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Poland - Historical flags since 1916

Last modified: 2011-05-13 by andrew weeks
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Polish State (November 1916)

[1916-1919 flag] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 October 2001

With the German occupation of Poland (1915-1916), Marshall Hindenburg entered Warsaw in summer 1916 and later the German forces entered Galitzia. The Polish legions went over to the Germans and the Czar hastened to grant autonomy to the ancient Kingdom. Germany answered by proclaiming the independence of Poland from Russia, but not determining what kind of government had to take over the new country, that remained under a military occupation regime. Anyway, it was clear that the new Poland could only encompass the Russian territories, and perhaps the Austrian Galitzia, but it would not affect the Polish territories under Prussian administration.

Polish Kingdom (1917)
After some months the central powers agreed to create a Kingdom of Poland and in September 1917 it was constituted a regency headed by the archbishop of Warsaw Mgr A. Kakowski, the mayor of the capital, prince Lubomirski, and Joseph Von Ostrowski. It was also appointed a cabinet with limited powers for the country's civil administration, chaired by J. Kucharzewski, substituted in spring 1918 by Steczkowski, after the peace treaty of the central Powers with Ukraine assigned to this country the district of Kholm, that the Poles considered had to form part of Poland. The new government pressed Germany to review the peace Treaty, obtaining that part of Kholm returned to Poland.

Polish Republic (November 1918)
After the collapse of the German front in November 1918, the socialists took the control of Krakow on 3 November and on 6 November the socialist leader Dazynski proclaimed the Polish Peoples Republic in that town, then heading a leftist government. This government took over part of the country, but was later dissolved after Marshall Pilsudski assumed the control of the country. The government of the regency, now headed by Moraczewski, that controlled Warsaw and a part of the country, claimed the only representation of Poland and thanks to the support of the Polish military forces under the command of Marshall Pilsudski, managed to impose its authority in most of the country. Pilsudski, after collaborating with the Germans, had broken with them in July 1917, and was sent to Magdebourg, but returned in time. On 14 November Pilsudski was proclaimed Chief of State. On 17 November Poznan fell also under Polish control. The head of the National Council, who was a refugee in Paris, returned to Warsaw, and substituted Moraczewski. The Polish forces invaded Galitcia and took Lemberg (Lvov) on 23 November In February 1919 the Constituent Assembly was under the control of the followers of Paderewski, and Pilsudski was confirmed as provisional president. In November 1919 the Constituent Assembly approved the new Constitution. The bicolor flag, white over red, flew in demonstrations in Warsaw on 3 May 1916. The government of the regency used de facto these colors but did not adopt them officially. They were also used by the Polish National Council in Paris (1916-18) and in Galicia (1917-1918). The Polish Republic used also these colors and adopted them as national flag on 1 August 1919, with the shade of red much darker that the current one. Same day were adopted the arms. Flag was adopted by Republic (1 August 1919) as civil land flag. Shade was fixed as crimson (later from crimson was moved to cinnabar in 1928, and, 1980, to medium red). For the arms see below
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


National flag on land (1919)

[National flag on land (1919)] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001

Adopted 1st August 1919, proportions 5:8
Same law dated 1 August 1919 introduced a civil ensign, naval ensign and presidential standard (Choragiew Rzeczyposolitej) that only were hoisted in 20 February 1920. Civil ensign was also the flag for diplomatic and consular service.
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


Civil ensign (1919)

[Civil ensign (1919)] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001

Adopted 1st August 1919, proportions 5:8
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


War ensign (1919)

[War ensign (1919)] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001

Adopted 1st August 1919, proportions 10:21
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


Presidential Standard (1919)

[Presidential Standard (1919)] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001

Adopted 1st August 1919.
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


Coat of Arms (1919)

[Coat of Arms (1919)] image by Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001

Adopted 1st August 1919.
Jaume Ollé, 28 Oct 2001


Historical jack - other version

[Historical jack - other version] image by Adam Kromer, from his website

The origins of the white eagle of Poland

I asked my family priest about how the White Eagle became the emblem for Poland today to see if he knew anything about it. He told me: "There were 3 guys, one of whom was named Lech. Lech ran upon a wild forest, which was in the shape of a White-Eagle. He thought to himself, this would be a good sign for my nation. From that, he created what was called Lechechi, which later became Poland." He also told me that it was a very long story dealing with the birth of Poland as a Nation, but that was all he told me. And then he said he's never seen a white-eagle. "Perhaps in a special kind of zoo..."
Timothy Boronczyk, 17 May 1998

The legend is that Lech, Czech and Rus were three brothers, each of whom set off in a different direction. Czech founded the Czech nation, Rus the Ruś (i.e. East Slavs) and Lech the Poles. He camped in a spot where he saw a white eagle nesting at dusk in a nest in a tree against the red sunset. Thus, the Polish white eagle on a red field, and thus also the name of the first Polish capital, Gniezno (perhaps an old form of gniazdo, the current word for nest).

Of course, this is but a legend. I have a Polish book on the Polish symbols at home, and it says that in the 13th century, Polish knights were going into battle with a black eagle on a white or yellow field. In fact, prior to the 1 or 2 Czech kings Poland had, there is no evidence of the white eagle. So, in some likelihood, it may well be an adopted symbol.
Robert Czernkowski, 19 May 1998