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Royal NavyRoyal Navy

'M-Class' to 'Muster'

Originally ordered in 1916 as K-Class boats, these four were remodelled as larger craft (300 feet overall length, submerged displacement 1950 tons).

M1 (ex K18) was armed with one 12" gun: rammed and sunk by a merchant ship 12 November, 1925.

M2 (ex K19) carried on Parnall "Peto" seaplane; sank in West Bay, Portland, on 26 January, 1932.

M3 (ex K20) carried 100 mines; scrapped in 1939.

M4 (ex K21) was never completed.

MAA Master at Arms
MADAM The most usual way in which the average naval officer refers to his own or another officer's wife - e.g. "My Madam", "Your Madam".
MAGNETIC Magnetic Mine
The first German magnetic mine to be examined was dismantled by Lieutenant Commander J G Ouvry 24th November 1939. He was awarded the DSO for his gallantry.
MAIN "Splice The Main Brace"
MAJOR (The) Major.
But to a RM 'other rank', the title MAJOR primarily refers to the Sergeant-Major.
MAKE "Make a Signal"
Naval signals are made, not sent.

A Chinese pidgin-english word in common use in the Navy to refer to a youngster. Another pidgin-english word of similar meaning is CHEESE-EYE.

"Make and Mend"
The official naval name for a half-holiday. It comes from the old pipe "Hands to Make and Mend Clothes", the traditional occupation for the hands when no official ship's work is to be carried out.

"Make-and-mend pud" is a slang name for a stodgy pudding which should assist its eaters to sleep heavily after lunch.

"To make up leeway"
To make up that which has been lost. Leeway is the drift which a ship makes away from the direction from which the wind is blowing.


Malta, GC
Group of five European islands in the Mediterranean Sea 58 miles South of Sicily, 180 miles South-east of Cape Bon, Algeria, total area 118 square miles. Malta, the main island, measures 17? miles long by 8? miles broad with area 91 square miles. Gozo, the second island lies 3 miles from Malta; area 26 square miles. The other islands are Comino, Cominotto and Filfola (which used to be used as target by the Navy in bombardment practices). The ship-name of the naval depot in Malta was changed from "EGMONT" to "St ANGELO" on 1 July, 1933.

Notes on the History of Malta
Inhabited in Neolithic times, as ruins at Hagar-Kim, Mnaidra, Tarxien and Hal-Salfliene Hypogeum show. Carthaginians took Malta about BC 480. Romans took Malta 218 BC (2nd Punic War), as recorded by Livy. St, Paul shipwrecked at Selmun AD 60 (Acts xxvii). Arabs took Malta AD 870 and islands were 'liberated' by Count Roger the Norman AD 11090; Malta was then annexed to Sicily. Thence, with Sicily, to the German Emperors (the Swabians), 1194; Angevins, 1266; Aragonese, 1283; Castilians, 1410; and in 1530 Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire ceded Malta to the Knights of St John.

The Knights of St John Started in Jerusalem about 1050 as Hospitallers; they were driven thence by Saladin in 1187, to Acre 1191, thence to Cyprus, 1291, thence to Rhodes 1309 where they stayed till driven out by Soleiman II 1522. Grand Master L'Isle Adam begged the Pope for a new home and the Pope induced Charles V to cede Malta to the Knights. The Knights remained in Malta from 1530 to 1798. They were besieged there by the Turks May/September, 1565 when La Vallette was Grand Master; he planned the new capital, Valletta, after siege was raised and Valletta was built 1566-1572. French fleet attached and landed troops 1798 (aided by 5th columnists) and Grand Master Hompesch capitulated almost immediately. The Maltese rebelled against the French (seeking their return to the sovereignty of Sicily) and besieged the French in Valletta and other main cities. Gozo capitulated 28 October 1798 and the flag of Naples was then hoisted there. British troops landed December, 1799, followed by Neapolitans, and the French eventually capitulated to General Pigot 4 September, 1800, British flag was hoisted temporarily pending decision as to Malta's future. The Maltese asked King Ferdinand of Sicily to transfer them to Great Britain since Ferdinard could not defend them but Treaty of Amiens restored Malta to the Knights. The Maltese objected strongly and events prevented this Treaty being put into force. By Treaty of Paris (30 May, 1814) Malta was ceded to Great Britain with the full approbation of the Maltese.

