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War Ensign 1871-1919 (Germany)

Imperial War Ensign, Kaiserliche Kriegsflagge, later Reichskriegsflagge

Last modified: 2004-12-29 by
Keywords: german empire | iron cross | cross: formy (black) | cross: scandinavian (fimbriated) | eagle (black) | disc (white) | circle (black) |
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[War Ensign 1903-1919 (Germany)] 3:5
by Carsten Linke
Flag adopted 26th September 1903, abolished 27th September 1919



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Introduction

The war ensign (Reichskriegsflagge) from 1867 to 1919 was a white field, a black cross [offset to the hoist] fimbriated white and black with in its middle a white disc with the Prussian eagle, and a black-white-red flag with a black Iron Cross in the canton. There was a minor change in the eagle in 1892 and in the cross in 1903.

Norman Martin, 1998

Znamierowski 1999 shows three Imperial German Ensigns:

Wilson 1986 shows the first (the eagle is marginally different, but that is probably irrelevent) dated 1867-1903 and the third dated 1903-1921. [This is wrong, since] there is evidence of a real change in design [of the eagle] in 1892. The uncertainty between 1919 and 1921 is certainly due to the adoption of a new ensign in 1919 which most available evidence indicates was rarely or never actually used.

Norman Martin, 2000

In all three cases, the eagle was the Prussian eagle and therefore had the royal and not the imperial crown. (...) The Iron cross in the canton is the same as in the jack hence 5/9ths before 1903, and 226/333 thereafter.

Norman Martin, 23 May 2000

Editor's note: see also Proportions of the War Ensign and Jack 1871-1918.

The imperial ensign was first adopted 4 July 1867 and put into use 1 October 1867. It was modified in 1892 and in 1903. Its use for war installations of the navy ashore and to sovereigns of German states was authorized in 2 March 1886 and later to authorities and installations of the army 8 November 1892. After the fall of the monarchy it was flown for political and sentimental reasons in the following years.

Norman Martin, 4 May 2001


War Ensign 1871-1892

In use by the North German Confederation / Norddeutscher Bund since 1867

[War Ensign 1867-1892 (Germany)] 3:5
by Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 1867, abolished 19th December 1892

When the Empire was established in 1871, use of the Kriegsflagge (war ensign) (...) of the North German League was maintained (despite the wording of the constitutional provision Art. 55, "the flag of the navy and merchant fleet is black-white-red" which one might think would require the black-white-red tricolor instead). By a Decree of 2 March 1886, its use was authorized for the rulers and princes of ruling houses of German states, for mayors of the Hansa cities, as well as for land installations of the Navy and coastal fortresses. By an Ordinance of 8 November 1892, its use was further extended to commands and installations of the Army. All of this was apparently confirmed by an Ordinance of 20 January 1893.

Source: my series [of contributions to FOTW] on the flags of the German Empire of 1998, much material from the article I wrote with Rüdiger Dreyhaupt (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999) and some other material.

Norman Martin, 26 January 2001


War Ensign 1892-1903

[War Ensign (Germany) 1892] 3:5
N.B. the eagle is incorrect and should be the same as in the 1903-1921 ensign
by Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 19th December 1892, abolished 26th September 1903

In 1892 the Reichskriegflagge was [modified], with small changes in the appearance of the eagle.

Voslapp, 11 December 1997

The 1892-1903 ensign (de-na92.gif) shows an incorrect eagle. The eagle should be the same as that shown for the 1903-1919 ensign (de-impwa.gif).

Norman Martin, 19 May 2000

When in 1888, Wilhelm II succeeded to the throne, the eagles on the Prussian and Imperial [coats-of-arms] were redesigned using what was believed to be a more heraldic rendition. By Imperial Order of 19 December 1892, the new version of the Prussian eagle replaced the earlier one in what by then was called the Deutsche- or Kaiserliche Kriegsflagge (and was later called the Reichskriegsflagge).

Source: my series [of contributions to FOTW] on the flags of the German Empire of 1998, much material from the article I wrote with Rüdiger Dreyhaupt (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999) and some other material.

Illustrations (only major vexillological sources): Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999, no. 17; Crampton 1990, p. 42 (which is a copy of Meyers Konversationslexikon, 6 ed., vol. 4, facing p. 799) no. 2; Znamierowski 1999, p. 90; United States Navy 1899, p. 23. On the image in FOTW labelled "1892-1903 Ensign" the crown on eagle is in error, should be as in 1903 ensign.

Norman Martin, 26 January 2001

The change in the Reichskriegsflagge in 1892 seems to only concern the eagle i.e. the replacement of the original Prussian eagle with the new (1888) one. This is also what the Flaggenkurier article (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1998) says. If I am correct, the jack and canton changed in 1903. It is hard to verify with certainty, especially since many illustrations of the Reichskriegsflagge have the Iron Cross slightly asymmetrically placed (in height) which must be incorrect, but makes it difficult to figure out exacly how.

Norman Martin, 27 February 2001

Editor's note: see also Proportions of the War Ensign and Jack 1871-1918.


War Ensign 1903-1919

[War Ensign 1903-1919 (Germany)] 3:5
by Carsten Linke
Flag adopted 26th September 1903, abolished 27th September 1919

The iron cross in the 1903-1919 ensign is slightly small [sic], it should be slightly more than 2/3rds (226/333) the height of the canton.

Norman Martin, 19 May 2000

This scan shows the Imperial war ensign as it appears in plate IX of Flaggenbuch 1939; there is however a post-1939 correction at the end of the facsimile Neubecker 1992 edition, according to which the dimension of 360 is the diameter of the white (inner) disc, that of its black fimbriation being 402. This correction is also shown in the detailed image of the eagle which can be seen in this scan. Neubecker 1992 also shows larger size details of the crown and sceptre.

