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Austro-Hungarian Empire

Last modified: 2004-12-29 by marcus schmöger
Keywords: austro-hungarian empire | austria | hungary | landesfarben | civil ensign | war ensign | jack | tricolour:horizontal (red-white-red) | tricolour:horizontal (red-white-green) | bicolour:horizontal (black-yellow) |
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The Black-Yellow Monarchy

[Austria-Hungary] by Giuseppe Bottasini, 21 June 1996

Austria-Hungary is often referred to as black-yellow monarchy. I think the black-yellow flag was used for the whole, at least until 1867.
Zeljko Heimer
, 1 December 1995

The black-yellow bicolor was not widely used.  It dates from the 1700's to 1915, but most Austro-Hungarian flags changed in 1915.  It is not clear if the modified flags were used from 1915-1918.
Norman Martin, 11 October 2001

This flag was and remains the colors and banner the Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty.
Stan Brin, 19 March 2003

1867 Compromise flag

[Compromise Flag] by Giuseppe Bottasini, 21 June 1996

This was the joint Austro-Hungarian flag brought in sometime after the 1867 "Ausgleich" or "Compromise", which gave Hungary home rule. The version I'm familiar with was the joint naval ensign which has crowned shields for Austria (red-white-red) and Hungary (traditional Hungarian arms) on the white stripe(s). Presumably at some point the black-over-yellow of "Cisleithania" was dropped for the red-white-red once more.
Roy Stilling, 1 December 1995

The year 1867 is the year when the Habsburg Empire was, by Compromise, dualized into Austria-Hungary.  The flag was not actually adopted until two years later (1869), and used until 1918.

Merchant Ensign (Handelsflagge) 

Before 1786

Bellin's (1756) chart shows a red-white-red ensign with the letters F II in the middle. 
Zeljko Heimer, 1 December 2001

Was there a need for such flag before 1786? In his book Diem 95 on pages 90 and 91 there is extensive discussion about this, but my German is not good enough to make a good report from it.
Zeljko Heimer, 4 September 2002

Merchant Ensign, 1786-1869

[Austria-Hungary War Ensign] 2:3   by Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996

Red-white-red with shield in the first third of the white stripe golden bounded and crowned in red stripe above. Adopted as Merchant Ensign: 20th March 1786, effective 20 March 1786, modified in 1869.  Also used as war ensign 1880 until abandoned, 10th October 1915.
Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996, Norman Martin, 2 December 2001

Merchant Ensign, 1869-1918

[Austria-Hungary Merchant Ensign] 2:3, by Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996

The 1911 issue of Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the Austro-Hungarian Merchant Naval flag as horizontal red-white-red towards the hoist and red-white-green towards the fly, each half containing a set of arms: gules a fess argent on the Austrian half, and party per pale fessy of eight gules and argent, and gules, a Lorraine cross argent on a mount vert. Both shields were fimbriated in yellow and surmounted by crowns.
James Dignan, 4 December 1995

Adopted: 1st August 1869; abandoned: 1918
Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996

Honour flags for merchant ship captains

see separate page

War Ensign of 1880-1915 (Kriegsflagge)

[Austria-Hungary War Ensign]    by Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996

The flag above (officially the "Kriegsflagge") was specified in 1880 and was a slight modification of the Kriegsflagge of 1786, so that 1880 or 1786 might arguably be regarded as the date of adoption.
Norman Martin, 11 October 2001

This flag was used as the War Ensign and Jack from 1880 to 1915, but previously was used as the merchant ensign (Handelsflagge) until 1867.
Zeljko Heimer, 15 October 2001

As jack and boat-flag (Bug- und Boots-Flagge) this flag had a ratio of 4:5.
Marco Pribilla, 11 October 2001

Actually the Austro-Hungarian War Flag was used during World War II as well! It was flown by the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (though only once due to the war) that took the tradition of the Austro-Hungarian Navy by an order dated 12 June 1940.
Source: John R. Angola & Adolf Schlicht - Die Kriegsmarine: Uniforms & Traditions Vol 3
Marcus Wendel, 16 October 2000

1915-1918 War Ensign (Kriegsflagge) and Jack (Gösch

[Austria-Hungary War Ensign]  2:3, by Zeljko Heimer

Version in ratio 2:3, with full Hungarian arms, according to the source: P. Diem (1995): Die Symbole Österreichs, Wien
Zeljko Heimer, 22 September 1996

[Austria-Hungary War Ensign]  1:2, by Zeljko Heimer

Version from the book "Horthy - a tengerész" (Horthy - the Sailor) by Dr. Károly Csonkaréti (Zrínyi Kiadó, Budapest 1993) I have found a copy of the decree for the new Austro-Hungarian naval ensign signed by emperor Franz Joseph I on 11 October 1915, with a black-and-white image attached. In this the Hungrian crowned coat of arms consists only of the dexter half, i.e. the silver-red striped part. The ratio of the flag is 1:2, not 2:3. The decree also suggests that the old flags are only to be replaced gradually after they are worn out, not immediately. Note the missing yellow fimbration of the Hungarian coat of arms as well as the more rounded form of the shields, all according to the image in the decree.
Marco Pribilla, 11 October 2001

Marco Pribilla obtained from the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Military Museum) of Vienna a reprint of a flag chart with the title "Dienst-Flaggen und Standarten der k.u.k. Kriegs-Marine, Wien 1896 (Nachtrag 1902)". The 1:2 version of the Austro-Hungarian war ensign shown here is based on this reproductoin.  Note that the flag is in the ratio 1:2, the second coat of arms is Hungary Ancient only (barry Gules and Argent) topped with the crown of St. Stephen. The crown has a curved lower edge similar to the crown on the Austrian shield at the hoist, but it has much more details the the hoist crown which is 
basically the same one as used on war ensign until 1915. Both shields overlie the lower red stripe and are more curved (and not as more often depicted almost horizontal edges with protruding points in the middle), and the Hungary ancient shield does not have any golden outline as the Austrian one has.

