WWII Submarine Crew Picture

This picture shows the crew of a submarine (somewhere in the Pacific) from c. 1943. At the bottom of the picture we see a row of “flags.” What do these flags represent? In particular, what is the meaning of the Skull and Crossbones flag? Thanks.

The Japanese flags represent ships sunk on that particular war patrol – the two rising sun flags would represent warships, the national flags (the flag typically called the “meatball” by Americans during the war) represent merchant ships. Not sure about the skull-and-crossbones; that might just be a flag the crew likes to fly, or it could have significance I’m unaware of.

Those would be kill flags.

From Wiki:

Damn! Scooped by a sailboat!
Preparing to fire Mrs. Nesbitt…

I think the skull and crossbones was just the crew being puckish.

Wikipedia* recounts a tale

Apparently the Jolly Roger caught on–in later wars & with other nations.

  • I know, I know. But there are cites & this isn’t a really controversial topic–like How Davey Crockett Died.

Standing by to feed the cat…

No cite - just a FWIW ---------- an uncle had a picture like that for/from the Atlantic showing standard swastika flags for freighters, Naval flags for warships and two Jolly Rogers. When I asked about them he said they were for surface raiders they had sunk. If he was still alive I’d grill him over it but like many from that war he’s long gone.

It’s just a thing with submariners, and over time it’s really caught on:


http://cache4.asset-cache.net/xc/3352132.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=45B0EB3381F7834D2B46EE73B8CF014DF807A47C85E2B6A811D40A26B3E28636

http://s3.amazonaws.com/readers/2011/02/01/foto203_1.jpg
http://s3.amazonaws.com/readers/2011/02/01/foto201_1.jpg

And not just subs, either!: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=54660&stc=1&d=1217447048

Thanks for all the useful and informative replies. My family is interested in this photo because one of the sailors is my dad!

It’s a mixed race crew. I didn’t know subs did that. Given attitudes of the time, were they likely mess crew?

Quite possibly officers’ stewards, who were usually from Guam or the Philippines. Being that it’s a sub, they almost certainly had other duties as well.

More information on the boat in question here.

Submariners would also fly or show other things on entering port, to show a succesfull patrol. This is sort of a “pride in unit & accomplishments”, and a morale boosting thing.

Here’s a photo of the USS Wahoo, with a broom attached to the shears (indicating a “clean sweep”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WahooBroom.jpg

Put the kettle on!