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Heer Tunic Insignia Application Guide
By Brad Hubbard


The standard German Army tunic (Feldbluse) of WWII typically had two pieces of insignia applied by the manufacturer when issued; a "breast eagle" (Hoheitsabzeichen or Brüstadler) and "collar tabs" (Litzen).  There were several different versions of both eagles and Litzen produced during the war which is beyond the focus of this article, but there are certain documentable trends regarding their physical application and placement on the garment.

This visual guide is meant to familiarize you with a few of the more common application methods deemed to be "reenactor friendly" in terms of skill level needed to replicate. It is not intended to be an exhaustive summary of every variant that existed on the millions of tunics produced for the German Army during WWII.  The details that follow were compiled by examining several hundred surviving original examples and distilling those observations into an easy-to-follow reference guide for the living historian (or his tailor!).

Stitching methods:

As seen in the chart above, there are a few variants which include hand stitching, straight machine stitching, zig zag machine stitching, or a combination.  Every factory application of Litzen studied had some amount of machine stitching, so a sewing machine is required to apply them correctly.  If there was an entirely hand applied method it was certainly not common by any stretch of the mind.  What follows is a general synopsis of each style of application and the context in which it was found.

Breast Eagle / Brüstadler:

A) Fully hand sewn: Small but visible hand stitching over the edges of the perimeter. Suitable for all time periods from 1939 - 1945.  Common on M36, M40, M42, M43, and all tropical models, especially early (40-41) M40 tunics.  Not commonly seen on M44 triangular bevo breast eagles.

B) Machine straight stitched: Straight machine stitches places just inside the eagle perimeter. Suitable for all time periods from 1939 - 1945.  Common on M36, M40, M42, M43, and M44 wool tunics.

C) Machine zig zag stitched: Zig zag machine stitches that begin just outside the edge of the eagle and extend onto the surface of the bevo around the entire perimeter of the insignia. Common method for 1942 - 1945, especially later M42 and M43 model tunics.  Not typically seen on M36 or M40 tunics.

T1) Machine straight upper with hand sewn wreath: Most common on M40 and M42 tropical tunics produced in 1941 and 1942.

T2) Machine zig zag upper with hand sewn wreath: Most common on M42 and M43 tropical tunics produced from 1942 onward.

Notes: If applying a breast eagle to a tunic that has internal suspension (M36 & M40 models) method "A" above - fully hand sewn - is your only option to apply the insignia without piercing the lining and rendering the internal suspension unusable.  Luckily, it is also one of the more common methods for applying the Brüstadler on early tunics.  Generally speaking, insignia applied in the factory was done before the lining was sewn in and therefore did not pierce the liner itself (ie- stitching not visible from the inside).  Occasionally stitching that did pierce the lining can be found on M42, M43, and M44 tunics, especially those that are applied with method "C" - machine zig zag - above.

Litzen:

a) Machine straight stitch centers, hand stitched flares and edges: A common application method on all model tunics from 1939-1942/43, especially M36 and M40 tunics produced in 1939 - 1941.  Somewhat less common on M42, M43 and M44 tunics.

b) Machine straight stitch centers and flares, hand stitched front edge: (see notes below) A common application method on all model tunics from 1939-1942/43, especially M36 and M40 tunics produced in 1939 - 1941.  Somewhat less common but still seen on M42, M43 and M44 tunics.

c) Machine straight stitch perimeter: More common from 1941/42 - 1945, rare on earlier factory produced M36 and M40 tunics.

d) Machine zig zag stitch perimeter: Commonly seen from 1942 - 1945 on M42, M43, and M44 tunics.  Not seen on earlier M36 and M40 production tunics.  Sometimes seen as a variant with the front edge hand stitched down similar to the above method (b), see notes below.

Notes: The methods described in (b) and the variant of (d) above were most likely "stitch and flip" applications where the front edge was machine stitched down on the wrong side then flipped over to the right so the stitches were hidden.  As this is infinitely difficult for a person of average to intermediate sewing skills to get right, we are substituting the "hidden hand stitch" as a way of visually replicating this.

The following are a few examples of insignia factory applied to original tunics using the described methods.  The red letters correlate to the chart and descriptions above.

 

A Closer Look at Litzen

Litzen are the most difficult pieces of insignia to get right and as a result the ones that are usually incorrectly applied on reproduction uniforms.  See our step-by-step guide on How To Fold Litzen.

