Royal Navy Officer Insignia of World War I

This page is intended to give an overview of Royal Navy officer ranks in World War I, and the three major changes that occurred in those years. For more specific details, including cap insignia and shoulder straps, please see Royal Navy Officer Insignia of World War I, by Branch. For the insignia of reserve officers, please see Royal Navy Reserve and Volunteer Reserve Insignia of World War I.


1914

The rank of Lieutenant-Commander was created effective April 1, 1914, in place of the former Lieutenant of eight years seniority.

1914 Officer Overview Chart

Commissioned Officers

Military
Branch

Admiral of the Fleet

Admiral

Vice-Admiral

Rear-Admiral,
Commodore 1st Class

Commodore 2nd Class

Captain

Commander

Lieutenant-Commander

Lieutenant

Sub-Lieutenant,
Mate
Engineering
Branch

Engineer Vice-Admiral

Engineer Rear-Admiral

Engineer Captain

Engineer Commander

Engineer Lieutenant-Commander

Engineer Lieutenant

Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
Medical
Branch

Medical Director-General

Surgeon-General

Deputy Surgeon-General

Fleet Surgeon

Staff Surgeon

Surgeon
Accountant
Branch

Paymaster-in-Chief,
Secretary to an Admiral of the Fleet,
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief (5 years in rank)

Fleet Paymaster,
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief (under 5 years in rank)

Staff Paymaster,
Secretary to Flag Officer, Commodore 1st Class or Captain of the Fleet

Paymaster,
Secretary to a Commodore 2nd Class

Assistant Paymaster
Naval
Instructor
Branch

Naval Instructor of 15 years seniority

Naval Instructor of 8 years seniority

Naval Instructor under 8 years seniority
Artisan
Branch

Carpenter Lieutenant-Commander

Carpenter Lieutenant

Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers

Military
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Boatswain,
Chief Gunner,
Commissioned Telegraphist

Boatswain,
Gunner,
Warrant Telegraphist,
Chief Master-at-Arms
Engineering
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Artificer Engineer
Commissioned Mechanician

Artificer Engineer,
Warrant Mechanician
Medical
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Head Wardmaster
Accountant
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Warrant Writer,
Head Steward,
Instructor in Cookery
Naval
Instructor
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Schoolmaster

Head Schoolmaster
Artisan
Branch

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Carpenter,
Commissioned Electrician

Carpenter,
Warrant Electrician,
Warrant Armourer

1915

On January 1, 1915, an Order in Council merged the Engineering Branch into the Military Branch. Though engineer officers kept their rank titles and the purple branch distinction cloth, their uniforms and insignia otherwise became the same as other Military Branch officers, with the "executive curl," silver and gold cap badges, and oak leaves on the cap peak.

1915 Officer Overview Chart

Commissioned Officers

Military
Branch


Admiral of the Fleet

Admiral

Vice-Admiral

Rear-Admiral,
Commodore 1st Class

Commodore 2nd Class

Captain

Commander

Lieutenant-Commander

Lieutenant

Sub-Lieutenant,
Mate

Engineer Vice-Admiral

Engineer Rear-Admiral

Engineer Captain

Engineer Commander

Engineer Lieutenant-Commander

Engineer Lieutenant

Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
Medical
Branch

Medical Director-General

Surgeon-General

Deputy Surgeon-General

Fleet Surgeon

Staff Surgeon

Surgeon
Accountant
Branch

Paymaster-in-Chief,
Secretary to an Admiral of the Fleet,
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief (5 years in rank)

Fleet Paymaster,
Secretary to a Commander-in-Chief (under 5 years in rank)

Staff Paymaster,
Secretary to Flag Officer, Commodore 1st Class or Captain of the Fleet

Paymaster,
Secretary to a Commodore 2nd Class

Assistant Paymaster
Naval
Instructor
Branch

Naval Instructor of 15 years seniority

Naval Instructor of 8 years seniority

Naval Instructor under 8 years seniority
Artisan
Branch

Carpenter Lieutenant-Commander

Carpenter Lieutenant

Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers

Military
Branch


10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Boatswain,
Chief Gunner,
Commissioned Telegraphist

Boatswain,
Gunner,
Warrant Telegraphist,
Chief Master-at-Arms

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Artificer Engineer
Commissioned Mechanician

Artificer Engineer,
Warrant Mechanician
Medical
Branch
 
10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Head Wardmaster
Accountant
Branch
 
10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Warrant Writer,
Head Steward,
Instructor in Cookery
Naval
Instructor
Branch
 
10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Schoolmaster

Head Schoolmaster
Artisan
Branch
 
10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Carpenter,
Commissioned Electrician

Carpenter,
Warrant Electrician,
Warrant Armourer

October 1918

As the war neared its end in 1918, major reforms were made concerning the Royal Navy's officers and their uniforms. The civil branches were given "military" titles, Fleet Surgeon becoming Surgeon-Commander and so on. The "curl" was added to the rank stripes of all officers, and cap devices and peaks were standardized to the "military" pattern. Warrant officers lost their cuff buttons, which necessitated some changes in their branch distinctions: Shipwrights (formerly carpenters) got silver-gray distinction cloth, wardmasters changed from scarlet to maroon, and the Artisan Branch specialties were further distinguished with green for electricians and dark blue for armourers. All warrant officers now wore a single quarter-inch gold stripe regardless of seniority.

1918 Officer Overview Chart

Commissioned Officers

Military
Branch


Admiral of the Fleet

Admiral

Vice-Admiral

Rear-Admiral,
Commodore 1st Class

Commodore 2nd Class

Captain

Commander

Lieutenant-Commander

Lieutenant

Sub-Lieutenant,
Mate

Engineer Vice-Admiral

Engineer Rear-Admiral

Engineer Captain

Engineer Commander

Engineer Lieutenant-Commander

Engineer Lieutenant

Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
Medical
Branch

Surgeon Vice-Admiral

Surgeon Rear-Admiral

Surgeon Captain

Surgeon Commander

Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander

Surgeon Lieutenant
Accountant
Branch

Paymaster Rear Admiral

Paymaster Captain

Paymaster Commander

Paymaster Lieutenant-Commander

Paymaster Lieutenant

Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant
Naval
Instructor
Branch
Instructor Captain
Instructor Commander

Instructor Lieutenant-Commander

Instructor Lieutenant,
Schoolmaster Lieutenant
Artisan
Branch

Shipwright Lieutenant-Commander

Shipwright Lieutenant

Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers

Military
Branch

Chief Boatswain,
Chief Gunner,
Commissioned Telegraphist
Commissioned Master-at-Arms
Boatswain,
Gunner,
Warrant Telegraphist,
Chief Master-at-Arms
Chief Artificer Engineer
Commissioned Mechanician
Artificer Engineer,
Warrant Mechanician
Medical
Branch
Commissioned Wardmaster Warrant Wardmaster
Accountant
Branch
Commissioned Writer,
Commissioned Victualling Officer,
Commissioned Instructor in Cookery
Warrant Writer,
Warrant Victualling Officer,
Warrant Instructor in Cookery
Naval
Instructor
Branch
Chief Schoolmaster Head Schoolmaster
Artisan
Branch

Commissioned Shipwright Warrant Shipwright
Commissioned Electrician Warrant Electrician
Commissioned Armourer Warrant Armourer

The information on this page is based primarily on the Royal Navy Uniform Regulations published quarterly in the Navy List. Please see Quarterly Navy Lists, 1913-1919 on the National Library of Scotland website.

All text and images © Justin T. Broderick, 2013-2018 unless otherwise indicated.