List of Rainbow Codes

Not to be confused with Rainbow table.

The Rainbow Codes were a series of code names used to disguise the nature of various British military research projects. They were mainly used from after the Second World War until 1958, when they were replaced by an alphanumeric code system.


The Ministry of Supply (MoS) initiated the idea because, during World War II, the British realised that although the code-names of some German secret projects could be cryptic, they often provided useful clues as to their nature. For example, basic characteristics of a new German radio navigation device known as Wotan (which used a single radio beam) were inferred by the British before it entered service with the Luftwaffe. This was because the system was named after the one-eyed god of the same name, which offered British scientists a useful hint.[1] The intention of rainbow codes was to clearly and uniquely identify British projects, whilst not providing any hints or clues regarding their characteristics.

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.

The names were mostly dropped with the end of the Ministry in 1959. Its functions were transferred to the War Office, the Air Ministry that handled military aviation, and the newly created Ministry of Aviation in charge of civil aviation. After the reorganization, projects were mostly named with randomly selected codes comprising two letters and three digits, e.g. BL755, WE.177. However, rainbow codes continue to be used with some modern systems; current examples include the Blue Vixen radar[2] and the Orange Reaper Electronic Support Measures system.


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Non-Rainbow codes

Several British military related terms have a similar 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


  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 2009-08-08.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  4. "Aviation Book Review". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  5. "Vulcan's Hammer". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  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.
  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.
  10. Crecy Publishing Ltd. "Vulcan's Hammer". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  11. British Secret Projects: Jet Bombers Since 1949 Tony Buttler Midland Publishing 2003
  12. 1 2 3 4 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  13. "1959 | 2460 | Flight Archive". 1959-09-25. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-20.
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
  16. Jobson P. (2008) Royal Artillery Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations, The History Press, Stroud: 316 pp.
  17. "Airborne DF has existed for over 50 years.". PPRuNe - Professional Pilots Rumour Network. 22 September 2010.
  18. "Falklands 25". Fast Air Photography.
  19. Morgan, David (2012). Hostile Skies. Hachette. p. 165. ISBN 1780225008.
  20. "Royal Air Force Yearbook 1976". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  21. Campbell, Duncan (17 April 1981). "The Wings of the Green Parrot". New Statesman. p. 9.
  22. Duncan Campbell (1986). The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier: American Military Power in Britain. Paladin Grafton Books. p. 104.
  23. Davis, R.A. (1993). "Concorde Power Plant Fire Protection System". Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology. 43 (5): 26–30.

External links

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