Though this guide is not meant to identify a quality repro piece of insignia or comment on what is correct for any given impression, it is worth noting that reenactors tend to overuse the style of Litzen with "branch specific" colors (Waffenfarbe) on the top and bottom stripes.  Branch specific collar tabs were discontinued before the beginning of the war and not applied to tunics as a standard item by the factories during wartime.  The most common model found from 1939 - 1942 were the so-called "generic" Litzen with all 3 stripes in a matching dark green, and from 1942 - 1945 the "subdued" generic models with 3 matching drab gray stripes tended to predominate (though the early generic green ones were still found through 1945).  On rare occasion the earlier branch specific Litzen can be found on wartime manufactured tunics (usually professionally applied to a bottle green wool backing using methods (a) or (b) above) but this was definitely an exception.  In most cases the soldier likely purchased a pair of the branch specific insignia from one of the many private suppliers of uniform accessories and had a tailor either remove the original factory insignia or had the custom ones applied over top.  This would not have been commonly seen in the field, especially among infantry and front line combat units.

The visual aid below is intended to help identify the "most correct" or "ideal" application of Litzen as compared to ones which are poorly executed.  This is not to say every original pair was picture perfect - often times they are far from it - but this should be the look to strive for when applying Litzen.


Note: the difference in size of these Litzen in the photos from front to back is an optical illusion caused be the camera.  Laid flat they would be perfectly even.

Regarding the placement of Litzen on the collar itself, they are usually centered between the top edge of the collar (where it folds over) to the bottom line of top stitching.  In other words, the gap between the top of the collar and the top corner of the Litzen is the same as from the bottom stitch line on the collar to the bottom corners of the Litzen.  The front folded edge of the tab ideally lays parallel to both the vertical front topstitching on the collar and the collar edge itself.  In most cases the front edge of the Litzen is "cheated" one way or the other to remain parallel to the topstitching and collar edge, even at the sacrifice of being parallel to the angle of the outer bars.  The bottom edge of the tab lays parallel to the horizontal top stitching on the collar and the bottom edge of the actual collar.  The chart below should clarify these points as it is much easier to see than read:


Note: the collar shown above is from a tropical M40 tunic which has an "open collar" style. The top (folded) edge of the collar on a wool tunic would be at the point where the vertical top stitching ends.  Not all tropical tunics have the stitching end so conveniently at this point but in the bottom photo the top white arrow and red bar mark where the fold would normally be.

 

A Closer Look at the Brüstadler

Like the Litzen, a bevo breast eagle can be tricky to get right.  A whole article can (and may eventually) be devoted to the proper cutting/folding of the insignia but for now suffice it to say that the "ideal" folding method leaves very little of the smooth backing visible along the edges and cuts as few threads on the woven reverse as possible.  With the recent loss of the high quality jacquard loomed bevo eagles that have been available for decades, the ones commonly available at the time of this writing are considerably lacking in quality.  One way to make up for the deficit in quality (other than sourcing the "good" repros or using expensive tunic-removed originals) is to apply them convincingly.

Again, considerable variation did exist on the millions of tunics produced for the German Army in WWII but these graphics should provide a good reference to the more common methods of eagle placement:

    
Note: some of the angles above are slightly skewed due to optical distortion from the angle of the photos.  For example, viewed straight on in person the angle of the breast eagle on the right tunic would appear to be more parallel to the horizontal visual plane indicated by the bottom red line in the photo.

The eagle was centered on the left pocket flap so that ideally, if you drew a line from the bottom scallop through the center of the button up the button hole, the line would continue straight through the center of the wreath & swastika.  The angle of the eagle itself (as observed by the top edge of the wings) ranged from being parallel with the slant of the pocket flap (the left picture above) to even with the horizontal plane of the tunic (more similar to the right picture above, but straighter).  In other words the wings would be horizontally level and the eagle would appear to be "standing straight" when the jacket is worn.  Any placement between these two extremes could be considered commonplace.

A final note on eagle placement; on Continental (wool) tunics the base of the wreath was placed very close to the top edge of the pocket.  In contrast, on tropical tunics the circular part of the wreath sat centered on the pocket flap itself with the legs of the eagle being about even with the edge of the flap. This was done so the lapels on the open collar style of the tropical tunic did not cover the insignia. See the section above describing stitching methods for a better visual explanation of this point (example T1).


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