Tassels, Sword Knots and Buttons with Numbers of the Reichswehr

Traditional German tassels with their history going back as early as to the XVII century, did not disappear with the fall of the once mighty Second Reich in disastrous 1918, and that colourful element of the German Landser’s uniform was continued to be worn by the personnel of the Weimar Republic army, though in a slightly modified design. By that time, tassels and sword knots had merely become integral part of the complex system of insignia that the German Army used for unit identification. 

During Republican army building Peacetime Army (Friedensheer) and Provisional Reichswehr (Vorläufige Reichswehr) personnel wore tassels and sword knots of the Imperial army.

Those were tassels and sword knots that allowed accurate affiliation of the enlisted personnel to exact unit within regiment, i.e. battalion, Abteilung, squadron, company or battery. To paint the full picture it should be noted that tassels were not unique distinctive element of uniform allowing unit identification, as internal division of units within regiments was also indicated by cloth Sports Badges of 1922 pattern (Sportabzeichen), Military Sports Badges of 1932 pattern (Truppensportabzeichen) and Unit Shields (Truppenschild) of 1932 pattern worn on sports dress, and buttons with numbers worn by lower ranks and junior NCOs after 1929 (see below).

Junior NCOs and lower ranks wore tassels officially termed “saber tassels” (Säbeltroddel), or sometimes “bayonet tassels” (Seitengewehrtroddel), on leather bayonet frogs or sabers. According to the Order dated November 20, 1924, sword knots (Faustriemen) were worn by cavalry and mounted artillery personnel only, while servicemen of all the other branches of service were issued with tassels. The only exception was made for Fähnriche, i.e. officer candidates, who were allowed to wear officers’ sword knots. Mounted personnel of other branches that carried sabers, e.g. mounted infantry platoons, wore tassels on sabers, but preferred to sport sword knots when walking out dress was worn.

Initially tassels were worn with all forms of dress, but Order dated August 17, 1931 cancelled their wearing during everyday duty as well as during field and sentry duty “for economic reasons”. However, exception was made for cavalry regiments where commanders were granted with right to order wearing of sword knots on a case by case basis.

Reichswehr Tassels Sword Knots Buttons 1 eng

Crowns of tassels and sword knots were wound in nine rows around acorncup-shaped wooden cores. Tassels had wooden stem glued to the wooden core, the former served as the base for cloth stem. Initially lower part of the tassel had the shape of loose fringes made of 3,5 cm-long and 2 mm-thick twisted cords. According to the Order dated July 06, 1928, those fringes were replaced with an acorn-shaped hard construction closed at the bottom. It had circular cross-section for tassels and flat, roughly oval cross-section for sword knots. However, tassels and sword knots of early design were continued to be worn for some time.

Lower Ranks’ Tassels (Säbeltroddel / Seitengewehrtroddel)

Before 1928, lower ranks wore Imperial army-pattern tassels with grey band and loose grey fringes. As noted above, Order dated July 06, 1928 introduced new model with closed fringe. Double-folded 32 cm-long and 2 cm-wide band bearing central woven pattern and outer stripes was manufactured of grey union cloth of various shades, from light field grey to dark grey. Ball-shaped slide measuring 1,5 cm in height and 1,7 cm in diameter was made of woolen yarn representing colour of company or battery. Diameter of the bottle-shaped 3,8 cm high stem measured 1,2 cm above, 1 cm in its most narrow central part and 1,6 cm below. Wooden core of the crown measuring 3,6 cm in diameter and 1,3 cm in height was wound tightly with 2 mm-thick woolen cord in battalion or squadron colour in nine rows. Tassel measuring 3,4 cm in diameter and 3,7 cm in height to the crown was manufactured of grey cords.

As a rule, bands of tassels available for private purchase were 5 mm narrower. Bands, cords and fringes of such tassels were manufactured of cotton yarn or artificial silk instead of union cloth.

LowerRanks’ SwordKnots (Faustriemen)

Initially strap of the sword knot for lower ranks was manufactured of double-folded light grey leather measuring 37 cm in length and 1,3 cm in width. Pressed-in 1 mm-wide grooves were situated 1mm from the edges. Come 1929, this type of strap was replaced with more pliable thinner strap of the officer’s sword knot pattern. Colour of slide made of woven leather stood for number of squadron or battery. Tassel of the flat oval shape was 2,8 cm thick. Colourofthecrownrepresentednumberofthebattery.

As in the case of tassels, since July 06, 1928 loose fringes of sword knots were replaced with wooden construction. Since then, coloured crown measured 3,8x3,1 cm, while tassel measured 3,7x3 cm. Stamps of the manufacturer as well as year of production of particular piece were situated on the inside of the strap.

NCOs Tassels and Sword Knots (Troddel und Faustriemen für Unteroffiziere)

NCOs’ tassels and sword knots very similar to those once worn by Oberjäger of the Imperial army Jäger battalions, were worn by Unterfeldwebel, Unteroffiziere and the following categories of the enlisted personnel:

- Obergefreite (according to the Order dated October 07, 1927) and Stabsgefreite, after introduction of these ranks.

