Stormtroopers and Sturmtruppen: How German History Inspired Props of the Star Wars Galactic Empire
Attention recruits! In order to prepare you for maintaining order throughout our great empireand to hunt down the rebel scum, The Emperor has released important Imperial files which detail the design and inspiration of our armor and weaponry. This should give you an overview which ranges from the armor of Lord Vader himself to the side arms of our navy and even of our enemies. The bulk of the transmission will focus on the inspiration for the pride of our ground forces; the Imperial Stormtrooper. These files were classified as they originate from the planet Earth in the Milky Way Galaxy which was long a bastion of Star Fleet and protected by the cruiser USS Enterprise. However since our destruction of the Federation forces and the pacification of that system the files have been declassified and will explain to you the roots of our military. It seems that while many people are aware of the role a section of the planet Earth called “England” played in our formation, some are unaware of the gigantic contribution from a section referred to as “Germany”. These files should leave you with an appreciation of the history of this region and how it relates to us. Long live the Empire!
For the creation of the personalities and characteristics of the Emperor and Vader a plethora of sources were utilized and merged. In the case of Emperor Palpatine, snips from Stalin, Hitler, Augustus Caesar, Iago and even Abraham Lincoln were merged to create the astute and scheming politician who would become the supreme ruler of the galaxy and the ultimate expression of the dark side. Both the Imperial (1871-1918) and the Nazi (1933-1945) eras of German history made large contributions to the creation of the most memorable military in the history of science fiction. Right off the bat it is interesting to note the three main colors of the Empire are black, white, and red; the three colors which formed the tricolor flag of the German Empire (which inspired the color choice of Nazi regalia as well).
Inspired by Germany in World War II, George Lucas wanted the Empire to resemble the Third Reich and Soviet Russia and worked in parallels in several areas. The grand formations of troops when the Emperor arrives on the second Death Star are reminiscent of the military rallies of the 1930’s and 40’s. In addition, perhaps the most famous battle in the original trilogy was named for a German general. General Hermann Hoth was one of the German Army’s senior Panzer commanders; participating in notable battles such as the invasions of France and Poland as well as Kursk. In keeping with his record as a great tank commander, the Ice planet on which the Imperial AT-AT walkers crush the Rebels was named Hoth after him. Lucas also adapted several weapons of the Wehrmacht to serve as special Stormtrooper weapons. The MG 15 would become a weapon of the Sandtroopers and the MG 34 would become the DLT-19 heavy blaster seen in Episode IV being carried by Stormtroopers on the Death Star as well as the basis for the E-11 sniper rifle given to the Scout Troopers in the expanded universe. German weaponry in the First World War also made a significant appearance in the galaxy far far away.
One of the most famous weapons of Star Wars is Han Solo’s DL-44 blaster pistol which served as his trusty sidearm throughout the original trilogy. The actual DL-44 prop was derived from one of the most famous handguns of all time; the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle”. The C96 (model of 1896) together with the Gewehr 98 and K98 rifles are the most famous productions of the legendaryMauser brothers. The C96 was produced in .30 Mauser caliber and featured a 10 round internal magazine which was fed by a stripper clip. Mauser exported many of these guns all over the world and the proved to be immensely popular; both Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence carried the C96. Nicknamed the “Broomhandle” due to its round grip, The German government ordered over 150,000 units in 9mm during the First World War to supplement the stocks of aging Reichs Revolvers and the excellent but slow to produce official sidearm, the automatic P08 “Luger”.
While German weaponry served as a crucial part of the prop making process, there are two notable exceptions that should be mentioned. Our great ally and enforcer Boba Fett carries the EE-3 blaster in different models in the Empire Strikes Back andReturn of the Jedi. Both of these are derived from the Webley Mk. I flare gun issued to WWI British air base personnel. The other British contribution to our arsenal is the standard weapon of the Stormtrooper; the Bastech E-11. The E-11 was constructed by taking a British Sterling SMG and adding a scope and rail, ammo counter, and barrel details which varied episode to episode.
In addition to their weapons, the personnel of the Galactic Empire became instantly recognizable due to their iconic helmets. Darth Vader, who practically became the face of the Empire with his distinctive mask, owed the design of his helmet to both imperial and medieval German helmet design. In addition the Imperial Death Star/Navy troopers and the Imperial gunners who man the Death Star’s super laser and turbolaser turrets where also inspired by the German school of helmet design. The three Star Wars helmets in the picture all exhibit the flared skirt which is a classic feature on German helmets. The Death Star Trooper and the gunner helmets where derived from the sallet; a 15th century helmet pioneered by German armorers and an expression of the German High Gothic school of armor.
