This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Belgium: History of the Navy

Last modified: 2002-11-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: naval ensign | jack | royal navy section belge | fishery inspection |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

See also:


The history of the Belgian Navy was described by Léon Nyssen in Flaggenkurier [dfk] (1995).

Original title of the paper is Einige Flaggen der belgischen Marine von 1815 bis heute (Some flags of the Belgian Navy from 1815 until now).

Hereafter is my translation/rendition from German of the most interesting parts (i.e. nearly everything) of the original paper.

The original paper is available online.

Ivan Sache, 8 April 2001

Before independence (1815-1830)

[Dutch national flag]by António Martins

In 1815, after the abdication of Napoléon and the fall of the French First Empire, the Vienna Congress decided to unify Belgium and Holland under William I's rule. The new kingdom of the Netherlands inherited more than 200 vessels abandoned by France in the ports of Den Helder and Antwerp. Since those vessels were old, the king decided to start a reconstruction program and it took 15 years to build 34 new vessels. Holland and Belgium shared the costs.

These warships as well as the merchant navy hoisted the horizontally divided red-white-blue ensign, already known in the XVIth century.

[First Belgium national flag]by Ivan Sache

The opposition between Belgium and Holland increased with time, and Belgians started to ask for a status of autonomy within the kingdom in 1830. On 26 August 1830, the Belgians choosed their own flag. Black, red and yellow, as the colours of the former duchy of Brabant, were placed horizontally on the new flag, from top to bottom red, yellow and black.The similarity with the colour pattern of the Dutch flag was intended to mean that the opponents were not promoting a total separation from the Netherlands.

From independence to First World War (1830-1914)

[First Belgium naval ensign]by Vincent Morley

William I sent troops against the insurgents. Belgium proclaimed independence after its victory during the fighting of September 1830.

In January 1831, the provisory government prescribed a new placement of the colours as vertical. In the corresponding text, as well as in the Constitution adopted in February, the colour placement was weirdly described as red, yellow and black. A drawing near the text showed, however, a black-yellow-red flag with proportion 3:4 (but proportion was not explicitely mentioned in the text). The decree was distributed all over the country, unfortunately without the companion drawing. Therefore, two decisions of Ministries of Navy and Interior were released in October and November, respectively, to specify that black should be placed at hoist.

The question of the ensign hoisted by warships between 26 August 1830 and the end of 1831 is easily answered. The whole navy but a few exception remained under the rule of Dutch, who still controlled Antwerp and the Scheldt river. The Belgians did not receive half of the fleet as they required because they had paid for it. Although most of the ships did not receive up-to-date information about the Revolution and the Belgian national ensign, a few of them hoisted the black-yellow-red ensign.

Since neither a law nor a regulation prescribed the proportion of the 'flag for all', the proportion 2:3 became obvious. The proportion of the Belgian flags used today for official purposes (13:15, unique in the world) is also not officially regulated.

The creation of the Belgian Navy was decided in 1831. The realization of the project was very hesitating, especially because the Navy would not be attached to Ministry of War but Ministry of Foriegn Affairs. The Navy was named Marine Royale (Royal Navy). It was administrated by different ministries and was fully incorporated into the armed forces only in 1949 and attached to Ministry of Defence.
Neither Belgian people nor Parliament showed any interest for the Navy, whose funds and crew were constatnly reduced.
However, a royal ensign was introduced in 1858, which should be hoisted when the king was on board. The ensign was modified several times, in practice every time the head of the state changed.

In 1862, the Royal Navy was demilitarized and became a State Navy. Its main duty was to increase the security of the sea link between Oostende and Dover. The ensign remained unchanged, vertically black-yellow-red in proportion 2:3.

[Fishery inspection flag]by Ivan Sache

In 1882, the service of fishery inspection was created and assigned to the State Navy. The vessel hoisted the national ensign and a specific flag (triangular, 2:3, quartered yellow-blue-yellow-blue, with NW for North-West [Atlantic]) in black in canton.which is still in used.

From First World War to Second World War (1914-1939)

Repeated attempts to reestablish a Navy failed in 1884, 1902 and 1914. In 1917 was created the so-called Dépôt des Equipages (Crew Depot). The Belgians adopted the French uniform, excepted the beret, which had a blue instead of red pompom. On 19 November 1919, the Depot was renamed Section des Torpilleurs et Marins (Section of Torpedo Boats and Seamen), and in 1924, it was once again renamed Corps des Torpilleurs et Marins (Corps of Torpedo Boats and Seamen). These units hoisted the aforementioned ensign and the masthead pennant.

The Navy was suppressed again in 1926. Officiers and seamen were incorporated into several units of the Army. Vessels were sold or sent for scrap. Only the Zinnia was kept to comply with international treaties. She was in charge of the fishery inspection in the North Sea. The vessel was painted in grey like a warship and hoisted despite all regulations the command pennant. This odd situation caused several incidents: when a foreign warship saluted the Zinnia with artillery shots and was answered with 'blind shots' only, signals were sent to ask wether she was really a warship or not.

