Uniforms and insignia of the Kriegsmarine

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German Vice Admiral Günther Lütjens during World War II

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[edit]

Line officer sleeve insignia

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
Staff officer emblems of the Kriegsmarine
Engineering (Ing.), Weapons (W.), Coastal Artillery (M.A.), Mine Warfare (W.), Signals (N.T.), Torpedoman (T.), Medical (S.), Administration (V.)

Naval officers wore blue colored uniforms with rank displayed by both sleeve stripes and epaulets. Regular line officers (Seeoffiziere) wore sleeve stripes beneath a gold star. Staff officers displayed a unique sleeve emblem in place of the star and also wore this insignia centered on their shoulder epaulets. When writing their rank in correspondence, staff officers would include a staff designator such as Kapitänleutnant (Ing.) to indicate their career field. Specialty officers, which included all administrative career fields, wore silver coat buttons instead of gold. A further classification for officers was that of Sonderführer. These officers were either technical or administrative specialists, in highly specific career fields, who wore the uniforms and insignia of line officers. One of the more recognizable special fields was that of Marinekriegsberichter (Naval war correspondent) whose members were dispatched with various naval ships and submarines in order to report on naval life and victories during the war. One such correspondent, Lothar-Günther Buchheim, later published a novel based on his war experiences which was then made into the submarine action film Das Boot.

Petty officer aspirant devices worn with sleeve chevrons

Seaman displayed rank through the use of sleeve chevrons and badges. Enlisted sailors, who wore no insignia, were known by the generic term Matrose and used a rating system similar to other European navies of the day. Rating badges in the form of a small patch were worn on the upper left sleeve and 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, could advance to become Matrosengefreiter (literally "Seaman Corporals"). Special grades existed for those sailors with six and eight years of service, denoted by embroidered sleeve chevrons. A further classification for Seaman was that of Unteroffizier Aspirant. Such seaman were recognized as in training to become Petty officers and wore a silver grey bar beneath their sleeve chevron while in training and a "nested" chevron bar once training was complete. All seaman in petty officer training were denoted in correspondence as "(UA)" after their name and standard rank.

Petty officers in the Kriegsmarine were known by the title Maat. Once advanced to the grade of petty officer, sailors were addressed, both verbally and in correspondence, by their rate followed by the term Maat. For instance, a boatswain petty officer would be referred to as Bootsmannmaat while a leading torpedoman petty officer would be known as Mechanikerobermaat. Petty officers wore special collar patches to denote their rank and a large rating badge on their left shoulder. On service coats and frocks, regular sailors wore a simple blue collar tab to differentiate between the petty officers.

Chief petty officer insignia

Chief petty officers wore shoulder epaulets on all uniforms as their primary means of rank with a rating symbol centered on the shoulder strap. Chief petty officer uniforms were nearly identical to those of officers, except that the chief's uniform rarely was worn in dress. Full dress uniforms also did not exist for chiefs, with the "lesser dress" typically the highest type of uniform a chief would wear at only the most formal of functions. The chief petty officers were known by the rank Matrosenfeldwebel ("sailor sergeants") but in both verbal and written correspondence were referred to by their rate. For instance, a medical chief petty officer would be known as a Sanitatsman while a senior engineering petty officer would be referred to as an Obermaschinist. For those chief petty officers with over ten to twelve years of service, the title Stabs would be added to their rate, i.e. Stabssteuermann or Stabsoberfunkmeister.

Uniform types[edit]

Standard uniforms[edit]

Dress uniforms[edit]

The Kriegsmarine full dress uniform (Grosse Uniform) was worn typically by officers ranked Korvettenkapitän and above. The uniform consisted of a double peaked jacket worn with a white belt, full sized medals, sword, large epaulets, and a cocked style naval hat (Zweispitz). There were two modifications to this uniform worn by all officer ranks: Grosser Gesellschaftsanzug which was an evening dress version of the uniform with bow tie, short open jacket, and cummerbund. The Kleiner Gesellschaftsanzug was a "toned down" version of the dress uniform worn with a ribbon bar, dagger in place of full sword, a white service cap, and standard epaulets. A third category was the "walking out dress" (Ausgehanzug) which was essentially a standard service uniform worn with epaulets, belt, and sword or dagger.

