Collar insignia of Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten (hereinafter referred to as just “Stahlhelmbund”) commonly seen on later photos of the League personnel, was introduced in 1932 only, on a decline of that once powerful veterans organization boasting nearly half a million members by that time. One should remember that there were actually no ranks for Stahlhelmbund members before 1932, and therefore collar insignia was never mentioned in none of the “Leader’s Handbooks” (Führer-Handbuch), from the first issue printed in Magdeburg in January 1925 to that published in March 1931. Two miniature metal emblems, viz. steel helmet and so-called “Sword of Siegfried” (Siegfriedschwert) worn at times attached to tunic collars until 1932 had nothing to do with rank insignia, but were rather symbols of affiliation to regular or youth wings of the Stahlhelmbund.
It’s worth being mentioned here as well that wearing of obsolete Imperial army officers’ collar tabs (Litzen) by some Stahlhelmbund members was not governed by any League regulation. It was nothing other than personal extravagance of former officers who demonstrated in that manner their participation in the Great War. In the course of time such defiance drew attention of Reichswehr authorities and their resentment forced Stahlhelmbund leaders to issue an Instruction published on November 25, 1926 in the Führer-Nachrichten-Blatt Nr.33. That document unequivocally prohibited wearing of army collar tabs (Litzen) as the latter was regarded as an integral part of the military uniform Stahlhelmbund members were not authorized to wear. Such a decision was made in order to avoid further unnecessary tensions between Reichswehr command authority and Stahlhelmbund leadership.
Due to the fact there was no ranking system until 1932 it was needed crucially to create certain insignia for Stahlhelmbund leaders (Führer-Abzeichen), especially with constantly increasing membership rate. For this purpose leather shoulder belts were introduced in 1925. Specific functions were to be recognized by width and colored piping along the edges. At that moment there were no speciality insignia yet to be added to the shoulder-belt, other than for the Bundesführer. According to the Leader’s Handbook from November 1927 additional insignia was introduced for board members and motorized units (Kraftfahrstaffel) personnel. In the same 1927 the aforementioned “Sword of Siegfried” for Jungstahlhelm personnel with advising functions only was introduced; others in fact were not allowed to wear that device.
Another symmetrical collar device, Military Sports Badge (Wehrsport-Abzeichen) in the shape of an oak branchlet was subsequently introduced in 1930 for those members of the Stahlhelmbund who had passed successfully series of military sports examinations.
Special insignia was further planned for the Bundesamt department chiefs and chiefs within Territorial associations (Landesverband). However, this suggestion was cancelled shortly thereafter and may never have been an actual fact. In 1931 special shoulder belt insignia for leaders of signals units came into being.
Collar insignia introduced by the Directive of the League’s top leadership No.1625/32 (Verfügung der Bundesführung des Stahlhelm Bk [Bundeskammer]/IIa 1625/32) consisted of twin parallelogram-shaped black tabs measuring 70x42 mm approximately. They were sewn on stand-and-fall collar of a field jacket (Feldrock). Initially ranks were indicated by combinations of thin cloth stripes and wide braids only as well as by sleeve chevrons (for three categories of junior ranks). Tetragonal metal pips and big oak leaves for collar tabs (initially not mentioned in the Directive No.1625/32) were subsequently added.
Branch of service, or rather status of Stahlhelmbund members was indicated by piping of collar tabs. Initially only three colors were used: white for full or active members (Aktive-Formation), green for reserve units (Reserve-Formation) and blue for local self-defense squads (Heimatschutz).
Later on color scheme has gone through major changes and became as follows: white – infantry units (zu Fuß), yellow – cavalry (Reiter), pink – motorized units (Kraftfahrstaffeln), light brown – signals units (Nachrichten-Staffeln), light blue – quartermasters and paymasters (Intendantur und Kassenwesen), red – staff of the League senior personnel (höherer Führergehilfen), twisted black and red – specialists in charge of press, culture and social welfare (Presse, Kultur und Sozialreferat).
