29 May 2016

Zeltbahn (and Camo) Part II - German WW2 Special Forces and in use with the Heer

Zeltbahn Part II - WW2 German Special forces and in use with the Heer. Getting onto the subject of Camon in general

The Zeltbahnen used by specialist forces (Waffen SS and Fallschirmjaeger) pretty much followed their uniform camo patterns.

The camouflage patterned uniforms were said to reduce casualties by as much as 15% and Heer troops often converted  Zeltbahnen into camo smocks by the end of the war. For example, the crews of Stug and other tank destroyer units were not issued with camo uniforms, but are often seen in photographs sporting camo, made from Zeltbahn material by unit tailors or by tailors in occupied areas. The discourse on zeltbahnen unfortunately unravels a bit here, and crosses over into the realm of camouflage patterns.

Non-regulation uniform tunic, probably converted from a zeltbahn. 
I suspect this is a colourised B&W photograph or reenactors.

German World War II camouflage patterns were disruptive pattern military camouflage designs used for clothing and also for Zeltbahn shelter halves. German camouflage developed from the 1931 Splittertarnmuster ("splinter camouflage pattern"), which combined a pattern of interlocking irregular green, brown, and buff polygons with vertical "rain" streaks.

The later patterns, all said to have been designed for the Waffen-SS by Johan Schick, evolved into more leaf-like forms with rounded dots or irregular shapes. Camouflage smocks were designed to be reversible, providing camouflage for two seasons, whether summer and autumn, or summer and winter (snow). Distribution was limited to the Waffen-SS, ostensibly because of a patent. Production was limited by shortage of materials, especially of high quality waterproof cotton duck.

(Colours in this depiction are probably a bit exaggerated)

The Reichswehr (Army of the Weimar Republic) started experimenting with camouflage patterns for Wehrmacht uniforms before World War II, and some army units used the Splittertarnmuster ("splinter camouflage pattern"), which was first issued in 1931, and based on the Zeltbahn shelter halves/groundsheets. 

Splinter tarn

Waffen-SS combat units used various patterns from 1935 onwards. The SS camouflage patterns were designed by Schick, a Munich art professor and then the director of the German camouflage research unit, at the request of an SS Major, Wim Brandt. Brandt was an engineer and the commander of the SS-VT reconnaissance battalion, and he was looking for better camouflage.

Schick had researched the effect of light on trees in summer and in autumn. These led to the idea of reversible camouflage clothing, with green summer patterns on one side, brown autumn patterns on the other. In 1937, the patterns were field tested by the SS-VT Deutschland regiment, resulting in an estimate that they would cut casualties by fifteen percent.

SS-VT Camo

In 1938, a reversible spring/autumn helmet cover, smock, and sniper's face mask in Schick's forest patterns on waterproof cotton duck were patented for the Waffen-SS. The patent is said to have prevented the Wehrmacht from using the patterns, which became a distinctive emblem of the Waffen-SS during the war. It may be said simpler that one just did not cross the SS.

 Zeltbahnen and Camo uniforms : Production of groundsheets, helmet covers and smocks by the Warei, Forster and Joring companies began in November 1938. They were initially hand-printed, limiting deliveries by January 1939 to only 8,400 groundsheets and 6,800 helmet covers and a small number of smocks. By June 1940, machine printing had taken over, and 33,000 smocks were made for the Waffen-SS. Supplies of high quality cotton duck, however, remained critically short throughout the war, and essentially ran out in January 1943. It was replaced by non-waterproof cotton drill cloth.

The plethora of SS camo patterns used on smocks, zelts and helmet covers causes more heartburn and hypertension amongst modelers trying to get historical accuracy for their model than is really necessary. There is no right answer.

 The patterns were never individually identified or differentiated by the German soldier in the field. The names and designations were invented by collectors in the 1990's for reference purposes.

The Waffen SS referred to smocks simply as Tarn Jacke - "camo jackets" Asking about "Blurred-edge" or "Plane Tree" models would have resulted in your fellow troopers suspecting you were drunk or smoking shoe polish.  The patterns were issued indiscriminately and ran concurrently with one another.

In many photos, no two men in the same squad appear to have the same pattern smock on. Uniformity of dress by the late stages of the war was really only seen in staged propaganda pictures.

