German Vehicle Markings

National Markings

The Balkankreuz, or German national insignia, was used to identify Wehrmacht vehicles from before the outbreak of war. These markings were usually reserved for armoured vehicles, though occasionally some softskins (especially captured ones) used them. 

Poland - 1939

During the Polish campaign, the Balkankreuz was a solid white cross affixed to prominent surfaces of German tanks.  The markings were found to be too highly visible, especially by enemy gunners, and so the centres were obscured with mud, or painted in dark yellow (the standard colour that divisional markings were painted in standard panzer divisions (GD was an exception to this in that GD's divisional insignia was in white).

cross.gif (995 bytes) cross1.gif (1072 bytes) cross2.gif (995 bytes)

France - 1940
Russia - 1941-1943
After Poland, the "correct" national insignia design was finalized, being an open white cross, with no black authorized for either a border or the centre of markings.  The size varied from vehicle to vehicle, but on the Panzer III and IV was about 10" or 25 cm tall.  This insignia remained the authorized national insignia until the change from dark grey vehicle paint to dark yellow in 1943, and was the national insignia that Grossdeutschland vehicles were supposed to have in France in 1940 and also Russia from 1941 on.

cross3.gif (1064 bytes)

Russia - 1943-1945

In 1943, all new German vehicles were produced in a base colour referred to variously as Dark Yellow or Ordnance Tan.  Many older vehicles were painted in the new camouflage colour as well. The standard German Balkankreuz was again modified (as it had been on the light coloured vehicles used in Africa from 1941 on) by painting the centre of the crosses black.

cross4.gif (1101 bytes)


There were many, many variations of the "standard" German cross seen on vehicles; they were often applied in the field, whenever new field-applied paint schemes were done, for example.  These variations had black borders, longer arms than normal, narrower arms on the cross, etc.

Aerial Identification

The most common forms of aerial identification were either a painted swastika on the roof of vehicles, or more commonly the use of a cloth flag strapped to the rear decking, roof or hood of the vehicle.

warflag.jpg (2381 bytes) flag2.gif (1231 bytes) swasi.gif (906 bytes)

Tactical Markings

1940 - 1942

The most common reference source for field units was printed before the advent of the panzer division and well before the outbreak of war, and expanded on after the outbreak of hostilities.  In January 1943 this source was amended and many changes and additions were instituted.

In general, the prewar system consisted of three types of symbols.

Tactical Signs

tac1.gif (2002 bytes)

Weapons Branches tac2.gif (2161 bytes)
Method of transportation

tac3.gif (1559 bytes)

By combining the three types of symbols, in combination with other special designators, all the major units of a division could be described.  There were many variations from the "official" symbols.  As well, numbers were sometimes used to indicate subunits (ie an infantry company or assault gun battery).  Company sized units were also indicated by thickening one side of the weapons branch symbol, usually the left side.

These tactical symbols were painted on the driver's side of the vehicle on both front and rear; on fenders or directly on the body.

Headquarters were designated by flags of specific shapes, sometimes combined with the symbols above.

flagg.gif (2380 bytes)

Some specific examples follow;

10coy.gif (1079 bytes) This symbol would have designated the 10th Company of an Infantry Regiment.  The square represents infantry, the two wheels represent motorized method of transport, and the Arabic 10 designates the company. 
recce.gif (1122 bytes) The 1st Company of a fully motorized reconnaissance unit would have used this symbol; the A stands for "aufklärungs", or reconnaissance.
gdtran.gif (1040 bytes) An example of the tactical sign for a motorized transport company.
gd88.gif (1184 bytes) The 2 designates the second battery while the symbol designates towed artillery battalion.
gddiv.gif (996 bytes) Vehicles belonging to a Battalion headquarters bore this symbol. 
gdarty.gif (1015 bytes) This symbol was most likely carried by a vehicle belonging to the HQ of a motorized artillery regiment.


The addition of tanks and other armoured vehicles to the German Army resulted in the adoption of special symbols for these types of units

stugsigs.gif (2380 bytes)

tanksigs.gif (4193 bytes)


Vehicles used by officers and commanders were marked with pennants, usually affixed to the fenders of staff cars, though some commanders also used armoured halftracks as command vehicles.  The different levels of command had different pennants; a Divisional pennant was triangular, black over white over red.

flags.gif (2279 bytes)

Battalion Pennants were triangular, with waffenfarbe (branch of service colour - see chart below) used to designate the type of unit.

infbn.gif (1589 bytes)
Battalions within a regiment had a black bar across a waffenfarbe background

sigbn.gif (1679 bytes)
Independent battalions within a division had a black cross across a waffenfarbe background.

recbn.gif (1735 bytes)
Armoured reconnaissance units used a golden yellow pennant with black vertical bar.

pzbde.gif (1589 bytes)
Panzer Brigades used a black pennant with rosa waffenfarbe bar
Branch Colour
Artillery Red
Infantry White
Armoured Reconnaissance Golden Yellow
Signals Lemon Yellow
Motorcycle and some Armoured Reconnaissance Units Copper Brown
Panzer Rosa
Panzergrenadier (Motorized Infantry) Grass Green
Jäger (Light Infantry) and Mountain Troops Light Green
Smoke (Nebelwerfer) Units Bordeaux Red
Medical Cornflower Blue
Transport Units Light Blue
Engineer (Pioneer) Black
Military Police Orange
Officers (or officials with officer-equivalent rank) and Generals had authorized rank pennants; until April 1941, this pennant was as shown at right; a grey pennant with white border and national emblem.  In April 1941, generals received their own pennant, with a more elaborate gold border replacing the white border, and a gold eagle replacing the white eagle.

Command pennants were carried on the left (driver) side of the vehicle, and officer pennants on the right (passenger) side.

