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Black & Field-Gray Uniforms of Himmler’s SS, Vols 1 and 2 and Waffen-SS Camouflage Uniforms, Vols. 1 and 2

Lorenzo Silvestri’s mammoth, four-volume on the uniforms of Germany's WWII SS soldiers covers 1933-1945

Lorenzo Silvestri’s mammoth, four-volume on the uniforms of Germany's WWII SS soldiers covers 1933-1945

ISBNs: 978-0-7643-5065-8, 978-0-7643-5066-5978-0-7643-5156-3 978-0-7643-5157-0 

Pages: 2,745

Photos: Approx. 2,000 color photos & 300 period photos

Round-up Review by David Walsh

These four volumes are monumental. Weighing some 25 pounds total, boasting over 2,700 pages and thousands of photos with excellent text, they represent an enormous effort by Italian collector-militaria scholar Lorenzo Silvestri.

Completion, he says, meant “enduring sacrifices.” We can well imagine. Assembling and photographing the collection alone occupied a month non-stop.

The first volume, “” is an organizational template for the following three. It covers the early armed formations (SS-Verfuegungstruppe – SS-VT) and deaths’-head Totenkopfverbaende (SS-TV) M-36 and M-37, earth-gray M-35, the SS-Leibstandarte M-35, security service SS-Sicherheitsdienst (SS-SD), and the SS-VT/TV drill uniforms.

Whether tunics, pants, overcoats, coveralls or camouflage garments, each example is painstakingly dissected and placed in context as to time period and other factors. We see many hundreds of items in a dozen-plus categories major and minor, virtually all pictured front, back, and three-quarters right and left. Even interiors, linings, backs of collars, cuffs, and maker codes and their markings are precisely covered.

The core piece is the iconic black service uniform ordered for all personnel from Allgemeine-SS reservists to camp guards to security service (SD) to the elite Liebstandarte-SS. Appearing in 1933, it replaced the simple black breeches-black-tie-black kepi and brown shirt dating to the early 1920s. (Not covered in this series.) Close attention is paid the tunics, their adornments and trousers.

But while deemed then as now as embodying style, the outfit was useless for future combat as envisioned by SS leader Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler.

The first quasi-military types, Silvestri explains, were nearly identical in cut and detailing to the black ones, i.e., the M-35, ’36 and ’37. Following on came the wartime field-gray M-40, M-41 and M-42; and finally, the waist length, material-conserving M-44.

As Germany’s fortunes declined along with her military ambitions, the SS’s and every service branches’ uniform quality deteriorated. Re-processed wool, synthetic materials, pressed paper buttons and captured Italian gabardine stocks were just a few responses to endemic shortages and growing need. By 1944, the author shows, even elite Waffen-SS Panzer crews were issued thin, factory-unfinished M43 caps (!).

Anyhow, everything in the uniforms’ “militarizing” evolution is carefully illustrated and succinctly analyzed in full-page chapter introductions and neat photo captions.

So too with Panzer and field-gray assault gun uniforms, Panzer coveralls, tropical clothing like the Italian-inspired, vented “Sahariana” tunic, and SS paratroop units 500/600. The airborne soldiers wore normal Luftwaffe-decaled para helmets and jump smocks – the latter sometimes with SS eagle

However, a handful of extraordinary rare unissued smocks in SS “pea” camo also exist. Silvestri displays a contributor’s example.

Talking of camouflage, two of the giant volumes are devoted to it. I could relate plenty about them, but we haven’t the space. Suffice to say every pattern and variant first to last is tackled: earliest plane-tree to “oak leaf” designs to 1945 Liebermuester — smocks, anoraks, shelter-quarters, mittens, caps, field-modifieds, tunics, face fringes, helmet covers, anoraks, the lot. All are rendered with the author’s experience-driven thoroughness.

Gladly, ancillaries and accouterments are covered, too, i.e., insignia down to individual button, collar-tab and cuff-title border level. Commentary is joined with pictures of rune varieties, skull teeth, clipped-end versus round shoulder straps and whatnot. Construction details are extraordinary, including tunic identification by such arcane points as linings and their different-cut “angles.”

All forms of standard headgear, plus steel helmets RZM black to para to M-42 to insanely rare dual-decal tropical are sprinkled throughout the volumes and dealt with just as competently. As are belts, buckles and on; plus histories and markings. Silvestri moves it all along smoothly, making the educational trek enjoyable and rewarding.

Rare wartime photos cohere well with, and sometimes placed alongside the displays. These include studio portraits, and lots of revealing candids for the sharp-eyed. Probably many are previously unpublished.

In at least one case, Silvestri shares a wartime photo of the soldier shown next to the same uniform on a mannequin. Such a provenance, rare for any military or political organization, is for obvious reasons exceptionally unusual for SS attire.

Nor is armament ignored. Hanging from uniformed figures here and there are K98 rifles, pistols, M-44 assault rifles along with their pouches etc. Watch too for seldom-observed things like special SS NCO dress bayonet troddels, command car pennants, scarce web-gear, wartime-pictured “Maria Theresa” and “Langemarck” collar tabs, unofficial Gothic “Hitlerjugend” cuff title and more. Many revelations come to light here.

The wealth of photographs is of course a major draw. While some of these rarities or similar may appear scattershot in other references, the great bulk of material constitutes probably the biggest “SS” assemblage ever in a single series, and probably the largest such project yet undertaken.

Beneficiaries run the gamut: collectors, museum curators, archivists, reference libraries at military academies and ROTC centers, military clothing historians, movie wardrobe and prop departments, living history troupes, reenactors, modelers, and militaria generalists.

The author went for exacting detail and got it. Major kudos to Lorenzo Silvestri and his worldwide collaborators and contributors’ and to Schiffer for another stellar production.

Unreservedly recommended. — David Walsh

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