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War Ensigns and other Naval Flags 1817-1867 (Prussia, Germany)

Last modified: 2014-04-12 by pete loeser
Keywords: prussia: kingdom | eagle (black) | iron cross |
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War Ensign 1817-1818

[War Ensign 1817-1818 (Prussia, Germany)] Speculative Image by Jaume Ollé
[Note: Jaume Ollé's speculative image contains some incorrect design features as noted below]

Crowned black eagle with gold scepter and gold decorated blue orb. In the upper hoist, an Iron Cross.
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

The history of the first Prussian ensign is quite complex. The first Prussian warship was built in 1816, the Stralsund, and it needed an ensign. On the 24 November, three projects were presented to the king who chose the design of the black eagle in heraldic form, on a white background charged in the canton with the iron cross. The ensign was first used in the spring of 1817. The design of the eagle was, however, badly interpreted and on 18 November 1818 the Ministry of Interior sent to the Ministry of War a note on which it was said that the eagle's design didn't correspond to the one adopted on 9 January 1817. The note listed these mistakes:

  • The royal crown was red lined, which was not correct following the development of the Prussian crown; moreover, the crown should have only been the arcs of a royal crown.
  • The gold letters "FR" [Fredericus Rex] on the eagle's breast were missing.
  • The small eagle on the sceptre was missing.
  • The eagle should show its tongue while, on the contrary, it was biting it.
The ensign was corrected and, at the same time, its shape was modified to swallowtailed.
Mario Fabretto, 10 Aug 1998

I always thought that the Prussian ensigns showing the Iron Cross used a "plain" version of it, like the Imperial ensign and jack (and even the 1935-1945 war ensigns) did, rather than a more "realistic" version including crown, royal cypher etc.
Santiago Dotor, 1 Jun 2003

The answer is not straightforward, as Prussian flag practice in the first half of the 19th century was practically a mess. As Meuss wrote [meu16]: "Dieser Flaggenwirrwarr ist bei der bekannten Ordnungsliebe der preußischen Militärverwaltung nur durch ihre völlige Unbekanntschaft mit Flaggenfragen erklärlich."" (Taking into account the well-known orderliness of the Prussian military administration, this flag chaos can only be explained by a complete ignorance in flag questions.)
In short:

  1. 1816: the war ensign was approved by the king. The drawing showed the eagle without cipher, and with several other features different from the then approved arms. The Iron Cross was with details.
  2. 1818: the war ensign was "rectified," changing the eagle pattern according to the approved arms pattern, i.e. different crown, royal cipher on breast, sceptre with a small eagle, tongue free.
  3. 1819: the king had actually only approved the changed eagle pattern, but there was a change of the flag by some navy officials, from the rectangle flag to the "splitflag" pattern. It is not clear, when and why this happened. Most probably both versions were in use.
  4. 1850: the war ensign was again changed slightly: now the Iron Cross was without details, the sizes for the flags were regulated, the colour of the clover-stalks etc was changed from white to yellow.
Marcus Schmöger, 26 Jun 2003

War Ensign

[War Ensign 1818-1867 (Prussia, Germany)] Image by Jaume Ollé

White swallow-tailed flag with a crowned black Prussian eagle with gold scepter and gold orb, with an Iron Cross in the upper hoist. (Alexander lists usage as 1858-1863, another source lists 1850-1863; it is possible that the design was slightly different in the 40s and maybe early 50s).
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

The ensign was confirmed in 1850 and disappeared from the seas on 1 October 1867, being restricted in its use to internal waters until 1918. Around 1890 the eagle's design was modified as on the national flag. After 1863 the ensigns (including the merchant one) were mainly used in their rectangular form (not swallow-tailed).
Mario Fabretto, 10 Aug 1998

An article by Dr. Whitney Smith, Gwenn ha Du (black and white) in Ar Banniel, 1999, mentions "6. Kingdom of Prussia - Naval Ensign (1823-1867) - Swallow-tailed, white field with Prussian eagle and Iron Cross in canton."
Ivan Sache, 2 Aug 1999

War Ensign
Reported 1862

[War Ensign, reported 1862 (Prussia, Germany)] Image by Jaume Ollé

Like the 1823 civil ensign, but not swallow tailed [and with a hoist Iron Cross].
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

Possibly a civil ensign for Naval Reserve officers, in a similar way to the Imperial merchant flag with the Iron Cross?
Santiago Dotor, 12 Jul 2000

War Ensign

[War Ensign 1892-1918 (Prussia, Germany)] Image by Jaume Ollé

Like the 1863 civil ensign, but with redesigned eagle. Used as top mast flag on the battleship "Preussen" during the Weimar Republic. Illustrated Alexander 1992 p.106, Crampton 1990 p. 42 and Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1912 vol. 4, facing p. 799. Reported as Ensign and Service Flag 1905.
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

The ensign must have the Iron Cross in the canton. The eagle has the design introduced around 1890. From 1 October 1867 until 1918 when it disappeared, the ensign was used only on inland waters.
Mario Fabretto, 17 Aug 1998

An article by Dr. Whitney Smith, Gwenn ha Du (black and white) in Ar Banniel, 1999, mentions "7. Kingdom of Prussia - Naval Ensign (variant) - same as 6., without Iron Cross."
Ivan Sache, 2 August 1999

Royal Ships Variant 1892

[War Ensign 1892-1918 (Prussia, Germany), variant reported as Royal Ships] Image by Jaume Ollé

This variant was reported as the "Royal Ships" War Ensign 1892-1918
Jaume Ollé

Jack 1863-1867
Also Admiral's Flag 1863-1945 and since 1956

[Jack and Admiral's Flag 1863-1867 (Prussia, Germany)] 1:1 Image by Marcus Schmöger, 15 June 2004

Meuß 1916, plate 8, shows the square white flag with the thin iron cross as Gösch und Admiralsflagge. The text mentions this as introduced by the Allgemeines Flaggen- und Salut-Reglement [General Flag and Salute Regulation] of 1863.
Marcus Schmöger, 15 Jun 2004

Commissioning Pennant 1858-1867
War Pennant/Kriegswimpel

[Commissioning Pennant 1858-1867 (Prussia, Germany)]
Image by Marcus Schmöger

White Pennant with an Iron Cross at the hoist. Same as the 1871-1918 Imperial war pennant.
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

Senior Officer Pennant 1858-1867

[Senior Officer Pennant 1858-1867 (Prussia, Germany)] 2:5 Image by Marcus Schmöger

White swallow tailed flag with Iron Cross in hoist, extending to inner point of swallow tail, and hung from a point. Similar to the flotilla flag of Imperial Germany.
Norman Martin, 20 Jan 1998

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