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Rank Flags of the Imperial Navy 1870-1919 (Germany)

Last modified: 2004-09-10 by
Keywords: german empire | rank | emperor | grand admiral | admiral | vice admiral | rear admiral | commodore | commissioning pennant | senior officer | iron cross | cross: formy (black) | disc (black) | discs: 2 (black) | pennant | swallowt |
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Introduction

Most of the rank flags were adopted in the Prussian Navy in 1858, then continued by the North German Navy in 1867, then by the German Imperial Navy after 1871, and continued in use by the Weimar Republic from the start and the Nazi regime until its end in 1945, and finally readopted by the Federal Navy in 1956 and are still in use they were by the way not used by the German Democratic Republic Volksmarine). Some of the specialized flags were adopted later (e.g. Inspector General of the Navy) and these were generally not continued under the Weimar Republic.

Norman Martin, 2 April 2000


Emperor's Broad Pennant

Breitwimpel des Kaisers

A white broad pennant, in the hoist the Imperial crown on a crossed scepter and sword on an Iron Cross on a white field. It is raised only by special command of the Kaiser. It is the highest command symbol of the Navy. (Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42 and Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799).

Norman Martin, 1998


Empress' Broad Pennant

Breitwimpel der Kaiserin

Schlawe 1913 published by Moritz Ruhl, who also published the Flaggenbuch 1905 for the German Navy also shows an Empress's Broad Pennant which is white with a gold empress's crown on a white square at the hoist (Schlawe 1913 shows a thin black line dividing this square from the fly of the pennant).

Joseph McMillan, 6 December 2001


Flag of the State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office

Flagge des Staatssekretärs des Reichs-Marine-Amts

[State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office (Imperial Germany)]
by Jaume Ollé

The admiral's flag with 2 crossed gold anchors in the lower hoist. (Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799 and National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 595).

Norman Martin, 1998


Flag of the Inspector General of the Navy

Flagge des General-inspekteurs der Marine

[Inspector General of the Navy (Imperial Germany)]
by Jaume Ollé

The admiral's flag with a red border occupying 1/5th of the length of the flag, outside of the cross. (Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799 and National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1016).

Norman Martin, 1998


Flag of the Naval Chief of Staff

Flagge des Chefs des Admiralstabes

The admiral's flag with, at the center, a disk of white in which is contained a rope circle and a downward pointing rope sword. (Illustrated National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1019).

Norman Martin, 1998


Grand Admiral's Flag

Grossadmiralsflagge

The admiral's flag with an imperial crown on 2 crossed batons at the center of the flag. (Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799 and National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1015).

Norman Martin, 1998


Commanding Admiral

Komandierende Admiral

Admiral's flag with golden crown in the middle [Editor: isn't this the same as the Grand Admiral's Flag?].

Norman Martin, 1998


Admiral's Flag 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays

Admiralsflagge

[Admiral 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays (Germany)] 1:1
by Marcus Schmöger

On a white field a narrow Iron Cross whose arms reach the edge of the flag. On a three-master, flown from the top mast by an admiral, from the fore mast by a vice-admiral, from the rear mast by a rear-admiral; on a two-master from the rear mast by an admiral, from the fore mast by a vice-admiral. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and has continued in use until today, except for the few years in which there was no German Navy, and for East Germany from 1945 until 1990. As far as I know, the complex rule on officer's flags expired with the end of the Empire. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799, National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 596 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 4.

Norman Martin, 1998

Until when was the Prussian (later German) Admiralflagge used for all admirals [admirals, vice-admirals and rear-admirals]?.

Santiago Dotor, 10 October 2000

Meyer's Encyclopedia early in the century said:

Auf Dreimastern führt der Admiral diese flagge im Großtopp, der Vizeadmiral im Vortopp, der Konteradmiral im Kreuztopp; auf zweimastigen Schiffen führt der Admiral sie im hintern, der Vizeadmiral im vordern Mast.
Note that at this time the rank flags with black balls had already been adopted. (...) On 29 October 1904, the usage referred to was discontinued in favor of the black balls. Note that the black balls were already in use for single mast ships.

Norman Martin, 11 October 2000

Also on boats and, in the case of the rear admiral's flag, on two-masted ships, according to the Flags of Maritime Nations 1899 and the British Admiralty's Drawings of the Flags in Use at the Present Time by Various Nations 1916. Note that the Admiralty book was still describing the use of the plain Iron Cross flag for all three ranks depending on the mast it was hoisted on 12 years after Norman Martin reports it as having been dropped. I wonder if British naval intelligence was just slow on the uptake or if usage had not caught up with regulations?

Drawings of the Flags in Use at the Present Time by Various Nations 1916 also says that German ships of the 2nd Squadron of the Battle Fleet used red instead of black balls on vice and rear admirals' flags. Flags of Maritime Nations 1870 indicates the same system being used for French, British, and US flag officers tricolor, St. George, and 13 red and white stripes respectively, flown at main, fore, or mizzen for admiral, vice admiral and rear admiral, with additional charges (stars or balls) added only for use aboard boats and tenders. In Flags of Maritime Nations 1882 the US had dropped this system but UK and France still used it. France had dropped it in Flags of Maritime Nations 1899.

Joseph McMillan, 11 October 2000

I have found that the Admiralty Flag Books were not particularly accurate or up to date with regard to British flags. I do not suppose they were any better with foreign flags.

