Footlocker Find: East German Camo Jacket

One good East German deserves another, so the jacket is displayed here with an Ernst Thällmann Werke Pistole Makarow, as the Russian-designed DA autopistol was termed in the soi-disant “German Democratic Republic,” which was neither German nor Democratic, and was only a Republic when considered as opposed to a Monarchy.

DDR NVA Jacket, slightly faded.

DDR NVA Jacket, slightly faded. The interior (wasteband at the bottom) shows the original colors. 

From about 1949 to 1990, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik was a sort of Potemkin state structure set up under Soviet authority in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. The politicians leading it at the outset were lower-level German Comintern functionaries, loyal to Moscow. Many of them spent the war years in Russia working on Soviet propaganda in the German language or as political officers in units of German “volunteers” from the prison camps. A state needs an Army, so these Soviet-controlled Germans quickly stood up an Army in the Red Army mold, with, originally, Russian weapons and equipment. It was called the NVA: Nationale Volksarmee, National People’s Army. (Where the “people” came in, is they got taxed to support it and drafted to fill its ranks. The officers were all Soviet yes-men).

Same setup, a more squarely overhead shot.

Same setup, a more squarely overhead shot. The “leaves” resemble that thematic device beloved of all Teutons, the oak leaf. Some originals of which can be seen in the background. 

In 1953, the East Germans rose for one day, a rising driven by the announcement that everybody’s work quota was going up 10% to pay for this Army, and that they’d better be making quota by 30 June 53. Why that date? The birthdate of German Communist Walter Ulbricht had supplanted Hitler’s birthday as a national holiday, even though Ulbricht was little but the condom Stalin wore when he dealt with the Germans. The rising was spontaneous, disorganized, and suppressed brutally by the Soviet occupation army, the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. The new NVA was not trusted to join the Soviets in shooting demonstrating workers; but an elite “police” force, modeled on the Waffen SS and led by former SS and Gestapo leaders, was.

It was only later that the Russians came to trust the NVA a little — although, always, with Soviet units behind them.

Close-up (all pictures embiggen) showing buttons on a sleeve pocket. These buttons are one-piece plastic moldings and very prone to breakage in the plastic attach loops. Note also the strong cotton twill material.

Close-up (all pictures embiggen) showing buttons on a sleeve pocket. These buttons are one-piece plastic moldings and very prone to breakage in the plastic attach loops. Note also the strong cotton twill material.

Later, they were permitted to make small modifications in their equipment, like the pebbled plastic stocks that distinguish East German AKs. But very little deviation from the Party Line — or the Soviet quartermaster catalog — was tolerated. When NATO was still quite fractious and bumptious and every nation still went its own way, its eastern equivalent, the Warsaw Pact, had unity of command and absolute interoperability of equipment — possible because it was a master-slave relationship, not an association of free states.

According to Camopedia, the first East German camouflage suits were direct copies (or perhaps, hand-me-down supplies) of wartime Soviet recon unit camo. This odd pattern, which seems to owe more to the blotches worn by US Marines but with a peculiarly German grey-blue palette, is described like this:

The M58 Flachtarnenmuster pattern was issued between 1956 and 1967 to units in the East German Army (NVA) and Ministry of Interior (MDI). Also known as Kartoffelmuster (potato camouflage) or Blumentarn (flower camouflage), the pattern generally consists of blue-green, olive green & brown ragged blotches on a field grey background. Several mild color variations have been documented, some of which may appear darker due to their having been coated in anti-gas chemicals (which also gave the fabric a waxy texture). Several types of jacket, trousers, field equipment, shelter half and hood/helmet cover were produced in this pattern.

Slightly out of focus close-up of a button, also showing the twill material and the loose register of the camo print. Not bad for over 50 years old.

Slightly out of focus close-up of a button, also showing the twill material and the loose register of the camo print. Not bad, for over 50 years old.

After the East Germans retired these, they showed up everywhere from Angola to Vietnam, having been surplused to “fraternal socialist states and liberation movements.” We can’t remember whether we picked this one up in Europe or South America in the 80s or 90s.

