USS Jimmy Carter returns to port flying the Jolly Roger flag

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USS Jimmy Carter returns to port flying the Jolly Roger flag

Kind of a fun story out of Washington today that we probably won’t know the significance of for a LONG time:

An image posted to a Pentagon media site and tweeted by Scottish journalist Ian Keddie shows the USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf-class nuclear-powered submarine, returning to her home port in Washington Tuesday flying the American flag alongside the unmistakable pirate skull and crossed bones, known as the Jolly Roger.

I wouldn’t have known why, and just assumed it was a prank since I was an Army landlubber, but apparently the flag is significant when affixed to a 450 foot long ship used for all manner of operations, and signifies a great maritime success:

So why did a U.S. submarine return home observing an undoubtedly British tradition? Much is unclear. U.S. submarine activity is rarely discussed by the Pentagon, and the vessels operate in almost complete secrecy. While it’s unlikely that the Carter torpedoed an enemy ship or fired one of its cruise missiles, the flag could represent the success of a more covert mission. The Carter can insert commandos, deploy unmanned submersible vehicles, and probably splice undersea cables all while using specially outfitted thrusters to almost hover off the seafloor. One of the Seawolf class’s namesake subs participated in the Cold War-era operation Ivy Bells, in which U.S. submarines tapped Soviet underwater communication lines.

For a really good article on the historical significance, read THE MIRROR.  Apparently a British Admiral said of submarines that “They’ll never be any use in war and I’ll tell you why. I’m going to get the First Lord to announce that we intend to treat all submarines as pirate vessels in wartime and that we’ll hang all the crews.” 

Per The Mirror:

One hundred years ago this week, shortly after the start of the Great War, British submarine HMS E9 dispatched two torpedoes at close range at Germany’s SMS Hela in a skirmish off Heligoland.

Its commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, had to dive immediately to avoid return fire, so he did not see the cruiser sink.

But the 13-year-old Silent Service had notched up its very first kill, confirming the deadly effectiveness of sneaking around in the deep then launching a surprise attack on an enemy.

Horton, recalling Admiral Wilson’s words, told his signaller to sew a piratical Jolly Roger flag, which flew proudly from his boat’s periscope as she sailed into Harwich, Essex.

So toast one this weekend to the USS Jimmy Carter, but don’t wait to hear what their success was, I’m guessing we won’t know until it’s declassified a long time in our future.

As H.L. Mencken once famously stated: "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats!"


Here’s to you crew of the Carter that won one for the good guys (apparently).

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.