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Ranks and insignia of the Provisional Reichswehr (05.05.1919-06.12.1920)

Before getting down to immediate description of ranks and insignia let’s adduce a brief introduction and provide a clarification remark of no small importance.

The Law on Formation of the Provisional Reichswehr (Gesetz über die Bildung einer vorläufige Reichswehr) was enacted on March 06, 1919 and entered into force on Match 12, 1919. Although initially its effect was limited until March 31, 1920, it was extended for some reasons until March 23, 1921.

Clarification on usage of terms “Reichswehr” and “Reichsheer” is worth making mention of.
According to some sources of information, the title of this article and its contents supposedly should have had term “Provisional Reichsheer” instead of “Provisional Reichswehr”, as the Law mentioned above instituted “Provisional Army” (Vorläufige Reichsheer) and “Provisional Navy” (Vorläufige Reichsmarine) that made up “Provisional Reichswehr” (Vorläufige Reichswehr). However, such opinion, even based on a certain logic, appears to be not quite correct.

Thus, Decree of March 06, 1919 stipulated that the term “Provisional Reichswehr” applied exactly to Army, or land forces. In its turn, both “Provisional Reichswehr” as well as “Provisional Navy” were components of the “Wehrmacht”, i.e. Armed forces of the Weimar Republic. At least that very terminology appeared in the consecutive Decree of August 21, 1920.

The root of divergence of views adhered to by historians and encountered in various publications might be explained by the vagueness of apparatus criticus. Thus, precise terminology wasn’t detailed even in legislative decrees of the Weimar Republic. Moreover, in 1919 the term “Reichsheer” was used by the Germans themselves as a definition of Army only. That confusion resulted in the present-day erroneous usage of terms “Reichswehr” and “Reichsheer” as synonyms. The things were made clear only on March 23, 1921, when the Law defined “Reichswehr” as Armed forces and “Reichsheer” as land forces.

Thus, regulations of the Law on Formation of the Provisional Reichswehr empowered the Reichs President to officially disband the remnants of the Imperial Army by that time and to create provisional Armed forces “on democratic basis”. The Provisional Reichswehr was given three main tasks, namely “to protect the borders of the Reich until the legitimate creation of the new Armed forces, implementation of the directives of the government and securing law and order within the state”.

Units of the Provisional Reichswehr were brought up to strength from the cadre of the former Freikorps, regular officers, NCOs and other ranks of the Imperial Army, as well as volunteers.

The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919 and defined by the leader of Russian communists Vladimir Lenin as “unheard-of and rapacious peace treaty invented by predators and robbers” limited the strength of the Provisional Reichswehr to 100,000 men, including 4,000 officers by March 31, 1920. In fact, the total strength of the German Armed forces by the time the Treaty was signed was estimated at 545,000 men, so the vast majority of the military personnel had to be discharged.

Objective impossibility of such a dramatic reduction in Armed forces together with a whole number of subjective factors determined the government’s policy of obtaining delays. Thus, by May 1920 the strength of the Armed forces was hardly reduced to 200,000 men. The conference of Spa in July 1920 resulted in consent of the Allies to allow Germany to retain 150,000-strong army for the period from October 01 to December 31, 1920. Nevertheless, imposed reduction up to 100,000 men had to be reached definitively by January 01, 1921.  

Within one year, from October 01, 1919 until September 30, 1920 Armed forces of the Weimar Republic were designated “Transitional period army” (Übergangsheer).

Provisional Reichswehr Ranks

Ranks of military personnel of the Provisional Reichswehr as well as uniform of single design were instituted by the Decree “Dress and Equipment of Provisional Reichswehr” of May 05, 1919.

I. Officer personnel

Officer ranks introduced on January 19, 1919 by the “Temporary Provisions for Uniforms of the Peacetime Army” remained unchanged.

- General der Infanterie, General der Kavallerie, General der Artillerie;
- Generalleutnant;
- Generalmajor;
- Oberst;
- Oberstleutnant;
- Major;
- Hauptmann;
- Oberleutnant;
- Leutnant;
- Feldwebelleutnant.

