KINGDOM OF PRUSSIA
COLORS OF INFANTRY REGIMENTS • 1740-1815
King Frederick II—known to history as Frederick the Great—ascended the throne of Prussia in 1740. Shortly thereafter he began to issue colors of a new pattern to the line infantry regiments of the Prussian Army.
The Prussian line infantry consisted of musketeer regiments, fusilier regiments and standing grenadier battalions. By the time of the Seven Years War these distinctions were purely traditional, though the different units could be distinguished by their headgear. Musketeers wore hats, fusiliers wore short brass-fronted mitre caps and grenadiers wore tall brass-fronted mitre caps. A regiment counted two battalions, each with five companies: four of musketeers or fusiliers and one of grenadiers. In wartime, the grenadier companies were usually detached from their parent regiments and formed into composite grenadier battalions four companies strong. These were temporary units. The standing grenadier battalions were permanent organizations, raised before the Seven Years War. For the most part they consisted of of grenadier companies taken from garrison regiments. Only the musketeer and fusilier regiments, the Grenadier Garde Batallion and the Leibgarde battalions carried colors. Unusually, these Guard battalions ranked with the line regiments for seniority purposes. For example, the Grenadier Guard Battalion was numbered sixth in order of seniority.
Under Frederick's new regulations, each regiment received ten flags: five per battalion. The first company of the first battalion carried the king's color or Leibfahne, while the other nine companies carried a Regimentsfahne. (Detached grenadier companies did not take their Regimentsfahne with them; it remained at the regimental depot.) The Leibfahne had a white field and the Regimentsfahne had a field in the distinguishing color of the regiment. In the center of both colors was a circular tablet bearing the crowned Prussian eagle under a scroll inscribed Pro Gloria et Patria (For Glory and Fatherland), all within a wreath surmounted by the royal crown. To provide more variety, straight or wavy "rays," sometimes of a second distinguishing color, were used on some colors. The corners were decorated with crowned royal cyphers (FR for Fridericus Rex) The colors of the wreath, crown and cyphers could be either gold or silver. Prussian infantry colors measured 140 centimeters square. Cords and tassels were silver and black. The colors were made of silk, with insignia painted on. The Guard battalions carried colors of a slightly different pattern. Those of the Grenadier Guard Battalion (Nr. 6) continued to display the cypher of its founder, King Frederick William I The colors of the Von Kreytzen Fusiliers (Nr. 40) had the collar of the Order of the Black Eagle in place of the wreath.
The Prussian Army included a number of second-line infantry regiments that served to garrison towns and fortifications. They were not intended for field service and so received no colors, but as the Seven Years War (1756-63) wore on lack of men forced Frederick to employ these garrison regiments as regular infantry. Accordingly they were granted colors. Garrison Regiments Nr. 1 and Nr. 2 received colors of the normal infantry pattern, but for the rest a new design was introduced, with just the royal cypher within the wreath.
In the autumn of 1756 Frederic took Prussia into the Seven Years War by invading the Electorate of Saxony, an Austrian ally. The Saxon Army was quickly forced to capitulate and in a move that provoked widespread protest ten Saxon infantry regiments were forcibly incorporated into the Prussian Army. They received Prussian commanders, uniforms and colors, being styled as fusilier regiments ranked 50-59 in seniority. Their grenadier companies were detached to form five composite grenadier battalions, each four companies strong. As might have been expected the former Saxon regiments proved unreliable. Both battalions of the Herzog von Braunschweig-Bevern Fusilier Regiment (Nr. 57) mutinied in early 1757, most of their troops crossing the border into neutral Poland. The other regiments and battalions had a high desertion rate and by the end of 1757 all but three (two fusilier regiments, one grenadier battalion) had been disbanded.
The colors of the line infantry regiments remained virtually unchanged from 1742 until catastrophic defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1806 all but destroyed the once-proud Prussian Army. When new flags were issued to the reconstituted army beginning in 1811-12, their design was based on the Frederician pattern, but with a number of modifications.
Credits: These drawings are based on images and information from Napflags, the outstanding Napoleonic flags site of Alan Pendlebury, and from Ian Croxall's excellent Warflag site. For each regiment, the Leibfahne is shown on the left and the Regimentsfahne on the right.
Note on Nomenclature: During the Seven Years War, regiments took the name of their colonel-in-chief or owner (Inhaber). This was usually a member of the Prussian royal house, a member of some other princely German house or a Prussian noble, actual command of the regiment in the field often being entrusted to a lieutenant-colonel. The numbers given, indicating seniority in the line, did not become a formal part of the regimental title until the 1780s. In Frederick's day, therefore, an infantry regiment would be titled, for example, Füsilier-Regiment Prinz Heinrich von Preußen. The names given are those of the regimental Inhabernen at the beginning of the Seven Years War.
Note on the Music: The stately Hohenfriedberger Marsch (Army March Nr. 1) was composed by Frederick the Great to commemorate Prussia's victory over Austria in the Battle of Hohenfriedberg (1745). It is performed on this page by the German Air Force Band.
SEVEN YEARS WAR