Caps, Collars and Cuffs….in Search of the Uniforms of The Blue Max

I am reaching the stage in my project “Rupp’s Skizzenbuch” where I am doing portrait sketches of the key characters in Jack Hunter’s novel “The Blue Max”.  After a bit of experimentation I ended up with a style of sketch I really liked.  Here is what my sketch of Gerhardt Rupp looks like.  Keep in mind that this is his sketchbook and it  is the place he keeps all the dirt on his squadmates.  He is described in the book as “an old campaigner” and a cigar smoker with questionable morals.  The face says “I’m watching you” and “Enter at your own risk” at the same time.  I also switched to a dark walnut brown ink.  All and all very happy with how it looks.

That all being said I realized I did very little research into the uniforms and rank markings on the caps, collars, cuffs etc.  I know I would get hammered by the history buffs if I didn’t dig a little deeper to make sure I got it right.


I have always loved these historical shots of a group of partying WW1 German soldiers, but if you look closely there are many, many variations in the style of the uniforms.


Clearly there are better experts than me and online conversations can get heated on this topic but I thought I would share my research to see if I am close to right.

For the back story…. “The Blue Max” covers from February 1918 thru August 1918.  The squad is referred to as Jasta 77 ( in the sequal book called “The Blood Order”) and is located on the Western Front in a town called Beauvin not too far from Cambrai.  The primary ranks for the lead characters are as follows;

Hauptmann Heidemann…..The Captain of the Jasta and a celebrated Ace

Oberleutnant Kettering….1st Leutnant, highest ranked Lt. and the Adjutant to the Captain

Leutnant Bruno Statchel…Lowest ranked Officer, pretty much the rank of all the Pilots in the story

Unteroffizier Rupp….A Seargent, a non-commissioned officer,  a clerk for the squad ( and a major trouble maker)

I spent the weekend pulling this together, but you could spend months or years.  I relied on several excellent websites and have used some of their images on the pages below.

The Kaiser’s Bunker  ( Thankyou Tony and Kaiser too)

World War 1 – Rank Insignias of WW1  (Great Charts that compare the different ranks)

WW1 Fixed Wing   (probably the best images of the shoulder straps by rank)

Right off the bat, my first error on the sketch of Rupp jumps out.  I gave him a Krätzchen instead of a Schirmmütze.  Pretty sure as an Unteroffizier he would not be wearing the hat the common infantrymen wore.  The other thing that is interesting is the Schirmmütze with the leather strap above the visor.  That is the one Hollywood picked for the movie but it looks a little rare in the pictures I saw.


I found it easier in the end to find pictures of pilots that were identifed by rank, so I could at least check it against the basic information I had.  The number of Pips on the shoulder strap appeared to be the real identifier for most of these


I didn’t see big differences between the Oberleutnants and the Leutnants other than the shoulder straps



If you look back at the group picture a number of the officers had the flying unit patch on their arms.  Many different styles of tunics.  I could not find a lot of information on the collar patches that typically look like a double roman numeral I laying on its side.  Again many variations in color and detail.  Many of the portait shots of famous ace pilots have nothing on their collars.


Kaiser’s Bunker had a great example of an Unteroffizier’s tunic.  This is the lowest rank of the four examples I was chasing and is a non-commissioned officer. The shoulder strap is very simple, sometime with a number and sometimes without.  The collar and cuffs have a dark gray braid,  a steel button on the collar.  I was pleased to see the beard and mustache in the example portrait, he almost looks like my version of Rupp.  Also a much stiffer style of cap.  I plan on re-doing my portrait of Gerhardt Rupp with the appropriate gear on this time!


And finally, thought I might as well include the Hollywood version circa the original “The Blue Max” film.  If you look close, you will notice that Rupp actually has a notebook and pen tucked into his tunic….Wow!!  So maybe I wasn’t that far off the mark for the idea of Rupp having a sketchbook?

Please enjoy and comment.  Basically my goal is at least to make sure my sketches reasonably accurate.


Kaiser Wilhelm II Sketch…Analogue & Digital Duke it out!

I continue to flirt with different media for creating a natural looking sketch style that fits the era of WW1 and feels like something that would end up in a soldier’s sketchbook.  I like to use old photos as a resource and have been trying to use a stylus on an ipad to draw, but for me the results many times becomes a “trace job” which is very sterile looking.  I started with this photograph.


And the first attempt looked like this


It was accurate and tedious to do since the stylus has to be encouraged to follow your hand and eye to a point, but feels more like drafting than sketching.  I love using the stylus for loose sketches, and there are many options for colors and lighting effects, you can do a lot of interesting things graphically.  Great for experimentation, but clearly getting further and further away from something that looks like a sketch done late at night in the barracks by candle light.

one more

The upside of using the stylus is if your subject has complicated shapes ( like an airplane) you can rough out the shapes very quickly and accurately.  So I wanted to experiment using digital tools to find the the image, rough out the shapes but finish it with ink in a more authentic 1900’s style.  Here is how I did it.


Regarding the tools and technique, I used the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 for the digital work and two Noodler Konrad Ink Pens for the analogue (one with a flex nib, the other a fat 1.5, with Noodler’s Black Ink all purchased from the good folks at The Goulet Company). Mixing analogue and digital, a blue tooth narrow tipped sylus with pen and ink that smears on your finger tips seems to appeal to how my brain works.  The Blue Max Project at its roots is simulation based art project, so the mix of digital art and analogue sort of fits.


Using Sketchbook Pro on the Ipad, I composed the photo of the Kaiser, added a frame and than did a very loose trace to get the shapes and details in the right place.  After a few tries decided to keep the face empty and deal with that in ink.



I printed the image on card stock and than inked on top of it, using a hard copy of the photo as a reference.  For me it is key that I work from an image but not on top of it as a trace.  The results are less accurate, but the random , searching part of your brain gets put to work and creates its own result.  To get a darker look I used diluted ink and a sponge to do an ink wash.  Still learning the technique, but ended up way too dark.  I scanned the image and in Photoshop Elements lightened it up and used one filter on it that accented the edges ( yes we now have a media sandwich!!….digital, analogue, digital, the geek in me loves that.).


This was trying to be a portrait, but also a statement.  I am in the middle of reading a few histories of the early months of the war.  The loss of life was tremendous and overwhelming.  The leaders of Germany, France and England all made a series of decisions that resulted in incredible losses of life.  Decided to add a background to Kaiser Wilhelm’s portrait that reflected the results of those decisions.


When you place this in Rupp’s Skizzenbuch it looks like it belongs there.   I have ordered brown ink for my next try at this, sepia tones would be better.  It’s up to you to figure out how much below is digital and how much is analogue, but it really doesn’t matter.   The goal is a final image that is engaging and immersive to support the story telling.  This is getting real close to success!

KaiserV2 copy