Note:

а) Ranks of medical and veterinary officers were not regulated by the new Decree.

b) The new Decree as well as the previous one from the three months’ prescription had no mention of “Rittmeister”, the traditional Cavalry rank.

c) Those with the rank of Feldwebelleutnant who decided to remain with the Provisional Reichswehr, were offered to undergo an additional officer training to be promoted to the rank of Leutnant. According to the Decree of April 28, 1920, those who made up their mind to quit the military service were sent in resignation but were given ranks of Leutnant der Landwehr (a.D.). Hence, that decision eliminated once and for all quite unpopular rank of “Feldwebelleutnant”.

II. NCOs

NCO ranks were divided into five categories depending on their specialization.

1. Obermusikmeister, Musikmeister, Unterarzt, Unterveterinär, Offizierstellvertreter.
2. Feldwebel, Wachtmeister, Oberfeuerwerker, Zeugfeldwebel, Festungsbaufeldwebel, Oberwallmeister, Wallmeister, Oberschirrmeister, Schirrmeister.
3. Vizefeldwebel, Vizewachtmeister, Waffenmeister. 
4. Sergeant, Fähnrich, Waffenmeister.
5. Unteroffizier.

Note:

а) Oberwallmeister and Wallmeister, Oberschirrmeister and Schirrmeister wore the same insignia but had different money allowances, the former being paid more.

b) Inclusion of the rank Waffenmeister to both 3rd and 4th categories was intentional. Thus, according to the Decree of December 03, 1919, such NCOs might wear badges of rank either of Vizefeldwebel (Vizewachtmeister) or Sergeant, depending on the service period in every particular case. Insignia of the former was granted for those with at least 9 years of service, while that of the latter for those with at least 5,5 years of service.

The system of NCO ranks was revised by the end of 1919. In particular, ranks of Vizefeldwebel and Sergeant, as legacy of the Imperial past, were abolished; firm differentiation between military ranks and military specializations was finally made. Therefore, afore-mentioned ranks of the 1st and 2nd categories were designated Oberfeldwebel or Oberwachtmeister; ranks of the 3rd category – Feldwebel or Wachtmeister, ranks of the 4th category – Unterfeldwebel or Unterwachtmeister. The rank of Unteroffizier remained unchanged.

As a result, by the end of 1919 complete list of NCO ranks was as follows:

- Oberfeldwebel or Oberwachtmeister;
- Feldwebel or Wachtmeister;
- Unterfeldwebel or Unterwachtmeister;
- Unteroffizier.

Note:

а) Ranks of Oberwachtmeister, Wachtmeister and Unterwachtmeister corresponded to Oberfeldwebel, Feldwebel and Unterfeldwebel but related to NCOs in cavalry, mounted artillery and transport units as well as motorized units of mounted troops.

b) According to the Decree of November 01, 1919, NCOs from signal troops were reckoned in the category stipulated above and their corresponding ranks were redesignated Oberwachtmeister, Wachtmeister and Unterwachtmeister.

The Brieftaubenmeister specialization was added to the category of Feldwebel in April 1920.

III. Other ranks

- Obergefreiter;
- Gefreiter;
- Wehrmann. It was a collective term for all the lowest ranks  (plural: Wehrleute), without differentiation of their specializ
ation.

The Decree of October 23, 1919 introduced special designations of the lowest ranks according to their branch of service. In point of fact, that decision marked a restitution of the abandoned Imperial system.

- Infantry: Grenadier, Füsilier (since November 15, 1919).
- Jäger battalions, or Light infantry: Jäger.
- Rifles regiments, machine gun units of Infantry and Cavalry regiments: Schütze.
- Cavalry: Reiter.
- Artillery and mortar units: Kanonier, Fahrer.
- Pioneers: Pionier.
- Motorized units: Fahrer.
- Sanitary companies: Sanitätssoldat.
- Signal troops: Funker, the rank being introduced a bit earlier, by the Decree of September 22, 1919.

