Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Badges, Standards and Battle Honours

[Badges | Standards | Battle Honours | Other Heraldry]


From its early days units of the RAF adopted badges and emblems to display on their aircraft in order to provide a means of identifying them from other units.  Fighter units took this a stage further and in the 1920s were allowed to adopt official identification markings on the wings and fuselages of their aircraft but these were not badges.  In March 1935, it was decided to standardise on the format of the badge design with the College of Heralds and the Air Ministry appointing the Chester Herald as the first Inspector of RAF Badges.  The first tasks were to design a standard frame for the badges and determine the qualifications needed before a unit could apply for its own badge.   The frame adopted is shown below (left), originally utilising the Tudor Crown (commonly referred to as king's Crown), this was replaced on 11 November 1954 by St Edwards Crown (commonly referred to as the Queen's Crown), below (right): -


The qualifications decided upon were:

  1. The unit should have been in existence for at least two years and was likely to remain in existence

  2. The unit should have a status and function which can justify the sanction of a badge (but exactly what these were was not clarified)

Each unit would decide on the emblem or device to place in the central portion of the badge and on what motto they wished to place in the scroll at the base of the badge, which would then be submitted to Inspector of RAF Badges, together with the reasons for the choice and a fee.  The Inspector would then check that the design met heraldic standards or adapt it, if necessary, before passing it to the Chief of the Air Staff for approval, who in turn would submit it to the Monarch for final authorisation.  Once approved, but not before, the badge could be applied to the unit's correspondence, equipment and aircraft.

Units which fail to meet the requirements laid down above can adopt a badge based on that of their higher controlling formation, examples include the badge of RAF Cowden, a weapons range in Yorkshire and RAF HQ Units at USAF bases in the UK, which used the Strike Command and Support Command badges respectively.

The unit badges on this site can be seen under these headings: -

Operational units were authorised to use their individual badge without the squadron number or other inscription but in order for the badge to be easily distinguished on aircraft and other RAF equipment it was to be placed on a white background of distinctive shape, suitably outlined in the major colour of the badge.  The  principal operational function of the unit was indicated by the shape of this background: -

Arrow-head - Fighter, Fleet Fighter and Fleet Fighter Reconnaissance

Grenade - Bomber, Torpedo Bomber, Bomber-Transport and Fleet Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance

Six Pointed Star - General Reconnaissance, Army Co-operation and Flying Boat

Colours and Standards

Based on the Regimental Colours awarded to Army Regiments, The award of Standards to operational squadrons of the RAF was announced by King George VI in 1943 following the 25th Anniversary of the service.  A standard design was produced by the Inspector of RAF Badges consisting of a 4 ft by 2 ft 8 in silk base with the squadron badge embroidered in the centre and up to eight scrolls arranged around the badge containing the emblazoned Battle Honours.  Around the edge the Standard is a border composed of the embroidered national emblems of the UK, the rose, thistle, shamrock and leek, an example is shown below: -

©Crown Copyright

The criteria for the award of a Standard was either that it had completed 25 years of service in the RAF, AuxAF, RFC or RNAS or had earned the King's appreciation of 'outstanding operations'.  So far only Nos 617 and 120 Squadrons have qualified under the latter criteria.  Due to the early post-war austerity, despite 30 squadrons qualifying immediately in 1943, the first standards were not produced and presented until the 1950s, details of individual squadron standards can be found in the Squadron history section.

Squadrons can be presented with a new Standard and when this happens the old Standard is laid up in suitable location such as the Rotunda in the College Hall Officers Mess at Cranwell or a Church/Cathedral associated with the squadron.  Similarly the Standard of a disbanding unit will also be laid up in a suitable location, but could be returned to the unit should it reform at a later date.

At the same time as he announced the awards of Squadron Standards, King George VI also announced his intention to present a Colour to the RAF and other higher formations such Commands and Colleges.  Colours presented over the years are: -

Battle Honours

World War 1

Battle Honour Condition
Home Waters Operations 1914-1918 Operations over home waters, whether by land-based or carrier-borne aircraft.
Home Defence 1916-1918     Interception operations against enemy aircraft and Zeppelins raiding Great Britain.
Western Front 1914-1918

NB Many squadrons seem to split this Honour into individual named battles (see photo above)

Operations in support of Allied armies in Belgium and France. 
Independent Force and Germany 1914-1918

Squadrons based in France as part of the Independent Force; and for operations over Germany, whether by squadrons based in France (as part of the Independent Force or not) or by carrier-borne aircraft.

