THE U-BOAT HUNTERS
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BOOKS BY JAMES B. CONNOLLY Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
THE U-BOAT HUNTERS. Illustrated net $1.50 RUNNING FREE. Illustrated net 1.50 HEAD WINDS. Illustrated net 1.50 SONNIE-BOY'S PEOPLE. Illustrated net 1.50 WIDE COURSES. Illustrated net 1.50 OPEN WATER. Illustrated net 1.50 THE CRESTED SEAS. Illustrated net 1.50 THE DEEP SEA'S TOLL. Illustrated net 1.50 THE SEINERS. Illustrated net 1.50 OUT OF GLOUCESTER. Illustrated net 1.50 JEB HUTTON. Illustrated net 1.20 THE TRAWLER. net .50
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THE U-BOAT HUNTERS
JAMES B. CONNOLLY
New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1918
Copyright, 1906, 1918, by Charles Scribner's Sons
Published June, 1918
Copyright, 1916, 1917, 1918, by P. F. Collier & Son, Incorporated
What a great thing if we could do away with war!
But men are not cast in that mould. We shall continue to have wars; and some day the world is going to have a war to which the present will serve only as a try-out.
When that war comes our country will probably have to bear the burden for the western hemisphere. In that war our navy will be our first line of defense; and what we do for our navy now will have much to do with what our navy will be able to do for us then.
Our navy to-day is made up of good ships and capable, courageous, hard-working officers and men. There are some fuddy-duddies and politicians among them, but most of them are on the job every minute. Their highest hope is the chance to serve their country. The chapters in this book which tell of their U-boat hunting only prove once more their great qualities.
There are chapters in this book which have nothing to do with U-boat hunting, but have much to do with the navy. Such are the two opening chapters and the three closing chapters. The motive of four of those chapters will probably be obvious; the chapter on the workings of a submarine is included in the hope of interesting our young fellows in that type of craft.
The need of such a chapter? Take this illustration of what people do not know about submarines: Three years ago an admiral on the other side was called into conference on the U-boat problem. When it came his turn to speak he said: "Gentlemen, it is child's talk to say that the U-boats will ever amount to anything! Disregard them utterly!" Only three years ago that was, and that naval officer was considered for commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet! Three years ago, and last year the U-boats sank 6,600,000 tons of shipping!
Right now Germany probably contemplates, or is actually constructing, U-boats with armor and guns heavy enough to engage on the surface any war craft up to the battle-cruiser class. How far from that to fighting the heaviest of surface craft—even to the battleships?
In the event of invasion—we might as well face that; refusing to think about it certainly will not eliminate the possibility,—in the event of invasion by a powerful foe our first line of defense will be our navy. The navy will always be our first line of defense; and so the need to-day of interesting in our navy young men,—progressive young men, who will learn from the past but prefer to live in the future.
J. B. C.
PAGE NAVY SHIPS 1
NAVY MEN 12
SEEING THEM ACROSS 24
THE U-BOATS APPEAR 37
CROSSING THE CHANNEL 58
THE CENSORS 77
ONE THEY DIDN'T GET 92
THE DOCTOR TAKES CHARGE 108
THE 343 STAYS UP 127
THE CARGO BOATS 142
FLOTILLA HUMOR—AT SEA 157
FLOTILLA HUMOR—ASHORE 172
THE UNQUENCHABLE DESTROYER BOYS 186
THE MARINES HAVE LANDED— 204
THE NAVY AS A CAREER 222
THE SEA BABIES 239
"Where you-all going?... Can't you-all see where you're going? Keep off—keep off" Frontispiece
She shoved out into the stream and kicked her way down the harbor, and as she did so ... everybody seemed to know 26
Our thirty-knot clip was eating up the road. We were getting near the spot 98
In the engine-room of a submarine 242
More than one-third of our naval force was being reviewed by the President. A most impressive assembly of men-o'-war it was, in tonnage and weight of metal the greatest ever floated by the waters of the western hemisphere.
The last of the fleet had arrived on the night before. From the bluffs along the shore they might have been seen approaching with a mysterious play of lights across the shadowy waters. In the morning they were all there. Hardly a type was lacking—the last 16,000-ton double-turreted battleship, the protected and heavy-armored cruisers, monitors, despatch-boats, gun-boats, destroyers, attendant transport, and supply ships. Fifty ships, 1,200 guns, 16,000 men: all were there, even to the fascinating little submarines with their round black backs just showing above the water.
It was that chromatic sort of a morning when the canvas of the sailing-boats stands out startlingly white against the drizzly sky and the smoke from the stacks of the steamers takes on an accented coal-black, and, drooping, trails low in a murky wake. Rather a dull setting at this early hour; but not sufficiently dull to check the vivacity of the actors in the scene.
The President comes up the side of the Mayflower and, arrived at the head of the gangway, stands rigid as any stanchion to attention while his colors are shot to the truck and the scarlet-coated band plays the national hymn. Then, ascending to the bridge, he takes station by the starboard rail with the Secretary of the Navy at his shoulder. The clouds roll away, the sun comes out, and all is as it should be while he prepares to review the fleet, which thereafter responds aboundingly to every burst of his own inexhaustible enthusiasm.
And this fleet, which is lying to anchor in three lines of four miles or so each in length, with a respectful margin of clear water all about, is, viewed merely as a marine pageant, magnificent; as a display of potential fighting power, most convincing. No man might look on it and his sensibilities—admiration, patriotism, respect, whatever they might be—remain unstirred. To witness it is to pass in mental review the great fleets of other days and inevitably to draw conclusions. Beside this armament the ill-destined Armada, Von Tromp's stubborn squadrons, Nelson's walls of oak, or Farragut's steam and sail would dissolve like the glucose squadrons that boys buy at Christmas time. Even Dewey's workman-like batteries (this to mark the onward rush of naval science) would be rated obsolete beside the latest of these!
It was first those impressive battleships; and bearing down on them one better saw what terrible war-engines they are. Big guns pointing forward, big guns pointing astern, long-reaching guns abeam, and little business-looking machine-guns in the tops—their mere appearance suggests their ponderous might. A single broadside from any of these, properly placed, and there would be an end to the most renowned flag-ships of wooden-fleet days. And that this frightful power need never wait on wind or tide, nor be hindered in execution by any weather much short of a hurricane, is assured when we note that to-day, while the largest of the excursion steamers are heaving to the whitecaps, these are lying as immovable almost as sea-walls.
It is, first, the flag-ship which thunders out her greeting—one, two, three—twenty-one smoke-wreathed guns—while her sailormen, arm to shoulder, mark in unwavering blue the lines of deck and superstructure. Meantime the officers on the bridge, admiral in the foreground, are standing in salute; and in the intervals of gun-fire there are crashing out over the waters again the strains of the "Star Spangled Banner." And the flag-ship left astern, the guns of the next in line boom out, and on her also the band plays and men and officers stand to attention; and so the next, and next. And, the battleships passed, come the armored cruisers, riding the waters almost as ponderously as the battleships and hardly less powerful, but much faster on the trail; and they may run or fight as they please. After examining them, long and swift-looking, with no more space between decks than is needed for machinery, stores, armament, and lung-play for live men, the inevitable reflection recurs that the advance of mechanical power must color our dreams of romance in future. Surely the old ways are gone. Imagine one of the old three-deckers aiming to work to windward of one of these in a gale, and if by any special dispensation of Providence she was allowed to win the weather berth, imagine her trying, while she rolled down to her middle deck, to damage one of these belted brutes, who meantime would be leisurely picking out the particular plank by which she intended to introduce into her enemy's vitals a weight of explosive metal sufficient in all truth to blow her out of water.
