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Submarine Badges

It was not until 1919 that the subject of ship's badges was taken in hand by the appointment of Charles Foulkes as the Admiralty Advisor on Heraldry. Before this time ships designed their own badges and sometimes Commanding Officers took their own badge design from ship to ship. Foulkes rationalised the system and produced designs for most warships down to he size of sloops.

This did not affect the Submarine Service as apart from Nautilus and Swordfish, which were completed before 1919, submarines had numbers not names. However this is not to say they did not have their own unofficial badges, the earliest on record is F2, followed by K4 which depicts a glue pot and brush with the motto 'stick it' all within a circle of rope. This was obviously of some significance to the boat, which was sadly lost at the 'battle of May Island'. More common is a simple circle or diamond with the class letter and boats number in the centre, although the L Class seem to have had a 'Type' badge consisting of two branches of laurel conjoined at the top with a King's crown, in the centre a letter 'L' followed by the boats number.

M3 has a well known unofficial badge as it is preserved at the RN Submarine Museum, it depicts a heavily armoured hippopotamus on caterpillar tracks. Less well known is the badge for M2 as the carving only came to light recently, this shows a bird riding on the back of a dolphin.

Things changed in 1926 with the building of the Oberon Class, these were the first boats to be named, apart from the aforementioned, and to have badges designed by Foulkes, this continued with the Parthinan Class (although Poseidon appears to have used an unofficial design). This continued until the outbreak of WW2 when they reverted to letters and numbers. It is believed this was partly due to the appointment of Admiral Max Horton as FOSM, as he had served with distinction in numbered submarines. The Prime Minister Winston Churchill put an end to this in 1942 when he said all submarines should have names. Unfortunately this came to late for some boats P32, P33, P36, P38, P39, P48,P222, P311were lost before they could be named although P311 was to have been named Tutenkhamen had she returned from her last patrol. Some of the named boats were lost before badges could be designed and produced, they were Safari, Sahib, Saracen, Sickle, Simoom, Stonehenge, Tempest, Union, Usurper and Vandal, although some of them did not wait for official approval and produced their own, among them Safari, Sahib, Sickle, Stonehenge and Vandal. Additionally there were eleven boats which survived hostilities, but for some unknown reason also did not have official badges, they were Sea Rover, Sea Nymph, Seadog, Unsparing, Uproar, Umbra, Unison, United, Unruffled, Unruly and Truant.

Urchin did not have an official badge because she became the Polish Sokol soon after completion.

Further complications were caused when submarines building at Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness asked an Admiralty Overseer, Cecil Broad to design badges for them, these were then carved and cast at Vickers and the designs submitted to the Ships Badge committee retrospectively, some were rejected completely whilst others were altered slightly (possibly to justify the fee of the then advisor on heraldry) but as the boats already had the badges cast to their own designs they tended to stick with what they had.

Another problem was the shape of the badge, originally Foulkes and the ship's badge committee decided submarines would have a diamond shaped badges, this worked perfectly well until the outbreak of WW2 when the massive increase in building meant that names previously used for destroyers were now being allocated to submarines, these badges were shield shaped and should have been changed to a diamond, some were, but again due to the pressure of work at Chatham Dockyard some were issued with diamond shaped badges, then in 1940 an Admiralty Fleet Order (AFO) was issued stating that all badges should be circular, this was interpreted as applying to names that were new to the Navy List, so at any one time from 1940-1945 there would be submarines with badges of any one of three different shapes.

Of course not everyone was satisfied with the official designs and unofficial badges continue to surface to this day, the crew of Sanguine not happy with the Trident produced a tiger stalking through a thicket of bamboo.

Subtle had an excellent badge with Mr Punch on it, Teredo had a worm and Trump a hand of cards with the duce of spades uppermost.

The most famous though has to be the unofficial Tally-Ho, this shows a sea horse sitting on a sinking merchant ship (presumably Japanese), when a copy of the official badge caught up with the boat in the Far East, the Captain said he didn’t like it and told the subby to send it to Chiang-Kai-Shek which he did.

At the end of the war when Tally-Ho returned to Dolphin he was asked to send the official badge to the workshops so a copy could be made to hang in the chapel, when he was told the story the Admiral was not too pleased and it was several years before a replica was supplied to the chapel. This also raises the point that during WW2 only one badge was supplied, so if the boat was lost or someone “saved” the badge when the boat paid off, that was another lost badge. The chapel in Dolphin had the most comprehensive collection of badges, these have now been transferred to the Submarine Museum.

Truant is another anomaly; although she was built and named in 1939 she does not appear to have been allocated an official badge, her predecessor an Admiralty S Class destroyer which survived until 1931 was also never given an official badge (possibly because it spent most of its life in reserve), however there were two known unofficial badges in existence, one shows a dove in flight and the other a dog running free, obviously neither of these appealed to the boats crew as they designed their own showing a boy fishing.

X Craft were officially given numbers; predictably they were named by the crews and suitable! Badges were designed and produced, some by Cecil Broad at Vickers. The Submarine Museum has a selection of these and I have drawings for several more. The four boats built post war were named: Stickleback, Sprat, Shrimp and Minnow, they were given an official 'Type' badge. At the end of the war all new submarine badges were standardised as circular, (except Amphion which had the pentagon badge from the old Cruiser) and there were very few unofficial badges in circulation, one exception being Alderney, which had a diamond shaped badge showing a Jersey cow and the motto Crème de la Crème and the SSN Warspite had a mould for the woodpecker. Two of the last diesel boats built for the Navy had their badges changed via official channels, Upholder adopted the WW2 submarines unofficial badge and Ursula changed from a polar bear affronty to a bear passant.

I think it is sad that with the advent of the nuclear submarine the traditional names seem with few exceptions to have been disregarded, possibly due to a lack of submarine influence on the Ship's Badges Committee.

by Dave Palmer.


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