Jolly Roger flag of HMS Statesman

Jolly Roger flag

..treat all submarines as pirates in wartime ...and hang all crews.

Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Arthur Wilson VC, the Controller of the Royal Navy, summed up the opinion of many in the Admiralty when he said in 1901 “...treat all submarines as pirates in wartime...and hang all crews."

This was a description Lieutenant Max Horton did not forget when he was in command of the first Royal Navy submarine to sink an enemy vessel in 1914. He proudly flew a Jolly Roger from his periscope.

From then on all British submarines started to make up their own flags after completing successful war patrols. The tradition is still carried on to this day and is an emblem of the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

Each symbol represented a different type of action/success. Crossed gunbarrels show how many vessels were sunk by gunfire. White symbols denote a merchant ship and red a warship.

The white bar shows a sinking by a torpedo. The boat shows how many ‘junks sunk’. The diving helmet denotes that the submarine went below its safe diving depth. The bomb shows how many minelaying operations were undertaken. The dagger represents a ‘cloak and dagger’ operation.

HMS Statesman was launched in 1943 and spent her wartime career in the Far East.

Quick Facts

  • Made by the crew onboard the submarine HMS Statesman
  • Made in 1944-5
  • Made of black out material and cut-up semaphore flags
  • Dimensions Length 120am, Height 125cm
  • Accession number A24/16/92


  • Jolly Rogers were usually made from blackout material and semaphore flags, cut up to make the different symbols.
  •  So far, HMS Statesman is the only Royal Navy ship to bear that name.
  •  After the war HMS Statesman was lent to the French navy, from 1951 to 1959, and renamed 'Sultane'.

Did you know?

One of the more recent submarines to have flown the Jolly Roger is HMS Conqueror, in 1982, on returning from the Falklands conflict. The flag bore one dagger for the SBS deployment to South Georgia, a ship bearing the pennant number of the Belgrano, and a satellite symbol as Conqueror received her orders to sink the Belgrano by satellite.


HMS Statesman Crew with Jolly Roger
HMS Statesman

Fact Sheets

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