After the cruisers passed the craft of comparatively small tonnage and power follow—the gun-boats, transports, and supply ships; and, almost forgotten, the monitors, riding undisturbedly, like squat little forts afloat, with freeboard so low that with a slightly undulating sea a turtle could swim aboard. And after them the destroyers, which look their name. Most wicked inventions; no shining brasswork nor holy-stoned quarter, no decorative and convenient companionway down the side—no anything that doesn't make for results. Ugly, wicked-looking, with hooded ports from under which peer the muzzles of long-barrelled weapons that look as if they were designed for the single business of boring, and boring quickly, holes in steel plate.
So the Mayflower steams down the four long lines in review; and always the batteries and bands in action, the immortal hymn echoing out like rolling thunder between the flame-lit broadsides. From shore to shore the cannon detonate and our fighting blood is stirred. On the pleasure craft skirting the line of pickets like vaguely outlined picture boats in the dim, perspective haze, the people seem also to be stirred. We dream of the glory of battle; but better than that, the hymn which has stirred men to some fine deeds in the past, and shall to just as brave in the future, mounts like a surging tide to our hearts:
"Oh, say, can you see?"
it is asking. And we can see—no need of the glass—ahead, astern, abeam, aloft, some thousands of them streaming in the fresh west wind, and within signal distance of their beautiful waving folds a multitude of men and women in whom the sense of patriotism must have become immeasurably deepened for being within call this day.
The vibration of brass and pipe, the music and the saluting, one ship and the next, and never the welcome of one died out before the tumult of the next began. It was like the ceaseless roar of the ever-rolling ocean, with never an instant when the ear-drum did not vibrate to the salute of cannon, the blood tingle to the call of the nation's hymn. One felt faith in ships and crews after it; and later, when in the cabin of the Mayflower the admirals and captains gathered, to meet them and to listen was to feel anew the assurance that this navy will be ready when the hour comes to do whatever may be deemed right and well by the people.
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The admirals and the attaches having departed and dinner become a thing of the past, it was time to review the electric-light display.
We were almost abreast of the first in line, and she was like a ship from fairyland. Along her run the bulbed lights extended, and thence to her turrets, and, higher up, followed the outline of stacks and tops and masts, with floating strings of them suspended here and there between. Most striking of all, her name in gigantic, flaming letters faced forward from her bridge. Now one ship decked in a multiplicity of jewels on this clear calm night would have been a beautiful sight—but where there were forty-odd of them——!
It was a sailor of the fleet, lurking in the shifting shadows of the bridge, that he might enjoy his surreptitious cigarette and not suffer disratement therefor, who reviewed the illuminations most illuminingly. "Man, but they do blaze out, don't they? They make me think of the post-cards we used to buy in foreign ports. You held them up before the light and they came out shining like a Christmas-tree. But no ships of cards these—and that's the wonderful thing, too. Seeing them to-day, with their batteries in view, 'twas enough to put the fear o' God in a man's heart, and now look at them—like a child's dream of heaven—that is, if we don't sheer too close and see that the guns are still there. And, look now, the tricks they're at!"
Outlined in incandescents, the semaphores of a dozen ships were being worked most industriously. "Jerk up and down like the legs and arms of the mechanical dolls at the theatre, don't they? But these here could be dancing for something more than the people's amusement if 'twas necessary. And what are they saying? Oh, most likely it's 'The compliments of the admiral, and will you come aboard the flag-ship and try a taste of punch?' And 'With pleasure,' that other one is saying. And they'll be lowering away the launch and no doubt be having a pleasant chat presently. And they could just as easily be saying (if 'twas the right time), 'Pipe to quarters and load with shell'—just as easy; and they could revolve the near turret of that one, and ten seconds after they cut loose you and me, if we weren't already killed by rush of air, would be brushing the salt water from our eyes and clawing around for a stray piece of wreckage to hang on to. Just as easy—but look at 'em now again!"
The search-lights were paralleling and intersecting, now revealing the perpendicular depths beside the vessel, and now flooding the sky. Twenty of them, simultaneously flashing, were sweeping the surface of the Sound, one instant outlining the arbored Long Island shore, the next betraying the beaches of Connecticut. One, beaming westerly, disclosed a loaded excursion steamer half-way to Hell Gate, and, a moment later, turning a hand-spring, picked up in its diverging path the Fall River steamer miles away to the eastward.
"The torpedo-boats'd have the devil's own time trying to lay aboard to-night, wouldn't they? And yet if 'twas cloudy 'twould be the submarines! Did you see them to-day? Weren't they cute—like little whale pups setting on the water—yes. They say they've got them where they turn somersaults now. Great, yes—but terrible, too, when you think they're liable to come your way some fine day. Imagine yourself, all at once, some night when you ought to be sound asleep in your hammock, finding yourself, afore you're yet fair awake, so high in the sky that you can almost reach out and take hold of the handle of the Dipper! And when you come down and get the official report, learning that one of those cute little playthings had been making a subaqueous call.
"It's ninety-odd years since the American navy proved it could do a good job; for, of course, none of us count Spain, who wasn't ready to begin with, and wasn't our size, anyway. And yet, we mightn't make out so bad 'gainst a bigger enemy at that. Our fellows can shoot, that's sure. There's a gun crew in this ship we're breasting now, and I saw them awhile ago put eight 12-inch shot in succession through that regulation floating target we use, and it was as far away as the farther end of that line of cruisers there, and the target was bobbing up and down, and we steaming by at 10 knots an hour. Not too bad—hah? And a hundred crews like 'em in the navy. That's for the shooting."
He flicked the end of another fleeting cigarette over the rail. "Yes, the American navy has fought pretty well, and this navy, no fear, will fight too. There's more different kinds of people in it than ever before, they say—though as to that I guess there were always more kinds of people in the navy than the historians ever gave credit for. Now it's all kinds like the nation itself, I suppose. And that ought to make for good fighting, don't you think?"
The foregoing occasion was the first of several naval spectacles staged by Theodore Roosevelt during his presidency to show the public that we had a growing navy, and not too small a navy, and a navy that, ship for ship, need ask for no odds in its equipment at least.
More than any President we ever had did Theodore Roosevelt work for a big navy. To no President before him in our country did the prospect of a great European war loom so near; a war which meant our participation, not so much through any will of our people as by the pressure of happenings from the other side.
Hence, the need of the country for as large a navy as we could get together. With an eye for this future need President Roosevelt asked for 4 battleships a year. There were men in Congress who believed that to talk of war was foolish; there would be no more war; so, instead of 4, Congress gave him 2, and the famous "big stick" had to come into play before they gave him even the two.
During these years I had the privilege from President Roosevelt of cruising on United States war-ships—gun-boats, destroyers, cruisers, battleships (later, through the good offices of Secretary Daniels, I became acquainted with submarines and navy airplanes).
The war-ships were an interesting study, and the life aboard a war-ship then was even more interesting, for after all, men, not materials, were the chief thing. Almost any fairly well-trained bunch of mechanics will turn out a pretty good machine to order. But there is no turning out good men to order; only good-living generations can do that.
