We held the attitude that the nation which had given to the world a weapon so formidable as the undersea fighter had within it the ability to devise a means of combating it successfully. And, as a matter of fact, long before we went into the conflict the Navy Department had not ignored consideration of ways and means in this respect. As a consequence, when the British and French War Commissions arrived in this country they found our naval officers bristling with ideas, some of them apparently so feasible that the British naval representatives were both pleased and astonished.
We do not know all that passed between the Americans and the British with regard to the submarine, but this we do know: that the British went back to England with a greater respect for our powers of constructive thought than they had when they reached this country. Among some of the early suggestions was the sowing of contact mines in waters through which the submarines would be obliged to pass in leaving and entering their bases. Then there was the scheme of protecting vessels in groups, and other excellent ideas which were soon put into effect.
Immediately after the signing of the war resolution by President Wilson the Navy Department proceeded to put various plans into execution. At 9.30 o'clock one warm April night commanders of various destroyers in service along the coast received orders to proceed at daylight to the home navy-yards and fit out with all despatch for distant service. None of the officers knew what was ahead, not definitely, that is; but all knew that the future held action of vital sort and with all steam the venomous gray destroyers were soon darting up and down the coast toward their various navy-yards, at Boston, New York, and elsewhere.
Arriving here, the vessels went at once into dry dock while a force of men who were in waiting proceeded to clean and paint the hulls, while stores and provisions to last three months were assembled. In a few days the flotilla set forth. No commander knew where he was going. Instructions were to proceed to a point fifty miles east of Cape Cod, and there to open sealed instructions. One may imagine the thoughts of the officers and crews of the sea-fighters—which above all other craft had signally demonstrated the fact that they and they alone were qualified to bring the fear of God, as the navy saying is, to the Germans—as they ploughed through the seas to the point where orders might be opened and the way ahead made clear.
"And when," said a destroyer commander, speaking of that trip, "I got to the designated point at midnight, I opened my orders and found that we were to make for Queenstown. You may be sure I breathed a fervent cheer, for I had been itching for a crack at the sub ever since certain events off Nantucket the preceding fall."
The flotilla took ten days in making the journey, the time thus consumed being due to a southeast gale which accompanied the boats for the first seven days of the journey. There were various incidents, but nothing of the dramatic save the picking up and escorting of the big British liner Adriatic, and later the meeting 300 miles off the Irish coast of the brave little British destroyer Mary Rose, which had been sent out to meet the Americans. The Mary Rose, by the way, was sunk three months later by a German raider. The commander of the Mary Rose assured the Americans that they would be welcome and that their co-operation would be highly appreciated.
One may fancy so. Things were looking exceedingly black about that time. In the previous three weeks submarines had sunk 152 British merchant vessels, and patrol-vessels each day were bringing in survivors of the various victims. It was a situation which could not go on if the British cause were not to be very seriously injured. The question of supplies, food, munitions, and the like, for which both France and England were relying upon the United States to furnish, was looming vitally. This country had the things to send, all cargoes, of all sorts. But to send them to the war zone and then have them lost was a heart-breaking situation for every one concerned.
One thus is able to imagine the emotions with which the British at Queenstown received our flotilla when it came in from the sea on the morning of May 13. Motion pictures of this eventful arrival have been shown in this country, with the result that we who were not there have an impression of a crowded waterfront, of American flags flying everywhere, of the American commander leaving his vessel and going ashore to call upon the British commander Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly and the Honorable Wesley Frost, the American Consul at Queenstown. The destroyers had steamed into the harbor in a long line and with great precision came to a stop at the designated moorings. All this, as said, we have seen on the film, as we have seen the British and American officers going through the motions of formal felicitation. What was said, however, came to us through another medium. Admiral Bayly, after the formal ceremony of greeting was ended, said with British directness:
"When will you be ready for business?"
The reply was prompt:
"We can start at once, sir."
Admiral Bayly did not attempt to conceal his surprise, but he made no comment until after he had completed a tour of the various American craft. Then he turned to the American commander:
"You were right about being prepared."
"Yes," returned the American; "we made preparations in the course of the trip over. That is why we are ready."
"Very good," smiled the British commander. "You are a fine body of men and your boats look just as fit." As a matter of fact, while all equipment was found to be in excellent condition and the men ready and eager to go out after submarines, it was deemed best to send one or two of the craft to dry dock to have their hulls inspected and, if necessary, shorn of all barnacles or other marine growth that might have become attached to the plating on the journey across.
In the meantime had occurred a very pretty incident which is now one of the stock stories in the ward-rooms of British and American sea-fighters in European waters. It seems that not long before the destroyers were due to arrive Captain Edward R. G. R. Evans, C.B., who was second in command of the Scott Antarctic Expedition, came up the Thames on board his battered destroyer, the Broke. Now, the Broke on the night of April 20, off Dover, had been engaged in an action which stands as one of the glorious achievements at arms in the annals of sea-fighting. The Broke that night was attacked by six German destroyers and, after a battle characterized by bulwark rasping against bulwark, by boarding-parties, hand-to-hand fighting, and all the elements that make the pages of Mayne Reid thrilling, defeated the six destroyers and proceeded to port with flags flying.
With all this in mind the admiralty decided to pay the Americans the distinguished compliment of attaching Captain Evans to the American flag-ship as a sort of liaison officer. So when the American flotilla was reported, the British hero set forth and in good time boarded the flag-ship of the flotilla. He was accompanied by a young aide, and both were received with all courtesy by the American commander. But the British aide could see that the American had not associated his visitor with the man whose laurels were still fresh not only as an explorer but as a fighter.
There was talk of quarters for Captain Evans, and the American commander seemed doubtful just where to put his guest. Finally he sent the British officer below with a lieutenant to see what could be done. When the two had disappeared Evans's aide turned to the American commander.
"I don't think," he said, flushing rather diffidently, "that you quite grasped just who you have on board," and then with great distinctness he added: "He is R. G. R. Evans. He—"
There came an exclamation from the American, and stepping forward he seized the young officer by the shoulders.
"Do you mean to say that he is Evans of the Broke?" he cried.
As the Briton nodded and was about to speak, the American leaped from his side, made the companion-ladder, and fairly tumbled below, Approaching Captain Evans, he said:
"Captain Evans, my apologies; I didn't quite place you at first. I merely wish to tell you now not to worry about quarters. I say this because you are going to have my bunk—and I—I am going to sleep on the floor."
And here is a little incident which occurred when the destroyers picked up and escorted the Adriatic of the White Star Line. As may be imagined, the Americans on board were delighted to see a destroyer with an American flag darting about the great vessel like a porpoise, while the British appreciated to the full the significance of the occasion—so much so that the following message was formulated and wirelessed to the destroyer:
"British passengers on board a steamship bound for a British port under the protection of an American torpedo-boat destroyer send their hearty greetings to her commander and her officers and crew and desire to express their keen appreciation of this practical co-operation between the government and people of the United States and the British Empire who are now fighting together for the freedom of the seas."
One may imagine with what emotions the officers and men of the American war-ship, bound for duty in enemy seas and at the very outset having a great greyhound intrusted to their care, received this glowing despatch.
There were many functions attending the arrival of the Americans at Queenstown, aside from those already set forth. Many of the seamen were granted shore-leave and were immediately captured by the townspeople, who took them to their homes and entertained most lavishly. They were the first American naval men that the Queenstowners had seen at close quarters in years, and the bluejackets were bombarded with questions.
And while the jackies were thus being treated the American officers made a memorable visit to Cork. They journeyed up the River Lee in an admiral's barge accompanied by Captain Evans. At the Cork custom-house they were met by distinguished military officers, by the lord-lieutenant of the county, and by the lord mayor of Cork. It was a most memorable occasion, and when they returned they found the British and American seamen on such good terms that the two bodies had already tried each other out in friendly fisticuffs, the net results being common respect one for the other.
Announcement of the arrival of the American vessels was made by the British Admiralty, the American Navy Department, with a modest reticence which ever since has been characteristic, saying nothing until the time came to confirm the admiralty's statement. In doing this Secretary Daniels announced that as a matter of fact an American flotilla of destroyers had arrived at an English port on May 4, and the vessels thereof engaged in the work of submarine hunting in both the Atlantic and in co-operation with the French in the Mediterranean. About the same time it was stated that a body of naval aviators, the first American fighting-men to serve from the shore, had been landed in England.
Soon after this announcement came another from Washington, giving an interchange of wireless amenities between Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, commander of the British Grand Fleet, to Rear-Admiral Henry T. Mayo, commanding the United States Atlantic Fleet:
"The Grand Fleet rejoices that the Atlantic Fleet will share in preserving the liberties of the world and maintaining the chivalry of the sea."
And Admiral Mayo's reply:
"The United States Atlantic Fleet appreciates the message from the British Fleet, and welcomes opportunities for work with the British Fleet for the freedom of the seas."
In confirming the British announcement of the arrival of the flotilla at Queenstown, Secretary Daniels said:
"It has been the purpose of the United States Navy to give the largest measure of assistance to other countries at war with Germany that is consistent with the full and complete protection of our own coast and territorial waters."
Within a week after the arrival of our flotilla at Queenstown, the vessels thereof ranging the seas side by side with the British, submarine losses showed a marked reduction, and it was even more marked the second week of our co-operation. It was also stated that more submarines had been sunk in the week of May 12 than in the previous month.
