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WWII British Uniforms Guide: Royal Navy

Discussion in 'WWII' started by Cobden, Jun 29, 2007.

  1. Unlike the Army, uniforms of the Royal Navy did not undergo anywear near as many changes through the war as the army. However, this is counteracted by the number of uniforms that existed! There were four different uniform types depending on rank and rate: Officers, Class I (CPO's), Class II (Rating's Dressed as Seamen AKA Square Rig), and Class III (Petty Officers of Six Months Experience or Confirmed in that positions, and Rating's not dressed as seamen such as Stewards, Cooks, Sick Berth Attendents). Dealing with the officers later, the Class I and Class III ratings wore very similar uniforms, the only difference being that Class I ratings wore their trade on their collars, whilst Class III wore the rank and ratings on their sleeves. Both Classes wore six button double breasted serge jackets and ordinary trousers, with a peaked cap and a shirt and tie.

    Class II ratings wore square rig consisting of Bell Bottomed Trousers (with five or seven horizontal creases, and verticle creases at the sides of the trousers, pressed inside out so creases point inwards), a jumper with either gold or rank & trade insignia depending on order of dress (supposedly, gold insignia was stopped at the beginning of the war. In pratice they pretty much all got hold of them), again pressed inside out, collar which was tied around the waist under the jumper with three creases forming a W on the back (although many found it didn't blow up as much if pressed into a M), a blue top or white top peakless cap with HMS tally tied around it with a bow above the right eye (not regulation, but everyone did it), a blue jersey or white T-shirt like "flannel" or "white front" was worn under the jumper. Around the neck, over the jumper but under it's neck flap was a black silk - a square of material folded seven times and sewn at one end to form a loop of material. This was tied at the front in a bow by a cotton tape. A white lanyard was underneath the neck flap of the Jumper, looped around the silk, and then inside the jumper. Black, toecapless and unhobnailed boots were worn. In the UK blue topped caps all year round, with a white front worn in summer, a blue jersey in Winter. Square rig was also worn with a white top cap and a white front in Winter in the Mediterranean.

    It is probably now best to examine Royal Navy orders of dress, which were numbered as such:

    No 1 Best serge suit, gold badges,medals.
    Occasions: Inspection, Ceremonial, Sundays in harbour, long and short leave.

    Class I wore a six brass buttoned double breasted uniform with gold trade insignia on the collar and CPO's rank insignia (consisting of three horizontal buttons) on the cuffs. In 1943, when, due to wool shortages, this was replaced with a four buttoned single breasted uniform. Class III wore similar, but with gold insignia on the sleeves, with brass buttons. Class II ratings in the UK wore square rig as described above, with gold rank and trade insignia. The lanyard was not worn when parading with rifles. In 1942, the jumper changed from having button cuffs to have plain cuffs.
    During wartime, medals were not worn, but medal ribbons were.
    For this uniform, it was very common for sailors to have a suit made up in a tailors (known as a "tiddly suit") with non-regulation features such as silk linings, overlarge bell bottoms, etc. for walking out.

    No2 Second best serge suit, red badges, medal ribbons.
    Occasions: Dutymen, boats crews, Sundays at sea, optional on leave on week days.
    Same as above, but with red insignia replacing gold. Class III ratings (excluding Petty Officers) wore black bakelite buttons as opposed to brass, and a red cap badge.

    No3 Serge suit, red badges, optional medal ribbons.
    Occasions: On working days for all ordinary occasions.
    Class I/III: Single Breasted Four Button Uniform (although three button uniforms were introduced 1944 onwards) - Class III (excluding PO's) wore black buttons, Class I and PO's wore brass. Class II generally didn't wear a lanyard with this rig.

    No3a: Air Branch blouse
    "Battledress". This was only worn by ratings in the Air Branch (AKA the Fleet Air Arm) and was introduced in 1943. I've never seen one being worn in photographs, so I can't really comment on this.

    No4 Serge suit, red badges.
    Occasions: For night clothing and in wet weather.
    Same as above, except that jersey could be worn in summer, and a collar wasn't worn.

    No5 Drill suit, medals.
    Occasions: In place of No.1s when whites (tropical uniforms) are being worn.
    Class I: white single breasted, stand collar uniform with brass buttons and two unpleated patch pockets without flaps on the breast (like normal shirt pockets), white trousers, white canvas shoes, cap with white cover. Trade was gold, and worn above the buttons on the cuff, if worn at all. Class III similar, but with blue insignia on the sleeves. Class II wore a blue version of the square rig, with blue denim "hemming" at the bottom of the jumper and at the ends of the cuffs. Worn with a white front and a white topped cap. A seperate collar wasn't worn, as the collar on the jumper mimicked the seperate collar worn with the temperate uniform. This was worn with white bell bottoms and white, canvas shoes. Trade and rating insignia was blue.

