History of the German Cockade

Historical Prerequisites for Introduction of the German Cockade

Cockade of Prussia as we have always known it, originates from the distinctive headgear emblem introduced in 1806-1807 for Prussian defenders of Silesia by its Deputy Governor-General Obrist-Lieutenant Friedrich Wilhelm von Götzen der Jüngere (20.01.1767-29.02.1820). Shortly after it moved to headgear of other army units, from Prussia as well as from other German states. As for the prototype of the Prussian cockade, it was that of the Napoleon Bonaparte's French troops, the latter being introduced during the French Revolution. For the sake of justice, it should be said that military fashion of the early 1800s was generally dominated by the image of Napoleon Bonaparte. The tall shako used by the French and their allies was copied by nearly all the armies of Europe, and Prussia was no exception to this tradition as it developed a tall leather and felt shako after the French pattern.

Prussian cockade never changed colors and always was black and white. Oval cockades (Feldzeichen, i.e. cloth-covered wooden badge in the state colors) worn on shako (Tschako), czapka (Tschapka) and hussars' fur caps (Pelzmütze der Husaren) were black-and-white, while circular cockades worn on caps and spiked helmets were black-white-black. After the North German Confederation was formed in 1867 under the auspices of Prussia, the decision was made to keep the traditional cockades of military personnel from German states the Confederation comprised of unchanged. Color scheme of those cockades, from centre to the outer ring, is listed below. Bavaria: white-light blue-white; Saxony: white-green-white; Württemberg: black-red-black; Baden: yellow-red-yellow; Hesse: white-red-white; Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz: red-yellow-blue; Oldenburg: blue with red cross; Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: black-green-light blue; Brunswick: light blue-yellow-light blue; Anhalt: green; Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen and Saxe-Altenburg: green-white-green; Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt: light blue-white-light blue; Schwarzburg-Sondershausen: white-light blue-white; Reuss Elder and Junior Lines: black-red-yellow; Schaumburg-Lippe: blue-red-white; Lippe: red with thin yellow rim; Waldeck and Pyrmont: black-red-yellow; three Hanseatic cities-states (Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck): white with red cross.

German cockade 1Suggestion to use black-white-red tricolor as the national flag of the united German state, though not created yet, appeared as early as September 22, 1866 on pages of the issue No.780 of the "Bremen Commercial Newspaper" (Bremer Handelsblatt). Interestingly, that initiative was launched not by a politician, but by a renowned economist Dr.Adolf Soetbeer (23.11.1814-22.10.1892), secretary of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, who submitted an article titled "German and Foreign Debates and German Flags" ("Deutsche und auswärtige Rhederei und die deutschen Flaggen"). His article ended with the following suggestion: "There is an opinion that future flag of the united German nation should be a tricolor consisting of the Prussian black and white colours and traditional red and white colours, whether black-red-white or black-white-red flag. (...) North German state should choose between the one described above and black-and-white flag".

Finally, black, white and red flag as a national symbol made its way into the text of the constitution of the North German Confederation adopted on April 16, 1867. Thus, Article 55 of the Chapter IX "Naval Forces and Navigation" (Marine und Schiffahrt) stipulated that "Flag of the Navy and Merchant Fleet is black-white-red".

It was Minister President of Prussia Count Otto von Bismarck who insisted on institution of the national flag of that color scheme and on inclusion of its description into the Constitution of the North German Confederation. He presented the meaning of color scheme of the flag to the King Wilhelm in the following manner: black, white and red is a combination of traditional Prussian black and white colors, Brandenburgian red and Hanseatic white and red colors.

On October 25, 1867 King of Prussia Wilhelm issued the following Decree on the grounds of Article 55 of the Constitution:

"We, Wilhelm, by the Grace of God, King of Prussia, etc., relying on the Article 55 of the Constitution of the North German Confederation and in the name of the Confederation, do herewith declare:

The flag of the Confederation that is to be raised henceforth on all merchant ships belonging to the states of the North German Confederation as the national flag (Paragraph 1 of the Law effective as of today establishing nationality of merchant watercraft and their right to use flag of the Confederation), forms an oblong rectangle, consisting of three equally broad horizontal stripes, of which the upper is black, the medial white, and the lower red. The ratio between the height of the flag and its length is two to three.

