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The NCO Cockade

Joseph P Robinson

Draft # 7

18 February 2005.

I don't think any small item has driven pickelhaube collectors as insane as the "NCO cockade" problem.The problem seems to have been an absolute dearth of period references that point to the needed detail. Volume 1 of Bowman is notorious for mistakes in cockardes but his simplistic and un-annotated statements led to the term "NCO cockade"[i]. Here is the problem really as presented by Bowman. OR cockades are one piece with paint on them. Most officer cockardes are three pieces with a silver ring (some folks ignore the backing and call it two piece.). However, not all silver rings are the same.  Some have two rings some only one. Why?



Standard Officer Ring has a double ring on a 55mm or 65mm cockade. This style of ring for the purpose of this article is called a double ring.




The "NCO cockade" has a single ring on a 48mm, 55mm, or 65mm  cockade. For the purpose of this article, this kind of ring is called a single ring.



An OR cockade has white paint instead of a silver ring at 48mm or 65mm.


Not all officer cockades are affected or included in this controversy. One piece cockades without any kind of raised ring existed in Hesse, Saxony, Hamburg, Lubeck, Baden and Württemberg. Many states had rings of various construction and Baden and Württemberg eventually adopted cockades with rings. So we are talking Prussian and Reich's cockades only. I haven't gotten any further. One piece officer cockardes like the example below, also existed in two sizes 55 mm and 48 mm.  In general, however, they are not covered in this discussion.



Most Officer Cockades are 55mm[vi], OR ones are slightly smaller at 48mm.[vii].Lacarde traces some evolution to an AKO of 16 March 1867.  There he begins talking about 51 mm (not 48mm +1mm) cockades. [viii] Large Cavalry cockades are 65mm.


Two intelligent camps draw different conclusions from the evolution.  One camp believes that NCO cockades were the initial officer cockades up to a certain time.  The other camp says no ... officer cockades and NCO cockades have been separate for some time.

The Saunders book had examples of "NCO cockades" listed as officer helmets.  These metal cavalry helmets had one ring 65mm cockardes for officers of Cuirassier and Jäger zu Pferd. [ix]  But then he also has a large size 65mm cockade with double rings on a Fähnriche helmet.[x]


Where did this confusion come from? First some background. Anglo typical westerners have a nasty habit of lumping a bunch of ranks into NCO or non-commissioned officers without much further segregation. The term NCO cockade would work for western mindsets. Germans looked at it a bit differently.  The German Army had a pretty substantial line between NCOs with Officer's sword knot and those without. Feldwebel and Vizefeldwebel were senior NCO's with officer sword knots. Ruhl separates German NCOs into Unteroffizier and Sergeant[xi].  Feldwebel and Wachtmeister (feldwebel for mounted troops), were a separate category.  Vizefeldwebel were "telephone feldwebel" and were called feldwebel sort of like a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army is called Colonel.[xii] All those with sword knot are Portapeeunteroffiziere. Fähnriche ranked as a Portapeeunteroffiziere.

Bowman makes the understanding far worse when he says "The details pertaining to NCO Kokarde also applied to the One Year Volunteers (OYV) who utilized the same pattern of Kokarde."[xiii] This is just plain false. As I have written in another article, OYVs were OR types. They could become reserve NCOs but think of them as a private who served less time and had a different "career course". The fact that there are no pictures of OYVs with officer cockades led us to separate and learn about Fähnrich Pickelhaubes.[xiv]


Very importantly Ruhl splits cockades by officer and Portapeeunteroffiziere. And the OR cockades for unteroffizer and soldaten.. No differentiation is made in this reference, by type of cockade differences between officer and feldwebel.[xv]


I looked and looked. But descriptions of the ring on cockades eluded me. Sources always referred to a silver ring. "für Offizier und Portapeeunteroffizier... mit ein silbern Ring belegt, für Unteroffiziere ohne Portapee und Gemeine ...der Mittelring aber weiß lackirt." [xvi] 



I looked at picture upon picture.  I saw rings but could not figure the reasoning out. I focused on rings and rings. It turned out to be the wrong approach. 

