Soon after collapse of the German Empire, Weimar Republic authorities who feverishly tried to overcome imperial legacy and destroy as much more obsolete state emblems as possible, decided to abolish traditional black, white and red circular cockade that was introduced in 1897 as a token of remembrance of Wilhelm I, founder of the Second Reich.
Decree dated September 29, 1919 ordered personnel of the Provisional Reichswehr (Vorläufige Reichswehr) to wear new state cockade (Reichskokarde), better known as “eagle cockade” (“Adlerkokarde”) on their peaked caps (Dienstmütze). Thus, vertical oval cockade incorporated republican colors – black, red and gold, therefore showing black eagle measuring 1,4x1,8 cm facing right with red talons and red beak on a pebbled background covered with golden paint. The whole composition was surrounded by a thin ring made of numerous gilt dots.
Convex cockade was 1,8-1,9 cm wide and 2,3-2,4 cm high. It was stamped of bronze and fixed to the cap band of the visor cap with two flat metal prongs soldered to its reverse.
Eagle cockade of the scarce early pattern had traditional circular shape and measured 2 cm in diameter. In some cases, cockade was attached to custom-made non-regulation intermediate cushion in color of the cap band, thus providing it with distinctly salient shape.
Eagle cockade was worn in the middle of the cap band surrounded by an oakleaf wreath (Eichenlaubkranz) open at the top and made of two branches that consisted of four leaves and three acorns each. The wreath was tied with three rings at the bottom. It had slightly convex shape and was stamped of embossed German silver, then silver-plated and glazed with Zapon laquer. The wreath measured 6,2 cm in width, 4 cm in height and had 0,5 cm distance between branches at the top. It was attached to visor caps with three flat metal prongs soldered to its reverse. Leaves of the late pattern oakleaf wreath were much more realistically portrayed in comparison with early pieces.
According to the Order dated March 16, 1927, the distance between outer edge of the eagle cockade and interior of the oakleaf wreath should have been 3 cm approximately. Cockade was to be manufactured of golden yellow metal, while officers were permitted to wear cloth hand-embroidered versions of both, eagle cockade and oakleaf wreath.
Order dated May 02, 1931 that made a number of improvements in the dimensions, shape and construction of visor caps, stipulated design of the cockade as well. Thus, hand-embroidered silver colored oakleaf wreaths were allowed to be worn either with metal or embroidered eagle cockade. Though embroidered wreaths were generally equal to metal ones in size, wider pieces of former version were also available for private purchase.
1919 pattern state cockade was abolished by the Order of Paul von Hindenburg, President of the German Reich, issued on March 14, 1933. It was replaced with the circular black, white and red cockade surrounded by an oakleaf wreath that had to be worn on cap bands of all peaked caps of German Army officers, NCOs and enlisted men.
As for the personnel of the Provisional State Navy, or Provisional Reichsmarine (Vorläufige Reichsmarine) that was created on April 16, 1919, aforementioned Decree of September 29, 1919 introducing eagle cockade had been brought to their notice a month later, on November 01. Relevant information was published in the issue No.34 of the Navy Regulations Gazette (Marine-Verordnungsblatt), and the cockade was described as a “black state eagle with red talons on a golden oval background” (“schwarzen Reichsadler mit rotten Fängen auf goldenem ovalen Grund”). It is noteworthy that red beak of the eagle has not been mentioned in that official document.
On March 23, 1921, just one week before Provisional Reichsmarine was renamed Reichsmarine (that took place on March 31, 1921), the new Law on organizational structure of the defense force and military service was adopted. Its text was published on April 05, 1921 in the issue No.9 of the Navy Regulations Gazette. It was the very same day that the Decree on New Uniform and Equipment of the State Navy (“Gesetz über die neue Bekleidung und Ausrüstung der Reichsmarine”) took effect, and its text was published on April 15, 1921 in the issue No.10 of the Navy Regulations Gazette. Section “A” that described uniform of officers, naval paymasters, deck officers and NCOs with officers’ sword knots, particularly noted that “Blue visor cap of the previous pattern is continued to be worn, however, with addition of the state cockade introduced on November 01, 1919 surrounded by gilt embroidered oakleaf wreath, attached to the cap band manufactured of black mohair”. Section “F” (“Uniform of NCOs without officers’ sword knots and enlisted personnel”) stipulated that “new state cockade” only, i.e. without oakleaf wreath had to be worn on blue and white sailor’s caps (Mütze).