Flag of the Confederation is flown at the stern or on mizzen-mast, as a rule, on its gaff, and if there is none, on top or on shrouds.

Usage of the flag of the Confederation by merchant ships as a distinctive emblem or a pennant as used by battleships of the North German Confederation Navy, is prohibited.

Our Majesty's Royal Signature and Seal of the Confederation so affixed, shall be valid and effectual.

Given at the Babelsberg Palace the 25th Day of October 1867.

In token whereof His Royal Majesty had hereunto set His hand: Wilhelm.

Count von Bismarck-Schönhausen".

It should be noted that the flag described above had outlived German Empire and was used even in the Weimar Republic. It was repealed by the Regulation on German Flags (Verordnung über die deutschen Flaggen) dated April 11, 1921 and signed by the first President of Germany Friedrich Ebert.

As for the North German Confederation military personnel, at the time none of them wore cockades of state colors. Meanwhile, conservative-minded Bismarck and Wilhelm strongly opposed to usage of black, red and gold cockades as those colors quite rightly have long been associated with liberal instigators of the German revolutions of 1848-1849 that broke out in the then German Confederation. At the same time, how could Wilhelm, nicknamed "Grapeshot Prince" (Kartätschenprinz) for the use of artillery fire during suppression of mutiny in Berlin, try on cockade of his ideological enemies?

Regulations governing the introduction of the imperial cockade for German military personnel have been discussed in details on the eve of the coronation of Wilhelm in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles Palace on January 17, 1871. The meeting was attended by Wilhelm himself, Otto von Bismarck, Minister for the Prussian Royal Household Alexander von Schleinitz, as well as Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, future King of Prussia and Emperor of German Empire Friedrich III. According to the memoirs of the latter, "Selection of imperial colors did not give rise to debate as the King did not object to black, white and red cockade and, moreover, he declared that black, red and yellow colors, so loved by the mob, would be therefore finally consigned to oblivion. He also noted that wearing of the new tricolor cockade would be allowed next to the Prussian cockade only". Absence of yellow color in the new cockade was also appealing to Wilhelm as it was one of Habsburg's colors. During the discussion that followed, all remarks of the King were naturally taken into account. As for Bismarck, he still regarded black, white and red cockade on headgear of military personnel as a symbol of the finally achieved unity of the German nation. However, four days before coronation of Wilhelm as the German Emperor, he submitted report to the King covering legal factors related to introduction of the German cockade: "Article 63 of the Constitution of the North German Confederation reads: "Command of national units the Army of the Confederation comprises of, are authorized to determine design of distinctive insignia of Armed Forces (cockades, etc.) on their own". Supposed provision repeals the existing procedure of wearing of cockades determined by military leaders of the North German Confederation, and makes changes to orders regulating wearing of cockades by national units military personnel, including introduction of the Imperial cockade and its wearing next to state cockades. All of this requires conclusion of appropriate agreements with national units command". At the same time, Bismarck believed that introduction of the German cockade would be supported by Saxon, Württemberg and Hesse authorities, but was uncertain about the stand of Bavaria.

As the Iron Chancellor had expected, introduction of the German cockade required intense negotiations with rulers and governments of all states German Empire consisted of. In any case it was emphasized that the new cockade would be worn by officers, NCOs and lower ranks along with state cockades.

In addition to purely political purposes, introduction of the national German cockade was aimed at unification of emblems worn on military headgear. Thus, prior to 1897, military personnel of large German states wore their national cockades only, while orders regulating wearing of cockades by subjects of smaller states within the Empire were much more intricate and sometimes even complicated. Such was the case, for example, of the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg servicemen: officers wore Prussian cockade only, and enlisted personnel wore on their caps and spike helmets two cockades, both Oldenburgian and Prussian.

The situation with subjects of Anhalt, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Altenburg, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt as well as of Reuss Elder and Junior Lines was exactly the opposite: officers wore two cockades – state and Prussian, while enlisted ranks wore only state cockade.

