The earliest reference to sleeve badges for qualified personnel of the “Der Stahlhelm” League dates back to January 1925, when Leader’s Handbook (Führer-Handbuch) was published in Magdeburg, hometown of the veterans’ organization. The book contained images of three oval sleeve badges as well as description of a lace for sharpshooters.
1. Signals Service personnel (Nachrichtendienst). Removable green vertical oval cloth patch with gold yellow capital letter “N” titled “Speciality badge” (Sonderabzeichen) was worn on the lower left sleeve by signalers, blinker operators and communication personnel.
2. Medical orderlies (Sanitätspersonal) were allowed to wear vertical oval of light blue cloth bearing yellow Rod of Asclepius, or the Staff of Asclepius as a symbol of medicine.
3. Stretcher-bearers (Krankenträger) wore white vertical oval with equilateral red cross in its centre. Only those who completed practical training with one of the volunteer medical institutions (Sanitätskolonnen) were entitled to wear that badge on tunic.
4. Sharpshooters (Gute-Schützen) wore 5 cm-long thin lace of grey wool sewn on the lower right sleeve.
Supply of Speciality badges for the qualified personnel of the “Der Stahlhelm” League local units was centrally organized through the Division IV of the League Direction (Bundesleitung, Abteilung IV) located at Alter Markt 11, Magdeburg.
According to the Leader’s Handbook, wearing of any other patches on service dress (Dienstanzug) was prohibited, except for traditional Musicians’ Wings (Schwalbennester) mentioned in the same section.
Model 1926 Distinctive badges for the qualified personnel of the League were introduced by the directive of the “Der Stahlhelm” top leadership dated September 20, 1926 and were described in the Handbook published in 1927 (Stahlhelm-Handbuch 1927).
Thus, medical orderlies serving with the League were entitled to wear Distinctive badges on their uniform provided they had professional knowledge either gained during active military service or work with Red Cross structural units, or upon completion of post-war appropriate training.
1. Medical orderlies, or “Medical Comrades” (Sanitätskameraden) wore blue vertical oval patch with red image of the stylized Prussian Iron Cross on the upper left sleeve.
2. Senior medical orderlies (Obersanitätskameraden) wore the same badge with white piping.
3. Stretcher-bearers (Krankenträger) wore dark blue badge with carmine Iron Cross image.
4. Qualified doctors (Ausbildenen Ärzte) wore metal device in the shape of the Rod of Asclepius sewn to the vertical oval blue cloth patch with red piping on the lower right sleeve.
5. Consulting physicians attached to headquarters (Ärztlichen Sachberater) wore Distinctive badges for Qualified doctors (Paragraph 4) as well as 2 cm-wide shoulder belt with corresponding piping.
6. Cyclist units personnel (Radfahrerabteilungen) wore vertical oval dark blue cloth patch with capital letter “R” made of white metal topped with steel helmet facing left. The badge was sewn on the upper left sleeve. Badges worn by commanders of cyclist units had colour piping equivalent to that of their shoulder belts.
Supply of Besondere Abzeichen was centrally organized through the official outfitter – Peter Georg Palis, who had his company located at Alte Ulrichstraße, Magdeburg.
Sleeve badge for qualified motorists of the “Der Stahlhelm”, or “Motorist Comrades” (Kraftfahrer Kameraden) as they were officially titled, was introduced by the directive of the League top leadership dated August 26, 1928. It was reserved for those members who provided their personal vehicles for the needs of the League and drove those cars. The badge had a shape of the vertical oval dark blue patch with capital letter “K” and was worn on the upper left sleeve of the tunic. It was available for purchase through the Economic Division of the League (Wirtschaftsabteilung) located at Alter Markt 11, Magdeburg. Those eligible for wearing of the badge had to make advance payment worth 2 Marks on savings bank account of the League – Magdeburg 3870.
Fundamentally new sleeve insignia for qualified personnel of the League first appeared in the 1929 Handbook that in addition to five oval patches for cyclists and medics (see Model 1926 Distinctive badges above) contained description of the so-called “Armbands” (Armbinden). However, the latter were in fact cuff titles, but not armbands in the true sense, as they measured 3 cm only in width.
1. “Armband” for Motor car units (Kraftfahrstaffeln) was a 3 cm-wide black ribbon with inscription “Kraftfahr-Staffel” in red letters. Vehicles used by the “Der Stahlhelm” personnel had special triangular pennant fixed to the car body.
