Sunday, April 03, 2011

.."underhand, unfair, and damned un-English"

I think I may be turning into an old man living my heroics vicariously through the brave actions of our fighting men and women, but hot on the heels of my last post about Gurkha Sergeant Dip Pun comes the following which was in the papers this morning...

There is something very very timeless about that picture... proud (rightly) in their work, this is the captain and senior officers of HMS Triumph returning from the Mediterranean where they were engaged in military operations against the Gaddafi regime...

So as you do, it prompted a little digging about - well it does with me anyway - and I found she was the tenth ship of that name to have served in the Royal Navy, one other of which was a submarine (a T-class submarine launched in 1938 and lost, probably to Italian mines, on 14 January 1942), and the first of which was a 68-gun galleon built in 1561 (she was the largest ship built in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and served as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Martin Frobisher during the battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588).

That's a lot of pedigree in a name... same effect I think as regimental names in the army - anyone who serves in a unit/ship with an illustrious (good name for a ship that.. Free Happy Smileys) pedigree automatically must feel some connection, and a need not to let the name down...

...and then I got to thinking about the flag - she's flying a Jolly Roger - and I wondered how the tradition started. Nor surprisingly, given they're submariners, it turns out that there was an element of "thumbing the nose" involved.... apparently when submarines were first introduced, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson the Controller of the Royal Navy said that submarines were "underhand, unfair, and damned un-English", and that he would convince the British Admiralty to have the crews of enemy submarines captured during wartime hanged as pirates - fair to say he didn't like the idea Free Happy Smileys

Red rag to a bull I'd say .. so when his submarine HMS E9 successfully torpedoed the German cruiser Hela, commanding officer Max Horton (later Admiral so it didn't do him any harm), flew a Jolly Roger as she entered port. After that every time he came back, he flew a separate Jolly Roger for each success until apparently he didn't have any room left - so he switched to having one big flag with symbols for each hit. The picture above shows HMS Utmost in February 1942, the markings on the flag show nine ships torpedoed (including one warship), eight 'cloak and dagger' operations, one target destroyed by gunfire, and one at-sea rescue. The practice is carried through to today, as Triumph came back with six tomahawks on her Jolly Roger - one for each cruise missile launched..

Fascinating reading....

Read more:


  1. Two things I like about those photos: the obviously homemade look of the flags and the fact that many of the crew of HMS Utmost are giving the famous 'V' for Victory salute (or is it?)! Maybe that photo was intended for the Berlin edition of the Times.

  2. Ha! Definitely... just look at the look on the face of the guy on the far right... :o))

  3. I really like the idea of tomahawks

  4. Fascinating post! Thanks for the lesson.