by Chris William
By the time Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (N.S.D.A.P. - Nazi party) had taken control of Germany in 1933, the German government had already been immersed for some time in a clandestine build up of its military personnel and equipment in direct contradiction to the boundaries imposed by the Allies’ Treaty of Versailles. The air service, one of the major sections of the Wehrmacht (armed services) trained pilots and ground personnel under the pretext of being members of civilian air sports associations such as the Deutscher Luftsportverband (DLV). When Hitler publicly cast the limitations of the Treaty aside, his war machine saw open and exponential growth, with the Luftwaffe increasing to 400,000 personnel by 1939. This increased further to 1,200,000 soldiers (of which about 1/3 were air combatants) and over 3,100 serviceable aircraft by the beginning stages of the war in 1940.
With an organization of this size, and the new complexity of the aircraft and equipment used at the time, there were thousands of specially trained soldiers required to perform technical services while in combat flight. In addition, many thousands more were needed to service the planes, armament and equipment, run the communications and detection networks, assist in medical, clerical, supply and all of the other functions found necessary to keep the Luftwaffe in full operation. In addition, as Flak installations and Luftwaffe ground forces became more widespread, other specialists were trained to assist with troop movements, placements, and the differing equipment maintenance and operations required for the land based combat tasks.
SPECIAL PATCHES FOR SPECIAL RECOGNITION
As a way of recognizing members who were specially trained in each of these technical categories, specialty patches were standardized in 1935 (there had been some prior patches utilized within theearlier German military and air sports groups). Soldiers were instructed to wear them on the left forearm of the Luftwaffe enlisted and NCO overcoats, parade jackets, and field tunics (officers did not wear specialty patches on their uniforms).
Soldiers were issued these patches upon completion of their technical courses, after passing qualifying exams, or after they had practiced their specialty for a specific amount of time. Female auxiliary Luftwaffe members were also authorized to wear specialty patches. Most of these feminine patches centered around women’s work in radio and telephone communications.
The typical patch consisted of a gray wool base (matching the color of the Luftwaffe tunic) onto which was machine sewn a design designating the wearer’s specialty in lighter gray cotton thread. Many of the designs represented a caricature signifying the specialty itself, such as tires for motor vehicle administration, lightning bolts for communications personnel, or winged propellers for flight crew members. For otherprofessions, single letters such as a “V” for Verwaltungsunteroffizier (Administration NCO) or “F” for Feuerwerker (armorer).
NCOs often wore versions with silver twisted cords (made of cloth, aluminum or bullion) around the outside patch borders, while exceptional performance in a technical discipline was shown through the addition of a gold twisted cord border to a wearer’s patch (along with a presentation document warded for recognition). Some privately produced patches of silver wire on a gray felt background or finely hand-sewn bullion thread with gilded highlights were available for purchase. A few patches seemed out of context for the general operations of the Luftwaffe such as those bearing horseshoes for farriers (a design copied from the German army patch), or ship’s wheels over anchors for Luftwaffe marine pilots.
Luftwaffe soldiers continued to proudly wear their uniform insignia until Germany’s eventual defeat with the ending of the Nazi government in 1945. Due to the millions of men and women who served as technical specialists, specialty patches are somewhat common on today’s collecting market, making them a relatively obtainable—and comparatively inexpensive—addition to a modern collection.