16 December 2022
Edward Hallett looks at the specialist clothing issued to German mountain troops.
The Gebirgsjäger, or German mountain troops, of World War II were unusually well equipped in both field gear and uniforms in order to allow them to operate in the challenging terrain of Europe’s mountains and glaciers. The Gebirgsjäger traced their origin back to the Austro-Hungarian mountain troops of World War I. At the start of World War I Germany had no special Alpine troops, however having seen how successful the Austrian Schützen were, the German military set up the Alpenkorps which was maintained and enhanced during the interwar period to create an elite unit. As with many small elite units, the Gebirgsjäger developed a range of specialist uniforms and clothing in addition to wearing distinctive insignia on standard uniforms. It is the Gebirgsjäger’s elite status that has ensured they maintain a strong following today amongst collectors and any uniform with a Gebirgsjäger connection is hotly sought after. The Alpine troops saw service in many regions including, and rather bizarrely, the deserts of North Africa, however perhaps the most interesting clothing comes from their service in the mountains of Northern Europe.
Right: Skis and specialist mountain clothing clearly indicate that these soldiers belong to a mountain division. Skis were a practical way of crossing snow bound territory in the north of Europe
For most of his service, a Gebirgsjäger soldier would be clothed much as his infantry counterparts in an enlisted man’s feldbluse. A number of different patterns were worn, early in the war the Model 1933/35 and Model 1936 were the most commonly worn by the enlisted man. These were made of field grey fabric, and had four box-pleated patch pockets, securing up the front with five pebbled buttons. Examples worn by mountain troops can be determined by the embroidered edelweiss badge on the upper right sleeve and light green waffenfarbe piping to the shoulder boards. The colour of the waffenfarbe was hellgrün or light green, but rifle regiments wore meadow green which was actually a lighter shade than that of the Gebirgsjäger and inconsistent dyes at the time make the Gebirgsjäger colour nearer to mid-green in many cases, so the colour of the waffenfarbe itself is not always sufficient to conclusively identify a Gebirgsjäger tunic. The waffenfarbe was also worn as piping down the outside seam of the parade/walking out trousers.
Left: At the start of the war the finely produced M36 uniform was in service, the insignia here indicating a Gebirgsjäger
Later in the war Gebirgsjäger were issued with the simplified 1943 model feldbluse which was made of poorer quality wool and deleted the pleats on the pockets to save fabric. An even more radical change came with the model 1944 feldbluse which was a far shorter garment, akin to British battledress. Again both these models of tunic retained the edelweiss sleeve badge, a distinctive feature that showed the units’ elite statuses and proudly displayed by all who had earned it.
Right: The shoulder boards are edged in the light green waffenfarbe of the mountain divisions
Specialist mountain clothing
At the start of the war the Gebirgsjäger wore specialist mountain trousers called berghose that were reinforced in the seat with a large oval reinforcement and in the crotch and inner thighs where wear would be greatest. Tapered legs were provided to allow them to be worn with mountain boots; at the bottom of each trouser legs slits were cut that allowed the two sides to be wrapped over and secured with ribbons. As the war progressed the German Army decided that having separate patterns for trousers was impracticable and standard rundbundhosen were issued to all troops, regardless of role.
To go over the standard woollen service uniform, Gebirgsjäger were issued a windproof jacket, known as a windjacke. This was a double-breasted jacket made from grey-green waterproof cotton, secured up the front by two rows of five buttons. The jacket had two pockets on the skirt, with scalloped flaps secured with a single button each; above each of these was a vertical hand-warmer pocket. The jacket had a deep collar that could be secured at the throat to keep the wind and cold out. Although officially the windjacke was to be worn without insignia, many troops still attached the edelweiss badge to the right sleeve.
Left: As the war progressed, a simplified field jacket known as the M43 was introduced. The same edelweiss insignia and light green waffenfarbe were retained
As well as the windjacke, an anorak was also available. This was a pull over reversible garment, with grey green fabric on one side and white on the other. The anorak had three large pockets across the chest and a further pair of pockets on the rear skirts; a waist drawstring was fitted to help draw this part in. A crotch strap was provided which passed between the wearer’s legs to help hold the anorak down in high winds. Finally, the anorak had a large hood, so large in fact it could be worn over the steel helmet, that could be laced securely up to protect the wearer. A matching pair of trousers were issued that were again reversible being white on one side and grey or green on the other. These simple trousers had an integral waist belt, secured with a brass three-pronged buckle, and ties at the base of each leg.
Right: Specialist trousers called berghose were issued at the start of the war, by the end they had been superseded by a standard pattern shared with the regular Army
A third specialist over jacket was the windbluse or wind blouse. This had been introduced in 1938 and was one of the first pieces of specialist clothing for German mountain troops. It consisted of a loose white over smock that was worn on top of all other items of uniform but unlike the anorak was not reversible. The windbluse had three chest mountain pockets, the outer two of which had bellows, with scalloped flaps that secured with white plastic buttons. The large integral hood had a large fly from the throat up to the base of the hood that secured with white lacing as well as a drawstring around the entire circumference of the hood itself. The windbluse was made of a cotton duck fabric that was waterproof and portions of the garment were of double thickness to help make it more windproof. For its date of introduction this was a well thought out and very practical piece of clothing.
