UNITED STATES NAVY
 

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BROAD PENNANTS & RANK FLAGS    1800-1940
 

Notes
 

When the US Navy was established in the late eighteenth century, Congress refused to authorize the naval rank of admiral, believing it to be an aristocratic title that had no place in the navy of a republic. Accordingly the Navy's senior permanent rank was Captain. When in command of a squadron of ships, a captain had the title of Commodore, and he flew a distinctive American version of the traditional swallowtailed "broad pennant." The first US broad pennants were dark blue with a single large white star, but by the early nineteenth century they bore the same number of stars as the National Ensign. When two or more commodores were present, the senior flew the blue pennant with white stars, the next senior a red pennant with white stars, and all others white pennants with blue stars. Some early broad pennants were triangular instead of swallowtailed.

In 1857, Congress authorized the permanent rank of Flag Officer, and the title of commodore was abolished along with the broad pennants. Plain blue, red and white rank flags were introduced for flag officers, the colors indicating seniority as before. Finally Congress authorized the rank of Rear Admiral in 1862 and the rank of Vice Admiral in 1864, though new flags for these ranks were not introduced until 1865. The title of commodore was reinstated in 1862 and broad pennants of the previous design were reauthorized.

The 1865 admirals' rank flags were blue with stars corresponding to rank at the upper hoist, though by 1867 the design had been altered to enlarge the stars and center them on the field of the flag. With the authorization by Congress of the rank of full Admiral in 1866, a flag for that rank with four stars was also introduced. The admirals' flags were thus virtually identical to those used nowadays. The 1865 regulations also modified the broad pennant, which was now to display a single white star.

In 1870, however, a completely new system of rank flags was introduced. The basic design for admirals was a flag of seven red and six white stripes. Rank was indicated by the mast from which the flag was flown: at the main by admirals, at the fore by vice admirals and at the mizzen by rear admirals. For use aboard ships with fewer than three masts or in boats, flags with one or two red stars at the upper hoist were authorized for vice admirals and rear admirals respectively. A striped broad pennant for commodores was also introduced. These flags proved unpopular, and in 1876 the previous flags were reinstated.

The 1865 regulations had stipulated blue, red and white flags for rear admirals to indicate seniority when two or more officers of that rank were present, and this system was continued after 1876. Until the early twentieth century, only one full admiral and one vice admiral served on active duty at any given time, so no red or white flags were required for these ranks. By 1915, however, the growth of the Navy and the development of its command structure necessitated the introduction of red flags with white stars for these ranks. All these red and white flags were abolished in 1940. The broad pennant was finally abolished in 1986, its place being taken by the broad command pennant flown by commanders of ship squadrons and air wings, who enjoy the courtesy title of commodore.

See also US Navy Current Position & Rank Flags.

Credit: My illustrations are based on information provided by FOTW Mailing List member Joseph McMillan.
 

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FIRST COMMODORES' BROAD PENNANTS

 

1800 DESIGN

 

1812-15 DESIGN    15 STARS

 

1853 DESIGNS    31 STARS

 

SENIOR PRESENT

 

FIRST SUBORDINATE

 

SECOND SUBORDINATE

 

FLAG OFFICERS' RANK FLAGS    1857-62

 

SENIOR PRESENT

 

FIRST SUBORDINATE

 

SECOND SUBORDINATE

 

RANK FLAGS    1865-70 DESIGNS

 

VICE ADMIRAL

 

REAR ADMIRAL

 

RANK FLAGS    1870-76 DESIGNS

 

ADMIRAL AT THE MAIN    VICE ADMIRAL AT THE FORE    REAR ADMIRAL AT THE MIZZEN

 

BOAT FLAG    VICE ADMIRAL

 

BOAT FLAG    REAR ADMIRAL

 

COMMODORE'S BROAD PENNANT

 

RANK FLAGS    1876-1940 DESIGNS

 

ADMIRAL    SENIOR PRESENT

 

ADMIRAL    SUBORDINATE

 

VICE ADMIRAL    SENIOR PRESENT

 

VICE ADMIRAL    SUBORDINATE

 

REAR ADMIRAL    SENIOR PRESENT

 

REAR ADMIRAL    FIRST SUBORDINATE

 

REAR ADMIRAL    SECOND SUBORDINATE

 

COMMODORE'S BROAD PENNANT

 

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