Italian Front and Adriatic 1917-1918 Operations over the Trentino and neighbouring areas, in support of the Allied armies on the ltalian front; and for operations over the Adriatic and attacks on targets on the Dalmatian coast.
Aegean 1915-1918 Operations in the Aegean area against the German/Turkish land, sea and air forces, including the attempt to force the Dardenelles, the Gallipoli campaign, and the various operations over the Aegean Sea and against Turkish coastal targets.
Macedonia 1916-1918 Operations in support of the Allied Forces at Salonika and in their eventual advance and defeat of the Bulgarian armies in Macedonia and adjoining territories.
Mesopotamia 1915-1918 Operations over Mesopotamia and Persia in the liberation of Mesopotamia from the Turks.
Palestine 1916-1918 Operations over Palestine, Transjordan and Syria, in the liberation of those territories from the Turks.
Arabia 1916-1917 Operations over Arabia, in support of the Arab Revolt against the Turks.
Egypt  1914-1917 Operations by squadrons based in Egypt during the Turkish advance on the Suez Canal across Sinai; and for operations in the Western Desert against the Senussi.
All the above can be placed on a Standard but those below are not to be placed on the Standard:

East Africa 1915-1917

Operations over German East Africa during its conquest from the enemy, whether by aircraft based in the country or operating from exterior seaplane bases.

South-West Africa 1915

Operations by South African Personnel during the conquest of German South-West Africa.

Inter-war Period

Campaigns in various parts of the Empire, particularly India and Iraq during the Inter-war period entitled squadrons to a number of possible battle honours but these were not to placed on the standard and specific conditions were not issued, the decision as to whether a unit was entitled was determined by an Air Council Committee after scrutinising the unit's records

South Persia 1918-1919

Waziristan 1919-1920

Mohmand 1927

Northern Kurdistan 1932

North Russia 1918-1919

North-West Persia 1920

Aden 1928

Mohmand 1933

Kurdistan 1919

Somaliland 1920

Iraq 1928-1929

Aden 1934

South Russia 1919-1920

Sudan 1920

Aden 1929

North-West Frontier 1935-1939

Iraq 1919-1920

Kurdistan 1922-1924

North-West Frontier 1930-1931

Palestine 1936-1939

Afghanistan 1919-1920

Iraq 1923-1925

Kurdistan 1930-1931


Mahsud 1919-1920

Transjordan 1924

Burma 1930-1932


Second World War

Battle Honour Condition

Battle of Britain

Interception operations by fighter squadrons 1940 in the Battle of Britain (August to October 1940).

Home Defence 1940-1945

Interception operations after the Battle of Britain, in defence of Great Britain and Northern Ireland against enemy aircraft and flying bombs.

Invasion Ports 1940

 Bombing operations against German occupied Channel ports, to dislocate enemy preparations for the invasion of England.

France and Low Countries1939-1940

Operations in France and the Low Countries between the outbreak of war and the Fall of France (3rd September 1939 to 25th June 1940). Applicable both to squadrons based in France (the Air Component and the Advanced Air Striking Force) and to squadrons operating from home bases.


Operations covering the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and the French from Dunkirk 26th May to 4th June 1940.

Meuse Bridges 

Squadrons which participated in bombing against the crossings of the Meuse during the German breakthrough between Sedan and Dinant (12th to 14th May 1940.)

Atlantic 1939-1945

Operations by aircraft of Coastal Command and others employed in the coastal role over the Atlantic Ocean from the outbreak of war to VE Day.


Operations by aircraft of Coastal Command associated with the action against the Bismarck (24th to 29th May 1941).

Channel and North Sea 1939-1945

Ship attack, anti-submarine, and mining operations over the English Channel and North Sea from the outbreak of war to VE Day.


Operations resulting in the sinking of the Tirpitz.

Norway 1940

Operations over Norway during the German invasion (9th April to 9th June 1940): applicable both to squadrons based in Norway and to those operating from home bases.

Baltic 1939-1945

Operations over the Baltic and its approach by squadrons of Bomber and Coastal Commands from the outbreak of war to VE Day.

Fortress Europe 1940-44

Operations by aircraft based in the British Isles against targets in Germany, Italy and enemy-occupied Europe, from the Fall of France to the invasion of Normandy.

The Dams

Squadrons participating in the operations for breaching the Moehne, Eider, Sorpe and Kembs Dams (May 1943 to October 1944)


Squadrons which participated in the combined operations against Dieppe on 19th August 1942.

