Italian camouflage pattern

Italian combined poncho/tent sections were the first regular issue camouflage items when they were introduced in 1929. 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. German units involved in disarming the Italian formations utilised stocks of this material. This is well documented by photographs of the 1st SS Panzer-Division LAH and 12th SS Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, the cadre of which was drawn from former members of LAH. The stocks they requisitioned also included large quantities of leather submariner suits from German naval depots in Italy.

Besides many garments made by unit tailors in the field and other unofficial sources, Italian camouflage material was also used to make regular Zeltbahnen in the same size, shape and design as the standard German 31 pattern. As the Italian material was only printed on one side, the shelter quarter was not reversible. The Italian material was woven in narrower strips than the German cotton duck, which means that each Zeltbahn half was made of at least two panels. The same construction can also be seen on some late German shelter quarters as a war economy measure.

Late-war Italian camouflage shelter quarterLate-war 31 pattern shelter quarter made of Italian camouflage with Luftwaffe splinter section

The colours of the example above have faded. The reinforcing section is a scrap of Luftwaffe splinter material and never had a metal grommet fitted. Note the plain side without any design.

The basic 1929 camouflage design continued to be used by the Italian armed forces until the early 1990s. This has resulted in large quantities of surplus post-war poncho/tent sections being offered at militaria shows and on online auctions in recent years. These are frequently offered, either unknowingly or deliberately, as "original" SS tent sections, which they are most certainly not. Square post-war sections usually have a stronger green colour which tends towards a turquoise hue. They feature metal buttons which have a thick coat of brown paint, often mistaken as Bakelite, and large sewn eyes or bright metal grommets. They also often bear Italian manufacturer markings.

Genuine wartime Zeltbahnen made of Italian material are triangular and have the same aluminium, Bakelite or steel buttons and metal grommets as their German counterparts, if any. Stamps and marks are often illegible and are frequently no more than an R.B. number and a year of manufacture.

Items made of Italian material were used by all types of units, and not just the Waffen-SS. Privately tailored uniforms can be seen in the Police unit gallery section.

Copyright © 2002 David Gregory

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