The East Germans replaced it with a “rain pattern” uniform — the one in which Your Humble Blogger did a penetration test of US Army Europe HQ in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, proving for all time that all Germans do look alike to us Yanks. We’ve still got that suit, too.

26 thoughts on “Footlocker Find: East German Camo Jacket

  1. Boat Guy

    Had a DDR Mak. GREAT pistol. Gave it to a deserving friend. Since sorta replaced by a Polska; not quite as nice…

    1. morokko

      Do not know what You mean by “Polska”, but we actually never manufactured PM/PMM pistol, because soviet license was deemed to expensive – aside from obscure prototypes, the only polish handguns for 9×18 are CZAK (p-64), WANAD (p-83) and quite rare variant of WANAD with longer slide and decocking lever only: P-93, all of which have nothing to do with russian pistol, aside for cartridge and general outline, derived from walther PP. As for not being up to standard of Makarow, I would agree only when it comes to P-83/93 – welded and soldered sheet metal slides and frames are not pinnacle of elegance (although SIGs did not mind them also) – those military pistols were intended to be as cheap and disposable as our unfortunate soldiers who were supposed to “liberate” Denmark half an hour after intended soviet nuclear strike. But CZAK is old school gun, all nicely machined from quality steel, although with extremely crappy DA mode.

      1. Boat Guy

        Sorry. I was indeed referring to the P-64. I did not know the acronym CZAK either. The only element in which the P-64 does not compare to the Mak is indeed the DA trigger. I thought the Mak DA trigger was a beast until I got the P-64. Nice SA trigger though…

  2. rocketguy

    Am I reading you correctly? You successfully entered HQ *wearing an enemy uniform*? The word “impressive” has many uses…

    1. Kirk

      You would be surprised at what you can get away with, if you just act like you’re supposed to be there…

      I once took part in a raid on the “enemy” during an exercise. Due to leadership issues, the rest of the raiding party got itself whacked, and/or made prisoner. While this was going on, I and two other guys realized things were going seriously southwards in the pre-dawn darkness, and we fell in on the mess detail. Despite being in full OPFOR uniform, nobody noticed us as we helped set up for breakfast, and then ate with the real KP detail. After a bit, and with the hue-and-cry dying down, we simply split up and walked out of the perimeter with weapons slung, acting like we belonged there. I must have walked past twenty people, officers, NCOs, junior enlisted, and none of them so much as twitched. Got to the gate, and the guys guarding it just asked if chow was any good, that morning, and how was the coffee in my canteen cup? Worth going up to the MKT for? I told ’em it was great, and walked right out the front gate, heading off into the woods for the rally point. All three of us got out, the other thirty or so didn’t.

      You would be amazed at how far you can get, walking around like you belong there. Add a clipboard, or be drinking a cup of coffee? You are golden, so long as you maintain that aura of confidence. Hell, I remember an OPFOR augmentee at JRTC, who had the brass balls to walk into an enemy TOC, make himself a cup of coffee, and then participate in the OPORD. Nobody twigged, despite him being in full OPFOR uniform. He even answered questions the S3 asked him…

      1. W. Fleetwood

        Not to one up, but to pile on. In Rhodesia we had a gook (Turned out to be a gook deserter.) who ate at a joint Army / Cops mess hall for a good month before anybody twigged. He’d show up in full bush ensemble and AK 47. To Army guys he was a “Turned Terr” working for the Cops. To the Cops he was the same but working for the Army. He’d probably be grazing there still if an actual Turned Terr who had known him in the bush hadn’t spotted him. After the initial excitement died down there was a bidding war between the Cops and us as to who got to keep him. The Cops won and he disappeared into Spookland, where I’m told he did some pretty good work for Special Branch.

        Wafa wafa, Wasara Wasara.

        1. Kirk

          Yeah, there were a bunch of stories out of the Pacific war, where Japanese stay-behinds would be found eating in mess lines… I think a couple of them are actually true.

          Also, heard similar tales about things like this in Vietnam, and I wouldn’t doubt but that we had/have such things happening in Iraq/Afghanistan.

