A term used in the British Navy during the days of sail to denote a post-captain promoted to rear admiral on retirement without ever serving in that rank. The term dates from the days before 1864 when British admirals took their rank from their squadronal colour. There was no yellow squadron so a ‘yellow admiral’ therefore had no rank at all in the flag list.
The pressure to create ‘yellow admirals’ arose after the Napoleonic War (1803–15) when the list of post-captains was so large that the prospect of promotion was remote. Under the system of promotion then prevailing, every officer who had reached post-captain's rank was automatically promoted when his seniority brought him to the top of the list and a vacancy in the flag list occurred. It was to keep some movement in these lists that post-captains, on reaching the top by seniority, were promoted to flag rank and placed on the retired list on the following day, so that they did not automatically swell the rear-admirals' list.
Subjects: Maritime History.