Rank in the Royal Navy

From St George Squadron
Jump to: navigation, search

Encyclopedia Appendix E - Ranks in the Royal Navy

Admiral of the Fleet - very rarely at sea, if at all. The highest ranking officer in the working professional Navy. At any one time there was only one. He would have been a very senior member of the Navy. When aboard a ship, he would fly a Union Jack or British Flag (depending on the year) at the Main (mast).


Admiral - A naval officer of Flag Rank. The fleet commander or the commander of one of its principle divisions. Until 1864, the rank structure for Admirals was based on the traditional red, white, and blue squadrons, each which contained van, middle, and rear divisions, commanded by Admirals, Vice-Admirals, and Rear Admirals, respectively. Beneath Admiral of the Fleet, the highest rank, the the rungs on the ladder of promotion were as follows:

  • Admiral of the Red
  • Admiral of the White
  • Admiral of the Blue
  • Vice-Admiral of the Red
  • Vice-Admiral of the White
  • Vice-Admiral of the Blue
  • Rear-Admiral of the Red
  • Rear-Admiral of the White
  • Rear-Admiral of the blue.


Commissioner - The official formerly in charge of each royal dockyard.


Commodore (First-Class) - were only temporary ranks that were given to a Post Captain allowing him to command a squadron (2-10 vessels, a fleet being 10+). He was given command a squadron that was usually larger than that which would have been given to a Commodore (Second-Class). He also had the added benefit of have a Flag Captain, that is a Captain who directly commanded the flagship, leaving the Commodore to busy himself with commanding the Squadron; however unlike Admirals, he was not given a Flag Lieutenant. When aboard a ship, he would have flown a Commodore (First-Class) Broad Pennant from the Main (mast).


Commodore (Second-Class) - were only temporary ranks that were given to a Post Captain allowing him to command a squadron (2-10 vessels, a fleet being 10+). He was given command a squadron that was usually smaller than that which would have been given to a Commodore (First-Class). He would have commanded a small squadron as well as directly commanding his own flagship. In other words he did not have a Flag Captain like a Commodore (First Class). When aboard a ship, he would have flown a Commodore (Second-Class) Broad Pennant from the Main (mast).


Lieutenant (Command of a Vessel) - was a very senior lieutenant that was given a command thought to be to junior for a Master and Commander, and too senior (as it was a solo command) for an average or junior lieutenant. He would most commonly have been entrusted with a cutter or sloop in home waters or close to a major Station's base port. They were commonly engaged as by the Revenue Service along the English Coast. Out of courtesy and respect, he was called, greeted, and addressed as 'Captain'. Aboard his ship he was the most senior officer and his orders were second to none, unless a superior officer intervenes. When aboard his ship, he would fly a commission pennant and ensign of the color of the officer under whose command he was. If he was given his orders by the Admiralty, he flew white pennant and ensign.


Lieutenant - was the most junior of all Commissioned Officers. He could not hold a solo, independent command of any vessel, unless his Captain had been killed or in some way made unfit for command. He served a aboard a ship in an administrative or operational capacity under the captain or senior lieutenants. A ship's Lieutenant serves as second in command. He assists the captain and carries out orders to the rest of the ship. A captain may have several lieutenants, depending on the size of the ship. The number of lieutenants aboard a single ship was governed by the size of the ship. The larger the ship, the more lieutenants there were. Some of the largest first-rates carrying up to seven lieutenants not counting any Flag Lieutenants (who did not serve the ship's Captain, but an admiral if one was aboard.), down to one lieutenant on a brig or sloop-of-war.


Midshipman - were the quintessential officers-in-training. They were learning the arts of ship-handling, navigation, and command of men. Midshipman, were often first-time voyagers and had much to learn. Many had come from small towns far inland, and had never even seen the ocean. Some, however, had gone to sea at an age deemed too young to be an actual 'officer', and were given the rank of Volunteer (First-Class). These Midshipmen had somewhat more skill than the ones fresh from land. Boys of a wealthy family that wanted their son’s to go to sea, might also send them to the Naval College to learn the basic math skills, as well as other basic principles of the Navy. Before a Midshipman could sit his examination for Lieutenant, he had to served a minimum of six years at sea. Some senior midshipmen were allowed to stand the occasional watch to help them advance their experience, it also looked good at the Lieutenants Examination.


Port Admiral - an Admiral in command of a naval port and chiefly concerned with dockyard repairs, supplies, and administrative duties. Often the target of derision from seamen under his authority as any commander would be who sent men to war while remaining behind in a comfortable and often corrupt town, yet was entitled to a portion of their spoils.


Post Captain (3+) - of more than three years seniority, was the most senior officer that could command only one vessel. He would most often be entrusted with Ships-of-the-Line or powerful or in some way special/unique frigates. His ship would occasionally be used as a long-range dispatch vessel. Aboard his ship he was the most senior officer and his orders were second to none, unless a superior officer intervenes. When aboard his ship, he would fly a commission pennant and ensign of the color of the officer under whose command he was. If he was given his orders by the Admiralty, he flew white pennant and ensign.


Post Captain (3-) - of less than three years seniority, was the most junior officer that could command a rated vessel. He would most often be entrusted with a light frigate or fourth-rate under supervision of a superior officer. His ship would sometimes be used as a long-range dispatch vessel. Aboard his ship he was the most senior officer and his orders were second to none, unless a superior officer intervenes. When aboard his ship, he would fly a commission pennant and ensign of the color of the officer under whose command he was. If he was given his orders by the Admiralty, he flew white pennant and ensign.


Rear-Admiral - this was the most junior of the Admiral ranks. They were often entrusted with large squadrons or small fleets doing work under a more senior admiral or Commander in-Chief or given the task of blockading or convoying duty. When aboard a ship, he would have flown a red, white, or blue ensign (depending on his seniority) at the Mizzen (mast).


Sub-Lieutenant (after Napoleonic Wars) - ?


Vice-Admiral - this was the Second most senior of the Admiral ranks. They were often entrusted with blockading fleets, foreign missions, or land appointments. When aboard a ship, he would have flown a red, white, or blue ensign (depending on his seniority) at the Fore (mast).


Volunteer (First Class)- was a rank given to boys that were not yet old enough, or did not have the experience, to serve as Midshipmen. Almost always first-time voyagers, the basics that they were learning were even more so than that being taught to the Midshipmen. Volunteers, 1 were usually given the rank of Midshipmen at the age of eleven or twelve.