          It’s truly amazing what you can get away with, with enough brazen-ball confidence. And, yet, there are the guys who are supposed to be there, that get picked out by the Sergeant Major for being unkempt or out of uniform… All because they “look suspicious and furtive…”.

          1. W. Fleetwood

            Y’know, I’ve thought about that. If one of our riflemen had shown up out of uniform he would have been nabbed on the first go-round but somebody no ones ever seen before, in defacto enemy uniform with an enemy weapon just gets asked “Tea or coffee?”

            Brass balls certainly explains part of it but I wonder if there isn’t also some sort of hard wired, cave man, “No arguments while we’re eating the mastadon, Ugg!” social thing that kicks in when you’re all salivating?

            Sua Sponte.

          2. Kirk

            I dunno about the food-sharing thing. If anything, you think there would be more issues with people noticing, ‘cos someone who’s not supposed to be there is taking part of the kill, you know? I rather doubt a pride of lions isn’t going to notice an outsider nuzzling up to the dead wildebeast, and overlook things. That idea is kinda… Counter-intuitive?

            I think a lot of it comes down to the human tendency to categorize things on purely superficial issues. You see someone who’s behaving as though they belong, the mind categorizes them as what they’re acting like, never mind what they’re wearing. We had the reaction force run right through the area where we were washing pots, and not one of them twigged to the fact that they had three of the fugitive raiders there, doing KP duties. When I walked out of the perimeter, I had that canteen cup in hand, and was acting as though I were heading out to the perimeter for guard, or something… Nobody noticed the fact that I was in an OD field jacket, vs. the BDU pattern they were wearing, and the armband I had on? Nope, didn’t register.

            The eyes see what they expect, and go right past things that contradict initial impressions made by behavior and other cues. I’m quite sure that if anyone had asked the guys we were raiding whether or not they’d seen one of us, they’d have denied it, completely. Hell, I know that for a fact–At the post-exercise AAR, the lead cook and one of the guys at the gate both denied I had ever been there, and called me a liar for telling how I got out of the perimeter unnoticed. They were both morally certain that they hadn’t seen me, that morning.

            That was a pretty surreal moment, and one that scared the hell out of me when I later recalled the incident, when I did my first duties as a corporal of the relief and sergeant of the guard. The whole thing is like that famous YouTube video with the guys playing basketball, and the guy in the gorilla suit walks through–The average person doesn’t even notice the gorilla suit, until it’s pointed out to them, and they start watching for it. I used that for a guard duty briefing right after 9/11, and I’m telling you, a scary number of people never twigged to the gorilla suit until it was pointed out to them, and highlighted.

            Human psychology and behavioral implications are frighteningly unstudied, in the military.

          3. Kirk

            Oh, yeah… Forgot a detail: On my way out the gate, the gate guard made sure I knew the challenge/password of the day, before opening the gate to let me leave…

            That little detail was why I was at the AAR. The exercise umpire we had waiting for us at the rally point was rolling on the ground, laughing, when we related how we three got back. He’d had to go looking for us, because we weren’t “in the bag” of captured/dead raiders. I told him the challenge/password, and how we’d gotten away, and he must have spent the next 30 minutes trying to regain control of himself. I think what was most epic was that I had a friggin’ M60 MG hanging off of me, and enough ammo that had I chosen to, I probably could have taken out most of the company.

            Looking back on it, later, I was kind of chagrined to realize that I probably should have done just that, and opened fire on everyone in the post-dawn, post-stand-to mess line. But, I bet money that had I started to set up to do that, someone would have twigged. So long as I looked “harmless”, I was golden.

        2. Mike_C

          > In Rhodesia we had a gook (Turned out to be a gook deserter.)
          Since it’s easier to ask rather than head down random ‘net rabbit holes, was this a Chinese or a North Korean — rather which if either/any were physically in Rhodesia? Were they ostensibly “trainers” or there as direct combatants? I can only imagine what went through this guy’s head, in any case, defecting in southern Africa where he had no possibility of blending in, nor, I suspect, would he have wanted to. (The Chinese sense of cultural and racial – in that order, by far – superiority is extremely strong.) And this deserter could not have pulled an “David Lim.”

