Though the Prussian Navy (Preußische Marine) was always secondary in importance to the Army, Prussia had maintained a naval force since the time of the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The Elector Frederick William (known as the Great Elector; reigned 1640-88) took a great interest in maritime affairs, acquiring overseas colonies and building up a seagoing navy of modest size. But his successors judged that Brandenburg-Prussia could never compete with naval powers like Sweden, Denmark and, eventually, Russia. It was the Army that backed the policy and maintained the security of the state, and to the Army went most of the men and money. After the Great Elector's death the Navy languished and the overseas colonies were sold to the Dutch. During his wars Frederick the Great maintained a makeshift naval flotilla but it was not until 1816 that a fresh attempt was made to build up a real navy. At first the emphasis was on coastal defense but gradually seagoing frigates and corvettes were added. Prussia's first steam-driven warship, the paddle frigate SMS Danzig, was commissioned in 1851 and by 1865 the fleet included a number of steam-driven ironclads. The father of the revived Prussian Navy was Prince Adalbert of Prussia, who recognized the value of naval power in support of Prussia's maritime trade. In 1867 the Preußische Marine was merged into the Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, the Federal Navy of the Prussian-dominated North German Confederation.

The Prussian war ensign approved by the King in 1816 was white with an Iron Cross in the upper hoist and a large black Prussian eagle offset toward the fly. There were complaints as to the appearance of this eagle, which did not conform to the heraldic description of the Prussian royal arms. In 1819, therefore, the ensign was modified to correct this problem and at the same time the fly end was forked. In this form the war ensign served until 1867, when it was superseded by the war ensign of the North German Confederation. Prussia, however, continued to use the old ensign and variants thereof for for a number of official purposes, and it was also flown as a masthead flag by the two warships named Preußen that later served in the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy). The artistic rendition of the eagle was changed in 1892. The Prussian naval jack was square, displaying a large Iron Cross on a white field; this also served as the rank flag for admirals. The commodore's broad pennant and the commissioning pennant followed the same design. All three were adopted by the Norddeutsche Bundesmarine (the jack as an admirals' rank flag only), and were used successively by the Kaiserliche Marine, the Weimar-era Reichmarine and the Nazi-era Kriegsmarine. They remain in use today with the modern German Navy, the Deutsche Marine. The Chief of the Admiralty—in effect the commander of the Navy—had a white flag with the Iron Cross and four red anchors.

For the Norddeutsche Bundesmarine a war ensign and a naval jack incorporating the black-white-red national colors, the Prussian black eagle and Iron Cross were introduced in 1867. With slight modifications they were also used by the Kaiserliche Marine. In the Weimar era the imperial jack, modified by the addition of a small canton of the black-red-gold national colors, served as the naval ensign and jack. With the advent of the Nazis in 1933 the canton was deleted and in 1935 the ensign/jack was replaced by Nazi designs incorporating the swastika. However, it continued to be used as a masthead flag on ceremonial occasions.

Flag Proportions: The Prussian war ensign was made in 2:3 proportions;  the jack and admiral's rank flag was square. The North German Confederation war ensign was made in 3:5 proportions; the jack was made in 2:3 proportions.




WAR ENSIGN  •  Kriegsflagge  •  1816-19


WAR ENSIGN  •  Kriegsflagge  •  1819-92


WAR ENSIGN  •  Kriegsflagge  •  1892-1918


NAVAL JACK  •  Kriegsschiffgösch




COMMODORE  •  Kommodore  •  1818-67


COMMISSIONING PENNANT  •  Kreigswimpel  •  1818-67




WAR ENSIGN  •  Kriegsflagge  •  1867-71


NAVAL JACK  •  Kriegsschiffgösch  •  1867-71