|War Ensign (1848–1852)|
The Reichsflotte (Imperial Fleet) was the first all-German Navy. It was founded on 14 June 1848 during the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states by the Frankfurt Parliament to provide a naval force in the First Schleswig War against Denmark.
The German Confederation, founded in 1815, was initially not in need of a navy, as it could rely on three members who commanded large fleets: The Grand Duke of Luxembourg as commander of the Royal Dutch Navy, the Duke of Holstein as the commander of the Danish Navy, and last but not least, the King of Hanover as commander of the British Royal Navy. This had changed by the late 1830s, though, as the Kings of the Netherlands and Great Britain ceased to be members of the German Confederation, and Denmark turned against Germany in the First Schleswig War that started in early 1848. Soon, the Danish Navy stopped all German trade in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
This newly-created provisional government was headed by Archduke Johann of Austria as regent (Reichsverweser), i.e., as a temporary head of state. Johann named as August von Jochmus as Foreign Minister and Navy minister.
Soon after the parliament first met on 18 May 1848 in Frankfurt, the diet of the German Confederation turned over its budget to the parliament on 12 June 1848. Only two days later, the parliament decided to spend 6 million Reichsthaler for a navy under Prince Adalbert of Prussia. When he had to resign due to an order by the King of Prussia, Konteradmiral Karl Rudolf Brommy took over.
In the Battle of Heligoland (1849) on 4 June 1849, the fleet under Brommy saw its only combat action, which also remains the first and only naval combat under the black-red-gold Flag of Germany. The battle, involving five boats in total, was inconclusive with no losses on either side, and with the Danish blockade restored after the battle.
Until 1852, the fleet had
- 2 sail frigates : Deutschland (1848), Eckernförde (captured Danish SMS Gefion (1852))
- 3 steam frigates : SMS Barbarossa (ex-RMS Britannia), Erzherzog Johann, Hansa (1848)
- 1 sail corvette : Franklin (ship) (donated by Hamburg, not accepted)
- 6 steam corvettes : Der Königliche Ernst August, Großherzog von Oldenburg, Frankfurt (1848), Bremen (1848), Hamburg (1841), Lübeck (1844)
- 27 gunboats
On 2 April 1852, the Reichsflotte was dissolved. While most ships were sold off, two 2 steam frigates were given to the Prussian Navy, which later evolved into the Northern German Federal Navy (Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, 1866-1871) and became the Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine, 1872-1918).
Several names are used for this Navy. The resolution of 14 June 1848 just calls it "Deutsche Marine", while Marine minister Arnold Duckwitz in 1849 reported about the "Deutsche Kriegsmarine" and when Karl Rudolf Brommy was promoted to its first Admiral, the name used was "Reichsmarine", which was used within the Navy, too. To avoid confusion with later incarnations, historians settled for Reichsflotte. The term Bundesflotte (Federal fleet) is also used, but this is misleading, as it was not operated by the German Confederation, but by the parliament which had adopted a constitution for a German Empire, the Reichsverfassung ("Imperial Constitution").
The "Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs", article III § 19, states:
-  The naval forces are the exclusive affair of the Reich. It is not allowed for any single state to maintain its own warships or hire privateers.
-  The crews of the war navy are a part of the new German defence force (the term "Wehrmacht" is used). They are independent of the land forces.
-  The size of the crews to be provided for the war navy from each state, is to be calculated from the number of land forces to be maintained by it. Details on this matter, as well as the balancing of costs between the Reich government and the individual states, will be determined by law.
-  The commissioning of officers and officials of the naval forces are under the sole authority of the Reich.
-  The care for equipping, training and maintaining a war fleet and the creation, equipping and maintenance of military harbours and arsenals falls under the authority of the Reich.
-  The matters pertaining on the appropriations necessary for the establishment of military harbours and naval installations, as well as on the responsibilities of the corresponding Reich services will be determined by Reich laws.
- Vor gut 160 Jahren, am 14. Juni 1848, bewilligte das erste frei und demokratisch gewählte deutsche Parlament, die Nationalversammlung der Frankfurter Paulskirche, mit überwältigender Mehrheit sechs Millionen Taler für den Bau einer deutschen Flotte. Deutsche Marine, History
- Guntram Schulze-Wegener: Deutschland zur See . 150 Jahre Marinegeschichte. Mittler, Hamburg 1998. ISBN 3-8132-0551-7
- Jörg Duppler : Germania auf dem Meere / Bilder und Dokumente zur Deutschen Marinegeschichte 1848 –1998. Mittler, Hamburg 1998. ISBN 3-8132-0564-9
- Walther Hubatsch: Die erste deutsche Flotte, 1848 - 1853, Mittler, Herford 1981.
- L[üder]. Arenhold: Vor 50 Jahren: Die Deutsche Reichsflotte 1848 - 1852 in zwölf Bildern, (Reprint from 1906) Media Verlag, Berlin 1995.