To you and me it’s the well known pirate symbol, the Jolly Roger.
It has been used throughout history and still features today as Skull art design on military unit and tongue-in-cheek morale patches.
Emanuel Wynne – the Maverick Sailor
The first pirate known to fly a flag with a leering skull was said to be Emanuel Wynne. He was a French privateer in the early 1700s and his flag was said to be a skull with an hour glass underneath – which obviously meant time was “running out” for whoever he was chasing.
A privateer was a self-employed maverick sailor with a “letter” from his government allowing him to plunder any enemy ship he came across. The letter also protected him from being tried for piracy on the high seas.
Esprit de Corps
These menacing images have been used in lots of different ways to demonstrate the “esprit de corps” (spirit of the group) and to create maximum fear in their enemy with the subtle message of impending doom.
And on checking our military patches, I realized that several of them featured skulls as you’ll discover below.
WWI Nungesser Black Heart insignia
This WWI patch is one of my favorites. The Black Heart was the personal insignia of the French Ace Charles Nungesser and was painted on every aircraft he flew during the war. And with the addition of a coffin, this patch left his enemies in no doubt as to their fate if they got into a dogfight with him.
USAAF 493rd Fighter Squadron
This patch gives out a strong message with the lightening bolts charging through the eye sockets and “Death to the Enemies” written in Latin. This always reminds me of Dr Frankenstein … and I like the way the skull has a wide grin.
WWII USAAF VMF-124 Fighter Squadron insignia
A skull art patch featuring a skull and the angled wings of a Corsair.
Did you know…
The “Jolly Roger” was not always black?
In the early 17th Century, really really nasty pirates would fly blood red colored flags covered in skulls, crossbones, cutlasses and daggers to strike fear into the hearts of the crew the were attacking.
If the flag was red they wouldn’t be taking prisoners.
And just recently, a rare 18th Century Jolly Roger flag captured in 1780 has gone on display for the first time at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.
This insigna belongs to the WWII 341st Bomb Group.
It’s a combination of an evil skull sitting on top of US Pilot wings.
It was worn by aircrew on their flight jackets and painted on the noses of their B25 Mitchell Bombers.
WWII USAAF 363rd Fighter Squadron insignia
Phew! This gruesome skull is the insignia of the WWII 363rd Fighter Squadron. As they say, “a picture says a 1000 words…”
This intriguing patch belongs to the Israeli Air Force’s first Fighter Squadron, the 101st.
It has been painted on all their aircraft from the Avia S-199, to the Mirage IIICJ and F-16C Fighting Falcon.
And finally, the Jolly Roger everyone knows.
This magnificent patch belongs to the VF-17, the highest scoring US Navy squadron during WWII. This iconic squadron insignia came from the squadron commander, Lt. Cdr. Tom Blackburn’s wish to have a patch that had a pirate theme to it.
Image: courtesy of Daily Mail – Rare 18th Century red Jolly Roger pirate flag