The island was awarded the George Cross 16 April, 1942 "to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history". see GOZO


Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon
This old country estate was for several centuries the seat of the Hall-Parlby family; it centres on Manadon House, a fine building dating back in part to about 1680. The out-buildings include a very much older Tithe Barn of unusual construction and there is a reference to "Manedone" in Domesday Book.

RNEC, Manadon, was opened in May, 1940, with temporary accommodation buildings. The permanent instructional block, eastern section, was in use in 1945; the rost of the instructional block, and the workshops were completed in 1951. Accommodation blocks, laboratories, sports grounds are still (1954) to be built.

Ship-name HMS "THUNDERER" given to the RNEC in 1946; prior to this date, no special ship-name and existed for the college, whose students and staff were borne on the books of the Barracks at Devonport.


The official inventory of all cargo carried in a merchant ship.


During the 1914/18 war, the strength of the Royal Navy (officers and ratings) was in the following approximate proportions:-

  Aug 1914 Nov 1918
RN 90?% 54%
RNR 8?% 15%
RNVR 1% 12?%
"Hostilities only" - 18%
Colonial Reserve - ?%

(The RN figures above include RM, RFR, Pensioners and retired officers and men)
In November 1918 regular naval ratings and Marine other ranks numbered about 173,000; other ratings were - HO 74,000, Pensioners 11,000, RFR 19,000, RNR 16,000, RNR (T) 34,000, RNVR 45,000, Colonial reserves 2,000.
At the end of the 1939/45 war, naval officers were about 14 RN, 12% RNR and 74% RNVR.

Manning Ship
A ceremonial mark of salutation, originally as shewing your peaceful intentions (like the raising of a knight's visor) in that with all hands on deck you could have no guns manned. The present method of manning ship - along the sides of the upper deck - was introduced in 1873, replacing the manning of yards and rigging which by then had largely disappeared.

MARITIME The National Maritime Museum

Royal Marines
Originally two separate but allied forces, the Royal Marine Light Infantry (Red Marines) and the Royal Marine Artillery (Blue Marines); amalgamated in 1923. The RMLI had their headquarters at Forton (Gosport) in what is now HMS ST VINCENT: the RMA headquarters was at Eastney.

Since 1746 the Royal Marines have the privilege of marching through the City of London with drums beating, Colours flying, and bayonets fixed; this privilege, shared with certain regiments, stems from the formation of the first Maritime Regiments in 1664 from the Trained Bands of the City of London (from whom the Royal Marines derive the nickname of Jollies). Among various general nicknames for the Royal Marines may be cited Turkeys (becuase of the scarlet coats of the RMLI), Bullocks (from the Magnificent physique of the RMA), Bootnecks and Leathernecks (from the piece of leather sewn in the neck of their full dress tunics), Jerines, Flatfoots, Jollies, Joeys and Bashi-Bazouks, Acquatic Hussar, Water Buffalo.

Traditionally the Royal Marines' messdecks (always known as the Barracks) on board any HM Ship is situated between the seamen's messes and the officers' quarters. Traditionally, too, the Royal Marines strike up friendship more readily with the Engine room department than with the Seaman branch.

"Tell that to the Marines"
A seamen's repartee to an improbable story. The expression is said to derive from a conversation between King Charles II and Samuel Pepys in 1664 when stories were being told of strange things seen abroad, stories which the Court could not credit. The truth of one of these was vouched for by an officer of the Maritime Regiment of Foot and in reply King Charles said that in future before casting doubt on the truth of a story he would first tell it to the Marines.