2. “Armband” for chaplains (Stahlhelmpfarrer) who performed religious rites wearing attire of the “Der Stahlhelm”, was white bearing an image of the purple cross. Priests were also allowed to wear crucifix suspended from thin chain over the tunic. Permission to wear that insignia was given by the Directorate of the League upon processing of written applications submitted by heads of Territorial associations (Landesverbände) or independent Gau (selbständige Gau).
1929 Handbook emphasized that wearing of any distinctive insignia, e.g. leaders’ shoulder belts, sleeve badges, etc., was strictly prohibited for League members following resignation from position of authority or departure from specialized unit or service.
As for the aforementioned Model 1926 Distinctive badges, they were authorized to be worn as “removable” pieces, i.e. being sewn to wide armbands. According to the price list issued by the Economic Division of the League, or Wirtschaftsabteilung (former “Der Stahlhof” company), those armbands were sold either for 1,10 Mark per piece (with cloth badges for Nachrichtengruppen, Ober-Sanitäter, Sanitäter and Krankenträger) or for 1,30 Mark per piece (with metal badges for Ärzte). Interestingly enough, de facto cuff titles, or “M1929 Armbands” for motor car units personnel and chaplains were not mentioned in the price list.
“Stahlhelm-Handbuch” published by the Stahlhelm-Verlag in Berlin in 1931 described the following sleeve insignia authorized for wearing by qualified personnel of the League:
1. “Armband” (cuff title, in fact) for Motor car units (Kraftfahrstaffeln), similar to the Model 1929 described above (see Part IV).
2. “Armband” for Signals units (Nachrichten-Staffeln), representing 3 cm-wide black ribbon with inscription “Nachrichten-Staffel” in green letters.
3. “Armband” for chaplains (Stahlhelmpfarrer) who performed religious rites wearing attire of the League, similar to the Model 1929 described above (see Part IV). In addition to the information posted above, Handbook stipulated that the crucifix worn on the thin chain over tunic was made of silver. The only difference in comparison with 1929 regulations was that permission to wear “armband” and crucifix was given by the Directorate of the “Der Stahlhelm” upon processing of applications submitted by heads of Territorial associations (Landesverbände). NotethatindependentGau (selbständigeGau) leadershipwasnotmentionedatall.
4. Badge for Cyclist units personnel (Radfahrerabteilungen) – vertical oval light blue cloth patch with silver embroidered capital letter “R” topped with steel helmet facing left. It was sewn on the upper left sleeve. Badges worn by commanders of cyclist units had colour piping equivalent to that of their shoulder belts.
5. Badge for qualified doctors (Ausbildenen Ärzte) – vertical oval blue cloth patch with red piping with metal emblem in the shape of the Rod of Asclepius. The badge worn on the lower right sleeve was similar to the Distinctive badge (Besondere Abzeichen) introduced in 1926 (see Part II).
Distinctive badges denoting former branches of service of members of the Stahlhelm-Bund der Frontsoldaten were introduced in 1932 by the Directive of the League’s top leadership No.1625/32 (Verfügung der Bundesführung des Stahlhelm Bk [Bundeskammer]/IIa 1625/32). Interestingly, introduction of sleeve badges took place during the final years of the “Der Stahlhelm” existence when nearly every patriotic-minded German citizen was given a chance to join the League even if he never fought on the frontline. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect institution of the Kennzeichen in the very beginning of the League’s existence, i.e. in the early 1920s, when its membership was open to frontline veterans only. However, there are no what-ifs in history, and distinctive badges found their places on tunic sleeves of former front-line German soldiers and officers in the early 1930s that in a way could also be regarded as the most active years of the “Der Stahlhelm”.
Kennzeichen were worn for quite a short period of time, before renaming of the League to Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkämpfer-Bund (Stahlhelm) that was announced on March 28, 1934 within the scope of the all-German policy of “Gleichschaltung”.
Totally 21sleeve badges were introduced to be worn by former frontline soldiers who have served with the following branches, units and detachments of the German Imperial army. Please note that those categories in brackets are listed in German strictly according to the wording of the 1932 Order.