          Lim was a strange case: a Singaporean (ethnic Chinese) who went to the University of Michigan in the 1950’s to attend the College of Engineering, something for which he apparently had neither aptitude nor interest. About to flunk out, he quietly disappeared. In point of fact, he holed up in the attic of the First Methodist Church (which had sponsored his student visa, and where he had worked as a janitor), only emerging at night to steal food from the refrigerator. His days were spent hiding silently in the attic. After four years of this “ghost” existence, he was found, and brought down from his place of self-imposed exile. All was forgiven, and he actually was allowed to transfer to the College of Science and Arts, from which he earned a history degree, after which he returned to Singapore and a life of obscurity.

          As to the efficacy of “brazen-ball confidence” while I’ve never infiltrated a major Army HQ, it’s worked for all sorts of lesser things. Act as if you belong and have every right to be there, and most times no one says a thing. You don’t even necessarily need to look like you belong. [probably politically incorrect story redacted, heh.]

          And yeah, I want to hear the Stuttgart-Vaihingen story too. Please!

          1. Hognose Post author

            Mike —

            In Rhodesia (and I think elsewhere in Africa south of the Zambezi) in the 70s and 80s, “gook” meant enemy, not “Asian gentleman” (As I understand the etymology of this ethnic slur, a Korean in his native language is a Hanguk, whilst an American is a Myguk. (“Guk” is just “person” modified by nationality). So US GIs got tired of Korean kids bugging them for candy: “Myguk, Myguk!” and would say, “OK kid, you’re a gook. Are you happy now.” From Korean vet officers and sergeants, the term “gook” for any Asian migrated to Vietnam in the next decade.

            I dunno if the story is true. It’s entertaining, though.

          2. W. Fleetwood

            Mr. Mike. Basically, what our Most Excellent Host said. I suppose I should have put the word in quotes since it was a verbal shorthand. A “gook” was the enemy, regardless of race or ethnicity. The North Koreans were definitely “gooks” the South Koreans definitely weren’t. The East Germans were “gooks” the West Germans weren’t (Well, okay, some of them were, but you know what I mean.) Again, it’s verbal shorthand because, let’s face it, “E type silhouette targets, engage at will.” is little much for casual conversation.

            On the other hand, a North Korean eating in our mess would be a great story.

            Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

          3. Kirk

            Never going to forget my second tour in Korea, when I’m walking out the front gate of Camp Howze, to look over at the rack where they kept the ID cards/documents for any local national that a GI signed onto post, and seeing about fifteen passports with Cyrillic on them… I nearly had a coronary.

            Turns out, the passports belonged to the local bar girl talent, and the Korean pimps had found that it was cheaper to hire Russians than Korean nationals or Filipinas…

            Want to know when I realized we’d basically won the Cold War?

      2. Impudent Warwick

        Reminiscent also of a WWII tale of three captured bomber crewmen who got hold of a tape measure and a clipboard, then measured their way out the camp gate and across Germany to a neutral border.

    1. Keith Z.

      Yes, it’s amazing the number of different solutions that have be invented over the years to deal with essentially the same problem.

  3. John M.

    I think you mean “waistband” in the caption on the first photo, not “wasteband.”

    -John M.

  4. archy

    ***The East Germans replaced it with a “rain pattern” uniform — the one in which Your Humble Blogger did a penetration test of US Army Europe HQ in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, ***

    Sort of surprisingly, the rain pattern camo gear filtered across the border into Bavaria fairly soon after it replaced the *potato & greens* pattern stuff; at the time we were told it was because ammo pouches, belts, hats, map bags etc, usw. could be turned out in the rain pattern cloth, while the earlier version was suitable only for jackets and trousers.

    Nevertheless: the 4-pocket AK *rain pattern* pouches are one of the handiest around, usable with either AK or M16 family mags, and many SMG stick magazines as well. They need only the addition of an over-the-shoulder carrying strap to be an all-time winner.

