Headgear commemorative badges that were extremely popular with Austro-Hungarian military personnel (Kappenabzeichen) were forbidden in the Imperial German army, but two exceptions did exist. Cap badges of the Alpine and Carpathian Corps were the only badges officially authorized for wear by soldiers and officers during the Great War. This article deals with the former while the latter is described here.
Commemorative Edelweiss badge turned out to be the very first officially introduced special German insignia for personnel of large formations of troops such as division or corps. It was followed by an authorized Karpathenkorps-Abzeichen and several unofficial wartime badges of pressed metal that were worn on the cap or the collar.
Soon after the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire and entered the Great War on Entente side on May 23, 1915, the German Alpine Corps (Deutsches Alpenkorps) that was raised on May 18, 1915 was sent to the Italian front. The German Alpine Corps was the very first large formation of specialist mountain troops and was considered by the Allies as one of the best units of the German Army.
It was in June 1915 that the Austrian defence command of Tyrol (k.u.k. Landesverteidigungs-Kommando Tirol) presented the German Alpine Corps 20,000 metal badges as a token of appreciation. By that time Edelweiss insignia was already being proudly worn by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on their kepis. The Alpenkorps instruction of June 20, 1915 allowed those badges to be immediately distributed to the Corps’ personnel without any permission of Berlin authorities. Although Prussian War Ministry objected to introduction of any field badges, German authorities were loath to refuse a gift from the commander of the Italian front, Archduke Generaloberst Eugen of Austria (Erzherzog Eugen von Österreich, 21.06.1863 – 30.12.1954) and thus Edelweiß-Abzeichen was instituted by Wilhelm II as a distinctive insignia of the Alpine Corps personnel since September 05, 1915. Kingdoms of Bavaria and Württemberg followed Prussian example and announced their approval on September 11 and September 20, respectively.
Edelweiss badge of the Alpine Corps had a shape of a flower of perennial mountain plant Leontopodium alpinum that is distributed mainly in remote rocky limestone areas and has been widely used as a national symbol of alpinism in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Another rare pattern of the badge that is occasionally seen in photos had a shape of a flower with stem and leaves thus resembling Third Reich-era mountain troops’ insignia. Judging from period photos, officers wore “full size Edelweiss” as a cloth badge while other ranks attached metal badge.
Edelweiß-Abzeichen was worn on the left side of the cap attached to the band of field peaked cap (Schirmmütze) or round visorless field cap for other ranks (Krätzchen) by a pin. Photographic evidence shows that sometimes it was attached to the left side of the top or even to the right side of a cap band. On the early stage of introduction of that badge it was worn according to personal preferences, e.g. next to the state cockade or between both cockades.
The badge was awarded to military personnel of the Alpine Corps who fought in Tyrol between July and October 1915, and thus it was always directly associated with the front in the Alps. Other mountain units (Gebirgstruppen) not attached to the Alpenkorps were not authorized to wear Edelweiß-Abzeichen. Bavarian regulations clearly stated that condition in an instruction issued on March 21, 1916.
Later on the Alpenkorps headquarters decided to extend wearing of a badge to replacement troops allocated to the Alpine Corps, but the Prussian War Ministry objected to such an initiative and insisted on a restriction to the personnel of units it originally consisted of.
Despite the fact that introduction of Edelweiß-Abzeichen and later Karpathenkorps-Abzeichen was met with much enthusiasm among troops, those distinctive emblems remained the only official commemorative badges as an Army administration strictly declined all further requests for similar badges regarding them as a violation of German military traditions. Nevertheless certain unofficial badges soon also appeared and were worn by soldiers. Though unauthorized, they were tolerated by field commanders in order to strengthen the troops’ morale and spirit of comradeship.