Pennant number

In the Royal Navy and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations, ships are identified by pennant number (an internationalisation of pendant number, which it was called before 1948). Historically, naval ships flew a flag that identified a flotilla or type of vessel. For example, the Royal Navy used a red burgee for torpedo boats and a pennant with an H for torpedo boat destroyers. Adding a number to the type-identifying flag uniquely identified each ship.

In the current system, a letter prefix, called a flag superior, identifies the type of ship, and numerical suffix, called a flag inferior, uniquely identifies an individual ship. Not all pennant numbers have a flag superior.

Royal Navy systems

The Royal Navy first used pendants to distinguish its ships in 1661 with a proclamation that all of his majesty's ships must fly a union pendant. This distinction was further strengthened by a proclamation in 1674 which forbade merchant vessels from flying any pendants.[1]

The system of numbering pendants was adopted prior to the First World War 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 pendant 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 pendant 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 Pendant 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 pendant 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 pendant 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.

Second World War

No flag superior

Pendant number 13 was not allocated.

  • Capital ships, aircraft carriers, cruisers

Flag superiors

Pendant 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 pendant number was simply the hull number inverted (i.e. L24 was issued pendant "24L"). Pre-war photos show the pendants 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. Pendant numbers 00–10, 13, and those ending in a zero were not allocated to flag inferiors.


After the Second World War, in 1948, the Royal Navy adopted a rationalised "pennant" number 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 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, and Royal Navy Auxiliary Service, including depot ships, boom defence vessels, etc.)
  • C — cruisers (currently none in service, therefore unused)
  • D — destroyers
  • F — frigate (former escort destroyers, sloops and corvettes)
  • H — shore signal stations (military); survey vessels
  • K — miscellaneous vessels (e.g., the seabed operations vessel HMS Challenger or the helicopter support ship HMS Lofoten)
  • 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 pendant numbers. Instead, a broad band 4 feet (1.2 m) deep was painted round their fore-funnel. Divisional leaders wore a pendant number and had a narrower 2 feet (0.61 m) deep band on the fore-funnel, painted 3 feet (0.91 m) 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

Second World War

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 (0.91 m) deep band as a flotilla leader. As a divisional leader they had a 2 feet (0.61 m) wide vertical band the same colour as, and extending 6 feet (1.8 m) 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

Flotilla bands were used throughout the war although 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 the B7 escort group) wore letters on their funnels.


Post-war Flotillas 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 and half leaders would carry a thin black band around the funnel.

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 is 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 (usually letters from the ship's name) for smaller vessels. The United States Navy, with its larger fleet, uses the 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 does not participate in this system; its ships are identified by unique hull classification symbols.

Participating countries, with their assigned number ranges,[2][3] include:

  • Argentina — (D: 1x, 2x; P: 3x, 4x; S: 2x, 3x; C: x; V: x)
  • Australia (formerly incorporated into the Royal Navy system until 1969; now uses a system based on the U.S. hull classification symbols)[4]
  • Belgium — (9xx; M: 4xx)
  • Denmark — (N: 0xx; A/M/P: 5xx; F/S/Y: 3xx; L: 0xx)
  • France — (R: 9x; C/D/S: 6xx; M/P/A: 6xx, 7xx; L: 9xxx)
  • Germany — (A: 5x, 51x, 14xx; D: 1xx; F: 2xx; L: 76x; M: 10xx, 26xx; P: 61xx; S: 1xx)
  • Greece — (D/P: 0x, 2xx; A/F: 4xx; L/S/M: 1xx)
  • Italy — (5xx; D 5xx; F 5xx; P 4xx; 5xxx; A 5xxx; L 9xxx; Y 5xx)
  • 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 (A: xx, F: 0x 1x 2x.., R: 01, 11, L: 0x, 1x.., P: 0x, 1x.., Y: xxx)
  • Sri Lanka
  • 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, docks and the like.

See also


  1. ^ Perrin, william Gordon (1922). British Flags, Their Early History, and Their Development at Sea: With an Account of the Origin of the Flag as a National Device. Cambridge University Press archive. p. 202.
  2. ^ "sci.military.naval FAQ, Part B – General Terminology & Definitions". 2002-04-28. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  3. ^ "ACP 113 (AI) Call Sign Book for Ships" (PDF). CCEB. January 2012. pp. 199–226. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  4. ^ Jones, Peter (2001). "Towards Self Reliance". In Stevens, David (ed.). The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. p. 213. ISBN 0-19-554116-2. OCLC 50418095.

External links

BAP Villavicencio (FM-52)

BAP Villavicencio is the second out of four Carvajal-class frigates ordered by the Peruvian Navy in 1973. It was built by the Italian shipbuilder Cantieri Navali Riuniti at its shipyard in Riva Trigoso, Genoa. Delays in the building of the first ship of the class, BAP Carvajal, meant Villavicencio was commissioned first on 25 June 1979 with the pennant number FM-52.