Officer dress uniforms

Service uniforms[edit]

The full officer service uniform was worn with a raised necktie, both shoulder epaulets and sleeve stripes to denote rank, as well as full medals and ribbons. In day-to-day operations, officers often wore the "lesser service uniform" with no epaulets, regular tie, and minimal decorations.

The Dienstanzug (Service uniform) was worn in headquarters settings and constituted (for officers) of a double breasted naval coat with sleeve stripes worn with ribbons, medals, badges, and a white dress belt. A raised collar white shirt with black neck-tie was worn underneath. The Kleiner Dienstanzug (lesser service uniform), allowed the officer to wear a normal collared shirt with a plain black tie. The lesser uniform was also typically worn without a full ribbon bar or belt, but still with highly notable awards such as the Knight's Cross, Iron Cross or German Cross. The officer uniform was colored midnight-blue[N 1] and the double-breasted jacket had ten brass buttons and a matching peaked cap.

Officer service uniforms

Chief petty officers wore a uniform very similar to the officer jacket, but with shoulder epaulets instead of sleeve stripes to denote rank. The service 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. The enlisted cap was emblazoned with the script "Kriegsmarine". The enlisted "dress service uniform" was worn with an open coat, buttoned in the center, with white dress shirt and embroidered gold sleeve buttons. The undress version consisted of a double breasted coat, worn over a dark shirt and black tie, with the coat displaying dark blue collar tabs.

Chief petty officer service uniforms

Sailor service uniforms

Service Duty uniforms[edit]

Two Kriegsmarine officers wearing the khaki tropical uniform variant

For standard everyday wear on-board naval vessels, enlisted sailors wore a frock coat with limited medals and badges (typically only war badges and high combat awards) as well as a simple system of collar tabs to denote between regular seaman and petty officers (Maat). In heavy weather, a thick overcoat was also worn.

The summer white variant

The Kriegsmarine further maintained a summer uniform known as the Tropen- und Sommeranzug (Tropical and Summer Dress) designed for use in hot climates. The uniform classification was divided into tropical khakis, which the Monsoon Group wore this as their standard uniform while deployed to bases in Southeast Asia, and the "summer white variant" which consisted of a white service jacket for officers (with rank epaulets but no rank stripes), a similar white jacket with shoulder straps for chiefs, as well as a "pull over" white enlisted jumper for sailors and petty officers.

Kriegsmarine personnel permanently assigned to shore stations, to include coastal artillery, wore a grey green uniform in the same style as the German Army. The uniform was worn with closed collar with collar tabs and shoulder rank epaulets. Officers wore standard epaulets while chiefs wore shoulder straps with rank pips and a centered anchor crest. Enlisted seaman wore dark green chevrons and a bare shoulder strap while petty officers wore a rank strap similar to that of an army Unteroffizier.

Working sailor uniforms

Navy shore uniforms

Special uniforms

Special uniform variants included Kriegsmarine sportswear (Sportanzug) which consisted of running shorts with a white T-shirt, often worn with black shoes. Engineering personnel on-board surface ships were further issued with a boilersuit devoid of any insignia except for a swastika eagle emblem and worn with a blue garrison cap. A special variant, known as "sentry dress", was essentially a standard enlisted uniform worn with an ammunition belt while on armed sentry duty. Personnel assigned to deck guns or anti-aircraft crews also were issued flak helmets, sometimes with vests and flash hoods, depending upon the caliber of the manned guns.

Submarine uniforms[edit]

Due to the arduous nature of U-boat duty, uniforms varied greatly depending upon the actions and activity of the service member. All submarine personnel were required to maintain standard Navy uniforms, with the undress service uniform being the most commonly worn when on shore. Upon departure and return to base, especially when the submarine was visible to onlookers, officers would wear a modified version of the service uniform to consist of the blue service coat along with grey all weather over-trousers. Commanders who had earned the Knight's Cross would often wear tin copies for the ceremonial enttrance and exit to port. All medals, ribbons, and badges were removed once fully underway at sea.

