Introduction to Heer Panzer Crew Uniforms
By Willi Schumacher
In violation of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, in 1934 German industry began manufacturing armored vehicles and tanks and the German Army began to build tank formations. In late 1934 a special uniform for the men of the tank formations began to make the scene. Although the design and color were practical characteristics, the origins of these characteristics may have been influenced by the Imperial German Death's Head Hussar uniforms. These were black, double-breasted tunics with the death's head emblem. The death's head emblem was also used in World War I by the infant German Tank Corps. The British had adopted a similar tanker's uniform but changed it after the outbreak of World War II because the similarities caused confusion between them and the German tank forces. The characteristics included the double-breasted style which provided extra protection from weather and the black color was adopted so that oil and gasoline spills on the uniform didn't show as bad as on the gray-green.
Initially these uniforms were to be worn only when the crew was with the tank or armored vehicle (HM 40, No. 166, dated 2 February 1940) including Schützenpanzerwagen – type SPw Sd.Kfz. 250/251 (half-track). It also restricted the issue of such uniforms to the tank crews. Whenever the tank crews were away from the vehicle, such as home leave or executing other duties, the service dress uniform (field-gray) was to be worn. By the end of 1940, however, the service dress uniform was no longer issued to the panzer crews, with exception of the field-gray greatcoat, and so the black panzer uniform was to be worn on all occasions.
The initial issue of the black panzer uniform consisted of the black panzer beret, field jacket, field trousers, a dark-gray tricot shirt and a black necktie.