Waffen-SS Camouflaged Panzer Uniforms
By Willi Schumacher
The Waffen-SS is most noted for its use of camouflaged uniforms. The German Army experimented with camouflage clothing in the mid-1930s centering primarily on the zeltbahn (shelter quarter), however, the camouflaged patterns themselves were highly ineffective. During the same time, two distinguished officers of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), former Army officers during WWI, Paul Hausser and Felix Steiner, brought forth new ideas into the field of warfare. Steiner, commanding the Regiment Deutschland, used this formation for experimenting with tactics, training and clothing. Otto Schick was brought in and he designed new and effective camouflaged patterns and experimented with manufacturing processing. The SS-VT, like its Army counterpart, first concentrated on the camouflaged zeltbahn. Two officers on the Deutschland staff, SS-Obersturmführer Ecke and SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Ing. Wim Brandt, first suggested and began developing preliminary designs for a camouflaged pullover smock and helmet cover. These two clothing articles became the hallmark of the Waffen-SS.
There were 10 basic camouflaged patterns used by the Waffen-SS (and its former designation SS-VT) during the war, although only about four were used for the production of panzer uniforms. The following list provides an example of each pattern, pattern name, date of use, manufacturing process and the clothing articles manufactured with this particular camouflaged pattern.
Plane Tree (Wartime Patterns)
Used for the production of headgear, pullover smocks, zeltbahns and panzer camouflaged combinations, this pattern was manufactured from 1940 to 1944. The earlier patterns were manually screened while the later were produced by machine rolling. By using the machine rolling process for the background printing, a new pattern was established – the oak leaf.
This was a nondescript pattern not fitting into the normal motif of previously manufactured camouflaged patterns. It had the oak leaf background with shadow and foliage effects. This was accomplished by overprinting the background with a black two-tone shadow. This pattern was manufactured from 1941 to 1944 for the production of all types of clothing except the paratrooper jump smocks.
Oak Leaf (Type A and Type B)
This camouflaged pattern came about as a result of the background printing of the blurred edge pattern. With the addition of a couple more colors, it evolved into its own distinctive pattern. Most of the materials printed with this pattern ended up as the background for the blurred edge and plane tree patterns so those articles manufactured using the oak leaf patterns are more scarce than their counterparts. This pattern was produced from 1941 through 1945, continuing to the end of the war. The other camouflaged patterns were eventually replaced by the dot pattern. The Oak Leaf B differed from its predecessor only in its softer edges and outlined designs. Production of this pattern was accomplished with machine roller and was used for manufacturing of all clothing except the paratrooper jump smock.
Designed to replace all other camouflaged patterns in 1944, the dot pattern, also referred to as the M-44 dot pattern, was produced by machine roller using five different colors in both indanthrene and anthrasol dyes. It was used in the manufacture of two-piece uniforms including the panzer wrapper, winter clothing and the paratrooper jump smocks.
These uniforms came in two styles: combinations (one-piece coveralls) and drill (two-piece).
Officially introduced on 15 January 1943, this winter combination was worn by tank crews of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler during their victory at Kharkov two months later in March. This combination was manufactured with layers, the middle being insulation for warmth. The two outer layers were a field gray and winter white, the garment being reversible. There were four exterior pockets and came from the factory with buttons and loops on the shoulders to accommodate rank boards or straps. Although at this time the orders from SS Headquarters introducing a new system of camouflaged sleeve ranks, many panzer crews continued to wear the shoulder boards and straps. The winter combination was discontinued before the end of 1943 primarily because it was cumbersome and restricted movement inside a confined tank's interior.
Although introduced at the same time as the Winter Combination, this garment wasn't issued until the Spring. It was the same design as the Winter Combination but with the extra provision of an elastic belt in the back at the waist. It was manufactured with the same waterproof cotton duck material used to make helmet covers, Zeltbahns and pullover camouflaged smocks. It was printed on each side and fully reversible. Although it had the same cumbersome and restrictive movement characteristics as the Winter Combination, it was very popular with the tank crews. The Camouflaged Combinations were also provided to other crews such as armored cars and armored radio vehicles. They were printed with three camouflaged patterns: oakleaf, plane tree and blurred edge.
There were two sets of the Camouflaged Drill uniforms for tank crews with the difference being the camouflaged patterns used. The earlier set used oakleaf and blurred edge, which were printed on both sides of HBT material from stocks of surplus from discontinued camouflaged garments. The uniforms were manufactured in such a manner as not to be reversible. The later set used the M-44 dot pattern and was printed on one side only. The style of these uniforms was identical to the black panzer and gray-green assault gun. The only difference was in the trouser's front pocket flaps, which had one button instead of two.