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German Ensigns and Other Naval Flags

Last modified: 2013-11-24 by pete loeser
Keywords: war ensign | jack | pilot flag | customs flag | canal flag | gunpowder flag | dredger flag | sanitaetsflagge | blue peter |
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Service Ensign for Naval Forces of the Federal Armed Forces
Dienstflagge der Seestreitkräfte der Bundeswehr

[War Ensign and Jack (Germany)] 3:5  Image by Marcus Schmöger
Sometimes the Service Ensign is also referred to as the "War Ensign" (Krieg Ensign), this flag was adopted 25 May 1956.

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 25 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 a 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 70cm 115 m, 80cm 135cm, 120cm 200cm, 150cm 250cm, 200cm 335 cm; the jack has either 50cm 85cm or 70cm 115cm. 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 (300cm 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


War Jack
Krieg bugflagge

[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 Pavillons1990. 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

[Editorial Note: The pilot flag can be seen at HQ in in HH-Teufelsbrück, thus it is still in use - kms 25 Jun 2012]


Customs flag (cleared)
Zollflagge (abgefertigt)

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

This is a diagonally divided bicolour of black and white, labelled Zollflagge. 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, 6-14 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:
    1. Length 3 m and breadth on the halyard 2.40 m or
    2. Length 2.25 m and breadth on the halyard 1.80 m or
    3. Length 1.50 m and breadth on the halyard 1.20 m.
  2. 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.
  3. [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 2005

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.
Half way down is the green pennant captioned 'Zollflagge grün' (green customs pennant), which is actually a 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

Within Gratis Beilage zu Deicken und Behrmann's Neuen Monatsheften Neue Ausgabe Sommer 1897 and Flaggenkarte, Hrsg.: H. Carly, Hamburg, c.1898 the flag described above is denoted as "Kanalflagge" (see below).
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012


Canal Flag
Kanalflagge

[Canal flag] Image by Jorge Candeias and Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Apr 2012

The white flag is divided by a black bend. The canal flag might have to do with the Kiel Canal. But there is no further explanation given below the image in both sources.
Sources: 1) Gratis Beilage zu Deicken und Behrmann's Neuen Monatsheften Neue Ausgabe Sommer 1897; 2) Flaggenkarte, Hrsg.: H. Carly, Hamburg, c.1898
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Apr 2012


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 (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.)
Also see the 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 tricolour 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

[Editorial Note: It has became more and more common to see ships hoisting what could be called a European Civil Ensigns, made of the European Union flag with the national flag of one of the member countries in canton. The origin of these flag is unknown, and the country where they first appeared is also not known, but the use of these flags has been increasing in popularity over recent years, and more are expected to appear in time. These un-official ensigns have been reported in use in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, and the Netherlands. Source: Unofficial EU Civil Ensigns - Pete Loeser, 21 June 2012]


Civil Jack
Bugflagge or Heimathafenflagge

Some sources claim 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. They further suggested that the term Gösch, or jack, is confined to the small national flag flown at the bow of government vessels.
These sources also describe 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

[Editorial Note: it should be emphasize here that the Heimathafenflagge is not a specific flag, but the flag of the home port of a vessel, which could be that of any German seaport (or inland port). - pal, 1 July 2012]


Quarantine Flag
Q-signal or Quarantäneflagge

[Quarantine Flag] Image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Apr 2012

It is a plain yellow flag. Source: Gratis Beilage zu Deicken und Behrmann's Neuen Monatsheften Neue Ausgabe Sommer 1897
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Apr 2012


Dredger Flag/Diver Flag
Baggerflagge/Taucherflagge

[Dredger/Diver Flag] Image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012

It is a plain red flag. It is a warning signal. Playing this role it is probably also the predecessor of the diver down flag, red divided by a white bend. Source: Flaggenkarte, Hrsg.: H. Carly, Hamburg, c.1898
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012


Medical Service Flag
Sanitätsflagge

[Sanitätsflagge] Image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012

It is a white flag with a red Greek cross in the centre. Source: Flaggenkarte, Hrsg.: H. Carly, Hamburg, c.1898
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012


Departure Flag
P-Signal

[Sanitätsflagge] Image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012

It is a white flag with a blue border. It is the well-known "Blue Peter." The meaning due to the caption is: "This ship sets sail today." Source: Flaggenkarte, Hrsg.: H. Carly, Hamburg, c.1898
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 Jun 2012


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