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Waffen SS Camouflage

 


SS Reversible Camo Patterns
Q: Which one is correct for my impression???
A: Any of them.

The plethora of SS camo patterns used on smocks, zelts and helmet covers causes more heartburn and hypertension amongst neophyte SS Reenactors than the next 5 factors combined. And it is unnecessary. There is no right answer. All of this information is explained in greater detail in the SS Camo books by Mike Beaver. Here's all you really need to know.
The patterns were not identified or differentiated by the Germans. The names and designations were invented by collectors in the 1990's for reference purposes. The Waffen SS referred to smocks simply as "camo jackets". Asking about "Blurred-edge" or "Plane Tree" models would have resulted in your fellow troopers suspecting you were drunk or smoking shoe polish. Again. The patterns were issued indiscriminately and concurrently with one another. In many photos, no two men in the same squad appear to have the same pattern smock on. There is a general consensus regarding when certain patterns were introduced, but these can be established only by photos and dates on zeltbahns. (Smocks and helmet covers were rarely marked and weren't dated.)
The patterns fell into two general categories. Hand screened and roller printed.

Hand screened:
The earliest patterns are known as SS-VT and Plane Tree. These were overly complex and required an enormous amount of labor time to print. The pattern itself is over 70 inches long, about the height of a zeltbahn, the item around which the patterns were designed. The cut lines for zeltbahns were actually incorporated into the pattern. (That's what the odd lines and diagonal blocks are on plane tree smocks.) There were 3 Plane Tree patterns which were numbered 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6. Zelts of these patterns would form a continuous pattern when buttoned together, regardless of combination. It appears that zelts were intended to be assembled with the same number on both panels (i.e.: 4/4, 5/5, etc.) but, in practice, this went out the window. The significance of the numbers appears to be mainly to keep each zeltbahn consistent with itself (right and left panels being the same pattern.) Further complicating the matter, is that, although referred to as "Plane Tree 3/4", it is actually two patterns. Not 3 and 4 but rather "right" and "left" as zeltbahns must be cut from 2 rolls of fabric. Thus, the 3 commonly known plane tree patterns actually consist of 6 unique sets of screens.
For additional headaches, later Plane Tree (known as "overprint") used only the black color screens from the Plane Tree patterns, which were then screened on top of the 3 lighter colors of Oak A, which had been roller printed, to save time.
Therefore, the Plane Tree family of patterns consists of 3 Plane Tree patterns (all colors hand screened) and 3 Overprint patterns (roller printed Oak A plus one hand screened color of Plane Tree.) If you want to count the right and left patterns, that's 12. Plus SS-VT.

Roller Printed: In order to save an enormous amount of production time, in 1940-41, the SS began to switch to roller printing. This material is, like it sounds, printed via rollers, much like a newspaper printing press. The "repeat" of the pattern is dictated by the circumference of the roller. Usually about 18". The roller printed patterns are Blurred Edge, Palm, Oak A and Oak B.

What's "correct"? Since 99.9875% of all reenactments are themed June'44 or later, all of them. Oak A appears in photos in 1942, and Oak B in 1943. Despite some conventionally ignorant "wisdom", Palm smocks, despite being christened "early War" are not difficult to find in photos from the fighting in Normandy. It appears that Plane Tree smocks were very prevalent, if not predominant even through the summer of '44. Today, original Oak pattern smocks are the most difficult to find, despite the inverse being true with zeltbahns. So, authenticitywise, pick what you like, or what you can get. Due to the difficulties involved, no one had yet (to my knowledge) reproduced the fully hand screened Plane Tree patterns nor the SS-VT patterns. The Overprint Plane Trees, Blurred Edge, Palm, Oak A and Oak B have all been made. As for the reenactor fetish for "matching" pieces (i.e.: smock, cap, zelt and helmet cover) it's not incorrect but it's bordering on farb. From photos, it appears that a mix to some degree of patterns is more realistic.

Note: Palm pattern was not used for zeltbahns. Only smocks, helmet covers and caps.

Pattern Panic: All of these patterns were in use by late 1943. All were used concurrently. If you are doing a pre-1943 impression, then stick to the plane tree patterns. As for plane tree, all appeared at the same time, the numbers do not denote later years or any similar characteristic. Anyone who claims that a specific unit only wore a specific pattern is a complete idiot and any of their future advice should be regarded with suspicion. All patterns were issued indiscriminately until the end of the War. Pick the one you like...