There is a general consensus and historical reference regarding when certain patterns were officially introduced, but these can be established only by photos and dates on zeltbahns. (Smocks and helmet covers were rarely marked and weren't dated.)

 The patterns really fell into two general categories of manufacture. Hand screened and roller printed.

Schick's patterns included:

Platanenmuster ("Plane/Sycamore tree pattern"; produced 1937–1942):
Spring/summer and autumn/winter variations, the first dotted camouflage pattern

The Platanenmuster (plane tree or Sycamore) pattern is the earliest pattern used by the Waffen-SS, and can be seen in the pre-war photographs. This and its derivative Eich-Platenenmuster, are the patterns which incorporate in their dark overprint the mysterious numerals from “1” to “6”, which have been the subject of much debate. 

Production of the original Platanen pattern seems to have ended in by 1942, and Eich-Platenen by 1943, perhaps because the screen printing was uneconomically time consuming. Thrifty manufacturing continued using surplus cloth in this pattern, however, probably until 1944. 

Late RB-numbered Eichenlaub pattern Zeltbahnen exist with autumn reversible edging made of Platenen pattern cloth printed (for economy?) on one side only-the hidden interior was left in natural white, detectable today in damaged examples. There is plausible reports of Autumn pattern Platenenmuster smocks and helmet covers left in natural white on the other side.

Rauchtarnmuster ("Smoke camouflage pattern or blurred edge pattern "; 1939–1944):
Spring/summer and autumn/winter variations

The burred edges worked exceptionally well in smoke/fog and poor visibility conditions

SS-Rauchtarnmuster or “smoke camouflage pattern” sometimes termed  “Blurred edge pattern" 
This is reasonably descriptive of this camouflage, but some examples show less “blurred” effect. The German term aptly defines all the minor variations of this widely used pattern, whose black or dark overprint is very suggestive of drifting smoke. It is actually a variant of Platanenmuster with identical spring and autumn base colors, but with the “smokey” black overprint substituted fr the spotted “plane tree” overprint.

 Photos have confirmed use of this long-lived pattern from 1939 (helmet covers and smocks) until at least 1944 (two-piece padded reversible winter suits). It was probably used for more different types of regulation SS garments than any other pattern, though examples are relatively rare. It is found on Zeltbahnen, first and second model helmet covers, field caps, and smocks-including up to the very last smocks, made of herringbone twill (HBT) linen. 

Detail of reproduction Rauchtarn

Palmenmuster ("Palm tree pattern"; circa 1941–?): spring/autumn variations

Beringtes Eichenlaubmuster ("Oak leaf B"; 1942–1945)

By adding two additional colors to the Oak Leaf base used in both Blurred Edge and later Plane Tree patterns, a whole new pattern was born.  

However, since much of this base material was used in already pre-existing patterns, the early “A” pattern was quite scarce compared to its later counterpart.  
The “B” pattern was a crude reproduction of the “A” pattern, it had softer edges and outlined designs.  

Oak Leaf was not discontinued with the introduction if the Dot pattern and continued being produced through 1945.

Oak Leaf B Zeltbahn

Sumpfmuster ("Swamp pattern"; 1943): a blurred form of splittermuster; summer/winter variations: the green-brown smocks were reversible to white snow camouflage
This pattern is also known as Tanwater pattern, for obvious reasons

Eichenlaubmuster ("Oak leaf A"; 1943–1945): spring/summer and autumn/winter variations on reversible Waffen-SS smocks, also used for Zeltbahn tent sheets

Erbsenmuster ("pea dot"; 1944–1945): 
based on oak leaf pattern. but smaller dots

Designed to replace all other types of SS camouflage, this pattern was introduced early in 1944 with a two piece camouflage uniform.  Five different colors were used, and this is the last pattern produced for the SS to see widespread or significant distribution.

Colourised, probably a bit inaccurate, but reflecting the plain white inner

Leibermuster (1945)

A six-colour (black, tan, olive, pale green, white, and red-brown) pattern of irregular black stripes over splotches of reddish-brown and green, on a pale green field. Most surviving uniforms have faded to almost white, and uniforms offered for sale are probably reproductions. It was designed to absorb infra-red, but saw only limited usage. However, it inspired the postwar US ERDL pattern, and also the Swiss post-war camo.