In preparing for co-operation with the British destroyers, the American officers received lectures on the subject of effective submarine fighting, while depth-bombs and appliances for releasing them were supplied to the American boats, and all surplus gear and appurtenances of various sorts were taken from the American vessels and stored ashore.
It was noted as a curious fact that the United States Navy had really been a warm-weather navy. The ships were sent south in winter for drills and target practice, usually in Guantanamo Bay; in the spring they engaged in manoeuvres off the Virginia Capes, and in summer went to Newport, Provincetown, and other New England points. Again, life in a destroyer on the wintry Atlantic was not the most comfortable life in the world. There were cold fogs, icy winds and fearful storms in the war zone, and the thin steel hulls of the destroyers offered little in the way of creature comforts. This fact perhaps gave color to the report from Queenstown that our men were prepared in every respect save that of clothing, a statement that was indignantly refuted by the Navy Department, and a list of the garments furnished the sailors was submitted. It was an adequate list and quite effectually silenced further rumors on that score. As a matter of fact, no complaint ever came from the jackies themselves. They had sea-boots, pea-jackets, short, heavy double-breasted overcoats, knitted watch-caps, heavy woollen socks, jerseys, extra jackets of lambskin wool, oil-skins, and navy uniform suits—a complete outfit surely. In the meantime the young women, elderly women, too, of the country were busily engaged in knitting helmets, sweaters, mittens, and the like. Some of the girls, more romantic than others, inserted their names and addresses in the articles they sent to the sailors. Here is a little jeu d'esprit that one girl received from a sailor of Admiral Sims's command:
"Some sox; some fit! I used one for a helmet. And one for a mitt. I hope I shall meet you When I've done my bit. But who in the devil Taught you to knit?"
The reader may be sure that other, many other, more appreciative messages were sent to the devoted young women of the country, and that in many cases interesting correspondence was opened.
On May 25, 1917, Admiral Sims cabled to Secretary Daniels that Berlin knew of American plans for sending our destroyers to Europe four days before the vessels arrived at Queenstown, and that twelve mines had been placed across the entrance to the harbor the day before the destroyer flotilla reached their destination. The activity of British mine-sweepers prevented whatever might have occurred. This gave rise to considerable discussion in this country as to German spies here, and as an instance of their work in keeping in touch with naval affairs the following story was told in naval circles: When the oil-ship Vacuum, with Lieutenant Thomas and a naval gun crew on board, sailed from this country, the captain had instructions where to pick up British destroyers at a certain point off the Irish coast. The Vacuum arrived at the designated spot, and before the war-ships arrived a submarine appeared out of the water.
"I see," said the German commander, appearing out of the conning-tower, "that you kept your appointment."
And then the Vacuum was sent to the bottom. Later, under the convoy system, submarines began to be very wary in the matter of triumphant conversations with officers of merchantmen. In fact, this appears to have been the last interchange of the sort.
Working with the British, the American destroyers patrolled the seas six days at a stretch, each craft being assigned to a certain area, as far out as three hundred miles off shore. Returning to port, the destroyers would lie at their moorings two and three days. Later the time in port was reduced. But it depended upon conditions. The orders to the Americans were: first, destroy submarines; second, escort and convoy merchant ships; third, save lives. And in all three respects the Americans from the very outset have so conducted themselves and their craft as to earn the highest encomiums from the Entente admiralties.
The Americans entered very heartily into their work, and developed ideas of their own, some of which the British were very glad to adopt. Between the men of the two navies there has been the best sort of feeling.
British and American Destroyers Operating Hand in Hand—Arrival of Naval Collier "Jupiter"—Successful Trip of Transports Bearing United States Soldiers Convoyed by Naval Vessels—Attack on Transports Warded Off by Destroyers—Secretary Baker Thanks Secretary Daniels—Visit to our Destroyer Base—Attitude of Officers Toward Men—Genesis of the Submarine—The Confederate Submarine "Hunley"
A correspondent who visited the British base on the Irish coast a month after the arrival of the Americans, found the two fleets operating hand in hand and doing effective work. With the boats out four and five, and then in port coaling and loading supplies two and three days, the seamen were getting practically half a day shore-leave every week. The seamen endured the routine grind of patrol and convoy work, accepting it as the price to be paid for the occasional fights with submarines.
An assignment to convoy a liner from home is regarded as a choice morsel, and the boats that get the job are looked upon as favored craft. The transatlantic passengers invariably make a fuss over the Americans, and the interchange of amenities gives our sailors concrete evidence of how their work is regarded in this country.
On June 6, 1917, Secretary Daniels, with warrantable pride, announced the arrival in a French port of the naval collier Jupiter, with 10,500 tons of wheat and other supplies. The Jupiter is nearly as large as a battleship, and stands out of the water like a church. Nevertheless, the collier, completely armed and well able to take care of herself, made the trip without convoy. She was the first electrically propelled vessel of large size ever built, and her performance was so good that it led to the adoption of the electric drive for all our new battleships and cruisers.
In the meantime, with our destroyers working valiantly in the fight against the submarines, Admiral Sims, their commander, had made himself indispensable to the British Admiralty, whose high regard was manifested on June 19, when, as already noted, he was appointed to take charge of operations of the Allied naval forces in Irish waters while the British commander-in-chief was absent for a short period. Washington had given wide powers to Admiral Sims to the end that he might be in a position to meet any emergency that might arise. While much of his time was spent in Paris and London, his home was at the Irish base, a fine old mansion 300 feet above the town, with beautiful lawns and gardens, having been turned over to him.
In June of 1917, June 4, it was announced in Washington that an American squadron had arrived in South American waters in accordance with the plan of relieving British and French cruisers of patrol duty in waters of the western hemisphere, merely one more instance of the scope of the plans which the Navy Department had formulated when we entered the war.
On June 25 came word that the first American convoy (transports with American troops), under direction of Rear-Admiral Albert M. Gleaves, commander of our convoy system, had arrived safely at a port in France. On July 3 the last units of ships with supplies and horses reached its destination. The expedition was divided into contingents, each contingent including troop-ships and an escort of sea-fighters. An ocean rendezvous with American destroyers operating in European waters was arranged, and carried out in minutest detail.
The convoy did not cross the seas without incident. In the newspapers of July 4 the country was electrified by a statement issued by the Creel bureau of a rather thrilling combat between war-ships attached to the convoy and German submarines, in which the U-boat was badly worsted. Details were given, and all in all the whole affair as presented was calculated to give the utmost unction to American pride. Next day, however, came a despatch from the American flotilla base in British waters which set forth that the story of the attack as published in the United States was inaccurate. There was no submarine attack, said the report, and no submarine was seen. One destroyer did drop a depth-bomb, but this was merely by way of precaution. Quite a stir followed, and it was not until Secretary Daniels some time later published facts as set forth in a cipher message from Admiral Gleaves that the country realized that, while the original account was somewhat overdrawn, there was substantial ground for the belief that several transports had had narrow escapes. To a correspondent who was on one of the transports we are indebted for the following narrative of the attack:
"It was past midnight. The flotilla was sweeping through a calm sea miles from the point of debarkation, and tense nerves were beginning to relax. The sky was cloudy and the moon obscured, but the phosphorescence of water common in these latitudes at this season marked the prow and wake of the advancing ships with lines of smoky flame. It was this, perhaps, that saved us from disaster—this and the keenness of American eyes, and the straightness of American shooting. From the high-flung superstructure of a big ship one of the eager lookouts noted an unwonted line of shining foam on the port bow. In a second he realized that here at last was the reality of peril. It could be nothing else than the periscope of a submarine. The Germans were not less swift in action. Almost at the moment that the alarm was given a gleaming line of bubbles, scarcely twenty feet from the bow of one of the transports wherein thousands were sleeping, announced the torpedo with its fatal burden of explosive. Then 'hell broke loose.' Firing every gun available, the big ship swung on a wide circle out of line to the left. A smaller war-ship slipped into the place of the big fighter, driving shells into the sea. Whether any landed or not may not be said. The Germans fired three, if not four, torpedoes. It was God's mercy that they all went astray among so many of our ships. The whole business lasted only a minute and a half. I know, because one of those Easterners from somewhere up in Maine coolly timed the mix-up with his stop-watch. But believe me, it added more than that time to my life. The second attack occurred next morning. Every living soul on the transports had been thrilled by the news of the night's events, and from early hours the decks were lined with amateur lookouts. The morning was fine, and a light breeze rippled up wavelets that twinkled in the sunlight. Suddenly about 10.30 o'clock there came a wild yell from one of the leading transports. Though the jackies affect to dispute it, I was assured that it was from a far-sighted youngster from Arizona, who first descried and then announced the deadly line of bubbles. No periscope was visible this time, and for the first moment those on the bridges of the destroyers were incredulous. Then the unmistakable bubble lines clean across the bows put the certainty of danger beyond question. Once again fortune favored us. The submarine was in front instead of in the deadliest position on the flank toward the rear. Perhaps the U-boat commander was rattled by the magnitude of his opportunity. Perhaps one of his excited pirates let go too soon. Anyway, it is agreed by experts that he would have been far more dangerous had he waited unseen until part of the flotilla at least had passed beyond him.
