The Kriegsmarine

















Grossadmiral Raeder



The rank of Grossadmiral, or Grand Admiral, was equivalent to that of a Generalfeldmarschall in the Luftwaffe or Heer. Only two men held the rank of Grossadmiral during World War Two: Erich Raeder, who was promoted in 1939, and Karl Donitz, promoted in 1943.


Raeder was Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine from April 1, 1939 until January 30, 1943, when Donitz replaced him.  At that time Raeder was discharged as C-in-C but was allowed to retain his rank and appointed to a new post as Admiral Inspector of the Kriegsmarine.


Donitz was promoted to Grossadmiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine on January 30, 1943, and held this position until the end of the war.  In fact, Donitz was appointed as Hitler’s successor and became President of Germany, a position he held for 20 days after Hitler’s suicide.


 The Kriegsmarine most commonly displayed Naval Admiral Officer on traditional blue reefer tunics with sleeve stripes much as the rest of the world navies do.  However, beginning in 1940 the Kriegsmarine also allowed the display of rank via shoulderboards on the blue reefer jackets, in addition to the greatcoat and white tunics.  The rank insignia for Grand Admiral was similar to the shoulderboards used for Generalfeldmarschall rank in the Luftwaffe and Heer in which a set of crossed baton devices were mounted to the boards.  The difference being that the baton devices resembled the design of the Grand Admiral baton awarded to Erich Raeder (which was different from the baton design later awarded to Donitz).  This design consisted of intertwined anchor chain forming a diamond pattern in which there alternated an iron cross and a fouled anchor within each diamond.  On the end caps of the baton there was a partial image of a rotated swastika toward the button end and partial image of an iron cross at the base of the baton near the shoulder seam.



Grand Admiral Shoulderboards


A matched pair of Grand Admiral shoulderboards for the left and right shoulders, respectively.  Note the naval pattern screwpost shoulderboard buttons.

(private collection)


Side view of the right shoulderboard.  At the left is the dark blue ‘tongue’ for attachment at the shoulder seam of the reefer jacket or greatcoat.  At the right is the button loop for attachment toward the collar.


The reverse of the shoulderboard, showing typical Kreigsmarine shoulderboard construction for Admiral rank in which the underlay extends under the button loop.  A grommet was affixed at the button loop to allow for the screw post to pass through and not chafe the bullion.




Detail of the crossed baton devices. 


The half image of a rotated swastika at the top of the baton device (near the shoulderboard button loop).  This replicated the design at the top of the Raeder formal baton. 


The half image of an iron cross at the bottom of the baton device (near the shoulderboard tongue, which would attach at the shoulder seam).  Again, this replicated the design featured at the bottom of the Raeder formal baton. 


Grandadmiral shoulderboards with all three cords in gold bullion, from the frock coat of Grandadmiral Raeder. (Ron Molinari collection)


Close up of baton devices from the Raeder frock coat.

(Ron Molinari collection)




Sleeve Rank Insignia


The rank of Grand Admiral was also displayed using the more traditional sleeve rank stripes that are common to most all of the world navies.  This consisted of one large gold stripe at the bottom of the sleeve, followed by four smaller gold stripes positioned above it.


 Sleeve of Grandadmiral Doenitz.

(private collection)





Another example of a Doenitz reefer jacket with sleeve insignia for a Grandadmiral.

(Ron Molinari collection)



Imperial Germany Grand Admiral Insignia


The rank of Grand Admiral was also in use during World War I, and dates back to 1901 when it was first created.  There were six men promoted to Grand Admiral during the Imperial era;  

  • Emperor Wilhelm II (1901)
  • King Oscar II of Sweden (1901)
  • Hans von Koester (28 June 1905)
  • Prince Heinrich von Preußen (4 September 1909)
  • Alfred von Tirpitz (27 January 1911)
  • Henning von Holtzendorff (31 May 1918)

Imperial era shoulderboard for the rank of Grand Admiral.  Board is regulation gold and silver intertwined cord over a dark blue/black backing, with beautifully detailed and enamled crossed Imperial style Grossadmiral baton devices attached.

(courtesy Helmut Weitze)



Close up detail of the Imperial Grossadmiral baton devices.  With the enameling they are quite beautifully done, in comparison to the later, silver batons used during WWII.

(courtesy Helmut Weitze)


A close-up where you can clearly see the design detail which mimics the actual Grossadmiral baton.

(courtesy Helmut Weitze)


View of the underside of the shoulderboards showing the hooks for attachment to the coat.

(courtesy Helmut Weitze)


Imperial Grand Admiral’s greatcoat with cornflower blue lapel facings.

(courtesy Helmut Weitze)


Grand Admiral Tirpitz’s shoulderboard.  Tirpitz had the rank and title of Grossadmiral, but was not permitted a baton.  Instead of crossed baton devices, he wore four pips on his shoulderboard in the same style as a “Generaloberst in ranges of Generalfeldmarschall” in the German army (Heer).

(private collection)



I am looking for additional original examples of Kriegsmarine Admiral rank insignia for a continued study of this rare rank.  If you have any examples of this rank in your collection and would like to share them for the education of other collectors, please visit the submit photography page if you have something you’d like to contribute.




Rank Flags and Pennants


Grand Admiral’s command flags were displayed on ships while they were onboard, and on their motor vehicles.



Grandadmiral Rank Flag

(Paul Sack collection)


Grandadmiral’s Rank Pennant

(Paul Sack collection)


For photographs of original Grandadmiral uniforms belonging to Donitz and Raeder, visit the Generalfeldmarschall and Grossdadmiral Uniforms page.