As for the units from Lippe, Schaumburg-Lippe, Waldeck-Pyrmont and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, as well as from three Hanseatic cities-states, i.e. Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck, attached to the Prussian Army, military personnel of those states wore two cockades – Prussian and their own.

Moreover, every serviceman who served in the military unit of another German state, wore two cockades – that of the state where he served and the one of his native state.

Thus, a large variety of combinations of cockades existed. What was invariable, was their location. When worn on spiked helmets, the left cockade mounted behind the chinstrap or chinscale was used to denote the state of the serviceman; the Prussian black-white-black cockade was always mounted on the right side of the helmet. On officers'/NCOs' visor caps or soft visorless caps, a.k.a. Krätzchen for enlisted personnel cockade was attached to the crown; when two cockades were worn, the Prussian was attached to the crown and the state one to the cap band.

By the end of 1896 Kings of Saxony and Württemberg as well as Prince Regent of Bavaria have given their consent to publish Decrees introducing German cockades for military personnel of their states on March 22, 1897, in conjunction with the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Wilhelm I, the founder of the German Empire.

Translation of the corresponding Decree of the Kingdom of Bavaria (which maintained relations with Prussia that could be considered during those years as warm only at a stretch) is reproduced below. It was gazetted on March 20, 1897 in the 8th issue of the Journal of Laws (Verordnungs-Blatt) published by the Royal Bavarian War Ministry.

"Army Order

Munich, the 20th Day of March, 1897.

In the Name of His Majesty the King

Forthcoming remembrance celebrations that will be held throughout the whole Germany on March 22, will remind all of us of great days, when Wilhelm I, the late Emperor and the King of Prussia had commanded the troops on the fields of battle in the north and south in pursuance of his idea of unification of Germany, idea he devoted his life to.

Memory of this renowned leader of the nation, founder of the German Empire, will be eternally honored in the Army.

So that this countrywide day of remembrance be immortalized and at the same time in order to express sense of unity gained through self-sacrifice in battles and felt by troops of all German states, I enact: in addition to the Bavarian cockade, to introduce wearing of the German cockade that will be worn by military personnel of our Supreme Allies following corresponding joint decision.

Ruler of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Prince Regent Luitpold,

Freiherr von Asch".

Nevertheless, opponents to pompous celebrations marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Wilhelm I raised their voices as well. Thus, Chlodwig Carl Viktor, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Prince of Ratibor and Corvey, who served as Chancellor of Germany and Prime Minister of Prussia from 1894 to 1900, argued that centenary of Wilhelm I was far less significant than his accession to the Prussian throne. Enraged Wilhelm II, grandson of the founder of the German Empire, telegraphed back angrily: "The celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the first German Emperor of the German national Empire from the German House of Hohenzollern has a completely different significance for Germany and the whole world than does the coronation of the King of Prussia in 1861".

However, public opinion was far from unanimous about the position propounded by Prince of hohenloe. Even his protégé, German-Ploish magnate count Bogdan von Hutten-Czapski, sent him the letter on March 22, 1897 regretting that he was unable to agree with the opinion of his patron. Quite the contrary, he characterized introduction of the new cockade as "the most telling measure that has been undertaken in the military-political sphere since 1870".

Introduction of the German Cockade

As scheduled, Decree on introduction of the German cockade was declared on March 22, 1897, on the centenary of Wilhelm I's birth. Special issue of the Army Regulations Bulletin (Armee-Verordnungs-Blatt, Extra-Nummer) published the same day was devoted to that event. Its first article read as follows:

"To My Army!

Today our Fatherland celebrates the day on which one hundred years ago Providence gave us an outstanding ruler who led German people towards long-awaited unification and who once again dressed on himself a crown of the Emperor – Wilhelm the Great. While borders of Germany have been threatened by enemy invasion, and its honor and independence have been jeopardized, divided people from North and South have united and bonded weapons of the German armies by blood of heroes who fell on the fields of battle with France. They were the ones who had laid the foundations of the new Empire that united rulers of sisterly states and their subjects.