MARRY "To marry the gunner's daughter"
An old naval expression meaning to be laid over a gun to receive a thrashing.
MARQUE Letters of Marque (Mart)
A commission granted by the Admiralty to the master of a merchant ship or privateer to attack the ships of an enemy.
MARTIN St Martin-in-the-Fields Church
On special occasions, a white ensign is flown on the portice of the church of St Martin-in-the-fields, Trafalgar Square, London, since that church is the parish church of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. This privilege dates from about 1790. A fresh ensign is given to the church by the Admiralty when required.

A silk Admiralty flag was presented to the church by the Admiralty in November, 1954, to hang over the Admiralty Box on the South side of the Chancel.

A stay which prevents a boom, spare or strut from topping up. Originally the stay leading down from the job-boom of a sailing ship to the ship's stem.

(1) Originally the Captain of a warship was a courtier or an army officer embarked in the ship, with his soldiers, to do the fighting, the sailing of the ship being in the hands of the naval men under the Master or Boatswain. This was changed in the Elizabethan era when the long sea voyages undertaken made it necessary for the Captain to have a real knowledge of ship handling and not of fighting only. Thus the Master of a warship was in charge of the navigating of the ship, as opposed to the fighting of it (hence Commanding Officers of Merchant Ships are still called Masters). Before the title Navigating Officer came into use, the title Master remained to refer to the navigation officer; the title in this connection still remains in the Mediterranean Fleets where the Staff Navigating Officer on the staff of the C in C is called the Master of the Fleet.

(2) An affectionate nickname for the Captain, or, by his staff officers, for the Admiral. see FATHER

Master at Arms
The chief of the ship's police.

"Master of the Fleet"
Is the senior adviser on navigation to a Flag Officer. He is usually a Captain.


The Battle of Cape Matapan
28 March, 1941, off Cape Matapan (southernmost point of Greece); a significant illustration of British superiority in night fighting.

Admiral Cunningham's forces consisted of 3 battleships and 1 aircraft carrier; Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Pridham-Wippell in the ORION drew the Italian fleet towards the battlefleet. Admiral Cunningham's despatch has these laconic words - "Five ships of the enemy fleet were sunk, burnt or destroyed, as per margin. Except for the loss of one aircraft in action our fleet suffered no damage or casualties. The results of the action cannot be viewed with entire satisfaction since the damaged battleship VITTORIO VENETO was allowed to escape."

MATE In the old days Midshipmen who had passed their examinations for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant often awaited that promotion for many years. Some qualified as Master's Mates for the sake of the immediate increase in pay that gave them. Master's mates died out early in the XVIII century and thereafter Midshipmen passed for Lieutenant were often known as Mates though this rank was not actually introduced till 1840 (Order-in-Council of 10.8.1840). Mates messed in the gunroom with Midshipmen. The rank title was abolished in 1861 when the title of Sub-Lieutenant was introduced: it was revived in 1913 for officers on promotion from the lower deck and remained in use for this purpose until 1931 when it was replaced by Sub-Lieutenant.
MATELOT "Matelot" or "Matlow"
The sailor's name for himself. From the French.
MATEY "Matey" or "Dockyard Matey"
The navy's affectionately offensive name for a dockyard workman.

Naval Medical Officers
Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon were the only ranks in the naval medical branch until 1840 when Medical Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets was introduced. The rank titles introduced in 1860 (Fleet Surgeon in 1875) and those to which they were changed in 1918 were Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets (Surgeon Rear-Admiral), Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets (Surgeon Captain), Fleet Surgeon (Surgeon Commander), Staff Surgeon (Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander), Surgeon (Surgeon Lieutenant) and Assistant Surgeon. Only Fleet Surgeons, Staff Surgeons and Surgeons served afloat before 1918. Surgeons were originally Warrant Officers, but were given ward room status in 1805; Assistant Surgeons left the gun room for the ward room in 1851. In the XVIII century, the Surgeon's assistant was known as the LOBLOLLY BOY.

