USS Jimmy Carter, a Pirate Flag, and Lots of Secrets

The USS Jimmy Carter is a modified Seawolf Class Submarine – and the last of its kind. It’s the most expensive of the US Navy’s Nuclear Fast-Attack vessels, and every mission appears to be a Secret. Like its cousins in the Seawolf Class, it is based out of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington. What gives at least the impression of USS Jimmy Carter missions as successful is the Jolly Roger flag exhibited in 2017 when it returned from a mission – whatever that was.

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Tradition of a pirate flag

The tradition of submariners of hoisting a Jolly Roger comes from a WWI Royal Navy Submarine Commander named Lt Cmdr Max Horton after a Royal Navy officer made the statement that he would hang the crews of submarines.

…Lt. Cmdr. Max Horton was out to sea aboard one of England’s earliest submarines, the HMS E9. Horton and the E9 were off the coast of German islands in the North Sea when they came upon the German light cruiser Hela.

Horton torpedoes Hela from 600 yards, and the cruiser was soon at the bottom of the sea. The E9 evaded German anti-submarine efforts for the entire voyage back to safer waters, but once it arrived back in port, Horton hoisted a large Jolly Roger flag, a nod to Wilson’s threat of hanging his triumphant crew.

For every subsequent enemy he sunk, Horton intended to raise another pirate flag, but he ran out of room. Instead, he increased the size of his boat’s Jolly Roger and started adding symbols and other information to denote the submarine’s victories, similar to how airmen marked their kills on the nose of an aircraft.

Thus, a new tradition for submarines was born. By World War II, the practice not only grew, but pirate flags actually were issued to submarine crews. Submariners from Allied nations also joined in on the practice and have flown their Jolly Rogers ever since.

Blake Stilwell at


Into that history comes the USS Jimmy Carter, probably the most secretive vessel in the US Navy. What does it do? Where does it go? Good luck finding out. On the Jolly Roger in the featured photo there is a symbol, but the only ones who know what it means are the crew members that flew it. The USS Jimmy Carter received a Presidential Unit Citation in 2013 for its service, and in 2007 and 2012, Battle Efficiency Awards. The Presidential Unit Citation is for “accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions.”  There may be a few clues in the ship’s design, but it still doesn’t explain its missions.

The USS Jimmy Carter in drydock for modifications

On Jan. 20, 2013, the Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter left her home port in Bangor, Washington. Less than two months later, the submarine appeared at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for repairs.

It was all quite mysterious. During her time at sea, we don’t know where Jimmy Carter was or what her crew of nearly 150 were precisely doing. The Seawolf class is one of the most secretive weapons in America’s arsenal, and information about the Navy’s “Silent Service” is difficult to discover … by design.

We know Jimmy Carter was on some kind of mission, which the ship’s official annual history vaguely referred to as Mission 7. “Performed under a wide range of adverse and extremely stressful conditions without external support, this deployment continued USS Jimmy Carter‘s tradition of excellence in pursuit of vital national security goals,” the history stated.

David Axe at National Interest

The USS Jimmy Carter is a modified Seawolf Class vessel, (one of only three). It is fitted with a Multi-Mission Platform (MMP) after alterations that created a 2,500-ton supplementary middle section. The space can reportedly handle undersea drones (ROVs), Navy SEALS, and other secret things. It also has special maneuvering devices which allow it to “keep station” in strange ocean currents. The nearly 150 person crew is reportedly specially trained for things like planting listening devices or splicing into undersea cables. It is well armed, as are its sisters, the USS Connecticut and the USS Seawolf: 8 × 26 in (660 mm) torpedo tubes, Boeing Harpoon missiles, BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles, Mark 48 torpedoes, as well as the ability to lay mines. As part of “Submarine Development Squadron Five,” tactics were developed for operations in the Arctic, a key place to counter Russian activity.

Now that you know little more than you knew at the beginning of this article, at least you know the tradition behind that Pirate Flag on the conning tower of the USS Jimmy Carter.


Featured photo: “9-11-2017 Sailors aboard the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), look on as the submarine transits the Hood Canal on its way home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Sept. 11. Jimmy Carter is the last and most advanced of the Seawolf-class attack submarines, which are all homeported at Naval Base Kitsap. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith)”

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