Book “Uniforms of the Reichswehr and the Reichsmarine with Official Uniform Plates” (“Die Uniformen des Reichsheeres und der Reichsmarine nebst amtlichen Uniformtafeln”) published in 1925 in Charlottenburg particularly noted that M1919 state cockade surrounded by hand-embroidered gilt oakleaf wreath was ordered to be worn on cap bands of blue and white visor caps (Blaue / weiße Schirmmütze) by NCOs with officers’ sword knots (Portepeeunteroffiziere), deck officers, officers and military officials. Eagle cockade surrounded by hand-embroidered silver-colored oakleaf wreath was to be worn by civil officials.
Personnel of six coast-defense battalions (Küstenwehrabteilung) and battalion-sized training and depot units (Schiffsstammabteilung), including paymasters, who were equipped with field grey uniform, wore eagle cockades instead of territorial cockades on their field caps (Feldmütze), and eagle cockades surrounded by gilt oakleaf wreaths on peaked caps (Dienstmütze).
Wearing of M1919 state cockade by the Reichsmarine personnel was abolished in 1934 according to the “Regulations for the Reichsmarine Naval Uniform and Equipment” (“Marine-Bekleidungs- und Anzugsbestimmungen für die Reichsmarine”) that have been included in the text of the first Navy Regulations (Marinedienstvorschrift) of the Third Reich.
Introduction of new official symbols was met with violent opposition by the most conservative part of the German society, namely officer corps. Thus, on March 30, 1920, less than two weeks after the failed Kapp Putsch, the first protest against the acceptance of the Versailles Treaty, Major General (since June 23, 1920 Lieutenant General) Arnold Ritter von Möhl (26.03.1867-27.12.1944), Commander-in-chief of Bavaria, wrote to Hans von Seeckt, the Chief of the German Troop Office (Truppenamt), de facto head of the General Staff:“The abolition of the old colors, as could have been foreseen and was predicted, has been a serious mistake. (…) The Reichswehr inwardly adheres to black, white and red; that cannot be changed and must neither be overlooked nor underestimated. When the “Kapp-Lütwitz government” recognized black, white and red, it gained by this act alone the sympathy of large parts of the Reichswehr. (…) The volunteer units which were mobilized against Bolshevism adorned themselves with the old colors; it would be hopeless to try to prevent this, and yet they acted against the orders of the state, for the preservation of which they went to fight full of national enthusiasm. (…) I have no mandate from the good units of the Bavarian Reichswehr, but I speak in their name when I urgently request the Ministry of defense to give back to the army, on whose support the government depends, the colors under which it has accomplished during the World War the greatest deeds of all times”.
This was without doubt the opinion of the whole officers corps, whose opposition to black, red and gold was largely successful. However, that were those colors that the new so-called “Eagle cockade” introduced by the Decree dated September 29, 1919, was made of. The oval cockade stamped of bronze showed the black national eagle with a red beak and red talons on a golden background, thus integrating all of the Republic’s new colors. Incidentally, Hans von Seeckt regarded introduction of the eagle cockade as his personal defeat.
In his report to Army command dated August 09, 1920, Arnold Ritter von Möhl already promoted by that date to the rank of the Lieutenant General, expressed his attitude towards the new cockade in the following manner: “The black, red and gold flag is esteemed as little, or even less, by the Reichswehr as by the majority of the national-minded population. The abolition of the black, white and red colors by the National Assembly was the last echo of the denigration of the German cockade at the collapse of November 1918. This decision of the German people’s representatives showed a lack of national tact, not to say of patriotic feeling in general, that will later, even in German history, be regarded as surprising and incomprehensible. Now that this unpardonable step has been taken, there are in my opinion only two ways of making good the mistake to some extent: either the old German colors are reintroduced, (…) or the whole issue is shelved and the continued wearing of the black, white and red cockade is conceded, until there is – for example through the unification with Austria – an understandable reason to change the colors. I personally am in favor of the first course. (…) If they cannot take this decision, they should at least abstain from inflaming the army’s feelings further by the forcible removal of the glorious German colors, and that on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Sedan”.
