Some Notes Concerning RN Destroyer Pendant Numbers

Taken from the MARHST-L maritime history list, the following discussion concerns the "pendant numbers" (ie the number/character signal codes used in the Royal Navy to identify individual ships) used by RN destroyers during the Great War. These changed frequently, and can be a source of frustration when trying to use them to identify ships in photographs. The scholar of WW2 has an easier task, as they tended to be more static during that conflict, and reference lists are much easier to find.

This correspondance was triggered by a request to identify which destroyer it was who sported "85" on her hull- hence the Who was "85"? subtopic below.

Probably the best reference to RN pendant numbers of WW1 is British Warships 1914-1919, by F. J. Dittmar & J. J. Colledge (Ian Allen, 1972), even though it can be hard to find. It lists the pendant numbers for all Commonwealth warships during the War, but unfortunately these numbers are recorded by ship, and there is no separate index by pendant number.

Background Information

Pendant Numbers (pronounced "pennant numbers") were used by the Royal Navy (and the Commonwealth navies) as a means of identifying individual ships by signal hoist. Smaller vessels often had them painted-up on the hull: these are the numbers you can see in old photographs.

"-" Flag Superior" was the alphabetic "leading character" that was sometimes part of the numbering scheme.

An Example...


This photograph shows HMCS Sackville, the Canadian Naval Memorial, in Halifax Nova Scotia. Although of World War 2 vintage, the K181 painted on her hull typifies Commonwealth pendant numbers. The "Flag Superior" was "K".

In August 2003, Bob Todd posted the following on MARHST-L:

RN Pendant were promulgated on Pendant Board lists which were produced at irregular intervals and not all of them have survived. Each list superseded the previous one. Some of them came into effect almost immediately but at the end of the First World War it was often a couple of months before they became effective. The following lists are known to have survived: 6 December 1914; 22 February 1915; 24 April 1915; 5 June 1915; 31 July 1915; 1 November 1915; 2 January 1916; 2 March 1916; 15 April 1916; 6 October 1917; 31 December 1917; 24 April 1918 effective 14 June; 19 July 1918 effective 13 September; 22 January 1919; 30 September 1919 effective 1 November.

Some Details

(From John Duerkop (70214.2541@COMPUSERVE.COM), 27 Jan 1997)

To paraphrase Anthony Preston in V&W CLASS DESTROYERS (1971) in 1914 all destroyers had pendant/pennant numbers with flag superior D or H for fleet destroyers while some older vessels used P. Distinguishing letters were dropped at the beginning of the war and new lists of numbers prepared. At first all Grand Fleet destroyers had the flag superior "F" but "G" was added later. As destroyers were dispersed the numbering system became more widespread. In 1920 a new list was issued with all destroyers having the flag superior "D" or "H".

Pre-war and up to late 1915 the pendant number was not normally painted on the hull, but the class letter often was pre-war (e.g., "L" class destroyers carried an L). Destroyers were ordered to paint their pendant number on the hull in 1915, although the practice was not standard until September 1916. Leaders did not normally paint on their numbers, destroyer minelayers changed theirs frequently.

LeFleming in WARSHIPS OF WORLD WAR ONE says that numbers were changed frequently to confuse the enemy. He mentions the early series of numbers that included the D0A-D9A variety, etc.

The wartime "F" and "G" lists generally followed the alphabetical listing of the ships' names within the flotilla. "If F20 was allocated to the leader of the ... 30th Flotilla, F21 to F28 would belong to the [original] destroyers of her division" in alphabetical order.

Vanquisher was F85 from September 1918 to September 1919. If your photo is a V&W that must be her. No V&W carried D, H or L85.

Jane's 1919 and 1924 provide no information on pendant numbers. Jane's 1930 gives Shikari as D85 and Rowena as H85.

(From Jack Arrowsmith (jharrows@FREENET.EDMONTON.AB.CA), 27 Jan 1997)

IIRC, the RN introduced Pendant numbers in 1914, and then during WWI changed them irregularly - to confuse the enemy - and every body else, I think. I have managed to track down Pendant's for destroyers 1914-15, and as yet I have had no success with 1916-18, as well I'm not sure but ships in the Far East may have worked under there own system as I find ship's go out there and drop off the list.

(From Paul Silverstone (paulh@INTERPORT.NET), 30 Jan 1997)

The best source for RN pendant numbers during WWII is not Jane's Fighting Ships. I believe the best are the lists published in the World Ship Society's Warship Supplement some years ago. These cover all letters superior and numbers.

For World War I look at "British Warships 1914-1919" by Dittmar & Colledge. Very complete although not given in numerical sequence.

Who was "85"?