    Also highly appreciated: the rain pattern tanker’s jacket, nice and short like a WWII tankers jacket, but short enough it doesn’t catch buttons and snaps on the edge of a hatch like a US GI field jacket does. Lighter weight makes it usable under the jacket top half of a rain suit jacket, and either a liner can be stuffed under it or a sweater can be worn if it’s chilly out evenings.

    1. Tierlieb

      “Nevertheless: the 4-pocket AK *rain pattern* pouches are one of the handiest around, usable with either AK or M16 family mags, and many SMG stick magazines as well. They need only the addition of an over-the-shoulder carrying strap to be an all-time winner.”

      Hmmm. Personally, I found them to be comparatively heavy, quite good at soaking up water, a bit too deep to draw mags quickly and too soft to put them back in a hurry. And the closing fixture sucked after a few washes. Of course, if you want all of that done better, you will be spending quite a bit more, so to hang 4 mags on all your AKs, it is still an excellent option, price/quality-wise.

      I had several of those until I finally threw them away, it’s hard to say no to 4 AK mags plus pouch for 17 EUR… Germany, the AK owner’s paradise.

      1. archy

        ***Hmmm. Personally, I found them to be comparatively heavy, quite good at soaking up water, a bit too deep to draw mags quickly and too soft to put them back in a hurry. And the closing fixture sucked after a few washes. Of course, if you want all of that done better, you will be spending quite a bit more, so to hang 4 mags on all your AKs, it is still an excellent option, price/quality-wise.***

        All true. AK mags need to go in magazine baseplate down, else the magazine pivot lug will catch on the narrow edge of the pouch while withdrawing. Depending on magazine length, I’ve been known to replace the loop-and-tab closures with black vinyl plastic American/Korean Fastek plastic catches as found on ALICE M16 magazine pouches and some MOLLE gear. And if thinner M16A1 30-round magazines are carried, it’s pretty easy to get 6 into the pouch, or even eight, though that’s a bit heavy. Or carry 6, and use the extra space as a dump pouch if no Claymore bag is handy.

        Price US per pouch is $ 2.97 from one mail-order supplier: https://www.cheaperthandirt.com/product/ak-47-magazine-pouch-german-rain-camo-pattern-holds-four-30-round-ak-47-magazines-grade-1-condition-aks-224.do?sortby=ourPicks&refType=&from=Search

  5. emdfl

    Regarding the camo, back when(mid-’80’s) I was a field engineer doing a ship overhaul in the Phillie shipyard, I discovered a surplus store down the street a ways that had camo uniforms from more countries then I knew even HAD camo uniforms; probably had 20-30 different sets. First time I ever saw fall colors on military togs… and not on just one or two different sets.

  6. Docduracoat

    I am pleased to see someone else praising the rain pattern AK mags for $3 from cheaper than dirt
    I have been telling everyone on bullpupforum.com and AR15.com that they work for Aug, AR, M 14, and AK mags and they attach to a belt and only cost $3! The curved ones fit AK mags perfectly, straight for all others
    Everyone ignores me in favor of molle and Alice type mag holders
    We ordinary citizens go shooting in regular hunting camo. No tactical vests.
    I keep all my mags in these cheap carriers.
    Rain camo is not that effective as camo, but has a high cool factor

  7. Docduracoat

    To Kirk,
    ” The eyes see what they expect” is 100% correct
    We have this problem in Anesthesia where the monitors clearly show a problem but the provider does not react as they see everything as normal
    They do not register it as wrong because they expect the usual.
    We are working to engineer solutions to this kind of error into the machine
    I also see this type of error as a problem with Glock type guns that require you to pull the trigger to take it apart.
    You look in the chamber and expect to see an empty chamber.
    You are then amazed when it goes off as you pull the trigger to field strip it
    After all, you checked and “saw” it was empty.
    There are other striker fired pistols that do not require a trigger pull to field strip.
    Seems like a better design

  8. obdo

    raintarn = strichtarn

    the east german bolsheviks couldn’t afford flecktarn for their armies.

    thankyou yanks, frogs, brits, cannucks

    without youse europe would speak bolshevick.

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