Austro-Hungarian Assault Troop's Badge
By Christian OrtnerWhen the Austro-Hungarian (AH) Army High Command (AOK - Armeeoberkommando) decided to raise Assault units and squads, it was first planned (following the comments in the first assault unit manual) to introduce special collar badges for storm troopers similar to the insignia of infantry-gun crews, soldiers of the radio service etc. The AOK thought, like the German army, that these badges or insignia could motivate soldiers to attend assault courses and join the different assault formations as volunteers. By and by, when it became a fact, that it was generally planned to train the whole infantry in special trench warfare, no further efforts were made on this subject. Another cause could have been, that the new infantry branch should be kept secret from the enemy. When the new assault battalions were instituted on the divisional level, the idea of assault insignia was again taken up. However this new badge should not be part of the uniform, worn by every member of an assault battalion, but was planned to be a decoration for special skills or bravery during a mission. The AOK informed all army-groups on the 30th August 1917 about this idea and asked for propositions concerning the following questions:
1. Conditions of award, especially if all storm troopers, who had passed the course, should be given this decoration or only members of the assault battalions.
2. In which numbers should this decoration be awarded (in what percentage of every assault unit)?
3. Which command level should propose a soldier to be awarded.
The AOK also made a suggestion concerning the look of this new decoration. Following the system of qualification badges, the storm-trooper award basically should look like the other metal-cockades worn on the right breast. But at this time it was unclear, which symbol should be in the centre of the new decoration. So all the army-groups were also asked to make propositions on this subject. In particular the corps in Army-group "GO v. Boroević" made a few very interesting comments on this topic. For instance the k.u.k. XXIVth corps concluded (29th September 1917), that only soldiers, who had passed the assault course successfully and were incorporated in an assault-battalion, -company or squad should get the chance to be awarded with the new decoration. The essential award conditions were proposed in achieving over average in shooting with the carbine and pistol, throwing hand-grenades and physical ability. So only the best men of the assault units should be decorated. But on the other hand the corps-command proposed the founding of a general metal badge for all storm troopers, being worn on the left sleeve of the coat or jacket (officers - gold; NCOs and soldiers - tombak). The k.u.k. XVth corps-command (2nd October 1917) was of the same opinion and suggested, that it should be the subordinate command, to which the assault unit belonged which would award the decoration. A special committee should examine the dignity of every proposed soldier. Concerning the symbol in the centre of the cockade, an attacking soldier with a helmet and hand-grenade was considered befitting. The VIIth corps command (4th October 1917) proposed concerning the symbolical appearance of the decoration a textile badge in regimental colour, regimental number and two "burning grenades" on the left and right side. The statement (7th October 1917) of the 1st Isonzo-army (1. ISA) is rather interesting, because the conditions of awarding the assault decoration should be, besides over average skills during training, be connected to at least one successful mission. The army-command also insisted, that the badge should differ from all the standard qualification badges used by the AH army. Instead of those, an oval insignia, quite similar to the field-pilot's decoration, should be created, also being worn on the right breast side. The army-command rejected the idea of having a committee examine whether a soldier should be awarded or not. At last the 1.ISA proposed in addition to the decoration a special assault badge, to be worn on the collar or the left sleeve, to identify all soldiers doing service in an assault unit. Concerning the appearance of the assault decoration and the badge, the use of human skulls in any way was definitely rejected, because this would, in the estimation of the army-command, cause wrong expectations. It was also proposed to change the designation of the storm troopers. They should be called "grenadiers" and the units for instance, grenadier-company or -platoon. On the 10th October 1917 the army-group headquarters "GO v. Boroević" combined all these different ideas in a statement, which was sent to the AOK. It was decided, that besides good skills in weapons handling, good results in physical education and assault tactics, at least one mission against the enemy should be a must to get the award. The soldier should be proposed by the assault-unit commander, the decoration be awarded by the superior command (mostly division-commanders). But it was also stated, that there should also be a special badge for all trained storm troopers, to raise their reputation and show their importance. As a compromise (the new infantry branch