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United Kingdom: Supreme Allied Command, South East Asia

Earl Mountbatten

Last modified: 2010-05-28 by rob raeside
Keywords: supreme allied command - south east asia | mountbatten | phoenix |
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Supreme Allied Command, South East Asia

[South East Asia Command] image by Eugene Ipavec, 14 May 2006

In "Mountbatten, Eighty Years in Pictures", published in 1979 by MacMillan and Co., page 168, is a photograph of the 1946 wedding of Earl Mountbatten's daughter, Patricia, and his aide de camp, Lord Brabourne. The event took place at Romsey Abbey and I suspect that the photograph shows the post-nuptial reception for the tenantry of Mountbatten's neighbouring Broadlands estate. The groom is speaking and behind him, apparently suspended from the roof by cords, is a defaced Union flag. The defacement shows what, to my eye, appears to be a phoenix resurgent surrounded by a broad ring. The photograph is in black and white, but both bird and ring look very much as if they are the same colour as the red of the Union flag. A clue is provided on page 162 of the same book where there is a photograph of the surrender document signed by Mountbatten and the vanquished Japanese supreme commander at Singapore on the 12th of September, 1945. At the head of this letter is the same phoenix device within a ring bearing the words, " Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia", Mountbatten then being the first holder of that position.

I am unsure if the flag in the wedding photograph was the official flag of Mountbatten in his capacity as SAC, SEA. It seems odd to me that an allied supremo should have flown a defaced Union flag rather than something more neutral. If this flag did exist, was it also flown by Mountbatten's successor, Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, the second and last Supreme Commander between June and November, 1946?

It should be noted that the wedding of Mountbatten's daughter took place in October, 1946, after he had relinquished the post of Supreme Commander. If the flag was unofficial, it does not seem to have perturbed the late King George VI, who can be seen in the photograph thoroughly enjoying the occasion. I very much doubt whether such a vexillological faux pas (if that, indeed, is what it was) would have escaped the eagle eye of the King's late father.
Peter Johnson, 29 January 2006

The flag was requested by Mountbatten in a letter written to King George VI's Private Secretary on 25 September 1943. It was needed because his Deputy Chief of Staff, General Albert C. Wedemeyer, had Presidential approval to fly the flag of an American Commander-in-Chief, which was described as four stars with an eagle in the centre. There was no precedent for such a flag, but the King had given his consent, and the Admiralty approved it on 21 October 1943. It was assumed that the flag would be used only on land and should not be included in the Admiralty Flag Book, but that it would be promulgated in Admiralty Fleet Orders. An argument then developed as to how the flag should be described. On the draft Order the Fourth Sea Lord had crossed out "Union Flag" and substituted "Union Jack". The Director of Signals wrote that although Mountbatten had used the expression "Union Jack" in his letter it should be called the "Union Flag" in the AFO. The Head of the Naval Law Branch wrote that, "Union Flag and Union Jack are both used in King's Regulations and other official books. The former is older and more correct but the latter is sanctified by usage. Both terms may be taken as officially correct." However the view of the Director of Signals prevailed and it was called a defaced Union Flag in AFO 5435 of 18 November 1943, ref. NL 16585/43.
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/12551]
David Prothero, 15 February 2006

Detail of badge

[South East Asia Command] image located by David Prothero

The badge is that of Headquarters, Supreme Allied Command, South East Asia. The phoenix is blue rising from red flames on a white background within a blue ring, but was worn without the lettering on a uniform. It is supposed to symbolise Allied might rising from the ashes of Japanese-occupier territories. (Source: Cole, Howard: 'Formation badges of World War Two' (London, Arms & Armour Press, 1973)). With the exception of some USAAF personnel involved in supplying China, most of the Allied forces in SACSEA were drawn from Britain and the Empire (India, Burma, East and West Africa), so the choice of a union jack was not too strange, particularly when you combine it with the idea that it could be said to symbolise Britain coming to reclaim the parts of the Empire that had been over-run by the Japanese.
Ian Sumner, 30 January 2006

The illustration of the South East Asia Command badge shown above is taken from Heraldry in War by H.N.Cole and published by Gale & Polden in 1946. The book, Cole, Howard: 'Formation badges of World War Two' (London, Arms & Armour Press, 1973)) referred to by Ian Sumner is based upon the 1946 book. The 1973 book is, in detail, more comprehensive than the 1946 book, but the latter does have five colour plates, and two plates of black and white photographs, that are not in the 1973 book, which also has a different preface and  introduction. A 1943 drawing of the flag is in the National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/12551.
David Prothero, 30 January 2006

The badge of South East Asia Command is shown above. The badge on Lord Louis Mountbatten's flag was slightly different. The surrounding blue ring is wider. In the eight o'clock and four o'clock positions on this ring, adjacent to the jagged line where the red flames end, are two roughly circular indistinguishable red blobs. They could possibly be roses. In the arc of the blue ring above them SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER is written in red, and in the arc below them, SOUTH EAST ASIA, also in red. The coloured drawing of the flag, which is probably the one sent by Mountbatten when he requested the flag, is 8 x 11 inches.

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