The Info List - Totenkopf

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(i.e. skull, literally dead's head) is the German word for the skull and crossbones and death's head symbols. The Totenkopf symbol is an old international symbol for death, the defiance of death, danger, or the dead, as well as piracy. It consists usually of the human skull with or without the mandible and often includes two crossed long-bones (femurs), most often depicted with the crossbones being behind some part of the skull. It is commonly associated with 19th- and 20th-century German military use.


1 Etymology 2 German military

2.1 Prussia 2.2 Brunswick 2.3 German Empire 2.4 Weimar Republic 2.5 Third Reich

3 Non-German military 4 Commercial 5 Other uses 6 See also 7 Bibliography 8 References

Etymology[edit] Toten-Kopf translates literally to "dead's head", meaning exactly "dead person's head". Semantically, it refers to a skull, literally a Schädel. As a term, Totenkopf
connotes the human skull as a symbol, typically one with crossed thigh bones as part of a grouping. Contemporary German language
German language
meaning of the word Totenkopf
has not changed for at least two centuries. For example, the German poet Clemens Brentano
Clemens Brentano
(b. 1778 – d. 1842) wrote in the story "Baron Hüpfenstich": "Lauter Totenbeine und Totenköpfe, die standen oben herum ..."[1] (i.e. "A lot of bones and skulls, they were placed above ..."). The common translation of "Totenkopf" as death's head is incorrect; it would be Todeskopf, but no such word is in use. The English term death squad is called Todesschwadron, not Totenschwadron. It would be a logical fallacy to conclude that usage varies only because of the German naming of the Death's-head Hawkmoth, which is called Skull Hawkmoth (Totenkopfschwärmer) in German, in the same way that it would be a fallacy to conclude that the German word Nachtkerze (i.e. night candle) would mean Willowherb, just because the Willowherb Hawkmoth (Proserpinus proserpina) is called Night Candle Hawkmoth (Nachtkerzenschwärmer, Proserpinus proserpina) in German.[citation needed] German military[edit] Prussia[edit]

from Husaren-Regiment Nr.5 (von Ruesch) in 1744 with the Totenkopf
on the mirliton (Ger. Flügelmütze)

Use of the Totenkopf
as a military emblem began under Frederick the Great, who formed a regiment of Hussar
cavalry in the Prussian army commanded by Colonel von Ruesch, the Husaren-Regiment Nr. 5 (von Ruesch). It adopted a black uniform with a Totenkopf
emblazoned on the front of its mirlitons and wore it on the field in the War of Austrian Succession and in the Seven Years' War.[2] The Totenkopf
remained a part of the uniform when the regiment was reformed into Leib-Husaren Regiments Nr.1 and Nr.2 in 1808.[3] Brunswick[edit]

badge worn by the Brunswick Leibbataillon ("Life-Guard Battalion") at the Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo
in 1815.

In 1809 during the War of the Fifth Coalition, Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel raised a force of volunteers to fight Napoleon Bonaparte, who had conquered the Duke's lands. The Brunswick corps was provided with black uniforms, giving rise to their nickname, the Black Brunswickers. Both hussar cavalry and infantry in the force wore a Totenkopf
badge, either in mourning for the duke's father, Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who had been killed at the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt
Battle of Jena–Auerstedt
in 1806, or according to some sources, as a sign of revenge against the French. After fighting their way through Germany, the Black Brunswickers
Black Brunswickers
entered British service and fought with them in the Peninsular War
Peninsular War
and at the Battle of Waterloo. The Brunswick corps was eventually incorporated into the Prussian Army in 1866.[4] German Empire[edit] The skull continued to be used by the Prussian and Brunswick armed forces until 1918, and some of the stormtroopers that led the last German offensives on the Western Front in 1918 used skull badges.[5] Luftstreitkräfte
fighter pilots Georg von Hantelmann[6] and Kurt Adolf Monnington[7] are just two of a number of Central Powers military pilots who used the Totenkopf
as their personal aircraft insignia. Weimar Republic[edit]

A Garford-Putilov Armoured Car
Garford-Putilov Armoured Car
used by the Freikorps
in 1919, with a Totenkopf
painted on the side.