France and Germany1944-45

Operations over France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the liberation of North-West Europe and the advance into the enemy's homeland, from the initiation of air action preparatory to the invasion of France to VE Day (April 1944 to 8th May 1945)

Biscay Ports 1940-45

Operations over the Bay of Biscay ports from the Fall of France to VE Day.

Ruhr 1940-1945

Bombardment of the Ruhr by aircraft of Bomber Command.

Berlin 1940-45

Bombardment of Berlin by aircraft of Bomber Command.

German Ports 1940-1945

Bombardment of the German ports by aircraft of Bomber and Coastal Commands.

Normandy 1944

Operations supporting the Allied landings in Normandy the establishment of the lodgement area, and the subsequent breakthrough (June to August 1944).


Squadrons participating in the operations of the Allied Airborne Army (17th to 26th September 1944).


Operations in support of the capture of the Island of Walcheren (3rd October to 9th November 1944).


Operations in support of the battle for the Rhine crossing (8th February to 24th March 1945)

Biscay 1940-1945 

Operations over the Bay of Biscay by aircraft of Coastal Command and Fighter Command, and Bomber Command aircraft loaned to Coastal Command, between the fall of France and VE Day (25th June 1940 to 8th May 1945).

East Africa 1940-1941

Operations over Kenya, the Sudan, Abyssinia, Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, Eritrea, and the Red Sea, during the campaign which resulted in the conquest of Italian East Africa (10th June 1940 to 27th November 1941).

Greece 1940-1941

Operations over Albania and Greece during the Italian and German invasion, whether carried out by squadrons based in Greece or operating from external bases (28th October 1940 to 30th April 1941).

South-East Europe 1942-1945

Operations over Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Egypt and Libya 1940-1943

Operations in the defence of Egypt and the conquest of Libya, from the outbreak of war against Italy to the retreat of the Axis forces into Tunisia (10th June 1940 to 6th February 1943).

El Alamein

Operations during the retreat to El Alamein and subsequent actions (June to November 1942).

El Hamma

Operations at El Hamma in support of the Battle of the Mareth Line by squadrons operationally controlled by Air Headquarters Western Desert (including No 205 Group squadrons engaged in tactical bombing ), during the period 20/21st March to 28th March1943.)

Malta 1940-1942

Squadrons participating in defensive, offensive, and reconnaissance operations from Malta during the period of enemy action against the island (10th June 1940 to 31st December 1942).

North Africa 1942-1943

Operations in connection with the campaign in French North Africa, from the initial landings in Algeria to the expulsion of the Axis Powers from Tunisia (8th November 1942 to 13th may 1943).

Mediterranean 1940-43

Operations over Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas by aircraft based in the Mediterranean area (including reconnaissance, convoy protection, mining, and attacks on enemy ports and shipping) between the entry of Italy into the war and the initiation of air action preparatory to the Sicilian campaign (10th June 1940 to 30th June 1943).

Sicily 1943

Operations in furtherance of the conquest of Sicily (1st July to 17th August 1943) by aircraft based in Africa, Malta and Sicily.

Italy 1943-1945

Operations over Italy


Operations in support of the Allied landings in Italy (9th to 16th September 1943).

Anzio and Nettuno

Operations in support of the Allied landings at Anzio and Nettuno (January 1944)

Gustav Line

Squadrons participating in the operations against the Gustav Line (May 1944).

Gothic Line

Air Operations in support of the breaching of the Gothic Line (August to September 1944).

Pacific 1941-1945

Operations against the Japanese in the Pacific theatre, throughout the war with Japan (8th December 1941 to 15th August 1945).


Operations against the Japanese in Malaya, Sumatra and Java, from 8th December 1941, until the final capitulation in Java on 12th March 1942.

Ceylon April 1942

Operations against Japanese aircraft and naval units by squadrons based in Ceylon during the Japanese attacks of April 1942

Eastern Waters 1941-1945 

Operations over waters east of the Mediterranean and Red Sea, including the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal the Java Sea, and the South China Sea, throughout the war with Japan.

Burma 1941-1942

Operations in defence of Rangoon and in support of British Forces during the Japanese invasion of Burma (December 1941 to May 1942).

Burma 1944-1945

Operations during the 14th Army's advance from Imphal to Rangoon, the coastal amphibious assaults, and the Battle of Pegu Yomas (August 1944 to August 1945).

Special Operations

Operations by squadrons regularly assigned to special duties, i.e the succour of resistance movements in enemy-occupied countries by dropping supplies and by introducing and evacuating personnel by air, from the formation of the first special duty flight (20th August 1940) after the Fall of France to VE and VJ Days.