"Dearly did the Germans pay for their error. Like a striking rattlesnake, one of our destroyers darted between a couple of transports. Her nose was so deep in the sea as to be almost buried, while a great wave at the stern threw a shower of spray on the soldiers massed at the transport's bow. That destroyer ran right along the line of bubbles like a hound following a trail, and when it came to the spot where the commander estimated the submarine must be lurking, he released a depth-bomb. A column of smoke and foam rose fifty feet in the air, and the destroyer herself rose half out of the water under the shock of the explosion. It is said that in the midst of the column of water were seen fragments of steel and wood, and oil also was reported on the water. This meant that at least one submarine had paid the supreme price for the spread of kultur on the high seas."
As in all thrilling incidents of the sort, there was a note of comedy. It was supplied by a negro roustabout on one of the large transports. This darky throughout the trip had been very fearful of submarines, and when the actual moment of danger came he acted upon a predetermined course, and shinned up the mainmast as though Old Nick himself were at his heels. When the excitement was over an officer called up to him:
"Hello, up there; come down. It's all over."
"Me come down," came the voice from on high. "Mistah officah, I ain't nevah gwine to come down; no suh. De place fo man is on de dry land, yas suh. Ocean wa'nt nevah made for man; de ocean's fo fishes, dat's all. I'm gwine to stay up heah until I see de land. Den I'se gwine to jump."
History fails to record how long he remained in his retreat. Probably until he became hungry.
This, then, appears to be what happened to our first convoy. That there was an attack upon the convoy by submarines in force, as set forth in the original statement from Washington, now seems altogether unlikely, and whether our destroyers sunk one or more of the undersea assailants is a matter of opinion. It does, however, seem likely that the one waging the second attack was accounted for.
The War Department was not slow to recognize the effectiveness with which our navy had transported the first oversea expedition to France as the following message from Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to Secretary Daniels will show.
"Washington, July 3.
"Word has just come to the War Department that the last ships conveying Gen. Pershing's expeditionary force arrived safely to-day. As you know, the Navy Department assumed the responsibility for the safety of these ships on the sea and through the danger zone. The ships themselves and their convoys were in the hands of the navy, and now that they have arrived and carried without the loss of a man our soldiers who are first to represent America in the battle for Democracy, I beg leave to tender to you, to the admiral, and to the navy the hearty thanks of the War Department and of the army. This splendid achievement is an auspicious beginning, and it has been characterized throughout by the most cordial and effective co-operation between the two military services.
"NEWTON D. BAKER."
In the meantime Americans living in England had organized to do everything in their power to make the lives of the seamen of the destroyer fleet comfortable. Plans were at once formulated and work begun on a club, the United States Naval Men's Club at the American base. This club, which is now completed, contains dormitories, shower-baths, a canteen, and a billiard room with two pool-tables. There is an auditorium for moving-picture shows and other entertainments, reading-rooms, and in fact everything that would tend to make the men feel at home and divert their leisure hours.
A correspondent for the Associated Press, who visited the club when it was completed, has testified to its great attractiveness, and from his pen also has come the most effective description of our destroyers as they return to their base from duty in the North Sea. One destroyer which he inspected had had the good fortune to be able to bring back the crews of two torpedoed merchantmen. The mariners were picked up on the fourth day out, and had the unique experience of joining in a lookout for their undoers before the destroyer returned to its base. Despite her battles with heavy seas and high winds, the destroyer was as fit as any of her sister craft lying at anchor near by. Her brass-work glistened in the sunshine, and her decks were as clean as a good housewife's kitchen. The crew, a majority of them mere boys, were going about their work with every manifestation of contentment.
"They are," observed the commander, "the most alert sailors in the world." The destroyer carried five 4-inch guns, the type most used on destroyers. Ten feet behind the guns were cases of shells, each shell weighing sixty pounds. When firing upon a submarine the shells are passed by hand to the gunners—no small task when the sea is heavy. At the gun the gunner is equipped with a head-gear, like that worn by telephone girls, through which he receives sighting directions from the officer on the bridge. Speaking-tubes also convey messages from the bridge to the gunners.
These "voice-tubes," as they are called, run to all the guns, but take the most circuitous routes, running way below deck in order that damage by shell-fire to the upper part of the vessel might not affect communication from the bridge to the gunners. On different parts of the deck were three canvas-covered boxes, each containing six loaded rifles, eighteen in all. These were for use against boarding-parties.
The vessel also contained numerous torpedo-tubes, always loaded. The destroyer registered about a thousand tons, and carried a crew of ninety-five men, who were reported as "a great happy family." The commanding officer said that there was surprisingly little homesickness among the men, many of whom had never before been so far from their native land.
"We invite questions and suggestions from our men," said one of the officers to the correspondent. "We want them to feel that no one is ever too old to learn."
The seamen sleep on berths suspended from the steel walls of the destroyers, berths which, when not in use, can be closed very much after the manner of a folding bed. When "submarined" crews are rescued the sailors willingly give up their comfortable berths and do everything else in their power to make the shipwrecked mariners comfortable. The men receive their mail from home uncensored. It arrives about every ten days in bags sealed in the United States. Their own letters, however, are censored, not only by an officer aboard ship, but by a British censor. However, there has been little or no complaint by the men on the ground of being unable to say what they wish to their loved ones.
"The men," wrote an officer recently, "look upon submarine-hunting as a great game. The only time they are discontented is when a situation which looks like an approaching fight resolves itself into nothing. The seas of the war zone are, of course, filled with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, and very often that which appears to be a periscope is nothing of the sort. But when a real one comes—then the men accept it as a reward."
In view of all that has been said thus far and remains to be said concerning the submarine, it might be well to digress for a moment and devote the remainder of this chapter to a consideration of the undersea fighter, its genesis, what it now is, and what it has accomplished. We all know that the submarine was given to the world by an American inventor—that is to say, the submarine in very much the form that we know it to-day, the effective, practical submarine. The writer recalls witnessing experiments more than twenty years ago on the Holland submarine—the first modern submarine type—and he recalls how closely it was guarded in the early days of 1898, when it lay at Elizabethport and the Spanish war-ship Viscaya, Captain Eulate, lay in our harbor. This was a month or so after the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, and threats against the Spanish had led, among other precautions, to an armed guard about the Holland lest some excitable person take her out and do damage to the Viscaya. There was no real danger, of course, that this would happen; it merely tends to show the state of public mind.
Well, in any event, the Holland, and improved undersea craft subsequently developed, converted the seemingly impossible into the actual. To an Englishman, William Bourne, a seaman-gunner must be credited the first concrete exposition of the possibilities of an undersea fighter. His book, "Inventions or Devices," published in 1578, contains a comprehensive description of the essential characteristics of the undersea boat as they are applied to-day. From the days of the sixteenth century on down through the years to the present time, submarine construction and navigation have passed through various stages of development. Captain Thomas A. Kearney, U.S.N., in an interesting monograph published through the United States Naval Institute at Annapolis, says that of the early American inventors, particular mention should be made of the work of David Bushnell and Robert Fulton, both of whom have been termed the "father of the submarine." Bushnell's boat, completed in 1775-6, was much in advance of anything in its class at the time. The boat, which was, of course, water-tight, was sufficiently commodious to contain the operator and a sufficient amount of air to support him for thirty minutes. Water was admitted into a tank for the purpose of descending and two brass force-pumps ejected the water when the operator wished to rise. Propulsion was by an oar astern, working as the propeller of a vessel works to-day. Practically Bushnell in one attempt to destroy a British war-ship in the Hudson River was able to get under the British frigate Eagle without detection, but was unable to attach the mine which the boat carried.
Fulton's inventive genius directed toward a submarine took tangible shape in 1800 when the French Government built the Nautilus in accordance with his plans. Both France and the United States carried on experimental work with Fulton's designs, under his personal supervision, but there is no record of any marked achievement.
The first submarine within the memory of men living to-day, the first practical, albeit crude, undersea boat, was the H. L. Hunley, built at Mobile, Ala., under the auspices of the Confederate Navy and brought from that port to Charleston on flat cars for the purpose of trying to break the blockade of that port by Federal war-ships. The Hunley was about forty feet long, six in diameter, and shaped like a cigar. Its motive power came from seven men turning cranks attached to the propeller-shaft. When working their hardest these men could drive the boat at a speed of about four miles an hour.
Several attempts to use the Hunley were unsuccessful, each time it sank, drowning its crew of from eight to ten men. These experiments, which were carried on in shallow water at Charleston, mark one of the bright pages in our seafaring annals, as crew after crew went into the boat facing practically certain death to the end that the craft might be made effective. Each time the vessel sank she was raised, the dead crew taken out, and a new experiment with a new crew made. In all thirty-three men were sacrificed before it was finally decided that the boat could make her way out to the blockading line. It was on the night of February 17, 1864, that the Hunley set out on her last journey. The vessel submerged, reached the side of the United States steamship Housatonic, and successfully exploded a mine against the hull of the Federal war-ship, sending her to the bottom.
But in the explosion the submersible herself was sunk and all on board were lost. The commander of the expedition was Lieutenant George E. Dixon, of Alabama, who with his crew well appreciated their danger. It is supposed that the Hunley was drawn down in the suction of the sinking war-ship; she could not arise from the vortex, and that was the last of her and of her brave crew. The North was tremendously excited over the incident and the South elated, but no other ship was attacked from beneath the water in the course of the war.
