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.

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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

For Gallantry – US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Canley to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Hue City in 1968

John Canley

The President of the United States, Donald Trump signed into law a Bill on Monday 29 January 2018,  authorising the award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Canley (Retired).

Canley was previously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Battle for Hue City between 31 January and 6 February 1968. During that time amongst many acts of gallantry, Canley carried a number of wounded Marines to safety under heavy fire, temporarily assumed command of his Company when the Company Commander was wounded and dropped a satchel charge into an enemy position. The medal will be presented at a future ceremony by President Trump.

US Navy Medal of Honor

In order for an existing gallantry award to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor both the US House of Representatives and US Senate must first waive the five (5) year limit for recommending the medal (in this case via Bill H.R.4641). The US Secretary of Defense must then endorse the recommendation and provide it to the President for final approval.

Canley, now 80 years old and living in Oxnard, California, is the latest veteran awarded the Naval version of the Medal of Honor. The most recent recipient is another Vietnam veteran, Private First Class Gary Rose (later Captain) who had his existing Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) upgraded to the Army version of the Medal of Honor for his actions treating over 60 wounded soldiers, whilst himself being wounded multiple times, during in Operation ‘Tailwind’ in Laos in May 1970. The medal was presented to him in October 2017.

You can find out more about the Naval version of the Medal of Honor here: http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/moh/index.html

Marine Corps News – Workup for historic first F-35B Lightning operational deployment onboard USS Wasp (LHD-1)

USS Wasp

The US Marine Corps (USMC) announced on 9 January 2018 that F-35B Lightning IIs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA 211 currently based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona will join the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13 MEU) for 6 months of work up training, prior to the aircraft’s first operational deployment in the North Pacific onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1).

F-35B STO 15 Aug 2013 USS Wasp DT-II

Formed in 1937, VMFA 211 are known as the ‘Wake Island Avengers’ and transitioned from AV-8B Harrier to the F-35B Lightning II in May 2016. They are currently assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

VMFA 211 Badge

Formed in 1985, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) is one of seven Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) currently in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). It consists of  a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) with a strength of about 2,200 personnel and includes a Command element, reinforced Infantry Battalion, composite Aviation Squadron and a Combat Logistics Battalion. The 13th MEU is currently based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

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Commissioned in 1989, USS Wasp (LHD-1) is a United States Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship, and the lead ship of her class. She is the tenth USN vessel to bear the name since 1775, with the last two ships of the same name being aircraft carriers that earned 10 battle stars for their service during the Second World War.

USS Wasp Badge

You can find out more about VMFA 211 here: http://www.3rdmaw.marines.mil/Units/MAG-13/VMFA-211/

You can find out more about the 13th MEU here: http://www.13thmeu.marines.mil/

You can find out more about the USS Wasp here: http://www.public.navy.mil/surflant/lhd1/Pages/default.aspx