GERMAN EMPIRE
 


 
NAVAL ENSIGNS & FLAGS  •  1871-1918
 

With the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871, the existing flag of the North German Confederation—a horizontal tricolor of black, white and red—became the national flag of a united Germany. Black, white and red are said to have been selected by Bismarck in 1867 because by combining the colors of Prussia (black-white) and Brandenburg (red-white), they flattered the dynastic sensibilities of King William I of Prussia, a man by no means convinced of the advisability of German unification. (William was a Prussian patriot who feared that his kingdom and crown would be swallowed up by Bismarck's united Germany).

Also taken over from the North German Confederation were its war ensign, naval jack and commissioning pennant. The former was modified twice: first to change the artistic rendition of the eagle, and then to widen the large cross and add a thick ring around the central disk. Surprisingly, however, the original Prussian eagle was never replaced with the eagle from the new imperial arms. Except for minor modifications of the size of the cross, the jack remained unchanged from 1871 to 1919. The commissioning pennant remained unchanged as well, and in fact is still in use nowadays by the German Navy.

From 1871 to 1893, naval auxiliary vessels flew the war ensign with a blue anchor added below the canton. Thereafter they flew a variant of the black-white-red national flag with an imperial crown over an anchor, both gold, on a white disk. Also adopted in 1893 was an ensign for merchant ships commanded by naval reserve officers: a black-white-red national flag with a large Iron Cross at the hoist.

Capital ships named after constituent states or provinces of the Reich often flew the flag of state or province as a masthead flag. The battleship Preußen, for instance, flew the former Prussian war ensign.

All these flags were abolished in the aftermath of World War I, the Weimar Republic's 1921 flag decree constituting their official death sentence. However, the black-white-red flag and the Imperial war ensign remained popular with right-wing groups such as the Freikorps. In 1933, the new Nazi government restored the black-white-red national flag and adopted the Imperial jack as Germany's war ensign.

The command and rank flags of the Kaiserlichen Marine (Imperial German Navy) were based on the design of the Prussian admiral's flag of the 1860s: white with a black Iron Cross. In the Prussian Navy, and in the early years of the Imperial German Navy, the same flag was used by all admirals, exact rank being determined by the mast from which it was flown. The shift from sail and wood to steam and steel eventually rendered this system impracticable, so as in other navies additional rank flags were introduced. The basic system followed British practice, with more flags being added as the Navy expanded. There were originally three flag ranks: Admiral, Vice-Admiral and Rear-Admiral. A full Admiral in command of the Navy flew his rank flag with the addition of an imperial crown at the intersection of the cross. When the rank of Grand Admiral (equivalent to Field Marshal in the Army) was created, another rank flag was introduced, with crossed batons and crown over the cross. There were also flags for the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office, the Inspector General of the Navy, and the Chief of the Naval Staff. The latter flag added one or two black roundels if the Chief was a Vice-Admiral or a Rear-Admiral.

Some of these flags were abolished after World War I, but the five lower naval rank flags continued in service with the Reichmarine, as the Navy was called during the Weimar era.

Nomenclature: The war ensign was first known as the "War Flag," then as the "Imperial War Flag," and finally as the "Reich War Flag." In 1892 a decree permitted it to be flown at Army installations. The naval auxiliary/government ensign was called the "Reich Authorities Flag." The naval reserve ensign was called the "Merchant Flag with Iron Cross" The commissioning pennant was called the "War Pennant."

Flag Proportions: The war ensign, jack, naval reserve ensign and first naval auxiliary ensign were made in 3:5 proportions. The second naval auxiliary ensign (which also served as the government ensign) was made in 2:3 proportions. Naval command and rank flags (excluding pennants) were made square.
 



 

WAR ENSIGN  •  Kriegsflagge  •  1871-92

 

WAR ENSIGN  •  Kaiserliche Kriegsflagge  •  1892-1903

 

WAR ENSIGN  •  Reichkriegsflagge  •  1903-1919

 

NAVAL JACK  •  Kriegsschiffgösch  •  1871-1919

 

COMMISSIONING PENNANT  •  Kreigswimpel  •  1871-1919

 

 NAVAL AUXILIARY ENSIGN  •  Reichdienstflagge  •  1871-93

 

 NAVAL AUXILIARY ENSIGN  •  Reichdienstflagge  •  1893-1922

                                  
 


NAVAL RESERVE ENSIGN  •  Handelsflagge mit Eisernem Kreuz  •  1893-1918

 

APPOINTMENT FLAGS

 

STATE SECRETARY OF THE IMPERIAL NAVY OFFICE

 

INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF THE NAVY

 

CHIEF OF THE NAVAL STAFF

 

RANK FLAGS

 

GRAND ADMIRAL  •  Großadmiral

 

ADMIRAL COMMANDING THE NAVY

 

ADMIRAL  •  Admiral

 

VICE-ADMIRAL  •  Vizeadmiral

 

 REAR-ADMIRAL  •  Konteradmiral

 

COMMAND PENNANTS

 

COMMODORE  •  Kommodore

 

FLOTILLA COMMANDER
 

 

OFFICER IN TEMPORARY COMMAND  • SENIOR OFFICER
 



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