Heer Tunic Insignia Application Guide
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.
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
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!).
in the chart above, there are a few variants which
include hand stitching, straight machine stitching,
zig zag machine stitching, or a combination.
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
Breast Eagle / Brüstadler:
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
for all time periods from 1939 - 1945. Common
on M36, M40, M42, M43, and M44 wool tunics.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Machine straight stitch perimeter: More
common from 1941/42 - 1945, rare on earlier factory
produced M36 and M40 tunics.
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: 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.
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
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.
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.
visual aid below is intended to help identify
the "most correct" or "ideal" application of
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
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
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 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:
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.
Closer Look at the Brüstadler
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
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:
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.
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.
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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