So I was despairing as all was lost until Kraus published his book in Austria[xviii]. There on page 50 was a sealed sample card of Reich's cockades from the Bavarian Army Museum. This is a sealed sample card for AKO 22 March 1897.  There is a 55mm

Officer cockade, a 48 mm "NCO cockade" and a 48mm OR cockade attached to the card. The Officer cockade is labeled "Offiziere".  The NCO cockade is labeled Feldwebel and the OR cockade is labeled Unterofficier to Gemeiner.[xix]


While things started looking good it got even better on page 136 where there was another card that showed an OR cockade at 48mm and the infamous "NCO cockade" labeled ... zu helm für Portapeeunteroffiziere[xx]. Inventory number H 9966 shows the Prussian landes cockade with a 48mm cockade of OR and Unterofficer mit Portapee and a 65mm Officer's cockade with single ring and a 65mm OR cockade.[xxi]


All of these cards in the Kraus book show a 48mm Feldwebel cockade with a single ring. On his website, the author shows another "Probe" card with a 48mm cockade with a double ring. [xxii]


I have a general officer's helmet from the Kube auction 104 and there is a single ring Reich's cockade 55mm.



It then dawned on me that the reason all the period sources talked about the silver ring was that is what they meant.  A silver ring not the type of silver ring. What was important was the size of the cockade.  48mm for OR and Portapeeunteroffiziere and 55mm for officer. 65mm helmets were distinguished by a silver ring regardless of type. (No second size for Feldwebel types in 65mm units.) We have 65mm cockades of both kinds, 55mm cockades of both kinds , and 48mm cockades of both kinds.


In summary, this theory states that Officers used 55mm cockades with a silver ring. Portapeeunteroffiziere used a 48mm cockade. Size, not style of ring mattered.


The period references authorize Portapeeunteroffiziere to wear the Officer cockade[xxiv]. Why would you wear a Feldwebel cockade at 48mm when you were authorized 55mm?

In my mind this is the key question still remaining in the controversy.  I suggest two possible reasons. Reason one seams to be regulation of sorts. One period source says Fähnriche and Vizefedlwebel wear "Kopfbedeckungn Kokarde und Feldzeichen der Feldwebel". It dos not say as per the Officers.  Clearly in this book, the important item was the officer sword for these guys[xxv].  Reason number two is that the Portapeeunteroffiziere were issued their cockades, and thus it has to do with the mounting lugs. Most 48mm "NCO cockades" have M91 post sized holes.  If the hole is small, it has a ring and is 48mm it only stands to reason it is private purchase. The 55mm one has a small hole and most officer cockades had small holes for rosettes. This is shown in detail on the card inventory #H 9967.[xxvi] However, small hole cockades of both types exist so this argument is weak. As this AKO covered the wear of the Reich's cockade and the sealed samples were used to show manufactures the specifications of that requirement I see no reason for that to change by the start of the war. I went to search for the AKO itself.  It was large, very interesting, and said absolutely nothing about the type of ring or the size of the cockade.



Surprisingly, the Bavarians took this idea, just a bit further.  In their excellent book on the Bavarian army Seibold and Schulz embraced the idea of the size difference.  Showing that the portapee Unteroffiziere cockade is 48 mm and the officer cockade is 55 mm.  They go on to show the Bavaria had a separate cockade for officers and portapee Unteroffiziere for their state also.  They do not get into the detail of holes and they also differentiate that officer cockades must have two rings.  If you remember, I have a Bavarian generals helmet with a 55 mm single ring Reich's cockade. [xxviii]

Both issue helmets and private purchased helmets used the 48mm cockade with M91 mounting posts and private purchase helmets with Rosettes used cockades with small holes.[xxix]  Portapeeunteroffiziere basically could use either issue or private purchase helmets.  The big difference in this case is the hole in the cockade.  There are M15 type officer helmets that came out mid war. These used M91 posts and thus the cockades needed to have large holes. . There are examples of M15 type cockades with M91 holes for each size.[xxx]

Some Portapeeunteroffiziere creatively adapted their cockades to fit private purchase / rosette type helmet holes.  The example below is an adaptation of a 48mm cockade.  So this would go under a rosette but be small. Still it is 48mm. Period? 


