World War 2 Flags
Since populations around the world have grown to the point of forming nationals, national flags have served as a symbol of a country’s peoples, ideals, identity, and history. They symbolize all the respective country’s people value and especially during World War 2 what they fought for. Many of the World War 2 flags used during the Great War have changed somewhat since the conflict was fought, but the importance of national flags has remained the same. The flags in this article represent the major Allied and Axis power national and naval flags (jacks and ensigns) used during World War 2.
- 1 What is a Naval Ensign?
- 2 What is a Naval Jack?
- 3 World War 2 Flags of the Allied Powers
- 4 Australia National Flag of World War 2
- 5 United Kingdom National Flag of World War 2
- 6 United Kingdom Naval Ensign of World War 2
- 7 United States National Flag of World War 2
- 8 United States Naval Jack of World War 2
- 9 Soviet Union National Flag of World War 2
- 10 Soviet Union Naval Ensign of World War 2
- 11 Poland National Flag of World War2 (Government in Exile)
- 12 Poland Naval Ensign of World War 2
- 13 Free France National Flag of World War 2
- 14 U.N. Four Freedoms Flag of World War 2
- 15 World War 2 Flags of the Axis Powers
- 16 German National Flag of World War 2
- 17 German Naval Ensign of World War 2
- 18 Italy National Flag of World War 2
- 19 Japanese National Flag of World War 2
- 20 Vichy France Republic Flag
A naval ensign is the national flag used at sea on a yardarm and flown at the stern of a ship when at anchor or inport. They can also be flown from the gaff of a ship and in some navies also refer to the rank of a junior officer. Naval ensigns are used by a given country’s navy while a civil ensign is flown by pleasure craft and merchant vessels (some countries will have please craft fly a different flag). Some countries only employ one ensign and there are larger versions of the naval ensign referred to as battle ensigns used by a number of countries when ships head into battle.
A naval jack is another national flag flown by warships (and other select vessels based on the country) at the head or front of a ship. They are typically flown while inport, at anchor, or if the ship is dressed on a special occasion. Once underway, the naval jack is hauled down on the ship.
World War 2 Flags of the Allied Powers
Australia National Flag of World War 2
Australian National Flag Meaning: The Australian national flag used in World War 2 was comprised of three components: The Union Jack (UK or British flag) in the upper, left-hand corner, the Southern Cross on the right half of the flag, and the “Star of Federation” in the lower, left corner of the flag. The use of the Union Jack in the flag is meant to show that the first colonization of Australia by a European country was by Great Britain (at first as a penal colony). The Southern Cross is a famous star constellation that can be seen from all of Australia’s territories and states, and the Star of Federation is a seven-pointed star that represents the six Australian states and one for the nation’s territories used on the flag.
United Kingdom National Flag of World War 2
United Kingdom National Flag Meaning: The UK flag flown during World War 2 is overall blue containing the red cross of Saint George who is the patron saint of England. This is edged in white and then superimposed on the diagonal red cross of Saint Patrick who is the patron saint of Ireland. This is superimposed on the diagonal white cross of Saint Andrew who is the patron saint of Scotland. The flag is commonly referred to as the union Jack but the proper name is the Union flag. The British flag has served as the basis for a number of other Commonwealth countries and overseas British territories.
United Kingdom Naval Ensign Meaning: The British naval ensign in use during World War 2 is commonly called the “White Ensign.” It became the only ensign used by the Royal Navy in 1864 and was used by Nelson at Trafalgar. The Royal ensign continues to be used by the Royal Navy at the time of this writing.
United States National Flag of World War 2
United State National Flag Meaning: The U.S. flag used during World War 2 was the 48 star flag and was the official flag of the U.S. from 1912 to 1959. The flag’s 48 stars represented the 48 states in the country at the time (Alaska and Hawaii were territories during World War 2) and the 13 red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies at the time of the nation’s founding. The U.S. national flag also serves as the naval ensign flown on American warships.
United States Naval Jack Meaning: The U.S. naval jack used during World War 2 is a blue flag containing a star for each state (48 during World War 2). The same jack was flown on U.S. Navy warships through 2002 when the Secretary of the Navy issued Instruction 10520.6, dated 31 May 2002, which directed all U.S. navy ships to fly the First Naval Jack during the Global War on Terrorism. The switch was made on September 11th, 2002 and remains in place at the time of this writing.
Soviet Union National Flag of World War 2
Soviet Union National Flag Meaning: The Soviet Union (USSR) flag is a plain red and contains a hammer crossed with a sickle and a red star in the upper hoist. The sickle is meant to symbolize the agricultural workers of the nation and the hammer the industrial employees. The red star is representative of the communist party rule. The Communist Party of USSR replaced the Imperial Russian flag with the Soviet flag in 1923.