Note:

а) The rank “Füsilier” was introduced by the Decree of November 15, 1919 for the personnel of infantry regiments that were brought up to strength primarily from the cadre of the former Füsilier regiments of the former Imperial Army. Therefore, since then two ranks, Grenadier and Füsilier stood for designation of an infantry soldier.

b) The rank “Funker” for the lowest ranks of Signal troops was in fact introduced a bit earlier, in accordance with the Decree of September 22, 1919.

Rank Insignia of the Provisional Reichswehr

The Decree of creation of the Provisional Reichswehr being enacted on March 06, 1919 with coming into effect a week later, while new ranks and uniform being introduced on May 05, 1919 only, the usage of rank insignia of the Peacetime Army was continued within two spring months of 1919. (ССЫЛКА)

Rank Insignia of the Provisional Reichswehr consisted of stripes or chevrons and shoulder cords.

I. Stripes and chevrons (Rangabzeichen)

Stripes and chevrons were manufactured of 10 mm wide striped braid similar to that of the Imperial NCO braid made of field-grey cotton and silver-plated metal threads. Rank insignia had to be worn on both sleeves of field tunics and overcoats.

1. Other ranks

- Wehrmann, and since October 23, 1919 the lowest ranks according to their branch of service had no stripes or chevrons.

- Gefreiter wore one horizontal rectangular stripe measuring 10x60 mm on each upper arm..

- Obergefreiter had the same stripes and additionally carried NCO’s tassel.

Contrary to regulations, some Gefreite continued wearing of Imperial buttons at both sides of the collar, thus demonstrating their allegiance to old military traditions.

Drill tunics (Drillichrock) were worn with the same stripes on each upper arm, but that insignia was made of 70 mm wide braid, previously worn by Gefreite of the Imperial Army during drills. That braid was manufactured of white wool with a thin central stripe in the corresponding state color, black for Prussia, blue for Bavaria, green for Saxony, red for Hesse and red with black stripes for Wurttemberg.

2. NCOs

All NCOs of the Provisional Reichswehr wore chevrons on each upper arm of their field tunics and overcoats.

Insignia had a shape of a letter “V” pointing downwards, each arm measuring 90 mm and a distance between its arms measuring 110 mm. It’s worth mentioning here that the Order of May 05, 1919 erroneously described the lower angle of chevron as measuring “45 degrees”. That mistake was corrected in the Order of June 06, 1919 that stipulated the angle to be “close to 90 degrees”. The distance between the upper part of chevron and the sleeve seam was 105 mm, while that between its edge and the lower part of the oval sleeve badge – 35 mm approximately.

Though chevrons were to be worn on both sleeves, due to shortage of available insignia some NCOs preferred to sew on only one on the left sleeve. The lack of regulation chevrons was overcame with the Decree of July 12, 1919 that authorized usage of the Imperial matt silver braid still available at depots.

- Unteroffizier: one chevron on each upper arm. They also carried NCO’s tassel.

- Sergeant, Fähnrich, since December 03, 1919 and Waffenmeister with 5,5 years of service: two chevrons 1 cm apart. They also carried NCO’s tassel.

- Vizefeldwebel, Vizewachtmeister and Waffenmeister with 9 years of service, since December 03, 1919:  three chevrons joined together. These NCOs carried officer’s tassel.

- Feldwebel, Wachtmeister, Oberfeuerwerker, Zeugfeldwebel, Festungsbaufeldwebel, Oberwallmeister, Wallmeister, Oberschirrmeister, Schirrmeister: three chevrons joined together with one additional chevron 1 cm above. These NCOs also carried officer’s tassel.

- Obermusikmeister, Musikmeister, Unterarzt, Unterveterinär, Offizierstellvertreter: three chevrons joined together with a 3 cm loop at the edge of the lowest one plus additional chevron 1 cm above. These NCOs also carried officer’s tassel. According to the Decree of December 09, 1919, Offizierstellvertreter still on active military service on September 30, 1919 but willing to retire soon, were allowed to continue wearing their former insignia.

Drill tunics (Drillichrock) were worn with the same stripes on each upper arm, but that insignia was made of 70 mm wide braid, previously worn by Gefreite of the Imperial Army during drills. That braid was manufactured of white wool with a thin central stripe in the corresponding state color, black for Prussia, blue for Bavaria, green for Saxony, red for Hesse and red with black stripes for Wurttemberg.