If it was a matter of machinery alone, then the Prussian idea would have this war already won. But that alone cannot prevail, can never prevail for the long run. It is the spirit which must win.
The personnel of the navy, officers and men, seemed always so much more interesting to me, that for one hour I spent in looking over ship equipment, I probably spent forty in observing the men; and when you are locked up in ships for weeks or months with a lot of men you must, where your heart and mind are not closed, come away in time with some sort of knowledge of them.
And what sort are they?
Well, they are nearly all young—average age about twenty-one years; and they come from anywhere and everywhere—from the farms, the prairies, the corners of city streets; and they have been many things—farm-hands, carpenters, mechanics, barbers, trolley-car men, clerks, street loafers, college boys. Some are terribly sophisticated in worldly ways and some so green, of course, that the wags have frequent chances to keep their wits on edge. Some have come with the plain notion that if a fellow has got to fight, why then the navy offers the most comfortable outlook for a fellow—during this war it especially offers it—dry hammock every night, no mud, no cooties, and three hot meals at regular intervals—but many are there with the bright hope of some day pointing a 14-inch gun and sending a relay of 1,400-pound shells where they will blow something foreign and opposing high as the flying clouds.
Blowing up ships and people may have once seemed a terrible idea, but a few weeks in the community of a war-ship with its matter-of-fact, professional manner of discussing such subjects soon brings them around to common, seagoing notions of the matter.
Four years ago at Vera Cruz our modern navy had its first taste of war. It was only a light touch of war, and there was no doubt of the outcome; but in little affairs men may be tried out, too. Through somebody's blunder, for which somebody should have been jacked-up, our bluejackets were sent up in solid sections to occupy a large open area on the Vera Cruz water-front. Standing there in solid columns, not knowing just what was going to happen, but feeling to a certainty that something stirring was going to happen, and to happen soon, they stood there grinning widely and waiting for the ball to open. It may have been their childish innocence, it may have been their untutored ignorance, but when that sheeted rifle fire first burst from the roof of the Naval College, and a solid squad or two of our lads went down, and following that the snipers began to get them in ones and twos and threes—when that happened there was no distressing confusion in their ranks. When, later, it became necessary for the Prairie and Chester to fire just over their heads to batter the walls of that same War College, it made no difference. The ships' gunnery was rapid and excellent—they knew it would be—and when the shells went whistling through the walls of the second story, the marines and bluejackets stood under the first story and let them whistle. Plaster and bricks from the shaken walls came tumbling down upon them. They ducked beneath the falling mortar, some of them, but they all took their shells standing.
They are not the sailors of classic tradition, these battleship lads of the twentieth century. Every man to the age he lives in—it must be so. The old phrase, "Drunk as a sailor," meant, in most men's minds, drunk as a man-o'-war's man. I was born and brought up in a great seaport—Boston—and my earliest memories are of loafing days along the harbor front and the husky-voiced, roaring fellows coming ashore in the pulling boats from the men-o'-war; fine, rolling-gaited fellows, in from long cruises and flamingly eager to make the most of their short liberty. Great-hearted men, who gave truth to the phrase—"and spending his money like a drunken sailor"—and knowing, usually, but two inescapable obligations—to do his duty aboard ship and to stand by a shipmate in trouble ashore. Almost any of the old-time policemen of the large seaports can tell you many fine tales of the riotous hours along the water-front in the old days.
Such is the passing tradition. The present lad of the navy is creating a new one. For one thing, he no longer gets drunk—that is, he does not get drunk by divisions. To illustrate:
During that greatest steaming stunt in all maritime history—the cruise of our sixteen battleships with their auxiliaries around the world—all naval records were broken in the number of enlisted men allowed ashore. Every day in large foreign ports saw 4,000 of our bluejackets and marines allowed shore liberty. Now consider the case of the first foreign port where liberty was granted, Rio de Janeiro in South America; and what happened in Rio was what happened in other ports.
It was five weeks or more since leaving home, and during that five weeks they had been for twelve days steaming along one of the hottest coasts (Brazil) in all the world—the tropics—and it was summer-time once they were south of the line; and in all that time no chance for an enlisted man to get a drink of any kind of liquor—no beer or light wine even—no matter what the intensity of the thirst which may have possessed him.
Now he is suddenly thrown ashore with his pockets full of money. He has only to go to the paymaster and draw pretty much all he pleases. By actual figures the men of the battle fleet—about 13,000—drew $200,000 in gold to spend ashore in Rio—about $15 a man. For five or six weeks not a drop to drink, and all at once 4,000 of them thrown daily to roam into the midst of 500 grog shops with their pockets full of money, and no restrictions placed upon them, except one: they must be back to their ship that same night!
I was a passenger with that battle fleet, and night after night I stood on the great stone quay in Rio and watched them returning to their ships. On no night did I see more than forty or fifty who might be said to be "soused"; on no night did I see more than a dozen or fifteen who had to be thrown into the accommodation barge with the "dead ones," the helpless ones who were so far gone that they had to be carried up the sides of their ships from the barge which made the last rounds of the fleet.
Now I would like to make an observation; gratuitous, but perhaps of human interest and pertinent right here: I think if we took 4,000 lawyers or doctors or authors or car-drivers or clerks—4,000 of almost any sort from civil life—and locked them up so that for five or six weeks in a warm or a cold climate they could not get a drink of any kind of liquor, no matter how great their fancied or real need; and at the end of that five or six weeks took the whole 4,000 of them, with their pockets full of money, and suddenly threw them into the middle of all the grog-shops of a great city—I do think that more than forty—that is, one per cent of them—would be found "soused"—that is, if we had means of locating them all at the end of the day.
The heroic sailor of tradition has passed—a sailor of another kind, but just as efficient and just as heroic in another way—the way of his day—is rapidly creating another tradition. The lad who in the lusty days of his youth can thus hold himself in check is a pretty good product of American development. He pretty generally passes up the grog-shop, but he visits the art galleries, the museums, the cathedrals, the K. of C.'s, and Y. M. C. A.'s ashore, takes books from the library on shipboard, buys post-cards and mails them home to let his friends know of the great things in the world. On that world cruise referred to the men cleaned Rio de Janeiro out of 250,000 post-cards.
I doubt if many of them, on the first try, could lay out on a topsail-yard in a gale of wind without immediately falling overboard; but they don't have to lay out on topsail-yards nowadays. They do have to shoot, however; and they can shoot. Lay a gun's crew of them behind a big turret-gun and watch them make lacework of a target at 11,000 yards.
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The main question is, Have we the spirit to-day? As to that, no man having yet devised any apparatus wherewith to measure energy of soul and mind, it is difficult to prove to whoever will not believe, or does not in himself possess the germ, the existence of this thing that may not be measured by foot-rule or bushel basket. The belching of powder and the roll of drumhead do not prove it. We can always hire men to do that, and to do it well. And yet, to be present at the review described in the preceding chapter was to experience the thrill that may not be measured, to note how the enthusiasm of the occasion seemed to be animating the crews, to share in the feeling of pride which mantled all cheeks, and, ship after ship slipping past, to feel that pride of fleet intensify, until we echoed the cry of the Commander-in-Chief, whose enthusiasm for all that is good for the nation is unquenchable. As the President said, it was a glorious day.
