The Commanding Officer is the head of the ship; all officers and seamen report to him. Just as a ship is compartmentalized, so is its hierarchy. Officers have rank and specialty; each carrying with it a certain grade of responsibility - sometimes mirroring ability and time in the service. In the U.S. Navy there is a small constellation officer types: line, restricted line, limited duty, corps and warrant. Positions among seamen (ratings in British parlance and enlisted in the United States) are known by "pay grade" or rank; and "rate" or field of specialty. Enlisted sailors may be: recruits, seamen, petty and chief petty officers. There are also cadets: midshipmen at the Naval Academy, Navy ROTC midshipmen and individuals in Officer Candidate School (aviation or otherwise). Merchant navies mirror, to the most extent, these relationships among personnel, although not as elaborate or seemingly baroque.
All of these sailors find themselves arrayed in various divisions and departments. For example, a merchantman or U.S. Liberty Ship during the Second World war usually held these Departments and rates:
Master: Commanding Officer and Purser (who doubled as Pharmacist)Over time, and especially during the late 19th and early 20th century, the British, German and American navies developed systematic indicators of personal shipboard position. These found manifestation in cuff lace, buttons, badges and various devices. The British lead the way in defining this symbolic language and shipboard organization; the United States followed, reaching full elaboration in the period preceding the Second World War. Both the U.S. and British navies relegated rate to the arm; the US Government marine - comprising of the Coast Guard , Coast and Geodetic Survey, Public Health Service and Maritime Service - followed the lead of the U.S. Navy. Interestingly, the US Army Transport Service, and not the US Maritime Service nor the U.S. Navy provided its Petty and Chief Petty Officers with hats designating rate. In the latter two services, rate resided on sleeve or collar; it is an academic exercise for the reader to determine what is most important to the various services - shipboard trade or rank.
Deck: Chief Officer, 2nd Officer, 3rd Officer, 3rd Junior Officer, Deck Cadet, Boatswain, Carpenter, Able Seaman (6), Ordinary Seaman (3)
Radio: Radio Operator, Jr. Radio Operator
Engine: Chief Engineer, 1st Asst. Engineer, 2nd Asst. Engineer, 3rd Asst. Engineer, Deck Engineer, Engine Cadet, Oiler (3), Watertender (3), Fireman/Stoker (3), Wiper (3)
Steward's: Chief Steward, 1st Cook, 2nd Cook & Baker, Galley Utilityman, Messman (4)
Woven or stamped, as follows is a cursory list of some common devices: stars and fouled anchors for deck officers and boatswains carpenter's rules and axes for ship's carpenters quills and keys for clerks and yeomen, globes for electricians, sparks for wireless (radio) operators, propellers or cogs for engineers and machinists, ship's wheels for helmsmen, batons and swords for masters-at-arms, and increscent (a crescent moon with the points facing dexter) for stewards and commissary personnel. The latter insignia have the unique distinction of being silver in color for stewards in almost all foreign and merchant navies, and in the U.S Army Transport Service - I will return to this later.
Silver and gold feature prominently in not only in maritime rank insignia, but in all U.S. military services. Following U.S. military insignia lore, "gold is worth more than silver, but silver outranks gold." This is due to the fact that the U.S. Army decreed in 1832 that infantry colonels would wear gold eagles on an epaulet of silver and all other colonels would wear silver eagles on gold. When majors and lieutenant colonels received their leaves of rank, this tradition could not continue. It came to pass that silver leaves represented lieutenant colonels and gold, majors. However, the case of lieutenants differs: first lieutenants had been wearing silver bars for 80 years before second lieutenants had any bars at all; second lieutenants were granted a single gold bar in 1917. With the standardization of U.S. military insignia in the early 20th century, the insignia revisions applied to U.S. Navy officers. On naval uniforms - rank insignia notwithstanding - in particular, gold was applied to base elements of insignia, such as anchors on the U.S. Navy hat badge; and silver to mottos and symbols of the eagle and federal shield. Gold remained the province of officers and senior positions, whereas silver and pewter was relegated to the enlisted. Curiously, the motto on the the on U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer hat badge was silver, and that of a steward: gold. This follows the mentioned reversal of colors between officers and enlisted - with the steward belonging to a class attached to and not of officers.
Ultramarine). Up until the present-day, the U.S. Navy has the further distinction of having not only separate wardrooms and mess for officers and enlisted men, but also for Chief Petty Officers. By virtue of tradition, the latter have a separate galley serving portions greater in quantity and open later than those of their fellow sailors. Given the strict hierarchy aboard ship, and the stern rules banning enlisted personnel from the officers' wardroom and chiefs' mess, stewards and commissarymen transcend these strictures to serve food. An unauthorized sailor found in these spaces could find himself at captain's mast or at court-martial and later suffering harsh disciplinary proceedings (it also goes the opposite way; officers may not fraternize with enlisted sailors on or off duty; doing so, they face dismissal from the service). Since instant recognition is important aboard ship, a special hat with a distinct badge and often always white square rig sailor uniform or special white blouse and duck trousers (even when the uniform of the day may be service dress blue) marks the steward apart.
servants, their uniforms followed precedent. In time, stewards wore prestige items, such as coats and visor hats; albeit, with markers of their inferior status - servants although a class apart, needed to impart a pleasing image in the wardroom. Nineteenth-century British commercial liners, offering first-class passage to the monied, mirrored military fashion - which in itself was a reflection of aristocratic costume - in the clothing its officers, sailors and stewards. The U.S. Army Transportation Service, born out of necessity during the Spanish-American War, built a fleet of ships larger than that of the U.S. Navy; some of the larger transports (considered "show boats") ferried military personnel and U.S. diplomats to far-flung newly acquired U.S. possessions. The ships were manned by civilian personnel who wore uniforms following the fashion trends of the day: deck officers wore gold lace on their cuffs and stewards were accented in silver - as were their counterparts on the commercial liners. At the same time, the newly-imperial United States began to carry complements of Filipino nationals alongside African-American cooks as stewards onboard its ships. Taking this into consideration, ships could be construed as reproducing the "great house" tradition with colonials and second-class citizens filling menial roles.
