The German Navy (German: Deutsche Marine or simply German: Marine is the navy of Germany and part of the unified Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces. The German Navy was originally known as the Bundesmarine from 1956 until 1995 when Deutsche Marine (German Navy) became the official name with respect to the 1990 incorporation of the East German Volksmarine. It is deeply integrated into the NATO alliance. Its primary mission is the protection of Germany’s territorial waters and maritime infrastructure as well as sea lines of communication. Apart from this, the German Navy participates in peacekeeping operations and renders humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
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The German Navy traces its roots back to the Reichsflotte (Imperial Fleet) of the revolutionary era of 1848–52. The Reichsflotte was the first German navy to sail under the black-red-gold flag. Founded on 14 June 1848 by the orders of the democratically elected Frankfurt Parliament, the Reichsflotte’s brief existence ended with the failure of the revolution and it was disbanded on 2 April 1852; thus, the modern-day navy celebrates its birthday on 14 June.
Between May 1945 and 1956, the German Mine Sweeping Administration and its successor organizations, made up of former members of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine (War Navy), became something of a transition stage for the navy, allowing the future Marine to draw on recently experienced personnel upon its formation. Also, from 1949-52, the US Navy had maintained the Naval Historical Team in Bremerhaven. This group of former Kriegsmarine officers acting as historical and tactical consultants to the Americans was significant in establishing a German element in the NATO senior naval staff. In 1956, with West Germany’s accession to NATO, the Bundesmarine (Federal Navy), as the navy was known colloquially, was formally established. In the same year, the East German Volkspolizei See (People’s Police Sea) became the Volksmarine (People’s Navy). During the Cold War, all of the German Navy’s combat vessels were assigned to NATO’s Allied Forces Baltic Approaches’ naval command NAVBALTAP.
With the accession of East Germany to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, the Volksmarine along with the whole National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee, NVA) became part of the Bundeswehr. Since 1995 the name German Navy is used in an international context, while the official name since 1956 remains Marine without any additions. As of 16 December 2016, the strength of the navy is 16,137 men and women.
A number of naval forces have operated in different periods:
- Preußische Marine – Prussian Navy – 1701–1867.
- Reichsflotte – Fleet of the Realm – 1848–52.
- North German Federal Navy – 1867–71.
- Imperial German Navy – Kaiserliche Marine – 1871–1919.
- Reichsmarine – 1919–35.
- Kriegsmarine – 1935–45.
- German Mine Sweeping Administration – 1945–48.
- Volksmarine – the navy of East Germany (GDR) 1956–90.
- Marine – 1956–Present (Bundesmarine, colloquially).
- German Navy – 1995–Present (international contexts).