The colour worn by German infantrymen of the First World War was Feldgrau ('field-grey'). It was probably descended from the grey-green colour that was traditionally worn by German foresters and huntsmen, many of whom were recruited into the army. It was not intended to function as camouflage, however; rather, it was symbolic of their former occupations. The First World War soon taught that these drab uniforms were much better suited to the conditions of modern warfare, under which concealment became just as important to survival as identification ever was.
After World War I ended with the capitulation of the German empire, the treaty of Versailles imposed severe constraints on the size of Germany's armed forces. The army was limited to one hundred thousand men with an additional fifteen thousand in the navy. The fleet was to consist of at most six battleships, six cruisers, and twelve destroyers. Tanks and heavy artillery were forbidden and the air force was dissolved. A new post-war military (the Reichswehr) was established on 23 March 1921. General conscription was abolished under another mandate of the Versailles treaty.
Germany immediately began covertly circumventing these conditions. A secret collaboration with the Soviet Union began after the treaty of Rapallo. Major-General Otto Hasse traveled to Moscow in 1923 to further negotiate the terms. Germany helped the Soviet Union with industrialisation and Soviet officers were to be trained in Germany. German tank and air force specialists would be trained in the Soviet Union and German chemical weapons research and manufacture would be carried out there along with other projects. Around three hundred German pilots received training at Lipetsk, some tank training took place near Kazan and toxic gas was developed at Saratov for the German army.
After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, all officers and soldiers of the German armed forces swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. By 1935, Germany was openly flouting the military restrictions set forth in the Versailles Treaty, and conscription was reintroduced on 16 March 1935. While the size of the standing army was to remain at about the 100,000-man mark decreed by the treaty, a new group of conscripts this size would receive training each year. The conscription law introduced the name Wehrmacht, and its existence was officially announced on October 15 1935.
Like the Reichswehr before it, the Wehrmacht embodied the army - the (Wehrmacht) Heer (WH), the navy (Wehrmacht) Kriegsmarine (WM) and the newly-created air force - the (Wehrmacht) Luftwaffe (WL).
After much trial, the Oberkommando Wehrmacht (OKW) issued Heeres-Splittermuster 31, more commonly known as 'splinter pattern', in the 1930s.
After four years of "peace" and six years of fierce combat, the 3rd Reich was all but crushed, and finally capitulated on 8 May 1945. The following year, on 20 August 1946, the Allied Control Council passed a law that formally dissolved the Wehrmacht.
The Wehrmacht Uniform
German Army Uniforms
The "M--" numbers assigned by the reference books refer to the approximate period - despite what some "experts" may say - that these variations appeared. Many people have the misconception that each model was made and issued for that year only, and none prior to or afterwards... i.e., "no M40's were made after 1940 and no M43's were issued in 1944." It is entirely possible for a recruit entering service in 1944 to have been issued an M36 tunic, either from old stocks or one that was remanufactured. (The Germans as well as the US Army, often rebuilt previously worn garments.)
The Germans started the war with what everyone terms an "M36" tunic. All future uniforms were a gradual simplification of this model. There is no evidence that the Germans made any distinction between "models". The service jacket was gradually modified over the years to speed up production. On subsequent models only the changes from the previous one are listed. The years produced were gleaned from dates seen on original uniforms. The principal features of each tunic and observations of production dates on real uniforms are as follows:
The Wehrmacht adopted a new uniform garment for wear in the field in 1936. Collectors usually refer to this as the "M36." The garment evolved from earlier garments developed in the early 1930s, and was actually in use by 1935; earlier field blouses (actually introduced in April 1933) had a field grey collar. The final prewar changes were made to the field blouse in 1936. This final prewar tunic was made from high quality wool with a small mix of rayon, with a full interior lining to reduce wear to the wool body.
M36 tunic without insignia (image courtesy of At the Front Militaria)
Wehrmacht "Feldgrau" Uniforms
My main reference for Wehrmacht Field Grey uniforms is based on a number of re-enactors' supply shops. The biggest problem is establishing what colour "field grey" actually is.
There are a lot of questions about wool color. "Field grey" comes in dozens of shades, depending on dye lot, material content (wool versus substitute fibres) and so on. The base color is essentially a mix of grey, green and blue fibers that blend together to yield the color.
The Germans were extremely supply conscious and recycled everything. An M36 tunic made from late war material is not a typical thing, but an M43 made from earlier stocks is entirely feasible. Originals come in numerous shades of green, gray, olive, and even brown. There is no single, correct "field grey" color! There are only acceptable parameters.
Original uniforms, none of which match. The four on the right are all made in 1943. (image courtesy of At the Front Militaria)
How To Paint Wehrmacht "Feldgrau" Uniforms
This is yet another of those many subjects that seem to have as many answers as there are painters. These methods, however, work for me, and give me a German uniform I'm happy with.
I paint my figures from the inside out (and no, I don't bother with eyes), so I will show all the paint guides starting with an undercoated figure that has already had the assorted flesh tones applied. Since everyone has their own favourite for that, I'll restrict myself to saying that I paint the skin areas with GW Dwarf Flesh, put on a coat of flesh ink, drybrush with Dwarf Flesh, drybrush again with Bronzed Flesh and finish up (sometimes) with a final drybrush of Elf Flesh. I don't bother being particularly tidy, mainly as all "messes" are cleaned up by the subsequent layers of paint.
I also tend to paint in a "conveyor-belt" method, where I paint all the bits of a given colour of a group of figures at once, then clean my brush and paint the next colour on all figures. This means I have a lot less paint wastage than if I were to clean my brush after every figure. Usually the paint is dry enough for me to continue painting the next colour by the time I get back to the first figure. If it isn't, line up a few more figures!
Picture of Prepared figure- all cleaning, basing and undercoating done.
This will be the common starting point for all my Wehrmacht (well, for that matter all) figure painting how-to's. The figure above was prepared and undercoated as described here, and then had the skin and hair painted as described above.
My first step in painting any figure is always to paint the bits of the uniform closest to the skin first, which tends to be the majority part of Wehrmacht soldiers, especially as they tend not to have camouflage clothing en masse, as do the SS.If the figure is wearing a shirt or something under the jacket that is visible, this is, of course, painted first.
Insert picture of 1st Layer Done figure here.
Once the first colour is done, I usually semi-dry brush a slightly lighter version of the colour over the entire section (or I lighten the colour by adding a light creamy colour to it), followed by a third, even lighter dry-brush that just catches the highlights.