"I know a guy with an original smock for sale for $800. Should I buy it? How do I know if it's real?"

Detecting the Fakes

This new section is a logical outgrowth of the preceding tirades. SS camouflage is one of the most heavily counterfeited types of German militaria. It has reached the point that very few collector's, even experienced ones, will touch it anymore. 80-90% of "original" SS camo items at military shows and online auction sites are anything but original. This section will give some basic common sense advice and have pictures of the fakes most commonly sold as original.

IMPORTANT! We are not a consulting or appraisal service! If you call and try to spend all day asking about the item in your collection, we will simply refer you to this page. This is my accumulated knowledge on this subject, and pestering us on the phone will yield you no further tidbits of knowledge. I have messed with SS Camo since I was 13, but I have no deep knowledge concerning helmets, daggers and especially not medals! Don't waste your time or ours trying to insist that we tell you things we don't know. Moreover, I am almost never here, so I'm not available to shoot the breeze about that Dot helmet cover in your Dad's collection.

Original Smocks

 

M42 Smock, Early Plane Tree

This pattern is actually unnamed. The only other example we have found in any reference is a camo cap in the Beaver books. However, the cap was too small to notice that this is an oddball pattern. It's similar to the "Ployspot" Plane Tree, but still different. Like other plane trees, this pattern is hand screened, and the repeat is very long. However, like only Polyspot and Lateral variants, there are no Zeltbahn cuts lines or numbers.
The sleeves, flaps, placket and pocket facings are made from 5/6 plane tree which at first confused many collectors when this thing turned up. Aside from the camouflage, this mint condition smock is typically textbook in pattern and assembly. Selvedge elbow seams, 6mm double needle flatfelled sides, charcoal thread, etc, etc.

 

M42 Smock, 5/6 Plane Tree

Nice, typical Wartime smock that has seen some action. The camo loops have been removed, which is very commonly encountered. If you have ever worn a smock, you know why. The loops snag every branch and bush when one moves through the forest.

M42 Smock, Type II

During the production of the M42 smocks, the pockets were angled- this made it easier to access them, especially when wearing fieldgear. Hence, "Type II". This particular smock is a rare one, made from HBT cloth rather than poplin. This material came in Oak A and blurred edge and was used for M42 Type I and Type II smocks, as well as some tunics and trousers.

The HBT smocks differ in pattern slightly from the poplin ones due to the narrower width of the cloth itself. This places the arm sleeve seams closer to the shoulder.

         

 

Common Tips for all SS Camouflage

When examining purported original SS camo, remember the following:
1. Reversible items (smocks, Zelts, helmet covers) were NEVER made on cotton twill fabric. They were always made on poplin. Many, many repros are made on twill because it is easier to get than poplin. Poplin is plain woven, meaning the weave of the thread is a simple grid pattern. Twill has a diagonal weave, like your jeans, US Paratrooper jackets, German tunic lining, or FJ smocks.
2. "Field made" items are nearly impossible to verify. Anyone with some sewing skill can cut up an original Zeltbahn and make things out of it. However, tailor made (custom) garments made during the war normally exhibit extremely high levels of craftsmanship, that few counterfeiters today can match. If the tunic looks like it was sewn by a master craftsman, it may well be good.
3. Plane-tree patterns were hand screened. Not roller printed. This means that the other patterns will repeat themselves about every 18 inches. Plane tree has something like a 78 inch repeat, meaning it will never be visible except perhaps on a Panzer Kombi. SM Wholesale has made some "1-2" overprint, but this is the only correctly hand screened variant reproduced to our knowledge. If it's Plane-tree and it repeats on the garment, it's a fake!
4. The reproduction SS Camo got going in the late 70's and early 1980's. Much of it is 25 years old and used by many re-enactors. Just because it's old, doesn't mean much.
5. Most reproduction fabric is not as tightly woven as original. If you hold one layer up to a light, you will be able to see very fine holes through the new stuff, whereas original fabric is solid.
6. Disreputable dealers usually try to entice buyers on SS camo with a price that appears very reasonable. An $800 smock is almost certainly a fake. Here are some very round figures as to the going price (2002) for truly original pieces, in good or better condition:
Smocks: $5,500- $12,000 depending on rarity of pattern and type
Helmet Covers: $3,500 and up.
Camo Caps: $4,000 and up.
Zeltbahns: $500- $2,000.
Rarity and condition dictate the price. Oak leaf and blurred edge pieces tend to be more common, so they are at the lower end of the price scale. The plane trees and Palm pattern are at the other.
7. The more detailed the story of how this item came into the possession of the seller, the more likely it is fake. Counterfeiters love to woo buyers with detailed tales of the "history" of the wondrous item in question.
8. Look for stitch holes. Meaning, could this have been made from something else that was dissected and reassembled into what now stands before you, beckoning to your wallet.

