Supply Officer (Royal Navy) - Lists, Promotion and Entry

Lists, Promotion and Entry

With the formation of the Royal Navy's General List (GL) in 1956, Supply Officers no longer wore the white distinction cloth between the gold lace on their uniform and became indistinguishable from officers of the executive branch or the engineering branches. However, Pursers in the British Merchant Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary continue to wear a white distinction cloth.

The General List (GL) of 1956 standardized the promotion opportunities of its officers, regardless of branch, although there remained some minor differences. Thus, a Lieutenant of eight year's seniority was automatically promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, with retirement generally at age 50 unless promoted to a higher rank; and for Supply Officers, Commanders were selected from Lieutenant-Commanders of at least three-and-a-half year's seniority, and retired at age 53; Captains were promoted from among Commanders with at least six years in the rank. Captains retired on reaching nine year's seniority in the rank, or at age 55, whichever was the earlier, unless selected for promotion to Rear-Admiral. Commodore was, until the late 1990s, reserved for a few senior appointments but is now a formal rank achieved by selection from Captain. GL supply officers were thus able to serve in a much wider range of appointments, such as shore command, naval attaché, intelligence; indeed none of the posts held by the six serving supply officer admirals in 1991 would have been open to a pusser before 1956.

The substantive rank of Lieutenant-Commander had been formally introduced in March, 1914. However, in 1875, Senior Lieutenants of eight years' standing began to be distinguishable to the naked eye from his more junior brother; he was, in that year, allowed to add to his full dress uniform the now well-known "half-stripe" of quarter-inch gold lace between the two distinctive rings of half-inch braid which the ordinary Lieutenant wore, and by 1877 he could wear it in undress uniform too. "Senior Lieutenant" had thus become a rank in all but name. From 1914, promotion to Lieutenant-Commander was automatic on reaching eight years' seniority as a Lieutenant though, in around the year 2000, this has changed and the "half-stripe" is now achieved only by selection.

Supply branch ratings had, in common with ratings from other branches of the Royal Navy, long been offered the opportunity of promotion from the lower deck. There were two avenues of receiving a commission. The Upper Yardman scheme (entering Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), Dartmouth, Devon, as a Cadet or Midshipman, under terms similar to those direct from civilian life) was open to those supply branch ratings under the age of about 25. Such ratings were called CW candidates, and they were specially reported on for selection to attend the Admiralty Interview Board before final selection for promotion and entry to BRNC.

The second avenue of promotion from rating to commissioned officer was to the Special Duties (SD) List. Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers could, with the approval of their Commanding Officer, become a CW candidate (an 'SD candidate') and such supply branch senior ratings were similarly specially reported on with a view to promotion to officer, generally between the ages of 28 and 35, though most were in their early 30s when promoted to Acting Sub-Lieutenant on the Special Duties List. Unlike GL and SL (see below) officers, SD officers retained their former rating branch specialisation; for example the Supply Officer (Cash) of a large warship or shore establishment would typically be a Lieutenant (SD)(S)(W), the (W) indicating that he is a commissioned officer from the Writer branch of ratings. SD officers were, of course, promoted from all supply branches - Writer (W), Stores Assistant/Accountant (S) or (V), Cook (CK), Officer's Steward/Steward or Caterer (CA). Once confirmed as a Sub-Lieutenant, an SD officer was promoted Lieutenant after three years; promotion to Lieutenant-Commander (SD) was by selection and, from these, a very small number were promoted to Commander from 1966 onwards. Retirement was generally compulsory at age 50. A few SD officers were further selected for transfer to the General List, seniority being adjusted on transfer, so as to level the promotion opportunities (generally these officers were earmarked as likely to reach the rank of Commander). In the 1970s, to make up for certain branch shortages, some Chief Petty Officers, age over 35, from the supply branch were selected and promoted Temporary Acting Sub-Lieutenant (SD), a few of whom were later promoted to Temporary Lieutenant (SD). By the 1980s, Supply Officers were no longer necessarily being appointed according to the List they were on (GL, SD or SL); it was not uncommon to find, in different ships in the same squadron or flotilla, a pusser in supply charge from each List.

Prior to the introduction of the Special Duties List in 1956, some senior ratings were selected for promotion to Warrant Officer on the Branch List, with subsequent possible promotion (from 1864) to Commissioned Warrant Officer; from 1946, officer rank was achieved by commission rather than by warrant. Of the old "standing officers" (the Master, Boatswain, Gunner and Carpenter) from the days of sail, the Cook was the first to lose his status as a full-blown Warrant Officer and head of his own department; indeed, an order of 1704 helped him in his downward career as, in future, in the appointment of Cooks, the Navy Board was "to give the preference to such cripples and maimed persons as are pensioners of the chest at Chatham". Warrant Officers lived in a separate mess - the gunroom - from Wardroom officers and, by the 1800s, wore one thin stripe of gold sleeve lace with, from 1864, for supply branch officers, the white distinction cloth below. The Warrant Officer's dress uniform was instituted in 1787. In all other respects they were treated as for commissioned officers. A Commissioned Warrant Officer wore the same sleeve lace as a Sub-Lieutenant - one gold stripe proper; these officers lived in the Wardroom mess.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, recruitment targets for Supply Officers were generally met, no doubt owing in part to the slightly lower standards for eyesight - executive officers were not recruited if they needed any corrective lenses but Supply Officers were. Thus there was no real need for a Supplementary List (SL) of Supply Officers and it was not until 1966 that the Admiralty Board introduced a scheme for SL Supply Officers. Even then, SL(S) was exclusively for a maximum of three supply branch ratings each year on the Upper Yardman scheme; there was no direct recruitment from civilians as a Supplementary List pusser, though this appears to have been introduced in the 1990s. Supplementary List officers were offered 10 year short-service commissions, with the opportunity to extend to 16 years and beyond, should the exigencies of the Service require; promotion to Lieutenant-Commander (SL)(S) was by selection and only one officer from this scheme was promoted to Commander (SL)(S) - Commander J R (Russ) Cameron on 1 October 1993. SL Supply Officers, like other branch SL officers, were afforded the opportunity to transfer to the General List by selection.

As at 31 March 1996, there were 575 Supply Officers, male and female, of all lists and ranks, from Midshipman to Rear-Admiral, serving in the Royal Navy (source: The Navy List 1996 (HMSO)). Three were Rear-Admirals, 26 Captain (S) and 85 Commander (S) and some 28 (Lieutenants (S) and above) were qualified as barristers. In 1998, the General, Special Duties and Supplementary Lists were abolished, all officers being on one, common, List. The Navy List of 2006 lists 581 Logistics Officers, of whom 131 are women: there is one Rear-Admiral, 3 Commodores, 20 Captains, 97 Commanders, 154 Lieutenant-Commanders, 249 Lieutenants, 56 Sub-Lieutenants and one Midshipman; 78 of the male officers had qualified as a submariner and 26 of the branch as barristers.

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