The Totenkopf
was used in Germany throughout the inter-war period, most prominently by the Freikorps. In 1933, it was in use by the regimental staff and the 1st, 5th, and 11th squadrons of the Reichswehr's 5th Cavalry Regiment as a continuation of a tradition from the Kaiserreich. Third Reich[edit] In the early days of the NSDAP, Julius Schreck, the leader of the Stabswache (Adolf Hitler's bodyguard unit), resurrected the use of the Totenkopf
as the unit's insignia. This unit grew into the Schutzstaffel
(SS), which continued to use the Totenkopf
as insignia throughout its history. According to a writing by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
the Totenkopf
had the following meaning:

The Skull is the reminder that you shall always be willing to put your self at stake for the life of the whole community.[8]

The Totenkopf
was also used as the unit insignia of the Panzer forces of the German Heer (Army), and also by the Panzer units of the Luftwaffe, including those of the elite Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring.[9] Both the 3rd SS Panzer Division of the Waffen-SS, and the World War II era Luftwaffe's 54th Bomber Wing Kampfgeschwader 54
Kampfgeschwader 54
were given the unit name "Totenkopf", and used a strikingly similar-looking graphic skull-crossbones insignia as the SS units of the same name. The 3rd SS Panzer Division also had skull patches on their uniform collars instead of the SS sieg rune.

The first version of the SS-Totenkopf; used from 1923 to 1934

The second version of the SS-Totenkopf; used from 1934 to 1945

Junkers Ju 88 of Kampfgeschwader 54
Kampfgeschwader 54
(KG 54) in France, November 1940

German Panzer totenkopf

Non-German military[edit]

Swedish hussar in 1761

Australian commandos
Australian commandos
in New Guinea, 1945

A skull and crossbones has often been a symbol of pirates, especially in the form of the Jolly Roger, but usually having the crossbones beneath the skull rather than behind it, as used by pirate Samuel Bellamy in one example. The uniform of the Spanish Army's Lusitania Dragoon Regiment during part of the 18th century included three skull and crossbones in the cuffs,[10] and in 1902 the skull and crossbones insignia was authorized again to replace the regiment number on the sides of the collar.[11] The British Army's Royal Lancers
Royal Lancers
continue to use the skull and crossbones in their emblem, inherited from its use by the 17th Lancers, a unit raised in 1759 following General Wolfe's death in Quebec. The emblem contains an image of a death's head, and the words 'Or Glory', chosen in commemoration of Wolfe.[12] In 1792, a regiment of Hussards de la mort (Death Hussars) was formed to defend the young French Republic
French Republic
from the Austrian attempt to invade France.[13] Although not exactly a Totenkopf
per se, the Chilean guerrilla leader Manuel Rodríguez used the symbol on his elite forces called "Husares de la muerte" (" Hussars
of death"). It is still used by the Chilean Army's 3rd Cavalry Regiment. The primarily Prussian 41st Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry, Mustered in: June 6, 1861-Mustered out: December 9, 1865 wore a skull insignia.[14] The Vengeurs de la Mort («death avengers»), an irregular unit of Commune de Paris, 1871[15]. The Portuguese Army Police 2nd Lancers Regiment use a skull-and-crossbones image in their emblem, similar to the one used by the Queen's Royal Lancers. The Kingdom of Sweden's Hussar
Regiments wore a death's head emblem in the Prussian Style on the front of the mirleton. Ramón Cabrera's regiment adopted in 1838 a skull with crossbones flanked by an olive branch and a sword on a black flag during the Spanish Carlist Wars. Serbian Chetniks
wore a death's head emblem in several conflicts: guerrilla in Old Serbia, First and Second Balkan Wars, World War I (both defense and resistance) and World War II. The Italian elite storm-troopers of the Arditi
used a skull with a dagger between its teeth as a symbol during World War 1. Various versions of skulls were also later used by the Italian Fascists. The White Russian Kornilov regiment adopted a death's head emblem in 1917. The Estonian Kuperjanov's Partisan Battalion
Kuperjanov's Partisan Battalion
used the skull-and-crossbones as their insignia (since 1918); the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion continues to use the skull and crossbones as their insignia today. Two Polish small cavalry units used death's head emblem during Polish–Ukrainian War
Polish–Ukrainian War
and Polish–Soviet War
Polish–Soviet War
- Dywizjon Jazdy Ochotniczej (also known as Huzarów Śmierci i.e. Death Hussars) and Poznański Ochotniczy Batalion Śmierci. During 1943-1945 the Italian Black Brigades
Black Brigades
and numerous other forces fighting for the Italian Social Republic, wore various versions of skulls on their uniforms, berets, and caps. The United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Battalions
United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Battalions
use the skull-and-crossbones symbol in their emblem. The No. 100 Squadron RAF
No. 100 Squadron RAF
(Royal Air Force) continue to use a flag depicting a skull and crossbones supposedly in reference to a flag stolen from a French brothel in 1918. The Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, a special unit within the military police of Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, uses the skull emblem to differentiate their team from the regular units. South Korea's 3rd Infantry Division (백골부대) have a skull-and-crossbones in their emblem.[citation needed] Many United States Cavalry
United States Cavalry
reconnaissance troops or squadrons utilize a skull insignia, often wearing the traditional Stetson hat, and backed by either crossed cavalry sabers, crossed rifles, or some other variation, as an unofficial unit logo. These logos are incorporated into troop T-shirts, challenge coins, or other items designed to enhance morale and esprit de corps. Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
under Nestor Makhno
Nestor Makhno
used Totenkopf
insigna on its flags.