 

Item-Specific Points

Smocks: SS Camo jackets are the most frequently counterfeited pieces, but also the easiest to detect. They cannot be correctly made from Zeltbahns; Zelts are not large enough to make the smock body in one piece. Usually the counterfeiters that make smocks from old Zelts will have a seam at the shoulder, but I have seen one clever bastard put the extra seam along the waistband where it was hard to detect. Good points to check for on a smock are; mis-matched components, hand sewn draw cord eyelets, "dead" or rotten elastic, reed green HBT pocket material, and single needle construction. I have seen one original that was made using a double needle machine, but that is the exception, not the rule. Not one of these points makes or breaks a smock, but most repros incorporate few if any of them. They were NEVER made from '44 Dot/"Pea". Not until after the War anyway....
SS Smock Checklist:
1. Is the construction correct? The body is one larger piece of fabric- there shoulder be no seams across the body. The sleeve seams are roughly at the elbow, not the shoulder. (The exception being HBT smocks) The width of original smocks is about 55" elbow to elbow.

2. Double Needle? If the sides seams of the body are not sewn with a double needle machine with a folder, it's most likely a fake. The needles are almost always set a 6mm gauge- meaning, the stitch rows should be about 6mm apart. If it's sewn with a single needle machine (like 99% of all fakes) there will be one row of stitches visible on one side and two on the other. A double needle machine with a folder does both stitches at once, so both are visible. This is a factory machine, not something found in most peoples' basements. I have checked this on approximately 100 original smocks in the past 6-7 years and ALL of them had this construction.
3. Thread color. Nearly all original smocks I have examined are assembled using very dark (almost black) charcoal gray color thread. A few had some seams sewn with a light tan thread, the type used on helmet covers and 44 dot uniforms. Field gray or olive I have NEVER seen.
4. Do all the parts match? If so, that's not a good sign. But it happens. Most original smocks are made from pieces of fabric of different shades of the same camo pattern, or pieces of completely different patterns. Such as an Oak body with blurred edge sleeves. Occasionally, one even encounters pieces of 44 dot. Even if the main panels (body, sleeves and cuffs) match, it's unusual to find that the pocket flaps, placket or camo loops all match perfectly.

Helmet Covers:
Check the clips. (If the cover is a drawstring type, then it's 110% FAKE.) The rocker clips should be aluminum or steel, NEVER brass. If the clips are blued a purplish color (much like that on the safety latch on minty K98 rifles) it is a VERY good sign. The springs should also be true springs, not a piece of elastic. If the cover is a Type II, check under the camo loops for fade lines. However, as covers are easily made from cutting up old Zeltbahns, there is no sure way aside from the clips to determine it's origin if it is skillfully made from original fabric. Truthfully, in 12 years I have seen only 2 covers which I was certain were good. That's a piss poor ratio. They were NEVER factory made from '44 Dot. Not until after the War anyway....
Camo Caps: Sadly, there is no good way to discern a well made copy from an original if the counterfeiter is skillful and his fabric is original. If you know where it has been for 60 years, or you find it a garage sale for $5, then you are doing well. The only detail I can offer is this: If the bill stiffener is exposed (meaning the bill has a hole in it) it should be a red brown, press cardboard material, not leather or white paper. Many novices do get stung by really shitty repros. The following trait rules out the possibility of it being original:
The cap is cut like a DAK cap, with a "fake fold" and lining. Real SS Camo caps are reversible.
Originals have a "sweatband" of fabric on the brown side, a seam from the front to the rear of the top, and one or two air vents on each side. They were NEVER made from '44 Dot. Not until after the War anyway....
Zeltbahns: Zelts are usually difficult to successfully fake. There is too much exposed fabric, buttons to hand sew and zinc grommets that are hard to find. The same amount of fabric will make a smock or a dozen caps or helmet covers, so they are not usually faked. However, the same rules as smocks apply; look for mis-matched parts, especially in the head hole and on the edge panels.

