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France: Army corps and service pennants, before 1933

Fanions de service

Last modified: 2006-12-23 by ivan sache
Keywords: army service pennant | fanion | munitions section | infantry | cross (red) | ambulance | hospital | telegraph | army post | umpire | letter: t (blue) | letter: p (green) |
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Introduction

The commanding officer's and service pennants that were used by the French Army are described and illustrated in Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle (6 vol., 1928), under the heading fanion, as follows:

Fanion (from fanon, itself from Old High German fano, piece of fabric).
Small flag used in several purposes, but without the characteristic of national symbol given to the (national) flag.

The oldest known form of fanion (1469) is found in an Edict by King of France Louis XI (1461-1483). The Edict organizes a corps of 16,000 franc-archers, who constituted the core of the national infantry. Each of the four Captain-Generals was preceded by a soldier bearing a white commanding pennant.
Today [1928], a full set of such commanding pennants are used in the French Army. They are assigned to General Officers, and are borne behind them by an escorting non-commissioned officer. The pennants should indicate to everyone where the officer stands.
The pennant should be droven in in front of the HQ entrance when the incumbent is inside the HQ. At night, the pennant is replaced with a lantern, whose glass colours match as far as possible the pennant colours.
Another set of pennants is used for signalling specific corps or services, such as munition sections, hospitals, postal services, telegraph services and umpires [officers who evaluate maneuvers].
However, since the end of the Great War [1914-1918], in order to limit investigation or spying by the enemy, it is avoided as far as possible to show the distinctive pennants of command units [this probably refers to the excessive visibility of the French infantry during the War, especially the famous blue and madder-coloured uniforms. The French staff did not anticipate that the War would be of technologic extermination but instead advocated the use of the prestigious, colourful uniforms of the XIXth century.]

The list of pennants given above should be completed with:
- ambulance pennants, rectangular in shape, with a red cross on a white field, which should be hoisted, along with a French Tricolore, on all ambulance cars, according to the Geneva convention.
- firing pennants, rectangular in shape and plain red, which are used to forbid the access to fire zones during exercises and to signal the shots.
- signal pennants or panels, square or fan-shaped, used for the statutory optic telegaph service.
- in-line pennants, distinctive pennants assigned to the battalions constituting a regiment; they are no longer [1928] statutory.

According to Pierre Charrié [chr92], these pennants seem to have been used for the first time in Algeria during the French conquest.

Ivan Sache, 16 July 2002

These pennants were contained, with some slight modifications, in the 1933 regulations, which were still in force in 1939.

Ian Sumner, 21 November 2000


Infantry Munition Sections

[Artillery depots]         [Artillery depots]

Pennants of the infantry munitions sections: 1st, 2nd and 3rd sections of the artillery depot (left) and 4th section of the artillery depot - Images by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

The pennant of the infantry munitions sections is plain yellow for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sections of the artillery depot and blue for the 4th section of the artillery depot. The size of the pennants is 0.65 m x 0.5 m.
The lantern is yellow or blue, respectively.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000


Ambulance and Field Hospitals

[Ambulance and field hospitals]

Pennants of ambulance and field hospitals -Image by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

The pennant of ambulance and field hospitals is in size 0.65 x 0.5 m, white with a red border and a red cross in the middle.
There are two lanters, one white and one red.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000


Telegraph Posts

[Telegraph posts]

Telegraph posts pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

The telegraph posts pennant is in size 0.65 x 0.5 m, white with a blue border and a blue T in the middle.
The lantern design is similar to the pennant's.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000


Army Postal Service

[Army postal service]

Army Postal Service pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

The Army Postal service pennant is in size 0.65 x 0.5 m, white with a green border and a green P in the middle.
The lantern design is similar to the pennant's.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000


Umpires (arbitres)

[Umpires]

Umpire's pennant - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

The umpire's pennant is in size 0.65 x 0.5 m, white with a red border.
The lantern is red.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2000

Umpires might have been similar to what the modern US terminology would call observer/controler (or OC) - personnel belonging to the unit executing an excercise or proffesionals from specialized institutions who follow the course of the exercise as "neutral side" and are consulted in after action reviews for evaluation of the exercise.

Željko Heimer, 23 November 2000

A wargaming expert could probably explain why at some obscure level a modern controller fills a completely different role than the umpire of the 1930s, but I've been a controller (in command post exercises, not in the field) and believe that the positions are functionally the same. I suspect the terminology was changed because someone objected to the sporting connotations in English of the word "umpire" and wanted to convey that wargames are not really games.

Joe McMillan, 23 November 2000

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