Directive No.1625/32 initially introduced rank insignia for eight categories of the Stahlhelmbund members only (Wehrmann, Oberwehrmann, Stabswehrmann, Gruppenführer, Feldmeister, Zugführer, Bataillonsführer and Landesführer); shortly thereafter insignia for four more categories were added (Oberfeldmeister, Oberzugführer, Kompagnieführer and Bundesführer). Collar tabs for the first eleven categories, from Wehrmann to Landesführer (i.e. except for Bundesführer) had unified metal emblem in the shape of a sprig with two oak leaves and one acorn fixed to their front rear corner.
- Wehrmann: collar tabs without rank insignia.
- Oberwehrmann: collar tabs without rank insignia; single chevron worn on the upper left sleeve.
- Stabswehrmann: collar tabs without rank insignia; double chevron worn on the upper left sleeve.
- Gruppenführer: thin vertical stripe at the rear end of the tab.
- Feldmeister: two thin vertical stripes at the rear end of the tab, triple chevron worn on the upper left sleeve.
- Oberfeldmeister: two thin vertical stripes at the rear end of the tab, one pip at the bottom of the stripe.
- Zugführer: wide vertical braid at the rear end of the tab.
- Oberzugführer: wide vertical braid at the rear end of the tab, one pip at the bottom of the braid.
- Kompagnieführer: wide vertical braid at the rear end of the tab, two pips fixed parallel to the braid.
- Bataillonsführer: two wide vertical braids at the rear end of the tab.
- Landesführer: three wide vertical braids at the rear end of the tab.
- Bundesführer: black collar tabs with gilt piping and three large gilt oak leaves with one acorn.
Information reflecting further revisions of the Stahlhelmbund rank insignia from early 1933 until early 1934 continues to be scarce, quite confusing, sometimes even contradictory and in some ways difficult to get stated. The best possible data gathered from reliable sources and based on available photographic evidence is summarized below.
Hierarchy of the Stahlhelmbund has expanded in 1933 when two new ranks were introduced: Stabsführer and Regimentsführer.
- Stabsführer wore black collar tabs with aforementioned metal emblem (sprig with two oak leaves and one acorn), two wide vertical braids at the rear end of the tab and one pip at the bottom of the braid.
- Regimentsführer wore black collar tabs with metal emblem, two wide vertical braids at the rear end of the tab and two pips fixed parallel to the braid.
Later the same year four more ranks for Stahlhelmbund commanders have been introduced, clearly influenced by the Sturmabteilung, namely Brigadeführer, Divisionsführer, Obergruppenführer and Bundeshauptmann, while the rank of Landesführer was abolished. Four new collar tabs lacked traditional metal emblem, and rank was denoted by a combination of big silver oak leaves and silver pips.
- Brigadeführer: two oak leaves and one pip in the middle of the front end of the tab.
- Divisionsführer: three oak leaves.
- Obergruppenführer: three oak leaves and one pip at the bottom of the front end of the tab.
- Bundeshauptmann: three oak leaves and two pips fixed parallel to the front end of the tab.
As for the sleeve chevrons for junior ranks mentioned above, an important clarification is required. Those chevrons made of black tissue edged with thin silver braid were an integral part of Stahlhelmbund rank insignia of 1932 pattern introduced by the Directive No.1625/32. As stated earlier, single chevron was worn by Oberwehrmann, double chevron by Stabswehrmann, while triple one by Feldmeister. The latter was abolished in 1933 and since then new rank system featured only two types of chevrons, i.e. single for Oberwehrmann and double for Stabswehrmann.
However, sleeve chevrons did exist even before 1932, but they denoted position in the Stahlhelmbund, not rank (bear in mind that rank system and hence collar tabs were not introduced until 1932). Thus, Leader’s Handbook (Führer-Handbuch) published in Magdeburg in January 1925, mentions two such chevrons for Jungstahlhelm officials: single one for Oberjungmann and double for Einheitsführer. Those V-shaped chevrons of 1925 pattern were manufactured of three cloth stripes of traditional Imperial colors, i.e. black, white and red.