should be kept in the dark to the enemy) it was suggested, that this uniform badge should be worn only in the hinterland, but not during missions. The change of designation to "grenadiers" was also accepted and integrated into the statement. Similar to the AOK, the k.u.k. War-ministry / 5th Department (Kriegsministerium (KM)/ 5. Abteilung) also worked on the problem of assault decorations and badges. On the 10th of December 1917 the AOK asked for the KM´s estimation in this affair also including all the propositions sent from the above mentioned commands. In this document, the AOK definitely rejected the proposal of founding a uniform badge for all storm troopers. It was decided that this would be unfair towards the normal standard soldier, doing the standard service and always suffering casualties, while many new specialist branches received privileges and had better living conditions. A new badge for assault troopers would disregard them further. In that way the proposed new designation as "grenadiers" was also abandoned. In this document the AOK confirmed the award conditions of the planned assault decoration, but decided, that at least two successful missions should be necessary to get the award. The appearance was also fixed in that way, that it should be similar to the pilot's decoration, worn on the right breast. On the 3rd of May 1918 the AOK sent a model of the planned decoration to the KM and the Military Cabinet of the Emperor (Militärkanzlei des Kaisers und Königs) trying to put more emphasis on the subject. (On the same date they returned a model, showing in the centre a lion turning down a wire entanglement with his paw, to it's designer, Landsturm-Leutnant Johann Walach of Infantry Regiment number 100.) However the question was not given priority, and it was not until September / October 1918, that the War Ministry made it's point of view on this subject clear:
1. There should be no special uniform badge for assault units, but a decoration for meritorious storm troopers
2. Concerning the conditions of awarding, the KM agrees to the AOK´s propositions, but decides, that besides the other over average skills, at least three missions should be completed successfully.
3. The appearance should be similar to the pilot's decoration to symbolize the elite character of the assault units. Instead of an attacking soldier or human skulls, a lion should be the main element, maybe shown in front of obstacles or wires; the colours are also similar to the pilot's decoration. This means a green enameled wreath with a golden shield and a black middle symbol.
Because of the production problems with enamel, the war ministry states, that it is already difficult to get all the pilot's decorations, the AOK should inform the KM regarding the estimated number of decorations, which will be needed. Because of economic reasons, the KM proposes to produce the decorations simply in metal, black, grey or bronze (the bronze coloured version was estimated as best befitting). Together with this, the proposition is made, to institute two classes of decoration. This document contained six coloured drawings of decorations, but all have vanished. Consequently we don't know exactly, what they looked like. The following designer-drawing and model are the only remaining suggestions.
The whole story concerning assault badges or decorations had already lasted for more than 15 months and still there was no clear decision about this topic. The soldiers of assault units started to bring in their own ideas on this subject. It was noticed, that storm troopers wore red based cap badges, red cap buttons or red based Italian stars on their bayonet frogs, to identify themselves as elite forces. These assets were also worn by the officers. On the 27th of September 1918 the War ministry was forced to state a clear prohibition on these self made badges or identifying assets referring to the promise of founding a special assault decoration. It was maybe this document and the main interest of the AOK and the War ministry, that this endless question should be brought to an end. So the AOK brought together all ideas mentioned above and proposed statutes for the new decoration. The statutes were laid down on the 29th of October 1918 by the AOK and should be agreed or commented on by the War Ministry until the 20th of November 1918.
1. The decoration should be awarded to every officer or soldier, who passed the assault course, showed over average skills and had at least three successful missions.
2. The legal right to award the decoration should be with the division commander (or commander of an independent brigade).
3. The division commander decides if a mission is estimated as a special assault mission.
4. The operational commander should make the proposition for an officer or soldier. He has to name all men participating and showing bravery and skills worth the assault decoration.
5. All men had to get certifications, if they had participated in an assault mission the first or second time or if they had already been awarded the decoration.
6. The number of awards should not be fixed at an absolute level. But it has to be examined very strictly, that the meaning of the decoration isn't reduced to a simple uniform badge.