Villavicencio is named after Vice Admiral Manuel Villavicencio (1840–1925) who fought in the War of the Pacific.

French submarine Curie (P67)

The French submarine Curie was a British-built U class submarine, a member of the third group of that class to be built. Laid down as HMS Vox for the Royal Navy she was transferred to the Free French Naval Forces on the day she was commissioned, where she served as Sous-Marin Curie from 1943–46, but retaining her pennant number of P67. During her absence a later long hull U class submarine Pennant number 73 took the name Vox, serving in the Far East during 1945 and being scrapped on 1 May 1946. When P67 returned to the Royal Navy in July 1946 she re-assumed the name Vox, thus replacing her replacement.

HMCS Inch Arran (K667)

HMCS Inch Arran was a River-class frigate that served with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War and again from 1954 to 1965, when she was converted into a Prestonian-class frigate. She was named after Inch Arran Point in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Canada. This was due to the inability of two Allied warships to bear the same name. The RCN would then use landmarks or significant areas that were associated with the community instead.

Inch Arran was ordered 1 February 1943 as part of the 1943–44 River-class building program. She was laid down on 25 October 1943 by Davie Shipbuilding and Repairing Co. Ltd. at Lauzon, Quebec, and launched on 6 June 1944. She was commissioned on 18 November 1944 at Quebec City with the pennant number K667.

HMIS Indus (U67)

HMIS Indus was a Grimsby-class sloop of the Royal Indian Navy launched in 1934 and sunk during the Second World War in 1942. She was a slightly enlarged version of other vessels in the Grimsby class. She was named after the Indus River. Indus served mainly as an escort vessel, and she was therefore lightly armed. Her pennant number was changed to U67 in 1940.

HMS Amethyst (F116)

HMS Amethyst was a modified Black Swan-class sloop of the Royal Navy. She was laid down by Alexander Stephen and Sons of Linthouse, Govan Scotland on 25 March 1942, launched on 7 May 1943 and commissioned on 2 November 1943, with the pennant number U16. After the Second World War she was modified and redesignated as a frigate, and renumbered F116.

HMS Blyth (M111)

HMS Blyth is a Sandown-class minehunter of the British Royal Navy. She is the second vessel to bear the name. The first being a Bangor-class minesweeper of the Second World War, pennant number J15.

Along with her sister ship, Ramsey, she has been deployed to the Middle East on Operation Aintree in 2007 and 2008 to test the class capabilities in the hot climate and maintain force operational capability in the region. Crews from other Sandown-class vessels are rotated through the two ships.

HMS Calpe (L71)

HMS Calpe (pennant number L71) was a British Royal Navy Type II Hunt-class destroyer escort. Built as a result of the outbreak of World War II, Calpe escorted convoys during the war and participated in the Dieppe Raid. Calpe is an old name for Gibraltar. Collaborating with USS Wainwright on 13 December 1943, she assisted in the sinking of German U-boat U-593. Calpe was loaned and then sold to the Danish Navy, remaining active until she was scrapped in Sweden in 1966.

HMS Deane (K551)

HMS Deane was a Captain class frigate of the Buckley class of destroyer escort, originally commissioned to be built for the U.S. Navy. Before she was finished in 1943, she was transferred to the Royal Navy under the terms of Lend-Lease, and saw service during World War II.

She was built by Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard Inc. in Massachusetts, and was assigned with the pennant number DE-86 but was not named. She was launched on 29 September 1943 and was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 26 November of that year. She served for three years with the British, mainly in Home waters, and escorting Arctic convoys. She was also one of the ships tasked with escorting and overseeing the surrender of German U boats at the end of the war. She was returned to the US Navy on 4 March 1946, and then sold for scrapping on 7 November 1946.

HMS Elfin (1933)

HMS Elfin (pennant number T25) was a torpedo recovery vessel built for the Royal Navy. She was built by J. Samuel White & Company, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, was launched on 20 November 1933 and commissioned on 16 January 1934. She was builder's number 1754. Her home port was the Navy's torpedo trials establishment HMS Vernon, and she was based at Portland. A sistership, Redwing, was constructed under builder's number 1753 and was stationed at HMS Defiance, Devonport. Elfin was renamed Nettle during the Second World War, and was later sold for scrapping. She survived in mercantile service, and has been preserved.

HMS Godetia (K226)

HMS Godetia (pennant number: K226; originally named HMS Dart) was the second Flower-class corvette with that name built for the Royal Navy. She served during the Second World War as part of the Section Belge of the Royal Navy (RNSB). With the liberation of Belgium in late 1944, the vessel was returned to the United Kingdom. In common with other Flower-class corvettes, the ship was named after an eponymous flower.