No doubt of it. Men had met and there was kinship in the meeting. From that auspicious opening in the morning when the clouds seemed to dissolve for the express purpose of allowing a fresh-washed sky to enter into the color scheme of the beautiful picture—blue dome, chalk-white and sea-green war-ships, green and blue and white-edged little seas—until that last moment at night when the last call on the last ship was blown and to its lingering cadence the last unwinking incandescent of the fairy-like illumination was switched off, leaving the hushed and darkened fleet riding to only the necessary anchor lights on the motionless, moon-lit sound—who witnessed it all might not doubt the existence of that spirit which in conflict makes for more than thickness of armor or weight of shell.
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We went to war; and it was with an immense confidence in what they would do that I heard of the sailing of our first group of destroyers for the business of convoying ships and hunting U-boats on the other side. Ships were up to date and officers and men knew their business; and there was something more than knowing their business.
Other groups of destroyers followed that first one, and a lot of us were wondering how they were making out. They had sailed out into the Atlantic—that we knew; but what were they doing? We who knew them believed they were doing well. But how well?
I thought it worth-while finding out. I went to Washington and from Secretary Daniels and Chief Censor George Creel secured necessary credentials, and through the War Department the word which would put me aboard a troop-ship.
It is only justice to Secretary Daniels to say that he granted me all aid even though I told him I would probably work for Collier's on the trip—for Collier's which had been pounding him editorially.
What I learned of this game of escorting ships and hunting U-boats is in the chapters which follow.
SEEING THEM ACROSS
He had been on what most anybody would agree was pretty trying sort of work; and so, having an idea that a furlough was coming to him, he applied for it, but did not get it. The department had other things in view. Instead of going home, he took time to write a few letters, printing the one to his little girl in big capitals, so that—being six going on seven—she might, with mama's help, be able to read it.
They sent him to a ship that had been running between north and south ports on our own coast, shifting in winter-time to tropical waters. She was one of a group of thirty or forty that the department had on its little list to be made over into transports. She was the handsomest boat, but war makes nothing of beauty. Our officer ordered all her gleaming black underpaint off, also her pure white topside enamelling with the gold decorations here and there; then he swabbed her top and bottom with that dull blue-gray which the naval sharps say does blend best with a deep-sea background.
She had the prettiest little lounging-room. Our officers retained that—for even in war officers must have some place aboard ship to gather for a smoke and gossip—but they threw out the large, lovely fat pieces of furniture. In case of submarine attack or an order to abandon ship, the men might want to make a passage of that room in a hurry and no time there—in the dark it might be—to be falling over chairs and tables.
There was a sun-parlor, a large, splendid room with wide windows and the deck on three sides. There were thick draperies, filmy laces, and many easy chairs. In the old days cabin passengers used to sit there and absorb the soft tropic breezes while digesting their breakfasts. An army quartermaster-captain surveyed it with our naval officer. "Swell," said the Q. M. C. "We'll haul down that plush and fluffy stuff, dump those chairs and rugs over the side, plant my desk here, my chief clerk's there, my other clerks' desks over there, open those fine wide windows and let the north Atlantic breezes blow on our beaded brows while we're doing our paper work. Fine!"
Our naval officer did that and a hundred other things to the inside and outside of the beautiful ship and reported her fit for transport service, or as fit as ever a made-over ship could be made to be, whereupon he was ordered to take her to such and such a dock in such and such a port—which he did. Then many large, heavy cases were lowered into her hold, and troops and troops and more troops filed aboard and took up what was left of the spaces between decks with themselves and their war gear.
She lay then with her water-line a foot deeper than anybody around there ever remembered seeing her in her swell passenger days; then she shoved out into the stream and kicked her way down the harbor, and as she did so, though there was not a single trooper's head showing above her rail, everybody seemed to know. Passing tugs, motor-boats, ferry-boats blew their whistles—every kind of a boat that had a whistle blew it—and there was an excursion boat loaded down with women and children. Her band had been playing ragtime, but it suddenly stopped and broke into "Good-by, Good Luck, God Bless You," to the troop-ship bound for France.
There was a war-ship waiting below—not the biggest by a good deal in our fleet, but big enough to have hope one day of firing her broadside on the battle-line. But the great duty of a war-ship is to be immediately useful. She was there, and smaller war-ships with her, to see that the troop-ships got protection on the run across.
Our troop-ship, other troop-ships, every one in turn, steamed up, reported her presence, and tucked into a berth under the wings of the big war-ship; and there they stayed until night, until the signal came to get under way. When it did, one after the other they up-anchored and kicked into line. They had been warned to make no fuss in going, and they made none. From somewhere ashore a great search-light swept our top structure, swept every top structure as we filed out. Some one on each top structure must have given the proper sign, for that was all.
All that night, and next day, for days and days thereafter, with shifting formations and varying speeds, we steamed. All were good, seaworthy ships, but little things will happen. There was one that was always lagging. The flag-ship, meaning the war-ship of most tonnage, inquired why. The answer came, whereat the war-ship of most tonnage showed right there that she was fit to do something more than furnish long-reaching guns for the fleet's protection.
The next thing the fleet knew they were ordered to shut off steam. They did so. It was a perfect, calm day, and the ships lay, still as paint between a clear blue sky and a deep-blue sea while a boat-load of bluejackets from the big fighting ship rowed across a swell so gentle that it seemed to be only serving to put life into a picture. The lagging steamer had been short a few oilers or firemen or water-tenders. The big ship had them to spare. After that the slow one picked right up. Soon it was standard speed with everybody in proper alignment again.
Not often do seagoing people get the chance to see a fleet of merchant steamers cruising the wide ocean. A full-rigged sailing-ship, a steam-collier, a tramp steamer, all came out of their way in one day to view the strange sight. As they did so, one of our smaller and faster war-ships would trot over to have a closer peek in turn at the curious ones; to ask them questions; probably also to tell them to keep their wireless mouths shut, if they had any.
One day one big freighter did not answer signals promptly. Perhaps she could not read them. In these war times it is not too easy to get crews who are sea-wise in every detail—the expert signalman among the officers might have been off watch and having a nap. Anyway, one of our little fighting fellows went bounding after her. It was like watching a sheep-dog at work. The war-ship moved up from behind, drew up, and then, showing her teeth, headed the freighter the other way and held her headed that way while she put an officer aboard and asked an explanation, which was probably given and doubtless all right, for the officer came back and the freighter resumed her regular course. Day in and day out that was the way of it, every passing ship being viewed as suspect and our own ships, of varying speeds and tonnage, trying to keep a good alignment.
The weather generally was fine, but one morning we ran into a fog. A fog has its virtues; a submarine cannot see you in a fog. But neither can you see a submarine. And somewhere handy to you is a bunch of your own ships, and no telling when one of them may come riding out of the mist and climb aboard by way of your port or starboard quarter!
A whistle by day or a search-light by night would have been a great help to our naval officer on the bridge during that fog, but he was denied that. So he made out (as did every other commander on every other bridge during the fog) with whatever other means he could devise. Nothing happened to us.
The fog passed on, and then one day came a slaty gray sea and a slaty sky. Gray seas look hard; white crests moving across gray seas look hard too. Our naval officer took time to look around on them. Gray hulls were smashing high bows into them, making boiling white water of the hard gray sea and throwing it to either side in fine, high-rolling billows as they pressed on. They were a fine sight then, with the smoke pouring out and trailing low from some of them. They were not trying to make smoke, but if a ship must make smoke, it will not be seen so far on a gray day.