(From Jack Arrowsmith (jharrows@FREENET.EDMONTON.AB.CA), 27 Jan 1997)

"D85" was HMS Quail 06/12/14 to 01/09/15 HMS Myrimidon was "D85" 01/09/15, and, HMS Syren was "D85" on 01/01/18 to 13/09/18. HMS Ruby was "H85" 06/12/14 to 01/09/15, HMS Mermaid was "H85" 13/09/18. "F85" 1918-19 was HMS Vanquisher but I have no details on her as yet.

Abbreviations: cl=class, B= Builder, su=sunk, s=sold L=Launched,LD=Laid down, and, C=Completed.

My entries show the following information:
D 85 [HMS Quail B/cl, B:LR, L:24/09/1895, 355t, 213' x 21/5', (D85:06/12/14), see-(D89:01/09/15,)]
P 83 [HMS Myrmidon B/cl, B:PM, L:25/05/1900, 370t, 215' x 20.75', (P83:06/12/14), see-(D85:01/09/15)]
D 85 [HMS Myrmidon ex-(P83), su:26/03/17 Collision in Channel]
P 72 [HMS Syren B/cl, B:PM, L:20/12/1900, 390t, 215' x 20.75' (P72:06/12/14), see-(D93:01/09/15)]
D 93 [HMS Syren ex-(P72) see-(D85:01/01/18)]
D 85 [HMS Syren ex-(D93), s:14/09/20, Hayes, Porthcawl]
F 84 [HMS Vanquisher V/cl, B:JB, LD:27/09/16,L:18/08/17,C:10/17, see-(F21)]
F 21 [HMS Vanquisher (1917) ex-(F84) see-(F08)]
F 08 [HMS Vanquisher (1918) ex-(F21) see-(F85)]
F 85 [HMS Vanquisher (1918/19) ex-(F08) see-(F62)]
H 85 [HMS Ruby H/cl, B:WH, L:04/11/10, (H85:06/12/14), see-(H98:01/01/18)]
P 35 [HMS Mermaid C/cl, B:HL, L:22/02/1898, 255t, 210.5' x 21', (P35:06/12/14), see-(D63:01/09/15)]
D 63 [HMS Mermaid (1915) ex-(P35) see-(D56:01/01/18)]
D 56 [HMS Mermaid (1918) ex-(D63), see-(H85:13/09/18)]
H 85 [HMS Mermaid (1918) ex-(D56), s:23/07/19, Ward, New Holland]

I am afraid that is all I have for you - the information was taken from:
Hard Lying, The Birth of the Destroyer 1893-1913 by Peter Smith Naval Institute Press Printed in Great Britain by W & J MacKay Ltd, Chatham, Kent ISBN 0-87021-828-X

(From Paul Silverstone (paulh@INTERPORT.NET), 29 Jan 1997)

Concerning RN destroyer no.85 - you don't say what class. However, QUAIL (B class) had D.85 in 1914, MYRMIDON (same class in Sep 1915, SYREN (same class) in Jan 1918. This is obviously difficult since all were the same class. These were all D superior. H.85 in 1914 was RUBY (H class). This number later went to MORRIS (M class), in Jan 1918. I also found G.85 RESTLESS (Admiralty R class) in Jan 1918. GRENVILLE had G.85 earlier in Jan 1917. In Jan.1917, TANCRED (Admiralty R class) was F.85 in Jan.1917.

Sorry this is disorderly but the numbers are not numerical but by class. My source is "British Warships 1914-1919" by F.J.Dittmar & J.J.Colledge.

"Arrowsmith" List

This is a very useful database of most of the Royal Navy's WW1 destroyers, including basic specifications, fate and of course their pendant numbers. Click below for:

13th Destroyer Flotilla, 1918

The following table lists the pendant numbers of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (part of the Battlecruiser Force), as of 1 August, 1918. Source: Battlecruiser Force Signal Orders from the Public Records Office, Kew, United Kingdom (ADM 137/2135).
13th Destroyer Flotilla Pendant Numbers
Flotilla CruiserChampion 25Cambrian
1/2 Flotilla LeadersValentine F30V Leader
Valkyrie F05V Leader
1st DivisionVimiera F28V
Vega F09V
Vectis F06V
Violent F31V
2nd Division Vendetta F29V
Verulam F19V
Wakeful F37V
Westminster F02V
4th Division Verdun F16V
Viceroy F38V
Vesper F39V
Venetia F14V
5th Division Wolfhound F18V
Ursa F10Modified R
Ursula F01Modified R
Urchin F04Modified R
6th Division Umpire F26Modified R
Ulster F17Modified R
Tower F24Modified R
Tristram F25Modified R
7th Division Vidette F07V
Winchelsea F40V
Westcott F03V
SparesWindsor F12V
Whitley -V
Woolston F08V
Walpole F15V
Paladin G73M
Patrician F15Thorneycroft M
Osiris G72M

 Return to WWI The Maritime War

 Return to WWI Archive main page.

Last Updated: 23 January, 2004.