Comparison of two original M42 Heer field caps

Comparison of two original M42 Heer field caps

Presented in these photos are two textbook original M42 field caps, worn by German Army soldiers in WWII. The one on the left (or on top) is from 1942 and is a size 55. The one on the right (or bottom) is from 1943 and is a size 56. The caps differ in the following ways:
 
Wool shade
 
Lining fabric
Air vent size and finish
 
Buttonhole style
Bobbin thread stitching style
 
Insignia shade, positioning, and relative size of graphic elements
 
Relative size of scallop on front flap, also height of flap and shape of flap end
 
Button material and color of stitching
 
They made these things by the millions, many manufacturers made them. They weren’t able to make them all the same.
 
Pebbled buttons used on Heer and Waffen-SS issue wool field blouses

Pebbled buttons used on Heer and Waffen-SS issue wool field blouses

With very few possible exceptions, every issue type wool field blouse made for the Heer and Waffen-SS in World War Two was made with 19mm pebbled buttons for the front placket, shoulder straps and pocket closures. The buttons used for the shoulder boards and pockets and front placket were all the same size, and all field blouses were made and issued with the same size of button. The issue type field blouse buttons were all convex, with a hollow reverse.

Before WWII, the Wehrmacht used aluminum pebbled buttons. At some point near the start of the war, zinc replaced aluminum in production. Near the end of the war, steel buttons began to be produced. This same progression can be seen with dished equipment buttons and some other types of uniform and equipment hardware: aluminum before the war, then zinc, and steel in 1944-45.

The Reichswehr used buttons made of nickel silver, which is a nickel alloy with a slight yellow cast. It is possible that some early Wehrmacht uniforms may also have used nickel silver buttons, with a field gray painted finish if used on field uniforms. Some pebbled buttons were also produced in Bakelite, though these are not common and are not typical on any uniform type from any period.

These same hollow backed field gray 19 mm pebbled buttons (among other types) were also used on other types of clothing, including camouflage clothing and HBT uniforms.

This is an early aluminum button on an overcoat from the 1930s. You can see that it has a very thin, very smooth field gray finish. This may be paint or it may be a type of anodized finish.

This is an early field gray painted aluminum button on an M36 field blouse. The Germans were not able to standardize color shades for their uniforms and equipment. Buttons used on the field blouse were painted “Feldgrau” which initially was a rainbow of green shades ranging from pale yellowish green, to dark forest green.

This is an aluminum button, with traces of a dark-colored painted finish, factory sewn on an M43 field blouse made of captured Italian uniform wool, probably in 1944. Pre-war patterns of uniforms, insignia and equipment were issued and re-issued as needed, as long as stocks existed, until the end of the war; the same was true with buttons.

Zinc buttons became very common during the war. This one is on an M43 tunic from 1944.

This zinc button on a worn M44 tunic has very large pebbling. If you look closely at these photos you will note many variations in the size and detail of the pebbling. This was simply manufacturer variation.

A pristine zinc button with a light-colored paint finish, on a barely used M42 overcoat from 1942.

This well-worn M43 tunic has steel buttons, with nearly all of the original field gray paint worn away. These buttons are magnetic.

Starting some time in 1943, some types of equipment including some belt buckles and some pebbled buttons began to be produced in a blue color called “Einheitsblau.” Supposedly, this was to simplify production by enabling items for all branches of the military to be finished with the same blue paint. This is an Einheitsblau button on an M43 tunic. Note the lack of detail to the pebbling.

The button above is an example of what was likely the final variation of wartime button. On typical buttons, the pebbled metal face is crimped onto a convex metal plate, which is fitted with a shank. This button is a late war type with the pebbled part crimped onto an S-sing of the type previously used to affix buttons to HBT and tropical uniforms.

These aluminum and zinc buttons, of the standard type, were recovered from the Stalingrad battlefield and are representative of the mix of materials one would expect to see in the mid-war period. Many of the buttons bear manufacturer markings. Among those pictured here are products of Assmann & Söhne in Lüdenscheid, Berg & Nolte in Lüdenscheid, Brüder Schneider in Wien, Richard Sieper & Söhne in Lüdenscheid, and Funke & Brüninghaus in Lüdenscheid. These were all companies that made other metal bits for the Wehrmacht, including badges, belt buckles and metal insignia.