- Unteroffizieranwärter, i.e. NCO candidates (according to the Order dated November 06, 1925 and October 07, 1927).

- Fahnenjunker, i.e. officer candidates promoted to Gefreite on passing ensign exams (Fähnrichsexamen) (according to the Order dated October 07, 1927).

Stem and slide of NCOs’ tassel were manufactured of aluminum thread mixed with zigzag dark green threads. Dark green strap of woolen yarn had a woven vertical design in the middle  and two wide stripes of aluminum web at the sides. Crown was made of dark green twisted cords interspersed with aluminum web. Prior to July 06, 1928, tassel was made of loose fringes showing silver cord on the outside and dark green cord on the inside. Post-1928 NCOs’ tassels had wooden core for the crown and tassel, and closed fringes were made completely of aluminum cords.

Strap of the NCOs’ sword knot was manufactured of grey leather, slide was made of woven grey leather. Its crown was dark green with aluminum threads worked in, and the tassel was made of aluminum cords.

  1. follows from this description that unitaffiliationofthewearerofNCOstasselcouldnotbediscerned.

Order dated March 03, 1932 deprived above-mentioned enlisted personnel, i.e. Obergefreite, Stabsgefreite, Unteroffizieranwärter and Fahnenjunker-Gefreite of the right to wear NCOs’ tassels and sword knots. However, those already issued with such tassels were allowed to wear them until discharge from military service.

Officers’ SwordKnot (Portepee)

Officers’ sword knot for officers and senior NCOs was introduced by the Decree of the Reich President “On Dress and Equipment of the Reichsheer” (“Bekleidung und Ausrüstung des Reichsheeres”) finally establishing the uniform of the German Army that was signed on December, 22 1920 and announced on July 13, 1921. It resembled officers’ sword knot of the Imperial army, but unlike the latter had single design only.

Officers, senior NCOs, Fähnriche, i.e. officer candidates and military officials with similar ranks wore officers’ sword knots in the design of the so-called “small officers’ sword knots” (kleine Portepee) on their saber and bayonet frogs. If both, saber and bayonet were worn, e.g. during horseback duty, the officers’ sword knot was worn on the saber only.

Double folding strap 37 cm-long and 1,4 cm-wide was manufactured of field grey leather. It had two (sometimes three) vertical double rows of three silver web threads. Slide also made of field grey leather and a thin woven cord measured 0,8 cm in height and 1,8 cm in width. Flat stem measuring 1,9x1,9 am bore a mesh of silver wire gimp on a shiny silver transparent base. Crown was made of either matt silver or matt aluminum threads. Tassel in the shape of a flat ball, 4,5 cm in height and 3,5 cm in width had a wooden core of oval cross-section covered with fifty pieces of thick cord.

Order dated October 23, 1929 introduced thinner sleeker strap manufactured of calfskin 0,8-1 mm thick.

It is worthwhile to note that wearing of obsolete slightly larger officers’ sword knots of the Imperial army continued up to 1930s. Thus, photographic evidence shows that Bavarian officers of the Reichswehr wore traditional old sword knots made of light blue and silver threads even during first years of the Third Reich-era.

Colour Scheme of Tassels and Sword Knots

Reichswehr Tassels Sword Knots Buttons 2

Colour scheme of tassels and sword knots, 1920.

Battalion, Abteilung

Tassel

Infantry companies

Cavalry squadrons

Artillery batteries

Engineer companies

Transportation squadrons

Motorized transportation companies

Signal companies

Stem

Crown, slide

Sword knot

Slide

Crown

I

White

White
Red
Yellow
Blue

1st
2nd
3rd
4th (MG)

1st
2nd
3rd
4th

1st
2nd
3rd

1st
2nd
3rd
4th

1st
2nd
3rd

1st
2nd
3rd

1st
2nd

II

Red

White
Red
Yellow
Blue

5th
6th
7th
8th (MG)

6th


4th
5th
6th

 

III

Yellow

White
Red
Yellow
Blue

9th
10th
11th
12th (MG)

 

7th
8th
9th

 

IV

Blue

White
Red
Yellow

13th
(Mortar)

 

11th
12th
13th

 

 

 

Horse artillery batteries

V

Green

White
Red
Yellow



 

14th
15th
16th

Replacement (E)

Brown

White
Red
Yellow

14th (Е)
15th (
Е)
16th (
Е)

5th (Е)

10th (Е)

 

According to traditional colour scheme used in the Imperial Army, colour of main elements of tassels and sword knots allowed accurate identification of the unit (company, battery, squadron, battalion, Abteilung) particular soldier served in within the regiment. Thus, white colour was assigned to the first unit, red colour – to the second unit, yellow colour – to the third unit, blue colour – to the fourth unit, green colour – to the fifth unit and brown – to the sixth unit. Mneumonic hint used by the Reichswehr personnel to memorize exact colours was “Wir rauchen gern billig große Brasil” (“We willingly smoke inexpensive good Brazilian tobacco”). First letters of each word stood for colours of tassels, i.e. “W” stood for Weiß, or white; “R” stood for Rot, or red; first “G” stood for Gelb, or yellow; first “B” stood for Blau, or blue; second “G” stood for Grün, or Green; second “В” stood for Braun, or brown. By the way, initially that phrase was considerably shorter and helped memorizing four basic colours only – white, red, yellow and blue: “Wir rauchen gerne Brasil” (“We willingly smoke Brazilian tobacco”).