3. Officers

Officers wore stripes sewn on around sleeves of their tunics and overcoats 1 cm above cuffs.

- Leutnant, Feldwebelleutnant: one stripe with a central 3 cm loop pointing upwards.

- Oberleutnant: one stripe with a central 3 cm loop pointing upwards plus one additional stripe without loop 1 cm below.

- Hauptmann: one stripe with a central 3 cm loop pointing upwards plus two additional stripes without loop 1 cm below and 1 cm apart.

- Major: three chevrons (totally different from those for NCOs) with slight edges pointing upwards joined together.

- Oberstleutnant: three chevrons with slight edges pointing upwards joined together plus additional chevron 1 cm above.

- Oberst: three chevrons with slight edges pointing upwards joined together plus two additional chevrons 1 cm above and 1 cm apart.

- Generalmajor: five chevrons with slight edges pointing upwards joined together.  

- Generalleutnant: five chevrons with slight edges pointing upwards joined together plus additional chevron 1 cm above.

- General der Infanterie, General der Kavallerie, General der Artillerie: five chevrons with slight edges pointing upwards joined together plus two additional chevrons 1 cm above and 1 cm apart.

Provisional 1

1 – Wehrmann (since October 23, 1919 – lowest ranks according to their branch of service).
2 – Gefreiter and Obergefreiter.
3 – Unteroffizier.
4 – Sergeant, Fähnrich, Waffenmeister with 5,5 years of service (since December 03, 1919).
5 – Vizefeldwebel, Vizewachtmeister, Waffenmeister with 9 years of service (since December 03, 1919).
6 – Feldwebel, Wachtmeister, Oberfeuerwerker, Zeugfeldwebel, Festungsbaufeldwebel, Oberwallmeister, Wallmeister, Oberschirrmeister, Schirrmeister.
7 – Offizierstellvertreter, Obermusikmeister, Musikmeister, Unterarzt, Unterveterinär.
8 – Leutnant, Feldwebelleutnant.
9 – Oberleutnant.
10 – Hauptmann.
11 – Major.
12 – Oberstleutnant.
13 – Oberst.
14 – Generalma
jor.
15 – Generalleutnant.
16 – General der Infanterie, General der Kavallerie, General der Artillerie.

II. Shoulder Cords (Schulterschnurre)

Shoulder cords to be worn on both shoulders of field tunic and overcoat were instituted by the Decree of June 03, 1919. In fact this insignia was introduced after the Austrian pattern and designated belonging of the serviceman to other ranks, NCOs, officers or generals only, but not the actual rank. Schulterschnurre were made of a folded soutache cord with a diameter of 4-4,5 mm. Its upper part diverged thus forming a loop with a diameter of 13,5 mm for the shoulder button. The length of shoulder cords was individual for every soldier.

Two decorative slides measuring 6-7х12-13 mm and made of a narrow braided cord of the same color as the shoulder cords were fixed across 3-4 cm apart.    

Schulterschnurre were sewn into the sleeve seam at their bottom and were held at their upper part by a 19 mm shoulder button sewn to the tunic next to the collar. The button was in silver color except for the generals that were identified by matt white ones.

1. Other ranks wore field-grey shoulder cords with a diameter of 4,5 mm. They were manufactured of wool or linen threads wrapped around thick inner paper or canvas twine. Slides were pleated in three strands of the same material as shoulder cords themselves.

2. NCOs wore silver-grey shoulder cords with a diameter of 4 mm. Their Schulterschnurre were made of black cotton wrapped in flat silver-plated threads. Decorative slides manufactured of dull silver-grey threads, similar to shoulder cords. It’s worth mentioning here that NCOs occasionally wore non-regulation officers’ shoulder cords.

3. Officers’ Schulterschnurre were similar to those of NCOs except for the decorative slides that were of a bright silver color acquired by usage of white cotton yarn with silver threads.

4. Generals, including medical and veterinary officers with the rank of General (Generalstabsarzt, Generalstabsarzt der Armee и Generalstabsveterinär), wore matt gold shoulder cords. Their slides were manufactured of yellow cotton yarn wrapped in round gold-plated metal threads. 

