Rock Island Auction Company

May 28, 2020

Camouflage 101: Plane Tree

By Sean McCarthy

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Hello again, and thank you for reading another edition of Camouflage 101. This article is part of (what became) a three part series on camouflage patterns used by the German military during World War II. So far we’ve covered Blurred Edge and Splinter; today we continue this series with Plane Tree. Just as a reminder, all three of these patterns are available on a number of items in our upcoming Premier Auction.

Two Waffen troops in the field taking a smoke break, the soldier to the left is wearing Plane Tree

Development of Plane Tree Camo

Plane Tree is optically similar to Blurred Edge in two ways: it's use solely by the Waffen-SS and was a brainchild of Otto Schick’s research and development. Research on camouflage intended for Waffen-SS use occurred under the supervision of the SS, a separate entity smaller than the German Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and Kreigsmarine (army, air force, and navy respectively). The patterns developed for the Waffen-SS were much more unique and often experimental in nature. There is evidence of several small test batch patterns the names of which are lost to history. The pioneering of the SS camouflage program led to various versions of a single pattern, usually incorporating minor tweaks to color, geometry, and manufacturing techniques.

Waffen-SS trooper in Plane Tree carrying K98 ammo pouches on his belt with two “Stielhandgrenate," or hand grenades

Plane Tree is a prime example of camo-in-flux; it saw three major design changes during its lifespan. Initially intended to compliment angular orientations, such as on a Zeltbahn (a tarp used as shelter and as a poncho), it was introduced in 1936 and was the framework by which the Plane Tree pattern would continue to develop. This first iteration used larger spaces of the base layer containing no overlaid “dots”. This initial release was intended for use by the SS-VT (​Verfügungstruppe​), the pre-war militant wing of the Nazi party, and eventual ranks of the Waffen-SS. In 1938, this pattern would undergo a few changes and become what was known as the “lateral” variant. The colors between these two versions remained the same. However, the most noticeable alteration differentiating the two was the addition of spots in the once barren patches of underlay. The war effort intensified in 1941 and introduced, what could be considered, the final major version of Plane Tree design. This iteration introduced smaller overlay dots as well as the use of machine-rolling for its production. Its predecessors were printed solely by hand, but the benefits of machine rolling were two-fold. First, manufacturing capability was enhanced, allowing more camouflaged items to reach the troops in the field. Secondly, the Plane Tree overlay was now able to be printed over an in-depth hand-screened underlay. Readers will remember this being mentioned in the article on Blurred Edge, which also employed Oak Leaf as a base pattern. The joining of these two patterns improved on Plane Tree’s intended design of “unregulated natural forms,” as intended by its creator Otto Schick.

Deployment of Plane Tree Camouflage

Plane Tree’s evolution continued throughout its use. Initially intended for use as a shelter, it was released in six unique varieties. Each of the six designs came printed on a piece of fabric used as a single-man tent. These pieces could be joined together to conceal a larger area. When matched as numerically intended, the pattern lines up more fluidly with the opposing border. When randomly matched, it produces a more disjointed pattern. Plane Tree kept its role as a Zeltbahn throughout the war, providing a good reason to continue releasing Plane Tree on numbered, unique pieces of fabric. The pattern would eventually be used on garments as well, and pre-printed Zeltbahn material was used to construct the uniform pieces, resulting in their unusual construction, utilizing two of the six unique designs. An exception to this is the lateral version of Plane Tree, employed only for smocks and helmet covers. Much like Blurred Edge, the Plane Tree material was printed on both sides of the cloth utilizing 2 different color schemes. One side was a more earth-toned “autumn” palette, while the “spring” side utilized more lush shades of green. Supplying troops with one smock for all seasons eased demands of supply in the German war machine.

Illustration of Zeltbahn

If this look into German camouflage is inspiring you to consider collecting a rare piece of camouflage history, Rock Island Auction has numerous items in our upcoming Premier Auction to suit that need. We have a great example of the previously discussed smocks, a 1942 model that utilizes Plane Tree. It is in “very good overall condition” which considering its age, is appealing to collectors.

Lot#1647: Scarce Waffen-SS Model 1942 "Plane Tree" Camouflage Smock, as Seen in Camouflage Uniforms of the Waffen-SS by Michael Beaver

As well, we are offering a field cap and helmet cover. The helmet cover is in good condition, and the field cap is very good. Interestingly, the field cap appears to be the same pattern as the smock mentioned above.

Lot #1638: Waffen-SS Camouflage Helmet Cover in "Plane Tree" Pattern

One final item is an Oak Leaf pattern winter parka and trousers.​ ​Much like standard uniforms, this was reversible, except instead of an autumn side, it utilized flat white. A sought after piece of militaria using a very influential camouflage pattern.

Lot #1642: Fine Waffen-SS "Oak Leaf A" Pattern Winter Camouflage Uniform

A Premier Auction is always an excellent experience, for both the buyers and the sellers alike, and items like these never fail to draw interest. Please check out our auction catalogs to see what else is available that interests you. We have something in an auction for everybody. Thank you again for taking the time to read Camouflage 101. Next time we will be taking a look at one of my personal favorite camouflage patterns, the ever popular US M81 Woodland Camouflage.

Beaver, M. D., Borsarello, J. (1995). Camouflage Uniforms of the Waffen-SS: A Photographic Reference. United States: Schiffer Pub..

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