Interestingly, key Decree “On Dress and Equipment of the Reichsheer” (“Bekleidung und Ausrüstung des Reichsheeres”) dated December, 22 1920 never mentionedcolours for staff personnel. The latter probably wore tassels and sword knots of the 1st company or the 1st battery of their unit, or tassels / sword knots with stems in the battalion colour and with dark green crown and slide.

Numbers and colours of tassels and sword knots for the 4th, 8th, 12th and 13th Infantry companies as well as for the 6th Cavalry squadron were introduced by the Order dated August 21, 1920. Considering the above facts, it may be concluded that prior to January 01, 1921 tassels and sword knots of the Imperial army were worn as corresponding to the Reichsheer colour scheme.

Militaryschools, medicaldetachmentsandsearchlightplatoonspersonnelworetasselsofthe 1stcompany, whileCavalryschoolspersonnelworethoseofthe 1stsquadron.

Order dated May 02, 1921 redesignated replacement (“Ersatz”) units as training (“Ausbildung”), and training battalions, companies, squadrons and batteries were abbreviated behind their number with the letter “A”.

Order dated January 12, 1928 slightly changed colour scheme of sword knots for better identification of their wearers. Remaining stocks were allowed to be issued to servicemen. However, sword knots for horse artillery personnel remained unchanged. The new colour scheme was as follows:

- All squadrons – white slide.

- 6th squadron – brown crown.

- Training squadrongreen crown.

Reichswehr Tassels Sword Knots Buttons 3

Colour scheme of tassels and sword knots, 1928.

Battalion, Abteilung

Tassel

Infantry and Engineer companies

Cavalry squadrons

Artillery batteries, Transportation squadrons, Motorized transportation companies

Stem

Crown, slide

Sword knot

Slide

Crown

I

White

White
Bright red
Golden yellow
Cornflower blue
Light green
Light brown

1st
2nd
3rd
4th (Machinegun)

1st
2nd
3rd
4th 
5th
6th

1st
2nd
3rd
4th

II

Bright red

White
Bright red
Golden yellow
Cornflower blue

5th
6th
7th
8th (Machinegun)

 

4th
5th
6th

 

 

 

 

 

Artillery batteries

III

Golden yellow

White
Bright red
Golden yellow
Cornflower blue

9th
10th
11th
12th (Machinegun)

 

7th
8th
9th

IV

Cornflower blue

White
Bright red
Golden yellow


13th (Mortar)

 

11th
12th
13th

 

 

Horse artillery batteries

V

Light green

White
Bright red
Golden yellow



 

14th
15th
16th

Training (А)

Light brown

White
Bright red
Golden yellow

14th (А)
15th (
А)
16th (
А)

 

10th battery (А)

The Order dated April 07, 1928 introduced amendments to the colour scheme of tassels, but personnel of staffs were not mentioned as before. Thespecificcharacteristicswereasfollows.

1. Infantry schools: personnel of training companies wore tassels of the 1st company.

2. Cavalry school, Infantry Riding Institute (Reitanstalt der Infanterie): cadre detachments wore tassels of the 1st unit, sub-units (Unterabteilung) 1 wore tassels of the 2nd unit, sub-units 2 wore tassels of the 3rd unit, and sub-units 3 wore tassels of the 4th unit.

3. Artillery schools: cadre detachments I wore tassels of the 1st battery, staff detachment (B) (Stab Abteilung (B)) wore tassels of the 2nd battery, cadre detachments II wore tassels of the 3rd battery, cadre detachments III wore tassels of the 4th battery, training detachment (D) (Schulabteilung (D)) wore tassels of the 5th battery.

4. Engineer schools, medical detachments and searchlight platoons personnel wore tassels of the 1st company.

Buttons with Numbers

Attachment of shoulder straps to tunics and overcoats with buttons bearing stamped numbers, in image and likeness of Imperial regulation was reintroduced by the Order dated February 20, 1929. The Order particularly noted: “Shoulder buttons bearing numbers of companies, etc. are again to be fastened to tunics and overcoats of NCOs and lower ranks in order to provide their better affiliation to companies etc.”. The Order thus prescribed wearing of buttons with numbers by junior, but not senior NCOs and lower ranks. As for the personnel of battalion and detachment staffs within regiments, they were ordered to wear plain buttons without numbers.

According to the Order dated June 24, 1931, enlisted personnel and NCOs of medical units changed buttons with numbers to plain ones as they were not regarded as members of the companies they were attached to, but as servicemen of medical detachments of divisions. 

Buttons with numbers bore stamped Arabic numerals from “0” to “9” measuring 1,2-13,3 cm in height. Numerals “6” and “9” were followed with dots, i.e. “6.” and “9.” for correct differentiation.