The RAF ‘South Africa’ title worn during The Battle of Britain

This is a famous ‘Battle of Britian” photograph of Squadron Leader Adolph “Sailor” Malan from South Africa sitting in a Royal Air Force Spitfire,  have a close look at his shoulder tab.

It’s a shoulder title issued to Royal Air Force (RAF) officers from South Africa, being ‘SOUTH AFRICA’ embroidered in light blue onto a RAF blue/grey arc of fabric.

During the Second World War many from Empire and Dominion countries joined the Royal Air Force, as did men from occupied countries such as Poland

Shoulder titles were worn to signify the wearer’s country of origin. The titles were usually embroidered in pale blue capitals on a black background, or red on khaki drill for tropical kit.

raf_nat_18mTitles for officers were usually curved, and rectangular for other ranks. Excluding those worn by personnel from occupied countries, there were 42 titles issued officially, plus a number of unofficial ones.

The wearing of such titles was abolished in the RAF April 1948. A title for South Africa was authorised in March 1941.



Researched by Peter Dickens. Images – Imperial War Museum copyright, collection of titles as shown in the collection shown courtesy Alex Bateman

5 thoughts on “The RAF ‘South Africa’ title worn during The Battle of Britain

  1. Dear Sir
    This classic image of “Sailor” Malan must have been taken in 1941 or later as he is wearing the Type C pattern flying helmet and not during the Battle of Britain.

    Being interested in nationality titles, my question is whether the shoulder title depicted is that of Malan or not.

    Best wishes



    • Hi Thorkild, this picture is sourced from the Imperial War Museum and carries with it the following caption “Group Captain A G ‘Sailor’ Malan, a South African who became an ace during the Battle of Britain and finished the war with 35 aerial victories. Photographed in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire at Biggin Hill, Kent”. The Imperial War Museum has not dated the image.
      On the Title, the title depicted in the image is not that of Sailor Malan, his would have been similar.


  2. Pingback: John Nettleton VC – an unknown South African Victoria Cross recipient | The Observation Post

  3. The photograph of the collection of shoulder titles is mine, of part of my own collection. I would appreciate being credited with it.


    Alex Bateman


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