This leads to evolution of sorts. Lacarde talked about 51mm cockades in the AKO of 1867.[xxxii] By the Bekleidingsordnung of 1903 the official diameter had shrunk to 48mm.[xxxiii] The sealed samples of 1897 talked of 48mm.[xxxiv] Clearly the enlarged post holes for the M91 posts were not needed until the M91 posts came out in ... 1891.  There were NCO type cockades prior to 1891. What were the sizes? Well officer cockades seem to be 55mm back to at least 1871[xxxv]. At that time there were single ringed cockades.  Therefore, there is no reason to think that commissioned officers did not use single ringed 55mm cockades from then on. The next earliest type of cockade was the 1887 OR type, weird helmet with a unique hook type strap. Cockades required 2 holes.  One small one actually held it in place. This example of an issue 1887 with two holes is 51.8 mm. This is well within the bounds of reality for the 1867 AKO.



So 1887 cockades were most likely 51mm and 1897 were 48mm. So 51mm cockades could exist between 1887 and 1897. I do not know when this changed.  There might have been some variations on a theme.  For instance the cockade below with M91 holes is 49.9mm. Obviously post 1897 so maybe not to specifications. [xxxvii]


The sealed sample on pg 50 of Krause[xxxviii] has only a double ringed Reich's cockade in 55mm. Based on page 50, if taken completely alone, I think you could postulate that post 1897 officer cockardes in 55mm only had two rings. However, even if that was the case "old style" single rings were probably carried over similar to US Army Mess Dress Uniforms. (I had an "old style" jacket I wore legally 20 years after new style were introduced.)  Therefore, to reinforce, I see no problem with a 55mm single ring officer's cockade post 1897. There is indeed a sealed sample of a double ringed 48mm large hole cockade clearly labeled Feldwebel.[xxxix]


Here is another example of "Old Style" use.

Pearl rings around non commissioned spike bases went out of fashion when the 1895 helmet came in. This 1914 picture shows a unit still using those "old style" helmets even though they had been replaced on paper.



Here is a "ring" from what I think is an issue Feldwebel helmet with private purchase wappen from Saxe Weimar Eisenach.


Note the raised ring on a 48mm cockade. Is this the Saxe-Weimar version of the NCO cockade?  What is also of interest is that this is the "old style" color pattern that went out in 1897 and screw post rosettes from an 1871 type helmet "Old style" 1897 cockade used on an M1891 helmet.



So what do we surmise?


1.      The term NCO cockade does not fit.

2.      Officer Cockades had a ring and were 55mm.

3.      Feldwebel cockades were 48mm and had a ring.

4.      There are 65 mm, 55mm and 48 mm samples with both kids of rings.

5.      Officer and Feldwebel cockardes had both big and small holes.

6.      The key question is: (drum roll please) ...Why did Feldwebel (Portapeeunteroffiziere) use a separate smaller cockade as shown by Probe cards when they were authorized an officer cockade?


There are still some lingering questions.


1.      What document officially changed the size of the OR cockade from 51mm to 48mm between 1887 and 1897?

2.      What official document put Portapeeunteroffiziere in 48mm cockades while still allowing them officer cockades?

3.      Where did rings fall out in the states that had rings but were not Prussian?  Ever seen a single ring Bremen?



[i] Bowman, J.A., The Pickelhaube, Volume 1 Imperial Publications, Lancaster England 1989. Pg 67-90.

