U.S. Navy Command Pennants and Flags

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Beginning with the 1858 Signals for the Use of the United States Navy, the Navy created a series so-called "triangular flags," or pennants, to designate the commanders of squadrons or divisions who were not of flag rank. These flags were the  precursors of an elaborate series of such command pennants used during and after the Civil War and ultimately of today's broad and burgee command pennants, which were adopted.

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Broad Command Pennant

The broad command pennant is flown in lieu of the commission pennant by commanders of squadrons of ships or aircraft wings who are not flag officers.  It is shaped like the now-obsolete commodore's broad pennant--indeed, the unit commanders who use it are entitled to be addressed by courtesy as "commodore."  The broad command pennant is used in all respects the same as an admiral's flag.  It is broken aboard the commodore's flagship at the same points of hoist as an admiral's flag, carried at the bow of a boat in which he is embarked, emblazoned on his social letterhead, displayed on a staff in his office, and, if he should die in command, halfmasted aboard his flagship and carried before his casket in the funeral ceremony.  The pennant is white with blue borders along the upper and lower edges and the number of the unit in blue numerals on the center.  The pennant shown is that of the famous Destroyer Squadron 23, the "Little Beavers" commanded by Captain (later Admiral) Arleigh Burke in the Pacific in World War II.


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Burgee Command Pennant

The burgee command pennant is used the same as the broad pennant, but by commanders of divisions of ships or other craft or major subdivisions of aircraft wings.  Under the current organization of naval aviation, squadrons seem to be regarded as major subdivisions qualifying their commanding officers to fly this flag, but this would not appear to be consistent with the intent of the regulation, as Navy Regulations clearly differentiate between commanding officers of ships, squadrons, and other basic units and commanders of higher echelon organizations. The illustration shown represents Destroyer Division 231, one of the divisions under DesRon 23 in World War II.


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Senior Officer Present Afloat

Whenever two or more ships are in the same port, the ship on which the senior officer is embarked flies the senior officer present afloat pennant, unless he or she is flying a personal flag clearly indicating his or her seniority.  The pennant is displayed from the inboard halyard of the starboard main yardarm, but only while in port.  (NavRegs 1280) For many years, the U.S. Navy's SOPA pennant was a plain blue triangle (now the "subdivision" signal pennant), but with the establishment of standard signal procedures for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was replaced in about 1950 by the "starboard" signal pennant, a long tapering pennant with a blunt end composed of vertical green, white, and green stripes.  The same pennant is used for this purpose by the Royal Navy and, when conducting NATO operations, by the French Marine Nationale and other NATO navies as well.


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Convoy Commodore

A convoy commodore is a retired naval officer or the most senior master of the merchant ships forming the convoy. He is responsible for the internal organization and maneuvering of the convoy. His flag is flown from the commodore's flagship while forming or reforming the convoy or whenever the commodore deems it necessary.


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Copyright 2000, 2001 by Joseph McMillan