The whole construction looks somewhat "stretched" (not in the sense of elongating material), or "unbalanced" to me and if any flag was ever made to fit these new prescriptions, I wonder if it was not made more "balanced" - e.g. giving yellow border to both shields (or to none), simplifying the Szent Korona ("Holy Crown", i.e., St. Stephen's Crown), and probably making the flag in (what is more usual for this region) a 2:3 naval ratio. But, of course, that is quite a speculation. Unless we get some proof that such flag was ever made, I guess we can say is "probably such a flag was never used" until the end of the WW1, when it was abandoned.
Zeljko Heimer, 29 October 2001

This rendition differs from that in Baumgartner [bmg77] in a number of ways: in Baumgartner:
1. The dimensions are 2:3
2. Both shields are gold bordered
3. The Hungarian shield is almost at the center
4. The Austrian Crown is the (Austrian) imperial crown-as e.g. the imperial standard
Overall, the Baumgartner rendition is more balanced.
Norman Martin, 30 October 2001

Diem (1995) wrote about the white pearls in the crown of the war ensign: ""The originally 30 pearls of the war flag, however, became in the course of the decades 18 which were supposed to symbolize the Crown Lands."

Text of decree, 11 October 1915 (translated from Hungarian by Marco Pribilla)

Army and Naval Order

As to its colours unchanged naval ensign the ancient Hungarian red-and-white coat of arms is to be shown next to the coat of arms of the "Austrian House". 

These orders are to be to the most distant times as living proof of the self-sacrificing and gladly co-operating force of all the Monarchy's peoples, which is so nobly manifested in the victorious heroic deeds accomplished by my Army and Navy in this
current war.

To the Flag and the Naval Ensign shall always sound the renewing oath of the soldiers: that with united forces they shall defend, and rock-solidly they shall protect the connection of Austria-Hungary with my House.

The current flags, which are the witnesses of the many times proven military virtues of my Army, shall remain with their regiments and be replaced by the new ones only according to appearing need. The existing flag ribbons remain in the use they are meant for.

The new command flags are to be used after their completion.

On a day yet to be decided, at the same hour, the navy shall hoist the Ensign, which will take over every glorious tradition of my Fleet.

All matters necessary for the execution of the above I entrust to my Minister of Defense and the Commander of my Navy.

Issued in Vienna, on October 11th in the year 1915.
Francis Joseph

Marco Pribilla, 11 October 2001

Baumgartner has references to the Normalverordnungsblatt für die k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, 48. Stück, 12 Oktober 1915 and Normalverordnungsblatt für die k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, 26. Stück, 25. Juli 1916. It is not clear how much description of the flags these contain. Considering the politics of Austria-Hungary, it appears to me incredible that there was an Hungarian, but no German text of the 1915 edict.
Norman Martin, 2 December 2001

Austro-Hungarian Naval Jack

What did the Austro-Hungarian Navy use as a jack? I know that there were two ensigns, the first with just the crowned Austrian arms and the second (used 1915-1918, if I remember correctly) with both the Austrian and the Hungarian arms. Was the jack the same as the ensign, or was something different used?
Tom Gregg, 19 January 1998

For both designs, the general design of the jack was the same as the ensign, except: 1. the jacks were smaller, 2. the ensigns were 2:3, the jacks 4:5, 3. The offset towards the hoist was somewhat more in the case of the jack in the first pattern and considerably less in the case of the second pattern. Source: Lothar Baumgartner, Die Entwicklung der Oesterreichischen Marineflagge, 1977 [bmg77]
Norman M. Martin, 19 January 1998

Meyers (1897) gives the jack (Gösch) to be the same as the "Kriegsflagge", and the Kriegsflagge (War ensign) is very well known red-white-red with (one) arms. At the same time the merchant (i.e. civil) ensign was "dual" with half green stripe and two arms.

According to National Geographic 1917, the war ensign was added the second arms, but without the green half-stripe. I don't have the it by hand, so I don't know if it mentions the jack, but I believe so. I am not quite sure if this variant ensign was official (or even if NG forgot the green stripe), and I don't have any firm data on this. The jacks were, like the German jacks, as a rule smaller in size than ensigns, possibly with different proportions, but I don't have reference to back up this claim. However, I believe there is an article in Militaria Austriaca (1977) regarding the development of the Austrian ensigns [bmg77]. 
Zeljko Heimer, 21 January 1998

The jack (and boat ensign) are apparently rather "lightly" treated in most sources. In both the 1894 and the 1915 series of flags it is similar to the war ensign of the time, but in the ratio 4:5 (and slightly moved position of the coats of arms). But did the pre-1894 jack also following these rules, as Meyers (1897) [whatever the date it apparently shows the pre-1895 flags] suggested, but since when? Was the jack introduced at the same time as the war ensign, in 1786 (although the war ensign, or ensigns very similar to it were sporadically in use before that date, 1786 seems the date of definitive adoption of the red-white-red flag for the Austrian Navy).
Zeljko Heimer, 1 December 2001

The Austrian red-white-red flag was adopted on 20 March 1786, effective 1 Jan 1787. There is no explicit reference to the adoption of the jack. The matter is additionally complicated by the fact that the Austrians did not refer to it as the Gösch (jack) but instead as the version of the Kriegsflagge flown from the bow. I suspect its use dates from 1786 or not much later. There may indeed be no date of adoption, but rather a customary usage of using a smaller flag from the bow.
Norman Martin, 2 December 2001