    No6 Drill suit, medal ribbons.
    Occasions: In place of No.2s when whites are being worn.
    Same as above, except Class III wore black buttons and red cab badge as opposed to brass and gold respectively.

    No7 (irrelevent to WWII)

    No8 Blue overalls.
    Occasions: For particularly dirty work.
    Either single piece or two piece overalls, worn with either a white front, blue jersey, or undershirt by all ratings. Often worn at sea in WWII, especially on small ships. Blue or white top depending on location. Very informal

    No9 Tropical singlet, shorts and caps, long blue socks.
    Occasions: As ordered in tropical waters.
    Class I: white shirt with two breast pockets, white shorts, white socks, white canvas shoes, cap white white cover. Class III but with black boots and socks, unless a Petty Officer in which white shoes and socks are worn. Class II wore the white front, white shorts, white topped cap, black boots and socks (unless a PO). Rank sometimes worn in blue on left sleeve.

    No3, class II, summer in the UK
    And winter

    No1. Class III (petty Officer)

    No8 (right), and a Wren:
  2. Officers Uniforms

    Prior to WWII, there were 13 orders of dress for officers, ranging from the full dress cottee, to shirt and shorts, via a plethora of mess dresses, ball dress, and frock coats. However, during WWII, the majority were suspended (many never to be re-introduced); and as such, these are the only relevent officers uniforms:

    Number 5: Double breasted, eight gilt buttoned blue/black doeskin jacket & trousers with a blue black cap with a white cap cover (white cap cover only worn with 5's in the winter in the Mediterranean during wartime, but worn in summer in the UK in peace). Black shoes without toecaps, white shirt and collar, and a black tie. This was, from 1939-1943, the only authorised uniform for officers in temperate climes, for best and for work wear. However, a dark blue shirt with attached collar was authorised in place of white for workwear

    Number 5a: Blue/black serge "battledress" type blouse with serge lapels, exposed guilt RN buttons, and a button fastening on the waist (as opposed to the buckle fastening on Army Battledress), and blue/black serge trousers. Soft, rank shoulderboards were sewn onto the shoulders, and was worn with the peaked officers cap and either the white shirt and collar or the blue working shirt. Fleet Air Arm (or, more correct, Air Branch) Officers tended to wear the white shirt and starched white collars as they wished to distiguish themselves from the undisciplined RAF pilots.

    It is worth noting that Battledress type uniforms were worn by naval officers from 1941, as a non-regulation uniform. These varied from dyed army battledress, to specially tailored items that resembled the later issued uniform. Usually they had buckle waist fastenings, a collar that resembled the army, but with exposed buttons and pleated pockets.

    Number 5b: Introduced in 1944, and saw limited use in the war, this was similar to 5a's, except that the buttons on the blouse were fly fronted as opposed to exposed buttons. It was for use by the Air Branch pilots only, as they found the exposed buttons had a tendency to get caught on pieces of the cockpit and pulled off, leading to problems of Foreign Object Damage.

    Number 10 : Single breasted fully buttoned white tunic with gilt buttons (similar to that worn by Class I & III ratings in number 5's) and rank displayed on stiff shoulderboards, white covered cap, and white leather shoes. This was the equivalent of number 5's in tropical waters, although was not really worn afloat.

    Number 13: An informal tropical uniform; white shirt with rank displayed on shoulderboards, white shorts, white socks, white canvas shoes, cap with white top

    Non regulation working dress; with FAA Irvin:

    Number 5's:
  3. Other Uniforms

    The most common uniform seen in addition to those listed above is Khaki drill, which was warn by officers in North Africa and authorised for wear in the far east. Officers often had a khaki cap cover to go with the uniform. These were as many and varied as the Army KD's, however, as a rule, officers wore a bush shirt with RN buttons and trousers, ratings KD shirts and shorts (RN shorts having no field dressing pocket). When serving on land, army battledress was worn with soft shoulder boards.

    There were, of course, greatcoats,oilskins, diving suits and a great deal of specialised wear too numerous to list. The most obvious example is the duffle coat, which was camel in colour and had an overlap and was fastened by toggles, and had an attached hood.