1 – Wehrmann, 2 – Oberwehrmann, 3 – Stabswehrmann, 4 – Oberwehrmann’s chevron, 5 – Stabswehrmann’s chevron, 6 – Feldmeister’s chevron, 7 – Gruppenführer, 8 – Feldmeister, 9 – Oberfeldmeister, 10 – Zugführer, 11 – Oberzugführer, 12 – Kompagnieführer, 13 – Bataillonsführer, 14 – Stabsführer, 15 – Regimentsführer, 16 – Landesführer, 17 – Brigadeführer, 18 – Divisionsführer, 19 – Obergruppenführer, 20 – Bundeshauptmann, 21 – Bundesführer.
Come November 1933, Stahlhelmbund members aged 36-45, i.e. members of Wehrstahlhelm (physically fit members involved in active paramilitary training – Author’s Note) were put on the list of “SA-Reserve I”, while those above 45 were listed as “SA-Reserve II”. However, status of the SA reservist imposed certain obligations. Thus, “members of the former Stahlhelmbund who have already been transferred into SA-Reserve I, cannot of their own volition sever their connection with SA-Reserve I for the sole purpose of joining other associations. Anyone who, because of a physical defect, cannot discharge his duties or who, for other reasons, wishes to leave the SA Reserve, must apply for his discharge, stating the reasons for his request. Dual membership in the SA-Reserve I and in the National Socialist Veterans’ Association is permitted, provided the individual joined the former Stahlhelmbund before January 30, 1933”.
As for the SA-Reserve II, that formation was disregarded and its shaping did not progress beyond compilation of personnel list and staffs.
The process of transferring of Stahlhelmbund units with their commanders and own uniform to SA was completed by January 24, 1934 – the day Ernst Röhm, Chief of Staff of the SA (Stabschef der SA), reported to Adolf Hitler that Stahlhelmbund was entirely integrated into the Sturmabteilung.
Former Stahlhelmbund members brought into SA-Reserve I were to wear aforementioned rank insignia on collar tabs of a new pattern: traditional black tabs were replaced with colored ones according to branch of service. Thus, infantry units were supposed to be supplied with black tabs with white piping, cavalry units – yellow tabs with white piping, motorized units – pink tabs with white piping, signals units – light brown tabs with white piping, quartermasters and paymasters – light blue tabs with white piping, staff of the League senior personnel – red tabs with white piping, while specialists in charge of press, culture and social welfare – black tabs with red piping.
However, that project had likely remained a dead paper and has never been translated into practice in spite of the fact that the aforementioned system was included in various uniform periodicals, e.g. “Uniform-Fibel” by Herbert Knötel (Knötel der Jüngere) published in December 1933. Perhaps, even then Stahlhelmbund was already doomed to disbandment as insufficiently loyal organization, or maybe proposed color scheme for SA-Reserve I personnel contradicted somehow that used by SA units, it’s hard to tell for sure now. Anyway, photographic evidence shows that SA-Reserve I personnel of Stahlhelmbund descent did retain their good old black collar tabs with color piping of 1932 pattern. No examples of “colored” collar tabs in wear are known to exist, at least the author is unaware of such photographs. In this context, a good example comes from a portrait of Gauführer of Hohenlohe region (Gau) named Illenberger from a signals unit: instead of light brown collar tabs with white piping he still sports black tabs of a Bataillonsführer with light brown piping of 1932 pattern.
Soon after SA absorbed Stahlhelmbund, several orders regulating wearing of uniform by former Stahlhelmbund members under the new conditions have been issued. One in particular, related to Wehrstahlhelm motorized units personnel (Befehl für die Wehrstahlhelm-Kraftfahrer) and dated August 08, 1933 stipulated that Stahlhelmbund field grey uniform had to be worn with SA armband (Kampfbinde) as well as with collar tabs and insignia according to the SA Uniform Regulations (SA-Bekleidungsvorschrift).
The last type of collar insignia for former Stahlhelmbund members as an integral part of SA-Reserve I had a shape of black felt tabs with traditional metal emblem (sprig with two oak leaves and one acorn) attached to the lower front portion of the tab, and rank insignia – thin stripes, wide braids and silver pips.
- SA-Reserve I Truppführer (former Feldmeister): two pips placed diagonally.
- SA-Reserve I Obertruppführer (former Oberfeldmeister): thin vertical stripe at the rear end of the tab and two pips placed diagonally.
