I recently saw an article about why some subs fly the Jolly Roger when returning from a successful mission. The tradition goes back to the British navy. Following the introduction of submarines in several navies, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, stated in 1901 that submarines were “underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English”, and that he would convince the Admiralty to have the crews of enemy submarines captured during wartime be hanged as pirates. Well, in September 1914, the British submarine HMS E9 successfully torpedoed the German cruiser SMS Hela. Remembering Wilson’s statement, commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Max Horton instructed his signaler to manufacture a Jolly Roger, which was flown from the submarine as she entered port. Each successful patrol saw Horton’s submarine fly an additional Jolly Roger until there was no more room for flags, at which point Horton had a large Jolly Roger manufactured, onto which bars indicating the ships they’d sunk were sewn. A number of countries adopted this practice including the U.S. Navy. Most recently, the USS Jimmy Carter returned from one of its secret missions with the skull and crossbones proudly on display. You can learn more about this fascinating bit of naval history by reading this article.
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