Provisional 2

1 – other ranks; 2 – NCOs; 3 – officers; 4 – Generals, including medical and veterinary officers with the rank of General.

III. Sleeve badges (Ärmelspiegel zur Kennzeichnung der Waffengattung und des Truppenteils)

Sleeve badges in vertical oval shape measuring 75-80x55 mm were instituted on June 03, 1919 (on July 03 in Bavaria) to distinguish branch of service and specialization of military personnel, as well as to designate concrete unit. The only exception was made for officers of the War Ministry and the General Staff. Removable sleeve badges were worn on the upper part of both sleeves of field tunics and overcoats, but not on drill jackets.

Three major identification elements of sleeve badges were as follows:

а) “Main color”, that filled the outer wide ring of the sleeve badge and denoted branch of service. The edging in “main color” was made of 3 mm wide flat colored cord or machine embroidery sewn on 2 mm inside the edge of the sleeve badge.

b) “Secondary color”, that filled the inner thin ring of the sleeve and denoted specialization. In certain cases it was absent. The edging in “secondary color” was made of 1,5 mm wide flat colored cord or machine embroidery sewn on directly inside the outer wide ring.

c) Devices, i.e. Arabic or Roman numerals, numbers, Gothic letters and various emblems that were situated inside the inner ring and denoted concrete unit. The height of letters and numbers was 27 mm, unless they were followed by emblems at the bottom. In that case letters and numbers were accordingly smaller. All the devices denoting concrete unit were made either of colored cloth or were machine embroidered. Privately purchased sleeve badges were hand embroidered, though. Numerals on officers’ sleeve badges were made of gilt metal and were actually removed from their Imperial shoulder boards. 

 

Branch of service and specialization

Branch color: main color

Branch color: secondary color

Devices

War Ministry, General Staff

Crimson

Infantry

White

Arabic numerals

Rifles regiments

Light green

  White

Arabic numerals

Jäger battalions

Light green

Dark green

Arabic numerals

Machine gun units

Light green

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Machine gun sharpshooter units

Light green

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Mountain machine gun units

Light green

Light blue

Arabic numerals

Cavalry

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Light artillery

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Heavy artillery

Bright red

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Anti-aircraft units

Bright red

Brown

Arabic numerals

Mountain artillery

Bright red

Light blue

Arabic numerals

Mortar units

Bright red

Black

Arabic numerals

Artillery observation troops

Bright red

Light green

Arabic numerals

Artillery park commands and companies

Bright red

White

Arabic numerals

Supply train

Light blue 

Arabic numerals

Supply train depots

Light blue 

Roman numerals

Engineers

 

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Engineering Corps

 

Bright red

Roman numerals

Aviation troops

Brown

White

Arabic numerals

Airship troops

Brown

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Railway troops

Light grey

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Armored Corps

Pink

White

Arabic numerals

Motorized transport units

Pink

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Signal troops

Crimson

White

Arabic numerals

Surveying detachments

Crimson

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Medical and sanitary units

Cornflower blue

Arabic numerals

Medical officers, assistants, field assistants staff

Bright red

Aesculapian staff emblem

Veterinary officers, assistants, field assistants

Golden yellow

Black

Snake emblem

Animal blood testing stations

Golden yellow

Black

Arabic numerals

Uniform depots

White

Bright red

Arabic numerals

Commissariats

White

Golden yellow

Arabic numerals

Landwehr inspections, District command

White

Light blue

Arabic numerals

Blacksmith NCOs and troops of the permanent staff

Golden yellow

Black

Horseshoe emblem

Ordnance officers and NCOs

Bright red

Gothic letter “Z”

Pyrotechnics officers and NCOs

Bright red

Gothic letter “F”

Fortifications officers and NCOs

Black

Bright red

Gothic letters “FB”

Wallmeister, Oberwallmeister

Black

Bright red

Gothic letter “W”

Schirrmeister, Oberschirrmeister

According to their branch of service

Gothic letter “S”

Note:

1. Military personnel of Field replacement companies (Ersatz-Kompagnie) wore sleeve badges with colors similar to those of their main units.

