The Development of Signaling in the Royal Navy

By Captain L.E. Holland RN, published February 1953


In the First Dutch War (1652-4), as fighting tactics evolved so the need for ships to be able to communicate with each other led to the foundations of the Fighting Instructions, a system of signaling which remained in force for one hundred and forty years. The basis of this system was the relationship of the message to the position at which it appeared and made use of only three flags and one pendant. As the system developed it became increasingly cumbersome and by 1782 forty flags and seven pendants were in use. Significantly Lord Howe, in 1776, introduced a Signal Book and a Book of Instructions describing how the more complicated manoeuvres be performed using a simpler system of twenty one flags. Throughout this period a Numeracy System, letters and numbers codes, shapes of flags, best colour combinations, designs, distance visibility codes and other sections were constantly under review. The introduction of electronically illuminated semaphore and the full Morse code in 1889 led signaling into the twentieth century.

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Filed under: Dutch Wars | Other (Nineteenth C) | Other (Eighteenth C) | Other (location)
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Miscellaneous

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