Shoulder Boards, Shoulder Strap Ciphers, and Miscellaneous Insignia
By Willi Schumacher
Shoulder Boards and Shoulder Strap Ciphers
The panzer and assault gun troops wore ciphers on their shoulder boards and shoulder straps indicating a branch and/or unit. Generally officers wore these ciphers in stamped gilt metal, NCOs in stamped aluminum (or silver) metal and other ranks with the ciphers (or monograms) embroidered directly onto the shoulder straps. Members of the regular panzer divisions wearing the pink piped shoulder boards or straps could wear the unit number in Arabic font. If attached to the Panzer-Lehr Division, or field training unit of the Panzertruppen, the letter "L" would be worn. This unit saw considerable action during the Normandy campaign in the summer of 1944. Armor schools wore the pink piping with a Gothic letter "S" cipher. Pink piped shoulder boards and straps could also bear the letter "P" for Panzerjäger. There were artillery training regiments which also wore the "L" cipher on their red piped shoulder boards and shoulder straps. Other mobile artillery and assault gun units could wear the number of their unit. Motorized Reconnaissance units wore an "A" cipher with the unit number below and with golden-yellow branch piping. Before mid-1942 the motorized reconnaissance units wore a copper brown piping before switching to the golden yellow. Panzer signal units wore the unit ciphers on their shoulder boards or straps. The Heer also had a sleeve patch with an electric symbol like a lightning bolt with an arrow on the bottom end. These were colored with the branch that they served with, i.e. panzer in pink. This insignia was embroidered onto a circular gray-green backing and could have been worn by signals troops serving in an assault gun unit. It would not have been worn on the black panzer uniform.
Ciphers also were used to identify units, the most notable for the Heer was the Großdeutschland Panzer Division. Ciphers in the form of Gothic letters GD were stamped in gilt metal for officer shoulder boards, in aluminum or silver for NCOs and embroidered directly onto the shoulder straps of other ranks in the same branch color as their piping. In the case of the Großdeutschland Division a cuffband was also worn on the left sleeve cuff. This cuffband came in four versions as time passed. The first version was machine-woven in aluminum thread on a dark-green rayon band. The second model, which was short-lived during the summer of 1940, was manufactured the same way as the first but prefixed with "Inf.-Regt.". The third version was hand-embroidered in aluminum wire on a black doeskin wool base with aluminum Russia-braid borders. The lettering was in Sütterlin script. The fourth, and final version, which appeared in the second half of 1944 was machine-embroidered in silver-gray thread on black wool backing although officers still could acquire quality hand-embroidered aluminum wire. The final version script changed from Sütterlin to Copperplate style. Hitler's motorized escort, the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon, wore the distinctive "Großdeutschland" cuffband in Sütterlin script on their lower right sleeve. On their lower left sleeve was the "Führerhauptquartier" (Führer Main Quarters). From April 1941, the 2. Pz.Kp. and Pz.Sp.Zug. of the Führer-Begleit-Bataillon wore the black panzer uniform but with white waffenfarben (branch colors) and the entwined "GD" on their shoulder straps. The original issue Führerhauptquartier cuffband was 4cm wide with a black backing and gold "Russia braid" borders and gold machine-woven Gothic lettering. In early 1941 this was replaced with silver "Russia braid" borders and silver hand-embroidered Sütterlin lettering (AMH, 21 January 1941, Order No. 40, dated 15 January 1941).
Another Heer panzer division bearing a cuffband was the Panzer-Division "Feldherrnhalle". Originally established as Infanterie-Regiment "Feldherrnhalle" by order AHM No. 770, dated 9 August 1942, the regiment evolved to Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 60 "Feldherrnhalle" before expanding to a panzer division in the late war years. The Feldherrnhalle cuffband was 2.7cm wide with a brown backing with silver-gray thread edging. The lettering was machine-woven in Sütterlin script using silver aluminum wire thread. The cuffband was worn on the opposite sleeve cuff as the Grossdeutschland, on the right cuff. In the Spring of 1943, while the "Feldherrnhalle" was still designated as Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 60, the S.A. Feldherrnhalle "Kampfrunen" emblem was introduced for wear on the shoulder boards and shoulder straps of "Feldherrnhalle" personnel. Officers wore this stamped metal device in gilt, NCOs in silver or aluminum and other ranks embroidered directly onto their shoulder straps.
Other cuffbands worn by the Army Panzertruppe included the "Afrikakorps" theater cuffband and the "Afrika" campaign cuffband. The former was only worn in theater after two months of service and the latter was awarded to members of the Afrika Korps on an individual basis and was more of a decoration than a campaign insignia. Although the Panzertruppen in North Africa seldom wore their black panzer uniforms beyond the initial stages of the campaign, the "Afrikakorps" cuffband has been documented as being worn on the black panzer jacket. These had to be removed once the member left the theater, the only exception being at home on furlough. The "Afrika" cuffband, if so awarded to the member, could be worn on their black panzer and gray-green uniforms once they returned to the European continent. Additionally, cuffbands commemorating the campaigns in Metz 1944 and Kurland could be worn by members of the Panzertruppen if so engaged in those campaigns and authorized to be worn.
Other insignia worn by the Panzertruppen on their black panzer uniforms and the assault gunners were Tank Destruction Badges and Driver's Badges and Battleshields (KRIM, Demjansk, Cholm, Kuban). Refer to the website on awards and decorations for further details on these insignia.