Military bands in Nazi Germany’s Navy, the Kriegsmarine, were divided into two major categories. The first were permanently shore-based bands known as Musikkorps der Landmarineteile and were attached to the Naval Commands Ostsee (Baltic Sea), and Nordsee (North Sea), ship’s cadre battalions, NCO instruction battalions and the marine coastal artillery battalions or Küstenartillerie.
Often parading in the German navy’s standard field-grey service dress, with gold and field-grey swallowsnests, these land-based band marines were full-time, professional or career musicians who performed at all important formal Kriegsmarine functions.
With a complement of 26 full-time junior NCO’s & ratings, one senior NCO in the rank of Musikoberfeldwebel (Petty Officer) and one senior NCO in the rank of Musikmeister, the Musikkorps performed a cross-section of musical duties from the large ceremonial parades and official march-pasts to quay-side departures and arrivals of ships & U-boats, under the command of a Flottenadmiral (Fleet Admiral). Land-based Marinemusikkorps also operated fife & drum Spielmannszüge with one junior NCO acting as Abteilungstambour or Detachment Drum Major, and six drummers & fifers also drawn from the naval musician’s career branch.
The second category comprised bands attached to ships of the High Seas Fleet. Known as Bordmusikkorps, these ship-borne musicians were sub-divided into two further divisions: bands serving on the battleships & battle-cruisers such as the Scharnhorst or Tirpitz, and known as Geschwadermusikkorps or ships-squadron bands, and smaller bands serving with destroyer & minesweeper fleets, known as Kleine Schiffsmusikkorps or small ships bands.
Wearing the standard blue square rig uniform with ‘Donald Duck’ boarding cap, all major Fleet Commands or Flottenkommando had a Geschwadermusikkorps which normally consisted of between 26 and 40 junior NCOs & ratings drawn from the naval music career path, with a senior NCO Korpsführer, under the overall command of a senior NCO Musikmeister.
However, the size of the ship’s band normally related to the actual size of the ship so in the larger vessels, such as battleships or battle-cruisers, the Geschwadermusikkorps complement could be up as high as 26 or with as few as just 8 musicians and band-leader. Ship-board Spielleute were, like their land-based colleagues, drawn from the music-career branch and each Geschwadermusikkorps normally paraded 6 fifers and 6 drummers under the musical direction of an NCO Abteilungstambour.
The Kleine Schiffsmusikkorps were composed of 9 volunteer ratings & NCOs who played in the band in addition to their normal duties as seamen & gunners etc, under the direction of a junior NCO career musician in the rank of Musikmaat or Musikobermaat. Unlike their career musician colleagues, these ‘hobby’ musicians wore their main branch career insignia on their uniforms…
Naval bands on the smaller vessels could vary their musical complement to as low as just three members, quite often carrying only fifers & drummers on-board ship, with the addition of a lone signalling bugler or Signalhornister…..
Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013