfers were no doubt the reason for a change to water-slide decals. These differed from lacquer based transfers in being printed face up on a specially treated paper; between the decal and the transfer sheet was a thin layer of glue. The decals were dipped in water to soften the glue, and then slid onto the surface of the helmet. Once the lacquer or glue had bonded, decals of both formats were permanent and often difficult to remove, even standard of manufacture, with hard pressure or by scraping. The fact that original specimens still retain their bright metallic appearance is testimony to their high standard of manufacture.


    Placement of helmet insignia

    The national tricolour shield introduced in March 1933 remained on the left side of the helmet until 17 February 1934. On this date it was moved to the right side of the helmet to accommodate the newly introduced service insignia of the Army and Navy on the left. Units participating in the newly instituted ‘Hero’s Memorial Day’ and related parades held in Berlin were required to display the new insignia. Instructions required that decals be placed no less than 3.3cm below the ventilation lug of the helmet. It is important to note that up until this time all helmet insignia were applied at unit level; following the introduction of the M1935 helmet, factories began to apply decals as part of the finishing process, as the earlier model helmets were slowly phased out of service.

    Army insignia

    The first detailed description of Army insignia appeared in an order issued by the Reichswehr Minister on 5 April 1934. At this time the helmets in service included various World War I models; the M1935 was still in the prototype stage and had not yet been issued. The order requested that all military supply centres distribute the new Army insignia and coloured national shield decals. The tricolour shield introduced nearly 12 months earlier was to be removed in favour of the new decals. The cost for a single set of decals was estimated at 1.3 Reichpfennig. The national shield was moved to the right side of the helmet, and the Army’s new eagle insignia replaced it on the left side. During this transition it was not uncommon for helmets to have misaligned or poorly placed insignia, since they were applied at unit level by individual soldiers or by the staff of Army clothing offices, who often failed to interpret the orders properly. The service insignia of the Heer took the form of a silver coloured eagle with down folded wings, its talons clutching a swastika, on a black shield-shaped ground. Although intended primarily for the Army, variations of this emblem could be found in a variety of symbolic uses throughout the Third Reich. Several makers were contracted to produce the decals, which accounts for slight variations in the design of the eagle. The Army service emblem was placed on helmets until discontinued on 28 August 1943. The tricolour national decal was applied until 21 March 1940 (preceding the invasion of France on 10 May). The Army High Command directive of 21 March ordered that all such decals be removed from helmets, particular emphasis being placed on helmets designated for field or combat use. Despite the directive, many helmets in fact retained both insignia, particularly those used in rear areas and those in the possession of officers and high-ranking officials.

    This M1940 single-decal Kriegsmarine helmet, showing virtually no service wear, was ‘liberated’ by a Canadian solder serving with the Alberta-raised 18th Field Regiment RCA in March 1945. He found it lying discarded on the kitchen table of a small home in Holland.


    Navy insignia

    All units under the direction of the Reichsmarine were required to comply with the orders issued by the Reich’s Minister on 5 April 1934, predating the decree that changed the Reichsmarine into the Kriegsmarine in May 1935. For the Kriegsmarine this called for the removal of previous Reichswehr insignia and the application of a gold coloured service insignia and tricolour national shield to all helmets. The Kriegsmarine used the same folded-wing eagle design as the Heer, and decals were manufactured to the same specifications as those used by the Army. The gold colour was chosen because it was the traditional ‘lace and button’ colour historically used by the Imperial German Navy, as silver had been by the Army. Helmet transfers were manufactured in both lacquer and water-slide formats.
    As noted above, the number of helmets in active use by the Navy was considerably smaller than by the Army and Air Force, particularly in the early years preceding World War 11. Following induction, naval personnel passed through basic military ceremonial and ground combat training similar to that of the Army. A small number of helmets were retained for this purpose and were stored at training and technical schools, and personnel used these on a temporary basis as they passed through this phase of their training. A larger number of helmets were issued to shore-based naval units including artillery, engineer, infantry, signals, and security troops; these units were employed in administration, supporting services, and in the defence of coastlines, shipyards and naval bases including coastal fortifications in occupied territories. Helmets were also issued to personnel designated as gunnery and anti-aircraft crews serving aboard a variety of surface warships. Although there are some photos showing deck gun crews wearing them, helmets were not issued extensively aboard U-boats, due to the severe limitations of space and their marginal usefulness on a submarine. The Kriegsmarine retained the national decal on the right side of the helmet until 21 March 1940; following that date the M1940 and M1942 helmets were issued both with or without single decals. It appears that the Navy was successful in removing all World War I transitional helmets from active use when the M1935 came into service; unlike the Army, few photographs show older models in use after 1940.

    Helmet insignia were manufactured by a variety of printers in lacquered and water slide formats. Several unapplied decals are shown here for comparison, including the cover sheets of two manufacturers, Ed.Strache and C.A.Pocher.


    Air Force insignia

    Luftwaffe helmet insignia followed a pattern of constant change reflecting an era of rapid growth and expansion. The foundation of the German Air Force began in 1933 following the creation and integration of the Deutscher Luftschutz-Verband (DLV), the Prussian Politzieabteilung Wecke battalion, and the Fliegerjugend youth organization. Between mid-1934 and early 1935 these organizations were combined with the Reichsluftaufsicht, the SA-Standarte ‘Feldherrnhalle’ and the Landespolizei Regiment ‘General Goring’ (which grew out of Politzieabteilung Wecke). The consolidated service was officially designated the Luftwaffe on 16 March 1935. Throughout its expansion the Luftwaffe would embrace a number of other constituent groups and distinct branches; the largest of these included the Nationalsozialistiches Flieger Korps (NSFK), Reichsluftschutzebund (RLB), Hitlerjugend Luftsportscharen, Hitlerjugend Flakhelfer, Luftschutzwahrendienst, the combat aircrew and troops of the Legion Condor, the Flakartillerie, the Fallschirmjager and the Air Force Field Divisions.

