Waffenfarben (Arm Colours)
By Michael Dorosh

Originally Published on the LANDSER Website by Michael Dorosh; resurrected and revised by Ryan Crierie for greater coverage (addition of Luftwaffe/SS charts).

The use of different colours to distinguish between different branches of the armed services was not unique to the German Army during World War Two. The Russian Army also used coloured shoulder boards after 1942 to specifiy between the different arms, and the British Army utilized coloured strips of cloth on their sleeve to likewise distinguish the different branches.

The Germans were unique, however, in applying a large (and in the end, perhaps unwieldy) number of different colours, and to a great variety of uniform components, from hats to trousers. The most common use of Waffenfarbe, of course, was on the shoulder straps of uniforms, but even such things as Regimental standards were in the arm of service colour rather than any specific unit colours (as was the case with British Army regimental standards).

EARLY HISTORY

The use of branch-specific colours did not have a long history in any of the world's armies by the time World War Two began. During the Great War, the Imperial Germany Army used coloured piping to represent State or Corps affiliation to a greater degree than differentiating between branches, though limited usage with that intention did occur.

When the postwar Reichsheer was formed in 1919, a simple system of colours was established, firmly intended to represent only the different branch of service. The official term was Waffengattungsfarbe but this was considered long and cumbersome.

Reichsheer Waffenfarben (1919-1935~)

Staff Corps and Reichswehr Ministry

Carmine

Artillery

Red

Infantry

White

Cavalry

Golden Yellow

Signals

Lemon Yellow

Motor Transport

Rose Pink

Jäger

Green

Smoke (Chemical) Troops

Wine Red

Horse Transport

Light Blue

Engineers

Black

Recruiting

Orange

WEHRMACHT

As the Army began to expand after 1935, the system become more complicated, as differing shades of the same colour began to be utilized.  The creation of new types of soldiers (such as Mountain Troops, panzer troops, and Motorized Infantry, and later on reconnaissance troops, signals troops, assault gun troops) created new problems for the system of Waffenfarbe.

The tank troops, who were an evolution of motor transport troops, adopted the rose pink branch colour, while all transport units regardless of type (ie horse or motor) adopted blue.  However, the exception to this was tank units formed from cavalry units, who adopted golden yellow instead.    The infantrymen in tank formations also adopted rose pink.  They were called Schützen Regimenter, and to distinguish them from tank troops, were supposed to wear a "s" shaped cypher on the shoulder board. In late 1939, these infantrymen were supposed to adopt grass green waffenfarbe, but this did not actually take place until 1942/1943, with the renaming of Schützen Regiments as Panzergrenadier Regiments.

During the period of expansion, Army Officials adopted the darker Green previously worn by Jäger units, and both Jäger and Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troops) adopted a lighter shade of green (hellgrün).  Jäger troops underwent many reorganizations during the war, and the term could be applied to different types of troops.  New titles such as Füsilier also were created during the war - a Füsilier could be a soldier in a specially designated Füsilier Regiment (which was simply a standard Infantry Regiment) or it could be a soldier in a special Füsilier Battalion (which was a reconaissance battalion of an infantry or Volksgrenadier Division).  In the former case, he wore white, in the latter, golden yellow.

The creation of Panzerjäger (anti-tank) units created even more confusion; initially they were supposed to wear rose pink piping (with a"p" cypher on the shoulder strap).  The blurring of roles of armoured vehicles led to a wide variety of self-propelled artillery and guns being created during the war; the crews of some of these vehicles wore red, others wore rose pink, still others wore golden yellow, while those vehicle crews serving in an infantry regiment, for example, wore the colour of their parent regiment (in this case white).

In all cases, Waffenfarbe was determined by the soldier's battalion or regiment, not his trade.  A medic serving in an infantry regiment wore white.  If, however, he served in the medical battalion of an infantry division, he wore the cornflower blue of medical troops.

On the whole, the system of Waffenfarbe used by the Wehrmacht in World War Two was not an eminent success.  Many changes were ordered without the ability to implement them due to material shortages; strong resistance to change was often encountered (Panzergrenadiers were especially fond of the rose pink piping that linked them to the panzer troops and many, it seems, were sad to see it go), the construction of uniform parts was hampered by ignorance of the correct shades, or else inability to properly dye different items with consistency from one batch to another, and a final hindrance was the permission given to soldiers to "wear out" older colours (especially soldiers predisposed by personal taste to retain the older colour as long as possible).  Also, once the war started, the use of devices on shoulder straps became a rarity; for troops wearing the same colour shoulder boards, this created additional confusion.

