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

Naval News – HMNZS Endeavour (A11) de-commissions. To be replaced by HMNZS Aotearoa (A12) in 2020

HMNZS Endeavour

HMNZS Endeavour (A11), the Royal New Zealand Navy’s only replenishment ship, decommissioned in Auckland on Friday 15 December 2017 following almost 30 years in service.

Commissioned in 1988, she was the third RNZN ship to bear the name and saw operational service during Operation BIG TALK in Bougainville in 1990, Operation BEL ISI again in Bougainville in 1998 and Operation STABILISE in East Timor in 1999-2000.

HMNZS Endeavour Badge

Motto: ‘Nil Intentatum’ (Nothing unattempted)

Battle Honours: Cadiz 1596

Endeavour will be replaced by a new fleet tanker, the 24,000 tonne HMNZS Aotearoa* (A12), which will be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea over 2018-2019. The new ship is scheduled to be delivered in 2020 and is the largest ship ever built for the Royal New Zealand Navy.

HMNZS Aotearoa

Aotearoa will have twice the displacement of her predecessor, carry 30 per cent more fuel and boast state of the art design and capability features including ice-strengthening and ‘winterisation’ for operations in Antarctica.

As she is the first RNZN ship of that name, during 2017 a public competition was held to design the ship’s badge. The winner will be unveiled on Waitangi Day on 6 February 2018 with the ten (10) shortlisted designs shown below.

HMNZS Aotearoa Shortlisted Badge Designs

You can find out more about both ships here:

HMNZS Endeavour – http://navy.mil.nz/mtf/endeavour/default.htm

HMNZS Aotearoa – https://www.aotearoa.mil.nz/about-the-ship

* = The Maori name for New Zealand – the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’

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’.