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

7 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


  4. Dear Mr Dickens

    Thank you immensely for this fabulous website you’ve put together and maintain!
    I wonder if you could help me to search for my Dad’s records? He was in the RAF during WWll. He married my Mom, who was almost 18 years his junior two decades after the war. He died when she was 3 months pregnant with me and I would really like to find out more about his war service.

    Many thanks


    • Hi, the best course of action to find a military service record in South Africa is to contract an archive researcher working in the SANDF archives. I can only recommend on people I know who are accredited in this area but I cannot personally cannot take responsibility for their service, that is a matter between you and the researcher. I have one person who carries a good reputation, his name is Dewald Nel and he can be reached on the following e-mail:


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