Customs and Traditions – Naval Pennants

HMS Ocean

With HMS Ocean (L12) entering Portsmouth for the final time late last week flying her paying off pennant, before she is decommissioned and transfered to the Brazilian Navy, it is worthwhile looking at the naval tradition of flying pennants.

A pennant is a flag that is larger at the hoist than at the fly, and can have several shapes, such as triangular, tapering or triangular and swallow-tailed.

In the days of chivalry, knights carried pennants on their lances, just as men-of-war flew pennants from their masts. During the conflicts of the thirteenth century, when merchant ships were commandeered and placed in command of military officers they transferred their pennants from their lances to the mastheads of the ships they commanded. The tradition continued until the end of the Napoleonic Wars when the Royal Navy adopted the style of pennants used today.

Today the pennant is hoisted on the day a warship or shore establishment commissions and is never struck until the day of decommissioning. Onboard ship the pennant is flown at the masthead, for which reason it is also commonly referred to as a ‘masthead pennant’. In the Royal Navy (RN) today there are two types of pennant – a ‘Commissioning pennant’ and a ‘Paying off’ pennant.

In the RN the commissioning pennant (shown below) is flown continuously in every ship and shore establishment in commission unless displaced by a senior officer’s Rank flag. The masthead pennant is a cross of St George in the hoist and a white fly.

1920px-Royal_Navy_commissioning_pennant_(with_outline).svg

It is the custom in many navies for a ship which is ‘paying off’ to wear an extremely long commissioning pennant, which is normally at least the length of the ship, and the length of which reflects the length of service. HMS Gloucester (D96) is shown below flying her paying off pennant in 2011 when she decommissioned.

HMS Gloucester Paying Off Pennant

The term ‘paying off’ refers to the fact that RN ships formerly ‘paid off’ each time they returned home after a commission overseas. The ship’s sailors were not paid until the ship returned home, to avoid desertion.

In the US Navy (USN) the commissioning pennant is ‘blue at the hoist, bearing seven white stars; the rest of the pennant consists of single longitudinal stripes of red and white’. Like their RN cousins, ships of the USN fly the commissioning pennant from the moment of commissioning until the decommissioning ceremony. The commissioning pennant of USS McInerney (FFG 8) is shown below.

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The US Navy has no tradition of flying a paying off pennant before decommissioning. US Navy ships maintain a separate tradition of flying a ‘Homeward Bound’ pennant when returning from a deployment to their home port. The dimensions of the pennant are not prescribed by regulation, but the customary practice is one white star for the first nine months of continuous service outside the US, plus another for each additional 6 months. The overall length of the pennant is one foot for each member of the ship’s company on duty outside the United States for more than 9 months, but not to exceed the length of the ship itself. Below is a picture of USS George Washington (CVN-73) flying her 297 foot ‘Homeward Bound’ pennant returning from deployment in 2015.

USS George Washington Homeward Bound Pennant

On this day – Australia’s worst peacetime naval disaster – HMAS Melbourne (R21) and HMAS Voyager (D04) collide at night off Jervis Bay

HMAS Voyager

On this day in 1964 what is considered to be Australia’s worst peacetime naval disaster occurred 20 nautical miles off Point Perpendicular near Jervis Bay in New South Wales, when at 8.56pm the Majestic class aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21) and the Daring class destroyer HMAS Voyager (D04) collided at night during manoeuvres.

At the time HMAS Melbourne was performing flying exercises and HMAS Voyager was performing plane guard duties, positioned behind and to port (left) in order to rescue any aircrew if a plane was forced to ditch.

HMAS Melbourne following Voyager collision

After a series of turns effected to reverse the course of the ships HMAS Voyager ended up ahead and starboard (right) of HMAS Melbourne. Voyager was then ordered by Melbourne to resume plane guard position, which involved turning to starboard, but then she came around to port. The crew on the bridge of HMAS Melbourne thought that Voyager was zig-zagging and would turn to starboard and resume her correct position.

At 8.55pm both ships began desperate avoiding manoeuvres but a collision was inevitable. One minute later the bow of HMAS Melbourne (travelling at about 22 knots) struck behind the Bridge and Operations Room of HMAS Voyager, effectively cutting the ship in two.

Over the coming hours, frantic efforts were made to rescue the crew of HMAS Voyager, with helicopters from both HMAS Melbourne and Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra, as well as five Minesweepers and two search and rescue boats were dispatched from the shore establishment HMAS Creswell, moving to the scene to pick up survivors.

HMAS Voyager Crest

Sadly, of the 314 crew on board HMAS Voyager, 82 were killed, most of whom died immediately or were trapped in the bow section, which sank after 10 minutes. HMAS Melbourne was damaged, but suffered no fatalities.

CPO Rogers GC DSM

One particular crew member of HMAS Voyager showed great bravery and sadly lost his life as a result. Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rogers DSM, a Welshman and Second World War Royal Navy  veteran, along with 50 other men, was trapped in the sinking forward part of the stricken destroyer.

Recognising that he was too large to fit through the escape hatch, he organised the evacuation of those that could escape, then led his trapped comrades in a prayer and hymn as they met their fate. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross (GC), which is now held by the Australian War Memorial.