Different types of buttons with different finishes were used on other types of uniforms, such as parade uniforms, which had buttons with a bright silver finish. Buttons with a solid reverse were sometimes used on tailor made officer uniforms that were not intended for field use.

At the time of writing (2020) near-perfect copies of the standard 19mm hollow back pebbled metal buttons used for Wehrmacht field blouses, have been manufactured for years. Reproductions offered by a number of suppliers are visually identical to the originals, especially on the front. The very wide range of colors and shades used on original buttons makes it hard for the makers of the reproductions to get this wrong. At this time, applying original buttons to a reproduction field blouse cannot reasonably be stated to add visual realism, from a living history perspective.

Internal stiffener material on German M43 field cap visors

Internal stiffener material on German M43 field cap visors

Here are two well-used original M43 field caps. Authentication of these hats in general has become difficult for me but both of these came from  highly regarded dealers more than 10 years ago and were positively reviewed on WAF; I am extremely confident in stating that these are original wartime Wehrmacht field caps.

Both of these have cardboard internal stiffeners inside the visors. Through wear and use, the cardboard has broken up/crumbled and become very soft and pliable. It can be bent into any shape desired and will not hold its shape, returning to a generally flat, floppy, droopy position.

One of these caps has some insect damage to the underside of the visor, revealing some of this cardboard in the brim. It is a light tan color.

The typical coarse, loose texture of this type of wool is also noticeable here.

Evaluating and Upgrading a Reproduction WWII German Field Blouse

Evaluating and Upgrading a Reproduction WWII German Field Blouse

At the time of writing (2019) reproduction WWII German field blouses have been reproduced by many manufacturers for more than 20 years. There are many options for new made uniforms and a wide variety of uniforms may be available on the secondhand market. This guide contains ideas for how to make any reproduction of a wool enlisted issue field blouse as realistic as it can be.
 
The first thing to evaluate is the insignia (if any) and how it is applied. Not all reproduction insignia are equal, and there are some terrible copies out there. Original issue-type shoulder straps were generally made out the same types of fabrics used for constructing uniforms. Pre-war straps were dark green and made out of a tightly woven, fairly smooth wool, the same stuff used for M36 tunic collars. Wartime straps were field gray. Pre-war shoulder strap piping was mostly wool, while rayon was predominant during wartime, though some wool piped wartime straps were produced. Look at photos of original straps to get an idea of what the piping should look like and how thick it should be. It was generally fairly narrow. If your shoulder straps have rope-thick piping, or are made out of a loosely knit wool/synthetic blend fabric, you should replace them.
 
Collar Litzen, in general, should be neatly machine applied. Der Erste Zug has a great guide on typical period application styles. Pay attention to the shape of the applied Litzen. See here for some wartime examples. The final pattern generic Litzen appeared in May, 1940, and are ideal for most wartime field blouses. The earlier generic Litzen from 1938, with dark green stripes, were normally factory applied on M36 and some M40 field blouses. The pre-1938 branch piped Litzen were usually only seen factory applied on M36 and earlier field blouse models.
 
Factory applied breast eagles were generally Bevo (machine woven) and were generally machine applied on wartime field blouses. Hand sewn eagles were common on pre-war uniforms, and some later field blouses did still have hand sewn eagles. Machine embroidered eagles on rayon backing appeared late in the war. Avoid eagles embroidered on wool or felt, these were a private purchase type, never applied at the factory, rarely seen on field tunics. Again, the 1940 pattern insignia (gray on field gray eagle) is ideal for most wartime field blouses. See this guide to determine what pattern of breast eagle would be most appropriate for the year in which your field blouse would have been made.
 
