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 – Queen Victoria approves the introduction of the Victoria Cross (VC) awarded for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ – 29 January 1856

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross, Britain’s (and some Commonwealth countries) highest award for gallantry for members of the Armed Forces, was officially constituted by warrant on this day in 1856.

Since that time the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals have been awarded since the Second World War.

As of 2018, there are six (6) living recipients of the Victoria Cross, three (3) living recipients of the Victoria Cross for Australia and one (1) living recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. They are:

  • Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank VC, 210 Sqn RAF (awarded  for his actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944)
  • Sergeant Bill Speakman VC, Black Watch attached to King’s Own Scottish Borderers (awarded for his actions in Korea in 1951)
  • Captain Rambahadur Limbu, VC, MVO, 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (awarded for his actions in Borneo in 1965)
  • Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne VC, AM, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (awarded for his actions in South Vietnam in 1969)
  • Corporal Willie Apiata VC, New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2004
  • Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC, CNG, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (awarded for his actions in Iraq in 2005)
  • Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008)
  • Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Dan Keighran VC, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Joshua Leakey VC (shown below), 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2015)

Joshua Leakey VC

The largest collections of VCs in the world are held by the Ashcroft Collection in Britain (established in 1986) which now contains 210 medals and the Australian War Memorial, which has 69 medals on public display.

You can find out more about the Ashcroft Collection here: http://www.lordashcroftmedals.com/

You can find out more about the AWM collection here: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/vic_cross

 

 

 

Naval News – RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) the ‘RFA Ship of the Year 2017’

RFA Mounts Bay

The Royal Navy announced on 10 January 2018 that RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) has been awarded the title of ‘RFA Ship of the Year’ for 2017, the second year in a row that she has won the award.

RFA Mounts Bay Ships Crest

Commissioned in 2006, RFA Mounts Bay is one of three 16,000 tonne Bay-class auxiliary landing ship dock (LSD(A)) of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. She is named after Mount’s Bay in Cornwall.

RFA Mounts Bay was the first British naval vessel to arrive in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma, which devastated Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands. She remained on station for almost a month delivering aid and materials ashore.

The award allows the ship to fly the Fleet Efficiency Flag for another year.

RFA Mounts Bay Ship of the Year 2017

You can find out more about RFA Mounts Bay here: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/royal-fleet-auxiliary/landing-ships/rfa-mounts-bay

 

 

 

Naval News – HMS Ocean (L12) sold to Brazilian Navy for £84 million ($145 million)

HMS Ocean

The current flagship of the Royal Navy (RN), HMS Ocean, has been sold to Brazil for £84 million.

The 22,000-tonne Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) carrier will be formally decommissioned from the RN in spring this year. Whilst it was well known that HMS Ocean was up for sale, with interest from Brazil and Turkey, reference to the sale was contained in the Brazilian Navy’s end of year statement published on Christmas Eve. To date, no official statement confirming the sale has been released by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) or the Royal Navy.

HMS Ocean was built for £150 million and was commissioned in September 1998. She underwent a £65 million refit in 2012, extending her life by three years.

Six RN ships have borne the name HMS Ocean.

HMS Ocean Badge

Motto: Ex undis surgit victoria (‘From the waves rises victory’)

Battle Honours:  Al Faw 2003

You can find out more about HMS Ocean here: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/surface-fleet/assault-ships/hms-oceanhttps://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/surface-fleet/assault-ships/hms-ocean

 

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 – RFA Tidespring commissioned

RFA Tidespring

Britain’s Royal Fleet Auxilary (RFA) welcomed RFA Tidespring (A136) to the Fleet on Monday 27 November 2017.

Built in South Korea by Daewoo, the new 37,000 tonne ship, one of the four biggest tankers to be purpose built for the RFA, will provide fuel, food and stores for Royal Navy warships all around the world.

She is the first of class of the Military Afloat Reach & Sustainability (MARS) Tankers and together with her three sister ships Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce, are flexible, state-of-the-art double hulled vessels, which will provide key future support to the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.

RFA Tidespring Ships Crest

The last RFA ship to bear the same name was RFA Tidespring (A75) in service from 1963 to 1991. Tidespring took part in the Falklands War, particularly in the recapture of South Georgia.

You can find out more here:

https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2017/november/27/171127-rfa-tidespring

https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/royal-fleet-auxiliary/tankers/rfa-tidespring