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Sovereign Military Order of Malta - Signal Flags

Last modified: 2012-01-21 by rob raeside
Keywords: malta | smom | sovereign and military order of malta | christian orders | signal flags |
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Historical Signal Flags

I came across images of part of a series of stamps issued by the Order of Malta (SMOM) concerning signals used by the Order's Navy. While only the first set of four seems to be entirely focused on flag signals, I thought I would pass all eight images in the hope that the old-fashioned (Italian?) inscriptions can be deciphered.
Here are the stamps series: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.
Mike Oettle, 27 February 2004

Here are my fragmentary translations of the texts on the signal flag stamps. The pictures (four per stamp) are numbered clockwise, beginning with the top left one. I only translated the flag-related texts (i.e. on the last stamp only the fourth picture). Words which I don't understand I put in round brackets (), personal comments are in square brackets [].
Martin Karner, 24 March 2006

Redrawn images of these flags are shown below the stamps.

(1) Standard (al Galcese) of the triangle sail / Sign for retreat.
(2) Galley (Sensile) standard unfolded at the (Galcese) of the main mast and a longish smoke / Sign for asking help.
(3) Flag at the small boat (?) of the main ship; departure one day later; (un tivo di cannone e trinchetto alla cola) departure one hour later.
(4) Flamed flag at the (Galcese) of the triangle sail during the "hunt" [i.e. the following] / the galleys which were in front had to (louar Remo) or to lower (?) the sails.
(1) Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign for shooting. In haste [raised] above the helmsman: sign that the other galleys have to follow the main ship.
(2) Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to "make the middle mast" [prob. to hoist the sail at the middle mast]. In haste [raised] above the helmsman: sign to "make water" [prob. to speed up]
(3) At the helmsman: raised once: hoist the "Marabutto" [small sail for hard wind]. Twice: the "Marabuttino" [sail which must have been smaller than the Marabutto]. Three times: the "Mezzana" [sail at the middle mast]. Four times: the "Veletta" [=lookout; prob. somebody had to go there]. Five times: the (Treo) go/move at day (G) "Maestra" [prob. main mast] (e non facendosi, de un?). Sign to make the [unreadable]
(4) In haste above the helmsman: sign to give wine to the rowers.
(1) Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to hoist the "Marabutto" sail.
(2) Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to hoist the "Veletta" sail.
(3) In haste above the helmsman: sign to take the (Rimburchio) / After the taking of the (Rimburchio), placed again on the same place: sign to leave it.
(4) Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to go on land, and (maneggiato = fixed?) the triangle sail … the galley (sensile al galcese) of the triangle sail. Sign that the (Gol?) wants to negotiate with the (Padrono Reale Alberata) at the "Antenna" [sort of mast] of the triangle sail. Sign to [unreadable] with (Artigueria) in its (Resto) of the (Pennatto Sagno? Di salueraschi) with the (Moschetteria)
 (1) Galley (Sensile) standard indicating to the main mast: sign to unfold the sail / Standard shown at the triangle sail: sign to unfold the (sospetta) sail.
(2) Galley (Sensile) at the (Penna) of the triangle sail, and then taken to the (Gol?) on the wind (?). [Smoke:] Sign of recognising at day: galley maintaining two smokes.
(3) Flamed flag at the (Calcese) of the main ship. Sign for the armament of the crew (sopra coperta).
(4) Flamed flag at the (Penna) of the triangle sail. Sign to land (di Fontaria). After the landing placed again: sign of re-embarkment.
(4) Two small flags, one placed at the (Bondino), the other at the (Sarchie) of the triangle flag. Sign to take the other "board"/side [to change the direction]

Source: http://www.orderofmalta.org/img/francobolli/1977/ (series 38 and 39)

Martin Karner, 24 March 2006


Redrawn images of the flags on SMOM stamps

1. Red forked flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A long (~2:5) red, tapering flag with two triangular tips and deep indentation. It shows three uses:

1.1. In stamp [00860], SE quadrant, "Flamed flag at the (Galcese) of the triangle sail during the "hunt" [i.e. the following] / the galleys which were in front had to (louar Remo) or to lower (?) the sails."
1.2. In stamp [00863], SW quadrant, "Flamed flag at the (Calcese) of the main ship. Sign for the armament of the crew (sopra coperta)."
1.3. In stamp [00863], SE quadrant, "Flamed flag at the (Penna) of the triangle sail. Sign to land (di Fontaria). After the landing placed again: sign of re-embarkment."  This is the only use for a hanging flag (horizontal hoist) in the whole series.