The next thing to look at is the buttons. The large pebbled buttons used for the front placket and pocket closures were made by many manufacturers and countless variations exist. They were made in aluminum, steel, zinc, and even Bakelite, and were painted in various shades. The size and appearance of the pebbling varied from manufacturer to manufacturer. Here are some typical worn wartime examples.
There are extremely good copies of original aluminum buttons currently being manufactured. Many reproductions being made today have pebbled buttons that are virtually perfect. But if your buttons are made of brass, or the pebbling is totally unlike that of originals, they should be replaced, either with originals or with better quality reproductions. Original buttons used on enlisted issue field blouses had a convex reverse with a shank for stitching to the uniform. Buttons with solid or flat backs should be replaced.
 
Look also at the small buttons. Here is some information about the types of small buttons originally used. Replace any colorful plastic buttons or plastic buttons molded to look like pressed paper buttons. Reproduction horn buttons are available, but small round black plastic buttons in the correct size may also be available at a local fabric store.
 
Look at the thread used to affix the buttons. Original button thread was thick stuff, here are some examples. If your buttons are sewn with thin garment thread, you need to re-stitch them with something that is more accurate and also stronger.
 
Look inside the front placket closure, behind the buttons, for size and manufacturer stamps like this.
All field blouses had these stamps when they were made. If they are absent, they can be added for extra realism. To measure your field blouse to determine the sizes with which it should be stamped, see here.
 
Some but not all field blouses had thread reinforcement stitches at the collar. These were hand done. It is easy to add this detail, if desired. Here are two different examples of these reinforcement bars, on an M40 and a M43 field blouse.

If you have an M36 or M40 field blouse, you may have to add the small hooks inside for the ends of the internal suspenders. There were two of these, one on each side, in front. See here for information on these. You may also add additional thread reinforcements on either side of the openings for the internal suspenders used with these field blouse models, you can see the reinforcement stitching in this photo.

Any field blouse, regardless of how close it is to an original, can be let down by bad insignia or buttons. And making sure that all the small details are as they should be, can help elevate even a lesser quality copy. Once you have all the details correct, the next step is just to wear it, or weather it if you prefer.
1940 pattern generic Heer Litzen (collar tabs)

1940 pattern generic Heer Litzen (collar tabs)

This final pattern of generic Heer Litzen was introduced in May, 1940. These photos show an assortment of original examples. These were made in varying sizes, with central stripes in light gray, dark gray, tan, or blue-gray, with similar variations to the background color as well, and variation in the relative sizes of the graphic elements. These photos don’t show the entire original range of variation. The many manufacturers who made these were simply not able to make them all the same, for all the millions that were made 1940-45.

Some drinking cups of the Eastern Front

Left to right:

-German interwar paramilitary canteen cup, same as WWI style, holds 300 mL
-Pre-WWII and early war Wehrmacht aluminum canteen cup, holds 375 mL
-WWII Soviet enameled steel cup, holds 380 mL

All of these are metal and can be used to heat water for warm beverages or for shaving.

In the reality of war, German soldiers used Soviet cups and vice-versa.
Postwar or reproduction equivalents of all of these exist.

From a utility perspective, the WWII German canteen cup gets my vote for being most useful, with the best combination of volume and durability. As of 2020, Hessen Antique has good reproductions for a cheap price.

WWII German Army M43 Tunic Collar and Sleeve Shapes

Comparison photos showing 5 unaltered original enlisted issue wool Heer M43 tunics. This first photo shows the collar and lapel shape. To take these photos I unbuttoned the top button and held the collar open as if it were pressed open. Many differences are readily apparent. Sometimes the collar extends past the lapel, sometimes the lapel is wider than the collar. The relative widths of the collar and the angles of the various shapes are very visibly different.

This photo shows the sleeve shapes. I laid the sleeves as flat as I could to show the shape. They are not all the same. There is a persistent reenactor legend about “curved sleeves.” I’m not sure what is meant by that- but see for yourself.