    On ship, the most that would be worn is a blue money belt, worn over the shorts or bell bottoms and under the jumper (on land in tropical dress a white money belt was worn), and an admiralty gas mask bag (which starpped around the waist and was worn on the hip, as distenct to the army gas mask bag), plus anti flash hoods and gloves if necessary. Tin helmets often replaced the rating and officers caps when at action stations.

    On parade with rifles, an 08 belt and bayonet was warn, with long webbing gaitors (twice the length of army anklettes), and no lanyard. When necessary, and when armed with rifles, 08 was also worn (although sometimes 1919 with rifle adaptations was worn). Rifles carried would either be the Rifle number 1. SMLE Mk. III (*) or the rifle number 2 P14. When carrying a pistol, 1919 pattern webbing would be worn. This was similar to RAF 1925 pattern webbing, except it was uncommon to see it worn as anything other then pistol order.
  4. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK

    You are correct re the different styles of uniforms and it is good to see these all listed for reference. Think about joining my group as we could do with someone who has this sort of knowledge.

  5. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK

    Can I ask as to how tall you are as you look over 5'6" in which case there should be 7 creases and not 5. 4" approx the same size as a Pay Book

    Also, and much to a lot of peoples surprise, the creases are opposite in each leg....... in that an inverted crease on one leg has the opposite on the other. The Seamanship Manual tells you how to do this and if you look at any WWII pics you will see this as well. Catches a lot of people out!

    Just need to get you a lanyard and show you how to fold back the bottom of the silk to form a 2" bite and you are complete!

  6. benstephens

    benstephens Practically Family

  7. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many


    Have you guys thought about doing a book on RN uniforms and equipment, much like Brayley and Ingram's books on British Army (and planned book on RAF) kit?

    I'm sure there would be a market for it.
  8. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK
    RN Ubiforms

    Now that sounds like a good idea... however not sure I would want to do anything like that on my own.

  9. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many

    WW2 RN tropical shorts

    I don't suppose that either of you guys are a 29" waist and about 5' 8" tall?

    I have a pair of mint WW2 RN ratings' (I believe) tropical shorts (twin buckles and buttoned belt fittings) that are looking for a good home.
  10. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK
    Tropical Shorts

    I wish!!! Afraid 5'10 and 33" waist now although was a natty 30" waist and 31.5" leg when in Navy!!

    Try Ebay as I think they would sell quite well on there.

  11. H.Johnson

    H.Johnson One Too Many

    Pity they won't fit you. I don't like to sell (special) things on eBay as you have no control over who may buy them... They 'more or less' fit me but I don't do WW2 RN. I'll keep looking for a 'good home' for them.
  12. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK
    Bib overalls

    In my time No 8s were blues shirt and blue pants and not bib overalls. Also No 9's were complete boiler suit. No 10s were the tropical shorts with 10As being the blue shorts version.
    Can't say I ever saw or ever wore bib overalls in the Navy at all. I think they were a Dockyard Matey's item of clothing although anyone who knows about WWII might like to correct this

  13. navyguyAl

    navyguyAl New in Town

    NW UK
    Tropical Shorts

    Lucky you being so slim... guess I need to go on a diet!! I agree re Ebay yet I have managed to get some good stuff from there at times including a WWII Ratings "Tiddly Suit" which certainly showed the bounds that some sailors went to for their 'going ashore' unnregulated uniform! With slant opening pockets on the flap (Aussie style but hidden beneath the jumper), and 32" bottoms and an obvious 'U' opening to show off the white front, definitely not the uniform for Divisions!!

  14. Arcticwarrior

    Arcticwarrior New in Town

    On the way guys. I am working on a book on WWW11 RN uniforms at present.
  15. Ben Stephens

    Ben Stephens One of the Regulars

    Are you the Martin I think you are? A couple of books under your belt already?

    Kindest regards

  16. Slobo

    Slobo New in Town

    Nice to see this thread revived. Been looking for a source with details for the proper folding of WW2 ratings' blue trousers. Any online sources (I haven't found any specific enough with Google) or can anyone comment?
  17. Trotsky

    Trotsky A-List Customer

    There was a brief overview of RN uniforms and headgear in a old issue of Militaria Magazine when they still published in English. I'll see if I can find the exact issue. I do have a pair of working dress trousers, officer's downstairs in one of my tubs. Very nice shape, actually and they will never fit me. I do have a set of battledress badged up as RN and a repro No. 5 uniform. I love doing RN, I just don't get much of a chance.
  18. Slobo

    Slobo New in Town

    Leon, who is making repros of WW2 RN uniforms?

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