2. Green triangular flag with square bottom hoist

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A long (~2:5) green, triangular with the bottom edge orthogonal to the hoist. It shows four uses:

2.1. In stamp [00860], NW quadrant, "Standard (al Galcese) of the triangle sail / Sign for retreat."
2.2. In stamp [00860], NE quadrant, "Galley (Sensile) standard unfolded at the (Galcese) of the main mast and a longish smoke / Sign for asking help"
2.3. In stamp [00863], NW quadrant, "Galley (Sensile) standard indicating to the main mast: sign to unfold the sail / Standard shown at the triangle sail: sign to unfold the (sospetta) sail.
2.4. In stamp [00863], NE quadrant, "Galley (Sensile) at the (Penna) of the triangle sail, and then taken to the (Gol?) on the wind (?). [Smoke:] Sign of recognising at day: galley maintaining two smokes.

3. Red square flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A squarish (~5:6) red flag. In stamp [00861], SE quadrant, "In haste above the helmsman: sign to give wine to the rowers."

4. Green square flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A squarish (~5:6) green flag. It shows four uses:
4.1. In stamp [00860], SW quadrant, "Flag at the small boat (?) of the main ship; departure one day later; (un tivo di cannone e trinchetto alla cola) departure one hour later."
4.2. In stamp [00861], SW quadrant, "At the helmsman: raised once: hoist the "Marabutto" [small sail for hard wind]. Twice: the "Marabuttino" [sail which must have been smaller than the Marabutto]. Three times: the "Mezzana" [sail at the middle mast]. Four times: the "Veletta" [=lookout; prob. somebody had to go there]. Five times: the (Treo) go/move at day (G) "Maestra" [prob. main mast] (e non facendosi, de un?). Sign to make the [unreadable]"
4.3. In stamp [00862], SW quadrant, "In haste above the helmsman: sign to take the (Rimburchio) / After the taking of the (Rimburchio), placed again on the same place: sign to leave it."
4.4. In stamp [00862], SE quadrant, "Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to go on land, and (maneggiato = fixed?) the triangle sail; the galley (sensile al galcese) of the triangle sail. Sign that the (Gol?) wants to negotiate with the (Padrono Reale Alberata) at the "Antenna" [sort of mast] of the triangle sail. Sign to [unreadable] with (Artigueria) in its (Resto) of the (Pennatto Sagno? Di salueraschi) with the (Moschetteria)"

5. Yellow square flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A squarish (~5:6) yellow flag. It shows two uses:
5.1. In stamp [00861], NW quadrant, "Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign for shooting. In haste [raised] above the helmsman: sign that the other galleys have to follow the main ship."
5.2. In stamp [00862], NE quadrant, "Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to hoist the "Veletta" sail.Â"

6. Red-yellow square flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A squarish (~5:6) flag divided horizontally in two equal parts, red over yellow. In stamp [00862], NW quadrant, "Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to hoist the "Marabutto" sail."

7. Green-yellow square flag

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008

A squarish (~5:6) flag divided horizontally in two equal parts, green over yellow. In stamp [00861], NE quadrant, "Raised in the bows (del Fanale): sign to "make the middle mast" [prob. to hoist the sail at the middle mast]. In haste [raised] above the helmsman: sign to "make water" [prob. to speed up]"

António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 August 2008


18th Century Signaling Manual Flags

An 18th Century signaling manual by an unknown author at the Malta National Maritime Museum shows the following usages of flags.

image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

Combination no.21
It is a red triangular pennant, ratio est. 1:4, topped by a horizontal blue over red rectangular bicolour, ratio est. 1:2.
Purpose: to be hoisted at the yard of the mainmast(?) Italian comment: “Galera, incommodata nell’ antenna di Maestro.”
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

Combination no.22
It is a triangular pennant with a white cross shifted to the hoist, ratio est. 1:4, topped by a horizontal blue over red rectangular bicolour, ratio est. 1:2.
Purpose: to be hoisted at the yard of the foremast(?) Italian comment: “Galera, incommodata nell’ antenna di Trinchetto.”
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

Combination no.23
It is a white triangular pennant, ratio est. 1:4, topped by a horizontal blue over red rectangular bicolour, ratio est. 1:2.
Purpose: cannot pick up injured comrades(?) Italian comment: “Galera, che non puole prendere il molliagio”
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

Combination no.24
It is a blue triangular pennant, ratio est. 1:4, topped by a horizontal blue over red rectangular bicolour, ratio est. 1:2. At the hoist of the pennant is a pattern like a “Union Jack” without St. Patrick’s cross.
Purpose: will release a towed ship(?) Italian comment: “Galera, che vuole lasciare il Rimurchio.”
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008

Combination no.25
It is a red flag with two rows, each containing two white crescents and a yellow 6-point star, made of six lozenges, in the middle.
Purpose: to send something or someone to the shore(?) Italian comment: “Galera, che vuole mandare il’ suo compratore in Terra”
Source: Signalling manual 18th century of unknown author/ Malta National Maritime Museum.

It must also be mentioned that a flag is reported similar to no.25 with purpose: "call all surgeons to report on flagship". As the flag’s purpose remains unclear, I have denoted it by number as given in the manual.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 4 November 2008


 
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