German Uniforms in World War 1

Germany had a wide assortment of military uniforms before the outbreak of World War 1. Each state in the country had a distinct uniform in color, cut-out, belt-buckle motto, and helmet plate. 

The luxury of maintaining heterogeneous uniforms was only reasonable under peacetime conditions.  

From 1910 AD onwards, the modification in uniforms began, which continued through the war. The purpose of these changes was to bring a sense of regularity and uniformity to the confusing collection of uniforms.

After introducing Feldgrau or simply field-grey uniform in the German Army in 1910, the preceding uniforms were maintained for parades, law court, guard duty, social affairs, and off-duty times only. 

The initial German uniform that the leaders and the troops were seen in at the very start of the war did undergo some relevant changes as the war went on.

Who designed the World War 1 German uniforms?

Hugo Ferdinand Boss, a German fashion designer and the founder of Hugo Boss AG, designed the uniforms of German soldiers during the first world war.

Why did Germans wear grey uniforms?

The German Army wanted a color to symbolize their nation and its pride and distinguish their troops from others. Hence, they chose the color grey and were remembered for it.

What were German uniforms made of?

The military uniforms in Germany were made of high-quality wool gabardine, doeskin, or whipcord. The officers had to purchase the uniforms themselves, so they were either tailor-made or produced by gentlemen’s clothiers.   

Feldgrau or field-grey uniform

Feldgrau of the Wehrmacht Stalingrad 1942
Feldgrau of the Wehrmacht Stalingrad 1942

During World War 1, the entire German Army was dressed in the field-grey uniform, also referred to as the M1910 uniform. 

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The color of this initial uniform was a light grey-green shade. The Prussian Army first adopted it with other German states following the transition before August 1914, when the great war broke out.

Foot soldiers and Jägers were dressed in the standard field-grey wool uniforms. 

The uniform sets had red piping with dull brass buttons and metal fittings. Brandenburg cuffs and stand fall collars were also distinctive features of the uniform. 

Generals had red collar patches with traditional gold embroidery, whereas non-regimental officers had plain collar patches in the same color as their uniforms.

Simplification of the M1910 uniform

Hitler's gray uniform tunic with the Golden party Badge
Hitler’s gray uniform tunic with the Golden party Badge

In 1915, a simpler version of the initial field-grey uniform began to be handed out during waging war. The cut-out and design remained the same, including the collar and shoulder straps. 

The change occurred in the complex Brandenburg cuffs replaced entirely with plain turn-back cuffs. Piping on the back pocket flaps was also eliminated.  

This simplified field-grey tunic was then called the 1915 Transitional tunic.

The soldiers also appreciated this change since it was convenient for them to place their military IDs in the fold of the now wide turn-back cuff.

Introduction of the M1915 uniform

Uniforms of the German army
Uniforms of the German army

Following the minor modification of the initial field-grey uniform, an entirely new uniform set was introduced in September 1915.

Relatively simpler Bluse type wool tunics and stone-grey trousers were issued.

The changes included collar patches in the greatcoat being removed. The brass buttons in M1910 tunics and Transitional tunics were eliminated by introducing a fly front. 

The front masked the simple buttons made of horn. The collar and shoulder straps remained the same as in the Transitional tunic.

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The collar patches underwent quite some changes in the M1915 uniform. Generals and officers had field-grey collar patches with dull-silver or gold embroidery.

Similarly, non-regimental officers had various patterns of embroidered collar patches.

A significant change brought in by the M1915 uniform was the modification of shoulder straps to distinguish a soldier’s unit.

The battalion and company of a soldier were identified by combining distinctive colors on the side-arm knot. The shoulder strap buttons had the company number written on them.

Since every state has a unique state color, these were also embodied in the shoulder straps of officers.

Rank distinction and re-enlistment lace were also incorporated in the greatcoat’s collar patches.

The standard field cap had an addition to its design. A camouflage strip was issued to be tied around the grey wool cap, and two colored buttons were attached to the front.

The top button signified the German Army, and the lower button indicated which state the soldier served.

Discontinuation of the Pickelhaube 

Bavarian military Pickelhaube
Bavarian military Pickelhaube

The Pickelhaube, a spiked helmet, was majorly worn by the Prussian and German military officers. During the first world war, traditional spiked helmets made of leather were used. 

As the war went on, the German’s leather stock started diminishing. This resulted in fiberboards and steel sheets in producing these helmets.

This traditional spiked helmet did not seem to favor the conditions of trench warfare.

It proved relatively ineffective to protect the soldiers against attacks and even made the wearer a target due to the salient spike. 

From September 1915, new helmet production had already geared up, and the scarcity of materials combined with the ineffectiveness of the spiked helmet resulted in its discontinuation from 1916 onwards.

The Stahlhelm was introduced in 1916 and started replacing the spiked helmet. This new introduction was a steel helmet anticipated to provide more excellent protection to the bearer. 

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It proved influential as it decreased head wound fatalities by almost 70% in the Germans.

Revision of the leather jackboots

German jackboots from 1914
German jackboots from 1914

The military leather boots commissioned in the German Army had not gone through any changes since 1870.

The simplicity and durability of these boots made them appreciated by the troops.

In 1915, as per the order of the Former German Emperor Wilhelm II, the unchanged jackboots changed color. 

A black finish replaced the brown finish of these boots. In addition to this, belts, buckles, and other gear were also painted in black after the previous order.

Conclusion

During World War I, the German Army fought significant battles in various military uniforms and underwent substantial changes. The widely used field-grey uniform was majorly adapted in this war.

As the war progressed, constant modifications were made to the initially introduced uniform set.

The famous Pickelhaube faced discontinuation and replacement during the ongoing war. Brandenburg cuffs were also ceased from use and were no longer a part of the tunics. 

The change of the tunic model starting from the original M1910 tunic to the Transitional tunic and again to the M1915 tunic was also a significant alteration.

Apart from significant changes, many minor changes were also happening here and there.

The wide array of distinct uniforms that every state had was entirely abolished by an ‘All Highest’ cabinet order in 1915. 

A field-grey full-dress was introduced for wear after the war in peacetime conditions.

This sums up the relevant information about the uniforms worn by the German Army during World War 1.

Modifications continued after the war, and an entirely different version of a military uniform can be used by the Germans today.  

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