2. Due to the lack of issued sleeve badges medical officers occasionally attached an Imperial gilt  Aesculapian staff emblem removed from their old shoulder boards to the upper arm.

3. Sleeve badge worn by blacksmiths was instituted by the Order of November 16, 1919.

4. According to the Decree of November 16, 1919, permanent teaching staff of military schools as well as ordnance and equipment inspectors wore sleeve badges without numbers and with color of edging corresponding to their branch of service. 

Provisional 3

1 – Infantry; 2 – Rifles regiments; 3 – Jäger battalions; 4 – Machine gun units; 5 – Machine gun sharpshooter units; 6 – Mountain machine gun units; 7 – Cavalry; 8 – Light artillery; 9 – Heavy artillery; 10 – Anti-aircraft units; 11 – Mountain artillery; 12 – Mortar units; 13 – Artillery observation troops; 14 – Artillery park commands and companies; 15 – Supply train; 16 – Supply train depots; 17 – Engineers; 18 – Engineering Corps; 19 – Aviation troops; 20 – Airship troops; 21 – Railway troops; 22 – Armored Corps; 23 – Motorized transport units; 24 – Signal troops; 25 – Surveying detachments; 26 – Medical and sanitary units; 27 – Medical officers and NCOs; 28 – Veterinary officers and NCOs; 29 – Animal blood testing stations; 30 – Uniform depots; 31 – Commissariats; 32 – Landwehr inspections and District command; 33 – Ordnance officers and NCOs; 34 – Pyrotechnics officers and NCOs; 35 – Fortifications officers and NCOs; 36 – Wallmeister and Oberwallmeister.

Sleeve badges for qualified specialists (Ärmelspiegel für besondere Dienststellungen)

Five sleeve badges for NCOs and lower ranks with certain qualifications were instituted on June 03, 1919 (on July 03 in Bavaria) by the same Decree that introduced above-mentioned “ordinary” sleeve badges. Specialists’ insignia embroidered in the color of branch of service was sewn on below a smaller unit number.

Provisional 4

1. Sleeve badge for skilled machine gun crews (Ärmelspiegel der Befähigung zum Bedienen eines Machinengewehrs): V-shape chevron at right angle. That sleeve badge might be issued to NCOs and other ranks from all branches of service upon passing a qualification test.

2. Sleeve badge for musicians and battalion drum majors (Ärmelspiegel für Spielleute und Bataillonstamboure): horizontal bugle.

3. Sleeve badge for Obermuikmeister, Musikmeister, bandsmen and their assistants (Ärmelspiegel für Obermuikmeister, Musikmeister und Hoboisten): lyre.

4. Sleeve badge for medical personnel (Ärmelspiegel für Sanitätsmannschaften und Sanitätsunteroffiziere): Aesculapian staff.

5. Sleeve badge for senior farrier and farrier (Ärmelspiegel für Oberfahnenschmiede, Fahnenschmiede und Beschlagschmiede): horseshoe.

Sleeve badges for qualified specialists had a shape of a vertical oval measuring 75-80x55 mm and were manufactured of field grey cloth or, sometimes, from the same fabric that was used in manufacture of tunics. Privately purchased sleeve badges were hand embroidered with silk or wool threads (numbers and emblems) and soutache cords (edging).

In order to facilitate replacement of sleeve badges that accompanied transfer to another unit, Ärmelspiegel were manufactured removable. They had four ties, 1 cm wide and 15 cm long,  attached to reverse and threaded through special holes in the tunic sleeves. The Decree of July 12, 1919 made production of sleeve badges easier by allowing them to be made without those ties. In that case Ärmelspiegel were just tacked onto sleeves. Occasionally they were attached by means of special prongs fixed to reverse.

Wehrmann (since October 23, 1919 – lowest ranks according to their branch of service) wore sleeve badge in the middle of the upper part of the sleeve.

Gefreiter and Obergefreiter wore sleeve badges 1 cm above the middle of their stripes.

NCOs had their badges sewn on inside chevrons.

Officers wore badges in the middle of the upper arm.