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Barend's banner v2

Russian Flags up to 1917

Knowing a bit about the Imperial system helps to understand the later White flags a bit better.

Ceremonial Flags

Most units in the Imperial army had been awarded a ceremonial flag for some action or other, or to mark some special event. There were some exceptions, but most followed one of these two basic patterns.

The newer ones were sometimes called a "Nikolai" if it had been awarded since 1894 and so bore the monogram of Tsar Nikolai II. On the back they bore the face of the saviour, unless they were for a non-Christian unit and so bore the Imperial Eagle. There were some slightly older models from the previous reign, which differ in that they have Aleksandr III's monogram and a patron saint or saints rather than Christ.

Flags from prior to that are sometimes called "Georgievskis" because they were in the colours of St George (white-orange-black) on a unit coloured background. The monograms and exact style depended on which Tsar had awarded them, but they followed the same general pattern.

Such flags were of huge sentimental value to the units, or at least their officers, and they took extreme measures to ensure that they did not fall not fall into enemy hands. The days of marching into battle with them at the front of the unit were over and they were not placed deliberately in harm's way – in WWI often being many kilometres to the rear. 

The older ones were particularly frail, and many were literally falling apart. Even when at the front of a unit they were often kept in their waterproof covering to slow this process.

A few outfits, such as schools, using different systems. Many were based on white-orange-black tricolours. The Navy used a St Andrews cross.

HQ Flags

Instead of their ceremonial banner units used an HQ flag to mark the presence of the staff of the unit. There was a scheme of colours and styles which identified the type of unit, and then a cipher inside gave the actual number.

Commanders of armies flew a flag of 5 orange and 5 black stripes.

Division flags were a rectangle of 150 cm by 100 cm, with a 20 cm border.  

To the left is the flag of the 10th Cavalry Division in WWI. It has an orange field with scarlet border and a "10" in black.

A Cossack Division flag would be similar, except dark blue with a red border, and the cipher would also indicate the Host. Below is what the 2nd Don division would have:

Regiments, artillery brigades and separate battalions had ones with diamonds inside a rectangle of solid colour of 1.2 m by 0.8 m.

HQ flagsThe diamond was orange for infantry, with a field of red (1st regiment in a division), blue (2nd), white (3rd), dark green (4th) or raspberry (rifle regiment).

Cossacks had a red diamond on dark blue field.

Line cavalry had dark blue diamond on orange field.

Individual squadrons, sotnias and batteries might have such a diamond-in-rectangle banner of 0.6 m by 0.4 m.

Cavalry Regimental Command Flags

Since cavalry commanders needed to be in the front rank, and therefore not necessarily with the staff flag, the Imperial cavalry had a separate system of identifying the commander for cavalry units.

Cuirrasier regiments flew a swallow-tailed flag 0.66 m long and 0.3 m high with a system of coloured triangles. Other cavalry a similar flag but with a system of stripes.

Cossack cavalry had 0.9 m square flags in Host colours, with a distinguishing cross for the second Host with a shared colour, and the units number in the centre. Horse tails were often added.

Battalion and Company Flags

The battalions of the infantry carried small flags (0.7 m by 0.4 m) on the bayonet of one of the men. They were squares with two small wings and had three stripes in white, orange and black with the battalion's number in black Roman numerals in the centre. Guards units added Гв.Э, and units awarded a St George honour added extra details.

Companies had small flags (0.4 m square with two small trangle wings), also carried on the bayonets. There was a complicated system of coloured crosses involving the type of the unit and its place in the division.


The Guards cavalry appear to have adopted squadron flags before WWI. Many are known, but they follow no pattern. Other regular cavalry had no establised pattern.

Cossack sotnias, on the other hand, had a well established system. On a swallow-tailed flag the top half was in Host colour and the bottom half designated the sotnia by a system of colours (in order: scarlet, light blue, white, dark green, yellow and brown). There was a white band in the upper half if the Host was the second of that colour

Cossacks prior to WWI, with the Sotnia flags clearly visible on the extreme right of the sotnia.


Some were flown, but there was no system.

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