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United Kingdom: Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service

Last modified: 2009-01-31 by rob raeside
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Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service:

[Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service] image by Tom Gregg

The Royal Navy's logistical support is provided, not by commissioned naval vessels, but by the civilian-manned ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service - tankers, underway replenishment ships, and the like. For this reason they do not fly the White Ensign, and the names of these ships are preceded by "RFA" instead of "HMS".
Tom Gregg,
8 February 1997

H. Gresham Carr mentions the Royal Naval Minewatching Service (RNMWS), and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service (RNXS) not at all. Carr seems to imply that the RNMWS was still active in 1961 when he was writing, and that it received its ensign in 1954 - the date you state for its replacement by the RNXS. Make of this what you will! Anyway, Carr describes the RNMWS ensign as being a Blue Ensign bearing the following badge:

The badge is blue, of a somewhat lighter shade [than the blue of the Blue Ensign], charged with a white representation of a mine on the upper of two wavy bands, in white, encircled by a length of cable which is surmounted by a naval crown in gold. On a panel, also in gold, beneath the last mentioned, are the letters 'RNMWS' in black.

There was also a RNMWS senior officer's burgee - dark blue rectangular flag with a swallow-tail cut out and the RNMWS badge towards the hoist. I might mention that a "naval crown" is a crown made up of alternate sails and sterns of typical 18th / early 19th century warships, and is much used in the Royal Navy and associated services in badges. The RAF has a similar construction: an "astral crown" made up of alternate eagles' wings and stars.
Roy Stilling, 11 February 1997

The Blue Ensign with horizontal yellow anchor is the government ensign used by departments not authorized a distinctive badge, i.e. it is the 'default' government ensign. With two yellow waves added under the anchor, it is the ensign of the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service. With a vertical yellow anchor it is the ensign of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service.
Tom Gregg, 25 August 1997

I am unaware of any official statistics for the RFA Ensign (although such may well exist is some Government file), however, the current Edition of BR20 published by the Ministry of Defence shows a flag with an anchor 5/9 of flag width high by slightly over 4/9 across - centred in the fly half. The actual spec on a flag of 90 x 180 units would be 45-45 for the hoist, 90-26-38-26 for the length and 20-50-20 for the fly. The anchor is shown as yellow (with a small amount of fine black detailing) and is lightly shaded in gold. The official recommendation for the yellow is Pantone Yellow C.
Christopher Southworth, 20 April 2005

[Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service] based on image by Jim Woodward

On a BBC tv programme called 'Coast' they showed a visit to the River Clyde in the West of Scotland where some shipbuilding still survives. The launch was shown of the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, 'Cardigan Bay'. I noticed two vexillological points of interest.
(1) The ship was launched flying at the stern not the RFA flag, but what is described above as "the 'default' government ensign" - a blue ensign with a horizontal anchor. I can understand that at this stage she wasn't commissioned, so perhaps she didn't qualify to fly the RFA ensign - but she was flying the Union Jack at the bow! A subtle bit of flag use, or just ignorance of the niceties?
(2) When the vessel was actually launched, a small boat in the river was flying a red flag with the word 'LAUNCH' on it (presumably to warn other river users that several thousand tons of metal were about to hit the river in a semi-controlled way!).
André Coutanche, 14 August 2005

I cannot think of any 20th century ensigns that had a foul anchor. A foul anchor is used on badges, seals and some flags, but, as far as I know, only those that are not ensigns. During WWII Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels were owned by the Admiralty and manned by civilian seamen, but their Blue Ensign had a horizontal plain anchor.
David Prothero, 12 February 2007

Royal Fleet Auxiliary Queen's Colours

[Royal Fleet Auxiliary Queen's Colours] image by Martin Grieve, 21 December 2008

[Click on image for larger version.]

David Prothero observes:
"On 18 July 2008 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service was presented with a Queen's Colour by HRH The Earl of Wessex, on RFA 'Largs Bay' at Portsmouth. The Colour, designed by Graham Bartram, is the first awarded to a civilian organization."
Martin Grieve, 21 December 2008

Royal Maritime Auxiliary ensign

[Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service] image by Jim Woodward

1864. When Squadron Colours were abolished a Blue Ensign defaced with a horizontal yellow anchor became the ensign of Admiralty owned naval auxiliaries. It was known as the Transport Ensign, because its anchor had been the seal of the 1694 Transport Office, but later became generally known as the Admiralty Ensign.

1905. An Admiralty circular of 3 August directed that auxiliary vessels manned by mercantile crews and owned by the Admiralty should be known as Royal Fleet Auxiliaries (RFA). This was an internal matter and the term did not appear in the Navy List until 1913.

1922. The captains of some RFAs chose to fly the Red Ensign instead of the Admiralty Ensign. An Admiralty Fleet Order was issued stating that all Admiralty-owned RFA tankers, including those under commercial management, were to wear the Admiralty Blue Ensign except when on charter to commercial concerns when the Red Ensign should be worn.

1968. HM Queen Elizabeth II approved a separate ensign for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service; a Blue Ensign defaced with a vertical yellow anchor. It was introduced from 16 June 1969.

1969. Captain Cartwright RN, Director of Marine Services, designed another ensign in which two wavy yellow lines were placed below the horizontal anchor of the Admiralty Ensign. This was introduced from 29 May 1970, but which vessels were meant to wear it is not clear. It came to be called the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Ensign, but that organisation was not created for another five years.

1974. Various independent units that provided harbour services were amalgamated to form the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS). The ensign with two wavy lines below the anchor was now specifically the RMAS Ensign, while the old Admiralty Ensign was re-named the Government Service Ensign, and became the ensign of Ministry of Defence (Navy) owned vessels that were not part of the RFAS or RMAS. The following year ocean tugs, Ministry of Defence cable ships and some trials vessels were incorporated into the RMAS.

1996. In August most RMAS vessels were transferred to Serco Denholm Ltd, who operated them on a bare-boat charter under a government owned/commercially operated contract. They wore the Government Service Blue Ensign (horizontal yellow anchor, no waves). A few vessels remained in the RMAS.

2008. Serco Denholm Marine Services were awarded a fifteen year contract to manage all Royal Navy marine services, and on 1 April the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service was formally disbanded in a ceremony at Portsmouth when the ensign on the salvage vessel "Moorhen" was hauled down.

Note. The Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service should not be confused with the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service, which was a separate organisation. See "United Kingdom: Naval Auxiliary Ensign".

David Prothero

Although it operates only a couple of ships now - the rest are under civilian contract - the RMAS had a long and strong history of operating non-combatants, mostly tugs and tenders.

Jim Woodward, 1 May 2003