In the navy, the senior medical officer in a ship or establishment is invariably addressed and referred to as the PMO (officially, he is the SMO (Senior Medical Officer), but this title is seldom used outside his own department); familiarly the junior medical officer is DOC or YOUNG DOC. Ultra-familiar nick-names are (THE) QUACK< PILLS or (THE) SAWBONES.

The curl in the upper gold strip of distinction lace was authorised for medical officers (and for other non-executive officers) in 1918; at the same time the plain gold braid on the cap-peaks of senior non-executive officers was replaced by embroidered oak-leaves and the plain gold anchor in their cap-badges by the silver foul anchor. The red distinction cloth between medical officers' gold rank-stripes on their sleeves dates back to 1863.

MEGAW The Ronald Megaw Prize
Founded 1906 in memory of Midshipman Ronald Megaw who was accidentally killed 11 November, 1904, on board HMS MONTAGU. The interest on a sum of money given by his father is employed in providing a prize (presentation sword and its accoutrements and selected books or instruments) awarded annually to the Sub-Lieutenant who obtains the highest place during the preceding year in the various examinations for the rank of Lieutenant.
MEMORIAL Naval War Memorials, 1939/54
Commemorating men who have no grave but the sea.
Portsmouth ... extension to the 1914/18 memorial on Southsea Common unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother 25 April, 1953.
Plymouth ... extension to the 1914/18 memorial on Plymouth Hoe unveiled by HRH The Princess Margaret 20 May, 1954.
Chatham ... extension to the 1914/18 memorial in the Great Lines. at Gillingham unveiled by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh 15 October, 1952.
Lee-on-Solent. Fleet Air Arm memorial (corner of Richmond Road and Marine parade west) unveiled by HRH The Duchess of Kent 20 May 1953.
Lowestoft ... Memorial to RN Patrol Service unveiled by First Sea Lord (Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rhoderick R McGrigor), 7 October, 1953.
These memorials are under the jurisdiction of the Imperial War Graves Commission (32 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 - Sloane 0751) not the Admiralty.
MESS "Mess"
The unit of community life as lived in one of HM ships; hence, the place where each unit lives and eats; hence also, the naval verb for both inhabiting and eating. The context must show whether living or eating is referred to.

"Mess Trips"
Knives, forks, spoons, crockery, etc., for officers' messes.

"Mess Utensils"
Knives, forks, spoons, crockery, etc., for ratings' messes. This is the technical (storekeeping) name: the expression MESS GEAR (or the technically incorrect MESS TRAPS) is more often used.


"Midget Submarines"
First one (X.3) launched 15 March, 1942; about 50 feet long and 6 ft beam; speeds of 6? knots on the surface (by diesel engine) and 4? knots submerged (by electric motor); crew of four; 2-ton releaseable amatol charge ("side-cargo") carried either side of outer casing. Usually towed by submarine to within striking distance of target.

X.6 and X.7 carried out successful attack on the German battleship TIRPITZ in Altenfjord on 22 September, 1943, under Lieutenant D Cameron RNR (since transferred to RN) and Lieutenant BCG Place RN, both of whom were awarded the VC for the exploit.

XE.3 under Lieutenant I E Fraser, RNR, carried out successful attack on the Japanese cruiser TAKAO at Singapore 31 July 1945; Lieutenant Fraser and Leading Seaman J J Magennis were awarded the VC for this exploit.


The oldest slang name for a Midshipman, REEFER, has died out but SNOTTY remains; this name is said to have originated, about 1870, from the story that the three buttons on the cuffs of Midshipmen's round jackets were put there to prevent the lads from wiping their noses on their sleeves. This story cannot actually be true because buttons on the cuffs of all naval officers' jackets were uniform long before this period; in fact, buttons were actually being removed from the cuffs of working jackets at about this time.