7. The awarding of other decorations and orders is not influenced by the creation of the assault decoration.
8. The date for these statutes should come into force retroactively from 1st March 1917.
It seems at last, that there was no definite institution of the assault decoration, because neither the KM nor the Military Cabinet of the Emperor (Militärkanzlei des Kaisers und Königs) added any comments to these statutes. It looks like, that the cease-fire on the 3rd November 1918 also finished the idea of a special assault decoration. So it is obvious, that there can be no real official "Sturmtrupp-Abzeichen". But on the other hand plenty of different badges and insignia exist in present collections, which in some way deal with the subject of assault units or combat squads. And now of course the discussions started, which ones are official pieces and which ones not. To be honest, in some way it is only possible to give speculative answers; most of the official drawings of proposed badges in the war archives have disappeared and can no longer be inspected. Both, AOK and KM, strictly forbade - as mentioned above - the use of any identification badges concerning storm troopers. But lots of existing metal badges prove, that there were indeed insignias. It seems, that the topic has to be seen together with the subject of self created badges in general. Beginning from 1915, soldiers of the AH army started to found special metal insignias often showing symbols of the regiment or simply unit numbers. This effect was caused, because by and by all uniforms lost their pre-war identification elements like collar colours etc. Soldiers wanted to identify themselves as members of certain units or branches, so they put these insignias on their caps. On the other hand, these badges or insignias were sold to the public and the gained money was given to regimental charitable institutions like widow- or orphans-funds. So the whole thing started to be a big business. Thousands of different badges have been produced, often created by well known artists. The wearing of these badges was generally allowed by the KM in November 1916 (it was obvious, that it would not be possible to forbid them), but it was made clear, that they should be worn only on the right side of the cap. So when the KM and AOK refused the use of special assault badges, they forgot, that the use of cap badges was allowed. So most of the assault badges were created in that way. So from today's point of view, two different types of insignia can be found in different museums and collections. On the one hand, there are "Sturmtruppen"-badges with a concrete unit designation, for instance "Sturmbataillon 23", which can be put on on the same level as the standard regimental or unit cap badges, mostly worn on the cap. These insignias had no official character and can be seen as normal cap-badges. On the other hand insignias can be found, which (much bigger than the other ones) only got the designation "Sturmtrupp" written on the top or bottom using a human skull as the main symbol in the center. Sometimes the assault unit is also mentioned. These are often meant to be the "official" ones, which - following the above made arguments - is of course untrue. But, as we know, the time elapsing until the assault decoration was to be instituted, lasted from spring 1917 until October 1918, almost 20 months. It is obvious, that most of the best skilled storm troopers didn't want to wait until an official decoration would be founded. So they did it on their own. Many photos confirm that soldiers and officers wore these badges. The only way to make a difference between these two types, is in the method of wear. Awarded badges were mostly worn on the breast and normally larger than the others. A very interesting thing are the symbols shown on these badges. Normally hand grenades, wire cutters, helmets and always human skulls. Both, the AOK and the KM, had decided, that the skull as the main symbol should definitely not be used. So where did it come from? This question was really hard to answer, and the answer can't be definite. But it looks like, that the roots of the Austrian skull symbol leads to the German army. In July 1916, after the 150th mission, the German "Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment", an engineer regiment specialized in the use of flame throwers, received a special unit decoration, the skull. All soldiers of the regiment were allowed to wear a symbolical skull on the lower part of their left sleeve. Flame thrower squads of this regiment were also performing service in Rohr´s assault battalion. It looks like, that the Austrian soldiers attending the assault courses in Beuville had noticed this badge and brought the idea to Austria.
