“Sailing Under False Colors” An Historic Ruse De Guerre

Hank Whipple


This article examines the etymology, some historical highlights and today’s relevancy of the everyday expression “flying false colors.” The ruse de guerre was resorted to by all navies during the age of fighting sail. Our focus will be primarily on its Anglo-American application. The terrestrial use of flying false colors is contrary to modern international law. However, its naval application is still condoned by the Geneva Conventions and encompasses only the use of flags but not modern electronic means of identification.

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