The sallet came in many forms which varied considerable in the length of the skirt and decoration but all stayed true to the same basic form. Some sallets, such as the one in the bottom right of the picture, were equipped with a visor which could be raised to allow greater vision when not in combat while some had an open face and where typically less ornate and were generally issued to foot soldiers (like the Death Star Troopers). Next note how the form of Vader’s helmet is similar to the WWI M1916 German combat helmet (bottom left) which was itself designed by analyzing the medieval sallets to come up with a design which afforded optimum protection.
Uniforms of the Galactic Empire were also inspired by Imperial German uniforms. The most notable example is the Imperial Officer. These commanders of the Emperor’s fleet wear a tunic inspired by the German Empire’s Uhlans, or lancers. This tunic,called a uhlanka, was worn most famously by Manfred von Richthofen aka the Red Baron as he was originally commissioned in Uhlan Regiment Nr. 1 before transferring to the air service. Both tunics visibly show the false double front with the Star Wars officer (Moff Jerjerrod from Return of the Jedi) being simplified and given a more futuristic look.
The final topic of this file is the inspiration for the Imperial Stormtrooper. Many have noted that there may be a connection between the Imperial Stormtrooper and Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA) who were his paramilitary thugs and predecessors to the SS. The SA were a force to be reckoned with during the rise of the Nazi party; even rivalling the regular army until there leadership were liquidated during the night of the long knives by their rivals and successors the SS. However the history of the SA and the characteristics of the Stormtroopers aren’t especially similar. The attributes of the Stormtroopers as elite assault troops and exceptionally loyal and competent front line soldiers, as well as the name itself, better fits with Sturmtruppen (perhaps most correctly translated as “assault troopers” but literally translated “stormtroopers” of the Imperial German army in the First World War.
The word and even the concept of “Stormtrooper” comes from the assault tactics developed by the German Army in the First World War to break the stalemate of trench warfare. The German army began experimenting in 1915 with new assault tactics by creating a unit of men drawn from pioneer battalions 3, 10, and 18 supported by light artillery equipped with shields. Commanded by Major Caslow, the initial battalion was misused in combat and not particularly successful. The detachment was reformed and command was given to Captain Rohr of the Guards Rifle battalion whose philosophy was to incorporate troops from all branches of the service into the Stormtroopers and to have them work in concert with the regular infantry. The detachment was equipped with machine guns, mortars, new artillery, and flamethrowers.
The first battle in which the new Stormtrooper battalion was involved was a huge success; the Stormtroopers managed to overrun the Allied positions while only suffering four killed themselves. The new tactics were recognized by the high command but correct implementation proved to be a learning process. The original detachment became Sturmbatallione Nr. 5 and was christened Rohr in honor of its commander. The battalion suffered failures as well as success while the Germans sought to perfect their tactics. Using the Stormtroopers defensively proved to negate their shock advantage and it proved essential to train the regular infantry in assault tactics so that they could effectively cooperate with and support the Stormtroopers.
General Ludendorff, who together with Field Marshal Hindenburg and Colonel Hoffman had been the architects of the German victory against the Russians, was so impressed by SB Nr. 5 that he ordered that each German army on the Western Front form an assault detachment. SB Nr. 5 would serve as a training unit who would train new Stormtrooper units in the assault tactics as well as an elite frontline unit. Stormtroopers would be heavily involved in the great offensive of 1918 as the first wave of the German assault. The Stormtroopers made huge initial gains supported by the regular infantry. Ultimately the offensive was halted as the Germans ran out of reserves, supplies, and had been severely weakened by the 1918 influenza epidemic. The Stormtroopers of the German Empire would go down in history as the pioneers of assault tactics (including the infamous “Blitzkrieg”) and as some of the most respected troops of the First World War.
The similarities between the historical Stormtroopers and the Star Wars Stormtroopers are considerable. Besides taking the literal English translation of the German “sturmtruppen” as the name for his fictional army, both share the position of being the elite assault troops of their respective armies. The preferred weapon of the German troopers was the carbine, short submachine guns, and grenades; with the main weapon of the Star Wars troopers carrying short submachine guns and being equipped with a thermal detonator (a grenade equivalent) on their belts. Both were loyal and iconic of the leaders they served. Both used armor; with the German troops using steel helmets and shields for artillery and machine gunners and the other utilizing full body armor. It is also interesting that for the video game The Force Unleashed, a Stormtrooper derivative was invented which would wield a flamethrower. These soldiers were dubbed “Incinerator Troopers” and were described as a distinct Stormtrooper unit. While there may or may not be a conscious parallel, the incinerator troopers are remarkable similar to the German Stormtroopers dedicated to wielding the flamethrower; the Guard Reserve Pioneers.
By Red Baron