Holland's boat, built in 1877, was the first to use a gas-engine as a propulsive medium, but it was not until the final adoption of the gas-engine for surface work, followed later by the internal-combustion gasoline-engine and the use of electric storage-battery for subsurface work, as well as the invention of the periscope and various other devices, that the submarine was developed to a present state of effectiveness, which sees it crossing the Atlantic from Germany, operating off our shores and returning to Germany without being obliged to put into port; which, also, sees it capable of navigating under water at a speed of from seven to nine knots, with torpedoes ready for use in the tubes and guns of effective caliber mounted on deck. It has, indeed, been asserted that the airplane and the submarine have relegated the battleship to the limbo of desuetude: but as to that the continued control of the seas by Great Britain with her immense battle-fleet, supplemented by our tremendous engines of war, certainly argues for no such theory. What the future may bring forth in the way of submarines, armored and of great size, no man may say. But at present the submarine, while tremendously effective, has not done away with the battleship as a mighty element in the theory of sea power.
As to life on a submersible, let us construct from material which has come to us from various sources in the past three years a little story which will give a better knowledge of the workings of the German undersea boat than many pages of technical description would do. An undertaking of the sort will be the more valuable because we of the Allies are inclined to consider the submarine problem only in relation to our side of the case, whereas the fact is that the submarine operates under great difficulties and dangers, and in an ever-increasing degree leaves port never to be heard from again. We may, then, begin the following chapter with a scene in Kiel, Zeebrugge, or any German submarine base.
On a German Submarine—Fight with a Destroyer—Periscope Hit—Record of the Submarine in this War—Dawning Failure of the Undersea Boat—Figures Issued by the British Admiralty—Proof of Decline—Our Navy's Part in this Achievement
A first lieutenant with acting rank of commander takes the order in the gray dawn of a February day. The hulk of an old corvette with the Iron Cross of 1870 on her stubby foremast is his quarters in port, and on the corvette's deck he is presently saluted by his first engineer and the officer of the watch. On the pier the crew of the U-47-1/2 await him. At their feet the narrow gray submarine lies alongside, straining a little at her cables.
"Well, we've got our orders at last," begins the commander, addressing his crew of thirty, and the crew look solemn. For this is the U-47-1/2's first experience of active service. She has done nothing save trial trips hitherto and has just been overhauled for her first fighting cruise. Her commander snaps out a number of orders. Provisions are to be taken "up to the neck." Fresh water is to be put aboard, and engine-room supplies to be supplemented.
A mere plank is the gangway to the little vessel. As the commander, followed by his officers, comes aboard, a sailor hands to each of the officers a ball of cotton waste, the one article aboard a submarine which never leaves an officer's hands. For of all oily, grimy, greasy places the inside of the submarine is supreme. The steel walls, the doors, the companion-ladders all sweat oil, and the hands must be wiped dry at every touch. Through a narrow hole aft the commander descends by a straight iron ladder into a misty region whose only light comes from electric glow-lamps. The air reeks with the smell of oil. Here is the engine-room and, stifling as the atmosphere is with the hatches up, it is as nothing compared to what the men have to breathe when everything is hermetically sealed.
Here are slung hammocks, where men of one engine-watch sleep while their comrades move about the humming, purring apartment, bumping the sleepers with their heads and elbows. But little things like that do not make for wakefulness on a submarine. The apartment or vault is about ten feet long; standing in the middle, a man by stretching out his arms may easily have his fingers in contact with the steel walls on either side. Overhead is a network of wires, while all about there is a maze of levers, throttles, wheels, and various mechanical appliances that are the dismay of all but the mind specially trained in submarine operation.
The commander very minutely inspects everything; a flaw will mean a long sleep on the bottom, thirty men dead. Everything is tested. Then, satisfied, the commander creeps through a hole into the central control-station, where the chief engineer is at his post. The engineer is an extraordinary individual; the life of the boat and its effectiveness are in his care. There must be lightning repairs when anything goes wrong on an undersea craft, and in all respects the chief's touch must be that of a magician.
Exchanging a word or two with the chief engineer, the commander continues his way to the torpedo-chamber where the deadly "silverfish," as the Germans have named the hideous projectiles, lie. Perhaps he may stroke their gleaming backs lovingly; one may not account for the loves of a submarine commander. The second-in-command, in charge of the armament, joins him in the torpedo-room and receives final instructions regarding the torpedo and the stowing of other explosives. Forward is another narrow steel chamber, and next to it is a place like a cupboard where the cook has just room to stand in front of his doll-house galley-stove. It is an electric cooker, of course. Housewives who operate kitchenettes in Manhattan will appreciate the amount of room which the cook has. And, by the way, this being a German submarine, the oily odors, the smell of grease, and the like are complicated by an all-pervading smell of cabbage and coffee. Two little cabins, the size of a clothes-chest, accommodate the deck and engine-rooms officers—two in each. Then there is a little box-cabin for the commander.
As the sun rises higher the commander goes into his cabin and soon after emerges on deck. His coat and trousers are of black leather lined with wool, a protection against oil, cold, and wet weather. The crew are at their stations.
"Machines clear," comes a voice from the control-station.
"Clear ship," comes the order from the bridge, followed by "Cast off."
The cables hiss through the water and slap on the landing-stage; the sound of purring fills the submarine which glides slowly into open water. Into the bay comes another U-boat. Stories of her feat in sinking a steamship loaded with mutton for England has preceded her. There has been loss of life connected with that sinking, but this makes no difference to the Teutonic mind, and the officer of the U-47-1/2 shouts his congratulations.
Now the submarine is out in the open sea, the waves are heavy and the vessel rolls uncomfortably. The craft, it may be remarked, is not the craft for a pleasant sea-voyage. The two officers hanging onto the rails turn their eyes seaward. The weather increases in severity. The officers are lashed to the bridge. There they must stay; while the boat plies the surface the bridge must not be left by the commander and his assistant. Sometimes they remain thus on duty two and three days. Food is carried to them and they eat it as they stand.
It may be that the commander is trying to balance a plate of heavy German soup in his hand as a cry comes from a lookout.
"Smoke on the horizon, off the port bow, sir."
The commander withdraws from his food, shouts an order and an electric alarm sounds inside the hull. The ship buzzes with activity. The guns on deck are hastily housed. Bridge appurtenances are housed also, and sailors dive down through the deck-holes. The commander follows. Water begins to gurgle into the ballast-tanks while the crew seal every opening. Down goes the U-47-1/2 until only her periscope shows, a periscope painted sea-green and white—camouflaged. The eyes of the watch-officer are glued to the periscope.
"She is a Dutchman, sir," he says at length. The commander steps to the periscope and takes a look. The Dutchman has no wireless and is bound for some continental port. It is not wise to sink every Dutch boat one meets—although German submarines have sunk a sufficient number of them, in all conscience. At all events, the steamship goes in peace and the submarine comes to the surface. The commander is glad, because electric power must be used when the vessel is moving under water and there must be no waste of this essential element.
So the submarine proceeds on her way, wallowing and tumbling through the heavy graybacks of the North Sea. At length after fifty-four hours the necessity of sleep becomes apparent. The ballast-tanks are filled and the craft slowly descends to the sandy bottom of the sea. It is desirable that the crew go to sleep as quickly as possible, because when men are asleep they use less of the priceless supply of oxygen which is consumed when the boat is under water. However, the commander allows the men from half an hour to an hour for music and singing. The phonograph is turned on and there on the bottom of the North Sea the latest songs of Berlin are ground out while the crew sit about, perhaps joining in the choruses—they sang more in the early days of the war than they do to-day—while the officers sit around their mess-table and indulge in a few social words before they retire.
In the morning water from the tanks is expelled and the boat rises to greet a smiling sea. Also to greet a grim destroyer. The war-ship sees her as she comes up from a distance of perhaps a mile away. All steam is crowded on while the leaden-gray fighter—the one craft that the submarine fears—makes for her prey. Sharp orders ring through the U-boat. The tanks are again filled, and while the commander storms and ejaculates, everything is made tight and the vessel sinks beneath the surface. The electric-motors are started and the submarine proceeds under water in a direction previously determined, reckoned in relation to the course of the approaching destroyer.
Presently comes a dull explosion. The destroyer arriving over the spot where the undersea boat was last seen, has dropped a depth-bomb, which has exploded under the surface at a predetermined depth. The submarine commander grins. The bomb was too far away to do damage, although the craft has trembled under the shock. There comes another shock, this time not so palpable. Eventually all is quiet.
For an hour the submarine proceeds blindly under water, and then cautiously her periscope is thrust above the surface. Nothing in sight. Orders sound through the vessel and she rises to the surface. She could have remained below, running under full headway, for six hours before coming to the surface. So the day goes on. Toward nightfall smoke again is seen on the horizon. It proves to be a large freighter ladened, apparently, with cattle. Two destroyers are frisking about her, crossing her bow, cutting around her stern. The steamship herself is zigzagging, rendering accurate calculations as to her course uncertain.
By this time, of course, the submarine has submerged. The watch-officer and the commander stand by the periscope, watching the approaching craft. The periscope may not be left up too long; the watchers on the destroyers and on the deck of the vessel, which is armed, are likely to spy it at any time. So the periscope is alternately run down and run up. The submarine has moved so that the steamship will pass her so as to present a broadside. Up comes the periscope for one last look. The observer sees a puff of smoke from the deck of a destroyer and a quick splash of water obscures the view momentarily.
"They have seen us and are firing."