Our naval officer held the bridge from early that morning to nine o'clock that night. He had an idea that he might be able to sneak in a couple of hours' sleep against the strain of the later night. It was not bad weather when he left—a good breeze blowing and plenty of white showing. It was dirty, but not bad weather. He got in one hour in his bunk, turning in with his clothes on, when he was called to go on the bridge again. Something had happened. He could feel the increasing wind before he was fairly rolled out of his bunk.
As he stepped out on deck he could see that the lookouts had adopted life-belts for the night. The lookouts were men from among the troops, and now each man as he went off watch was handing over his life-belt to the next coming on. They had had to use the soldiers for lookouts. In these war days no merchant ship can supply from her regular crew one-tenth of the men needed for lookout work in the war zone. The soldiers were all right, but just then our naval officer felt sorry for them. He had been having them up before him afternoons, lecturing them on their duties as lookouts. That very afternoon he had had a bunch of them before him while he explained a few new things. He had spent extra time on the men who were to be on forward watch this very night, with the men who were to go into the bow or into the forward crow's nest. And now they were there, buried as the bow went smash into it, or—those of them who had drawn the crow's nest—swinging a hundred feet in the air. All right for old seagoers, but most of these boys had never in their lives before been on an ocean-going ship. Some had never even seen a big ship until they came to the seacoast for their trip. They had great eyesight, some of these young fellows—men who had lain on the bull's-eye at a thousand yards regularly were bound to have that—and they made good lookouts once they got the idea, but climbing the last twenty feet of that ladder to the crow's nest, leaning back under part of the time with life-belt stuffed under their overcoats—they surely must have been thinking that a soldier's duties were difficult as well as various in these days of war.
A ship on tossing seas and the wind blowing a dirge through the rigging—well, a man may be brave enough to fight all the Germans this side the Russian line, but if he is new to sea life he is apt to see things. Two soldiers were standing on deck when our naval officer came out of his room. They were not on guard. They did not have to be there—they were staying awake on their own account. One said to the other: "There, there—look! Ain't that a submarine?"
It was a shadow as high as a house. "If that is a submarine," thinks our officer, "then it is good night to us, for she's a whale of a one!"
It was no submarine. It was the shadow of one of their own ships which had been driven out of column.
It was blowing hard when our officer made the bridge. He could not see far, but far enough to see that the ocean was black, and that across the black of it the white patches were flying—dead white patches leaping high in the night.
The fleet was in direct column ahead, or should have been. Some were surely having their troubles staying there. This steaming close behind a ship, with another ship close behind you—and you have to be close up to see from one to the other on such a night—made me think as I stood under the bridge that night: "Give me all the submarines in the world before this with a fleet that has not had a chance to practise evolutions."
There was not a steaming light of any kind, not even one shaded little one in the stern, which an enemy might see and, seeing, swing in behind it. Rather than show even the smallest little guiding light, our fellows preferred to steam this way in the night.
The glad morning came, glad for the reason that an almost warm, bright sun came with it. The sun showed three ships gone from the column. There was more than one of us who wished that we too had gone from the column about six hours ago. We would have slept better. Still, it was a good experience to have—behind you. Wind and sea went down; all hands felt better—especially the lookouts. Those who came down from the crow's nest looked as if the grace of God had suddenly fallen on them.
By and by we picked up the drifters. They were looking just as hard for us as we were for them; and later that day we ran into our escorts from the other side. Everybody at once felt as if the trip was as good as over. The fact was that the worst part of the war zone was ahead of us. All hands were still turning in with life-belts handy, and most of them with clothes on, but there was a feeling that now it was up to these new escorts.
Before we reached France on this run we were in a U-boat fight, which I shall tell of later. What I want to say now is that the submarine fight had an enjoyable side to it, but as for that night run of our troop-ships in gale and sea—a big ship just ahead, a big ship just behind, big high-bowed ships plunging down at fourteen knots an hour from roaring waters in the dark—there was no fun in that!
Of the scores of devices the fleet used to beat the U-boats on that run across, a man can say nothing here. But to get back: our naval officer stuck to his bridge until one most beautiful morning he took his ship into a most beautiful port on a most beautiful shore. I never before heard anybody so describe that same port, but the general verdict says it did look pretty good.
This story of our troop-ship's run across is given from the view-point of the naval officer in charge. It could just as well have been written from the view-point of the merchant captain or his officers aboard—all on the job; or the chief engineer or his assistants—all on the job, and who put in more than one hour guessing at what was going on above; or from the view-point of the quartermaster captain, or his clerks, or the oilers, or the firemen, or the water-tenders, or the cooks, or anybody else, high or low, in the ship's regular service.
This transport service is one tough game. It is well enough for us who have but one trip to make. But one trip after another! They had good right to look a bit younger when they made the other side. But before we can win this war we've got to get the million or two or three million men across; and the millions of tons of supplies. Somebody has got to see them across. These men on the troop-ships are doing it. May nothing happen to them!
THE U-BOATS APPEAR
The soldier lookouts in the forward crow's nest had been especially advised to have an eye out for the convoys which were to pick us up as we neared the other side; and they were very much on the job.
One bright morning came: "Smoke three points off the port bow.... Smoke broad off the starboard bow.... Smoke dead ahead.... One point off the ... Broad off the ..." and so on. Their excited calls rattled down like rapid fire to the bridge; the thrill in their voices rolled like a wave through the ship. That smoke, incidentally, meant that the strangers, whoever they were, had already identified us and so were not afraid to let us see them.
Everybody that was not already on deck came running up to have a look for himself. It was our escort. Darting across our bows they came—low-riding, slim, gray bodies. The ranking one reported to our flag-ship; and all, without any fuss or extra foam, took position and went to work as though they had been there for weeks. And as they did our big war-ship and the little ones which had come across with her wheeled about and went off. There was no ceremonious leave-taking. They simply turned on their heels and flew. They might as well have said: "We are glad to have met you and been with you, but we can do no more for you, so good-by and good luck; we're going back home as fast as we can get there."
A soldier watched them going and said: "The night before we left home I went to a show, and a fellow sang: 'Good-by, Broadway! Hello, France!' I thought it was great. I know what they're saying aboard those ships there now. 'Hello, Broadway! Good-by, France!' is what they're saying. And I betcher it'll be a straight line with no time wasted zigzagging for them on the way back!"
He had it about right. They carried the most eloquent sterns that any of us had seen on ships for a long time. The big one in the middle, the others like chickens under either wing—away they went, belting it for about sixteen knots good. In one half-hour all we could see of them was a cloud of smoke to the west'ard. Just how far off the French coast we were at this time does not matter here, or from what direction we were approaching; but we were far enough off for that group of destroyers to show how they went about their work of guarding the troop-ships. To comb the sea about us was their mission; and they were attending to it every minute. The fleet steamed on.
We proceeded under advices not to fall asleep with too much clothes on, and never to get too far away from our life-belts. It may have been true that some men slept with their life-belts on, but it is probably not true that one man took his to the bathroom with him—not true because about the time we got that far along the steward refused to prepare any more baths. He had enough on his mind, he said, without fussing with baths.