WWII German field blouse button sewing and wool detail

A small sample of wartime enlisted issue tunics were examined to look at the button stitching and wool material, as part of an ongoing study of details of original uniforms. Previous articles in the series:

Wehrmacht Feldbluse Measurements
Internal Suspender Retaining Hooks
Small Buttons on the German Army Field Blouse

These photographs show original factory applied buttons. The thread used to apply the buttons is a thick button thread. The buttons appear to be hand sewn. The thread itself generally has a sheen that likely indicates linen content. The color varies, but is generally within the wide range of “Feldgrau.” Some of the thread may have shifted in color with time due to aging of the dyes. There are also variations in the stitching style, with some of them showing thread wrapped around the stitching, parallel to the wool surface; others lack this feature. All of these buttons are on dated garments, the year of manufacture of each field blouse is indicated in the photo.

The photos above also provide some details about the wool nap and weave. For comparative purposes, here are some photos of the wool used for garments dated in different years. The 1943 image only shows one garment, the other photos compare two different field blouses.

Wehrmacht Feldbluse measurements

Seven original unaltered wartime enlisted issue tunics were examined and measured to look at similarities and differences in the cut and tailoring.

Some aspects of the cut of each garment appear to be constant. The rear skirt is always shorter than the front skirt, between 1 inch and 2.5 inches shorter. The waist measurement across the front is always smaller than the armpit-to-armpit measurement, though this difference is small as .75″ and as big as 2.5″.

Other measurements vary widely from one example to the next. This should be no surprise. These garments were not sized as small, medium and large. Each garment was sized five different ways: the length of the tunic back, the collar size, the chest size, the overall length, and the sleeve length. These numbers varied independently of each other, as we can see looking at the original marked sizes on these examples. There is no direct correlation between the various sizes; a tunic could have a larger chest size but a shorter overall length. There is also no readily observable correlation between sleeve length and overall length. Two of the garments are stamped with a height range indicating they were suited for people who were 171-175 cm tall. These garments have different stamped sleeve lengths.

Some of the variation is surprising. Variation in pocket size and shape is remarkable. The proportions are not consistent. Some lower pockets are wider than they are tall. On others, it is the opposite. Futhermore, the measurement from shoulder to shoulder seems to vary in a way that does not correlate with chest size. I do not believe that wear and stretching or shrinkage could account for all of these variations. I believe that they were different when made, and that some of these differences are either unintentional, or were manufacturer variations.

Here are the numbers for each garment. Measurements were rounded to the nearest quarter inch. The numbering is arbitrary and doesn’t correspond to the photo. I have included the original stamped sizes for reference only. The sleeve length was measured on the M43 models only. Both of the worn M40 tunics had repairs to the sleeve ends that might have altered the original length.

Field blouse #1
Model: M40
Stamped tunic back length: 41 cm
Stamped collar size: 40 cm
Stamped chest size: 90 cm
Stamped overall length: 88 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 61 cm
Stamped height range: none
Measured shoulder width (seam to seam at the top): 16.75″
Measured arm hole height (top of shoulder to armpit): 8″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 19.5″
Measured waist (across the front at the lowest belt hook hole): 18.75″
Measured chest pockets: 5″ wide, 6.25″ high
Measured lower pockets: 8.5″ wide, 8″ high
Measured sleeve length: N/A (repaired)
Measured front length (top of shoulder at collar to skirt end): 27″
Measured back length (base of collar to skirt end): 25.25″

Field blouse #2
Model: M40
Stamped tunic back length: 41 cm
Stamped collar size: 41 cm
Stamped chest size: 90 cm
Stamped overall length: 68 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 61 cm
Stamped height range: none
Measured shoulder width: 16″
Measured arm hole height: 9″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 19″
Measured waist: 17.5″
Measured chest pockets: 5″ wide, 6.75″ high
Measured lower pockets: 8.75″ wide, 8.25″ high
Measured sleeve length: N/A (repaired)
Measured front length: 27.5″
Measured back length: 26.25″

Field blouse #3
Model: M43
Stamped tunic back length: 43 cm
Stamped collar size: 62 cm
Stamped chest size: 104 cm
Stamped overall length: 72 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 45 cm
Stamped height range: none
Measured shoulder width: 18″
Measured arm hole height: 9.5″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 22″
Measured waist: 20.5″
Measured chest pockets: 5″ wide, 6.25″ high
Measured lower pockets: 7.75″ wide, 8″ high
Measured sleeve length: 23″
Measured front length: 27.5″
Measured back length: 26.25″

