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Gordon Williamson

Lettering and "Grammar" on the Kriegsmarine tally ribbon.

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Most collectors who have dabbled in the field of German Navy cap ribbons will be aware that there has been considerable disagreement over the years on the subject of the form of letter ?s? used in the Gothic script characters of the cap ribbons of the Kriegsmarine, and more specifically, whether the appearance of the Gothic rather than ?stroke? form of letter ?s? may at times be an indicator that the ribbon is a post-war copy.

The fact of the matter is, that the use of Gothic or Stroke type letter ?s? was not decided on the basis of mere manufacturers whim, but rather by strictly enforced rules of Grammar.

When the new West German Bundesmarine was formed, the use of Gothic script characters for ships cap ribbons was continued for a short period of time and ribbons from this period bear a strong resemblance to those of the Kriegsmarine. So much so that many are now passed off as wartime and some have even appeared as such in major reference works. Some of these bands, such as those for the Schiffsstammabteilungen, may well have been old wartime stock, but most of those for other units and individual vessels were newly made. Ribbons manufactured during this period did not adhere to the same rules of Grammar as did the wartime bands and the use of the Gothic style ?s? was almost universal. There are additional clues as to the post-war origins of some of these Gothic script bands lying in the nomenclature used. For instance there exist post-war Gothic script ribbons for numbered Schnellbootsgeschwader, whereas the Kriegsmarine S-Boats were organised into Flotillas, not Squadrons, hence the Kriegsmarine ribbon would read Schnellbootsflotille .

To return to the question of the form of letter ?s? used, the simple rule is that if the letter appears at the end of a word, or a syllable, the Gothic form is used.

This is complicated however by the German use of compound words. What may appear to the English reader to be an ?s? within the body of a word, may be at the end of a part of the composite word. Hence in Torpedobootsflotille, the ?s? is actually the final letter of the word ?Torpedoboots?. Indeed in the older Imperial ribbons many such compound words are split by a double hyphen, so that Torpedobootsflotille would appear Torpodeoboots=Flotille, showing that the ?s? is indeed at the end of a word.

An exception to the rule of the Gothic ?s? being used at the end of a syllable, is when the following syllable also begins with an ?s? or a ?p?, or if there has been an ?e? dropped. ( i.e. the word Unsere is often written with the first ?e? dropped, thus ? unsre,) in which case the Stroke rather than Gothic ?s? would be used. This exception only relates to parts of a syllable, not the components of a compound word, where a Gothic ?s? may precede a Stroke ?s?.


In all other instances, where the letter ?s? appears within a word, it is used in the Stroke form, thus Zerst?rer, Linienschiff, Panzerschiff. Schlachtschiff, Versuchsboot, Segelschulschiff, etc.

What confuses the matter even further is the fact that of course both forms of ?s? may appear in the same compound word, hence Unterseebootsflotille ( Unterseeboots=Flotille) uses the Stroke form of ?s? within the body of the word ?Unterseeboots? , but the Gothic form at the end.

It is assumed that when, post-war, ships tally ribbons were made up for crew associations, and the collector market, the firms responsible were those who also wove the early ribbons for the Bundesmarine and that they simply used the same letter forms for their replicas. This when such post-war made ribbons for the Scharnhorst, Graf Spee etc are encountered, they invariably use the Gothic ?s? throughout.

Hopefully this brief explanation of the Grammatical rules will help collectors avoid purchasing these post-war copies or early Bundesmarine tallies in the belief that they are original.

One last warning in relation to cap ribbons for the Scharnhorst. An excellent copy exists which is made from natural materials, being woven in cellulose type thread on a silk base, with no nylon or other ?give-away? materials used, and which uses the correct stroke type ?s?.

It is believed that such ribbons were made in the UK and were sold as souvenir copies at the historic cruiser and Battle of the North Cape veteran HMS Belfast in London, along with remade examples of the ?HMS Belfast? ribbon. These ribbons however, were cut in the same way as Royal Navy ribbons, much shorter than the German style, and with the text offset to one side rather than central. To disguise this fact, many were cut down to leave only a few inches of ribbon either side of the lettering and in this form are very hard to detect. Collectors should therefore be wary of any Scharnhorst ribbons which use the Gothic ?s? or which use the correct Stroke type ?s? but have been cut down.

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To help visualize this issue, I have attached the following.

Edited by John Robinson

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Supurb work Gordon, wish I had this info some years ago when I was trying to collect the darned things and gave up in the end, have a modest collection of Luftwaffe stuff now, but do regret letting the KM stuff go.

Thanks too, for that chart John, very handy.

Best wishes


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