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Red Kangaroo

Australian Warships were Often Confused with British Vessels that the Royal Australian Navy Started Marking Them with a Large Red Kangaroo

The Royal Australian Navy has over 50 ships and more than 16,000 people. They are one of the Pacific region’s largest and most sophisticated naval forces, with a substantial presence in the Indian Ocean and global operations supporting war campaigns and peacekeeping missions. How can we differentiate Australian Navy boats from British vessels?

The Royal Australian Navy’s ships are all marke by a huge red kangaroo. This custom arose due to frequent confusion between Australian and British warships.

The History of the Royal Australian Navy Squadron and National Insignia

On July 10, 1911, King George V formally approved the Commonwealth’s Permanent Naval Forces being renamed the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). At the same time, it was ruled that all ships and vessels of the Royal Australian Navy must fly the White Ensign as a symbol of Crown authority and the Jack Staff, the distinguishing flag of the Australian Commonwealth, at the stern.

When at sea, it is traditional to fly only one ensign to designate a ship’s country, and for many years, ships of the RAN were mistaken for those of the Royal Navy (RN), with whom it proudly shared the White Ensign. This did not sit well with everyone, and it appears to be one of the reasons for the addition of a uniquely Australian national symbol on RAN ships.

During the First World War, HMAS Parramatta I was one of the first known cases of a RAN warship taking pains to indicate its nationality. Instead of the more traditional naval crown, a bronze kangaroo was affixed to the top of her jackstaff, a measure to distinguish her crew’s Australian nature clearly.

During the Korean War in 1953, HMAS Anzac II used a similar tactic. On that occasion, Anzac’s shipwrights cut a big sheet of brass into the shape of a kangaroo, a mark instantly recognized as uniquely Australian. The design is thought to have been inspired by the reverse of an Australian penny depicting a kangaroo in-flight.

The burnished brass kangaroo was then put atop Anzac’s mainmast as a visual reminder to ships in a company that she was very much an Australian vessel. Photographic evidence reveals that Fairmile motor launches operating alongside US forces in New Guinea in 1945 used a kangaroo-style insignia. (Source: Royal Australian Navy

The First Appearance of Red Kangaroo

The first occurrence of a RAN warship affixing a red kangaroo to her funnel/superstructure was in 1955 when HMAS Queenborough was assigned to the Royal Navy’s 6th frigate Squadron based in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The ‘Red Hand of Ulster was the squadron insignia of the 6th Frigate squadron. Queenborough followed the squadron’s tradition, but she additionally added a red kangaroo to represent her Australian heritage.

The kangaroo emblem was first used in the early 1970s when ships of AUSDESRONs 1 and 2 fastened a red kangaroo embossed with their respective squadron number to their funnels. A broad black band painted across the top of the funnel cap served as another distinguishing feature to identify the commander of each squadron.

The practice of operating distinct squadrons was discontinued in 1985, and a bare red kangaroo with no adornment became the official national emblem for RAN large fleet units. The tradition is still practiced today, with ships in the modern fleet proudly displaying the red kangaroo as a national symbol. (Source: Royal Australian Navy

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