As in most of the world's militaries, rendering honours was a complex subject in the German Army. A soldier in uniform was taught from early on to pay respects to appropriate persons and objects, whether he was on the parade square or off duty altogether.
When in uniform, a German soldier was required to pay compliments to:
"Superiors" were defined as such:
In the Old Army, officers were addressed only in the third person by subordinates (i.e. "Herr Major is correct.") Under National Socialism, in which all men were supposed to be equal, direct forms of address were first optional, then compulsory. (The Waffen- SS even went a step further - while in the Army, all superiors are addressed by the word "Herr" followed by their rank title, in the SS, the word "Herr" was dispensed with entirely.)
One wartime Canadian Army training pamphlet also had this to say: "The solidarity of all rank is exemplified in the German use of the military salute. The basic principle that the salute is a military greeting exchanged by brothers in arms is made real by the requirement that it be exchanged between all individuals in the military service. Thus the salute has ceased to be a caste symbol associated in the soldier's mind with the officer corps."
There were three methods of rendering honours:
There were three different types of salute as well:
The various circumstances in which the need to render honours arose could be varied and complex. In general, when a soldier was in uniform and wearing his headdress, the hand salute was given when, for example, walking past a superior. If a group of soldiers was together, the first person seeing the superior was expected to warn the others, so that all could salute. Every member of street patrols and other groups not in military formation were expected to salute individually. Normal walking pace was continued, and the salute was rendered 6 paces from the person/object receiving the salute, and held until 2 paces past.
If in civilian clothes, the German greeting was used instead of the hand salute.
If a German soldier was carrying something in his hands, he was not expected to salute, but was expected to pass a superior at attention, or if stationary, to stand at attention until the superior had passed him.
When a German soldier reported to a superior in an enclosed space such as an office, the German Greeting was executed, and the superior in this case was not expected to return it; therefore the salute was done very quickly. As well, the man reporting was expected to remove his cap and hold it in the left hand, with the inside of the cap facing his left leg, and the cap's insignia facing to the front. When the soldier was dismissed, he repeated the salute, followed by a crisp about-face and exit.
When a superior entered a room or classroom in which soldiers were present, the first soldier to see him called the room to attention (with the call "Achtung") If the superior was a NCO in the soldiers' company, battery or squadron, the senior soldier was expected to report the room - ie "Room 21, occupied with 2 Gefreiten and 7 Schützen. Two men on leave, one in hospital."
When part of a formed unit, only the commander was expected to render a hand salute to superiors. If the formation was on the march, the unit would be ordered to Parade Step (goose step) and an eyes left or right would be given.
Other units not formed, such as a work detail, were expected to continue working when a superior came along; the commander of the party still saluted in the appropriate manner.
In all cases, if a soldier was engaged in work he was not expected to stop and salute, especially if doing so would place himself or others in danger, or adversely affect their duty.
Armed sentries, regardless of the type of weapon they carried, did not render hand salutes, but instead came to attention and did an eyes right or eyes left. If an armed soldier was on the march, but not as part of a formation, he saluted by facing the person or object, but did not salute. If his weapon was slung across his back, his hands remained at his side, if slung over the right shoulder, his right hand rested on the sling at the level of the breast pocket.
When seated in a vehicle, or if mounted on horse, bicycle or motorcycle, honours were paid by coming to attention and facing the superior or object. Officers would perform a hand salute if doing so was safe. Vehicle drivers never saluted; co-drivers or vehicle commanders did, however. The seated salute was rare and generally used only when circumstances did not permit standing (such as a crowded restaurant.)
A final note - while in the Commonwealth and US militaries, it is customary for soldiers to greet their superiors, in the German Army it was the opposite. A superior decided whether or not he would greet his subordinate. The typical greeting was "Heil" or "Heil" followed by the rank. Since the soldier was a subordinate, the word "Herr" was not required, ie "Heil, Unteroffizier." The junior was expected to respond with "Heil, Herr" followed by the rank. It was also possible for the superior to substitute "Hitler" for the junior's rank, in which case the response was always "Heil Hitler." If the superior was actually Hitler, the response was "Heil, mein Führer."