    Two subdued green Luftwaffe decals. Although war time produced, these were seldom used on Luftwaffe helmets. The examples shown are printed in water transfer format. The Air Force’s helmet national emblem was reversed from its direction in all other insignia, so that it was seen to ‘fly forwards’ when placed on the left side of the helmet.


    The first use of unique helmet insignia denoting the Luftwaffe appeared two months after the official decree of its existence. The new Air Force was obliged to mirror orders issued by official state and military authorities, including those of February 1934 by the Chief of Army Administration governing the use of helmet insignia. On 16 May 1935 orders were introduced describing various regulation insignia for use on Luftwaffe uniform items, for implementation from 27 May. As in the older services, the national decal was to be placed on the right side of the helmet and a service emblem on the left. The Luftwaffe emblem differed radically from the others, however: it depicted a white coloured eagle with spread wings, ‘flying’ from right to left and clutching a swastika, but without a shield-shaped backing.
    At least three variations of the early eagle insignia were created during 1935, the differences between them being attributed to manufacturer’s variations. Collectively, all three versions are often referred to as ‘first pattern’ decals, since a second decal of similar but distinct appearance was adopted by the Luftwaffe. While no reason for the change has ever been documented, period photographs indicate that this more aggressive looking ‘second pattern’ eagle - with an upswept rather than a ‘drooping’ tail, made its first appearance in 1937. It superseded the previous versions, although both types were used on M1935 helmets; the newer style decal was applied to L u f M e helmets until discontinued at factory level on 28 August 1943. A special gold coloured version of the ‘first pattern’ decal was introduced on a limited basis for general officers, and for officials and technical personnel, in June 1935 (Luftwaffe Directive 422). Prior to 1940 this gold version was also used in the ‘second pattern’ style on L u f M e fire protection service helmets; one might conclude that Luftwaffe fire-fighting personnel were seen as technical troops, as noted in L u f M e Directive 422. The gold decal was most often found on M1935 and M1940 helmets used by senior staff officers. One final variation of the ‘second pattern’ eagle also deserves mention. Although scarce, a subdued green version of the decal was produced for use on all combat helmets. The exact date of introduction is unknown; however, original specimens are sometimes encountered on decal sheets captured by Allied servicemen. Subdued decals of this kind were used on a limited basis, and are seldom seen in period photographs.

    This Luftwaffe M1940 helmet captured by a US serviceman In l945 has the additional red, white and black diamond shaped decal used by some Hitler Youth Anti-Aircraft Auxiliaries (Flakhelfer)


    Special Insignia: Hitlerjugend Flak Auxiliaries

    Within the organizational jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe fell elements of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) whose primary role was to assist local antiaircraft units (Flakartillerie) in home defence. Both young men and women were drawn into active service to assist the crews of the antiaircraft weapons and supporting searchlight and detection equipment positioned around cities, towns, and airfields. The tasks performed by these volunteer ‘Helpers’ included bringing up ammunition, loading and unloading weapons, keeping watch against air raids, and in some cases actually assisting in the firing of weapons. Such activities required steel helmets for protection, which were supplied by the Flak units. In order to distinguish Hitler Youth volunteers from Luftwaffe servicemen, a limited number of helmets were marked with an additional small HJ insignia - a red and white diamond with a central black swastika. When applied, the diamond was placed directly below the eagle decal on the left side of the helmet. No regulation governing the use of this decal has surfaced, and it seems to have been a matter of local choice among area authorities. Surviving examples typically display a diamond decal of somewhat newer appearance compared with the helmet’s overall condition - a logical result of its application to helmets which had already seen use before their reissue to HJ-Helfer. Most surviving examples are M1940 and M1942 helmets, perhaps dating the decision to incorporate the additional decal after 1940.

    Deutsches Afrikakorps

    Aside from the insignia generally found on Wehrmacht helmets, no special service insignia was created for use on steel helmets worn by the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) during the North African campaign. Helmets used in that theatre were initially issued in standard continental colour and decal configurations. When terrain dictated, men of all service branches were allowed to paint their helmets with tan paint in the colour shades found on vehicles, with an admixture of sand to produce a non-reflective surface. The sand and paint combination was generally hand-applied using a brush or rag, though if equipment was available some helmets were spray-painted in smooth desert tan finish. The quality of the paint finish and any camouflage scheme applied naturally varied greatly from one helmet to the next.
    Helmets with decals were often hand-painted in such a way as to leave the service insignia visible; in other cases the decals were completely painted over. For men who possessed artistic talent, an unofficial practice was the application of a hand-painted palm tree and swastika emblem resembling that officially applied to some DAK vehicles, on one or both sides of the helmet. Similarly, Luftwaffe ground crews occasionally hand-painted their squadron crest on one or both sides of the helmet after it had been painted desert tan. Despite these exceptions, photographic evidence suggests that such unofficial insignia were seldom seen in North Africa.

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