The standard "patrol uniform" consisted of a grey-brown denim jacket for officers and chiefs while a grey all weather smock coat was worn by enlisted personnel. Some of the original U-boat uniforms had been issued from British stocks abandoned at Dunkirk.[1] U-boat personnel were also issued a variety of weather clothing to include fleece lined footwear and all weather over-trousers of brown or grey leather. After the war, information came to light that the U-boat crews had also been issued a special brand of hair yarn socks which had been made from the shaved hair of concentration camp inmates.[2]

As an unwritten rule, the captain of any submarine wore a white peaked cap in contrast to officers and chiefs who wore blue service caps. Lookouts wore oilskins and sou'westers on duty while sailors in the control center and on deck were required to wear garrison covers. Dress restrictions for engineering and torpedo man personnel, who often worked in cramped and humid conditions, were far more lax and most in these duties wore comfortable civilian clothes. An unofficial modicum for the ship's Chief engineer was the "checkered shirt" which was a comfortable working shirt often worn with pants and suspenders.

Submarine duty uniforms

Rank insignia[edit]

Flag officer ranks[edit]

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
German Army Equivalent Generalfeldmarschall Generaloberst General Generalleutnant Generalmajor
United States Navy Equivalent Fleet Admiral Admiral Vice admiral Rear Admiral (Upper Half)
NATO equivalent OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7

Officer ranks[edit]

Line officers, Captains Lieutenant and Lieutenants
Title Kommodore Kapitän zur See Fregattenkapitän Korvettenkapitän Kapitänleutnant Oberleutnant zur See Leutnant zur See
Epaulette Kriegsmarine KptzS OF5.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
German Army Equivalent Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann Oberleutnant Leutnant
United States Navy Equivalent Rear Admiral (Lower Half) Captain Commander Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Ensign
NATO equivalent OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1

Officer candidate ranks[edit]

Officer training ranks
Title Oberfähnrich zur See Fähnrich zur See Seekadett Offiziersanwärter
Shoulder board Kriegsmarine shoulder Oberfähnrich zur see.svg Kriegsmarine shoulder Fähnrich zur see.svg No shoulder board
Sleeve lace Kriegsmarine-Oberfähnrich zur See.png BareSleeve.jpg
Equivalent Passed Midshipman Midshipman Cadet Officer Candidate
NATO equivalent OD-2 OD-1

Chief petty officer ranks[edit]

Chief petty officer ranks
Title Matrosenstabsoberfeldwebel[N 2] Matrosenoberfeldwebel Matrosenstabsfeldwebel[N 3] Matrosenfeldwebel
Shoulder board KMStaffSeniorChief.jpg KMSeniorChiefInsignia.jpg KMStaffChiefPettyOfficer.jpg KMChiefPettyOfficer.jpg
Shore insignia KMMasterChiefShore.jpg KMSeniorChief.jpg KMVetShoreChief.jpg KMShoreChief.jpg
German Army Equivalent Stabsfeldwebel Hauptfeldwebel Oberfeldwebel
US/UK Equivalent Master chief petty officer Senior chief petty officer Chief petty officer
NATO equivalent OR-8 OR-9 OR-7

Petty officer ranks[edit]

Petty officer ranks
Title Obermaat Maat
Collar tab LeadingPOInsig.jpg KMPettyOfficer.jpg
Shore insignia SeniorPOShoulder.jpg ShorePettyOfficerKM.jpg
German Army Equivalent Feldwebel Unteroffizier
US/UK Equivalent Leading petty officer Petty officer
NATO equivalent OR-6 OR-5

Petty officers also wore a large rating badge on their left sleeve, beneath which were displayed authorized trade badges. Shore uniforms were worn with a Germany Army style sergeant's shoulder boards and golden collar trim.