Soviet Union Naval Ensign Meaning: The USSR naval ensign was used from 1935 to 1992 (collapse of the Soviet Union). Once the nation collapsed, the ensign was replaced by the traditional flag of Russia containing the blue “Cross of Saint Andrews” on a white field that was first introduced during the time of Peter the Great.
Poland National Flag of World War2 (Government in Exile)
Poland National Flag Meaning: The Polish national flag of the government-in-exile was the official flag after the country had been occupied by the Soviet Union and Germany in September of 1939 (start of World War 2). The exiled government would command the Polish armed forces operating outside of Poland. Although the government was largely unrecognized after the conclusion of World War 2, it would remain in existence until the fall of Communism in the country in 1990 when it formally passed on responsibilities to the new Polish government. The symbol on the flag combined the letters of P and W to stand for “Polska Walczaca” or “Fighting Poland” in English. It also has an anchor representing a symbol of hope (and was a common sight across the country as graffiti).
The Polish Navy used the same ensign from 1927-1945 and again in 1989. Although the country was occupied by Germany and the USSR during World War 2, the Polish Navy continued to operate a total of 27 ships to include 5 submarines and 11 torpedo boats during the war. The country’s ships were able to escort more than 780 convoys, sank 12 enemy ships to include 5 submarines, and shot down 20 aircraft. The Polish Navy would see 450 sailors die during World War 2 and would conduct integrated operations with other Allied navies during the war.
Free France National Flag of World War 2
The French citizens and fighters who fled the Nazis and those who remained behind in occupied, northern France constituted the Free France forces during World War 2. They were led by General Charles de Gaul and fought on the side of the Allies for the duration of the war. Once Vice Admiral Émile Muselier assumed the combined position of the Chief of the Naval and Air Forces of the Free French, he created the flag to include the traditional French colors along with the red cross of Lorraine. The intention of including the cross was the help the French people recall the perseverance of Joan of Arc who had used the symbol.
U.N. Four Freedoms Flag of World War 2
The “U.N. Honor Flag” or “Four Freedoms Flag” was designed or modeled after the U.S. President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. The flag design was intended to symbolize the goals of the WW II Allies as dictated in the Declaration by United Nations and the Atlantic Charter. Brooks Harding designed the flag in October of 1942 which saw limited use from 1943 to 1948. The flag is commonly referred to as the first UN flag, but was never recognized as an official flag of the organization.
World War 2 Flags of the Axis Powers
German National Flag of World War 2
German Flag Meaning: The German national flag was originally the flag of the NSDAP Party but became the German National flag in 1935 by direction of Hitler. In September of that year, the position of the swastika was moved to be slightly off-center towards the flag pole. In Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he stated that the white on the flag represented the nationalistic idea, the red the social idea of the movement, and the swastika represented the mission for the Aryan struggle for victory. Because of the Nazi’s use of the swastika, it became an international symbol of violence, anti-Semitism, death, murder and hate.
*Note: The use of the Nazi flag or swastika is illegal in Germany, Austria, and other European countries. Ensure you verify the local regulations in your region before printing, emailing, or otherwise using images of the flag.
The German Naval Ensign as well as the German Merchant flag were the same flag as the German National flag. At one point, the reverse side of the flag was modified to show a mirror image of the swastika vice the original “right-facing” symbol on both sides of the flag.
Italy National Flag of World War 2
The Italian national flag during World War 2 contained three sections of green, white, and red colors that were divided vertically in equal sections. The colors of the flag symbolically represent the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. As far as where the idea to use the colors came from is still a matter of debate amongst Italians. One of the prevailing theories is the colors originated with the uniform colors of the Civic Militia of Milan. The only difference in the Italian national flag and naval ensign was the addition of a shield and crown to the center of the flag. The shield was added in order to avoid confusion with Mexican flagged vessels at sea.
Japanese National Flag of World War 2
The Japanese national flag has a large red disk or circle in the center of the flag on a white background. The disk is meant to stand for the sun without rays. The Japanese Naval ensign; however, is known as the “Rising Sun” flag and contains 16 rays. It was used by the Japanese navy during World War 2 and become one of the most recognized symbols of the country. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces use the “Rising Sun” flag today.
Vichy France Republic Flag
After northern France to include Paris fell to Germany during the first part of World War 2, southern France established a semi-independent French government in Vichy. The government negotiated a peace treaty with Hitler and supported Nazi policies. The Vichy French Republic Flag was used from 1940 to 1944. After World War 2, the supporters of Vichy France would be considered traitors.