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Falsified postwar 'Balkenkreuz' flag (Germany)

Allegedly used for aerial recognition of land troops

Last modified: 2005-07-09 by santiago dotor
Keywords: balkenkreuz | iron cross | cross: fimbriated (black) | disc (white) |
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[Falsified postwar 'Balkenkreuz' flag (Third Reich, Germany)]
by an unidentified contributor
N.B. this flag is a postwar falsification and was never used by the German Armed Forces

See also:


My father was a B-17 pilot for the 351st Bomb Group out of Polebrook, England. He was shot down on 22 June, 1944, over Rouen, France and became a POW at Stalag Luft III. As the allied forces advanced, they were marched to Mooseberg. In April, they were liberated by Patton's 3rd army. During this time in Germany, he obtained a flag, that I have not been able to identify. It is approx. 3' × 6' with a white circle with a black cross in the middle. The cross is similar to the marking found on Me109 and Fw190 German fighters.

Rob Watkins, 6 December 2002

I believe he means a Balkenkreuz — a stylized, straight-armed version of the Iron Cross used both on armoured vehicles and warplanes.

Santiago Dotor, 9 December 2002

Rob Watkins sent me a sketch of it, the only difference with the above image is that he carefully recorded the dimensions as 3 feet x 6 feet — i.e., a 1:2 ratio, unusual in German flags.

Rob Raeside, 9 December 2002

I am trying to find some information on a flag that my father 'liberated' from Stalag Luft VII during World War Two. The flag is approximately 6' 5" × 3' 2" it is solid red with a 2' white circle in the center. In the circle is a black iron cross with a thin black line bordering it.

Bob Ungemach, 12 January 2003

I have heard that this flag was a distinguishing symbol from World War Two to be placed on vehicles so that German planes could tell who was who. I have seen several on eBay for sale, but I have never seen one in a photo or on any World War Two documentary. I have seen regular flags with the swastika but never this flag.

Calvin Paige Herring, 13 January 2003

I am fairly certain that I did not see this flag during 1944-1945. Furthermore the implicit symbolism would be wrong unless it represented something like a flag of the July 1944 attempted coup or the Freiheitsaktion in Bayern attempted coup at the end of April 1945. Neither of these had a distinctive flag that I know of. I am sure I would have run into the latter if it existed. I am strongly inclined to believe that this is a post-war fantasy.

Norman Martin, 13 January 2003

I am trying to figure out where this flag came from. It is stamped 1942 on the back and there is another symbol, however it is unable to be read.

James Whitney Buckwalter, 23 March 2004

We have had several reports of similar flag specimens, mostly from the US. The fact that this flag is not documented in any source —at least none has been reported in the FOTW mailing list— and that most reports came from people browsing or moreover selling such an item in Internet (eg. in eBay) raised suspicion that it was a modern concoction of a flag which was never produced before 1945. Also fellow vexillologist Norman Martin, who fought in Germany 1944-45, suggested —out of his own observations— that it could be a forgery.

In the meantime, I came across the following in Bender and Odegard 1980 [b2o80], p. 284:

In anticipation of recognition problems between the Army and Luftwaffe support units during the upcoming invasion of France and the Netherlands, the German General Staff issued the following order in March 1940 (3).

"A swastika flag and orange smoke are to be utilized by all troops for recognition purposes when in a combat zone. The swastika flag is, according to circumstances, to be spread out on the ground, to be waved to and fro, or to be stretched across a vehicle. (...)"

The swastika flag discussed above was either a standard national flag or a special issue flag with a metal grommet at each corner for tying down purposes. Later in the war, the use of the Balken cross flag (white circle with a Balken cross in its center rather than a swastika, on a red field) gradually replaced the swastika flag. It should be noted that these flags were rarely used in the final stages of the war because the Allies held undisputed air superiority over most fronts.

Footnote (3) says:
(3) Ob.d.H./Gen.St.d.H./Ausb.Abt. (Ia) Nr. 450/40g vom 8.3.1940. This order was altered slightly by Order #363, dated April 2, 1941, in AHM, April 21, 1941
So it appears that the so-called Balken cross flag:
  • actually did exist, though it was never hoisted as a proper flag,
  • its use started after the 1940 campaign in France, possibly during or after the 1941 invasion of Russia and
  • was not used after, say, mid 1944. (This is probably a reason why Allied veterans could not spot it after Normandy, except for those held as POWs at Stalag Luft camps.)

Santiago Dotor, 25 March 2004

There are many Third Reich flags in a [Ravensburg] municipal depot which cannot be classified, with the format and colours of the swastika flag but with a Balkenkreuz, as found on tanks and combat planes, replacing the swastika. I suppose they are not official flags, rather fantasy, self-production flags.

Wolf-Ulrich Strittmatter, Stadtarchiv Ravensburg, 17 March 2004, translated by Santiago Dotor, 30 June 2005

These flags are frequently available at militaria shops and at eBay. They are not proper flags, rather signal drapes used to identify German armour by the Luftwaffe, and lack loops etc. for hoisting, having instead loops on all four corners, suitable for fixing on tanks. However, there is no photographic evidence of such "flags" being used: all Luftwaffe pictures of similarly identified troops show them bearing the national (swastika) flag, seldom the Reichskriegsflagge. The widely disseminated appearance of these signal cloths implies a falsification or something similar.

Jörg M. Karaschewski, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Flaggenkunde, 19 March 2004, translated by Santiago Dotor, 30 June 2005

Swastika flags were the [only] ones used to identify armour and were also painted on the front deck of warships. See also Symbole und Zeremoniell in deutschen Streitkräften, Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, p. 180, ill. 85.

Hans-Ulrich Herzog, 20 March 2004, translated by Santiago Dotor, 30 June 2005

This must consist of a very widely disseminated falsification. All photographic material I know of only shows the swastika flag, as in this webpage and in Marcus Schmöger's website.

Jörg M. Karaschewski, 20 March 2004, translated by Santiago Dotor, 30 June 2005

A 'falsification' or a variant [of the swastika flag] in order to comply with paragraph 86 of the [German] Penal Code [banning the use of the swastika and other symbols].

Friedrich Rackow, 20 March 2004, translated by Santiago Dotor, 30 June 2005