QuickCheck: Do any ships still fly the Jolly Roger today?

FROM movies on the silver screen like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to manga-anime-live action sensation One Piece and a whole host of video games, documentaries, comics and art in between – the black-and-white skull and crossbones motif of the "Jolly Roger" flag is well known.

However, is this black flag, which is generally associated with the cannon-armed pirate ships of the classic age of sail, a relic of the past?

However, some have also claimed that some ships still fly the Jolly Roger. Is there any truth to this?



Yes, traditions allow for a distinct type of warship to fly the Jolly Roger – although they spend most of their time many metres beneath the waves.

Basically, submarines are allowed to fly the skull-and-crossbones flag associated with pirate ships of the 17th and 18th Century.

This stems from a tradition that began at the end of the 19th and the dawn of the 20th century when these vessels were being introduced into the modern navies of the day.

Back then, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson of the British Royal Navy famously compared submariners to pirates – he went on record in 1901 saying that they should be hanged like the buccaneers of old because they were "underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English."

This led to a push-back from submarine crews, who began a tradition of flying the Jolly Roger whenever they returned to their home port from a successful combat operation at sea.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham museum in the United Kingdom explains how it started by saying that the tradition began in World War One with then-Lieutenant Commander, later Admiral Sir Max Horton, as he flew the Jolly Roger off HMS E9 after successful patrols.

The museum explained on its website that Horton first flew a separate flag for each successful patrol but later switched to a single large flag onto which symbols were sewn on to indicate the submarine's achievements.

"Flying the Jolly Roger was adopted by some other submarine commanders in the First World War, but not all and while it was not approved by the Admiralty, they were unable to stop it," it added.

The museum then added that this became a tradition, as the practice of flying the Jolly Roger resumed during World War Two.

"In the Second World War, the practice was widely adopted, although not by all submarine commanders. Many submarine flotilla commanders issued a Jolly Roger to a submarine when it returned from its first successful patrol," it said.

It then added that as it became entrenched in tradition, it was continued right through the decades since and gave an example of how a Jolly Roger was flown by HMS Conqueror on her return from the Falklands War in 1982.

And with that said, the Royal Navy isn't the only one where submarines are known to fly the Jolly Roger – the United States Navy has a similar tradition, with one of the most recent incidents known on record being the USS Jimmy Carter sailing into port flying the skull-and-crossbones in 2017.







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