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Navy - Rear Admiral (Upper Half) (U.S.)

Last modified: 2014-06-14 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | rear admiral | star | blue |
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[U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Upper Half) flag]
Indoor/Parade version
image by Rick Wyatt, 27 September 1998
[U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Upper Half) flag]
Outdoor version
image by Joseph McMillan, 9 September 1999
Unrestricted Line Officers' Flags

See also:

Restricted Line Officers

[U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Upper Half) flag] image by Rick Wyatt, 27 September 1998
Supply, Medical, JAG Officers

To clarify, the white flag with blue stars is flown not only by Supply, Medical, and JAG Corps officers but by all officers not eligible for command at sea. That includes the various staff corps (Supply, Medical, Dental, Nurse, Medical Service, Chaplain, Civil Engineer, and Judge Advocate General) but also flag officers in the restricted line such as engineering duty officers, intelligence and cryptography specialists, and oceanographers. It may routinely be seen up to the three star level (for example, flown by the Surgeon General at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington), although there have been a rare few instances of restricted line officers rising to four-star rank (Hyman Rickover was an engineering duty officer). But never aboard ship.
Joe McMillan, 14 June 1999

Red Version: Non-Senior Officer Present (obsolete)

[U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Red Version: Non-Senior Officer Present (obsolete)]

From the early 20th century until about World War II, USN used white stars on red flags to denote flag officers who were not the most senior of the rank present at a given location. Whether they were in command or not was not at issue. For example, the senior rear admiral present at Pearl Harbor would fly two white stars on a blue flag and rear admirals embarked on other ships two stars on a red flag. If the senior put to sea, the next senior would then strike his red flag and break a blue one in its place. That system was in effect for the 1938 edition of HO 89, "Flags of the United States and Other Nations," which depicts the red variant and describes its use. Earlier in the century, the blue flag with white stars was used for the senior of a given rank, the red for the next senior, and the white flag with blue stars (now used by officers not eligible for command at sea) for the junior. This system is shown in editions of Jane's Fighting Ships circa 1905. Presumably Theodore Roosevelt's expansion of the Navy made it impractical to continue with a different color flag for every admiral present. In any case, the white flag was dropped before World War I.

The apparent reason for distinguishing between the senior and others of the same rank was that much of naval protocol and procedure involves following the motions of the ship on which the senior officer is embarked; having the senior officer fly a flag different from the others would facilitate this, although in reality every flag officer in the area would know full well who was senior with or without a different flag.

By the way, during the time the Navy used the red rank flags, Marine major generals (the senior rank in the Corps at that time) had two different designs for their flags: that used ashore was scarlet with the stars arranged vertically, like a rear admiral's, while that used on boats showed them in a horizontal line, like an Army major general's. That way you could tell the difference between a boat carrying a Marine major general and one carrying a non-senior rear admiral. Confusion would not have arisen regarding the one-star rank, since all rear admirals back then had two stars and there were no commodores in peacetime (commodores would in any case have displayed a broad pennant and not a rectangular flag).
Joe McMillan, 16 June 1999

1865 Version - Rear Admiral

[U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Upper Half) flag of 1865] image by Joseph McMillan, 8 February 2000

Article 1258 of the 1865 Navy Regulations provided for flags for:
Rear Admiral. Two stars, either white on blue, white on red, or blue on white depending on seniority, flown at the mizzen royal masthead. As described in the Regulations, the two stars were placed in a vertical line, their centers 18 inches apart and 18 inches from the hoist.

I should reiterate that I've never seen these illustrated. The first depiction of starred U.S. Navy flags in the 1867 signal book shows an arrangement of large stars essentially the same as those used now.

Joe McMillan, 8 February 2000