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.
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
The 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. An officer wore a midnight-blue double-breasted jacket with ten brass buttons and a matching peaked cap. U-boat personnel also wore jackets and overtrousers of brown or grey leather. As an unwritten rule, the captain of any ship wore a white peaked cap.
When U-boats were at sea, there were few dress restrictions. Full uniforms were typically worn on departure from and return to base, but due to the cramped and humid conditions, U-boat crews wore more comfortable civilian clothing on patrol. These included seaman’s jumpers and sleeveless shirts, along with their service hats. Lookouts wore oilskins and sou’westers on duty. A grey-brown denim “battle-dress” uniform was also worn on patrol, the original issue being from British uniform stocks abandoned at Dunkirk.
Commissioned Officer Ranks
Flag Officer Ranks
Officer Candidate Ranks
Ranks of Petty Officers and Seamen
Petty Officers and Seaman used a rating system similar to other European navies of the day as well as standard titles of rank. Basic sailors were known as Matrose, while technical specialists were known by the title Maat. Rating badges in the form of a small patch worn on the upper sleeve 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, became Matrosengefreiter (litererally “Seaman Lance Corporals”). Special grades existed for six and eight years of service, denoted by sleeve chevrons.