Guided by the principle of design of the German Empire flag that was composed from flags of Prussian and three Hanseatic cities, Arnold Ritter von Möhl apparently anticipated combination of red and white Austrian colors after unification with that country with odious flag of the Weimar Republic, and acquisition therefore of the initial Imperial flag. He could hardly dream of unification during the 1920s Time of Trouble but his reverie did realize, but 18 years later, however briefly. Nevertheless, he would be lucky enough to make it to Anschluss and to reintroduction of black, white and red cockades.
Let’s return, however to the year of 1920. In August-September Bavarian units of the Provisional Reichswehr faced unrest caused by rejection of the new so-called “eagle cockade”. There is no way of knowing exactly who was the chief instigator and mastermind of that campaign, but it can safely be assumed that it hardly was a “bottom up” approach. Thus, report of the Oberstleutnant Maximilian Zürn (19.09.1871-04.07.1943), commander of the 17th Cavalry Regiment (17.Reiter-Regiment) addressed to the VII Military District commander von Möhl particularly stated: “Having asked the other ranks of all squadrons, whether they wanted to retain black, white and red cockade or favored the introduction of black, red and yellow (sic! – Author’s Note) one, they decided unanimously for black, white and red. Drastic voices were raised against the introduction of the black, red and yellow cockade”. A week later, on September 22, 1920, similar report signed by Oberst Jakob Ritter von Danner (07.08.1865-28.12.1942), commander of the 24th Brigade of Reichswehr, was received by the Headquarters of the VII Military District. The document particularly noted that “all officers, NCOs and other ranks, the latter with very few exceptions (…) opted for the retention of the black, white and red cockade”. Oberst von Danner added: “The abolition of the old colors, under which Germany was united, esteemed and feared by the whole world, for which it bled for four years, is considered a shameful lack of dignity and patriotic feeling”.
During the following months there arose a veritable storm of protest against the introduction of the new cockade. Thus, the 23rd Brigade of the Provisional Reichswehr and several other units voted for the retention of the black, white and red cockade with an overwhelming majority of voices.
However, all that commander of the VII Military District Arnold Ritter von Möhl was able to achieve was a fifth-month delay in the introduction of the new cockade: it was postponed to February 01, 1921 instead of September 01, 1920.
One might lock horns indefinitely over discussionwhether national socialists were right sticking to the “stab in the back” theory, but von Möhl had the moral right to agree with it: result of the vote in the Army Chamber (Heereskammer) of the War Ministry deciding destiny of the black, white and red cockade was disappointing: nearly all lower ranks representing various German states, including Bavaria, voted against its retention. Von Möhl who was powerless to do anything, suggested that the members of the Heereskammer , before voting on controversial issues, should consult their electors. “Otherwise”, he wrote on October 30, 1920 in the letter to commanding officers, “the Army Chamber would under the influence of a few gifted orators and agitators, take decisions and make proposals which the Reichswehr will repudiate”. However, the fact remains that despite solid affirmations of Bavarian unit commanders that “lower ranks voted for the retention of the black, white and red cockade with an overwhelming majority of voices”, that were exactly lower ranks that raised their voices against German cockade. What was that – one of those notorious “stabs in the back” or just an attempt to give out desirable for valid?
In 1920 plenary meeting of the Army Chamber was attended by 69 members – 14 officers, 13 NCOs and 29 other ranks. The main committee had 36 members – 14 officers, 7 NCOs and 10 other ranks, the remainder being officials, medical, veterinary and arsenal officers. Simple arithmetic indicates that officers, who, in the idealistic view of von Möhl, were “the core” Reichswehr, were in fact outnumbered. The judgement was delivered by a majority, and practice has shown that simple soldiers and junior NCOs were less attached to traditions and values of the relegated to oblivion German Empire.
