Military Clergy Wehrmacht armband WWII German
Germany had a tradition of appointing Catholic and Evangelical military chaplains and Jewish military field rabbis. This was continued in the Army and Navy of the Wehrmacht, for the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations only. A total of 95% of all Germans being Christian, German soldiers during Nazi times continued to belong to the churches and had the words “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on the belt buckles of every Army and Navy enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. Despite this proportion of Christians, the totalitarian national socialistic government of the German Reich tried to weaken the authority and influence of the churches over their German adherents. Besides the international Jewish question, the international character of the Catholic church was another challenge. A few Catholics who devoutly resisted the Nazis, suffered imprisonment and hardship. The case was solved by the Reichskonkordat (1933) between the Holy See and Nazi Germany. The government of the German Reich early established an pastoral ministry for the German Army and the Reichskonkordat settled the appointment of an Army bishop. Therefore, the military chaplains could more freely operate out of the Catholic hierarchy. Franz Justus Rarkowski, S.M., became ordained the Catholic military Field Bishop (Feldbischof) of Nazi Germany in 1938 until 1945.
German military chaplains who served the Wehrmacht were part of the German mainstream and lent the Nazi war effort legitimacy. The Christian military chaplains served between strange poles. While the Nazi ideology was at its core pagan (the elite SS units never allowed chaplains), 95% of Germans were baptized Christians. German soldiers during the Nazi era continued to belong to the churches and had the words “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on their belt buckles. “Being a chaplain in the German army had always been a prestigious position and the Nazis wanted people who represented that old military tradition (..) and not sow discord or division. They wanted people who were not troublemakers.”The German military chaplains mostly wanted to bring the word of the Christian God to men in the field and to deliver the sacraments, make their families proud and serve their country. “The motives of the chaplains were not unusual, their noble, personal and professional motives turned them into a legitimating force in a war of annihilation.” Military chaplains in Nazi Germany were rigorously screened. First, names were put on the desks of the local civilian bishops, and then the names had to be approved by the according ministry for church affairs. Eventually the names were cleared by the military’s chaplaincy office and the Gestapo (“Secret State Police”).
Organization and clothing
Throughout the Third Reich period, only the Army and Navy had military chaplains. When needed, other branches of the armed forces acquired chaplains from the Army or Navy or from nearby parish. In the Heer (Army), military chaplains were organized into Group 3b (Pastoral Group) of the General Army Office under the Army High Command. In mid 1935, four groups of military chaplains were introduced. In 1936, similar groups were introduced for the Kriegsmarine although the evolution over time was different. The groups are as follow.
Oberpfarrer (Higher Priest)
Standortpfarrer im Hauptamt (Garrison Priest in Main Office)
Standortpfarrer im Nebenamt (Garrison Priest for Outside Appointment)
German military chaplains did not get into the ordinary military rank system, but received privileges like any other regular officers. Army chaplains had four different types of clothing:
Feldbluse (Field Dress). Field dress was identical for enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, and officers, and was worn on the battlefield. For military chaplains, the field dress was worn with officer-quality collar patches and without shoulder boards. Long trousers with shoes or breeches with officer boots could be worn. Two-pronged officer’s belt was used.
Dienstrock (Service Dress). Service dress was the typical dress for officers, with high-quality materials and tailor-made. For military chaplains, the field dress was worn with officer-quality collar patches and without shoulder boards. Service dress was normally used behind the lines although photographic evidences also show this kind of uniform was worn on the battlefield. Long trousers with shoes or breeches with officer boots could be worn. Two-pronged officer’s belt was used, sometimes with cross strap.
Überrock (Frock Coat). Frock coat was used for formal occasions and when ordered, and worn over the service dress. The piping was violet.
Mantel (Overcoat). Overcoat worn by military chaplains was identical to those worn by officers. However, no shoulder boards were attached. This was worn over the field dress or service dress.
No weapon was permitted to be carried by chaplains, but one photographic evidence shows a chaplain with a pistol holster on his left waist.
For the headdresses of the Army chaplains, the most common were:
Schirmmütze (Visor Cap). Officer-quality visor cap with violet as the branch color (Waffenfarbe) for military chaplains. Between the national eagle and cockade, there was a small Gothic cross, either made of metal or embroidered.
Feldmütze (Field Cap). Officer-quality field cap with silver pipings and violet soutache as the Waffenfarbe. Between the national eagle and cockade, there was a small Gothic cross, usually embroidered.
All the buttons, national eagles, cockades, Gothic crosses, and cap chinstraps were silver for military chaplains and gold for Field Bishops. The collar patches had violet underlay and violet piping for Catholic chaplains, and field grey underlay and violet piping for Protestant (Evangelist) chaplains.
For the Kriegsmarine, the uniform was identical to naval jacket of regular officers, but without sleeve laces and with chaplain collar patches. The collar patches were different to those of the Army. Two-prong officer’s belt or brocade belt could be worn.
Although the official regulation states that military chaplains had to wear golden pectoral cross, there were two standard-issue crosses that were worn.
For Catholic chaplains, Corpus Christi was present on the cross. The cross itself was made either of metal or silver, with black wood insert. Long metal chains went through a loop at the top of the cross to be worn around the neck.
For Protestant (Evangelist) chaplains, the cross was plain and made of metal or silver. Long metal chains went through a loop at the top of the cross to be worn around the neck.
Photographic evidences show numerous variety of pectoral crosses worn by German military chaplains during World War II.
Oftentimes, German military chaplains were issued an armband with a red cross sign and violet stripe to show their neutrality on the battlefield, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which designated chaplains as neutral parties. This was called Armbinde mit Neutralitätsabzeichen (Armband with Neutrality Sign).
Among other things, military chaplains also wore standard liturgical vestments such as chasuble, cope, and stole.