pennant number

Enlarge picture
HMS Leeds Castle, launched in 1943 as a corvette with pennant number K34, was redesignated a frigate in 1948 and given the new flag superior "F" as seen here.
In the modern Royal Navy and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth, ships are identified by pennant numbers (sometimes referred to as pendant numbers). The name pennant number arises from the fact that ships were originally allocated a pennant (flag) identifying a flotilla or particular type of vessel: for example, in the Royal Navy, the red burgee for torpedo boats, H for torpedo boat destroyers. By the addition of a number to the identifying pennant, each ship could be uniquely identified. A pennant number thus consists of letters and numbers. Where a letter precedes a number it is known as as a flag superior and where it is a suffix it is known as a flag inferior. Not all pennants have a flag superior.

For the American equivalent, see Hull classification symbol

Royal Navy Systems

The system was adopted prior to World War I to distinguish between ships with the same or similar names, to reduce the size and improve the security of communications, and to assist recognition when ships of the same class are together. Traditionally , a pennant number was reported with a full stop "." between the flag superior or inferior and the number, although this practice has gradually been dropped, and inter-war photos after about 1924 tend not to have the full stop painted on the hull. The system was used throughout the navies of the British Empire so that a ship could be transferred from one navy to another without changing its pennant number.

Pennant numbers were originally allocated by individual naval stations and when a ship changed station it would be allocated a new number. The Admiralty took the situation in hand and first compiled a "Naval Pennant List" in 1910, with ships grouped under the distinguishing flag of their type. In addition, ships of the 2nd and 3rd (i.e. reserve) fleets had a second flag superior distinguishing from which naval depot they were manned; "C" for Chatham, "D" for Devonport, "N" for Nore and "P" for Portsmouth. Destroyers were initially allocated the flag superior "H", but as this covered only one hundred possible combinations from H00 to H99 the letters "G" and "D" were also allocated. When ships were sunk, their pennant numbers were reissued to new ships.

The flag superior for whole ship classes has often been changed while the numbers stayed the same. For example, in 1940, the Royal Navy swapped the letters "I" and "D" around (e.g. D18 became I18 and I18 became D18) and in 1948, "K", "L" and "U" all became "F", where there was a conflict, a 2 was added to the front of the pennant number.

During the 1970s the service stopped painting pennant numbers on submarines on the grounds that, with the arrival of nuclear boats, they spent too little time on the surface, although submarines do continue to be issued numbers. HMS Lancaster was initially allocated the pennant number F232, until it was realised that in the Royal Navy, form number 232 is the official report for ships that have run aground; sailors being superstitious, it was quickly changed to F229.

World War II

No Flag Superior

Pennant number 13 was not allocated.
  • Capital Ships, Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers

Flag Superiors

Pennant numbers 13 were not allocated to flag superiors. The letters J and K were used with three number combinations due to the number of vessels.

Flag Inferiors

Flag inferiors were applied to submarines. Royal Navy submarines of the "H" and "L", and some transferred American vessels, were not issued names, only numbers. In these cases, the pennant number was simply the hull number inverted (i.e. L24 was issued pennant "24L"). Pre-war photos show the pennants painted correctly, with the flag inferior, but wartime photos show that the numbers tend to be painted "backwards", in that the inferior was painted on as a superior. For obvious reasons, the inferior "U" was not used so as not to confuse friendly ships with German U-boats. For similar reasons "V" was not used. Pennant numbers 00—10, 13, and those ending in a zero were not allocated to flag inferiors.


After World War 2, in 1948, the Royal Navy rationalised the pennant number system to a system where the flag superior indicated the basic type of ship as follows. "F" and "A" use two or three digits, "L" and "P" up to four. Again, pennant 13 is not used (for instance the current Ocean - L12 - is followed by Albion - L14;
  • A — Auxiliaries (vessels of Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, Royal Navy Auxiliary Service, includes depot ships, boom defence vessels etc)
  • C — Cruisers
  • D — Destroyers
  • F — Frigate (former escort destroyers, sloops and corvettes)
  • H — Hydrographic vessels
  • L — Amphibious warfare ships
  • M — Minesweepers
  • N — Minelayers (currently none in service, therefore unused)
  • P — Patrol boats
  • R — Aircraft carriers
  • S — Submarines
  • Y — Yard vessels

Flotilla bands


From 1925, flotilla leaders were issued with but did not paint on pennant numbers. Instead, a broad band 4 feet deep was painted round their fore-funnel. Divisional leaders wore a pennant number and had a narrower 2 feet deep band on the fore-funnel, painted 3 feet from the top. The Mediterranean Fleet wore black leader bands and the Atlantic - later Home Fleet wore white bands. The flotillas wore combinations of bands on their after funnel to identify them. From 1925 the following bands were worn;
  • 1st Destroyer Flotilla — one black band
  • 2nd Destroyer Flotilla — two black bands (one red from 1935)
  • 3rd Destroyer Flotilla — three black bands
  • 4th Destroyer Flotilla — no bands
  • 5th Destroyer Flotilla — one white band
  • 6th Destroyer Flotilla — two white bands
  • 8th Destroyer Flotilla (from 1935) — one black and one white band