The Midshipman is the last old-time gunroom officer to retain his original rank-title - clerks, surgeon's mates, masters's mates, etc., have all disappeared.

Midshipmen have been defined within the Service as "the lowest form of life" and as "a medium of abuse between officers of unequal seniority". Officers usually refer to Midshipmen as SNOTTIES: ratings - and many civilians - as MIDDIES: Midshipmen frequently refer to themselves as MIDS.

An excellent book on this subject is "Young Gentlemen" by CF Walker (1938). Under the new scheme of training for young officers announced by the First Lord in June, 1954, Midshipmen will not serve afloat with the fleet after 1957.

MILE "The Nautical Mile"
The international nautical mile is 1852m.

"RN Minewatching Service"
A civilian organisation (formed January 1953) administered by the Admiralty, responsible in time of war for manning posts ashore and afloat around the coast of the UK and overlooking the principal navigable waterways. Its object is to spot mines dropped by enemy aircraft and report positions to local naval headquarters so that shipping can be warned and diverted as necessary and steps taken to deal with the mines. Open to men and women of 26 and over; free uniform provided.

The service's badge is a minesplash on the sea. This badge is portrayed on the service's blue ensign.


A robot light signalling system which by visual means, and irrespective of the motion of the ship, beams pilots down on to the flight deck of an aircraft carrier at a constant angle, both by day and by night. The device incorporates a large curved mirror which the pilot watches when he approaches the carrier from astern. A gyro operated mounting keeps the mirror at an angle constant to the line between the ship and the horizon. On each side of the mirror are two lines of coloured lights; abaft the mirror and facing forward another set of white lights shines into the mirror and produces a blob of light which the pilot watches. If the blob remains in line with the coloured lights on each side the pilot knows that his angle of approach in the vertical plane is correct. Lights actuated by the air speed indicators in the aircraft appear on the pilot's windscreen telling him whether he is flying too fast, too slow or just right, thus enabling him to keep his eyes on the carrier and not look from there to his cockpit instruments.

The original idea was formed by Commander (E) HCN Goodhart and the device came into use in the Navy in 1954, replacing the former Deck Landing Control Officer ("the Batsman"). The device has been adopted by the American Navy under the name "Optical Glide Path Indicator".

MISSMUSTER "Missmusters"
Men who for any reason have failed to attend a general occasion or 'parade' - such as payment, medical inspection, etc. - attend at a later session, specially arranged for them, as "Missmusters", because they have missed the original muster.
MOIDORE An old Portuguese gold coin, current in England in the early part of the XVIII century; worth then about 27/-
MONKEY An adjective formerly used afloat to describe any small place or article, e.g., monkey jacket (i.e. abbreviated frock coat), monkey island, monkey boom, etc.

"Black Dog for a White Monkey"
To "give a black dog for a white monkey" is an old naval way of expressing a fair exchange - a quid pro quo.

MOORE "Charlie Moore"
An old naval synonym for fair play; from a Maltese innkeeper's sign - "Charlie Moore, the fair thing" (about 1850).
MOULDY A naval slang name for a torpedo (said to be an allusion to the mole): synonyms are KIPPER, TIN-FISH, TAMPEEDIE.

"Half-Masting Colours"
The flying of a black flag or the setting of black sails has been a sign of mourning at sea from the very earliest times. The ship that came annually to Athens to collect the tribute from Aegeus to Minos of 7 youths and 7 maidens who were sacrificed to the minotaur carried black sails as a sign of national mourning, and when Theseus forgot to lower them after killing the minotaur, Aegeus, in grief at the supposed death of Theseus, threw himself over the cliffs into the sea that still bears his name. This may be a myth but the part about the black sails is certainly founded on fact and the practice spread out of the Mediterranean into the surrounding seas as ships explored the growing trade routes.

The black sail was superseded by the black flag, probably because it was a nuisance to have to carry black sails for use only on special - and rare - occasions, and also because the flag was gradually recognised as a simpler and more efficient method of transmitting news at sea.

