Company Sergeant Major (Hauptfeldwebel)

While the typically British appointment of Regimental Sergeant Major did not have an equivalent in German combat arms units of battalion size, each company or battery sized subunit did have a soldier appointed Hauptfeldwebel (in horsed units this was called Hauptwachtmeister).  While any NCO could presumably hold this appointment, it generally went to a soldier holding the rank of Oberfeldwebel.

His duties, similar to his counterparts in Allied armies (called a Company Sergeant Major in the British and Commonwealth, and a Company First Sergeant in the US Army), included administrative tasks necessary to running the company, including personnel and supply issues.

The German soldier had a fondness for nicknames, and the Hauptfeldwebel acquired several.  Informally, he was called "der Spiess" (The Spear), in homage to the ancient practice of arming NCOs with edged weapons rather than firearms.  Specifically, this related to a time when the senior NCO in a company was armed with an officer's style sword which for some reason was called a "spiess."  During the Reichsheer period, this position was known as Oberfeldwebel or Oberwachtmeister, but these titles became rank titles and the position was renamed Hauptfeldwebel/Hauptwachtmeister.  The Hauptfeldwebel was also known, more informally, as "die Mutter der Kompanie" (Company Mother).

spiess.jpg (15178 bytes)
Der Spiess - a Hauptfeldwebel of Infanterie Regiment 185 in Russia.  Note the second button is undone; the Reporting Pouch is just visible protruding from the tunic front.

haputgear.jpg (23765 bytes)

The Hauptfeldwebel was not necessarily the highest ranking soldier in the company.  While Oberfeldwebel (or those career NCOs who made it to Stabsfeldwebel) was the standard rank, it was not a prerequisite and there is photographic evidence of soldiers ranked as low as Unteroffizier performing the duties of Hauptfeldwebel.  Other NCOs, especially specialists such as the transport sergeant, may well have been senior in rank or experience to the Hauptfeldwebel, whose duties were less technical and more oriented to administration and troop leading. 

The Hauptfeldwebel led the company headquarters and supply troops, supervising discipline and all work done in the company rear.  He also set up a company writing room, and oversaw all paperwork in the company, including reports, incoming orders, promotions, inventories, etc.  He maintained each company soldier's Soldbuch, and co-ordinated all incoming messages from home from inquiries by civil authorities to daily mail deliveries.  He maintained the rotation of furloughs and passes, watched over food supplies (including the Company canteen) and rest facilities for the company, and when necessary, in the event of a killed or wounded NCO, could also be called upon to lead a platoon-sized subunit.

Der Spiess - This Hauptfeldwebel wears riding pants and a map case.

As a sign of his status, the uniform of a Hauptfeldwebel bore two rows of rank braid (tress) around the cuffs; this was seen both on the field blouse and on the greatcoat.  These rows of braid were referred to in slang as Piston Rings (Kolbenringe).  Another visible sign of his office was the Meldetasche (Reporting Pouch); a black leather case that was carried in the tunic front.  In this case he carried papers, rosters and other information he needed to fulfil his duties.  The pouch had no straps or method of attachment to the uniform; the second button on the tunic was left undone and the pouch simply thrust in.  This pouch was also worn with the armoured fighting vehicle uniforms (both black and field grey).

At right, a Hauptfeldwebel dressed for walking out - with  trousers and black shoes rather than boots.  He still retains his Reporting Pouch.

hauptwalk.jpg (47332 bytes)

On the Waffenrock, an extra row of braid was worn over top of the standard NCO's cuff patch to designate a Hauptfeldwebel.

hauptcuff.jpg (15312 bytes)
reportpouch.jpg (39173 bytes)

pouch.jpg (60731 bytes)
Army Hauptfeldwebel, showing the reporting pouch in its intended place.

Air Force Hauptfeldwebel conferring with an officer; note the Reporting Pouch tucked into the tunic front, and the rows of braid on the cuff.

hauptf.jpg (44444 bytes)
A nice photo showing many interesting details; the Oberfeldwebel at centre is wearing the double rows of tress, indicating his appointment as Hauptfeldwebel. Also of interest are the large tents made from multiple zeltbahnen.

Hauptfeldwebel in the Großdeutschland Division, the cuff rings and reporting book are clearly visible.

hauptgreat.jpg (20193 bytes) pwhaupt.jpg (47900 bytes)

Above - A Hauptfeldwebel of Infantry Regiment 484.

Right - Hauptfeldwebel taken prisoner in North Africa, photographed on arrival in the United States in early 1943.  His tress rings do not appear to extend all the way around his sleeves.  (US Army Signal Corps Photo)

Below - another Hauptfeldwebel photographed in the US; a Stabsfeldwebel, this soldier has silver braid sewn to his tropical uniform jacket (though possibly the darker tropical lace sewn to the collar).  The Army Long Service ribbon can be seen on his ribbon bar; this combined with his rank can allow one to conclude that this man was a prewar career soldier.   In fact, Hauptfeldwebel J. Berbert Blueck had been a medical orderly in the infantry and had indeed been in the Army for 12 years prior to his capture at Tunisia on 30 April 1943.
(US Army Signal Corps photo)

dakstab.jpg (30760 bytes)

hauptbook.jpg (33318 bytes)
"Help Book" for the Hauptfeldwebel.  Hundreds of military manuals were written during the 1930s as the German Armed Forces expanded from 100,000 men to its wartime strength of several million.  Help Books and other guides were popular and are a collecting field in themselves today.  This book was written by Hauptfeldwebel Hans Rodel and published by Mittler and Sohn in 1942.  The author was later killed after being promoted to Oberleutnant.

Return to Articles page

© 2019-present