Italian Pattern Camo

Two patterns of Italian camo was frequently worn by the SS by the end of the war

Kurt (Panzer) Meyer in Italian Camo battle blouse

 A mix of different styles of Camo was the rule rather than the exception by the end of the war:


Production of Camo: 

 Hand screened patterns: The earliest patterns are known as SS-VT and Plane Tree. These were overly complex and labour intensive to print. The pattern itself is over 70 inches long, about the full height of a zeltbahn, the item around which the patterns were originally designed. The cut lines for zeltbahns were actually incorporated into the pattern. (That's what the odd lines and diagonal blocks are on plane tree smocks.) 

There were in fact THREE Plane Tree patterns which were numbered 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6. Zelts of these patterns would form a continuous pattern when buttoned together, regardless of combination. It appears that zelts were intended to be assembled with the same number on both panels (i.e.: 4/4, 5/5, etc.) but, in practice, this went out the window. The significance of the numbers appears to be mainly to keep each zeltbahn consistent with itself (right and left panels being the same pattern.) Further complicating the matter, is that, although referred to as "Plane Tree 3/4", it is actually two patterns. Not 3 and 4 but rather "right" and "left" as zeltbahns must be cut from 2 rolls of fabric. Thus, the 3 commonly known plane tree patterns actually consist of 6 unique sets of screens. 

 For additional headaches, later Plane Tree (known as "overprint") used only the black color screens from the Plane Tree patterns, which were then screened on top of the 3 lighter colors of Oak A, which had been roller printed, to save time.

 Therefore, the Plane Tree family of patterns consists of 3 Plane Tree patterns (all colors hand screened) and 3 Overprint patterns (roller printed Oak A plus one hand screened color of Plane Tree.) If you want to count the right and left patterns, that's 12. Plus SS-VT. Just to confuse you.

Roller Printed: In order to save on production time, in 1940-41, the SS began to switch to roller printing, automated via rollers, much like a newspaper printing press. The "repeat" of the pattern is dictated by the circumference of the roller, which was about 18". The roller printed patterns are Blurred Edge, Palm, Oak A and Oak B. 

Don't get Pattern Panic: 

What's "historically correct"?  Oak A appears in photos in 1942, and Oak B in 1943.
Despite some conventionally ignorant "wisdom",
Palm smocks, despite being christened "early War" are not difficult to find in photos from the fighting in Normandy. It appears that Plane Tree smocks were very prevalent, if not predominant even through the summer of '44. 

Note: Palm pattern was never used for zeltbahnen. Only on smocks, helmet covers and caps. This is probably the only place you could really go wrong, if you wanted to nit-pick !

All of the patterns were in use by late 1943.
All were used concurrently.
If you are doing a pre-1943 model stick to the plane tree patterns for SS. As for plane tree, all appeared at the same time, the numbers do not denote later years or any similar characteristic.

Anyone who claims that a specific unit only wore a specific pattern is a complete idiot and any of their future advice should be regarded with suspicion. Propaganda photos or new recruit photos may lead you to want to believe otherwise, BUT:

All patterns were issued indiscriminately until the end of the  war.
Even Italian camouflage material was used by the SS.
Simply pick the one that suits your model. It really does not matter that much.

Reenactors wearing Erbsenmuster (Pea-dot) camo, with Splinter tarn zeltbahn tents

Falschirmjaeger Splintermuster
The knockensack (jump smock) was a variant of the Splinter or Sumpf muster issued to the Heer soldiers

Faded splinter camo with original colours showing on inside of pocket

Falschirmjaeger camo was a variant of the Splinter pattern

Zeltbahnen used as camouflage: 


or fashioned into shelters. From the intricate

To the beach sunshade

More photographs of Heer soldiers using it as personal camo/ponchos

Disclaimer and info: This is simply a distilled reference gleaned from the internet, mostly for my own use as a modeller, and shared for that purpose. It is in no way authoritative and probably contains errors and inaccuracies, as some have already pointed out to me.
 It does not seek to glorify war or endorse any political or ideological concept past or present.
It merely contemplates historical facts and my understanding of it for the purpose of painting and building models.


  1. An amazing array of colours and patterns... pleased to say I've got all the right colours in stock if you fancy having a go at any of them! :)

    1. Truly, and an interesting history. The basis of most modern day camo. And a challenge to paint. Have done many of these schemes in 20mm, and standard feldgrau uniforms in 54mm, but never camo in 28mm. I will be long soon to stock up on paint and quick-shade.