A French Hussard de la mort (1792)

Spanish Carlist flag (1838)

Cap badge of the British 17th Lancers.

Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria
Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria
wearing the Spanish Lusitania's Regiment uniform (1914)

The "death's head" was the insignia of Polish Death Hussar
Divisions, 1920 (Polish–Soviet War)

Stylized Totenkopf
on shoulder sleeve insignia of the United States Air Force 400th Missile Squadron
400th Missile Squadron
uniform sometime between 1995 and 2005

Makhno's flag (1918)


Craft International
Craft International
logo, military training company founded by Chris Kyle[16][17] Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse, a major enemy in the Wolfenstein (series)

Other uses[edit] In the United States, the skull & crossbones symbol has often been used to indicate a poisonous substance. See also[edit]

3rd SS Division Totenkopf Fascist symbolism Human skull
Human skull
symbolism Kampfgeschwader 54 Jolly Roger Kuperjanov Battalion Memento Mori Skull and Bones SS-Totenkopfverbände


Klaus D. Patzwall: Der SS-Totenkopfring. 5th edition: Patzwall, Melbeck 2010, ISBN 978-3-931533-07-6. Joost Hølscher (Author, Illustrator): Death's Head, The History of the Military Skull & Crossbones Badge (The History of Uniform). 1st edition: Éditions Chamerelle 2013, ISBN 978-90-820326-0-4


^ Clemens Brentano: Baron Hüpfenstich - Chapter 2 (Projekt Gutenberg-DE) ^ Reid, Stuart (2010). Frederick the Great’s Allies 1756–63. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1849081771.  ^ Nash, David (1972). The Prussian Army, 1808-1815. Almark Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 978-0855240752.  ^ Osprey Publishing - The Black Brunswickers ^ First World War - Willmott, H. P.; Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 252 ^ Georg von Hantelmann & Kurt Wüsthoff's Fokker D.VII, Jasta 15 ^ van Wyngarden, Greg (2011). Osprey Elite Aviation Units #40: Jasta 18 - The Red Noses. Oxford UK: Osprey Publishing. pp. 85–86, 97. ISBN 978-1-84908-335-5.  ^ Heinrich Himmler: "Der Totenkopf
ist die Mahnung, jederzeit bereit zu sein, das Leben unseres Ichs einzusetzen für das Leben der Gesamtheit." ^ Angolia, John R., and Adolf Schlicht, Uniforms and Traditions of the Luftwaffe
Volume 2, R. James Bender Publishing, San Jose, CA, 1997. ISBN 0-912138-71-8. ^ María de Sotto, Serafín (1856). Historia orgánica de las armas de Infantería y Caballería españolas (in Spanish). 16. p. 10.  ^ Colección legislativa del Ejército (in Spanish). 1902. pp. 390–391.  ^ QRL Regimental Association ^ (in French) http://pagesperso-orange.fr/minismodels/figurines/hussards_de_la_mort/hussards_de_la_mort.htm ^ "New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center - Welcome".  ^ Draner. "1870-1871. Guerre et Commune. Gardes nationaux volontaires, gardes mobiles..." BNF Gallica (in French). p. 20.  ^ http://www.thecraft.com/craft_skull.html ^ "craft internationallogo - Goo