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German Ensigns and Other Naval Flags

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by
Keywords: war ensign | jack |
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War Ensign

[War Ensign and Jack (Germany] 3:5  - image by Marcus Schmöger
Flag adopted 25th May 1956

Service Ensign for Naval Forces of the Federal Armed Forces / Dienstflagge der Seestreitkräfte der Bundeswehr: A swallow tail version of the service flag [state flag and ensign]. Adopted 1956. Illustrated in Pedersen 1971 p. 30, Smith 1975, p. 227 and Album des Pavillons 1990, p. 17.
Norman Martin, Feb 1998

The naval ensign is swallowtailed and bears the shield slightly shifted to the hoist. It was legally prescribed on 25th May 1956 with the Anordnung des Bundespräsidenten über die Dienstflagge der Seestreitkräfte der Bundeswehr (Instruction of the Federal President on the Service Flag of the Naval Forces of the Federal Armed Forces), published in the Bundesgesetzblatt I 1956, p. 447. It is also used as naval jack. Sources: Laitenberger and Bassier 2000, Friedel 1968 and Bundesministerium des Innern 1956.
Marcus Schmöger, 14 Mar 2001

According to the navy regulation [Marine Dienstvorschrift] MDv 161/1 (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung 1977), the naval ensign is called Dienstflagge der Seestreitkräfte der Bundeswehr (service flag of the naval forces of the Bundeswehr). It is mainly used by the warships in service. (...) Ships using the naval ensign also use a smaller variant as a jack (Gösch). The size is also regulated in the MDv 161/1: ensigns 70 115 cm, 80 135 cm, 120 200 cm, 150 250 cm, 200 335 cm; the jack has either 50 85 cm or 70 115 cm. The prescribed size of the flags depends on the size of the ship: submarines and fast attack crafts use the smallest available flags, frigates and destroyers the bigger variants. A special case is the Gorch Fock, the training sailing ship, which uses an even bigger variant of the naval ensign (300 500 cm).
Marcus Schmöger, 21 Nov 2001

My explanations on the use of the war ensign or the federal service flag for auxiliary ships might be misleading. Jan Patrick Fischer learned - as a soldier aboard a navy tender - that all ships with military crews - including supply ships - would hoist the war ensign. Obviously the term "auxiliary ship" is somewhat ambiguous, and used quite differently in different navies. Citing the MDv 161/1 again:
- A warship has a military crew under a commanding officer of the navy; a warship is listed in the MDv 180/1, chapter 2;
- An auxiliary ship has a civil crew under a captain; an auxiliary ship is listed in the MDv 180/1, chapter 3.
Marcus Schmöger, 23 Nov 2001


New ensign?

I have heard that the new unified Deutsche Marine, the successor to the BundesMarine and the East German Navy has adopted a new ensign, but I have not been able to find it anywhere on your site. Do you have any info on this new ensign?
Ken, 31 Oct 2002

German reunion was more a merger of East Germany into the Federal Republic of Germany. That's why there was as far as I know no change of any symbols of the FRG. For sure not at the navy.
J. Patrick Fischer, 3 Nov 2002

There is definitely no new ensign, but it would be interesting where you "heard that".
Marcus Schmöger, 3 Nov 2002


War Jack / Gösch der Seestreitkräfte

[War Ensign and Jack (Germany] 3:5 - image by Marcus Schmöger

According to Brockhaus 1968, the German naval jack is black-red-gold swallow-tailed with the arms.
Pascal Vagnat, 2 May 1996

A smaller version of the Ensign. Adopted 1956. Illustrated in Pedersen 1971 p. 30, Smith 1975, p. 227 and Album des Pavillons 1990, p. 17.
Norman Martin, Feb 1998


Pilot (Call) Flag / Lotsen(ruf)flagge

[Pilot Call Flag (Germany] 3:5 - image by Santiago Dotor

The Federal flag with a white border. Illustrated in Album des Pavillons 1990, p. 19. Continues the tradition of having the pilot flag be the merchant flag with a white border.
Norman Martin, Feb 1998

In Album des Pavillons 2000 there is no longer an image (nor a mention) of the Pilot Flag which appeared in the 1995 Recap. of Album des Pavillons 1990. Is it obsolete? Since when?
Željko Heimer, 28 Jan 2001

Since the pilot flag is (I assume) 3:5 and the white border has (again I assume) a uniform width, the German flag within is not 3:5 but 9:19 (slightly over 1:2).
Santiago Dotor, 6 Mar 2001


Customs flag (cleared) / Zoll-flagge (abgefertigt)

[Zoll-flagge] image by Jorge Candeias, 6 Dec 2004

This is a diagonally divided bicolour of black and white, labelled "zeitflagge" or something similar.
Jorge Candeias, 6 Dec 2004

"Zoll-flagge" (abgefertigt) - Customs flag (cleared).
Jarig Bakker, 6 Dec 2004

Some more information on German customs flags (i.e. the flags vessels of all kinds have to show in accordance with customs regulations). This pdf file (in English) contains the navigation regulations applicable in the Kiel Canal. (Notwithstanding the vessels' size, this is inland navigation. No black-and-white rectangular flags here.). See page 72.

