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Italian Camouflage
By Eric Verny, edited by Jonathan Bocek


 
Introduction:
While the various German camouflage patterns have been extensively studied & documented for both the Wehrmacht and the SS, information about wartime Italian camouflage if very much overlooked and virtually non-existent.

The widespread use of Italian Camouflage cloth by soldiers of the German Reich coincided with the 1943 disarmament of the Italian forces. Both 1.SS-Panzer-Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolph Hitler„ and 12.SS-Panzer-Division “Hitler Jugend„ participated in the process, & it is perhaps no surprise that members of these two divisions were — to judge by wartime photos — the most conspicuous users of Italian camouflage material. 

Following the capitulation and disarmament of most of the Italian armed forces in 1943, stocks of Italian material were used by Germany to meet the increased demand for equipment in the face of the slowly deteriorating wartime economy. The German armed forces not only issued already existing stocks of Italian shelter halves and ponchos, they used the Italian camouflage material to make a wide variety of uniforms and field gear items. Many uniform items were tailor made or theater made including tunics, smocks, trousers, coveralls and caps, but the material was also used to make some standard issue items such as M31 zeltbahns and fur lined anoraks/parkas (typically made out of mouse grey material). An important thing to note is that items made using Italian camo material were used by all branches of the German armed forces serving in the Italian theater of operations (Heer, SS, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine).

Description:
The only pattern of Italian camouflage used during World War II was called the M29 camo pattern or 1929 Telo Mimetico ('camouflage cloth') . The pattern was first introduced in 1929 and was used through the early 1990's, thus making it it the longest-used military camouflage pattern in the world.  Initially the M29 camouflage material was used to make square shaped shelter halves that could be buttoned together to make a small "pup" tent. A second version had, a slit and flap in the center of the square so that in addition to being able to be used as a tent, it could be also worn as a poncho (similar to the way a M31 German zeltbahn could be worn).

 

Front and back views of two original "wartime" Italian shelter-halves...

Original wartime 1929 pattern Italian camouflage material is made of cotton duck and is about the same weight and thickness as its German counterpart. Unlike most German camouflage, Italian material is only printed on one side making it non-reversible with the back side of the material having a distinct brown (not red) color. The colors used to print the camouflage side of the material were a light greenish yellow, medium green and brown. It is important to note the wide varieties of colors found in original, wartime Italian camouflage material. 

Having owned and handled 10-12 original, un-issued Italian shelter halves/ponchos, I have found at least 6 different distinct color variations. The camouflage pattern itself is characterized by large, organic shapes where the light greenish yellow and medium green colors are printed over the brown base color.

Editors Note:  The topic of wartime Italian camouflage colors has been studied & discussed for some time now.  Historians & collectors alike have been debating on which of the variety of colors/hues found in Italian shelter-halves & ponchos are actually wartime production.  While there are some blatantly "post-war" color schemes out there, some believe color variants often thought by others to be post-war, are actually wartime production.

One of the agreed descriptions of "wartime" Italian camo by both groups is as follows:  Coloration is that of being consistently darker in color & more of a chocolate brown. The browns are browner and never border on the rusty side.  The greens never have a blue or aqua hue.  Often they look well faded or drab in appearance (see above image).  Sometimes you will be hard pressed to distinguish a camo pattern on the cloth at all.

Identifying:
Seeing that the 1929 camouflage pattern was used into the 1990's, identifying an original, wartime Italian camouflage item can be a challenge. This problem is compounded by the fact that many uniform items were tailor made and do not necessarily follow the same rules used to identify original German issue items. Fortunately, identifying original wartime shelter halves and ponchos is somewhat easy. The quickest way to identify original shelter halves and ponchos is to look at the grommets and buttons. All original wartime shelter halves and ponchos have sewn corner grommets while their post-war counterparts have metal corner grommets (note: there are post-war examples out there with sewn grommet holes as well). Also, original wartime shelter halves and ponchos have brown bakelite buttons in colors ranging from a khaki tan to a light brown, or even rust coloring.  They will have either 3 or 4 holes and are sewn down while post-war shelter halves and ponchos usually have brown metal buttons that are riveted instead of sewn (note: post-war examples will sometimes have bakelite buttons).  Brown 4 hole plastic buttons can be found on both original and post-war examples. 

 

Corner grommets and button details: 
Wartime "SEWN" on left  –  Postwar "METAL" on the right

All of the wartime Italian camo shelter halves and ponchos I have examined all have in ink stamped makers marking on the back (non-camouflage) side. These markings are typically found in two general areas.  The first is more towards a corner of the square & have been in black ink.  The second is along both sides of the center seam in yellow or white ink.  Wartime examples will usually have the year of manufacture located in the maker stamp itself.

Markings found on Italian camo ponchos and shelter halves...

While color can also help identify post-war shelter halves and ponchos, due to the large variations found in original wartime pieces, color alone should not be used to determine originality. Typically post-war colors can tend to have more of a turquoise hue to the green and the light greenish yellow can have almost a mustard type appearance. Currently on the market are large number of post-war & Belgian shelter halves and ponchos that look almost identical to Italian pieces but are easily recognized as the camo printing has a sort of rippled edge to the colors instead of soft, organic feel.

Another detail you can use to identify a wartime example is it's construction. Narrow Italian material was printed & joined in the middle to to make a single shelter half.  Wartime examples have the brown color conjoining in the middle (see image below) creating a noticeable line.  After the war, the actual printing process of the cloth was altered.

Conclusion:
While this article is certainly not a definitive study on World War II Italian camouflage, it will hopefully assist both collectors and reenactors in identifying original wartime Italian camouflage items.
 
 
 


  
Sources:
- The collection of Eric Verny
The collection of Adam Jordan
Special thanks to all others who contacted us with advice & additional research...
Dubois, Gregg Comparison of Post-war and Wartime Italian Tent Sections. 8 July 2006
<http://home.comcast.net/~babela29/tent.html>.
Hahne, Josef "Sepp" WW2 Italian Camouflage Information Website. 8 July 2006
<http://www.geocities.com/LSSAH_pionier/>.
"Italy (Kingdom of Italy) > 1929 Telo Mimetico" kamouflage.net 8 July 2006
<http://www.kamouflage.net/camouflage/en_00058.php>.



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