'Marschflugkörper' is 'cruise missile' in english. And 'Flugkörper' is 'missile'. However, 'der Marsch' is the march, as in what an army troop does in a parade square. Do German speakers conceive of a cruise missile as a missile that 'marches'? That seems unlike the character of a low-flying, stealthy cruise missile. Am I missing something?

3 Answers 3


When comparing a cruise missile and Marschflugkörper with

the character of a low-flying, stealthy cruise missile. Am I missing something?

Then it is that cruise missiles were sold to the purchasers and the general public financing this as exactly that: a rocket capable of long range and so close to the ground, below radar, that it practically marches on foot for that purpose.

You can compare selling point that with old commercials aimed at advertising for example the BGM 109G cruise missile, "it hugs the ground", like in this video (the older ones were sold with the same checkboxes marked).

It is a compound word invented in military circles searching for martial vocabulary that is easily understandable, opting for Marsch as a fitting picture.

Im Frühjahr 1975 wurde deutlich, daß zwischen Moskau und Washington über die Einordnung bestimmter neuer Waffensysteme in die Begrenzungen von Wladiwostok ein Dissens bestand. Es handelt sich um die neuen sowjetischen Mittelstreckenflugzeuge, die den Nato-Code „Backfire“ tragen, und um die V-Waffen ähnlichen, nicht ballistischen „Cruise Missiles“ der Amerikaner, die im Militäramtsdeutsch neuerdings als Marschflugkörper bezeichnet werden. "Im Schatten der roten Raketen", Zeit, 11. März 1977

But it still had to be explained:

Diese sogenannten „Marschflugkörper“ nehmen sich in Größe, Geschwindigkeit und Forbewegüngsart gegenüber den gewaltigen ballistischen Interkontinental-Raketen wie ein technischer Rückfall in die Endphase des Zweiten Weltkrieges aus. Es sind von Düsenmotoren angetriebene, unbemannte Flugbomben ähnlich der deutschen „VI“ – nur knapp sieben Meter lang, mit einem Durchmesser von einem halben Meter, dem Gewicht eines Sportflugzeuges und einer Höchstgeschwindigkeit von etwa 800 Stundenkilometern. "Neue Wunderwaffe", Zeit, 15. April 1977

Further, you might consider the military mind associating cruise-missiles as being deployed on land, where soldiers march, and anti-ship missles (Seezielflugkörper), which when longer range and not swimming but skimming are: "The longer-range anti-ship missiles are often called anti-ship cruise missiles." Marschflugkörper are classified as land-to-land Lenkflugkörper. Land-to-land, just like "infantry"? But more importantly, the word Anmarsch is especially in military contexts, just an approach, used for ground, sea and air forces.

Since the Germans were the very first to bring to market Marschflugkörper –– albeit under a different name –– the current name is at the same time a distraction and an improvement, in marketing terms. This kind of weapon is properly called Terrorwaffe.

  • 1
    Think march as opposed to sprint :) Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 7:53
  • maybe it's a missile that goes into the swamp - den Marsche
    – user31220
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 10:00

"Marschieren" is not restricted to a parade, it is the general term for troop movement. The troops don't even need to march in cadence.
The English term "to cruise" would be translated into German by "kreuzen" only if it means frequent changes of direction. In nautical context a cruiser might move that way for reconnaissance to protect the battle fleet or search for enemy merchant ships, that would be called "kreuzen", but if it is a more or less straight movement towards a certain destination, "marschieren" would be the correct translation for "cruise", including the term "Marschgeschwindigkeit" for "cruise speed".

"Marsch!" as a command would als be used in some cases where the English equivalent would be "go!"

Another example: English "charge the hose!" translates to "Wasser marsch!"

  • 5
    Marsch is not only for troops but also related equipment used, sometimes even outside the military (Kraftfahrzeugmarsch, Marschverband)
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:31
  • 6
    "Charge the hose"? Native English speaker here, and I have no idea what that means. I would think that "Wasser marsch" would translate more to something like, "open the floodgates".
    – Aeroradish
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 2:22
  • 3
    Think more along the line of fire brigade operations here... Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 7:52

An answer can be short:

Marsch is nothing essentially different from walk. It is the activity ot walking, typically over a longer distance, in a constant manner. Soldiers did this (in pre-vehicle times), and hikers and tourists are still doing it. That's what a cruise missile does: travelling steadily over long distances, but not too quickly.

Related words and expressions

Marschieren (the verb)

Marschroute (route for a walk, both planned and realised)

Marschbefehl (order to move, for the military)

Marschgepäck (what you take with you on a walk or hike)

Gaisburger Marsch (a traditional stew, especially in the region of Swabia)

Marsch, Marsch, in die Heia! (Order given to children to go finally to bed.)

Attention, not related

Marschall (high military rank, the word derived from old German marah scalc, horse servant)

  • 2
    Believe me: soldiers are still doing this, even in post-vehicle times. Sometimes it's much more inconspicuous (therefore healthier) to go somewhere on foot than in an APC or helicopter. Or you may be navigating terrain where APCs are simply not practical (e.g., in the mountains), and you simply don't have enough helicopters. Or you may have parachuted in, and it's just not practical to also land an APC. Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 21:45
  • @StephanKolassa I think you are a bit nitpicking here. Yes, of course, people (this includes soldiers) use their legs for moving from A to B. Anyway the large movements of large numbers of people (that once were done by marching) are now done by vehicles of any kind. Everything else I would consider details. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 0:01
  • I think this fits best because you don't need to be in a troop to "marschieren". Also the reference to the stew is of significant relevance here (though I don't know why there is always this focus on the south of Germany, us in the north eat too, right?). Commented May 13, 2022 at 7:25
  • 'Additional example: colloquial term "Durchmarsch" for Diarrhea (de: Durchfall). Do not use this in formal context! Commented May 13, 2022 at 7:26

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