But the steamship is now within a mile, within fairly accurate torpedo range. An order rolls into the torpedo-room and the crew prepare for firing. In the meantime a shower of shells explode about the periscope. There comes a sudden vagueness on the glass into which the observer has been gazing.
"The periscope has been hit."
Thoughts of launching the torpedo vanish. Safety first is now the dominant emotion. Additional water flows into the tanks and the craft begins to settle. But as she does so there is a sudden flood of water into the control-room; a hoarse cry goes up from the crew. The officers draw their revolvers. Evidently the injured periscope has caused a leak. Before anything can be done there is a tremendous grinding, rending explosion; the thin steel walls contract under the force of the released energy. Above them the destroyer crew gazing eagerly at the geyser-like volume of water arising from the sea descry pieces of metal, dark objects of all sorts. The sea quiets and up from the depths arise clouds of oil, spreading slowly over the waves. The U-47-1/2 has joined many a nobler craft upon the wastes of subaqueous depths.
But not always has the outcome of a submarine attack been so fortunate for us. There have been thousands of instances—many more of them in the past than at present, fortunately—where the U-boat returned to her base with a murderous story to tell. While it is certain that when the totals for the present year are compiled an engaging tale of reduced submarine effectiveness will be told; yet—as the British Government has announced—any effort to minimize what the submarine has done would work chiefly toward the slowing up of our ship-building and other activities designed to combat directly and indirectly the lethal activities of the submarine. And from a naval standpoint it is also essential that the effectiveness of the undersea craft be fully understood.
It was on January 31, 1917, that the German Government suddenly cast aside its peace overtures and astonished the world by presenting to the United States Government a note to the effect that from February 1 sea traffic would be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice in certain specified zones. The decree applied to both enemy and neutral vessels, although the United States was to be permitted to sail one steamship a week in each direction, using Falmouth as the port of arrival and departure. On February 3 President Wilson appeared before Congress and announced that he had severed diplomatic relations with Germany on the ground that the imperial government had deliberately withdrawn its solemn assurances in regard to its method of conducting warfare against merchant vessels. Two months later, April 6, as already noted, Congress declared that a state of war with Germany existed.
The German people were led to believe that an aggregate of 1,000,000 tons of shipping would be destroyed each month and that the wastage would bring England to her knees in six months and lead to peace. The six months went by, but the promises of the German Government were not fulfilled. Instead the submarine war brought the United States into the struggle and this, in the words of Philipp Scheidemann, leader of the German majority Socialists, has been "the most noticeable result."
None the less, the submarine, used ruthlessly, without restrictions, proved itself to be an unrivalled weapon of destruction, difficult to combat by reason of its ability to stalk and surprise its quarry, while remaining to all intents and purposes invisible. It has taken heavy toll of ships and men, and has caused privation among the peoples of the Entente nations; it is still unconquered, but month by month of the present year its destructiveness has been impaired until now there may be little doubt that the number of submarines destroyed every month exceeds the number of new submarines built, while the production of ship tonnage in England and the United States greatly outweighs the losses. In other words, the submarine, as an element in the settling of the war in a manner favorable to Germany, has steadily lost influence, and, while it is not now a negligible factor, it is, at least, a minor one and growing more so.
Secret figures of the British Admiralty on submarine losses and world ship-building issued in March, 1918, show that from the outbreak of war, in August, 1914, to the end of 1917, the loss was 11,827,080 tons. Adding the losses up to April of the present year—when the submarine sinkings began to show a markedly decreased ratio—and we get a total of 13,252,692 tons. The world's tonnage construction in the four years 1914-17 was 6,809,080 tons. The new construction in England and the United States for the first quarter of 1918 was 687,221 tons, giving a total from the beginning of the war to April 1 of 1918, 7,750,000 tons built outside of the Central Powers since the beginning of the war, with a final deficit of about 5,500,000 tons. Of this deficit the year 1917 alone accounted for 3,716,000 tons.
From the last quarter of 1917, however, the margin between construction and loss has been narrowing steadily. In the first quarter of 1918 the construction in Great Britain and America alone was over 687,000 tons and the losses for the whole world were 1,123,510 tons. Here is a deficit for three months—the first three months of the present year—of 436,000 tons, or an annual average of 1,750,000 tons, which is a deficit one-half less than that of the black year of 1917. When figures at the end of the present year are revealed we may find that we have reckoned too little upon the ship-building activity of both England and the United States, in which event the deficit may prove to be even less. But in any event the dry figures as set forth are worth perusal inasmuch as they point not only to the deadly effectiveness of the submarine in the first year of unrestricted activity, but show how valiantly the Allied sea power has dealt with a seemingly hopeless situation in the present year.
In the House of Commons not long ago a definite statement that the trend of the submarine war was favorable to the Allies was made. The one specific item given was that from January 1 to April 30, 1917, the number of unsuccessful attacks upon British steamships was 172, a weekly average of 10. Last year in the ten weeks from the end of February to the end of April there were 175 unsuccessful attacks, or a weekly average of 18. This statement was not exactly illuminating. For of itself a decline in the weekly number of unsuccessful attacks would imply an increase in the effectiveness of the U-boat—which we know is not so. What the House of Commons statement really meant, of course, was that the number of successful attacks had been declining as well as the number of unsuccessful attacks—or, in other words, that the German sea effort as a whole was declining. The U-boats are not hitting out as freely as they did a year ago. This argues that there are fewer of them than there were in 1917. For actual tonnage losses we have the word of the French Minister of Marine that the sinkings for April, 1918, were 268,000 tons, whereas in April of the previous year they were 800,000 tons, an appalling total.
"The most conclusive evidence we have seen of the failure of the enemy's submarine campaign is the huge American army now in France, and the hundreds of thousands of tons of stores brought across the Atlantic," said James Wilson, chairman of the American labor delegation, upon his return to England last May from a visit to France and to the American army. "Less than twelve months have passed since General Pershing arrived in France with 50 men. The developments that have taken place since seem little short of miraculous."
Georges Leygues, Minister of Marine of France, in testifying before the Chamber of Deputies in May said that in November of 1917 losses through the submarine fell below 400,000 tons, and since has diminished continuously. He said that the number of submarines destroyed had increased progressively since January of the present year in such proportion that the effectiveness of enemy squadrons cannot be maintained at the minimum required by the German Government. The number of U-boats destroyed in January, February, and March was far greater in each month than the number constructed in those months. In February and April the number of submarines destroyed was three less than the total destroyed in the previous three months. These results, the minister declared, were due to the methodical character of the war against submarines, to the close co-ordination of the Allied navies; to the intrepidity and spirit animating the officers and crews of the naval and aerial squadrons, to the intensification of the use of old methods and to the employment of new ones.
We may lay to ourselves the unction that the reduced effectiveness of the submarine coincided with the entrance of our naval forces into the war. This is taking nothing from the French, British, and Italian navies; as a matter of truth, it would be gross injustice to ignore the fact that the large share of the great task has been handled through the immense resources of the British. But the co-ordinated effort which began with the arrival of our vessels on the other side, the utter freedom with which Secretary Daniels placed our resources at the service of the British was inspiring in its moral influences throughout the Entente nations, while practically there may be no doubt that our craft have played their fair share in the activities that have seen the steady decline of deadliness on the part of the U-boat. We may now consider the methods which our navy in collaboration with Allied sea power have employed in this combat for the freedom of the seas.
How the Submarine is being Fought—Destroyers the Great Menace—But Nets, Too, Have Played Their Part—Many Other Devices—German Officers Tell of Experience on a Submarine Caught in a Net—Chasers Play Their Part—The Depth-Bomb—Trawler Tricks—A Camouflaged Schooner Which Turned Out To Be a Tartar—Airplanes—German Submarine Men in Playful Mood
When the submarines first began their attacks upon British war-ships and merchant vessels the admiralty was faced by a state of affairs which had been dealt with more or less in the abstract, the only practical lessons at hand being those of the Russo-Japanese War, which conflict, as a matter of fact, left rather an unbalanced showing so far as the undersea boat and the surface craft were concerned; in other words, the submersible had by all odds the advantage.
But England tackled the problem with bulldog energy, utilizing to that end not only her immense destroyer fleet, but a myriad of high-speed wooden boats, many of which were built in this country. They were called submarine-chasers, and while the destroyer and the seaplane, as one of the most effective weapons against the submarine, came to the fore, the chaser is employed in large numbers by England, France, and the United States.
The great usefulness of the destroyer lay not only in patrolling the seas in search of the U-boats, but of serving in convoys, protecting passenger and freight vessels, and in rescuing crews of vessels that had been sunk. There may be other methods of reducing Germany's sum total of submarines which are equally—if not more—effective than the destroyer; but, if so, we have not been made aware of that fact. Certain it is, however, that aside from the destroyer, steel nets, fake fishing and merchant sailing vessels, seaplanes and chasers have played their important part in the fight, while such a minor expedient as blinding the eye of the periscope by oil spread on the waters has not been without avail.
The United States Navy appears to have figured chiefly through its destroyer fleet. It has been stated that half the number of sailors who were in the navy when we entered the war were sent to European waters. The system of training them involves a number of training-bases in Europe constantly filling up from American drafts. Each new destroyer that steams to Europe from our shores in due course sends back some of her men to form a nucleus for the crew of another new destroyer turning up in American waters. Their places are taken by drafts from the training-bases in Europe. The destroyer referred to as turning up in this country makes up her complement from the battleships and other naval units here. The training-bases in this country are established at Newport, Chicago, San Francisco, and Pelham Bay, N.Y. Here the men have many months' instruction. As their training approaches completion they are sent where needed, and thus the work of creating an immense army of trained seamen qualified for any sort of a task proceeds with mechanical precision.
