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World War II Wiki
World War II Wiki

The rate insignia of a Pharmacist's Mate, First Class.

During World War II, the United States Navy maintained a pay grade system similar to that of Navies around the world. Based on a structured system of three enlisted pay grades, four non-commissioned officer pay grades, two warrant officer pay grades, and ten officer pay grades, the title of the individual sailor changes depending on their rating and speciality. While across the board, enlisted and non-commissioned officer pay rates are designated as seamen, petty officers, and chief petty officers, their actual titles vary. Examples include Bosun's Mate, Pharmacist's Mate, Gunner's Mate, Machinist's Mate, etc.

Accordingly, the insignia of each rating changes depending rate, with a variety of rating symbols corresponding to each speciality. 


Rank Insignia

The primary means of rank, rating, and experience identification in the United States Navy during World War II was dependent on uniform and rank insignia found on the upper arm and the cuffs. While Seamen and Petty Officers wore the typical white fatigue cap and rig, the Chief Petty Officer's uniform was nearly identicle to the Navy officer's uniform, with the exception of a special cap emblem and his rank insiginia.[1] In the chart shown below, each rank insignia denotes a Boatswain, or Bosun, by displaying its rating device between the perched eagle and the chevrons. 

The Navy separated personnel between the executive branch, which was charged with operating ships, and the line branch, which was the corps branch. If in the corps branch, the petty officer would wear their insignia on the left sleeve, and if in the executive branch, the right sleeve. While the standard color of the sailor's chevrons and service stripes are red, through twelve-years of no bad conduct warranting judicial review or court martial, one could earn the right to display gold insignia. Red or gold embroidered insignia would be worn on black cloth on winter uniforms, and black embroidered insignia would be worn on white cloth on summer uniforms. Non-commissioned officers could also earn the right to display service stripes on their cuff. Each stripe denotes four-years of service.

Unlike Petty Officer's, Seaman's rank insignia was placed lower on the cuff with no sleeve insignia, although Service Stripes could be earned.  Random note: the eagle, a symbol for not only the Americans, but also to the Germans and Italians in some form appears on all naval rank insignia from petty officer third class up.

Rating Title Sleeve Insignia Cuff Insignia Pay Grade
Apprentice Seaman
Seaman, Second Class
Seaman, First Class
Petty Officer, Third Class Petty Officer 3rd Class.png
Petty Officer, Second Class Petty Officer 2nd Class.png
Petty Officer, First Class Petty Officer 4th Class.png
Chief Petty Officer Chief Petty Officer.png 1, 1A

Pay Grade

Established in 1942, the United States Navy had a set system of salary for its enlisted men. This system was based on the class or rating of the sailor. In addition to the standard salary, the awards of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, or the Navy Cross granted the recipient an additional $2.00 per month. After one year of service, a $35.00 clothing allowance was granted to be paid in quarterly installments of $8.75. Sailors stationed in unfurnished quarters, depending on their station, were granted an additional $2.75 to $5.00 per day. For three years of service, the base pay of the sailor increased by 3%.[2] The baseline pay scale is as follows:

Grade Monthly Salary Class or Rating
1 $138 Chief Petty Officer, Permanent Appointment
1A $126 Chief Petty Officer, Acting Appointment
2 $114 Petty Officer, First Class
3 $96 Petty Officer, Second Class
4 $78 Petty Officer, Third Class
5 $66 Seaman, First Class
6 $54 Seaman, Second Class
7 $50 Apprentice Seaman


The United States Navy, as it does currently, maintained a system of ratings depending on the sailor's skills, abilities, and responsibilities. Each rating has its own device which is worn on the sleeve insignia for Petty Officers, and on the cuff and shoulder insignia for corps officers.

Rating Rating Badge Responsibility
Aerographer Make weather observations.
Airship Rigger Know the control and mooring of airships, and meteorology.
Apprentice Seaman

Know naval drill duties, tie knots, and stand watch.

Commissioned Officers

Rank Insignia

Officer Insignia images and pay grades from Navy Mil Website[3]

Rating Title Collar Insignia Shoulder Insignia Cuff Insignia Pay Grade
Ensign Ensclr.gif Ens-sb.gif Ens-sl.gif O-1
Lieutenant Junior Grade Ltjgclr.gif Ltjg-sb.gif Ltjg-sl.gif O-2
Lieutenant Lt-col.gif Lt-sb.gif Lt-sl.gif O-3
Lieutenant Commander Lcdrclr.gif Lcdr-sb.gif Lcdr-sl.gif O-4
Commander Cdr-clr.gif Cdr-sb.gif Cdr-sl.gif O-5
Captain Captclr.gif Capt-sb.gif Capt-sl.gif O-6
Rear Admiral (Lower Half) Radmlclr.gif Radml-sb.gif Radml-sl.gif O-7
Rear Admiral Upper Half) Radm-clr.gif Radm-sb.gif Radm-sl.gif O-8
Vice Admiral Vadm-clr.gif Vadm-sb.gif Vadm-sl.gif O-9
Admiral Adm-clr.gif Adm-sb.gif Adm-sl.gif O-10
Fleet Admiral
Established December 1944 [4] and reserved for war time use only.[3]
Fadm-clr.gif Fadm-sb.gif Fadm-sl.gif O-11


  1. Andrew Mollo: The Armed Forces of World War II. Orbis, London 1981, ISBN 978-0517544785, p. 155-156.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Navy Mil Website
  4. McMurtrie, Francis E. (Editor) Jane's Fighting Ships of World War 2. Tiger Books International. ISBN 0517679639 Page 254