Naval heraldry in the Commonwealth (Part 1)

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Arthur Radburn
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Naval heraldry in the Commonwealth (Part 1)

Postby Arthur Radburn » 26 Apr 2016, 18:30

While we've looked at various navies' heraldic customs from time to time, we haven't looked at the Commonwealth tradition ... so here goes. I've divided this topic into two parts. Part 1 looks at the origin of the system in the UK, while Part 2 looks at how various other Commonwealth countries have adapted it to reflect their own national identities.


The Royal Navy introduced its system of ships' badges in 1919. A ship was to display her badge, together with her battle honours, on the quarterdeck as "a naval counterpart of the military Regimental Colour". Major Charles ffoulkes of the Imperial War Museum devised the format :
> a golden naval crown, resting on
> a name plaque, above
> the badge within a golden frame of rope.

The shape of the frame is significant.

The original shapes were : circular for battleships, pentagonal for cruisers, shield-shaped for destroyers, and diamond-shaped for depot ships, aircraft carriers, submarines, sloops and auxiliary ships.

Since World War II, however, all warships (and Fleet Air Arm squadrons) have had circular badges, Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels have used the pentagon, and shore establishments have had the diamond shape. The shield shape has been dropped.

RN Volunteer Reserve unit badges had a shield at the top instead of the naval crown.

Here are a few pre-war examples :

> HMS Warwick (1919) : the bear and ragged staff badge of the Earls of Warwick

> HMS Revenge

> HMS Cambrian : the badge of Wales

> HMS Argus (aircraft carrier)

And some later ones :

> 898 Squadron FAA (1945) : a winged fish flying against the sun.

> RNVR Ulster : the standard pattern for RNVR badges, with a device in the centre to identify the unit

> RFA Tidesurge (replenishment oiler) (1950s) : an interesting way of depicting a tide surge in heraldic terms.

> HMS Drake (naval base) : the red dragon from Sir Francis Drake's crest.

Because badges are linked to ships' names, when a new ship is given the name of an earlier ship, she gets the earlier ship's badge too. As a result, badges go through cycles of use, followed by dormancy followed by re-use, and nowadays few new badges are designed.

You'll find lots of other early badges in this 1942 booklet : and
Arthur Radburn
IAAH Vice-President : Heraldic Education

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