- SA-Reserve I Sturmführer (former Kompagnieführer): three pips placed diagonally.
- SA-Reserve I Obersturmführer (former Kompagnieführer): thin vertical stripe at the rear end of the tab and three pips placed diagonally.
- SA-Reserve I Sturmhauptführer (former Kompagnieführer): two thin vertical stripes at the rear end of the tab and three pips placed diagonally.
- SA-Reserve I Sturmbannführer (former Bataillonsführer): four pips placed in a square.
- SA-Reserve I Obersturmbannführer (former Bataillonsführer): wide vertical braid at the rear end of the tab and four pips placed in a square.
- SA-Reserve I Standartenführer (former Regimentsführer): oak leaf with two acorns.
- SA-Reserve I Oberführer: two oak leaves with four acorns.
- SA-Reserve I Brigadeführer: two oak leaves with three acorns and one pip.
- SA-Reserve I Gruppenführer: three oak leaves with three acorns.
- SA-Reserve I Obergruppenführer: three oak leaves with three acorns and one pip.
In November 1933, after the transfer of Stahlhelmbund to SA-Reserve I, fundamentally new additional rank insignia in the shape of shoulder boards was introduced. They were worn on the right shoulder only and differed in type according to categories of ranks. Thus, thin silver shoulder cord was worn by those in ranks from Wehrmann to Kompagnieführer inclusive; medium-size silver shoulder board – from Bataillonsführer to Regimentsführer; wide gilt shoulder board – from Brigadeführer upwards. Two categories of SA-Reserve I personnel, viz. quartermasters and paymasters as well as specialists in charge of press, culture and social welfare were instructed to wear totally different shoulder boards made of twisted white and black cords.
What ranks former Stahlhelmbund members were promoted to after joining SA-Reserve I by force and whether it was a suitable replacement – answers to these questions can be found in transcripts of interrogation of Theodor Gruss, former Stahlhelmbund treasurer (Bundeskammerer) and a Freemason by his own admisssion, during the Trial of German Major War Criminals on August 13, 1946. “…One could speak of deceptive action in so far as the Stahlhelm leaders had been expressly promised that they would serve in the SA with the same ranks. But this promise too was not kept. The Stahlhelm leaders were set down one or two ranks. Shortly thereafter, they were even relieved of their commands and held in reserve. Only a few of them still remained in positions of command. Most of them had really no longer anything to do in the SA but they could not get out of the SA. According to my observation, no Stahlhelm leaders got beyond the rank of a Standartenführer in the SA unless they were special exceptions, that is, men who distinguished themselves through exceptional activity on behalf of National Socialism. With regard to ranks, the N.S. Reiter Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Reiterkorps – Author’s Note), which included many Stahlhelmer, occupied a special position. But as regards the leaders, the Reiter Corps was more or less left alone. Here most of the Stahlhelm leaders up to a Standartenfuehrer retained their command although there were among these Stahlhelmers many who were in opposition”.
Come March 28, 1934, Stahlhelm Bund der Frontsoldaten has been renamed Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkämpfer-Bund (Stahlhelm) within the scope of the all-German policy of “Gleichschaltung”. That concept, roughly meaning “unification”, was aimed at gradual but comprehensive inclusion of all the aspects of internal political processes into the national socialist ideology. Particularly, in respect to numerous Weimar-era associations inherited by NSDAP, that doctrine called for legal transformation of their ideology and, undoubtedly, names. Since June 1934 wearing of SA collar patches on newly introduced uniform of the NSDFBSt. (Die Bundestracht des NS. Deutschen Frontkämpfer-Bundes (Stahlhelm)) was abolished.
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that distinctive shoulder belts of specific width and with various piping, along with the speciality insignia were authorized for wearing from their introduction in 1925 and until the very end of existence of the League.
NSDFBSt. was finally dissolved on November 09, 1935, soon after the VII NSDAP Congress “Rally of Freedom” (Reichsparteitag der Freiheit) was held in Nuremberg, on September 10-16, 1935.
The author thanks Wilhelm Saris (the Netherlands), renowned specialist on the history of the “Der Stahlhelm”, for consultations and critical remarks.