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Ships Badges

Today, every ship, submarine, shore establishment and Naval Air Squadron has its own unique badge. A ship's badge, not crest as they are often incorrectly referred to, and their name represents a piece of history in that it is not the first time that the badge or name would have appeared on a Royal Navy ship or submarine. For as long as there has been a navy ships have been named after other ships that previously existed. The Trafalgar class submarine HMS Turbulent for instance is the fifth unit to bear the name Turbulent. Ships names are usually allocated to the same class of ship, a good example of this is the name HMS Ark Royal that apart from the first that was 690 tonne 38 gun ship built for Sir Walter Raleigh all of the subsequent five have been aircraft carriers.

The first HMS Ark Royal did not have a Badge like the present Ark Royal but was identified by its figurehead as almost all ships were until the creation of steam powered ships. Although HMS Warrior, the first steam powered iron-clad warship that was launched in 1860, had a figurehead the new advancement in propulsion and protection forced a change that was soon to see the abandonment of the figurehead in warship design. The disappearance of the figurehead caused ships to find a new way of uniquely identifying themselves and soon all sorts of designs of badges proliferated. The adoption of badges by ships was done without direction from the Admiralty and thus there was no uniformity in the design of badges. Many Captains would fund the creation and design of their ship's badge with mixed results. Captains who had their own family Coat of Arms would assign this as the badge for the ship that they commanded and take the badge away from the ship when their command ended, causing the ship to create a new badge with which to identify herself.

Prior to World War One the Admiralty decided to form a committee that would bring a uniformity of badges for ships and eliminate the variety of badge design that existed in the Fleet. The more important demands of World War One prevented the establishment of a committee for badges but in 1916 the Government decided that a National War Museum (known now as The Imperial War Museum) should be established as an arm of the propaganda machine to convince a war weary nation that the British Empire would eventually win the war. Fortunately, for the establishment of Royal Navy badges, Charles ffoulkes the curator of armoury at the Tower of London was appointed to establish the museum. ffoulkes had a hobby of collecting ships badges and through his friendship with a couple of senior directors at ship builders he was asked to design badges and create mottoes for over twenty wartime built Royal Navy ships.

Towards the end of the war word of ffoulkes' sideline in designing badges for Royal Navy ships reached an Admiralty that was again interested in ship badges. Impressed with his work they asked ffoulkes if he would create a badge design for the whole fleet. At a meeting chaired by the Director of Naval Equipment in December 1918 ffoulkes was appointed Admiralty Advisor on Heraldry and The Ships Names and Mottoes Committee established. Soon after ffoulkes set out a criteria for the design of badges:

  • The design should illustrate the name of the ship.
  • The historical association of the shipshould be considered.
  • The design should be simple, striking and easy to paint
  • The motto where given, should be appealing.
  • Offers of designs from ships will be carefully considered.

It was agreed that the Naval Crown should adorn the top of all the badges, as it is the official badge of the Royal Navy and that the frame should be gold rope. With the ships preferences considered and using his creative imagination ffoulkes set about designing ships badges at a relentless pace, producing over 250 badge designs and mottoes from 1919 to 1921.

Not all badges were the same shape but there was uniformity. The variety this time was a result of the committee approving different shape frames for different classes of ships.

They were:

  • Circular frames for capital ships (battleships and battle-cruisers)
  • Pentagonal frames for cruisers.
  • Shield shape for destroyers.
  • Offset square for sloops, aircraft carriers and submarines.

The first ship of the Royal Navy to bear an official badge was HMS Warwick in 1919 and subsequently every ship and submarine has had a badge. The class of ship dictating which shape of frame would be allocated was ceased in 1940, it was replaced with all ships and submarines having a circular design and shore establishments having the offset square and it is this categorisation that now exists.

When a ships name is revived the badge that was used previously will be used again keeping the tradition of ships badges alive. If a new ship is built and the name that it takes has not been used since prior to 1940, the shape of the frame may have to be changed. The painting and colouring of the new shaped badge is done by the College of Arms in London and is then submitted to the Ships Names and Badges Committee, after Commodore Naval Ship Acceptance confirms the design with his signature the manufacturing of the badge may commence. When the Queen approves the name of a new ship she will also approve the new ship's badge.

HMS Chatham is one of the only ships in the Fleet today that displays an original badge, for even though there have been five ships previously that bore the name Chatham none of them had a badge.

Click here to read more on The Naval Crown