I recently came across an article about a tradition of USN not to consider submarines lost, but rather being on a permanent patrol.

After trying to find more information about the topic pretty much everything I could find is this image from Wikipedia.

Does anyone have an idea about when and why did this habit originate?

2 Answers 2


During WW2, submarines on patrol were out of contact with friendly forces for extended periods of time. Even when operating in a Wolf-Pack, they generally couldn't tell exactly where their pack-mates were or how they were doing. While they could broadcast their status using their radios, this was limited to avoid radio intercepts and direction finding giving away their presence in an area.

This meant that more often than not, the first indication that a boat was lost was either a boat missing a radio check-in or the boat being overdue on returning to port (an example of this is the Wahoo). However, without confirmation of the boat actually being lost, they would still be marked as On Patrol. Removing the boat would be admitting the boat, and its crew, were gone.

Leaving it as On Patrol turned into a mark a of respect for those lost, and the tradition stuck.

  • 2
    Ships being out of contact with friendly units was very common in the Age of Sail, do you have any reference to the claim that the tradition comes from WW II and not from a previous time?
    – SJuan76
    Jan 24, 2017 at 17:18

Ships in the age of sail (my grandfather rounded the "Horn on 2 square riggers) were on a "voyage" and posted "missing", not on a "Patrol". My late mother-in-laws first husband was Chief Quarter Master on the USS Swordfish SS 193 "Lost Jan 1945 no further details available" per the War Dept Telegram, most submariners refer to as on "Eternal Patrol" out of respect for those that never returned and/or their families never had closure.

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