Left: The windjacke was a double-breasted garment with a deep collar, made in grey-green and valued for its practicality
One final piece of outerwear that was seen in regular use by mountain troops was the snow camouflage smock. This was a simple white garment that unlike the other smocks buttoned up the front and was put on like a single-breasted overcoat. This garment did not offer any protection form the weather but did camouflage the wearer in snowy conditions. It was designed with a large hood to cover the head and secured up the front with white resin buttons. Although designed for mountain troops, the realities of warfare on the Eastern Front saw it issued to regular soldiers in large quantities to better camouflage them against the Russian winter snows. Due to its unlined nature, the camouflage smock had to be worn over other layers, which kept the wearer warm. Some examples can be found with a loose fitting back to allow them to be worn over rucksacks and equipment, but most are simpler on construction.
Right: The anorak was white on one side and grey on the other allowing it to be reversed to the most appropriate colour
Gloves were obviously of vital importance when working in the extreme cold of Europe’s mountain ranges. They served two purposes, firstly they kept the Gebirgsjäger’s hands warm, but specialist gloves also helped protect the palms from friction burns when handling ropes. The most common gloves in service were the German Army’s standard grey knitted examples. These had white rings at the cuff to indicate size with one ring being the smallest and four the largest size. Wristlets were also common, despite having been made officially obsolete in 1937. Grey leather gloves were issued to officers, but were also common private purchase items for enlisted men. White canvas gloves were available for wear with the white camouflage uniform and finally one of the most practical items of hand wear was the calico waterproof glove with leather-reinforced thumbs.
Left: A selection of gloves used by mountain troops. In addition to the standard grey woollen gloves, reinforced canvas mittens were issued
The standard German marching boot of the interwar period was completely unsuited for warfare in mountainous terrain so Gebirgsjägers were issued with special boots known as bergshuhe that were closely based on civilian mountaineering boots of the period. These boots were made of thick brown leather and were designed to be worn with puttees or cloth anklets, so only came up to the ankle. The edges of the soles had heavy metal cleats that wrapped around the base and side to offer grip. Two special cleats with flat faces were fitted to each toe to allow the boots to mate up with the bindings on the standard German issue skis. A cut out was shaped into each heel to fit into the spring binding at the rear of the skis. The base of the soles had a diamond pattern of small, conical studs on both the ball and heel of the foot. Grey cloth binding was sewn around the ankle to make this more comfortable and prevent chafing. The boots have a thick heel cap and spine of leather up the rear, all made of the finest quality leather and to the highest standards; mountaineering took a heavy toll on cheaply made boots and so very robust footwear was essential.
Left: The most common item worn with the boots were short grey puttees
The puttees issued for use with these boots were made of grey elasticated wool and were wrapped around the ankle to offer extra support to the wearer and keep snow and debris from entering the tops of the boots. They were produced in three lengths, short, medium and long, and each ended in a piece of narrower tape and a friction buckle to secure them around the leg. The buckles were marked ‘L’ or ‘R’ (links or recht) to indicate which leg each should be worn on. Later in the war a special canvas anklet was issued to Gebirgsjäger. This was based on the standard Army pattern but had leather reinforcement around all the edges and a small hook on the inside to attach them to the boot. They do not seem to have been popular and rarely appear in period photographs.
As well as the commonly-seen heavy mountain boots, a much softer climbing shoe was also available, known as a klettershuhe. These were not used, except on the most difficult of climbs and were a grey canvas ankle-high shoe with a soft leather upper and a felt sole. They were laced up the front with black or white laces and later in the war were made entirely of suede. They were of no use for marching in, but when climbing the soft material aided grip on the rocks and the flexibility allowed the Gebirgsjäger to make better toe holds on sheer cliffs.
The most common headgear worn by the Gebirgsjäger was the bergmutze, a peaked cap based on that worn by Austrian mountain troops in World War I. This was a very practical design with a deep peak to keep the sun out of the wearer’s eyes and side curtains that could be folded down to protect the side and back of the head when it was cold. It was also soft enough to be folded up and put in a pocket when not needed; indeed, it was so practical that it would eventually be rolled out to the rest of the German Army as the war progressed. Gebirgsjäger examples, however, should usually have a white metal edelweiss badge pinned to the left side and the peak of the bergmutze is shorter than that seen on the general German Army M43 einheitsfeldmutz cap.
Left: The standard bergmutze was made of grey-green wool and has an edelweiss badge pinned to the left side
The design of the cap was so popular amongst mountain troops that some had an unofficial version made up in white cotton drill to wear with the white snow camouflage uniform. These are sometimes seen with the edelweiss badge attached. Alternatively a shapeless white cover, with a drawstring, was available to be worn over the standard bergmutze which broke up its shape. Neither design seems to have been official but they appear regularly in period photographs so both were clearly popular options to troops.
Right: Privately purchased bergmutze made in white camouflage fabric
Collecting German mountain uniforms
German mountain uniforms are hugely collectable, and buyers should be cautious that what they are buying is genuine and hasn’t been upgraded with period insignia to make it more desirable. At the time of writing Battleflag Militaria has an example of the windjacke for £545 whilst emedals.com has an officer’s M43 field cap with edelweiss insignia for $995. Bsrmilitaria.com has the reversible anorak for $700 and a pair of mountain boots will set you back €347 from Luftwaffesupplies.com.
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