Sailor ranks[edit]

Sailor and petty officer ranks
Title Matrosenhauptgefreiter Matrosenoberstabsgefreiter[N 4] Matrosenobergefreiter Matrosenstabsgefreiter[N 5] Matrosengefreiter Matrose
Collar tab NavyRectangle.jpg
Sleeve chevron KMChevron3.jpg KMSeniorVetChvron.jpg KMChevron2.jpg KMVetChrvon.jpg KmChevron1.jpg None
Shore insignia
(shoulder boards)
Germany Army Equivalent Stabsgefreiter Obergefreiter Gefreiter Soldat
US/UK Equivalent Leading seaman Seaman Seaman apprentice Seaman recruit
NATO equivalent OR-3a OR-4a OR-3b OR-4b OR-2 OR-1

Enlisted sailors also wore a rating badge above their rank chevrons while trade badges were displayed below. Enlisted chevrons on the shore uniform were gold colored with a dark green background.

Kriegsmarine rates[edit]

The Kriegsmarine rating system was designed to indicate the particular career specialty of enlisted sailors, petty officers, and chief petty officers. Officers did not use rates, but were divided between staff and line officers. Line officers wore a large gold star above their sleeve stripe insignia while staff officers wore a career specific emblem in place of the star.

The rating system had been developed during the 19th century by the Imperial German Navy and had carried over into the Reichsmarine and Kriegsmarine. German naval rates were differentiated between career fields in deck, engineering, weapons systems, medical rates, and technical specialties. The original rates of the Kriegsmairne, upon the service's creation from the Reichsmarine in 1935, were Boatswain, Sergeant, Signalman, Helmsman, Carpenter, Firework Maker, Gunner, Engineer, Musician, Machine Operator, and Radioman.[3] By 1939, the rates of Sergeant and Firework Maker had been discontinued with several additional wartime rates added. By the end of the Second World War, there wee nineteen established ratings in the German navy as well as a general "non-rated" category for unrated naval personnel[4]

A sailor enlisting into the German Navy was first simply designated as "unrated" and referred to as a Matrose. After basic training, the sailor would be assigned a rate; if simply completing a single enlistment with no promise or requirement for technical training, the sailor would be rated as a deck seaman and begin wearing a small gold star on their upper left shoulder. Once advanced to the "sailor corporal" ranks, the sailor would begin wearing a chevron underneath the rating star. When addressing the sailor verbally, their rate was not mentioned and the sailor typically referred to by the generic term Matrose or Matrosengefreiter. In written correspondence, the rate would sometimes be written after the rank, i.e. Matrose (Bootsmann) or Matrosenobergefreiter (Machinist).

The rating path of a German seaman in the rate of boatswain (Bootsmann)

Upon advancing to the rank of petty Officer (Maat), a sailor would be referred to by their rate and rank (i.e. Steuermannmaat). Rank was denoted by a collar tab while rate was displayedn the form a larger patch replacing the former sailor sleeve chevron and rating badge. A special petty officer rating insignia existed for those Maat who were unrated; a rare occurrence but sometimes happening with those in highly specific career fields who had enlisted directly as a petty officer or who had never held an enlisted rate as a seaman.

Petty officer rating badges of a boatswain and coxswain (Maat and Obermaat)

Chief petty officer were addressed solely by their rate and wore rating insignia centered on theirs shoulder strap. The rating crest was the same used by seaman, except for the Bootsmann rate whose chiefs wore a fouled anchor in comparison to the rating star of the deck seaman. Unrated chief petty officers wore no rate insignia and were referred to be their solely by their rank (Matrosenfeldwebel), often shortened to simply Feldwebel.

