Uniforms and insignia of the Kriegsmarine

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German Vice Admiral Günther Lütjens during World War II
Großadmiral Karl Dönitz Official portrait

The Kriegsmarine was the navy of Nazi Germany prior to and during World War II. Kriegsmarine uniform design followed that of the preexisting Reichsmarine, itself based on that of the First World War Kaiserliche Marine. Kriegsmarine styles of uniform and insignia had many features in common with those of other European navies, all derived from the British Royal Navy of the 19th century, such as officers' frock coats, sleeve braid, and the "sailor suit" uniform for enlisted personnel and petty officers.

Basic structure

The basic structure of Kriegsmarine uniforms and insignia was divided into 5 categories of personnel:

  • Matrose (Seaman): Enlisted personnel, usually serving for a short term of enlistment
  • Maat: Technical specialist, the equivalent of a Petty Officer
  • Feldwebel: having a position between Petty Officer and Warrant Officer
  • Seeoffiziere: Naval Officers
  • Admiräle: Flag Officers

Uniform design

The uniform for an enlisted sailor consisted of a jacket, a pair of trousers, a white and a blue shirt, matching collars edged with three stripes, a silk neckerchief, grey gloves and a cap with two ribbons. An officer wore a midnight-blue[1] double-breasted jacket with ten brass buttons and a matching peaked cap. U-boat personnel also wore jackets and overtrousers of brown or grey leather. As an unwritten rule, the captain of any ship wore a white peaked cap.

When U-boats were at sea, there were few dress restrictions. Full uniforms were typically worn on departure from and return to base, but due to the cramped and humid conditions, U-boat crews wore more comfortable civilian clothing on patrol. These included seaman's jumpers and sleeveless shirts, along with their service hats. Lookouts wore oilskins and sou'westers on duty. A grey-brown denim "battle-dress" uniform was also worn on patrol, the original issue being from British uniform stocks abandoned at Dunkirk.[2]

Commissioned Officer ranks

Flag officer ranks

Admiral ranks
Title Großadmiral Generaladmiral Admiral Vizeadmiral Konteradmiral
Epaulette zentriert zentriert zentriert zentriert zentriert
Sleeve lace zentriert zentriert zentriert zentriert
Command flag Kriegsmarine OF10-Grossadmiral-Flag 1945.svg Kriegsmarine OF9-Generaladmiral-Flag 1945 v2.svg Kriegsmarine OF8-Admiral-Flag 1945 v1.svg Kriegsmarine OF7-Vizeadmiral-Flag 1945 v1.svg Kriegsmarine OF6-Konteradmiral-Flag 1945.svg
United States Navy Equivalent Admiral of the Navy Fleet Admiral Admiral Vice admiral Rear admiral
NATO equivalent OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6

Officer ranks

Line officers, Captains Lieutenant and Lieutenants
Title Kommodore Kapitän zur See Fregattenkapitän Korvettenkapitän Kapitänleutnant Oberleutnant zur See Leutnant zur See
Epaulette Kriegsmarine KptzS.svg Kriegsmarine epaulette Fregattenkapitän.svg Kriegsmarine epaulette Korvettenkapitän.svg Kriegsmarine-Kapitänleutnant (s).svg Kriegsmarine shoulder Oberleutnant zur See.svg Kriegsmarine shoulder Leutnant zur See.svg
Sleeve lace Kriegsmarine-Kommodore.png Kriegsmarine-Kapitän zur See.png Kriegsmarine-Fregattenkapitän.png Kriegsmarine-Korvettenkapitän.png Kriegsmarine-Kapitänleutnant.png Kriegsmarine-Oberleutenant zur See.png Kriegsmarine-Leutenant zur See.png
Equivalent Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant commander Lieutenant Lieutenant (junior grade) Ensign
NATO equivalent OF-5a OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1a OF-1

Officer candidate ranks

Fähnrich ranks
Title Oberfähnrich zur See Fähnrich zur See
Shoulder board Kriegsmarine shoulder Oberfähnrich zur see.svg Kriegsmarine shoulder Fähnrich zur see.svg
Sleeve lace Kriegsmarine-Oberfähnrich zur See.png
Equivalent Passed Midshipman Midshipman
NATO equivalent OD-2 OD-1

Ranks of Petty Officers and Seamen

Petty Officers and Seaman used a rating system similar to other European navies of the day as well as standard titles of rank. Basic sailors were known as Matrose, while technical specialists were known by the title Maat. Rating badges in the form of a small patch worn on the upper sleeve indicated the particular specialty of the sailor in question.

The enlistment system of the Kriegsmarine was designed to differentiate between those sailors wishing to make the navy a career and those simply completing a standard tour of enlistment. Those who were drafted, or who had no aspirations to become Petty Officers, became Matrosengefreiter (litererally "Seaman Lance Corporals"). Special grades existed for six and eight years of service, denoted by sleeve chevrons.

Steuermann (Petty Officer First Class - Quartermaster)
Obermaat (Petty Officer Second Class)
Bootsmann (Petty Officer First Class) (1) Stabsbootsmann (F) (Petty Officer First Class with 12 years time-in-service) (2) Oberbootsmann (Chief Petty Officer) (3) Stabsoberbootsmann (Chief Petty Officer with 10 years time-in-service, including 3 years time-in-grade.)(4) Fähnrich (Midshipman) (5) Oberfähnrich (Passed midshipman) (6)
Bootsmannsmaat (Petty Officer Third Class - Coxswain) (7) Oberbootsmannsmaat (Petty Officer Second Class - Coxswain) (8) Steuermannsmaat (Petty Officer Third Class - Quartermaster) (9) Obersteuermannsmaat (Petty Officer Second Class - Quartermaster) (10)
Matrosengefreiter (Seaman 2nd class) (1) Matrosenobergefreiter (Seaman 1st class) (2) Matrosenhauptgefreiter (Seaman 1st class with 4 ½ years time-in-service) (3) Matrosengefreiter UA (Seaman after training as Petty Officer) (4) Matrosengefreiter UA (Seaman during training as Petty Officer) (5) Matrosenstabsgefreiter (Seaman 1st class with 6 years time-in-service)( 6) Matrosenoberstabsgefreiter (Seaman 1st class with 8 years time-in-service) (7)

Image Gallery

Awards and decorations

Members of the Kriegsmarine were eligible for all Third Reich military awards as well as certain war badges and medals specific to the Kriegsmarine. The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross was a standard award for highly successful U-boat commanders.

See also


  1. Kriegsmarine uniforms were discernibly very dark blue, unlike US and UK "blue" Navy uniforms which are effectively black.
  2. Mollo, A & McGregor, M (1975) p.123, Naval, Marine and Airforce Uniforms of WW2 Blandford Press, Poole, UK