Field blouse #4
Model: M43
Stamped tunic back length: 43 cm
Stamped collar size: 43 cm
Stamped chest size: 96 cm
Stamped overall length: 72 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 62 cm
Stamped height range: 171-175 cm
Measured shoulder width: 16.5″
Measured arm hole height: 9″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 21″
Measured waist: 18.5″
Measured chest pockets: 5.25″ wide, 7″ high
Measured lower pockets: 8.25″ wide, 8.75″ high
Measured sleeve length: 24″
Measured front length: 29″
Measured back length: 28″

Field blouse #5
Model: M43
Stamped tunic back length: 43 cm
Stamped collar size: 40 cm
Stamped chest size: 88 cm
Stamped overall length: illegible
Stamped sleeve length: 64 cm
Stamped height range: none
Measured shoulder width: 14.75″
Measured arm hole height: 9″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 18″
Measured waist: 16″
Measured chest pockets: 5″ wide, 7.5″ high
Measured lower pockets: 8.25″ wide, 8″ high
Measured sleeve length: 25.5″
Measured front length: 29″
Measured back length: 28″

Field blouse #6
Model: M43
Stamped tunic back length: 43 cm
Stamped collar size: 42 cm
Stamped chest size: 92 cm
Stamped overall length: 72 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 64 cm
Stamped height range: none
Measured shoulder width: 16.5″
Measured arm hole height: 9.25″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 19″
Measured waist: 17.25″
Measured chest pockets: 5.25″ wide, 7.25″ high
Measured lower pockets: 9.5″ wide, 9″ high
Measured sleeve length: 25.5″
Measured front length: 30″
Measured back length: 27.5″

Field blouse #7
Model: M43
Stamped tunic back length: 43 cm
Stamped collar size: 40 cm
Stamped chest size: 88 cm
Stamped overall length: 72 cm
Stamped sleeve length: 64 cm
Stamped height range: 171-175 cm
Measured shoulder width: 15″
Measured arm hole height: 9.5″
Measured armpit-to-armpit: 17.25″
Measured waist: 16.5″
Measured chest pockets: 5.25″ wide, 7.5″ high
Measured lower pockets: 8″ wide, 8.75″ high
Measured sleeve length: 25″
Measured front length: 29.25″
Measured back length: 28.25″

Small buttons on the German Army field blouse

A small sample of original WWII German Army enlisted issue uniform jackets was examined to assess what kind of small buttons were applied at the factory. M36, M40, M42 and M43 jackets were examined, as well as one factory converted Dutch reissued field blouse.

M36, M40, M42 and M43 field blouses each had ten small buttons in addition to the larger pebbled metal front placket and pocket closure buttons. These small buttons measured approximately 14 mm in diameter. Five were used in the collar to affix the collar bind, one closed the internal bandage pocket, and two were used to secure each cuff closure. The following types of buttons were observed in this small sample.

Horn
Horn buttons were the most common in this small sample. Here are two on an M36 field blouse. These buttons vary in color from a pale gray to nearly black, sometimes (as here) on the same garment.

 On an M40 field blouse:

 On an M43 field blouse made in 1944:

Glass

Glass buttons were observed in this sample on M42 and M43 field blouses.

 This was on an M43. A different color shade.

Pressed Paper

Pressed paper buttons were factory applied on two of the jackets examined.

 Plastic

Gray and black buttons made of an apparently synthetic material that appears to be similar to modern plastic were also found. This is an M43 jacket made in 1944.

Black plastic button on the converted Dutch jacket. The collar and buttons were added for Wehrmacht issue.

This M40 field blouse had black plastic buttons inside but horn buttons for the cuff closures. Two jackets had different button types for the cuffs as for the buttons inside this garment. It was not possible to determine if these left the factory in this configuration, or if the cuff closure buttons were replaced.

This M43 field blouse made in 1944 has glossy black buttons that appear to be some painted synthetic material.
Most of the buttons examined that appeared to be factory sewn had been hand stitched with field gray or taupe colored thread.