Quite unexpected developments around cockades have been observed on the eve of the year 1921. In December 1920 III Military Disctrict command with its Headquarters in Berlin ordered the Bavarian company, which was at that time part of the Wach-Regiment Berlin, to wear the new cockade by January 19, 1921. Company commander, however, maintained that his unit was entitled to postpone the step and continue wearing black, white and red cockade until February 01, 1921. He justified his position “fearing that the authority of the officers would suffer if the bankrupt vulture (Pleitegeier – the way the widely resented eagle of the Weimar Republic was commonly referred to by monarchists and nationalists – Author’s Note) had to be worn nevertheless”. Von Möhl, for his part, who not long ago stood for retention of the German cockade, ordered with a heavy heart stubborn Bavarians to carry out the orders issued in Berlin rather than aggravate conflict. The fact that change of cockades should have been done on January 19, strangely coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the German Empire, didn’t seem to faze him a bit. How one can ignore “stab in the back” theory then?
In Bavaria the issue continued to arouse controversies even after February 01, 1921. Thus, NCOs of the 7th (Bavarian) Artillery Regiment (7.(Bayerisches) Artillerie-Regiment) petitioned their officers on February 02 and February 08 to be permitted to wear the German cockades as the new ones “discolored when worn for some time in the rain and then had the effect of a yellow spot” due to the insufficient quality. Document dated February 09, 1921 and signed by Generalleutnant von Möhl stated that the majority of the units of his command had reported they were wearing the new cockade, but that in other reports there appeared a tendency to avoid doing this. As a result, those units which had not yet sent in their reports had to furnish them as ordered by February 15. After that categorical order only one regimental commander, at least in the VII Military District, Oberstleutnant (later Major General) Ludwig Leupold (1869-1945), commander of the 20th (Bavarian) Infantry Regiment (20.(Bayerisches) Infanterie-Regiment), was still holding out. Instead of submitting required document, he sent a report addressed to the VII Military District commander on February 14, 1921. It particularly stated that “The new cockade invented by revolutionary buffoons cannot become a substitute for the outward demonstration of the ideals of the soldier loyal to the state”. He also suggested that his regiment would like to see the senior Bavarian officers wearing caps with new cockades. Lieutenant General von Möhl highly appreciated the strong position of Lieutenant Colonel Leupoldand replied to him on February 16:“I not only know and understand the loathing of this emblem which you are expressing, but I would even regret it if it were not alive in the heart of every German soldier. But the repugnance must be overcome by the members of the Infantry Regiment No.20 exactly as by all the other soldiers of the new army. It is out of the question that parts of the Bavarian Reichswehr should claim for themselves alone the right not to carry out orders”. Von Möhl requested Lieutenant Colonel Leupold once more to see to it that the order was carried out and to report that he had done so. This time, passionate regimental commander accepted the situation, and on March 08, 1921 Obesrt (later General der Infanterie) Adolf Philipp Ritter von Ruith (11.05.1872-05.10.1950), head of staff of the 7th Division of the Reichswehr, reported to the Ministry of Defense that all units of the Bavarian division were wearing the new cockades and enclosed reports of the individual units.
However, that was not the end of the story. Twelve months later Bavarian company that was transferred to the capital of Germany to join the Wach-Regiment Berlin, still refused to wear eagle cockades. Such a glaring violation attracted negative publicity and in March 1922 it has reached the point when Chief of the German Army Command Hans von Seeckt demanded a report from Munich about the case.
Somewhat paradoxically, even in later years Bavarian soldiers managed to avoid the wearing of the eagle cockade: instead of service caps (Dienstmütze) that had two cockades, they were ordered by their commanders to wear field caps (Feldmütze) that had only one Bavarian cockade.
The most amazing side of the “battle” between two cockades was not only that orders were simply not carried out by certain units and their commanders, and reports sent to Berlin were not entirely in accordance with the facts. It is even more surprising that in official reports German colors were described as “black, red and yellow” instead of “black, red and gold”, official coat of arms was referred to as “Bankrupt vulture”, and members of the National Assembly were blamed for the lack of “national tact” and “patriotic feelings”.
Similar occurrences took place in other places. Thus, many other ranks of the Paderborn-stationed Infantry Regiment No.18 (18.Infanterie-Regiment) still wore black, white and red cockades as late as 1922, three years after it was abolished and the new cockade was introduced. Moreover, barrack rooms of the regiment and NCO’s mess were decorated with flags in the old colors and pictures of the former Emperor Wilhelm II.
It is therefore not surprising that “eagle cockade” was abolished soon after national socialists came to power, and their choice was made in favor of the German black, white and red cockade.