"Passages exempt from customs clearance
Vessels with goods on board are exempted from customs clearance when passing through customs waters in sea traffic or sea-harbour traffic if they display the customs signal continuously or comply with other control regulations laid down by the competent central office of revenue. Ships provisions and supplies are not subject to customs clearance during passage through these waters.

Customs signals
(1) During the daytime the customs signal consists of a white triangular flag with a horizontal central black stripe (3rd substitute of the official German edition of the 1969 International Code of Signals) with the following dimensions:
a) Length 3 m and breadth on the halyard 2.40 m or
b) Length 2.25 m and breadth on the halyard 1.80 m or
c) Length 1.50 m and breadth on the halyard 1.20 m.
The flag is to be hoisted up to the height of the cross-tree on the signal stay, above the bridge or at the fore- or after-mast."

(2) concerns a light at night-time. The flag (a pennant, really) is shown; basically the same as "Third Repeater". it is much shorter.
For those interested, the file also has rules (and pictures) concerning flags used in river navigation. Not very exciting, but necessary.
Jan Mertens, 12 Feb 2004

This particular pennant (the 'shortened' or German "3rd substitute" version) is shown on this website, lower part of the page... just before the booze flags...
"Signalflagge" (signal flag) as a caption is rather vague, but "3.
Hilfsstander" (3rd substitute or repeater) is correct in itself.
Here is the green pennant, half way down, captioned 'Zollflagge grün' which really means "green customs pennant" (Wimpel) of course.
I understand that this pennant is flown by incoming foreign (i.e. non-German) vessels when these have not yet been cleared by Customs.
Jan Mertens, 14 Feb 2005


Customs flag (not cleared) / Zoll-flagge (nicht abgefertigt)

[Customs flag (not cleared] image by Jorge Candeias, 14 Dec 2004

The flag is simple: white with a narrow black diagonal band from upper hoist to lower fly. The caption, though... I can only understand "flagge", which is useless in terms of identification. It isn't a company flag, and that's all I know.
Jorge Candeias, 14 Dec 2004

"Zoll-flagge" (nicht abgefertigt) - Customs flag (not cleared).
Jarig Bakker, 14 Dec 2004


Gunpowder flag / Pulverflagge

[Pulverflagge] image by Jorge Candeias, 4 Dec 2004

This is a black flag with a white seriffed P in the center. Underneath there's a long caption that I cannot understand, but the design of the flag leads me to suspect that it's a pilot flag. (Next to this flag there's a yellow flag with quaranteen as a caption and on the other side there's another flag that is white with a red greek cross in the center.)
Jorge Candeias, 4 Dec 2004

The caption seems to be 'Mit Pulver od. Explosiven beladen' i.e. carrying gunpowder or explosives. See this text (pdf) from a 1902 German encyclopedia, Brockhaus (last sentence): "Durch eine schwarze Fahne werden Pulvertransporte kenntlich gemacht." (Gunpowder transports are identified by a black flag.)
See also here, an extract from the German railway 'Signalbuch' (1935), near the end: "Pulverflagge Kennzeichnung der mit sehr explosionsgefährlichen Gegenständen
beladenen Wagen. Anbringung von zwei Flaggen, je eine an jeder Langseite oder an jeder Stirnseite."
(Gunpowder flag Signalisation of cars loaded with very explosive materials. Two flags to be put up, one each alongside the car or at both ends.)
Jan Mertens, 5 Dec 2004


European Union ensign used in the Rhine?

['European Union' ensign used in the Rhine? (Germany] 2:3?  - image by Ivan Sarajcic, 3 Sep 1999

[During a recent journey in Germany] I saw some boats on the Rhine river flying, instead of the German national flag, the European Union flag with the [white] letter 'D' and [a small] German triband in center. Is there any explanation for that?
Ivan Sarajcic, 3 Sep 1999

In place of the ensign, do you mean? A couple of years ago we were told that France was challenging every vessel flying one of these European Union ensigns (though those had the national flags as small cantons). If it flew amidships, or forward, there is of course no problem.
John S. Ayer, 6 Sep 1999

Whilst it is true that such flags are probably illegal flown instead of the correct national merchant ensign on the high seas and in most countries' coastal waters, is the same true on international inland waterways? Certainly if the vessels that Ivan saw were on that part of the Rhine wholly within Germany I doubt there would be any problem at all. I would guess that the Rhine along the Franco-German border is half French and half German, so if the German vessels where on the Germany side of the border, again no problem. In the United Kingdom there is (as far as I know) no requirement for vessels on inland waterways to display any flag and most do not.
Roy Stilling, 7 Sep 1999

I am quite positive that it was in place of ensign. It flew on some barges' astern. It was near Bonn, that means wholly within Germany.
Ivan Sarajcic, 7 Sep 1999


Civil Jack / Bugflagge or Heimathafenflagge

According to this webpage the flag flown at the bow of a German merchant ship is known as the Bugflagge or Heimathafenflagge, meaning the bow flag or home port flag, and is the city flag of the ship's home port, such as Bremen or Hamburg. A maritime lexicon available at this webpage suggests that the term Gösch, or jack, is confined to the small national flag flown at the bow, e.g., by government vessels.
The latter source also describes the ceremony of Flaggenwechsel (exchange of flags) when a ship is taken into service by a shipping company and the builder's houseflag (Werftflagge) at the mainmast is replaced by that of the shipping company (Reedereiflagge).
Joseph McMillan, 29 Mar 2001
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