The earliest record of the lowering of the flag to half-mast to signify a death was an occasion in 1612 when the master of the HEART'S EASE (William Hall) was murdered by Eskimos while taking part in an expedition in search of the north-west passage. On rejoining her consort, the vessel's flag was flown trailing in the water over her stern as an improvised mark of mourning. On her return to London the HEART'S EASE again flew her flag draped over the stern and the sorrowful aspect of it was accepted as an appropriate gesture of mourning.

After the HEART'S EASE episode, the half-masting of colours was probably recognised as a more fitting indication of mourning than the black flag. It seems probable that it was the position where a flag was flown that attracted attention rather than its colour: at a distance colours are difficult to distinguish but a flag at half-mast is at once recognisable as such from its position.

It was the practice after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 for ships of the Royal Navy to wear their flags at half-mast on anniversaries of the execution of King Charles I (30 January 1649) and it is from that custom that apparently the present practice of announcing a death by flying a flag at halfmast arose.

Other suggestions, more or less plausible, are
(i) On board a ship, a flag not fully hoisted gives a token appearance of slovenliness and untidiness - the crew in their grief have abandoned normal routine; sailing ships used to leave ropes trailing and scandalise their yards.
(ii) Following the custom of saluting with flags (ships dip their ensigns; regimental colours are placed on the ground) the national flag of the deceased is lowered in salute at his passing.
(iii) It is customary in chivalry for the victor's banner to be hoisted above that of the vanquished; in the cause of a death it is suggested that space is left above the dead man's flag for Death to fly his invisible flag superior to that of the vanquished. This, of course, is in line with the old custom of hoisting the ensign of a prize inferior to one's own ensign.

The position for a flag at half-mast is not laid down in Admiralty instructions but the convention is that the centre of the flag should be half-way down the visible portion of the mast - i.e. that portion which is clear of such obstructions as awnings, etc. This in fact amounts in most cases to about one third down.

"Mourning Half-Masted Colours"
Greek mythology also relates that the ship bringing "Little Ajax" home to Greece after the sacking of Troy was wrecked and Ajax was killed as he scrambled ashore: Thetis buried home on the island of Myconos and his fellow-countrymen wore black clothes for a whole year and annually thereafter built a black-sailed ship which they loaded with gifts and then burned.

MOUSE "To Mouse a Hook"
To mouse a hook is to pass turns of twine round the bill of the hook and its shank to prevent the hook unhooking or the line on the hook coming off the hook. Pronounced MOWZ.
MOUSTACHE "Wearing of Moustaches"
Article 1105 of the Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions forbids the wearing of moustaches without beards by officers and men of the Royal Navy. Naval reservists of the RFR and RNSR are permitted to continue to wear their moustaches while performing their short periods of naval training (RFR seven days every other year: RNSR twenty days each year) but not when called up for service.

Royal Marines may wear moustaches, but not beards except in extreme climatic conditions or for medical reasons.

MULOT The traditional and orthodox word used in the Navy for a fine against a man's pay, used as both a noun and a verb. The word comes from the Latin Mulota, a fine
MUNDUNGUS A word used in the Navy to refer to any useless or unwanted material (like GUBBINS, WIFFIN etc.). It is, in fact, the correct name for the dust of unmanufactured tobacco leaves.
MUNJY A sailors' slang name for food: perhaps from the French Manger but more probably from the Maltese Mangiare (to eat).

"March Tunes"
The authorised march tune for the Royal Navy is HEART OF OAK. This is taken from a song from Garrick's "Harlequin Invasion" written and composed in 1759 to commemorate the naval victories of that year (the principal ones were Boscawen's victory against De La Clue in Lagos Bay, 18 August, and Hawke's victory off Quiberon 20 November).

A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE is the march of the Royal Marines. NANCY LEE is played when a Royal Naval Battalion advances in Review Order.


"To Muster your Bag"
A naval metaphorical expression meaning to be seasick.