Which Sleeve Was That? Cuff Titles In The German Army

Because of its elite status, Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland had a cuff title which was worn on the RIGHT sleeve of one’s tunic about six inches above the cuff. This was very important because GD was an elite German Army division and not an SS division and did not want to be taken for an SS division. All cuff titles of whatever sort and whichever sleeve were all worn six inches (15 centimeters) above the cuff with certain exceptions.

Almost all Waffen SS Divisions had names and almost all wore cuff titles with those names but on the LEFT sleeve. This causes endless confusion among historians. A good rule of thumb is this: all SS Divisions had names but not all named divisions were SS. Compounding the confusion, German Army panzer crews wore special black uniforms on active operations. Except in combat, Waffen SS men wore black uniforms all the time including when going about their “security” duties which usually took the form of murdering lots of innocent people. So you can see why this would be confusing. Since both the Allies and the Soviets often shot SS prisoners, many German Army panzer crews got shot when they surrendered because they were mistaken for SS.

By the way, the incorrect placement of his cuff title is one of the key criticisms leveled at Guy Sajer, author of The Forgotten Soldier who was in the GD. He said the cuff was on the LEFT sleeve. I never thought this was a big deal. He was 17 years old for Pete’s sake and didn’t write his book until much later in life.

This isn’t a great example but it will do: I am 54. I was in the Boy Scouts of America from the time I was 12 until I was 18. I earned my Eagle Scout and had all the standard patches on my uniform shirt such as my troop number, hometown, state, and the patrol within the troop I was assigned to. I also had special award patches including the patch of the scout camp I went to, three honor troop patches, an Order of the Arrow medal, Senior Patrol Leader patch, American flag patch, my Eagle Scout medal, and other insignia I don’t even remember.

Each of these patches and medals had to be worn in a specific position on one’s uniform shirt as stipulated by the Boy Scout manual. I had 35 or so merit badges which had to be worn on a separate sash along with a sash for being a member of the Order of the Arrow. And believe me, I thought all of these things were really, really cool. I can tell you that if you gave me a Boy Scout uniform shirt today and a box of the patches and medals which had been on my uniform shirt, I would have a hard time figuring out where they were all supposed to go. Fortunately, since I still have my Boy Scout uniform shirt somewhere, I could dig it out and look at it.

One more confusing item about German cuff titles. For certain campaigns, the Fuhrer awarded a cuff title with the name of that campaign to each soldier, sailor, or airman who participated in the campaign. There were just a handful of these including Kreta (Crete), Afrika, for anyone who fought in that theater (not to be confused with the Afrika Korps cuff title), Metz 1944, and a few more. One wore a “battle cuff title” on the LEFT sleeve. So it is possible that a soldier who fought in the battle of Crete and was later sent to Russia to fill out the ranks of the GD, could have a battle title on his left cuff and his divisional title on his right cuff.

Confused? I am. I always have to look this stuff up to make sure I have it right. And I haven’t even gotten into the functional cuff titles such as those worn by the Army Field Post. (Feldpost – worn on the right sleeve.) That is for another day.

My main source for these details is German Army Uniforms and Insignia 1935-1945 by Brian L. Davis. I rate this book four stars. It is the most comprehensive work on this subject I have found. I still have my copy I bought in 1976 when I was in college.

[Norman Rockwell Painting courtesy of Scouters’ Pages and the Metz 1944 cuff title is from the author’s personal collection.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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