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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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