When single funnelled destroyers entered the fleet with the J class in 1939 and with an expansion in the number of flotillas, the system was changed accordingly. Single funnelled ships wore a 3 feet deep band as a flotilla leader. As a divisional leader they had a 2 feet wide vertical band the same colour as, and extending 6 feet below, the upper flotilla band. Leaders bands were white for Home Fleet, red for Mediterranean Fleet, and the system of flotilla bands changed to;
  • 1st Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) — 1 red, G class
  • 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) — 2 red, H class
  • 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) — 3 red bands, then none, I class
  • 4th Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) — none, Tribal class
  • 5th Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) — none, K class
  • 6th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — 1 white, Tribal class
  • 7th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — 2 white, J class
  • 8th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — 3 white, F class
  • 9th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — 1 black & 2 white, V and W class
  • 10th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — none, V & W class
  • 11th Destroyer Flotilla (Western Approaches) — 1 black over 2 red, V and W class
  • 12th Destroyer Flotilla (Rosyth) — 1 white over 1 red, E class
  • 13th Destroyer Flotilla (Gibraltar) — 1 white over 2 red, V and W class
  • 14th Destroyer Flotilla (Home) — 1 red over 1 black, V and W class
  • 15th Destroyer Flotilla (Rosyth) — 1 red over 2 black, V and W class
  • 16th Destroyer Flotilla (Portsmouth) — 1 red over 1 white, V and W class
  • 17th Destroyer Flotilla (Western Approaches) (from 1940) — 1 red over 2 white, Town class
  • 18th Destroyer Flotilla (Channel) — 1 white & 1 black, A class
  • 19th Destroyer Flotilla (Dover)— 1 white over 2 black, B class
  • 20th Destroyer Flotilla (Portsmouth) — 2 white over 1 black, C class
  • 21st Destroyer Flotilla (China Station) — 2 white over 1 red, D class
Early into the war the bands soon fell out of use as ships were camouflaged and war-losses, operational requirements and new construction broke up the homogeneity of the destroyer flotillas. Vessels were deployed as and when they were needed or available, and were often incorporated into mixed "escort groups" containing a range of vessel types such as sloops, corvettes, frigates and escort carriers. A few of the escort groups adopted funnel bands; others like B7 Group wore letters on their funnels.


After World War 2, were no longer identified by bands, but by large cast metal numbers bolted to the funnels. Flotilla leaders continued to display a large band at the top of the funnel, however.

Deck codes

Aircraft carriers and vessels operating aircraft have a deck code painted on the flight deck to aid identification by aircraft attempting to land. This was in a position clearly visible on the approach path. The Royal Navy uses a single letter (typically the first letter of the ship's name) for aircraft carriers and large vessels operating aircraft and pairs of letters for smaller vessels. These are usually derived from letters from the ships name. The United States Navy, with their larger fleet, uses numeric part of the hull classification number (a system analogous to pennant numbers). Deck codes used by contemporary major British naval warships include;

International pennant numbers

Several European NATO and Commonwealth navies agreed to introduce a pennant number system based on that of the Royal Navy. The system guarantees that, amongst those navies and other navies that later joined, all pennant numbers are unique. The United States, as mentioned before, does not participate in the NATO system; its ships are identified by a unique hull classification symbol.

Participating countries, with their assigned number ranges [1], include:
  • Australia (uses US hull classification symbols now)
  • Belgium — (9xx; M: 4xx)
  • Denmark — (N: 0xx; A/M/P: 5xx; F/S/Y: 3xx; L: 0xx)
  • France — (R: 09x; C/D/S: 6xx; M/P/A: 6xx, 7xx; L: 9xxx)
  • Germany — (D: 1xx; F: 2xx; M: 1xx, 26xx)
  • Greece — (D/P: 0x, 2xx; A/F: 4xx; L/S/M: 1xx)
  • Italy — (5xx; M/A: 5xxx; P: 4xx; L: 9xxx)
  • Kenya
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • Netherlands (8xx; Y: 8xxx)
  • Norway (F/S/M: 3xx; P: 9xx; L: 45xx)
  • Poland
  • Portugal (F/M: 4xx; S: 1xx; P: 11xx0)
  • Spain (0x)
  • South Africa
  • Turkey (D/S: 3xx; F: 2xx; N: 1xx; A/M: 5xx; P: 1xx, 3xx, L: 4xx; Y: 1xxx)
  • United Kingdom (R: 0x; D: 0x & 1xx; F: 0x, 1xx, 2xx; S: 0x, 1xx; M: 0x, 1xx, 1xxx, 2xxx; P: 1xx, 2xx, 3xx; L: 0x, 1xx, 3xxx, 4xxx; A: any)
The NATO pennant number system added the Y (for yard) symbol for tugboats, floating cranes, prams, docks and the like.

