Royal Navy Officer Insignia of World War I, by Branch

Military Branch | Engineer Branch | Medical Branch | Accountant Branch | Naval Instructor Branch | Artisan Branch | Khaki Uniform

In 1914, much like today, Royal Navy officers' rank and branch was indicated by details on the cap, by stripes on the sleeves of blue coats, on shoulder straps worn on white uniforms and greatcoats, and on the collar by midshipmen and cadets.

The officers who commanded or were in line to command the vessels of the Royal Navy were termed the Military Branch. The uniforms of officers of the other branches were distinguished from the Military Branch in a number of ways:

  1. The absence of the loop or "curl" in the rank stripe.
  2. Colored cloth in conjunction with the rank stripes and the shoulder straps of flag officers.
  3. Cap badges entirely in gold, instead of gold and silver.
  4. Gold bands on the cap peaks of senior officers, instead of oak leaves.
  5. Gold devices instead of silver and the substitution of stars for the crossed sword and baton or anchor on the dress uniform epaulettes (not shown) and the shoulder straps of flag officers.

Except for full dress, warrant officers and commissioned warrant officers wore the same uniforms as commissioned officers, but were distinguished by cuffs with three buttons and buttonholes of blue "twist."

The first major change in officer insignia occured in 1915. Engineer officers had been granted "military" rank titles, with the prefix "engineer," in 1903. On January 1, 1915, engineer officers became part of the Military Branch and were given the same insignia, with the exception that they retained their purple distinction cloth.

The next major changes were in 1918. A new color of distinction cloth was prescribed for shipwrights (formerly carpenters) in early 1918. Then in October, the insignia of officers of the non-military branches, commissioned warrant and warrant officers were changed completely. Admiralty Weekly Order 3224/18 extended the same distinctions to the officers of other branches as had been given to engineers in 1915, again with the exception of retaining the colored cloth. Their titles were likewise changed to incorporate "military" ranks.

The insignia of warrant and commissioned warrant officers were changed by Admiralty Weekly Order 2945/18 of September 3, which eliminated the distinctive cuff buttons, and prescribed a single quarter-inch stripe for all warrant officers regardless of seniority. AWO 3224/18 put these changes into effect. This gave commissioned warrant officers a uniform essentially identical to a sub-lieutenant's.

Officers were given three years before the changes became mandatory.

Buttons:
button
Flag Officers
button
Other Officers

Military Branch


1914

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

Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice-Admiral Rear-Admiral Commodore 1st Class Commodore 2nd Class Captain Commander Lieutenant-Commander Lieutenant Sub-Lieutenant,
Mate
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Gunner, Chief Boatswain, Chief Signal Boatswain

Gunner, Boatswain, Signal Boatswain, Warrant Telegraphist
 
Subordinate Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

collar

collar
Midshipman Cadet


October 1918

In November 1918, the cuff buttons for commissioned warrant and warrant officers were eliminated, and a single narrow stripe ordered for all warrant officers regardless of seniority.

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice-Admiral Rear-Admiral Commodore 1st Class Commodore 2nd Class Captain Commander Lieutenant-Commander Lieutenant Sub-Lieutenant,
Mate
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Chief Gunner, Chief Boatswain, Chief Signal Boatswain, Commissioned Telegraphist, Commissioned Master-at-Arms Gunner, Boatswain, Signal Boatswain, Warrant Telegraphist, Chief Master-at-Arms
 
Subordinate Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

collar

collar
Midshipman Cadet

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Engineer Branch


1914

The rank of Engineer Lieutenant-Commander was created effective April 1, 1914, in place of the former Engineer Lieutenant (Senior List).

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Engineer Vice-Admiral Engineer Rear-Admiral Engineer Captain Engineer Commander Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Engineer Lieutenant Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Artificer Engineer, Commissioned Mechanician

Artificer Engineer, Warrant Mechanician


1915

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Engineer Vice-Admiral Engineer Rear-Admiral Engineer Captain Engineer Commander Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Engineer Lieutenant Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Artificer Engineer, Commissioned Mechanician

Artificer Engineer, Warrant Mechanician


October 1918

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Engineer Vice-Admiral Engineer Rear-Admiral Engineer Captain Engineer Commander Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Engineer Lieutenant Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Chief Artificer Engineer, Commissioned Mechanician Artificer Engineer, Warrant Mechanician

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Medical Branch


1914

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Medical Director-General Surgeon-General Deputy Surgeon-General Fleet Surgeon Staff Surgeon Surgeon
 
Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Head Wardmaster


October 1918

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Surgeon Vice-Admiral Surgeon Rear-Admiral Surgeon Captain Surgeon Commander Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander Surgeon Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Commissioned Wardmaster Warrant Wardmaster

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Accountant Branch


1914

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
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
 
Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak

10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Warrant Writer,
Head Steward,
Instructor in Cookery
 
Subordinate Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Clerk,
Assistant Clerk


October 1918

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Paymaster Rear-Admiral Paymaster Captain Paymaster Commander Paymaster Lieutenant-Commander Paymaster Lieutenant Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Commissioned Writer,
Commissioned Victualling Officer,
Commissioned Instructor in Cookery
Warrant Writer,
Warrant Victualling Officer,
Warrant Instructor in Cookery
 
Subordinate Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Paymaster Midshipman,
Paymaster Cadet

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Naval Instructor Branch


1914

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Naval Instructor of 15 years seniority Naval Instructor of 8 years seniority Naval Instructor
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak


10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Schoolmaster

Head Schoolmaster


October 1918

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
cap badge
 
cap peak
Instructor Captain Instructor Commander Instructor Lieutenant-Commander Instructor Lieutenant,
Schoolmaster Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Chief Schoolmaster Head Schoolmaster

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Artisan Branch


1914

Before 1918, officers of the Artisan Branch did not wear colored distinction cloth, but were distinguished from the Military Branch by not using the "curl" in the rank stripe.

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Carpenter Lieutenant-Commander Carpenter Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak


10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Chief Carpenter

Carpenter, Warrant Electrician, Warrant Armourer


July 1918

In February 1918, the title "Carpenter" was replaced with "Shipwright." At some point after that, they were given silver-grey distinction cloth, previously worn by students in naval construction. The change to silver-grey first appeared in uniform regulations in the July 1918 Navy List.

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Shipwright Lieutenant-Commander Shipwright Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak


10 years seniority

under 10 years seniority

Commissioned Shipwright

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


October 1918

In addition to adopting the "curl" and changing the cap badges, new distinctive clors were prescribed for armourers (dark blue) and electricians (dark green).

 
Commissioned Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Shipwright Lieutenant-Commander Shipwright Lieutenant
 
Commissioned Warrant and Warrant Officers
cap badge
 
cap peak
Commissioned Shipwright Warrant Shipwright
Commissioned Armourer Warrant Armourer
Commissioned Electrician Warrant Electrician

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Khaki Uniform

Even before the war, some officers had their tailors "navalize" Army khaki uniforms for service ashore. With large numbers of officers serving on land in the Royal Naval Division and the Royal Naval Air Service, the Admiralty formally recognized the widespread practice in November 1916. The rank insignia were the same sleeve stripes as on the blue uniform, in a drab khaki shade instead of gold, with standard colored branch distinction cloth. Many officers also wore Army rank insignia on the shoulders, though this was not permitted officially.

In British uniform terminology at the time, "khaki" referred to wool of drab greenish-brown color, while "khaki drill" was cotton material of a lighter shade for wear in warm weather.

   

 

 

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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.