Arctic 1940-1945

Operations over the Arctic by squadrons of Coastal Command based in Iceland, Russia and the Shetlands.

Arakan 1942-1944  

Operations by fighter, bomber and transport squadrons in support of the first and second Arakan campaigns (November 1942 to February 1943, and November 1943 to March 1944).    

Iraq 1941 

Operations in the defeat of Rashid Ali's rebellion (2nd to 31st May 1941).


Units engaged in the defence of Habbaniya (30th April to 6th May 1941).

Russia 1941-1945

Operations from Russian bases.

Syria 1941

Operations over Syria during the campaign against the Vichy French (8th June to 12th July 1941).

North Burma 1943-1944

The supply by air of General Wingate 's first long-range penetration into North Burma (February to June 1943) and for the air supply and support of his second expedition (5th March to 26th June 1944).

Manipur 1944

Operations in support of the besieged forces at Imphal (March to July 1944).

Madagascar 1942

Operations by squadrons of SAAF during and after the landings in Madagascar.

Post World War Two

Since World War Two only three Theatre Honours have been awarded to unit of the RAF, these being 'South Atlantic 1982', 'Iraq 1991' and 'Iraq 2003'

Battle Honour Condition

South Atlantic 1982


Awarded to Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, which saw service between 2 April and 14 June 1982 south of 35o south and north of 60o south or took part in an operational sortie south of Ascension Island.

It was awarded to: -

No. 1(F) Squadron

No. 18 Squadron

No. 42 Squadron

No. 44 Squadron

No. 47 Squadron

No. 50 Squadron

No. 51 Squadron

No. 55 Squadron

No. 57 Squadron

No. 63 Squadron RAF Regiment

No. 70 Squadron

No. 101 Squadron

No. 120 Squadron

No. 201 Squadron

No. 206 Squadron

The only two flying units permitted to display it on their standards are No 1 and No 18 Squadrons.

Iraq 1991

Awarded to Squadrons which were involved in direct confrontation with the enemy and had demonstrated gallantry and spirit under fire

With the right to emblazon the honour on squadron Standards:

 No 1 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 2 Squadron

No 6 Squadron

No 7 Squadron

No 9 Squadron

No 12 Squadron

No 13 Squadron

No 14 Squadron

No 15 Squadron

No 16 Squadron

No 17 Squadron

No 18 Squadron

No 20 Squadron

No 27 Squadron

No 31 Squadron

No 33 Squadron

No 41 Squadron

No 54 Squadron

No 208 Squadron

No 230 Squadron

No 617 Squadron

Without the right to emblazon the honour on squadron Standards:

No 10 Squadron

No 20 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 24 Squadron

No 26 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 29 Squadron

No 30 Squadron

No 32 Squadron

No 34 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 42 Squadron

No 43 Squadron

No 47 Squadron

No 51 Squadron

No 51 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 55 Squadron

No 58 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 66 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 70 Squadron

No 101 Squadron

No 120 Squadron

No 201 Squadron

No 206 Squadron

No 216 Squadron

Iraq 2003

This was awarded for participation in operations in the Iraq campaign in 2003 as was awarded to the following units: -

With the right to emblazon the honour on squadron Standards:

No 1 (Fighter) Squadron RAF

No 11 (Army Co-operation) Squadron RAF

No 3 Squadron RAF

No IV (Army Co-operation) Squadron RAF

No 7 Squadron RAF Promotion

No IX (Bomber) Squadron RAF

No 12 (Bomber) Squadron RAF

No 31 Squadron

No 47 Squadron RAF

No 617 Squadron RAF

No 51 Squadron RAF Regiment

Without the right to emblazon the honour on squadron Standards:

No 8 Squadron RAF

No 10 Squadron RAF

No 18 (Bomber) Squadron RAF

No 23 Squadron RAF

No 33 Squadron RAF

No 39 Squadron RAF

No 43 (Fighter) Squadron RAF

No 51 Squadron RAF

No 101 Squadron RAF

No 111 (Fighter) Squadron RAF

No 120 Squadron RAF

No 201 Squadron RAF

No 206 Squadron RAF

No 216 Squadron RAF

No 1 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 11 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 27 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 16 Squadron RAF Regiment

No 34 Squadron RAF Regiment

Other Heraldry


Some units of the RAF have been awarded their own Coats of Arms or Armorial Bearings, which can be found in the appropriate unit history section, these include: -

RAF Ensign

The idea of an RAF Ensign was first put forward in 1918 but it faced opposition from the Royal Navy, who had the power of veto over any flag to be flown in the British Empire.  After rejecting a number of designs, the Admiralty eventually accepted the current design in December 1920 and on 24 March 1921, King George V signed an Order in Council  ratifying its use.