HMS Ibis (U99)

HMS Ibis, pennant number U99, was a Black Swan-class sloop of the Royal Navy, named after the Ibis.

She was built by Furness Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Haverton Hill-on-Tees, Co. Durham, was laid down on 22 September 1939, launched on 28 November 1940, and completed 30 August 1941. She was adopted by the civil community of Stoke Newington in London as part of the Warship Week savings campaign in 1942.

Ibis was sunk by an airborne torpedo from an Italian aircraft in the Western Mediterranean, north of Algiers, French Algeria, on 10 November 1942.

The Scottish comedian Rikki Fulton was a member of her crew.

L'Adroit-class destroyer

The L'Adroit-class destroyer was a group of fourteen French Navy destroyers (torpilleur) laid down in 1925–26 and commissioned from 1928 to 1931. They were the successors to the Bourrasque class, with the same armament, but being slightly heavier overall.

List of active Finnish Navy ships

This is a list of ships currently being operated by the Finnish Navy or entering service in near future, as of September 2018. In the case of a conflict, eight offshore patrol vessels, seven hovercraft and 81 coastal patrol boats from the Finnish Border Guard can be armed and transferred to the Navy.

List of auxiliary ships of the Argentine Navy

This list includes all major auxiliary ships (transports, colliers, tankers, scientific vessels, tugs, among others) in service with the Argentine Navy since being formally established in the 1860s. It does not include vessels prior to that date, nor does it include warships which are listed separately.

The list is organized by type of ship, by class within each type, and by service entry date within each class. Service entry dates indicate the ship's commissioning into the Argentine Navy, and not the ship's entry in service with another navy unless specifically said.

There is a separate list of current ships of the Argentine Navy regardless the type.

List of ships of the Argentine Navy

This list includes all major warships that entered service with the Argentine Navy since being formally established in the 1860s. It also includes ships that were purchased by Argentina but did not enter service under Argentine flag.

The list does not include vessels prior to the 1860s; and it also excludes auxiliary ships (tugs, transports, colliers, tankers, scientific vessels, etc.) which are listed separately.

In addition, there is a separate list of ships currently in service with the Argentine Navy, regardless the type.

The list is organized by type of ship, by class within each type, and by entry date within each class. Service entry dates indicate the ship's commissioning into the Argentine Navy, and not the ship's entry in service with another navy unless specifically said.

Marcello-class submarine

The Marcello class was a class of nine submarines built in 1937 and 1938 by CRDA in Trieste for the Royal Italian Navy (Italian: Regia Marina). Two similar submarines built in 1939 at La Spezia by Oto Melara are sometimes considered part of the class. All eleven served in the Mediterranean Sea at the start of the Second World War. After Provana's 1940 sinking, the remaining boats were transferred to the BETASOM Atlantic submarine base at Bordeaux in August 1940. After four boats had been sunk in the Atlantic, Barbarigo and Comandante Cappellini were then selected for conversion to "transport submarines" in order to exchange rare or irreplaceable trade goods with Japan. Cargo capacity of 160 tons reduced reserve buoyancy from 20–25% to 3.5–6%; and armament was reduced to defensive machine guns. Only Dandolo was in operational condition at the end of the war.

Marconi-class submarine

The Marconi class was a class of six submarines built for the Royal Italian Navy (Italian: Regia Marina). The submarines were all launched between 1939 and 1940, and all but one, Luigi Torelli, were lost in the Atlantic during the Second World War.

RFA Wave Victor (A220)

RFA Wave Victor (A220) was an 8,187 GRT Wave-class fleet support tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary built at Haverton Hill-on-Tees by Furness Shipbuilding Company. She was built in 1942 as Empire Bounty for the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT). She was transferred to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1946 and renamed Wave Victor with Pennant number X130. Her pennant number was later changed to A220. She served until scrapped in 1981.

Type 272 icebreaker

Type 272 icebreaker is the third generation icebreaker indigenously developed by China for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

Type 272 icebreaker is the improvement over earlier Type 210 icebreaker and it is larger than its predecessor. The pennant number of the first unit of Type 272 consists of two Chinese character Hai-bing (海冰, meaning Sea Ice in Chinese), followed by a three digit number, and this pennant number is the same pennant number used by a first generation Chinese icebreaker Type 071 that retired in June 2013, five months before the start of the construction of the first unit of this first unit of Type 272 icebreaker in November 2013. Type 272 has more advanced design features in comparison to earlier Chinese icebreakers, such as the incorporation of multifunction displays, and it can withstand wind scale of 12 when sailing. Type 272 is capable of carrying a large helicopter of Changhe Z-8 class, and the second unit is built by PLAN Plant No. 4180, which is also commonly known as Southern Liaoning Shipyard (辽南造船厂).


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