Submarine hunting is very popular with our young jackies, and great is their satisfaction when some submarine falls victim to their vigilance, their courage, and their unerring eyes.
"But," said a young sea officer not long ago, "the submarine is a difficult bird to catch. He holds the advantage over the surface craft. He always sees you first. Even when he is on the surface he is nearly awash, and when submerged only his periscope appears above the water. The submarine is not after animals of our breed—destroyers—and when he can he avoids them. We may go several weeks without putting an eye upon a single U-boat. When we do there is action, I can tell you. We start for him at full speed, opening up with all our guns in the hope of getting in a shot before he is able to submerge. But you may believe he doesn't take long to get below the surface. Anyway, the sub doesn't mind gun-fire much. They are afraid of depth charges—bombs which are regulated so that they will explode at any depth we wish. They contain two or three hundred pounds of high explosive, and all patrol vessels and destroyers carry them on deck and astern. When we see a submarine submerge we try to find his wake. Finding it, we run over it and drop a bomb. The explosion can be felt under water for a distance of several miles, but we have to get within ninety feet of the hull to damage it. This damage may or may not cause the undersea boat to sink. Inside of ninety feet, though, there isn't much doubt about the sinking.
"Patrol duty is a grind. The sea where we work is filled with wreckage for a distance of 300 miles off shore, and you can take almost any floating object for a periscope. Yes, we shoot at everything; ours is not a business in which to take chances. Convoy work is more interesting and more exciting than the round of patrol. The advantage of the convoy over the picking up and escorting of a merchantman by a patrol-boat is that in the convoy from six to ten destroyers can protect from ten to thirty merchantmen, while under the patrol system one destroyer watches one merchant craft. Convoy trips take our destroyers away from their base from six to eight days, and they are all trying days, especially so in dirty weather. On convoy duty no officer, and no man, has his clothes off from start to finish. Too many things may happen to warrant any sort of unpreparedness. Constant readiness is the watch-word.
"At night difficulty and danger increase, chiefly because of the increased danger of collision. Collisions sometimes occur—what with the absence of lights, the zigzag course of the ships of the convoy, and the speed with which we travel. But as a rule the accidents are of the scraping variety, and all thus is usually well. The convoy is purely a defensive measure. The patrol is the offensive; in this the destroyers and other craft go out and look for the U-boats, the idea being to hound them out of the seas."
Then there are netting operations in which our sailors have played some part. The netting most often used is made of stout galvanized wire with a 15-foot mesh. This is cut into lengths of 170 feet, with a depth of 45 feet. On top of this great net are lashed immense blocks of wood for buoys. Two oil-burning destroyers take the netting, and hanging it between them as deep down in the water as it will go, are ready to seine the 'silverfish.' The range of a submarine's periscope is little over a mile in any sort of sea. Vessels that are belching clouds of smoke may be picked up at distances of from three to five miles, but no more. In other words, watchful eyes gazing through binoculars may see a periscope as far as that periscope sees. The destroyers, bearing their net between them, then pick up a distant periscope. They chart the submarine's direction (this may be told by the direction in which the periscope is cutting the water) and calculate her speed. Then they steam to a point directly ahead of the submarine, and the lashings are cut away from the net. While it thus floats in the submarine's path the destroyers speed away out of eye-shot. In a large majority of cases it is claimed the submarine runs into that net, or one like it. Results are a probable disarrangement of her machinery and her balance upset. She may be thrown over on her back. If she comes up she goes down again for good and all with a hole shot in her hull; if not, it is just as well, a shell has been saved.
Submarines occasionally escape by changing their course after the nets have been set; but there appears to have been no instance of the destroyers themselves having been picked up by the periscope. This because they set pretty nearly as low as a submarine, and with their oil-burning propulsion give forth no telltale cloud of smoke. Other nets are hung from hollow glass balls, which the periscope cannot pick up against the sea water. These nets are set in profusion in the English Channel, the North Sea, or wherever submarines lurk, and they are tended just as the North River shad fishermen tend their nets. When a destroyer, making the rounds, sees that a glass ball has disappeared, there is more than presumptive evidence that something very valuable has been netted.
Naval Lieutenant Weddingen, of the German submarine U-17, has related the following experience with the British net system. The U-17 had left her base early in the morning and had passed into the North Sea, the boat being under water with periscope awash. "I looked through the periscope," said Weddingen, "and could see a red buoy behind my boat. When, ten minutes later, I looked I saw the buoy again, still at the same distance behind us. I steered to the right and then to the left, but the buoy kept on following us. I descended deeply into the water, but still saw the buoy floating on the surface above us. At last I discovered that we had caught the chain of the buoy and that we were dragging it along with us.
"At the same time, also, I saw through the periscope that a strange small steamer was steering a course directly behind us and the buoy. At this time my sounding apparatus indicated that a screw steamer was in the vicinity. Observation revealed that five enemy torpedo-boats were approaching from the north. I increased the speed of the boat in the expectation of being able to attack one of them. The five torpedo-boats arranged themselves in a circle. I sank still deeper and got ready for eventualities.
"At this juncture my boat began to roll in a most incomprehensible manner. We began to rise and sink alternately. The steering-gear apparently was out of order. Soon afterward I discovered that we had encountered a wire netting and were hopelessly entangled in it. We had, in fact, got into the net of one of the hunters surrounding us.
"For an hour and a half the netting carried us with it, and although I made every effort to get clear of it, it seemed impossible. There was nothing to do but increase the weight in the submarine as much as possible so that I might try to break the netting. Fortunately, when we had started I had pumped in from five to six tons of water, filling all the tanks. I increased the weight of the boat to the utmost, and suddenly we felt a shock and were clear of the netting. I then descended as deeply in the water as I could, the manometer showing thirty metres. We remained under water for eighteen hours. When I wanted to ascertain where we were I noticed that my compass was out of order. For a time I steered by the green color of the water, but at last I had to get rid of the ballast in order to rise. I then discovered that the manometer continued to register the same depth, and was also out of order.
"I had, therefore, to be very careful not to rise too high and thus attract the attention of the torpedo-boats. Slowly the periscope rose above the surface, and I could see the enemy in front of me, and toward the left the east coast of England. I tried to turn to starboard, but the rudder did not work. In consequence, I had to sink again to the bottom of the sea, where I remained for six hours, at the end of which time I had succeeded in putting the compass in order, and also in repairing the steering-gear. But upon rising this time, we were detected by a torpedo-boat, which made straight for us, forcing me to descend again." (This apparently was before depth-bombs came into use.) "I remained submerged for two hours, then turned slowly outward, and at a distance of some fifty metres from the leading enemy craft, passed toward the open sea. At 9 o'clock in the evening we were able to rise and proceed in safety."
Here is a human document, is it not? It is the experience of the tarpon at the undersea end of the line, or, in human terms, the hidden drama of man against man, drama of the sort made possible by the ingenuity of this modern age.
Submarine-chasers are shallow craft, capable of a speed of thirty-five miles an hour or more, mounting guns fore and aft. Some of our chasers measure more than 200 feet over all (Eagle class), while others measure 110 feet. The British, as already said, like the 80-footer, although using all sizes. Well, in any event, the chaser cruises about looking for surface waves. Now, the surface wave is the path marked by a submarine on the surface of the water. Even when she is fifty feet below the surface she leaves this palpable pathway up above. And few submarines travel at a depth of sixty feet. Then besides this track there are air-bubbles and spots of oil, all confirming the presence beneath the water of the U-boat.
So thereafter the chaser simply follows that surface wave until the submarine comes to the surface, as she must do sooner or later to get her bearings and look about for prey. When she does come up—she goes down for good. The hunt of the chaser has been aided in the past year or so by the depth-bomb, which did not exist in the first two and a half years of war. Equipped with this, she need not necessarily follow a surface wave all day; she simply drops the bomb down through this wave; at least she does under certain conditions.
This depth-bomb, by the way, is a wonderful invention, and with its perfection began the great decrease in submarine losses. The bomb is cylindrical and has in the top a well in which is fitted a small propeller. As the water comes in contact with the propeller the sinking motion causes it to revolve. As it revolves it screws down a detonator which comes in contact with the charge at ten, fifteen, twenty, or forty or more feet as designated by the hand of an indicator on the bomb. The hand of this indicator is, of course, set by the officer before the bomb is released either from a gun or from tracks along the deck.
Then there have been a number of tricks; some of them Yankee tricks, some of them the creatures of the equally fruitful British tar. One day in the North Sea a British patrol-vessel came across a trawler. It resembled the ordinary British trawler, but there were points of difference, points that interested the inquisitive—and suspicious—commander of the war-vessel. Chiefly there were a lot of stores upon her deck. She flew the Norwegian flag, and her skipper said he was neutral. But the British commander decided to take a chance. He arrested the crew, placed them in irons, and manned the trawler with a crew of French and English navy men.