Pennants and Star Plates (courtesy Wg Cdr C G Jefford)

Pennants, to be flown by Officers Commanding RAF units, were first introduced in 1918 for the ranks of major to major-general (squadron leader to air vice-marshal from 1919) (AMWO 782/1918). The introduction of the RAF Ensign was announced in 1920, (AMWO 1130/1920) the detail of its design being formally authorised by an Order in Council of 24 March 1921. This meant that all RAF stations would now have to be provided with a mast and gaff.  Once these had been erected the Ensign was to be flown from the peak (of the gaff), with the COís rank pennant at the masthead. The range of pennant designs was extended in 1927 (AMWO 8/1927) to embrace air marshal to marshal of the RAF. In 1938, (AMO A284/1938) miniature versions were introduced, to be flown as flags from a mast on the off-side front wing of the staff cars of Air Officers Commanding.

During WW II, there were some amendments to the detail as to who could, and who could not, fly rank flags on their cars, notably in May 1941 (AMO A397/1941) when they were restricted to the CAS and Air Officers Commanding commands and groups at all times, and (but only when visiting RAF units) members of the Air Council and Inspectors General.  These rank flags were now to be flown from the near-side front wing with the exception of CASís which was to be flown centrally on the radiator.

The next significant change occurred in 1945 (AMO A640/1945) when the rules were revised and restated to include the introduction of a unique personal flag, featuring the RAF badge on a light blue background, which was to be flown at all times, by the car of the Secretary of State for Air.  At the same time the CAS and certain AOCinCs abroad were authorised to fly a miniature RAF Ensign; the cars of all other air and senior officers in command, including Commandants of nominated Colleges and Schools, and Station Commanders not below the rank of wing commander, continued to fly miniature rank flags, although, depending upon circumstances, these were often restricted to within the bounds of the unit under command. In all cases these 12″ ◊ 4Ĺ″ flags were now to be mounted centrally on the radiator. In June 1947 (AMO A518/1947) there were further minor amendments to the list of those authorised to fly miniature rank flags on their cars while the dimensions of (only) the miniature RAF Ensign were changed to 12″ ◊ 6″. All of these changes had been confined to the use of miniature flags on motor cars, all squadron leaders and above commanding RAF units continued to fly their full-sized rank pennants as they had done since 1918, and as they still do. 

In March 1948, the Air Council Standing Committee decided to extend the range of unique SoS/CAS-style flags associated with specific senior appointments and to replace the miniature rank flags on cars with star plates. [ACSC Conclusions 3(48)] However, it was January 1951 before the use of star plates was authorised (AMO A763/1950) and, allowing for the time required for manufacture, it would have been some months before they actually became available.  They featured, on a pale blue ground, a single silver star for an air commodore, increasing to five for a marshal of the RAF.  Star plates were/are only to be displayed when the officer was/is on board, otherwise, as had always been the case with flags, they are masked with a canvas cover (during an AOCís Inspection, the host of this website actually witnessed one AVM riding around RAF Shawbury on a bicycle fitted with a star plate).  The design of the four new distinguishing flags, to be flown by Members of the Air Council, AOCinCs, AOCs and certain other specific appointments, including Station Commanders ranked as wing commanders or above, were not announced until as late as November 1951 (AMO A680/1951) and they did not materialise until 1952. All of the new car flags were to be 9″ ◊ 4Ĺ″ with the exception of SoSís which was now to be 12″ ◊ 6″ to match the RAF Ensign which was now flown only by CAS.


Rank Pennant Star Plate
Squadron Leader (in command) No Star Plate
Wing Commander No Star Plate
Group Captain No Star Plate
Air Commodore
Air Vice Marshal
Air Marshal
Air Chief Marshal
Marshal of the RAF

Car Flags

As well as carrying Star Plate denoting the rank, a staff car may also carry a flag on a mast located centrally on the radiator to identify the appointment of the officer, as shown below: -

Chief of the Air Staff and AOC-in-Cs Abroad
Member of the Air Council and Inspector-General of the RAF
AOC-in-Cs of Home Commands
AOC Group HQs
Sector/Station Commander (Wg Cdr and above)*

*This is the only flag flown by officers below Air Rank.

[Badges | Standards | Battle Honours | Other Heraldry]

Crown Copyright material is reproduced by permission of the Directorate of Intellectual Property Rights

This page was last updated on 26/11/23

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