CPO Rogers GC DSM Medal Collection

Following the disaster two Royal Commissions were held in 1964 and 1968. The first Royal Commission ruled that the collision was the fault of HMAS Voyager’s bridge crew and also blamed the Commanding Officer of HMAS Melbourne, Captain John Robertson and two other officers on that ship. Robertson resigned after the first Royal Commission, rather than accept a shore posting to HMAS Watson (in effect a demotion) and was widely seen in the media as a scapegoat for the incident.

In 1967 a second Royal Commission was announced following increasing pressure from the public and the media, including claims made that the Commanding Officer of HMAS Voyager, Captain Duncan Stevens (who had died in the tragedy), was a heavy drinker and unfit for command. The second Royal Commission came to that finding and absolved Captain Robertson and the two other officers from HMAS Melbourne, of any blame.

You can find out more about HMAS Voyager (II) here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-voyager-ii

Naval News – Missing Australian World War 1 Submarine AE1 found off the coast of New Guinea after 103 years

AE!

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) announced today that they have discovered the wreck of the Australian WW1 submarine AE1, which had been missing for over a century.

AE1

HMAS AE1 (originally known as just AE1) was an E-class submarine and the first to serve in the RAN. She was lost at sea with all hands near East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, on 14 September 1914, after less than seven months in service.

AE1 was discovered by a team led by the Submarine Institute of Australia on board the specialist Dutch survey ship the MV Fugro Equator. With $1 million in funding from the Australian Government and a private consortium they had commenced their search last Sunday.

Fugro Equator.jpg

They discovered that the boat suffered a catastrophic failure, probably during a practice dive, and struck a hard rocky bottom southeast of the Duke of York islands group.

AE1 Mao

The precise location of the wreck, and even details of the time it was discovered, are being kept secret to protect it from unauthorised salvage attempts.

It is understood there is no intention of attempting to retrieve the submarine, resting at a depth of more than 300 metres, which is regarded as a war grave.

AE1 Memorial Plaque

There had been several previous attempts over the years to locate the vessel, all unsuccessful. MV Fugro Equator is a specially designed offshore survey ship, that was involved in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

You can find out more about AE1 here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-ae1

Customs & Traditions – Naval Toasts

 

The Wardroom of HMAS Vampire

There are many customs and traditions associated with the Royal Navy (RN) and many of these are carried on by other Commonwealth Navies, like the RAN, RCN and RNZN.

The Toasts of the Royal Navy are a set of traditional drinking toasts that take place during formal dinners and on particular days of the week.

The main toast, and the first one given following the completion of the dessert course at a formal dining in night, is the ‘Loyal Toast’ to the Sovereign. This toast was originally made seated, apparently due to the danger of low deckheads on wooden sailing ships, rather than potential inebriation!

Port Glass

There then follow special toasts dependent on the day of the week. They are:

  • Sunday –  “Absent Friends
  • Monday –  “Our Ships at Sea
  • Tuesday – “Our Men
  • Wednesday – “Ourselves” (as no one else is likely to be concerned for us!)
  • Thursday – “A Bloody War or a Sickly Season” (and a quick promotion!)
  • Friday – “A Willing Foe and Sea-Room
  • Saturday – “Wives and Sweethearts” (may they never meet)

In 2013 the RN changed the Tuesday and Saturday toasts to reflect the fact that women had been at sea for nearly two decades.

Officially the Tuesday toast is now “Our Sailors” and the Saturday toast is “Our Families“*. However, apparently the majority of personnel prefer the traditional toasts and they are still widely used.

Toasts are made from port glasses and typically given by the youngest officer present at a Mess dinner, in their capacity as Dining Vice President or ‘Mr Vice’.

The port is ‘passed’ in decanters to each person at the dinner to then fill their glass. Naval tradition is that the decanter should be passed along the table, as lifting it a on moving ship could result in spilling the precious liquid!

* – in the Royal Australian Navy the wording of the Saturday toast is slightly different – ‘Our Partners’. Since 1999, in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) the Thursday toast is ‘Our Navy’ and the Friday toast ‘Our Nation’.

Naval News – Australia names new RAN Replenishment Ships

The Spanish Replenishment Oiler ESPS Cantabria leads Division five into Sydney Harbour for the International Fleet Review 2013.jpg

The Australian Minister for Defence, Marise Payne has announced the names of the two new Support Ships that will be built by Navantia based on the SPS Cantabria (A15) Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR) currently in service with the Spanish Navy.

They are:

HMAS Supply

HMAS Supply Ships Crest

The last RAN ship of that name was a Tide-class Fleet Tanker (AO 195) in RAN service from 1962 until 1985.

HMAS Supply AO195

HMAS Stalwart

HMAS Stalwart Ships Crest

The last RAN ship of that name was a Destroyer Tender (D215) in RAN service from 1968 until 1990.

HMAS Stalwart D215

Both ships should enter service from 2020 and reach Full Operating Capability (FOC) by 2022. They replace the existing HMAS Success (OR304), which has been in service since 1986, and HMAS Sirius (O266) which is a converted commercial tanker in service since 2006.