Rating insignia[edit]

Rate Equivalent Department Sailor badge Petty Officer badge Chief Petty Officer strap
Bootsmann [N 6] Boatswain Deck KmSeamanStar.jpg DeckPOBadge.jpg
Coxswain KMSCoxswainBadge.jpg KmBoatsbadge.jpg
Steuermann Navigator KmNavigatePatch.jpg KMNavChief.jpg
Weichensteller Signalman SignalSeamanKM.jpg
Machinist [N 7] Machinist Engineering Kmenginebasic.jpg KmEngChief.jpg
Zimmermann Carpenter
Mechaniker Torpedoman Weapons [N 8]
Artillerie-mechaniker Naval gunner
Marineartillerie-mechaniker Coastal gunner
Flak-mechaniker Flak gunner
Sperrwaffen-mechaniker Mineman
Feuerwerkermann Armorer
Funkmann Radioman Communications [N 9]
Fernschreiber Telex operator
Flugmeldungsmann Naval observer Special services
Sanitatsman Medic General services
Verwaltungsmann Yeoman
Schreiber Clerk
Kraftfahrmann Driver
Musikmann Musician
Non-rated No badge Unratedbadge.jpg KMSeniorChiefInsignia.jpg

Trade badges[edit]

The damage control (Handwerker) qualification badges

To denote additional qualifications within a particular rate, the Kriegsmarine issued a number of "trade badges" which were worn as red on blue patches beneath either the seaman's rank chevron or petty officer's badge. Trade badges were not worn or displayed by either officers or chiefs.

Kriegsmarine uniform chart displaying various trade badges

Qualification trade insignia was issued in up to four classes, beginning with a basic badge followed by apprentice, journeyman, and master. All trade badges above basic were denoted by chevrons on the trade patch; some trade patches were authorized up to all three chevrons while others were eligible for only one or two. One of the more common engineering trade badges was that of Handwerker (damage controlman) which appeared as a red diver's helmet and was issued up to the master qualification level.

A special insignia also existed for signalman who were posted to a naval headquarters. The insignia appeared as a small patch showing a German Imperial Navy signal flag and was worn above the sailor's signalman's rating badge.

Awards and decorations[edit]

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. Political decorations were generally prohibited for display on military uniforms, with the exception of the Golden Party Badge. Kriegsmarine personnel could also earn both the SA Sports and German National Sports Badges as well as the Equestrian Badge.

Kriegsmarine war badges and clasps

High Seas Fleet Badge Destroyer War Badge Minesweeper War Badge Blockade Runner Badge
High Seas Fleet War Badge.jpg
Destroyer War Badge.jpg
Abzeichen für Blockadebrecher.jpg
E-Boat War Badge U-Boat War Badge Auxiliary Cruiser Badge Naval Artillery War Badge
E-boat War Badge.jpg
Auxiliary Cruiser Badge.jpg
Kriegsmarine artilleria costa.jpg
U-Boat Combat Clasp
(Gold and Silver)
U-boat Front Clasp.jpg
Naval Front Clasp Small Battle Unit Combat Clasp
Kampfabzeichen der Kleinkampfmittel 7. Stufe.jpg


  1. ^ Mollo, A & McGregor, M (1975) p.123, Naval, Marine and Airforce Uniforms of WW2, Blandford Press, Poole, UK
  2. ^ SS Report of use of Prisoner's Hair (August 1942)
  3. ^ Breyer, Siegfried, Die Deutsche Kriegsmarine - Band 3, Podzun-Pallas (1987)
  4. ^ Showell, J.P. Mallmann, Das Buch der deutschen Kriegsmarine 1935-1945,Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart (1992)


  1. ^ Kriegsmarine uniforms were discernibly very dark blue, unlike US and UK "blue" Navy uniforms which are effectively black.
  2. ^ Thirteen to fifteen years in service required for advancement to this rank
  3. ^ Special rank for chief petty officers with over twelve years in service. Not necessary to hold prior to advancement to next highest grade.
  4. ^ Special rank for sailors with over eight years in rank. Not necessary to hold prior to advancement to next highest grade.
  5. ^ Special rank for sailors with over six years in rank. Not necessary to hold prior to advancement to next highest grade.
  6. ^ Divided into sub-rates for boatswain and coxswain
  7. ^ Divided into sub-rates for electrical and diesel engines
  8. ^ Department normally divided into torpedo, deck gun, and flak gun sections
  9. ^ Operated both the ship's radio as well as all hydrophone and radar gear