[ii] Author’s archive.

[iii] Author’s archive.

[iv] Author’s archive

[v] with permission of owner.

[vi] Bekkleidungs-Vorshrift für Offizier und Sanitäts-Offiziere des Königlich

Preussichen Heers, Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1911, pg 86.

[vii] Bekleidungsordnung zweiter heft, Mittler und Sohn, Berlin 1903 pg 39.

iv, Lacarde, Jean-Louise, Casques a Pointe Volume 1, Uniformes, Paris, 1983.Pg  16

[ix] Sanders, Paul, Head Dress of Imperial Germany, 1880-1916, Schiffer Publishing, Atglen PA, 2001, pg 130-145.

[x] Ibid. pg 140-141.

[xi] Ruhl, Moritz, Die Uniformen der Deutschen Armee, Volume 2, Verlag von Moritz Ruhl,  Leipzig Germany. 1899, pg 10

[xii] B. Freidag, Führer durch Heer und Flotte, Verlag J Olmes, Krefeld 1914, pg 261.

[xiii] Bowman, J.A., The Pickelhaube, Volume 1 Imperial Publications, Lancaster England 1989. Pg 74.

[xiv] Robinson, J. P., The Problem of Conventional Wisdon,, 2004.

[xv] Op cit Ruhl

[xvi] Krinkel und Lange, Das Deutsche Reichsheer in seiner neuern Bekleidung und Ausfürung, Verlag von Max Hochlprung, Berlin, 1888 W/supplement 1892 pg. 19.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Kraus, Jürgen, The German Army in the Frist world war, Verlag Militair, Vienna, Austrian, 2004.

[xix] Ibid pg 50.

[xx] Ibid. pg 136.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Herr, Ulrich, Die deutsche Kokarde von 1897 und ihre Vorgeschichte, Zeitschrift for Heerskunde., 6 December 2004.

[xxiii] Author’s archive.

[xxiv] Krinkel und Lange, Das Deutsche Reichsheer in seiner neuern Bekleidung und Ausfürung, Verlag von Max Hochlprung, Berlin, 1888 W/supplement 1892 pg. 19.

[xxv] Menzels, Major, Dienstunterricht des Deutschen Infanteristen, Verlag von R. Eisenschmidt, Berlin, 1914-1915, pg 56.

[xxvi] Ibid pg 50.

[xxvii] With permission from the Jewison collection.

[xxviii] Siebolt and Schultz, Die Helm der Königlich Bayerischen Armee,Bayerischer Militär Verlag, Gröbenzell, 1999, pg 158.

[xxix] I would gladly put the pictures of the sealed cards in this article.  However, while the publisher is most willing the images belong to the Bavarian Army Museum and to date I can not get a copyright response from them.

[xxx] Used with permission of owner identity kept private by request.

[xxxi] ibid

[xxxii] Op cit Lacarde volume 1 pg 16.

[xxxiii] Bekleidungsordnung zweiter heft, Mittler und Sohn, Berlin 1903 pg 39.

[xxxiv] Kraus, , Jürgen, The German Army in the Frist world war, Verlag Militair, Vienna, Austrian, 2004, pg, 136.

[xxxv] Bowman, J.A., The Pickelhaube, Volume 1 Imperial Publications, Lancaster England 1989. Pg 71.


[xxxvi] Used with permission of owner identity kept private by request.


[xxxvii] Used with permission of owner identity kept private by request.


[xxxviii] Kraus, Jürgen, The German Army in the Frist world war, Verlag Militair, Vienna, Austrian, 2004, pg. 50


[xxxix] Herr, Ulrich, Die deutsche Kokarde von 1897 und ihre Vorgeschichte, Zeitschrift for Heerskunde., 6 December 2004.


[xl] Picture with permission the Kostel collection.

[xli] Author’s archive

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