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Guidons and Pennons

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: guidon | pennon |
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I've been thinking the matter over and just to set the record straight it should be noted that horse cavalry survived well into the 20th century. It played a major role in the WW I Middle East campaigns and also on the Eastern Front in both world wars. Of course, it came to be used essentially as mounted infantry, but Todd Mills is right in saying that Churchill's claim was (ahem) somewhat inflated.

I confess I don't know if US-style guidons evolved from lance pennons; it seems unlikely as the US Army has never featured lancers (with the single exception of Rush's Lancers, a Civil War era Pennsylvania volunteer cavalry regiment whose pennons were crimson with a scarlet binding; there may have existed other such volunteer lancer units).

The red-over-white guidons of the US cavalry arm date from at least 1830; in 1833 two versions were specified: with "US" in white on the red half and a company letter in red on the white half, and with "US" over "DRAGOONS" in white on the red half and a company letter in red on the white half. The 1st and 2nd Dragoons were redesignated the 1st and 2nd Cavalry in 1861. They had been distinguished from the rest of the cavalry by orange piping, cap cords, etc., but upon reorganization they were supposed to have adopted yellow. However, the old uniforms with orange piping were probably kept in use until they wore out.

Nowadays all branches of the Army use guidons as company/battery/troop designating flags; I've posted numerous examples. Those of the cavalry are quite similar to those used before and during the Civil War but with the regimental and, if applicable, battalion numbers in place of the "US". For some time at the end of the Civil War and into the 1870s, cavalry guidons were changed to a Stars-and-Stripes pattern but eventually the old style was reinstated.

The current cavalry guidons are one example of a "tradition" element in US Army flags. Another is the "national flag blue" field and yellow fringe of infantry colors. Infantry branch colors are light blue and white; if the infantry followed the normal rules, their colors would have a light blue field with white fringe. In memory of the old Standard of the United States and early regimental colors, however, they are the dark blue of the canton of the US flag with yellow fringe.

To return to the source of lancer traditions, the interwar (1920-1939) Polish Army had a large cavalry arm -- in total 27 regiments of lancers, 10 of mounted rifles and 3 of light horse. Each regiment had a distinctive lance pennon which was also worn in miniature as a collar patch, e.g. that of the 1st Lancers was Polish crimson over white and that of the 6th Mounted Rifles was dark green over white. There was also a generic pennon patch for the cavalry arm as a whole which was Polish crimson over dark blue. No regiment, however, appears to have used the traditional white-over-red pennon.

The horse artillery, mounted pioneers, signals units and antitank battalions of motorized brigades also had pennon-shaped collar patches. Armored (tank) troops wore a triangular black-over-orange pennon-type collar patch. Though I don't know for sure, I suppose that none of these latter units had an actual lance pennon to correspond with their patches; however, it is possible that they existed for parade/ceremonial purposes. Can anyone confirm this?
Tom Gregg, 1 September 1997

Took out my trusty Uniforms of the World by R. Knotel, H. Knotel, and H.Seig to see if I could find any additional info on pennons. There were several descriptions, but not entirely satisfactory for drawing them. Unfortunately, the plates are black and white with shading and are very small, so it was difficult to use them to any effect. As Tom illustrated, the shape of the pennons differed from era to era, but all appeared to be swallow-tailed. These uncertainties makes it difficult to render them accurately. Anyway, this is what I found:

  • Austro-Hungary: black over yellow from 1809 to 1866, not carried after that.
  • Belgium: tricolored black, red, and yellow in 1890, with the third color in a triangle from the fly to the vee on the swallow-tail. It was impossible to tell if the triangle was red or yellow.
  • French: In 1810, five regiment of lancers with red and white pennons, two regiments with white and carmine. By 1815 they were red over white over blue. and from 1858 white and red. Disbanded in 1871.
  • Brunswick: originally like Prussia (white/black), later blue and yellow.
  • Saxony: white over green in 1905.
  • Italy: light cavalry (not lancers) had sky blue pennons in 1843
  • Kingdom of Italy: royal blue in 1890.
  • Parma: guides had red, yellow, and blue pennon. Poor illustration suggests that the yellow stripe was half the height of the other colors.
  • Netherlands: orange over white from ca 1822 to 1867.
  • Portugal: light blue and white in 1890.
  • Rumania: top regimental color; bottom red in 1890.
  • Spain: always the royal colors of red over yellow.
  • Turkey: red in 1890.

That's it! Would appreciate any info that you can add. Incidentally, I don't know the significance of the frequent mention of 1890 . . . perhaps an especially significant reference work.
Al Fisher, 8 September 1997

Recently some lance pennons were posted to the list. I comment only on a few.

  • Wuttemberg changed in 1871 the order from black over red to red over black.
  • Oldenburg did not have troops with lance prior 1871, and after this date used red over blue (troops) and blue with black eagle (corporals).
  • Baden did not have troops with lance prior 1871 and after this date used red over yellow (troops) and white with black eagle (corporals).
  • Prussian troops used the white over black, and corporals white with black eagle.

Source: David Drake-Brockman, Flag Bulletin XXIV 1/109
Jaume Ollé, 17 September 1997