This unification became the greatest tribute, that grateful German people paid to its Great Emperor, father of its homeland. This event will take its rightful place for ever and ever in all hearts, every beat of which longs for honor and prosperity of Germany, and will never fade from the memory of those who stood under the glorious banners of Wilhelm the Great and had the honor to make their contribution to the greatest project of his life.

In this anniversary day I ruled to give a special honor to My army, that henceforth will be granted with the German cockade, special distinctive emblem of colors of its unified Fatherland, eternal reminder of glory and grandeur of Germany that will be defended by its troops at the cost of their blood and lives. Now I am announcing my ruling having enjoyed the unanimous support of My Supreme Allies.

Today I look at My Army with gratitude and full confidence as I know that tireless concern the Great Emperor provided it with since childhood until the very last moment of his illustrious life, had cultivated spirit of discipline, obedience and loyalty. As a result, the Army will carry out every entrusted mission and will perform great heroic deeds that will be enduring legacy of Emperor's deeds and a clear indication that his efforts will remain etched in our memories forever.

It is for that reason that I dedicate commemorative emblem instituted today, primarily to him. Therefore, may every single man who has the honor to keep the image of the Great Emperor in his heart, be inspired with the same love for his Fatherland and discharge all of his duties with the same zeal. And may then all sorrows and dangers that await him in his journey through life by Divine Providence stay away from him.

Given in Berlin, the 22nd Day of March, 1897


German cockade 2

Statute of the German cockade was described in details in the Article No.2 of the aforementioned Special issue of the Army Regulations Bulletin.

"In accordance with My today's Army Order and pursuant to arrangements with My Supreme Allies – German rulers and heads of Free and Hanseatic cities, I order the following:

1. German cockade is worn on the right side of the spiked helmet, while state cockade – on the left side. German cockade is worn on the right side of the shako, czapka and hussars' fur cap. Color scheme of the Feldzeichen is similar to that of the state cockade. When worn on field, dress and service caps, state cockade is worn on cap band, while German cockade is worn centered at the crown, provided height of any other emblems worn on caps does not require more distance between two cockades. Landwehr cross (for Reserve and Landwehr personnel) is attached to the visor cap and is worn with state cockade only. Regulations for wearing of crosses on spiked helmets, etc. remain unchanged. 

2. The enclosed summary chart, describing regulations for wearing of cockades concerns military personnel of the units who wear German and non-Prussian state cockades and Feldzeichen. The same rules shall also apply to officials of military administration in corresponding garrisons, but it shall be mandatory for military officials serving in concrete military unit to wear cockades directed to servicemen of those units (battalions, etc.). 

3. Order directing certain lower ranks to wear cockade of their native state in addition to cockade of the state they serve in, is rescinded.

4. Reserve officers wear cockades of respective military units.

5. Landwehr officers as well as medical officers and reserve military officials wear German cockade and cockade of their native state. – Landwehr officers and other residing in the Imperial Territory (Alsace-Lorraine – Author's Note) wear German and Prussian cockades, unless their citizenship requires wearing of cockade of another German state. In time of war all officers and other military personnel attached to military units wear state cockade of appropriate military unit.

6. Patterns of the German and state cockades and Feldzeichen approved by Me, including those not approved yet for military units by My Supreme Allies, are final versions.

I leave arrangement of other matter to discretion of the War Ministry.

Given in Berlin, the 22nd Day of March, 1897


On behalf of the War Ministry – von Goßler".

Regulations on wearing of German and state cockades introduced in 1897 remained in force right up to the disintegration of the German Empire. Besides cockades, citizenship of majority of German military personnel could have been determined by examining other details of uniform, e.g. spiked helmets. However, in certain cases that were only cockades that allowed to identify nationality of a particular serviceman. Those units were: III battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment Graf Bülow von Dennewitz (6.Westfälisches) Nr.55 (Lippe), I battalion of the 3.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.71 (Schwarzburg-Sondershausen), I and II battalions of the 1.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.75 (Bremen), 2.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.76 (Hamburg), III battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment von Wittich (3.Hessisches) Nr.83 (Waldeck and Pyrmont), 3.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.162 (Lübeck) and Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr.7 (Schaumburg-Lippe).