Shoulder strap devices could be embroidered (in the proper waffenfarbe) but also frequently took the form of metal devices in gilt or silver colour (and on officer's shoulder boards, these devices had to be metal, not embroidered). Sometimes a slip on cloth loop with the device embroidered to it was used in lieu of embroidering directly to the shoulder strap.

Shoulder Strap Device Material

Rank

Type of Shoulder Strap Device

Offiziere

Gilt metal

Unteroffiziere mit Portepee

White metal

Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee

Embroidered

Mannschaften

Embroidered



Heer Waffenfarben (1935~1945)

Officers of the OKW and OKH

-

Carmine
(Carmesin)

War Academy

KA

Veterinary Officers and NCOs

snake

Veterinary Troops

unit #

Veterinary Research and Inspection Department

Wehrkreis # in Roman style

Army Veterinary Academy

Gothic A

Veterinary training and research

Gothic L

Generals

-

Red
(Hochrot)

Artillery Regiments

Number of regiment

Artillery Regiment Grossdeutschland

GD entwined

Mounted Artillery Units

R & unit #

Artillery Observation Units

B & unit #

Artillery School

Gothic S

Artillery NCOs School

US & initial letter of school

Artillery Training Regiments

L
(for "lehr")

Artillery Observation Training Regiments

BL entwined

Ordnance Technician School

FS & arabic 1 or 2

School for Artificers

WS & arabic 1 or 2

Experimental command Hillesleben

VH

Experimental command Kummersdorf

VK

Individual officers (W)

2 crossed cannon

Army Ordnance Director

-

Army map and military survey personnel

V

White
(Weiss)

Recruiting office personnel
(1942-45)

W plus Roman numeral of Wehrkreis below

Army group command

G with group number below

General command

Roman numeral of command

Infantry Divisional Staff

D and division number below

Infantry Regiments

Number of regiment

Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland
Panzergrenadier Regiment Grossdeutschland
Panzerfüsilier Regiment Grossdeutschland

GD entwined

Garrison Battalion Vienna

Roman W
(for "Wien", or Vienna)

Machine Gun Battalions

M with unit number below

Motorcycle units

K with unit number below

Mortar Battalions

GW
(for "Granatwerfer", literally grenade thrower)

Army Anti-Aircraft units

Fl
(Capital F and lower case l, short for "FlaK")

Infantry training regiments

L
(for "lehr")

NCOs and men of the Staff of the Military Authority of the Reichsprotektor

WB

War College

KS plus number of school

NCO's Prepatory School

Roman Wehrkreis number

NCO's Schools

US with initial letter of school

Infantry school

Gothic S

Army Sports School

Gothic SS

Army School of Music

Lyre plus Arabic number of school

Cavalry Units

# of unit

Golden Yellow
(Goldgelb)

Reconaissance units (mounted)

A with unit # below
(for "Aufklärungs")

Motorcycle units

R with unit # below

Armoured Reconaissance  Battalion Grossdeutschland

GD entwined

Army Cavalry School

RS

Cavalry schools

Gothic S

Military District Cavalry Schools

Roman number of Wehrkreis

Light Division Staff

D and divisional number below

Signals Units

# of unit

Lemon Yellow
(Zitronengelb)

Fortress signals

Fp with unit # below

Signals Training Regiments

L
(for "lehr")

Signals Schools

Gothic S with arabic #

Signals NCOs School

US plus initial letter of the school

Army School of Dog and Carrier Pigeon Services

Gothic S with HB below

Motorized Reconaissance Units
28 October 1941 -

A with unit # below
(for Aufklärungs)

Copper Brown
(Kupferbraun)

Motorcycle Units
28 October 1941 -

# of unit

General Armoured Commands

Roman # of command

Rose Pink
(Rosa)

Armoured Division Staff

D and divisional # below

Rifle Brigade Staff

# of unit

Armoured units

# of unit

Anti-Tank units

P with unit # below
(for "Panzerjäger")

Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland

GD entwined

Armoured Trains

E with unit # below

Motorcycle units

K with unit # below

Armoured training regiments

L
(for "lehr")

Armour Schools

Gothic S

Army School of Motoring

MS

Motor Maintenance Troops

J

Mountain Troop Divisional Staff

D and divisional # below

Light Green
(Hellgrün)

Jäger and Gebirgsjäger units

# of unit

Alpine and Mountain Troops School

Gothic S

Motorcycle units
25 Nov 1939 - 28 October 1941

K with unit # below

Grass Green
(Weisengrün)

Panzergrenadier units (1942 - 45)

# of unit

Smoke Units

# of unit

Bordeaux Red
(Bordorot)

Smoke Training Units

L
(for "lehr")