The pennants were covered with cloth covers when the officer was not actually using the vehicle.

offpen.gif (1940 bytes)  genpen.gif (2837 bytes)

Units of battalion, regiment or brigade size were designated by a flag bearing the Waffenfarbe, or arm of service colour, associated with that unit.  Grossdeutschland's command vehicles would thus have been marked by a unit pennant in white.  Upon expansion to divisional status, GD panzer battalions would have used rosa (pink), artillery red, signals lemon yellow, pioneers black, reconnaissance golden yellow, and the infantry (later panzergrenadier and panzerfüsilier) regiments retained white.


The term Harko (Höherer Artillerie Kommadeur - Higher Artillery Commander) designated both an officer and a headquarters unit that co-ordinated all the artillery units within an Army.   The pennant at right, authorized in October 1943, was used to designate these officers/units.

artfu.gif (5186 bytes)

Panzer Groups

During the invasion of France, two formations named for their commanders, Panzer Group von Kleist and Panzer Group Guderian, wore capital letters denoting these designations on their vehicles as an additional form of identification.  After the invasion of Russia, other formations sometimes wore similar unofficial markings.

Panzer Groups were again designated for Barbarossa; Panzer Groups were eventually designated Panzer Armies.


Number Plates

German soft-skin vehicles and armoured cars or APCs were given individual number plates, at first painted on metal signs and attached, but increasingly painted on the vehicle itself as the war progressed.  The plates were white, being rectangular on the front of vehicles and square on the rear, sometimes with two used on front and/or rear instead of a single plate.  Motorcycles had smaller plates, with the front plate being curved to fit the contour of the fender.  Numbers were issued from a series, and a prefix identifed the branch of service.  Unit identification was often indictated by the use of a Feldpost stamp on the plate, bearing the unique numerical designator for that unit as assigned by the army post office.  These numbers were assigned at battalion and sometimes company/battery/squadron level.

WH Wehrmacht - Heer
WL Wehrmacht - Luftwaffe
ss.gif (951 bytes) Waffen SS

Vehicle Numbers

As an aid to operating in formation, a system of vehicle numbers was developed for German tanks (that was also used on armoured cars, armoured personnel carriers and self-propelled weapons).  These numbers were painted on turret and hull sides, in the main, and the style of numbers used changed throughout the war.

In general, the system involved use of 3 digits numbers; the first digit indicating the Company the tank belonged to, the second the Platoon, and the third the vehicle's position within the platoon.  Some panzer divisions and units used variations, such as one or two digit numbers, specifiying only individual tanks or platoon/tank combinations.

A typical tank company would thus appear as:

THIRD COMPANY 1st Vehicle 2nd Vehicle 3rd Vehicle 4th Vehicle 5th Vehicle
First Platoon 311 312 313 314 315
Second Platoon 321 322 323 324 325
Third Platoon 331 332 333 334 335
Fourth Platoon 341 342 343 344 345

Company command vehicles would have a second digit of 0 to indicate headquarters.

Battalion command vehicles would have a Roman numeral designating the battalion.  The commander of the first battalion of a panzer regiment might thus have tank I 01.  The second battalion commander would have II 01, etc.  Other officers were designated with higher numbers; in general vehicle 02 designated the executive officer, 03 the signals officer and 04 the ordnance officer of that battalion.

Regimental command vehicles had an R instead of the Roman numeral to indicate a staff vehicle.  R01 was the regiment commander, R02 the executive officer, R03 the regimental signals officer, and higher numbers designated other staff officers.

Some battalions and regiments used non standard numbers.    Other units avoided the use of the R, as it gave away the status of the officer commanding the tank.  Instead, "fake" company numbers, referring to companies that did not exist in a panzer regiment (for example, the 9th company) were used, as was the number 0 (ie 001, 002, etc.)

Divisional and Regimental Markings

The unit listing pages on this site will show the divisional markings carried on unit vehicles; some regiments adopted special markings also (especially panzer regiments), and independent units like heavy tank battalions or Assault Gun detachments also wore special insignia.  These markings could be found on all manner of vehicles, including tanks, halftracks, trucks, motorcycles, even horse drawn field kitchens were found to be marked with divisional markings.

Operation Zitadelle

Operation Zitadelle (Citadel), in the summer of 1943, represented a mammoth effort by the German Army to once again turn the tide of the war in the East, back in their favour.  While the defeat at Stalingrad had marked a massive change in German fortunes, the victorious fight to retake Kharkov in early 1943, widely heralded in the press, led to an optimistic plan for a major offensive from the salient created around the town of Kursk.

Extraordinary security measures were taken in preparing for what would be the largest tank battle in history.   This included special formation markings replacing the standard insignia used by German armoured and mechanized units.  These markings were temporary and worn in the majority of cases only in the summer of 1943; 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" was still using the Kursk insignia in late 1943.

There were many variations on this insignia; one source suggests that only three Army divisions used the insignia (6, 7 and 19 Panzer Division), in black.  Some of the SS insignia may also have been done in black, especially on the new Dark Yellow paint schemes that began replacing the Panzer Grey paint scheme in 1943.  The horizontal bars, also, were sometimes omitted.

3 Panzer Division kur3pd.gif (1502 bytes) 23 Panzer Division kur23pd.gif (1005 bytes)
6 Panzer Division kur6pd.gif (1034 bytes) 1 SS Panzer Division "LSSAH" kur7pd.gif (981 bytes)
7 Panzer Division

kur7pd.gif (981 bytes)

2 SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" kur3ss.gif (1014 bytes)
11 Panzer Division kur11pd.gif (1081 bytes) 3 SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf" kur11pd.gif (1081 bytes)
19 Panzer Division kur19pd.gif (1071 bytes) Panzer Grenadier Division "Großdeutschland" kursk.gif (1751 bytes)