Flags flown on the Titanic


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Andrew Fox

Guest
I have attended a recent Titanic exhibition and a number of the images generated, in connection with the marketing material for the exhibition, show the Titanic with the USA 'Stars and Stripes' flag flying from the front mast. Is this historically accurate or a figment in the minds of the exhibition hosts, whom are US sponsored. I believe The Ship was British; made in Britain and sailed by a British Company. I have been unable to find any pictures, away from the exhibition, which show clearly the flag at the front mast. One picture shows what appears to be a red ensign but it is not clear enough to be conclusive. Many thanks for any help.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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There is a photo of the ship leaving Southampton that shows the flag at the top of the foremast. The flag appears to be hanging limp on the mast at the instant the shutter clicked, but one can definitely see the stripes of the US flag.

This is not a surprise. The ship was supposed to fly the national flag of the "country of destination" at her foremast while on voyage. There has been some debate about what that meant for Titanic, which had a stop in France before proceeding to America, but the photo shows that Titanic observed the final country of destination; in this case, the USA.

The ship's country of origin/registration was reflected in the flag at the fantail; in Titanic's case, the British Blue Ensign.

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Andrew,

Not to pick nits, but Titanic was crewed by members of the British Merchant Service, built in Northern Ireland, and managed by a British shipping line owned by an American conglomerate.

Titanic flew a British merchant flag because the ship was registered in a British port. She flew the Blue Ensign because her captain served in the Royal Navy Reserve.

Parks
 

Dennis Smith

Member
Aug 24, 2002
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Hi Andrew,

I would have thought that she would have been flying the Union Jack of the Merchant Marine, which is the Union flag with a (Normally 6 inch) white border around it. As far as I recall not all merchant ships could fly this flag, but all RMS (Royal Mail Ships) could and still do.

Best Wishes and Rgds

Dennis
 
A

Andrew Fox

Guest
Thanks for the replies and the speed of response. The exhibition is currently on at the Science Museum in Manchester for anybody that is interested.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Dennis,

According to the 1909 "Code of Signals for the use of Vessels employed in the Merchant Service," the Union Jack (also known as the "Pilot Jack") is defined as the national colours with a "border of White one-fifth the breadth of the Jack." This flag is "to be hoisted at the Fore by all British Vessels requiring a Pilot." In Titanic's case, the "Fore" in this regulation refers to the jackstaff at the stem of the vessel, not the foremast. There is a photograph of Titanic "all dressed up" in her flags, and this Jack can be seen at the stem.

I don't know if the rules have changed since, but the only unique flag flown by Mail Boats in 1912 was the Royal Mail pennant, and then only when the ship was approaching port with mail to be offloaded. It's highly improbable that Titanic ever had a chance to break out her Royal Mail pennant.

Parks
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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To my knowledge any national flag flown at the foremast truck to indicate destination is an embellishment for prestige purposes, not a requirement.

The Royal Mail pennant for a ship under contract to carry mail is normally streamed as a cachet regardless of the disposition of the ship.

Noel
 
Mar 3, 1998
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quote:

The Royal Mail pennant for a ship under contract to carry mail is normally streamed as a cachet regardless of the disposition of the ship.

That may or may not be true today, but it appears not to have been the norm in the 1910s. The purpose of the pennant was to signify priority berthing for the mail-carrying ship, so why wear the thing out by flying it in stiff winds at any distance from destination?

My knowledge on this comes from a source that I reviewed so long ago that I cannot bring it to the debate now. As far as I know, though, the extant photographic record would support my contention...the only photos in which I have seen the Royal Mail pennant are those taken of ships arriving in port. Every photo that I have seen of a four-stacker in the open ocean shows the masts bereft of flags, save the ensign on the stern. If you have proof to the contrary, I would love to see it.

And if anyone wants a Royal Mail pennant for their collection, I will be selling mine sometime in the coming week on eBay (shameless plug).

Parks​
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Sorry, I should have qualified that by saying that only when other signals etc. are being flown, that is, within port limits or in the approaches thereto.

Noel
 

Dennis Smith

Member
Aug 24, 2002
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Hi All'

Thanks for the clarification about the rules way back then. The only reason I said what I did is I remember reading, a long time ago, in a flag etiquette book that the Jack was only flown from the jackstaff of Royal Mail Ships - must have mis-read it. I was reading the book to check out the do's and don't's of handling and flying the U.S. Flag as the Swedish American Line Ship "Kungsholme" was coming to Llandudno and the American Passengers were landing at our Pier, of which I was Piermaster, so I had to check it out so as not to offend or break any rules.


Andrew,

Sorry about that, appears I got it wrong.

Best Wishes and Rgds

Dennis
 

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