There was one place we looked forward to passing with lively feelings. We may not name the place here, but here is how it was described: "Ever been to that big aquarium in Naples? Yes? Well, remember those devil-fish hiding behind the rock on the bottom? Along comes an innocent young fish who is a stranger to those waters. Mr. Devilfish, hiding behind, has a peek at it coming. He waits. Mr. Young Fish drifts by his hiding-place, and then—Good night, young fishie."
That kind of talk in the watches of the night sounded like lively action before us. We waited for—call it the Devilfish's Cave—and waited; and the first thing we knew when we came to inquire further about it, we were safely past it, with never a sign of any devil-fish, unless it would be the one torpedo which went by the bow of one of us from some distance one noontime. Some distance it must have been because it was a clear day with a smooth sea, and under such weather conditions, with the hundreds of wide-awake lookouts in the fleet, no U-boat could have put up a periscope within any near distance and not be seen by somebody. As for long-distance shots from submarines—there is small need to worry about them. Subs like to get within a thousand yards or less. Those three and four mile shots—it is like trying to hit a sea-gull with a rifle. Amateurs try that kind of shooting, but the professional, who has to reckon the cost of powder and shot, lets it pass. Not that the Germans are sparing of the cost of war, but a sub which has to make a voyage of three thousand miles to take on a fresh load of torpedoes is not firing too many for the mere practice.
We drew near the coast of France, and still nothing had happened. We were getting hails, of course, from the lookouts. There was one who called it a dull watch when he did not see at least one periscope. He had never seen a periscope in his life, but he had read about periscopes. One night just at dark he stood us all on our heads by reporting one just alongside. We all got a flash at it then, an ominous object, bobbing under our port quarter, and then it went down into our wake. It bobbed up again, and we all had another look. It was a beer-keg. The ship's first officer, the one who had a gold medal as big as a saucer for saving life at sea, eyed the keg, and then he eyed the lookout, saying: "An empty one too! If you'd only report a full one, we might gaff it aboard."
When that same first officer was one day asked if he intended taking his big medal with him in case we had to take to the boats, he replied: "With twenty-eight persons in the boat! Good Lord, don't you think she'll be carrying enough freight?"
We steamed along, dark night astern this time and the white morning above our bow. The bridge—three naval and two ship's officers—had for some time been using the glasses. From aloft forward came the sudden yell: "Land ho!"
The bridge nodded that it heard. "Land ho!" repeated the lookout stentoriously. "Two points off the port bow," and then, peering doubtfully down at the bridge: "Am I right?"
"You are," said the bridge sweetly; "we've been looking at it for half an hour." Which was rather rough, for to shore-going eyes land does at first look like a low cloud on the horizon and, naturally, a fellow wants to make sure.
Pretty soon we could most of us see it from the deck, and it did look good. I once saw the flat, bleak Atlantic coast of Patagonia after ten days at sea, and the high iron wintry coast of Newfoundland after another period at sea, and I clearly recall that even they both looked like fine countries. And the coast of France was neither bleak nor icy, so you may guess that it was a pleasing sight on this summer morning. It was a dream of a day, the sea like a green-tinted mirror, the sky blue as paint, and the softest little breath of air floating off the land to us. We were perhaps ten miles offshore.
The enchanted land lay before us and our troubles behind us—or so we thought—and yet we were many of us disappointed. After our more than three thousand miles we had not even caught sight of a U-boat.
Now, we probably did not want to see one, but we sort of had an idea that we were entitled to have one pop up and then disappear. Something to talk about, without anybody coming to harm through it—that was about our composite idea.
However, there are compensations for all things; we could now prepare peacefully for going ashore. I was in the lounge-room below sharpening a pencil, and, there being no waste-basket handy, carefully shunting the shavings into a writing-desk drawer.
The fire-alarm rang. That was the signal to hurry on deck with your life-belt, take your station by your boat, and prepare to abandon ship. But we had been doing that every day since we left home. The first time we heard that call we had gone jumping, but after the third or fourth time we moved more leisurely.
Some took their life-belts from their rooms and started up. Every soldier, of course, grabbed one from where they were piled up in the passageways and went at once. They had no option. Their officers would get after them if they did not.
I thought I would finish sharpening my pencil. I thought I heard a blast from a ship's whistle somewhere outside; but I was not sure. Then I heard a blast from our own ship's whistle. Wugh-wugh-wugh! I did not wait for any more. I did not finish sharpening the pencil. I did not wait to shut the desk drawer. I did not do anything but move. There were six blasts from the whistle, and six blasts meant U-boats.
There was a heavy-set officer coming down the passageway. He was heavier by twenty pounds than I was, but I had more speed. I know I had. Not since the winter's day on George's Bank a quartering sea chased me down the cabin companionway of the Charles W. Parker of Gloucester have I moved so fast on a ship, and I was fifteen years younger then. We bounced off each other. We did not stop to talk when we straightened out. He went his way and I went mine, and if I looked anything like him, then my jaw was thrust out and my eyes had an earnest look in them.
My life-belt was under my bunk. It did not stay there long. I went back down the passageway jumping. There was a fine crush going up to the boat-deck. Only a seagoing man knows how to take a ship's ladder with speed. You just got to have practice at it. There were some fine athletic boys among the troopers, but "Sweet mother," wailed a ship's man, "are those new army shoes made of leather, or are they lead that they move so slow?" And that comment did not have to travel a lonesome road.
While scooting up the ladder we heard a gun; and another gun. As we made the boat-deck there was another ship barking out six short blasts.
The ships of the fleet, when we got to where we could see them, were headed every which way. We could feel our own ship heel over—she turned so sharply. Every ship in the fleet was going it—right angles, quarter angles, all degrees of angles. But what impressed us most—we almost laughed to see her—was the lubber of the fleet. She was twice the tonnage of most of us, and early in the run across she had brought anguish to our souls by the way she lagged. "You bum, you loafer, you old cart-horse, why don't you move up?" our soldiers used to yell across at her. She had not then enough men in her steam department to keep her engines warm, so she reported. But now she had steam enough. She was wide and high, a huge hulk of a ship, and here she was now charging—charging was the word—like a motor-boat at where somebody said the U-boat had just submerged. Whether she got her U-boat, I don't know; but she certainly did cut through the water for about a mile.
The ship next behind us went after something; and the ship next ahead went tearing away after something else, and another ship—but, man, a battalion of eyes could not follow them all. A destroyer went—zizz-sh zizz—a thirty-odd knot clip—and the next thing we saw was a ten-foot column of solid white water shooting straight up beside that destroyer.
And then came the terrific Bo-o-om! Our ship shook from one end to the other. I thought it came from inside of us—that it was a loading-port door let drop by some careless ship's man below. The ship's officer in charge of our life-boat thought so, too. He stepped to the ship's side to look down. "That one, he should be put in the brig—scaring us all like that!" I agreed with him heartily, only I thought he should be put in a second brig after he got out of the first one. Some time later we learned that it was the shock from the bomb dropped by the destroyer, from which you can gauge what chance the submarine will have which happens to catch one of those bombs on its back.
We carried two 5-inch guns in our bow and two astern. Those gun crews had been standing by those guns from the first day out. For the last three days they had been sleeping near them in their life-jackets and taking their meals standing beside them. They were not going to be left out of it. About a thousand yards away some one reported a floating torpedo. Whether it was a live or a spent one made no matter. It was too soft a target; besides, some ship in the hurry of manoeuvring might run into it. Bang! went two of our 5-inch fellows, one from each end of the ship and both together.
