Combat Engagement Identifiers on German Warships in the First World Warby Dr. Rudolf Nagel
(translated via Alta Vista Babel Fish by Tom Tanner with much help from Peter Lienau)
Published here posthumously is the 1989 work of the deceased Dr. Rudolf Nagel. The author researched the question of combat identifiers for a long time and the manuscript, which is the basis for this publication, was completed at the beginning of 1989. With the permission of his wife, the manuscript was shortened and edited. Because of the abundance of formations, ships and boats to be described, the editors refrained from subdividing the several boat flotillas into their half flotillas in order to save space.
As is well known, the thoughts of the crew of the High Seas Fleet circled in the last days of October, 1918, around the question of whether they would run out again in order to, depending upon status and conviction, "surrender dishonorably" (»ehrenvoll unterzugehen«) or be "sacrificed". About 30 years ago I read a note on this topic. Crews of the capital ships, which tended to believe more in the last view, saw while they sailed to Schilling Reede on 29 and 30 October, 1918, already present the small cruisers and torpedo boats of the assigned torpedo boat flotillas, whose aft funnel was red painted. They found their fears re-inforced particularly since on their own ships the paint cans were also supplied.
I hadn't heard anything of coloured funnels up to this point and questioned some people who were also maritime interested. One of them told me that in the Skagerrak Battle (as the Battle of Jutland is known in Germany, transl.) German units had red painted funnels. I had a quantity of additional questions but received no response and so this topic slowly disappeared "in my wake."
In March 1984 I read the book "Skagerrak 1916" from Costello/Hughes. There I found that the German naval forces that participated in the Skagerrak battle sailed with their aft funnels painted red. The compiler/translator Erwin F. Sieche, as supporting information, was only able to give me a photocopy of the original document for the order, and so I had a loose end in hand with the chance to clarify historically this special area. The relevant entry in this source reads: "General: Participating naval forces paint aft funnel red".
The written "inquiries" had, among other things, a consequence that the addressed gentlemen for their part additionally contacted other people. I estimate that due to this "historical knowledge thirst" up to 50 honourable citizens were probably concerned. It met a large set, combatants of the First World War of all ranks from the navy and later admirals, then physicians, professors, historicans, technical writers and private men interested in naval history. It was proved here again that eye-witnesses observe much that is registered but not noted and documented and how the following generations subordinate it as natural, because different things for the most diverse reasons were considered at that time and stored. Much was also forgotten. In addition, there were reverse appearances. One of my correspondents, for example, addressed a retired commander, who in turn asked a 90 year old relative, who had taken part as a "coal-monkey" on the light cruiser KOLBERG in the Battle of Doggerbank. The old gentleman explained he was able to remember that the German torpedo boats had cruised with a red painted funnel. This was, at first, a completely astonishing statement, which cast doubt on the memory of the old gentleman. But it was proved that the assertion was possible. Likewise other older gentlemen, who lived their youth in Kiel or Wilhelmshaven and who also saw units of the fleet immediately after large operations, could not remember having seen anything other than grey painted funnels. But this was also found to be completely correct and was cleared up later astonishingly easily. During this time of questioning I always hoped that something was present, somewhere, already printed, but no reference to such a source came. Perhaps it will emerge now?
I looked meticulously in my own personal library and had some success, and likewise that kind fellow combatant who provided me with the initial clue into the topic. The information became clearer, but only regarding the colour red. Yellow had been also used, but when and where? Here the whole effort came to a halt, until finally I found during my own research the answer I was looking for. To me it appeared appropriate to determine and list the different stages in the appearance of the fleet units as well as the ships taking part in individual operations and boats. This is also for the modelers because of the different building statuses of interest. With the capital ships, the ship-of-the-line and the small cruisers that was not too difficult, but the composition of the torpedo boat flotillas and their effectives within the individual operations would not have been clarified if not for a former naval officer and a very well-known technical writer who sent a special document to me to the order.
The result of all these efforts can be summarized as follows:
In the context of this work arose still a series of finds, which surely interest in our connection. Partly it concerns references to literature places, which admit are, but too few attention receive. In detail it concerns itself over:
In the following now the operations, in which identification marks were used: ....
Axel Grießmer, "Große Kreuzer der kaiserlichen Marine," Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn, 1996, ISBN 3-7637-5946-8 (in German)
Axel Grießmer, "Die Linienschiffe der kaiserlichen Marine," Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn, 1999, ISBN 3-7637-5985-9 (in German)
Erich Gröner, Revised and Expanded by Dieter Jung and Martin Maass, "GERMAN WARSHIPS 1815-1945, Volume One: Major Surface Vessels," Naval Institute Press, 1989 ISBN 0-87021-790-9 (in English)
Dieter Jung, Arno Abendroth, and Norbert Kelling, "Anstriche und Tarnanstriche der deutschen Kriegsmarine," Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn, 1997 ISBN 3-7637-5964-6 (in German)
Gerhard Koop, Klaus-Peter Schmolke, "Vom Original zum Modell: Die Großen Kreuzer Von der Tann, Moltke-Klasse, Seydlitz, Derfflinger-Klasse," Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn, 1998 ISBN 3-7637-5673-5 (in German)
Peter Lienau, Numerous E-mails to the author
Dr. Rudolf Nagel: "Gefechtskennungen auf deutschen Kriegsschiffen im Ersten Weltkrieg," Schiff und Zeit, 39. Berlin (in German)
Last Update on 03/14/2000.