Camouflage patterns and the Bundeswehr

Camouflage patterns can provide much better basic camouflage to troops on the battlefield than unicolour battle dresses in grey, olive green or brown, for example.

The cloth printing techniques for camouflage patterns on durable clothes have been invented early in the 20th century and the first real camouflage pattern (Italian "Telo Mimetico") (photo) was introduced in 1929, and used for many decades.

Germany followed with Buntfarbendruck in 1932, used for triangular tent pieces that were also useful as ponchos and for other purposes.

Germany used additional camouflage patterns, some of which were closely associated with the Waffen-SS. The U.S. forces employed camouflage patterns in the Pacific, but quickly canceled their use in Europe after friendly fire accidents when troops with camouflage patterns were mistaken for Germans.

Western Germany had to re-arm in the late 50's to help protect NATO (despite being not fully sovereign itself). The paramilitary (combatants in wartime) border guards were established even earlier (1951) and quickly received uniforms with camouflage patters; variant 1, later variant 2 and finally variant 3.
These resembled earlier WW2 patterns quite closely and were apparently not politically correct enough for the military.

The Bundeswehr experimented with their own patterns and used some of them for a while; variant 1, the early battle dress pattern and a rather short-lived one.
It's obvious that such a pattern offers a superior basic camouflage than the later olive green but the battle dresses were replaced in production with simple olive green battle dresses during the 60's and we didn't get a proper basic cloth camouflage again until the early 90's.

The reasons were apparently the higher price and the acceptance of unicolour uniforms (few NATO nations used camouflage patterns on battle dresses till the 80's). The similarity to WW2 uniforms and friendly fire fear might have had an influence as well.

Nevertheless, the British used their British Disruptive Pattern since the late 60's with great success. It was meant for the very same area - Central Europe - and worked very well in Germany, NATO's central front.

This was a pattern that was obviously effective in Germany, obviously not Nazi-related, affordable at least for the British and - not introduced in the Bundeswehr.

Instead, we got into a camouflage pattern development & testing frenzy in the 80's to finally introduce our own Flecktarn in 1991 - decades later.

We had a mediocre and easily replaced/improved battle dress during the 80's, 70's and also partially during the 60's - a failure of our leadership in my opinion.

The modern Flecktarn doesn't suffice in my opinion either. Extremely disorderly ghillie suit-like camouflage (like Saab Barracuda Sotacs) should be used on the arms. The arms are most likely to be exposed to enemy view and unlike the torso there are no pouches and munitions attached. Camouflage patterns can mimic three-dimensionality, but they aren't three-dimensional. Camouflage netting and the use of (short-lived) flora for camouflage provide real three-dimensionality and a superior camouflage effect.

That's much better than the fashionable "digital" or "photorealistic" camouflage patterns ever could be.
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Another failure to provide complete and adequate equipment is visible in the area of body armour. Protection against most fragments was technically feasible even before the First World War with thin plate inserts.
Vests against fragmentation effects were successful and available in the Korean War (then based on fiberglass plates). Improved models (flexible instead of semi-rigid) became available during the 60's and Kevlar (invented in 1965) became available commercially in the early 70's.
The Bundeswehr didn't introduce light body armour till the late 80's - another failure of our leadership in my opinion.

Infantry equipment has finally become a priority topic again (internationally) around the end of the Cold War.

It's equally easy to point out failures to keep equipment modern & complete in other areas. Our infantry anti-tank weapons lagged behind the opposing main battle tank frontal protection since the 70's. The Heer neglects its mortar force. Our Luftwaffe fighter equipment has been a shame for decades. The famous and good MG3 machine gun is unnecessarily heavy and obsolete since the early 90's due to its inability to make good use of night sights.
Such neglects are numerous and could keep even a specialized Bundeswehr rant blog alive for years.

Sometimes I wonder whether we should stop to develop equipment and instead should focus on being the world's best in the adoption of others' innovations.
That could create a vastly better equipped force at lower cost - if we could get it right.
Our history of partial neglect and indifference towards certain shortcomings is very disappointing.

P.S.: I linked almost exclusively to Kamouflage.net for a convenient background info and illustrations of the patterns. Other useful pages about camouflage patterns are Camouflage uniforms of the World and Camotest .
A modern history of body armour is here.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot remember where but I recently read an article claiming that some military personell prefering mobility over protection. Even light body armor combined with this Saab camouflage gear seems to me a quite bulky item. I am not sure how to decide but would rather like an affordable Swedish camouflage suit more than a highly sofisticated German piece of technology which enters service in 2030 onwards.