These regulations have been set out in the Supplement to the Statute of the German cockade.

Army Corps

Unit *

State, which cockade is worn below the German cockade



Anhaltisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.93,
District commands (Bezirkskommando) Dessau and Bernburg

Duchy of Anhalt


I battalion of the 3.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.71,
District command Sondershausen

Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen


8.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.153,
District command Altenburg

Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg (Ducal Saxon cockade)


II battalion of the 7.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.96,
District command Gera

Principalities of Reuss, Elder and Junior Lines


III battalion of the 7.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.96,

Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt



III battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment Graf Bülow von Dennewitz (6.Westfälisches) Nr.55,
District command Detmold

Principality of Lippe


Military personnel of the Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr.7 wear Feldzeichen in colors of the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe

Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr.7

Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe


I and II battalions of the 1.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.75,
District commands I and II Bremen

Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen


2.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.76,
District command Hamburg

Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg


3.Hanseatisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.162,
District command Lübeck

Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck



Oldenburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.91,
Oldenburgisches Dragoner-Regiment Nr.19,
2nd and 3rd (Oldenburgischen) batteries of the 2.Hannoversches Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr.26,
District commands I and II Oldenburg

Grand Duchy of Oldenburg


Braunschweigisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.92,
Braunschweigisches Husaren-Regiment Nr.17,
5th (Braunschweigisches) battery of the Feld-Artillerie-Regiment von Scharnhorst (1.Hannoversches) Nr.10,
District commands I and II Brunswick

Duchy of Brunswick

Military personnel of the Braunschweigisches Husaren-Regiment Nr.17 wear Feldzeichen in colors of the Duchy of Brunswick


III battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment von Wittich (3.Hessisches) Nr.83,
District command Arolsen

Principality of Waldeck and Pyrmont


6.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.95,
District commands Gotha and Meiningen

Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Ducal Saxon cockade)


5.Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.94 (Großherzog von Sachsen),
District commands Weimar and Eisenach

Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach



All officers, medical officers, military officials and enlisted personnel who, thus far, have been ordered to wear Baden emblem

Grand Duchy of Baden

Military personnel of the Badische Train-Bataillon Nr.14 wear Feldzeichen in colors of the Grand Duchy of Baden

* Military units of Grand Duchy of Hesse, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, as well as railway companies of Kingdom of Saxony and Kingdom of Württemberg will receive corresponding instructions from their rulers.

Several state cockades have been ordered to change color scheme in 1897. Thus, new cockade for Oldenburg military personnel was changed to blue-red-blue (that cockade was worn on spiked helmets since 1867, by the way); Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach – black-yellow-green, Bremen – white-red-white. Oval cockades, i.e. Feldzeichen on shako (Tschako), czapka (Tschapka) and hussars' fur caps (Pelzmütze der Husaren) were, as a rule, two-colored. Here are their color schemes from edge to centre: Prussia – white-black, Bavaria – white-light blue, Saxony – white-green, Württemberg – black-red, Brunswick – yellow-light blue. Feldzeichen for Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Schaumburg-Lippe military personnel were three-colored: the former had white cockade with red and blue inner four-compartment oval, while the latter – white, red and blue. Additionally, white color on cockades worn by officers and NCOs allowed to wear officers' cockades, was actually silver, while yellow was actually gilt.

Brunswick cockades have been subject to modification thrice. Initially military personnel of the Duchy wore state cockade that was light blue-yellow-light blue. Upon expiration of the Military Convention, on March 18, 1886, troops were issued with Prussian black-white-black cockades. After introduction of the German cockade in 1897 light blue-yellow-light blue state cockade took its place on headgear again.

Coming back to aforementioned publications on introduction of the German cockade in various states of the Empire after announcement of Wilhelm II's Order, we would like to cite as an example relevant document, printed on March 27, 1897 in the 9th issue of the Journal of Laws (Verordnungs-Blatt) published by the Royal Bavarian War Ministry.

"Regarding introduction of the German cockade

Munich, the 26th Day of March, 1897.