1. Infantry (Infanterie),
2. Cavalry (Kavallerie),
3. Field Artillery (Feld-Artillerie),
4. Foot Artillery (Fuß-Artillerie),
5. Machine Gun detachments (M.G., i.e. Maschinengewehr-Truppen),
6. Mortar units (M.F., i.e. Minenwerfer-Truppen),
7. Jägers, or Light infantry (Jäger),
8. Engineer troops (Pioniere),
9. Signals units (Nachrichtentruppen),
10. Railway troops (Eisenbahner),
11. Mobile train units (Fuhrpark-Train),
12. Motor car units (Kraftfahrer),
13. Balloon crews (Luftschiffer),
14. Aviators (Flieger),
15. Airship crews (Zeppelin-Besatzung),
16. Flame-thrower units (Flammenwerfer),
17. Tank crews (Tankbesatzung),
18. Medical orderlies (Sanitäter),
19. Sailors (Marine),
20. U-Boat crews (U-Boot-Besatzung),
21. Colonial troops (Schutztruppen).
Constructively, badges in question consisted of a circular or an oval metal plate with several holes drilled closer to its centre and bearing stamp of German patent bureau “Ges. Gesch.”, standing for “gesetzlich geschützt”, i.e. “Protected by the law”, executed in capital letters. Those plates were covered with thick dark blue fabric sewn with black threads at reverses. Metal emblems representing various branches of service were superimposed on fabric-covered obverse of badges and fixed with two, three or four long prongs piercing plates through holes mentioned above.
Distinctive badges were worn on the lower part of tunic left sleeve, between bend of elbow and upper part of cuff. When two badges were entitled to be worn, they had to be sewn one above the other.
Production of Kennzeichen was overseen by the Magdeburg-based company “Der Stahlhof Versandgesellschaft mbH” (also known as Wirtschafts-Abteilung) that managed and handled a broad scope of assortment of the “Der Stahlhelm”-related items. “Der Stahlhof” did not produce paraphernalia by itself, but ordered German concerns to do so. That department was subordinated to the Bundesamt and should be basically seen as a sort of Reichszeugmeisterei (RZM), i.e. national material control office of the League.
As mentioned above, wearing of Distinctive Badges of Branches of Service of Former Servicemen was discontinued soon after the League was renamed Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkämpfer-Bund (Stahlhelm) on March 28, 1934. Thus, regulations dated July 1934 that supervised wearing of uniforms clearly stipulated that “wearing of traditional badges (Traditionsabzeichen), cuff-titles (Ärmelbänder) and badges of territorial associations (Landesverbandabzeichen) is forbidden”. However, NSDFB(S) members continued wearing appropriate cloth “Speciality badges” (Sonderabzeichen) described below on their Stormtroopers tunics.
VII. Sonderabzeichen (1932)
Speciality badges (1932)
Afore-mentioned Directive of the League’s top leadership No.1625/32 (Verfügung der Bundesführung des Stahlhelm Bk/IIa 1625/32) also introduced the so-called “Speciality badges” (Sonderabzeichen) for qualified personnel of the “Der Stahlhelm”. Totally five cloth sleeve patches were authorized for wearing by veterans, each being described in details below.
It should be noted that these five Speciality badges replaced obsolete sleeve cloth insignia in the shape of vertical ovals for Signals Service personnel (Nachrichtendienst), Medical orderlies (Sanitätspersonal) and Stretcher-bearers (Krankenträger) that have been introduced in 1925 as “Badges for Specialists”, or “Speciality Badges” (Abzeichen für besondere Ausbildung / Sonderabzeichen) (see above).
1. Mounted units personnel (Reiterformationen). Circular field grey patch showing a horse with right foreleg raised.
2. Signals units personnel (Nachrichtenstaffeln). Field grey patch in the shape of a vertical oval framed with thin black rim showing three bolts of lightning tied threefold with silver thread in the middle.
3. Motorists (Kraftfahrer). Circular patch made of field grey cloth symbolizing motorcar tire with angular capital letter “K” in its centre.
4. Cyclists (Radfahrer). Light blue patch in the shape of a vertical oval with silver-embroidered capital letter “R” and steel helmet facing left. This Speciality badge was similar to the one described in the Stahlhelm-Handbuch published in 1931 (see above).
5. Medical orderlies (Sanitäter). Light purple vertical oval measuring ca. 7x9 cm with stitched-on equilateral red Teutonic cross with thin white border.
Speciality badges were worn on the upper part of tunic left sleeve. “Der Stahlhelm” members in ranks of Oberwehrmann, Gruppenführer and Feldmeister who had their ranks denoted by singular, double and triple chevrons respectively, wore Sonderabzeichen above those V-shaped stripes.
The author thanks Wilhelm Saris (the Netherlands), renowned specialist on the history of the “Der Stahlhelm”, for consultations, critical remarks and photos he provided from his personal collection