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United Kingdom: Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service

Last modified: 2005-10-15 by rob raeside
Keywords: blue ensign | royal fleet auxiliary service | royal maritime auxiliary service | rmas | rnxs |
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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

Royal Maritime Auxiliary ensign

[Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service] image by Jim Woodward

Until 1968 most naval auxiliaries used the blue ensign with a plain gold horizontal anchor. In 1968 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ensign was changed to a vertical anchor. In 1969 the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service [RMAS] ensign (the original horizontal anchor but with two wavy lines below it) was designated for harbour and coastal support craft and was in general use by 1974. The original pre-1968 ensign was retained for other government-operated vessels, for which other ensigns were deemed inappropriate, and called the Government Service ensign. The Royal Naval (as opposed to Maritime) Auxiliary Service was formed in 1954 from the Mine-watching Service and inherited their ensign. I think it remained a separate organisation until 1994 when it was disbanded. I have a photograph of an inshore mine-sweeper wearing this ensign but the defacement is identifiable only as a circular badge of some sort. I would be interested if anyone has more details.

David Prothero, 10 February 1997

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