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France: Commanding officer's pennants (part 1)

Fanions de commandement

Last modified: 2003-05-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: commanding officer's pennant | fanion | general |
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The commanding officer's and service pennants which were used by the French Army are described and illustrated in Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle (6 vol.,1928), under the heading "FANION", as follows:

FANION (from fanon, itself from Old High German fano, piece of fabric).
Small flag used in several purposes, but without the characteristic of national symbol given to the (national) flag.

The oldest attested form of fanion (1469) is found in an edict of the King of France Louis XI (1461-1483). The edict organized a corps of 16,000 franc-archers, who constituted the core of the national infantry. Each of the 4 Captain-Generals was preceded by a soldier bearing a white commanding pennant.

Today [1928], a full set of such commanding pennants are used in the French Army. They are alloted to General Officers, and are borne behind them by an escorting non-commissioned officer. The pennants should indicate to everyone where the officer stands.
The pennant should be droven in in front of the HQ entrance when the incumbent is inside the HQ. At night, the pennant is replaced with a lantern, whose glass colours match as far as possible the pennant colours.

Another set of pennants is used for signalling specific corps or services, such as ammunition sections, hospitals, postal services, telegraph services, umpires [officers who evaluated maneuvers].

Anyway, since the end of the Great War [1914-1918], in order to limit investigation or spying by the enemy, it is avoided as far as possible to show the distinctive pennants of command units [this probably refers to the excessive visibility of the French infantry during the War, especially the famous blue and madder-coloured uniforms. The French staff had not been able to anticipate the War would be of technologic extermination, and had indstead advocated the use of the prestigious, colourful uniforms of the XIXth century.]

However, it seems that some of these pennants are still in use, at least from ceremonial purpose. During the Bastille Day parade in Paris, the Military Governor of Paris was accompanied by an orderly bearing behind him a flag very similar to the pennant of a General commander-in-chief of an army, a 0.65 x 0.5 m Tricolor flag with a Tricolor cravate.

It should be added to the list of pennants:

  • ambulance pennants, rectangular in shape, with a red cross on a white field, which should be hoisted, along with a French Tricolore, on all ambulance cars, according to the Geneva convention.
  • firing pennants, rectangular in shape and plain red, which are used to forbid the access to fire zones during exercises and to signal the shots.
  • signal pennants or panels, square or fan-shaped, used for the statutory optic telegaph service.
  • in-line pennants, distinctive pennants alloted to the battalions constituting a regiment; they are no longer [1928] statutory.

Ivan Sache, 16 July 2002

These pennants were contained, with some slight modifications, in the 1933 regulations, which were still in force in 1939.

Ian Sumner, 21 November 2000

According to Pierre Charrié [chr92], these pennants seem to have been invented in Algeria during the French conquest.

Ivan Sache, 12 December 2001

General commander-in-chief of an army group

[General commander-in-chief of an army group]by Ivan Sache

0.7 x 0.9 m, with golden hoist and cravate. Similar to the French Tricolore.
Lantern: White with a blue star fimbriated red.

Major-general of an army group

[Major-general of an army group]by Ivan Sache

0.75 x 0.7 m, with cravate Similar to the French Tricolore, with white and red borders on the three floating edges.
Lantern: White.

General commander-in-chief of an army

[General commander-in-chief of an army]by Ivan Sache

0.65 x 0.5 m, with cravate. Similar to the French Tricolore.
Lantern: White.

General commanding the Artillery or the Engineers of an army

[ General commanding the Artillery or the Engineers of an army]by Ivan Sache

0.65 x 0.5 m. Diagonally (per bend sinister) divided red over blue.
Lantern: Red.

General commanding an army corps

[ General commanding an army corps]by Ivan Sache

0.65 x 0.5 m. Similar to the French Tricolore.
Lantern: White.


Go to Part 2