Then ask yourself the following:
1. Pay attention to the seller. Look at the sellers other items. Are there items that you KNOW to be reproduction that he is representing as authentic? Jackasses usually cannot sell just one repro. They like to place as many bets as they can. Ask others about his reputation. If everyone else says "run", than do so.
2. Is he "selling this for a friend"? This means he takes no responsibility and probably has an 18 inch dildo in his back pocket that he is throbbing to thrust into you at first opportunity.
3. Ask about a life time guarantee. Reputable dealers will usually do this.
4. If it's "field made", run away. Unless it's cheap or you love it enough to never be able to sell it again.
5. Is it marked? Most real SS camo items are unmarked! Some Zelts have the maker and date, and '44 Dot uniforms will have their size stamps and sometimes "SS BW", "Bet. Fl." or "Bet. Rav." Eagles and swastikas are bullshit. I have seen a lot of bad fakes stamped with Soldbuch stamps. Idiots.

Reproduction Smocks commonly sold as "original."


"Red" Smocks:

These smocks are distinguished by a distinctly brick-red brown color and gray HBT pocket material. These are offered 90% of the time as original at militaria shows everywhere. The dealers will squall to high hell that their grand Daddy brought it back, but they're fake. How do we know they are fake?
Update
These came from Berman & Nathan, costumers in London in the 1980's. They are NOT original.

They usually sell for $800 to $1,000. Genuine Oak smocks start at $3,000.


Irish Smocks

Also sold at militaria shows nationwide. Oak A and plane tree exist. Helmet covers and parkas were also made.

Made by Historical Uniforms
Research Ltd in the 1980's or early 1990's. Printed in England and made in Ireland. These were sold through several companies, including Eberhard Broll (deceased), Brigade QM, and Northridge International.

Offered periodically by several dealers on and offline, as 100% original, found in Russian warehouse. Sure, and the Pope was in the Hitler Youth...

 

Reproductions

Some basic information on the most commonly encountered reproductions:

Bud O'Toole: Most SS Patterns:
This camo has been made off and on since the 70's, and may be made under different company names. I understand he started in Oregon and then moved to the Southwest. If your purchase was followed by a deluge of "white-power" love mail, this is probably the source. This company dealt in finished goods as well as just the fabric itself. The basic traits are:
1. Roller printed. He has done numerous plane tree variants, but being roller printed will give them away immediately.
2. Twill fabric. Most of these patterns we have seen are done on twill. Instantly wrong.
3. '44 Dot on HBT has a distinctly "pink" shade to it.

"Hanger" Camo: Oak Leaf A:
This was the best of the early reproductions. This material was contracted by the HRS 1st SS "LAH" reenacting unit and resulted in an ugly legal battle with the guy responsible for manufacturing and delivering the products. The only pattern made was Oak-A, and smocks, covers, caps, Zelts and parkas were made from it.
Traits:
1. Course fabric. The poplin is nearly a duck material (a bit heavy), but it is not totally inconsistent with late war German fabric.
2. Colors: The green is a light shade and the browns tend toward a rust color.
3. All components will match as there was only one shade made.

SM Wholesale: Oak-A, Oak-B, Overprint "1-2", Blurred-edge, Palm, and '44 Dot.
Steve McColgan's camo is probably the prevalent on the market today. It is frequently sold by several prominent German dealers as "100% original" along with many other products. This material has been produced since the early 1990's and is of very good quality.
Traits:
1. Good quality fabric. The poplin and HBT are very close to original, but the poplin is not water repellant like all originals.
2. Misses are present. SM was perhaps the first of the reproductions to occasionally incorporate misses and come mis-matched scrap components in his production. Usually Zeltbahns.
3. The best way to detect SM fabric is simply it's predominance. Pick any 10 SS re-enactors and 8 of them are probably wearing it. Just compare.


 

 


 

At the Front Militaria

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