See also

Naval Service

Royal Navy
  • Surface Fleet
  • Fleet Air Arm
  • Submarine Service
  • Royal Navy Regulating Branch
  • Royal Naval Reserve
  • Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service
Royal Marines
  • (includes Royal Marines Reserve)

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Europe is one of the seven traditional continents of the Earth. Physically and geologically, Europe is the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, west of Asia. Europe is bounded to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Mediterranean Sea,
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(and largest city)
Official languages English
Membership 53 sovereign states
 -  Head of the Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II
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Pennant may refer to:
  • A usually narrow, tapering flag most commonly flown by ships at sea and sometimes called "pennence". Navies use a variety of pennants:

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maritime flag is a flag designated for use on boats and other watercraft. Naval flags are considered important at sea and the rules and regulations for the flying of flags are strictly enforced.
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A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval ship designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs rammed enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes, and later designs launched self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes.
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destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet or battle group and defend them against smaller, short-range but powerful attackers (originally torpedo boats, later submarines and aircraft).
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The United States Navy uses hull classification symbols (sometimes called hull codes) to identify the types of its ships. The Royal Navy and some European and Commonwealth navies use a somewhat analogous system of Pennant numbers.
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Clockwise from top: Trenches on the Western Front; a British Mark IV tank crossing a trench; Royal Navy battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after striking a mine at the Battle of the Dardanelles; a Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks, and German Albatros D.
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British Empire was the largest empire in history and for a substantial time was the foremost global power. It was a product of the European age of discovery, which began with the maritime explorations of the 15th century, that sparked the era of the European colonial empires.
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Chatham Dockyard, located on the River Medway in Chatham, Kent, England, came into existence at the time when, following the Reformation, relations with the Catholic countries of Europe had worsened, and thus requiring added defences.
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Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Devonport (HMS Drake), is one of three operating bases for the Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Clyde and HMNB Portsmouth). HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon.
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The Nore is a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames Estuary, England, near Sheerness.

From 1732 the Nore lightship, the first lightship in the world, marked the sandbank: placed there as an experiment by Robert Hamblin, its patentee.
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Portsmouth is a city of about 189,000 people located in the county of Hampshire on the southern coast of England. The administrative unit itself forms part of the wider Portsmouth conurbation, with an estimated 442,252 residents within its boundaries, making it the 11th largest
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HMS Lancaster (F229) is a Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy. Lancaster was originally given the pennant number F232, until it was realised that in the Royal Navy, form number 232 is the official report for ships that have run aground.
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Allied powers:
 Soviet Union
 United States
 United Kingdom
 France al. Axis powers:
 Italy al.
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destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet or battle group and defend them against smaller, short-range but powerful attackers (originally torpedo boats, later submarines and aircraft).
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The capital ships of a navy are its "important" warships; the ones with the heaviest firepower and armour. There is usually no formal criterion for the classification, but it is a useful concept when thinking about strategy, for instance to compare relative naval strengths in a
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aircraft carrier is a warship designed to deploy and in most cases recover aircraft, acting as a sea-going airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power great distances without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations.
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cruiser is a type of warship. The nature and role of the cruiser has changed considerably over the years.

Historically a cruiser was not a type of ship but a warship role.
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minesweeper is a naval warship designed to counter the threat posed by naval mines. The dedicated, purpose-built minesweeper first appeared during World War I with the Flower-class minesweeping sloop.
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corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft. During the Age of Sail, corvettes were smaller than frigates and larger than sloops-of-war, usually with a single gun deck.
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    For the bird, see Frigatebird.

    A frigate is a warship. The term has been used for warships of many sizes and roles across eras.
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    A Escort Destroyer (DDE) is a US Navy post World War II classification for destroyers (DD) modified for and assigned to a fleet escort role. These destroyers retained their original hull numbers.
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    sloop (From Dutch sloep) in sailing, is a vessel with a fore-and-aft rig. A sloop carries a single mast stepped farther forward than that of a cutter. The sloop's fore-triangle is smaller than a cutter's.
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    minelayer is a naval ship used for deploying sea mines.[1] The term also sometimes refers to an army's special-purpose combat engineering vehicles used to lay land mines.

    Naval minelayers

    Submarines can also act as minelayers.
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    A river gunboat is a type of gunboat adapted for river operations. River gunboats required shallow draft for river navigation. They would be armed with relatively small caliber cannons, or a mix of cannons and machine guns.
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    An auxiliary ship is a naval ship which is designed to operate in any number of roles supporting combatant ships and other naval operations. Auxiliaries are not primary combatants, although they may have some limited combat capacity, usually of a self defensive nature.
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    trawler is a fishing vessel designed for the purpose of operating a trawl, a type of fishing net that is dragged along the bottom of the sea (or sometimes above the bottom at a specified depth).
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    A drifter is a type of fishing boat. They often catch herrings in a long drift net. Herring fishing using drifters has a long history in many British fishing ports. One herring drifter was 22 meters = 72 feet long.

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