In the Name of His Majesty the King

His Royal Majesty the Ruler of Bavaria Prince Regent Luitpold have decided to approve the Royal Decree dated 20th day of this month and to issue the following instructions having secured consent of the War Ministry:

1. German cockade must be manufactured in accordance with the pattern enclosed. Meanwhile, Bavarian cockade must be worn on the left side of the spiked helmet, while German cockade – on the right side of the spiked helmet, shako and czapka. When worn on field, dress and service caps, the German cockade is worn centered at the crown above the state cockade, provided height of emblems worn by military officials on their caps does not exceed distance between two cockades.

2. New cockade for officers' spiked helmets and field caps for enlisted personnel instead of the one used currently is introduced according to the enclosed pattern.

3. Bavarian cockade currently worn on spiked helmets for mounted enlisted personnel is replaced with cockade for spiked helmets for unmounted enlisted personnel according to the enclosed pattern.

Aforementioned Royal Decree is to be announced to the Army personnel with the following binding directions:

a) Oval cockades on shako and czapka, as well as Bavarian officers' cockades for visor caps and Bavarian cockades for Model 1896 spiked helmets for enlisted personnel remain unchanged.

b) Landwehr cross (for Reserve and Landwehr personnel) is attached to the visor cap and is worn with Bavarian cockade only. Regulations for wearing of crosses on spiked helmets, etc. remain unchanged.

c) Oilcloth caps are worn with the new pattern Bavarian cockade only.

d) After approval of the pattern of the new cockade that will follow within the very near future, unit commanders must immediately report current needs for new pattern Bavarian and German cockades with a view to conduct their procurement from extrabudgetary sources at the expense of War Ministry's own funds.

e) Patterns of German and Bavarian cockades will be submitted to Corps headquarters and other authorities by the War Ministry.

War Ministry.

Freiherr von Asch

Head of the Chief Directorate Obesrt von Flügel".

However, opponents of introduction of the German cockade emerged as well on both sides. Some considered that its wearing on headgear by each and every serviceman would compromise the theoretical independence of the contingents from the individual German states which together made up the army of the Empire. As for the powerful circles that upheld the Prussian-centrist character of the German Empire and its army also strongly opposed the introduction of the German cockade fearing that new national symbol would weaken the position of Berlin.

Yet, opponents found themselves in minority. Thus, count Bogdan von Hutten-Czapski, protégé of the Chancellor of Germany Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, mentioned above, wrote in his memoirs: "Here the Emperor proved to have a feeling for what was psychologically appropriate and effective. (...) It did not take long until the position of the black-white-red cockade over the cockade of the German states had become naturally accepted and a self-evident imponderable of the idea of the unity of the Empire".

Description of German Cockades for Caps and Spiked Helmets

1. Constructively, German cockades worn by enlisted personnel, NCOs and officers differed a lot.
Cockades worn by lower ranks on soft visorless caps, nicknamed Krätzchen, measured 25 mm in diameter, were made from one piece of metal and had two holes in the central red-colored section through which they were sewed on to caps by red threads.
NCOs issue cockades were also of one-piece construction but measured 22 mm in diameter. Unlike cockades for enlisted personnel, they were attached to visor caps using two flat metal prongs soldered to reverse of cockades.

Cockades ordered for wear by officers and NCOs with the officers' sword knot, i.e. Vize-Feldwebel, Vize-Wachtmeister, Feldwebel and Wachtmeister were much more elaborate and decorative. Those three-piece cockades measuring 22 mm approximately in diameter had red tissue centerpieces made of felt, velvet, cotton, etc. Two other elements representing white and black colors were manufactured of metal, and the former had a shape of the silver-colored raised double ring. Those cockades had a pair of split prong fastenings on the reverse.
All cockades described above had outer black ring with crimped edges.

German cockade 3

2. Standard German cockades worn on the right side of spiked helmets by lower ranks and NCOs without the officers' sword knot were one-piece, measured 48 mm in diameter (65 mm for mounted personnel) and had a shape of the stamped wide circular ring painted black, white and red with central hole.

Cockade for NCOs with the officers' sword knot of the same diameter for unmounted and mounted personnel (48 and 65 mm), but had large central hole. White color was imitated by the superimposed silver-colored raised single ring. Meanwhile, NCOs with the officers' sword knot were allowed to wear officers' cockades described below.