Belgium declared its neutrality in 1932 and 1934. After long debates about the need of coastal protection in case of war, a decree from 1936 established ensigns, honours etc. to be allocated to the Navy. The text prescribed ensigns, salutes and other courtesy items, but nothing was said about the vessels themselves. The text prescribed two new ensigns for State and private ships, whereas the merchant ensign was not changed. The houseflags had to be allowed. A yacht ensign was also adopted.

Second World War (1939-1945)

Since the risk of war had increased, the Crew Depot was revived, but there were still no vessels available. Fourteen days before the declaration of war between Germany, France and Britain, hundreds of mines were dropped in the Armel channel and along the border of the Belgian territorial waters. The autumn storms brought back hundreds of these mines to the coast. To protect the ports from the danger, the Naval Corps was partially mobilized, a few old ships were requisitioned and started to clean off the mines.
On 12 May 1940, two days after the entrance of Belgium in war, the Corps was totally mobilized. The capitulation of the Belgian Army on 28 May caused the withdrawal of the Corps to England by the way of France.

The Corps was suppressed on 26 June 1940. The seamen were incorporated into the Belgian Army in Great Britain. The Navy Lieutenant Victor Billet organized in agreement with the British Admiralty the recruiting of seamen, but disappeared in Dieppe in 1942. The Belgians had no other solution than being a section of the Royal Navy named Royal Navy Section Belge (RNSB).
The number of Belgian non-commissionned officers and seamen was so low that they could not constitute Belgian crews. Therefore, seamen of all ranks served in the Royal Navy under the White Ensign. In 1942, they were enough to compose the crew of the two corvets Godetia and Buttercup. The units of the 118th mine-clearing flotilla included more and more Belgian seamen. However, since the flotilla became totally Belgian only for the last days of the war, it used the ensign of the Royal Navy until the end of 1945.

Great Britain asked Belgium to take back the Section Belge and its seamen, which was done on 9th November. The new unit was named Section Navale. It included twelve vessels and was under the joint control of both Ministries of Transportation and Foreign Affairs. The only ensign used was the State Navy ensign.

The Belgian merchant float - more than 80% of the ships could have left to allied or neutral ports - was incorporated into the allied pool. It was involved in all of the war acts of the allied forces, and experienced severe loss (1/3rd of the crew, 2/3rd of the ships representing 3/4th of the cumulated tonnage). All of those ships fought under the Belgian tricolor ensign.

Royal Navy Section Belge

8 January1942. Admiralty Fleet Order 1374/41. Royal Navy (Section Belge) Flag.

Belgian warships commissioned for Royal Navy service will fly,

(a) Belgian Ensign and White Ensign side by side at ensign staff or peak,

(b) British masthead pennant and,

(c) Union Flag at jackstaff when in harbour, or underway and dressed with masthead flags.

In presence of enemy or when national character needs to be indicated beyond possibility of misunderstanding a second White Ensign will be flown at main yard-arm, or if this is not practical at fore yard-arm.

A similar order about flags for French warships was issued by Admiralty Message on 15th July 1940.

Source: Public Record Office ADM 199/803]

David Prothero, 20 April 2001

After Second World War (1945- )

The three national ensigns - for the State Navy, the merchant navy and the yachts - remained unchanged. The ensign of the State Navy was also hoisted by warships. The RNSB, renamed Section Navale in November 1945, was commanded by a Commodore. It hoisted the ensign of the State Navy, as did the Oostende-Dover steamers, lifeships and lightships, Trinity House boats, tugboats and other service ships.

On 1 June 1946, Section Navale was renamed Force Navale, by analogy with Force Terrestre (Army) and Force Aérienne (Air Force). It was considered unappropriate to revive the former name Marine Royale, because the royal question was controversial at that time.

On 15 June 1946, the regent Charles (King Léopold III was still living in exile in Switzerland) gave the Belgian seamen a standard designed on the model of the regimental flags of the Army. The standard should be used only for ceremonial purposes on land. It was a Belgian Tricolore with the mention of all the battles during which the seamen won fame. The standard (77 x 88 cm) was charged in canton with the Medal of War Cross 1939-1945 awith plam.

On 25 February 1949, the Navy was incorporated into the Armed Forces, under the rule of the Ministry of Defence, ending 120 years of hesitation between different ministeries. On 23 February 1950, the Force Navale received its own ensign, clearly different from the national, state and civil ensigns as well from the yacht ensign.

When required, a jack (square Belgian Tricolor) with a height of 1.50 m flies from the bowsprit. In specific instances or during visit of important people on board, a specific square ensign with a height of 1.50 m is hoisted, e.g. the church ensign during a religious ceremony or the rank ensign of naval officiers.

CHANNELS :: Compare Country infoCountry guide & StudyFlagsMapsSightseeingTravel WarningsHotel Directory DESTINATIONS :: AsiaAfricaCaribbean Middle EastNorth AmericaSouth AmericaCentral AmericaOceania PacificEuropePolar Regions UTILITIES :: WeatherWorld TimeISD CodesTravel Links Link Exchange
DestinationsMonuments WONDERS :: AncientModernNatural | Privacy Policy