Assault Badges following the officially suggested design:
|Assault Badge following the officially suggested design looking like the Field pilots Badge.||Again very similar design used by Sturm-Bataillon number 13.|
Badge of Sturm-Baon 13, with a private red underlay fabric.
|Badge of Sturm-Baon 13 variant pattern made of solid silver and colored enamel.|
|Member of Sturm-Baon 13 wearing his badge on the right breast-pocket of his tunic.||Hauptmann Rudolf Schalleck in the late 1930's, wearing the silver-variant pattern of the Sturm-Baon 13 badge on his Heimwehr-uniform.|
Widely used General Assault Badge:
|Assault Badge without unit number, widely used general design. These badges were produced with vertical as well as with horizontal pins on the back in three different sizes. Small (about 4,5 cm high), medium (about 5,5 cm high) which was the most usually sold type and large (about 7,5 cm high). This pattern was also displayed at Ulbricht's * sales-catalogue of 1917/18 as the small type (no.3317) and the medium one (no.3267).||This type of Assault Badge could often be found in painted variants - here a black painted specimen is shown. In many cases the skull was painted white.|
|Member of the Radfahrer-Battaillon (Cyclist's Battalion) wearing this general type of Assault Badge on his cap.||Member of an unknown Assault Battalion wearing this general type of Assault Badge on the left breast-pocket of his tunic.|
|Feldwebel Walter Nödl (pictured in 1936) wearing his General Assault Badge with a red fabric underlay on his left breast. He was a member of IR 92 attached to the Sturmhalbbattaillon Riva and won his Golden Bravery Medal there during the attack on the Dosso alto on the 3rd of May 1918.||The late Professor Martin Busch as a Leutnant of Kaiserschützen Regiment number I wearing this type of General Assault Badge on his left pocket.|
Less common badges without unit numbers:
|The small shield on the bottom of this badge appears to be for the purpose of engraving a unit number||This pattern could be also found in Ulbricht's sales-list * as number 3307||Badges with similar designs were also used by Heimwehr-units after 1918|
|This pattern could be also found in Ulbricht's sales-list * as number 3302|
Badges with unit numbers:
|Badge for the Assault troops of the 4th Infantry Division||Badge for the Assault troops of the 10th Cavalry Division||Badge for the Assault troops of the 11th Infantry Division (Sturm-Baon 11)|
Variant pattern for the Sturm-Baon 11
Badge for the Sturm-Halbregiment 12 (assault-half-regiment 12)
|Badge for the Assault Battalion number15. This badge also exists without a particular number on the helmet|
|Badge for the Sturm-Baon 21 using the basic design of the common assault badge with red enamel around the skull and black enamel filling the letters||
Badge of Assault Battalion number 24
This badge of Sturm-Baon 27, can also be found in solid silver with a green enameled wreath
Badge of Sturm-Baon 29 in solid silver with colored enamel, this pattern can also be found manufactured in grey zinc alloy
Badge of the Assault Battalion 31
Badge of the Assault Battalion 32
|Badge of the Assault Battalion 37||Badge of the Assault Battalion 38||Badge of the Assault Battalion 39|
|Badge for the Assault Battalion 58||Badge for the Assault Battalion 70||Badge for the Assault Battalion 106|
|Badge for the Assault Battalion 145||Badge for the Assault Battalion 155||Badge for the Assault-Half-Battalion of the 216th Honvéd Infantry Brigade|
Badges similar to assault troop types:
|Cap-Badge of the "Jagdkommando" the precursor units of the later Sturmtruppen||Cap-Badge of the 14th Battalion of Honvéd-Infantry Regiment number 5 showing similar design to an Assault troop-Badge||Cap-Badge of the 3rd Battalion of Infantry Regiment number 85 using the skull-symbol.|
|Cap Badge of the 62nd Wolhynian Battalion showing the skull & cross bones symbol||Cap-Badge with skull symbol and the inscription "Victory or Death", probably for a Hungarian Brigade. The badge is also displayed in Ulbricht's sales-catalogue * with the number 3309||The members of Assault units were specially trained in throwing hand grenades - this general badge depicts skillful throwing.|
* Sales-List 1918 from the company Erste Österreichisch-Ungarische Metallknöpfe- und Metallwaren-Fabrik Heinrich Ulbricht's Witwe, Wien XIII/2.
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