Officers' cockade measured either 55 mm or 65 mm (the latter were issued to cavalry officers) and were generally three-piece. However, rare one piece cockades without any kind of raised ring existed as well. White color was imitated by the superimposed silver-colored raised double, less frequently single ring. Inner and outer rings were covered with red and black paint, respectively.

Third element of the three-piece cockades for NCOs and officers was protective round backing attached to their reverses.

Wearing of the German Cockade by Overseas Units Personnel

Most German overseas units, viz. Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), Naval Infantry, or Sea Battalions (Seebataillone), Defense Troops (Schutztruppe), Police Troops (Polizeitruppe), Imperial Territorial Police of the German South West Africa (Kaiserliche Landespolizei für Deutsche Südwestafrika) and the East Asian Occupation Brigade (Ostasiatische Besatzungsbrigade) operated under direct Imperial command from Berlin, rather than partial state command. As such their personnel wore a single German cockade. Those cockades varied in size, shape and quality depending on the type of headgear they were attached to and rank of the serviceman. Small cockades were attached to cap bands of caps, naval caps and Schutztruppe and naval tropical helmets. Larger serrated cockades were worn on the right side of the so-called "Southwestern hats" (Südwesterhut) of the Schutztruppe, the straw hats (Strohut) worn by the East Asian Expeditionary Corps (Ostasiatische Expeditionskorps) and the tropical helmets of the East Asian Occupation Brigade and the Asian Corps (Asien-Korps, or Levante-Korps).

Overseas units that wore both German and state cockades included the East Asian Expeditionary Corps until 1901; the Georgian Expeditionary Corps in the Caucasus (Deutsche Kaukasusexpeditionkorps), most of whom were Bavarian subjects; Expeditions "Pascha I", "Pascha II" and other German army units sent to the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, certain army officers seconded from their home units to the Schutztruppe or other overseas service retained their home units' state cockades.

Abolition of the German Cockade and Transition to the "Eagle Cockade"

Being introduced in 1897, in the golden period of the German Empire, German cockade was abolished with the fall of the Empire. Weimar Republic authorities who decided to overcome imperial legacy, naturally attacked state symbols, including national flag. Thus, according to the Constitution of the German State adopted on July 31, 1919 by the Weimar National Assembly, black, white and red flag was replaced with the black, red and gold (Article 3). Its detailed description contained in the Regulation on German Flags (Verordnung über die deutschen Flaggen) dated April 11, 1921: "National flag consists of three equally broad horizontal stripes, of which the upper is black, the medial red, and the lower golden yellow". Not surprisingly, the new tricolor was met with violent opposition by the most conservative part of the German society, namely officer corps. Come 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 discussion whether 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.

German cockade 4

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 Leupold and 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.

Reintroduction of the German Cockade

German cockade of the Second Reich was reintroduced, though for the short time, during the Third Reich era. Thus, Paul von Hindenburg, President of the German Reich, ordered on March 14, 1933 the black, white and red cockade surrounded by an oakleaf wreath to be worn on cap bands of all peaked caps of German Army officers, NCOs and enlisted men instead of the black, red and gold eagle cockade. State cockades previously worn on top parts of caps were replaced with first pattern national emblem, or Hoheitszeichen, i.e. eagle with outstretched beveled wings holding in its claws a wreath of oak leaves surrounding a mobile swastika, in 1934.

Wearing of reintroduced black, white and red cockade was implemented as quickly as possible: it adorned peaked caps of sentries guarding Palace of the Reichspräsident in two days after the Order was gazetted, since March 16, 1933.

Starting from 1934, Weimar-era state cockades worn on cap bands of field caps were replaced with black, white and red cockades. Black, white and red shields replaced obsolete territorial shields painted on the left side of steel helmets right under the ventilation bolts. Naval personnel wore black, white and red cockades on blue and white caps; cockades surrounded by gilt oakleaf wreaths were attached to field grey visor caps.

Finally, the German cockade went down in history with the fall of the Third Reich.

German cockade 5