David Prothero, 12 October 2000

Regarding naval rank flags in the past, it was common practice until the mid-to-late nineteenth century for admirals of any grade (admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral) to fly the same flag, their grade being distinguished by its being hoisted at the mainmast (admiral), foremast (vice admiral), or mizzenmast (rear admiral). Variations in the basic design were adopted originally for use in boats (where there was no way to differentiate ranks by hoisting the flag at different locations) and later carried over to use aboard ship as developments in ship design progressively eliminated one or two of the traditional three masts. As a result, between about 1860 and 1890 you will find all major navies moving to the modern system of a different flag for each grade.

Joseph McMillan, 16 October 2001

Schlawe 1913 published by Moritz Ruhl, who also published the Flaggenbuch 1905 for the German Navy shows and describes the vice admiral's and rear admiral's flags with black balls as still used only in ships with less than three masts and in boats. In three-masted ships, Schlawe still has the plain admiral's flag used for all ranks, with distinction between them reflected by hoisting on the main, fore, or mizzen mast. Norman Martin says above that this system was discontinued in 1904, presumably by the Flaggen-, Salut- und Besuchsordnung of that year, which is listed at the beginning of Schlawe 1913 as one of its sources.

Joseph McMillan, 6 December 2001


Vice Admiral's Flag 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays

Vizeadmiralsflagge

[Vice Admiral 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays (Germany)] 1:1
by Marcus Schmöger

The admiral's flag with a black ball in the upper hoist. Used only for one-mast ships during the Empire. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and has continued in use until today, except for the few years in which there was no German Navy, and for East Germany from 1945 until 1990. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799, National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 597 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 4.

Norman Martin, 1998

The diameter of the black disc should be 9/50ths of the flag's height, according to Flaggenbuch 1939.

Santiago Dotor, 25 May 2000


Rear Admiral's Flag 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays

Konteradmiralsflagge

[Rear Admiral 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays (Germany)] 1:1
by Marcus Schmöger

The admiral's flag with a black ball in the upper hoist and one in the lower hoist. Used only for one-mast ships during the Empire. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and has continued in use until today, except for the few years in which there was no German Navy, and for East Germany from 1945 until 1990. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799, National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 598 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 4.

Norman Martin, 1998

The diameter of the black discs should be 9/50ths of the flag's height, according to Flaggenbuch 1939.

Santiago Dotor, 25 May 2000


Commodore's and Senior Officer's Pennant 1867-1945

Kommodore- und Dienstalterstander

[Commodore's and Senior Officer's Pennant 1867-1945 (Germany)] 2:5
by Marcus Schmöger

White swallow-tailed flag with narrow Iron Cross in hoist, extending to inner point of swallow tail. Also used by the senior officer of a unit. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and continued in use until 1945. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799, National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 600 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 5.

Norman Martin, 1998


Flotilla Pennant 1867-1945 (nowadays Squadron Commander Pennant)

Flotillenstander

[Flotilla Pennant 1867-1945 (Germany)] 2:5
by Marcus Schmöger

Same as the Commodore's Pennant, but hung from a point [i.e. displayed with the hoist attached to a crossbar, like a vexillum]. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and continued in use until 1945. Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 5. This flag has continued in use by the federal navy for the Squadron Commander although the rank of Commodore no longer exists.

Norman Martin, 1998


Division Pennant 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays

Divisionsstander

[Flag for an Officer Commanding a Division 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays (Germany)]
by Marcus Schmöger

White triangular pennant with narrow Iron Cross in hoist. This flag was probably in use as early as 1867, certainly by the mid 1880s and has continued in use until today, except for the few years in which there was no German Navy, and for East Germany from 1945 until 1990. (Illustrated Crampton 1990 p. 42, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799, National Geographic 1917 p. 350, no. 600 and Flaggenbuch 1939 p. 4).

Norman Martin, 1998


Commissioning Pennant 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays

War Pennant / Kriegswimpel

[Commissioning Pennant 1867-1945 and 1956-nowadays (Germany)]
by Marcus Schmöger


Task Group Leader Pennant

Führerstander

[Task Group Leader Pennant or 'Führerstander' 1871-1918 (Germany)]
by Jaume Ollé

A black-white-red burgee pennant. Schlawe 1913 published by Moritz Ruhl, who also published the Flaggenbuch 1905 for the German Navy labels this flag as Führerstander, categorizes it as an Unterschiedungszeichen [distinguishing sign/flag] and describes its use on page 129 as:

Wenn zwei oder mehrere Kriegsschiffe einshl. der Torpedoboote vorübergehend zu Uebungen oder sonstigem militärischen Zussamenwirken auf Anordnung eines Seebefehlshabers zusammentreten, so hat der mit der Führung beauftragte Offizier für die Dauer der Führung der ihm unterstellten Schiffe auf dem Führerschiff den Führerstander zu setzen, sofern er nicht zur Führung eines Rangabzeichens, des Flotillen- oder des Divisionstanders berechtigt und hierdurch an sich als Führer kenntlich ist.
Which I think means, in summary, that the officer temporarily in charge of a group of two or more ships given a special assignment i.e., a task group flies the Leader's Pennant to identify his ship if he is not otherwise entitled to a rank flag or a flotilla or division command pennant.

This pennant was formerly shown on FOTW as 'Navy Minister's flag' by mistake. Firstly, there was no Navy Minister in the German Empire, the more-or-less equivalent position being State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office (Staatsekretär des Reichs-Marine-Amts), who was an admiral and had his own flag. Secondly, this burgee is as explained above the distinguishing flag for a task group leader.

Joseph McMillan, 6 December 2001

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