The trawler hovered about in the same locality for three days, and then one morning, lo and behold, a periscope popped up close alongside. Seeing the waters clear of enemy ships, the U-boat came to the surface and frisked blithely up to the trawler. She was greeted by a shower of machine-gun bullets, and surrendered without ado. There was really nothing else for the surprised skipper to do. For when he had last seen that trawler she was the parent ship of the submarine flotilla operating in that vicinity. In all, before the week was over, that trawler had captured six submarines without the loss of a life, and no one injured.
Thereafter the parent-ship trawler was seized whenever the British could capture one, and the same expedient was tried. But after a time the Germans became wary of approaching parent-ships until they were convinced that their parenthood was more real than assumed.
Then one day after the Americans arrived a three-masted schooner was commandeered. They put a deck-load of lumber on her; at least it was an apparent deck-load. It was really a mask for a broadside of 3-pounder guns, different sections of the deck-load swinging open to admit of free play of the guns, as levers were pulled.
The schooner, commanded by a Maine skipper and his crew, was turned loose in the North Sea. Astern towed a dingy; from the taffrail flew the American flag. Before long out popped a submarine. Aha! A lumber-laden vessel—American! The German commander, grinning broadly, stepped into a gig with a bombing crew; torpedoes were not wasted on sailing-vessels.
"Get into your dingy," he cried, motioning toward the craft dangling astern.
The Maine skipper, in his red underclothes, besought, and then cursed—while the German grinned the more broadly. Finally, however, the irate—sic—skipper and his crew of five clambered into their dingy as ordered by the commander of the submarine. And then! No sooner had the schooner crew cleared the wind-jammer than the deck-load of lumber resolved itself into a series of doors, and out of each door protruded a gun. It was the last of that submarine, of course. The schooner got five submarines before another submarine happened to witness the destruction of a companion craft.
Next day when the schooner approached a submarine the undersea boat let drive with a torpedo, and the joyous days of that particular wind-jammer were at an end. But thereafter the Germans seldom tried to bomb a sailing craft.
Airplanes have played their important part in the work of our navy in combating the submarine. Seaplanes are sent on patrol from regular bases or from the deck of a parent-vessel, a steamship of large size. Flying at a height of 10,000 feet, an airplane operator can see the shadow of a submarine proceeding beneath the surface. Thus viewing his prey, the aviator descends and drops a depth-bomb into the water. Our airmen have already won great commendation from the British Admiralty and aerial commanders. Whatever may have been the delays in airplane production in this country, the American Navy has not been at fault, and Secretary Daniels's young men went into British seaplanes when American planes were not at hand. From British Admiralty sources have come many tales of the skill and courage of the American aviators. There was one recent instance noted of an American pilot scouting for submarines who spotted a periscope. He dropped a bomb a few feet astern and a few feet ahead of that periscope, both bombs falling perfectly in line with the objective. He circled and then dropped a bomb in the centre of a disturbance in the water. Up came oil in great quantities.
Another American pilot managed the rare feat of dropping a bomb precisely upon the centre of the deck of a submarine, and had the unhappy experience of seeing it fail to explode—as recently happened in the submarine fight off Cape Cod, near Chatham.
In hunting for the submarines the American destroyers have patrolled an area as wide as that bounded roughly by the great V formed by New York, Detroit, and Knoxville, Tenn. And while patrolling they have become skilled in the use of the depth charges, in establishing smoke screens so as to hide vessels of a convoy from the periscope eye, and in marksmanship. One gun crew not long ago saw the spar of a sunken ship which they at first took to be a periscope. They shattered that spar at a distance of 2,000 yards—more than a mile.
Filled with the enthusiasm of each new encounter with the enemy, the Americans have not been slow to build upon their experience, devising more effective methods against the next affray. For example, two officers working on designs for new destroyers have introduced many new ideas gained from their experiences in submarine-hunting. Suggestions relating to improved gun-fire and the like are always arising from the men of the fleet, and often they are accepted and applied.
A new appliance—I don't know by whom invented—is an improved microphone, by which the revolutions of a propeller are not only heard, but the direction also is indicated, while the force of the under-water sound-waves are translated on an indicator in terms of proximity. The great drawback to this is that the submarines are also equipped with microphones of the sort—or at least are said to be.
It is usually a grim business on both sides; but occasionally a bit of humor comes out of the seas. A case in point was the message received almost every night by an American destroyer in European waters. The radiogram said:
"My position is —— degrees north, and —— degrees west. Come and get me; I am waiting for you."
Now Hans Rose was the name of the German submarine commander who visited Newport, October, 1917, as we have already narrated. Twice the destroyer proceeded swiftly to the location, but never did Hans Rose keep his appointment. If he had the American sailors would not have given Captain Rose's crew beer upon that occasion, as they did when Rose and his U-boat dropped into Newport harbor.
Then there is a submarine commander known throughout the American flotilla as "Kelly." He commands a mine-laying submarine, which pays frequent visits to the district patrolled by the American destroyers. When he has finished his task of distributing his mines where they will do the most harm, he generally devotes a few minutes to a prank of some sort. Sometimes, it is a note flying from a buoy, scribbled in schoolboy English, and addressed to his American enemy. On other occasions Kelly and his men leave the submarine and saunter along a desolate stretch of Irish shore-line, always leaving behind them a placard or other memento of their visit.
But the most hazardous exploit, according to gossip of American forecastles, was a visit which Kelly made to Dublin, remaining, it is said, for two days at one of the principal hotels, and later rejoining his boat somewhere on the west coast.
His latest feat was to visit an Irish village and plant the German flag on a rise of land above the town. One may imagine how the Irish fisherfolk, who have suffered from mines, treated this flag and how ardently they wished that flag were the body of Kelly.
But Kelly and his less humorously inclined commanders have been having a diminishing stock of enjoyment at the expense of the Allied navies in the past year. Senator Swanson, acting chairman of the Naval Committee in Congress, said on June 6, after a conference with Secretary Daniels and his assistants, that the naval forces of the Entente Powers had destroyed 60 per cent of all German submarines constructed, and that they had cut the shipping losses in half. Lloyd George in his great speech last July, said that 150 submarines had been sunk since war began and of this number 75 were sunk in the past 12 months. Truly an extraordinary showing.
Perils and Triumphs of Submarine-Hunting—The Loss of our First War-Ship, The Converted Gunboat "Alcedo"—Bravery of Crew—"Cassin" Struck by Torpedo, But Remains in the Fight—Loss of the "Jacob Jones"—Sinking of the "San Diego"—Destroyers "Nicholson" and "Fanning" Capture a Submarine, Which Sinks—Crew of Germans Brought Into Port—The Policy of Silence in Regard to Submarine-Sinkings
But as in the pursuit of dangerous game there is always liable to be two angles to any experience—or say, rather, a reverse angle, such as the hunted turning hunter—so in the matter of our fight against the submarine there are instances—not many, happily—where the U-boat has been able to deal its deadly blow first.
The first of our war-ships to be sunk by a submarine was the naval patrol gun-boat Alcedo, which was torpedoed shortly before 2 o'clock on the morning of November 5, 1917, almost exactly seven months after we entered the war. She was formerly G. W. Childs Drexel's yacht Alcedo, and Anthony J. Drexel Paul, an officer in the Naval Reserve, was on her at the time. The vessel was the flag-ship of one of the patrol-flotillas, and for months had performed splendid service in the North Sea.
The torpedo that sunk the vessel came without warning, and so true was the aim that the war-ship went down in four minutes, carrying with her one officer and twenty of the crew. Commander William T. Conn, U.S.N., who commanded the vessel, in telling later of the experience, paid a high testimonial to the coolness and bravery of the crew. Eighty per cent of the men were reserves, but regulars could have left no better record of courage and precision.
"Here," said Commander Conn, "is a story that indicates the kind of men we have in the navy. I had a young lad in my crew, a yeoman, and one day I sent for him and told him that if we were ever torpedoed he was to save the muster-roll, so that when it was all over it would be possible to check up and find who had been saved. Well, the Alcedo was torpedoed at 2 o'clock one morning, and in four minutes she disappeared forever. Hours afterward, when we were waiting to be picked up, I saw my yeoman, and I said:
"'Son, where is my muster-roll?'
"'Here it is,' he replied, as he reached inside his shirt and pulled it out.... And that same boy, in the terrible minutes that followed the loss of our ship, found a broken buoy. He was holding on to it when he saw one of our hospital stewards, who was about to give in. He struggled to the side of the steward and with one hand held him above the water while with the other he clung to the buoy. He held on until both were saved."
While the Alcedo was the first war-vessel to be sunk by a submarine, the first war-ship to be stricken in torpedo attack was the destroyer Cassin, one of the vessels that raced out of Newport to rescue the victims of the ravages of the German U-boat off Nantucket, in October, 1916. The Cassin was on patrol duty and had sighted a submarine about four miles away. The destroyer, in accordance with custom, headed for the spot, and had about reached it when the skipper, Commander Walter H. Vernon, sighted a torpedo running at high speed near the surface, and about 400 yards away. The missile was headed straight for the midship section of the war-ship. Realizing the situation, the commanding officer rang for the emergency full speed ahead on both engines, put the rudder hard over, and was just clear of the torpedo's course when it broached on the water, turned sharply and headed for the stern of the vessel. Here stood Osmond Kelly Ingram, gunner's mate, at his gun. He saw that if the torpedo struck at the stern it would, aside from working initial damage, cause the explosion of munitions stored on the after deck.
