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British Royal Navy Signal Pennants

Last modified: 2012-01-06 by rob raeside
Keywords: signal pennant | equal speed pennant | alter course pennant | battle of jutland | equal speed charlie london |
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Fleet Manoeuvring. Changing course.

There were five different 'alter course pennants': all bearings relative to magnetic north.

When altering course by Compass Pendant (white oval on red pendant) Guides preserve "Relative bearings and distances" from the Guide of the fleet, and ships in column preserve "Relative bearings and distances" from their guides, thus preserving "the Order of the Fleet in Formation of Columns".

When altering course by Blue Pendant (white oval on blue pendant) "All ships" alter course the same amount together preserving "Compass bearings and distances".

When altering course by Number Nine Pendant (red oval on white pendant) "Leading ships" alter course the same amount together preserving "Compass bearings and distances"; "Ships in column" preserve "Relative bearings and distances" from their leading ships.

When altering course by Equal Speed Pendant (white-blue-w-b-w-b-w) to form single Line-Ahead, the column which becomes the Leading Column alters course in succession to the point indicated, the remaining Columns alter course "Leading Ships together, the rest in succession", so as to form astern of the now Leading Column.

When altering course by Oblique Pendant (yellow over red) to form Single Line-Astern, the Column which becomes the Lead Column alters course in succession to the point indicated, and increases speed to one knot less than the maximum, the remaining Columns alter course "in succession independently" course and speed being adjusted so as to form astern of the now leading column.

Course changes were signalled using the 128 point compass.
4 cardinal points : N, E, S, W
4 quadrantal points : NE, SE, SW, NW
8 intermediate points : NNE, ENE, ESE, etc
16 by points : N by E, NE by N, NE by E, etc
96 quarter points : N 1/4 E, N 1/2 E, N 3/4 E, etc

The code for the compass table.
A. North
AA. N 1/4 E
AB. N 1/2 E
AC. N 3/4 E
AD. N by E
AE. N by E 1/4 E
AF. N by E 1/2 E
AG. N by E 3/4 E
AI. NNE 1/4 E
AJ. NNE 1/2 E
AK. NNE 3/4 E
AL. NE by N
AM. NE 3/4 N
AN. NE 1/2 N
AO. NE 1/4 N

B. North East
BA. NE 1/4 E

C. East
D. South East
E. South
F. South West
G. West
H. North West

Course or bearing in degrees.
Degrees were not numbered clockwise from due north as a number up to 360,
but as degrees east or west from north or south.

Thus "222 degrees" was "south 42 degrees west" and signalled as :

Compass Pendant

[General Signal Book 1915. Copy in National Archives (PRO) is ADM 186/699]

David Prothero, 1 December 2004, 18 January 2008

Admiral Jellicoe's famous flag signal, "Equal Speed/C(harlie)/L(ondon)" [at the Battle of Jutland] directed his fleet to change from a column formation to a single battle line steering course Southeast by East, while maintaining the current speed. What what were the components of the signal -- that is, what did each of the flags signify? Was "C" the signal for the column-to-line maneuver, and "L" the course indication? Barrie Kent provides an overall interpretation in his book "Signal!", but does not break it down into its components.
Peter Ansoff, 1 December 2004

The equal speed pennant was (it no longer appears in the current list) part of the suite of Royal Navy signal flags, and was employed in fleet manoeuvring. When the admiral in command raised the equal speed pennant, followed by a pennant or pennants to indicate the type of manoeuver required (turn in succession to starboard etc., etc), he was giving an order for all the ships in a particular formation to act as one.

In the case of Jutland the article was probably referring to the first occasion upon which Admiral Jellicoe ordered the Grand Fleet to change from column of advance to line ahead in order to "cross the T" of the German (High Seas) Fleet - in other words, to bring all broadside guns to bear - and engage the enemy.
Christopher Southworth, 18 January 2008

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