That was when we heard from our chief engineer. He had been below from the beginning, and knew from the way the bells were coming down from the bridge that there was something doing topside. When the destroyer dropped her first bomb he wondered if the ship was torpedoed. He waited, and his men, with their shovels and slice-bars and oil-cans—they waited, every one of them, with one sharp eye to the nearest ash-hoist, which reminded the chief that he would never leave home again—and this time he meant it—without installing those four more ladders leading up from the engine and fire-room quarters to the decks. No, sir, he would not.
But nothing happened! And then those two 5-inch guns went off together. War-ships are built to withstand impact, but merchant-ships—no. This time the chief was sure she was torpedoed. His fire-room force were mostly Spaniards. He used to talk at table about his fire-room gang. "You would think, with your ship coming through the war zone and your watch down in the bottom of her, that you would want to go up topside when your watch was done, for, of course, if any U-boat got the ship, it would be the fellows below who would first get the full benefit." But that gang of his! "Doggone, they'd sit there when their watch was over, six or eight of 'em, and play some cross-eyed Spanish card-game for a peseta a corner. What d'y' know about them?"
The chief's gang could not talk English, but they had speaking eyes. They now looked at the chief, and he went up to have a peek. He came back soon. "They are having target practice," he told them. He had been running the Caribbean ports long enough to be able to say that much in Spanish; but more than all he smiled as he said it. You want to smile to get away with anything like that in the fire-room of a troop-ship in the U-boat country.
Every ship in the fleet was now having something to say with her guns; and with their incessant manoeuvring at such close quarters the sea was all torn up by their wakes. Two or three wakes or bow waves would cross each other, and the sea would roll up with a bounding white crest. There were also the wakes of hidden submarines. You could tell them if you saw any by the way they did not stop in one place; they moved on. When a gunner saw a submarine wake he fired; where he wasn't sure he fired anyway. What was he there for? Bang! Boom! Solid shot were ricochetting, piling up little white splashes, and the shrapnel were making little holes and bursting into little white smoke puffs all over the place.
You must not forget that it was a beautiful day and a perfectly calm sea with the shore of France looming like a blue mirage on the horizon. It lasted about forty minutes altogether, and through it all the little destroyers—don't forget them—were weaving in and out among the big ships; and on the big ships were thousands of troopers, white life-belts around their olive-drab uniforms, standing steadily by life-boats and rafts.
Our fellows on the destroyers did handle their little ships well. And the troop-ships were handled well—no collisions and no gun-shells going aboard anybody else. A few went across other people's bows and sterns, but not too near to worry. And in the middle of it all, our guns made so much noise that before we heard them we saw them—two airplanes, whirring and cavorting about and above us. Whenever they saw a destroyer turn and shoot, they would turn and shoot after the destroyer. They could move about three times as fast as a destroyer, and so quite often beat the destroyer to it.
Later the airplanes escorted us into port. They were big, powerful biplanes, and carried a sky-pointing gun mounted forward and the colors of France painted on their little wings aft. They kept circling about us until we made our harbor. Whenever they swooped low enough our troopers gave them a fine cheer.
My job being to tell what I saw and heard, I want to say here that throughout the entire melee I never saw one periscope! And there were thousands like me who never saw a periscope. But there were hundreds of others—cool, sensible people—who are ready to make affidavits that they did see periscopes.
Why did not more of us see any? Well, a submarine commander needs to turn up his periscope for only four, five, six, or seven seconds to have a look. If you do not happen to be gazing directly at the spot, you do not see it or the white bone which it makes going through the water.
On my ship the ranking officer was a regular army colonel who had seen active and dangerous service in the Philippines and elsewhere. He is given rather to understatement than overstatement of facts—a cool, level-headed observer. He saw a periscope. We had another officer who had been in the service in the Spanish War, had got out and was now back. He was probably the best lookout of all the army officers in the ship—a solid, substantial man with a keen eye. He could see what anybody else could see, but further than that you had to show him. Several of us had already christened him "Show me." He reported two periscopes. Now he had never seen a submarine operating in his life. I asked him to describe the action of the periscope. He described it perfectly as I had noticed it in trial trips of submarines off Cape Cod, which is where the Electric Boat Company used to try theirs out before turning them over to purchasers.
My own notion of it is that the U-boats have many of us bluffed. They must be capable men who go in submarines; of good nerve, quick wit, and the power to withstand long nervous strain. Such men in a submarine are going to throw great scares into people of less capacity on surface ships. Put such men somewhere else than in a submarine and they will outwit men not so well equipped for the war game.
But these men, no men, can make the submarine do impossible things. Before firing a torpedo the submarine must come near enough to the surface to stick out her periscope, to have a look around to locate her target. In sticking out the periscope, lookouts on ships are likely to see it. On merchant ships they do not keep a lookout which combs the sea thoroughly; they do not carry men enough for that. The strain of such a lookout is great. Men cannot stand to it as to an ordinary watch; they have to be relieved frequently; and so submarines may have an advantage over merchant ships, especially if the merchant ships are slow-moving freighters. But a war-ship, or a troop-ship in convoy is something else. Troop-ships carry an immense number of lookouts, not overworked men who are liable to go to sleep on watch, but keen-eyed young fellows of high vitality, surrounded by other young fellows of high vitality, and all competing to see who can see something first.
They will spot a periscope, under normal conditions, at a pretty good distance; which does not mean that that periscope is at once going to be blown out of the water. Hitting a piece of 4-inch pipe at any distance is not easy; the pipe moving and the ship moving does not make it any easier.
But the submarine has shown herself. To get her torpedo home she will have to move nearer. With a thousand eyes looking for her and five, six, a dozen ships with four guns or more apiece waiting to have a crack at her, she is not going to have a pleasant time after she moves nearer. She must show her periscope again to locate her target. To show her periscope she must get her hull somewhere near the surface; it takes a little time—not so much, but a little time to get her hull safely below again; and while she is doing that who can say that not one of our five, six, or a dozen ships will be handy to the spot? And if one of our ships should happen to be handy enough, what can save the submarine from being rammed? And if she is rammed there is no hope for her—she is gone.
I am pretty much of one mind with our first officer in this submarine matter. In the middle of the combat off the French coast he was making the rounds, cutting away the lashings which held the life-boats to the davits—this in case we had to leave the ship. He had a squint at the banging guns, the charging troop-ships, the flying destroyers; and then he looked up long enough to say: "A fat chance a U-boat would have if she so much as stuck her nose out. In four seconds she'd be like a rabbit among a pack of hunting-dogs. She might get away, but I bet you no bookmaker would take her end of it."
This argument does not apply to a slow-steaming freighter going it alone; it is for the matter of troop-ships moving at a fairly good speed. For myself that time the fleet steamed in direct column ahead, one ship jam up behind another, in a rough sea and on a black night, at high speed without lights of any kind, they did a more difficult thing than to evade or stand off half a dozen U-boat attacks. No fleet of ships can be put beyond all danger of submarine attack, but the danger to the subs can be made so great that it won't be worth the price the attacking force will pay.