Thereupon, knowing that the torpedo was going to strike about where he stood, he ran to the pile of munitions and tumbled them into the sea. The explosion occurred as he was at work, and he was blown into the ocean and lost. But he had not died in vain, for the secondary explosion that he feared was averted by his act of supreme sacrifice.
Fortunately, only one engine was disabled by the explosion, and the destroyer was thus permitted to remain under way. She zigzagged to and fro, hoping to get a chance at her assailant, and in about an hour the German submarine commander decided that it was a good time to come to the surface for a better look at the destroyer. As the conning-tower came into view the Cassin's gunners delivered four shots, two of which fell so close to the U-boat that she submerged and was not seen again. In the meantime the crew, with splendid team-work, set about repairing the damage and attending to the five men who were wounded, none seriously.
After a while British war-ships came up and the Cassin returned to port. Admiral Sims mentioned Commander Vernon and his officers in despatches to Secretary Daniels, and more than a score of the seamen were cited for coolness and efficiency.
Our second war-ship definitely known to be sunk by the German submarines was the destroyer Jacob Jones, which was struck at 4.12 o'clock on the afternoon of December 6, last. The destroyer was on patrol, and nothing was known of the proximity of the submarine until the torpedo hit the vessel. The Jacob Jones, which was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander David Worth Bagley, a brother-in-law of Secretary Daniels and brother of Ensign Worth Bagley, who was killed on the torpedo-boat Winslow in the fight at Cardenas in the Spanish-American War, went down in seventeen minutes after she was struck. Gunner Harry R. Hood was killed by the explosion, but the remainder of the company got safely overside in rafts and boats. The submarine appeared after the sinking and took one of the survivors aboard as a prisoner. Lieutenant-Commander Bagley, with five others, landed in a small boat on the Scilly Islands while other survivors reached shore in various ways. The Jacob Jones was regarded by superstitious navy men as something of a Jonah, she having figured in one or two incidents involving German spies while in this country.
The first and to date the only American war-ship lost in American waters as a result of submarine attack was the armored cruiser San Diego—formerly the California—which was sunk by a mine off Point o' Woods on the Long Island coast on the morning of July 19, 1918. Facts associated with the disaster, involving the loss of some fifty lives, are illuminated with the light of supreme heroism, gallantry, and utter devotion. In no single instance was there failure on the part of officers or crew to meet the unexpected test in a manner quite in accordance with the most glorious annals of the United States Navy.
Point will perhaps be given to this if we picture Captain Harley H. Christie pushing his way about the welter of wreckage in a barrel, reorganizing some 800 of his men, who were floating about on every conceivable sort of object, into the disciplined unit that they had comprised before they were ordered overside to take their chances in the ocean. Or again, taking the enlisted-man aspect of the situation, there was the full-throated query of a husky seaman, clinging to a hatch as the San Diego disappeared:
"Where's the captain?"
Then a chorus of voices from the water:
"There he is! See his old bald head! God bless it! Three cheers for the skip!"
There they all were, some 800 men, survivors of a company numbering thirteen-odd hundred, in the water, out of sight of land, not a ship in sight—and twelve life-boats among them, cheering, singing, exchanging badinage and words of good hope.
The San Diego, which was one of the crack shooting-ships of the navy, and had made seven round trips to France in convoy work without ever having seen a submarine, was on her way from the Portsmouth, N.H., navy-yard, where she had been completely overhauled in dry-dock and coaled, to New York, where her crew were to have had short liberty, preliminary to another voyage to France. She carried a heavy deck-load of lumber which she was to take to France for the Marine Corps. She had in her bunkers some 3,000 tons of coal.
On the morning of July 19, the cruiser, shortly after 11 o'clock, had reached a point about seven miles southeast of Point o' Woods. The sun was shining brilliantly, but the coast-line was veiled in a heavy haze. There was a fair ground-swell running, but no sea. The San Diego was ploughing along at a fifteen-knot clip, not pursuing the zigzag course which it is customary for vessels to follow in enemy-infested waters.
No submarine warning had been issued, and, as the vessel was only seven miles offshore, there may be no doubt that the officers of the war-ship did not consider the trip as any more hazardous than the hundreds of journeys she had made along our coast from port to port. The crew were engaged in the usual routine, with the added labor of getting the vessel ship-shape after the grimy operation of coaling at Portsmouth. The explosion came without warning at 11.15 o'clock. It was extremely heavy, accompanied by a rending and grinding of metal and by the explosion of the after-powder magazine, which destroyed the quarter-deck and sent the mainmast, with wireless attached, crashing overboard. The torpedo, or whatever it was, wrecked the engine-room, demolished the boilers, and put the electric dynamos out of order.
The thunderous explosion was followed immediately by the insistent whine of bugles and the clanging of alarm-bells, calling the crew to battle-stations. And the crew went quietly, without the slightest disorder. Down in the bunkers, four decks below, was an officer, with a party of seamen, setting things to rights after the coaling. As the explosion occurred and the vessel heeled, these men, as though instinctively, formed into a line, and then without excitement or hurry climbed the four upright steel ladders to the deck, the officer, of course, following last of all.
On deck the 6-inch starboard and port batteries were blazing away, not only at objects that might turn out to be periscopes or submarines, but in order to call assistance; for the wireless was out of commission, and there was not a sail or a hull in sight.
After a few minutes, the bugles sounded the order "Prepare to abandon ship." This applied to every one but the gun crews, who had to remain at their stations for at least five minutes after the process of abandonment was put into operation. The post of one of the gun-crew officers was in the fighting-top of the basket-mast forward, his duty being that of spotter of his crew. As he hurried along the deck to his station the crew lined up along the port rail with life-preservers and were jumping into the sea as ordered.
There were comrades who had been killed or maimed by the shifting deck-load of lumber; there were comrades who, in jumping into the sea, had struck their heads against the steel hull, breaking their necks, and yet there the rest stood in line, waiting for the orders that would send them overboard.
"Isn't this a crime," laughed one of the seamen, "just after I had got on my liberty blues and was all set for the high spots in New York!"
"Gripes! My cigarettes are all wet! Who's got a dry one?"
"Look out there, kid; be careful you don't get your feet wet."
Twelve life-boats were overside, set adrift in the usual manner to be filled after the men were in the water. Then, of course, the sea was littered with lumber and all sorts of debris which would keep a man afloat.
While the abandonment of the ship was under way, the officer who had been in the bunkers, and whose station was in the fighting-top, hurried upward to his post. The port guns were still being served, but their muzzles were inclining ever downward toward the water. In his battle-station this officer directed the firing of the port guns until their muzzles dipped beneath the surface of the sea. There were three officers with him in the fighting-top and three seamen. Below they saw the perfect order which obtained, the men stepping into the sea in ranks, laughing and cheering.
Presently this officer sent one of the seamen down the mast to get life-belts for the group of men in the spotting-station. By the time he returned the bugles were ordering the total abandonment of the vessel.
So the little group made their way, not to the deck, which was now straight up and down, but to the starboard side of the hull, upon which they could walk, the vessel then being practically on her beam ends. Trapped at their stations on the port side were members of the 6-inch port battery. One of them was seen by a comrade just before rising waters shut him from view. The sinking man nodded and waved his hand.
"Good-by, Al," he said.
As the officer who had been in the fighting-top jumped clear into the sea, the vessel began to go down, now by the head. Slowly the stern rose, and as it did so, he says, the propellers came into view, and perched on one of the blades was a devil-may-care American seaman, waving his hat and shouting.
The vessel, the officer says, disappeared at 11.30 o'clock, fifteen minutes after the explosion occurred. There was some suction as the San Diego disappeared, but not enough, according to the calculation of the survivors with whom I talked, to draw men to their death.
In the course of another hour, Captain Christie had collected as many of his officers as he could, and the work of apportioning the survivors to the twelve boats and to pieces of flotsam was carried on with naval precision. One man, clinging to a grating, called out that he had cramps. A comrade in one of the boats thereupon said the sailor could have his place. He leaped into the sea and the man with cramps was assisted into the boat.
While this was going on a seaplane from the Bay Shore station passed over the heads of the men in the water. The seamen did not think they had been seen, but they had been, and the aviator, flying to Point o' Woods, landed and used the coast-guard telephone to apprise the Fire Island coast-guards of the disaster. From this station word was sent broadcast by wireless. In the meantime, Captain Christie had picked two crews of the strongest seamen and had them placed in No. 1 and No. 2 life-boats. These men were ordered to row south-west to Fire Island and summon assistance.
In one boat thirteen men were placed; in the other fourteen. As the captain got the boat-crews arranged, his barrel began to get waterlogged and became rather precarious as a support; whereupon a floating seaman pushed his way through the water with a ladder.
"Here, sir," he said, "try this."
Thus it was that Captain Christie transferred to a new flag-ship.
The boat-crews left the scene of the disaster at 12.35, and they rowed in fifteen-minute relays from that hour until quarter past three. Before they had gone four miles merchant ships were rushing to the spot, as set forth in the wireless warning. These merchantmen got all of the men afloat in the water—or a vast majority of them—and took them to the naval station at Hoboken.
At the time of the disaster and for twenty-four hours thereafter there was some doubt whether or not the San Diego had been lost through contact with a mine, or was struck by a torpedo launched from a submarine. Submarine activities off Cape Cod the following Sunday, however, gave proof that the undersea boats had made their second hostile visit to our shores.