01 March 2010
Deciphering the colour-coding system of these Imperial German collectables. ...
In the early 20th century several factors would lead to the demise of the traditional colourful German field uniforms. German experiences in their African colonies and on the East Asia Expeditionary Corps’ suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China forced a change to lighter and more tactically efficient uniform designs. Moreover, German observers returning from the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 witnessed the destructive power of modern weapons on soldiers that were easily detected on the battlefield.
Tactical necessity dictated a battlefield uniform less conspicuous to enemy detection, and the Imperial German Army reluctantly implemented changes to their brightly coloured field uniforms. However, the field cap’s band and piping colours remained constant, and it was one of the few remaining vestiges of colour from the pre-war uniform. The field cap, when used in combination with the colour-coded shoulder straps (Schulterklappe) and bayonet knot (Troddel), would designate a soldier’s branch of service, corps, regiment and company.
This article concerns the types and colour codes of the standard German round field caps for other ranks (Krätzchen or Feldmütze) and peaked field caps for all ranks (Schirmmütze or Dienstmütze) during the First World War. Like many other items of German uniform apparel, cap design experienced significant transformation throughout the war due to both tactical requirements and economic constraints.
The Model 1907 Krätzchen for Other Ranks
The Krätzchen had a field-grey wool body constructed with a round one-piece top with quarter panels below. The quarter panels were sewn together to form a seam on the front, back and on each side. Inside the cap was a white calico lining with a separate sewn-in sweatband of the same material. Most had various black ink regulation issue stamps (Kammerstempel) indicating the corps uniform department (“BA “ for Bekleidungsamt), year of manufacture and sometimes the regiment. It was also common to see a maker’s stamp and size, and even the wearer’s handwritten name inside or on a sewn cotton label. Caps were also re-issued and this is typically indicated by a striking or blotting out of the old unit stamps with the new unit stamp added. When a cap was re-issued, it should have a “J” or “I” stamp. This stood for the Repair Depot for clothing (Instandsetzungsamt). Unfortunately, due to hard use and moisture, many of the existing examples have stamps that are unreadable or completely faded away.
The colour coding system
Because the Krätzchen was a vital link in the rather complicated unit colour-coding system, it had a wide-range of colour combinations for the band and piping. A 3.2cm wide coloured band in combination with piping at the cap’s top, and sometimes on the band, indicated the wearer’s branch, or in the cavalry’s case, regiment. It sounds simple, yet the almost endless colour-coding made it so complicated it had little utility. For example, all infantrymen would have a poppy red band and piping. Various shades of red band and piping would also apply to certain regiments of Dragoons, Ulans, Schwere Reiter and Chevaulegers. Some cavalry regiments, such as Hussars and Cuirassiers, would have their own unique unit colour combination. Certain branches of the army would wear the identical colour combination, such as the technical branches, including engineers, field artillery and transport troops (black band with red piping).
To read more please see the March/April 2010 issue of the Armourer.