Much can be said about the symbols worn by the stewards: from the 1930s onward, they wore the crescent over horizontal bars, their cook counterparts wore rank chevrons. With the institution of the rate in 1948, Commissarymen wore keys over a quill, and then in with rate integration, both badges changed to a quills and a cook book - the symbol of stewards in 1963. As can be divined, over the decades, the rate has been dissolved and reconstituted, with various roles removed and added; including the loss of the traditional crescent.
The images found with this entry illustrate different examples of insignia worn by stewards aboard various types of ships. It is worth mentioning that the crescent symbol has been used throughout the US military to denote food stores and cooks and outhouses; this symbol can be traced to either represent a camp cook's "crescent rolls" or the traditional heraldic symbol of "increase."
Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski (editors), Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400. Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicholson: London, 1987, Cat 448
Jim Garamone, "Insignia: The Way You Tell Who's Who in the Military" in Defense Link. U.S. Department of Defense: Washington D.C., Novemeber 1999.
Bureau of Naval Personnel, "Filipinos in the United States Navy."Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center: Washington D.C., October 1976.
P&O Lines (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company)
Catering Petty Officer.
Badge, 50mm diameter. Silver wire on wool backing.
British Royal Navy hat insignia has the following pattern:
Tally - ratings.In this specific example, this is a private company, and they have employed the Royal Navy petty officer design for their own catering petty officers. In this case, a silver sun surrounded by an alternating band of blue and silver - blue and white being the traditional heraldic symbol for waves.
Fouled anchor surrounded by a gold rope, surmounted by crown - petty officers
Fouled anchor surrounded by a gold rope and small wreath, surmounted by crown - chief petty officers.
Fouled anchor on oval, surrounded by a wreath, surmounted by crown - officers.
The British are noted for their fine craftsmanship in regard to nautical insignia; I have been hard-pressed to find a poorly made British item of insignia from the middle of the last century.
P&O Lines (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company)
Badge, 65mm x 45mm. Silver wire on wool backing.
This hat badge follows the classic British Passenger Lines steward badge design of taking an element of the deck officer's hat badge, enlarging and turning it silver. In this example, the P&O deck officer's badge is the setting sun on heraldic waves surmounted by a fouled anchor.
This particular badge was issued in the 1970s, before P&O hat badges took on their current configuration.
Military Sea Transport Service
Commissary Chief Petty Officer Badge.
35mm x 24mm , Cupro-nickel.
Hallmark, Gemsco A.G.O. G-2 . Circa 1953-1963.
The US Army Transport Service and US Navy Transport Service merged at the end of the Second World War to form the Military Sea Transport Service. This organization came under the purvue of the US Navy. In the mid-1960s, the service changed its name to the Military Sealift Command. Throughout each of its permutations, the MSTS/MSC retained the insignia of the ATS with slight modifications. With the change of MSTS to MSC, the crescent flipped.
This silver crescent, is worn by commissary officers as a collar device or by Chief Petty officers as within a wreath as a hat device. The old days of woven steward's hat badges is no more. The hallmark is consistent with Institute of Heraldry (IOH) manufacturer's numbers; in this case 1953-1963 - often a "-N" will mean that the Navy approved the insignia.
US Army Transport Service
Commissary Chief Petty Officer woven hat badge.
Silver thread on wool backing; attached to mohair band. No synthetics.
Device, 70mm x 40mm.
Circa Second World War.
During the Second World War, standardization was secondary to getting boots on the ground. In the specific case of the Army Transport Service/Transportation Corps - Water Division, the mariners were civilian, therefore were not overtly compelled to adhere to uniform standards.
Men did hold rank and rate aboard ship, and the distinctions were subtle. Chief Petty Officers wore visor hats with their rate on a hat badge. Unauthorized, but worn devices were woven. Issued devices were metal. In terms of steward hat insignia, I have noted three variations: silver-aluminum thread, yellow thread with small gold foil devices and stamped metal wreaths with un-affixed silver crescents.
As a means of identification: ATS/TC-WD wore silver steward insignia; that is silver crescents and also silver metal hat badges. The U.S. Maritime Service and War Shipping Administration wore gold steward insignia - following the U.S. Navy precident.
United States Lines
Steward Department Officer hat badge.
Wreath, 70mm x 43mm. Brass with silver wash.
Flag, 25mm by 23mm. Enamel on brass.
Manufacturer: Gemsco. Circa Second World War.
This hat badge can be definitively dated to the Second World War by the Gemsco hallmark on the reverse; the hallmark is Gemsco surrounded by a wreath. The enamel flag design is consistent with USL flags from the period. Other variations of the flag, from the l931-1938 period have the USL initials - these flags are seen on badges throughout the Second World War. A sleek eagle design debuted in the mid 1950s, around the time of the SS United States launch.
Given the high quality and crisp detail of the stamped wreath, and fine enamel work, this hat badge was worn by a Chief Steward. The silver wash has flaked from the surface of the wreath, but is especially present in areas of low relief.