List of Rainbow Codes

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The Rainbow Codes were a series of code names used to disguise the nature of various British military research projects. They were mainly used by the Ministry of Supply from the end of the Second World War until 1958, when the ministry was broken up and its functions distributed among the forces. The codes were replaced by an alphanumeric code system.


During WWII, British intelligence was able to glean details of new German technologies simply by considering their code names. For instance, when they began hearing of a new system known as Wotan, Reginald Victor Jones asked around and found that Wotan was a one-eyed god. Based on this, he guessed it was a radio navigation system using a single radio beam. This proved correct, and the Royal Air Force was able to quickly render it useless through jamming.[1]

Looking to avoid making this sort of mistake, Ministry of Supply (MoS) initiated a system that would be entirely random, while still being easy to remember. Each rainbow code name was constructed from a randomly selected colour, plus an (often appropriate) noun taken from a list, for example:

While most colour and noun combinations were meaningless, some were real names, although quite unrelated to the project they designated. For example, "Black Maria" is also a name for a police van and the "Red Duster" is a name for the Red Ensign, the flag flown by British merchant ships. Some code names were not assigned through the official system, but created to sound like it. An example is the Blue Yeoman radar, an unofficial name created by combining the names of two other projects, Blue Riband and Orange Yeoman.

The names were mostly dropped with the end of the Ministry in 1959. Its functions were split between the War Office, the Air Ministry - and the newly created Ministry of Aviation for civil aviation. After the reorganization, projects were mostly named with randomly selected codes comprising two letters and three digits, e.g. BL755, WE.177. Rainbow codes have occasionally been used for some modern systems; current examples include the Orange Reaper Electronic Support Measures system and the Blue Vixen radar[2] - most likely because it was a replacement for the Blue Fox radar.










  • Pink Hawk - early name for Fairey Fireflash missile. As this was a "reduced" version of the Red Hawk, it is a rare example of Rainbow Codes having some implied meaning, rather than their usual purely deliberately meaningless choice.





Non-Rainbow codes[edit]

Several British military related terms have a similar "colour" format to Rainbow Codes, but are not since they do not refer to classified research projects, and some names have been used unofficially. These include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, R (1978). Most Secret War. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. p. 120. ISBN 0-241-89746-7.
  2. ^ "Blue Vixen radar (United Kingdom), AIRBORNE RADAR SYSTEMS". Jane's Avionics. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Aviation Book Review". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  5. ^ "Vulcan's Hammer". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  6. ^ PRO. AVIA 65/1193 E10A. Tech Note GW375 p.2
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 September 2005. Retrieved 2005-11-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Cullen, Tony & Foss, Christopher F. (1991) Jane’s Land-Based Air Defence 1990–91, Jane’s Information Group, London: ISBN 0-7106-0915-9
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Crecy Publishing Ltd. "Vulcan's Hammer". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  11. ^ British Secret Projects: Jet Bombers Since 1949 Tony Buttler Midland Publishing 2003
  12. ^ a b c d "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "1959 | 2460 | Flight Archive". 25 September 1959. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  14. ^ The Handley Page Victor, Roger R Brooks, 2007, Pen & Sword Books Limited, ISBN 978 1 84415 411 1 p.197
  15. ^ Anthony G Williams (13 May 2011). "THE RED QUEEN AND THE VIGILANTE". Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Jobson P. (2008) Royal Artillery Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations, The History Press, Stroud: 316 pp.
  18. ^ "Airborne DF has existed for over 50 years". PPRuNe - Professional Pilots Rumour Network. 22 September 2010.
  19. ^ Forster, Dave (2016). Black Box Canberras. Hinoki. pp. 210, 249. ISBN 1902109538.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  20. ^ "Falklands 25". Fast Air Photography.
  21. ^ Morgan, David (2012). Hostile Skies. Hachette. p. 165. ISBN 1780225008.
  22. ^ "Royal Air Force Yearbook 1976". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  23. ^ Campbell, Duncan (17 April 1981). "The Wings of the Green Parrot". New Statesman. p. 9.
  24. ^ Duncan Campbell (1986). The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier: American Military Power in Britain. Paladin Grafton Books. p. 104.
  25. ^ Davis, R.A. (1993). "Concorde Power Plant Fire Protection System". Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology. 43 (5): 26–30.

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