Even though Flaggenbuch 1939 shows the 1933-1935 war ensign theoretically identical to the 1903-1919 jack and to the canton of the 1903-1919 ensign the size of the Iron Cross on the Imperial war ensign is shown as 240/315 which is more than 2/3rds, just over 3/4ths, whereas on the 1933-1935 war ensign the Iron Cross measures 226/333 of the flag's height (or 220/333ths not considering the white fimbriation around the cross).

Santiago Dotor, 23 May 2000

Editor's note: see also Proportions of the War Ensign and Jack 1871-1918.

It should be noted that the reason behind the 1903 changes to the German war ensign making the cross much thicker and setting a thick circle all round the eagle, instead of a partly interrupted circle was the fact that it was ocassionally mistaken, at long distance and in bad weather conditions, with the British white ensign. Source: Neubecker 1939a.

Santiago Dotor, 25 October 2000

The 1903 revision of the design of the German Kriegsflagge is alleged to have been inspired by an incident in which a Russian ship mistakenly raised the British white ensign instead of the Kriegsflagge when the intent was some ceremony intended to honor the Germans. Allegedly, this so offended Wilhelm II that he ordered a redesign of the Kriegsflagge so that it would look less like the white ensign.

Norman Martin, 17 January 2001

Allegedly as a result of an incident in which a Russian warship mistakenly raised the British white ensign to salute a German squadron, on 26 September 1903 both the ensign and the jack were changed. (...) In that of the ensign, in addition to replacing the old with the new jack in the canton, increased the thickness of the overall cross as well as the border of the central disk.

Source: my series [of contributions to FOTW] on the flags of the German Empire of 1998, much material from the article I wrote with Rüdiger Dreyhaupt (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999) and some other material.

Illustrations (only major vexillological sources): Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999, no. 17a; Crampton 1990, p. 43; Znamierowski 1999, p. 90; United States Navy 1899, p. 23; Smith 1975, p. 121; Flaggenbuch 1939, plate 9 (best rendition).

Norman Martin, 26 January 2001


Use of the Imperial War Ensign 1918-1921

It is difficult to be definite about the closing date for the ensign. Clearly it was in use until the fall of the monarchy in November 1918. In the immediately following period, sometimes it was replaced by red flags. In December 1919, they were officially replaced by somewhat similar flags.

Especially in the case of the ensign, it is unclear how much and even whether these new ensigns were used. It is clear that some free corps used the old ensigns, even though they were not technically able to do so under the old rules. Also, many (at least) Navy units (especially the 2nd Marinebrigade of Fregattenkapitän Ehrhardt the core of the reactionary Kapp Putsch of 1920) for whom it was virtually used as a national flag. In any event by the Flag Ordinance of 1921, its use was clearly illegal by military and naval units starting 1 January 1922, and all authorities seem to agree that this time, the order was obeyed.

From 1926-1944, the 1903 ensign was raised by the ships of the Navy on 31 May to commemorate the Battle of the Skagerrak [Battle of Jutland]. It has also been used since World War Two by some neo-Nazi and other right extremist groups as a political symbol and has even been prohibited by some [federal] state governments. Starting 1921, the new jack and the new ensign were basically the old jack with a black-red-gold canton. On 14 March 1933, the cantons were removed, thus in the case of the jack restoring the 1903 jack and fixing the ensign as a larger version of the jack. Both were in turn abolished by the September 1935 flag law.

Source: my series [of contributions to FOTW] on the flags of the German Empire of 1998, much material from the article I wrote with Rüdiger Dreyhaupt (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999) and some other material.

Norman Martin, 26 January 2001

The following concerns a few uncertainties about the status of the German Reichskriegsflagge in the period between the fall of the monarchy in November 1918 and the adoption of the Reichskriegsflagge of 11 April 1921 (which was finally made permanent 1 January 1922). (...) After the fall of the monarchy the Imperial Kriegsflagge was flown for political and sentimental reasons in the following years. After the creation of the provisional Reichswehr its continued use was authorized for the Navy by an ordinance on 16 April 1919. In addition, at least some of the units, particularly Freikorps units used the flag on the orders of their commanders.

There appears to be some doubt as to the validity of this practice after the adoption of the Weimar constitution. At least, the 2nd Marine Brigade commanded by Lt Cdr (usually referred to as Kapitän) Ehrhardt [the Brigade Ehrhardt] flew this in their parades and over the castle which served as their headquarters and subsequently as their flag during the Kapp putsch which they spearheaded (of some 20 pictures of Kapp troops I have seen, 19 show the imperial Reichskriegsflagge, one the black-white-red tricolor). Some contemporary comment criticized Ehrhardt for this practice of course, being contemporary is not necessarily the same as being correct. In any event, a new Reichskriegsflagge was adopted 27 September 1919 (made public 11 November 1919).

According to Dreyhaupt 2000, p. 13, the production of this new flag was stopped shortly before the date for its use. In any event yet a third Reichskriegsflagge was adopted 11 April 1920 (effective 31 July 1920). The ordinance adopting this provided that the old flags could be until 1 Jan 1922. Many authorities (e.g. Schurdel 1995) specifically interpret this as providing for the use of the Imperial Kriegsflagge until that date. The puzzle is granting that there was assorted de facto use of the Reichskriegsflagge of 1903 until the end of 1920 (including some use by military and naval units), what was the official status during this period?

Norman Martin, 4 May 2001

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