Army Gas School

Gothic S

Smoke Troop School

Gothic S

Army Gas Defence School

GS with I or II below

Military Justice

Short sword

Military Medical Academy

A

Cornflower Blue
(Kornblumen Blau)

Medical Officers and NCOs

Staff and serpent

Medical Training units

L
(for "lehr")

Medical Troops

#   of  unit

Supply Troops

Mercury's Staff

Transport units

# of unit

Light Blue
(Hellblau)

Transport training units

L
(for "lehr")

Transport Supply School

Gothic S

Pioneer Battalions

# of unit

Black
(Schwarz)

(engineers wearing the black AFV uniform used black and white twist piping)

Fortress Pioneer Units

Fp with unit # below

Railway pioneers

E with unit # below

Pioneer training battalions

L with I or II

Pioneer NCO's school

US plus initial letter of school

Railway pioneer school

Gothic S with arabic number

Railway Pioneer School

Gothic S outlined in white

Railway pioneer training companies

L in waffenfarbe outlined in white

Technical officers

T

Grossdeutschland pioneer units

GD entwined

Engineer Officer's Academy

Cog Wheel

Orange
(Orangerot)

Recruiting Personnel
(pre 1942)

Roman wehrkreis #

Military Field Police

-

Specialist Officers

-

Grey-blue
(Grau blau)

Army Propaganda Troops

-

Light Grey
(Hellgrau)

SCHUTZSTAFFEL

Until Heer-style shoulder straps were introduced, all piping on SS uniforms was white, irrespective of service branch. This was later changed during the war.

Schutzstaffel Waffenfarben (194x-1945)

NOTE: Colors have not been verified with a printed source, so take with a grain of salt.

Flak Units

Red
(Hochrot)

Artillery

Rocket Units

Infantry

White
(Weiss)

Cavalry

Golden Yellow
(Goldgelb)

Reconnaissance (From June 1942 onwards)

Signalers

Lemon Yellow
(Zitronengelb)

War Correspondents

Field Post Office (Until February 1943)

Reconnaissance (Until June 1942)

Copper Brown
(Kupferbraun)

Panzer Troops

Rose Pink
(Rosa)

Anti-Tank Troops

Police-Divisions (Until 1942)

Grass Green
(Weisengrün)

Mountain Troops (May 1942 Onwards)

Supply

Light Blue
(Hellblau)

Motor Technical School (Until June 1942)

Transport (Until August 1944)

Field Post Office (From February 1943)

Construction Units

Black
(Schwarz)

Engineers

Field Police

Orange
(Orangerot)

Garrison Troops

Recruiting

Welfare

Technical Units

Motor Technical School (July 1942 to August 1944)

General Officers

Light Grey
(Hellgrau)

Himmler's Staff (Till June 1942)

Unknown Colors to find:

Dark Grey - Himmler's Staff ( From June 1942 )
Claret Red - Legal service
Crimson Red – Veterinary
Dark Blue – Medical
Dark Green - Reserve Officers, Specialists ( Till June 1942 )
Light Brown - Concentration Camp Guards
Light Pink - Motor Technical School ( From August 1944 ), Transport ( From August 1944 )
Red/Grey Twist - Specialists ( From June 1942 )
Sky Blue – Administration
Salmon Pink - Military Geologists

LUFTWAFFE

Luftwaffe Waffenfarben (Early War)

NOTE: Colors have not been verified with a printed source, so take with a grain of salt.

General Staff Officers

Carmine Red
(Karmesin) (NOT CORRECT COLOR)

Flak Artillery and Ordnance

Red
(Hochrot)

General Officers

White
(Weiss)

Flying Personnel and Paratroopers

Golden Yellow
(Goldgelb)

Signals

Golden Brown
(Goldbrun) (NOT CORRECT COLOR)

Engineers

Rose Pink
(Rosa)

Air Traffic Control

Light Green
(Hellgrün)

Administration

Dark Green
(Dunkelgrun) (NOT CORRECT COLOR)

Medical

Cornflower Blue
(Kornblumen Blau)

Engineers

Black
(Schwarz)


Luftwaffe Waffenfarben (Late War)

NOTE: Colors have not been verified with a printed source, so take with a grain of salt.

Artillery and Flak Units

Red
(Hochrot)

Panzeraufklärungs
(Armored Reconnaissance)

Golden Yellow
(Goldgelb)

Armor and Divisional Staffs

Rose Pink
(Rosa)

Jaeger Regiments

Medium Green
(Hellgrün)

Medical

Cornflower Blue
(Kornblumen Blau)

Supply and Field Police (Until June 1943)

Light Blue
(Hellblau)

Supply and Field Police (From June 1943)

Orange

Engineers

Black
(Schwarz)