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The below pictures show US Army troops in 1945, having captured the city of Nuremberg. I was curious about the flags they are waving, though - they don't seem to match up with any of the recorded flags for the US that I can find; in particular, they seem to have a white stripe at the bottom, which never occurred, as far as I can tell, and too few stripes and stars for the year in question. The full caption that accompanied one of the pictures was:

"U.S. Soldiers Capture Nuremberg. Troops of the 45th Division, Seventh U.S. Army, wave battle-worn American Flags from the dais of the Luitpold Arena in Nuremberg, Germany, after capture of the shrine city of the Nazi Party April 20, 1945."

(From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The description does state the flags are battle-worn; is it merely damage that causes the odd appearance? Or are these a specific flag to part of the army, or something similar?

enter image description here enter image description here

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    Maybe they just asked some tailor shop to put something together, or they themselves made those flags and got it slightly wrong.
    – Jan
    Jan 6 at 16:17
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    I count 16 stars in a grid and 10 stripes.
    – Schwern
    Jan 6 at 19:55
  • It's a parallel universe where Delaware and Rhode Island never happened and the Carolinas didn't split.
    – Spencer
    Jan 7 at 0:13
  • The flags look hand-crafted... check the thin white line below the star field on the right flag for instance, or the slightly uneven placement of stars in the same flag. I think it's possible that the flags in question were perhaps improvised/painted by the troops on short notice, either for an (impromptu) victory celebration or the photo op.
    – fgysin
    Jan 7 at 13:17
  • @fgysin Yup. The stars also look 6-pointed— easier to draw, with paint? — Still we see stripes wrong & stars wrong etc. Would any American draw the flag like that? (Alt-Hypothesis to 'troops self-made them quickly': This looks more like a spoil of war, made by Germans welcoming liberators, well-meant, even if unfamiliar with exact designs, but 'close enough'?) Jan 7 at 14:27

1 Answer 1

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Modern armies do not carry officially issued national flags into battle. There are three reasons for that:

One) Conspicously carrying a flag into battle attracts a lot of attention from the enemy and is highly dangerous.

Two) Modern armies usually fight in dispersed formations where only a small percentage of the troops in a unit would be aware of their unit's flag, so those flags would not be very effective in encouraging the soldiers to fight.

For those reasons most modern armies stopped carrying their flags into battle roughly about the period of 1880 to 1920.

Three) Officially issued military flags are the flags of the units they were issued to.

Each battalion or regiment has a flag called a color, except that some armies like the UK and USA armies have two colors per battalion or regiment. Those colors can have many different designs. Some are based on the national flag, some are based on the national coat of arms, and some are completely different from either.

Since the USA has two colors per regiment, a regiment will have both a national color with a design based on the national flag, and a regimental color based on the national coat of arms, which I consider to be a highly logical pattern.

Some armies, like the US army, also have flags of companies, smaller units within a regiment, which are called guidons.

And larger units that regiments may be grouped into, such as brigades, divisions, corps, field armies, etc. can have their unit flags.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_colours,_standards_and_guidons

Colors used to be carried into battle to inspire the troops, but that has been abandoned for over a century because of the dispersed formations of modern armies and the great danger to the color bearers. So the colors are seen only in military ceremonies. However, it is possible that the colors are taken in military expeditions in the regimental headquarters baggage.

Soldiers often carry small flags of their country in their personal or unit baggage and fly them when they capture an enemy position.

The flags in the photo have different numbers of stripes than would be found in regulation national colors, or in the 1945 national flag (the national flag always had 13 stripes, except fora few years when it had 15). So I find it hard to believe that the flags are US national colors or intended to be US national flags.

I note that colors are usually made of natural or artifical silk, and usually have fringes, and cords ending in tassles. Colors are not run up on flag poles but attached to spear-like staffs, which usually have spearheads.

The flags in the photos are carried on staffs but don't look much like colors otherwise.

The soldiers in the photo are identified as members of the 45th Dvision, 7th US army.

The photos show two flags which seem to have very similar or identical patterns. I don't see any writing on the flags which might indicate that they were flags of military units.

I think that you found an interesting flag identification problem. If nobody here can answer it, you might want to ask at the vexilology subreddit.

https://www.reddit.com/r/vexillology/

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    There was also a time when the national flag had fourteen.
    – Mary
    Jan 7 at 0:09
  • Based on this answer and looking at the picture again I think it's possible that the flags in question were perhaps improvised by the troops on short notice, either for an (impromptu) victory celebration or the photo op.
    – fgysin
    Jan 7 at 13:15
  • "Modern armies do not carry officially issued national flags into battle" . Completely wrong. Even in very modern times official national flags are often visibly displayed in combat zones. For example, you have pictures of US outposts in Afghanistan adorned with flags : nara.getarchive.net/media/…
    – rs.29
    Jan 11 at 22:08

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