I do not know how many U-boats were in that attack. The official figures will no doubt be given out in time. Our moderate estimators here put it down as three, with one transport ramming and sinking one U-boat. Two honest lads of one of our own forward gun crews say that our ship bumped over another. They felt the bump. Perhaps they did, but bluejackets at twenty years of age are apt to be optimistic, as witness:
The day after that U-boat fight the skipper, first officer, chief engineer, and myself were trying our French on a waiter in a cafe ashore, but not quite putting it over; we had to resort to a little English to get action for one important item of our meal. A party of American bluejackets—gun crews—were at another table. They heard us speak English, whereat one of them called over: "Say, you guys comprong English? Wee, wee? Then you oughter been where we were yesterday. Yuh'd seen something. Fighting U-boats we were. Comprong? U-boats—wee, wee, U-boats. Thirty-six of 'em came after us an' we sunk twelve. Whaddyer know about that?" We did not know, so we opened up a bottle of the ordinary red wine of the country, price deux francs, and drank to their enthusiastic health.
CROSSING THE CHANNEL
To get out of France after getting in, a man has to go to Paris, see the prefect of police, various consuls, and so on. It was all interesting—the life in Paris—but it had nothing to do with U-boats. I had to go to England, and to make England, I had to go to Havre.
And I was in Havre. Looking out the window at a roof across the narrow street was a sign which read Hotel of the Six Allies. The Six looked as though it had been painted over. The head waiter told me later that it had. It had begun at three, then it became four—five—now six. But there were more than six now—did not the great United States count? Oh, yes, truly yes—but the paint and painters! They were growing more scarce. The war—yes. Everything was the war.
The head waiter was a little old fellow with a round back, a quizzical eye, and the hair of a first violin. After I beat my way by main strength through three table-d'hote meals with him he let me know that he could talk English. Why hadn't he told me so before? Oh! Did I not wish to practise my French? So many did, and if they made him understand, the tips were sometimes more inspiring.
The steamer for England had been scheduled to leave the night of the day our train arrived, but she did not leave. We did not learn whether it was the full moon or the U-boats shifting their hunting-grounds or the late air-raids on the south coast of England. Whatever the cause, no one growled much. The steamship people and the government were doing their best with a difficult service. The delay gave us another day to look the port over. I had been there years before. Then it was all French; now it seemed to be mostly British. The streets, the shops, the cafes, were crowded with English, Canadian, and Australian soldiers. British soldiers were running the tram-cars. In the country outside was a large British camp. The French owners of the ships and of the cafes in the narrow streets near the jetties catered especially to the British soldier and sailor. English tobacco, English rosbif—they advertised these in quaintly worded signs.
Ships lay between the jetties and the breakwater, coasting and deep-water steamers, and the little fishing-cutters with the tanned sails. There was a fleet (or a flock) of seaplanes all ready to take to either the water or the air. They took to both while we looked, hurdling the breakwater from the basin to get more quickly to some smoke on the horizon. They were brand-new planes all, with the most beautiful polished maple pontoons and bright varnish over paint that still smelled fresh.
Soldiers not so worn and weary as those on the hospital veranda came down to the jetty promenade. Priests, nursing sisters, other soldiers and sailors came also. What interested them most was the sun shining on the bright new wood of the planes flying out to see what the smoke meant. It was a ship from across the ocean somewhere, and the planes circled it into the basin—one more ship which had beat the U-boat game and brought home something needed. There was some noise along the jetty and yet more noise in the wide and narrow streets of the town—clanging trams, whip-cracking fiacres, yelling newsboys, honking taxis, and soldiers and sailors tramping the pavements. Noise enough, and of the kind befitting a Channel port in war time; but for a time at least we heard the noise let down, and the bustle softened.
In a wide street of shops appeared a white-haired priest with a white crucifix held high before him. Behind him was another priest reading from a book of prayer. Two laymen came next, bearing a little white-painted table with a little white coffin—a cheap board coffin—resting on it. There was a canopy of plain white boards over the little coffin. There were a few white blossoms on the canopy and beside the coffin a few lilies of the valley—only a few.
Two other laymen followed the coffin bearers. All the men were bareheaded. Three women—young women and young mothers to look at—followed the two men. One of the young women was in deep black. A group of little girls followed the young woman. Two very old women came last. No more than that, walking through a crowded street at two o'clock of a bright day!
It was on us almost before we saw it. Men took off their hats as it passed; women blessed themselves. Sometimes men's lips murmured a short prayer; always the women did. The soldiers and sailors, when they were French, saluted nearly always; the British sometimes. The officers, if anything, saluted more profoundly than the enlisted men, and, when they did not stop dead, held a hand to their caps for eight or ten paces in passing.
Two soldiers were talking with two girls of the streets. One of the soldiers took off his cap. One of the girls stopped talking to say a little word of prayer. Both soldiers faced about, and all four gazed in silence for long after the little cortege had passed on. Then the first soldier put on his cap, all faced about, and resumed their talk, but more slowly and not quite so loudly as before.
An English Tommy was driving a tram—a swearing Tommy that you could hear a block away. He came on the mourners from behind. He was in a hurry, and by clanging his bell he could have crowded by. But he held the tram in check, nursing it so as not to frighten the two old women in the rear—until they came to a wide square. Here there was room. He clanged his bell, not too loudly, turned on the juice, and hurried to make up for lost time. Men are being killed by the million over here, and other men who have been there—these very men on these streets—will tell you that they hardly turn their heads to see one more killed. But a little child is different.
Our steamer was to sail next night—at what hour no one could say, but it was well to be there in good time, we were told, so we went with the hotel bus. A little porter woman was there with my 70-pound bag before I even knew "things were ready"; and she said she did not roll it down the five flights from my room. She carried it every stair step of the way. Her husband was in the war, and she had five children and it required more than a few sous in the week for five children, the eldest fourteen. I agreed that it did.
Swinging on to the jetty, we had to take notice of a shop advertising to rent life-saving apparatus for the trip across the Channel. It was fine—a one-piece suit which came from the toes to the ears and a hood which you could turn in over your head! There was a painting of a torpedoed passenger ship going up in flames, topside and the hull settling down into the rolling billows. Men and women were jumping into the sea and drowning in agony. They had no life-saving, one-piece suits. But all were not so thoughtless. There were others floating along high out of water with the most beatific expressions on their faces. They had been thoughtful enough to buy one of the patent one-piece suits. The painting was in colors, red and black mostly.
The afternoon had closed in showers, and when we made the steamer landing we stood in pools of water in the hollows of the worn stone flags. We were in good time, but a hundred or more who had been in better time were already inside the shed. The hold-overs from three days were there, military people mostly. We waited—and waited—and waited. It was the eternal passport matter. One at a time they had to pass the tribunal inside. A pleasant-mannered young English soldier stood guard at the shed door. Every half-hour or so, at command of a voice from the inside, he would let another dozen or twenty slide by. When he did so, those of us in the rear would hurry to fill the void, picking up our baggage from our feet as we pushed on. I had hired a porter, an old man, to look after my 70-pound bag. He stood by patiently for two hours or so. Then, without warning, he ran off and did not come back. I had not paid him, so he must have grown very tired. After that, whenever I moved forward, I had to pick up my two bags myself—the other weighed 40 pounds. Sometimes I put the bags into a pool of water—sometimes I put my feet.
Not every one had to wait. An officer would be passed through immediately, which did not please two enlisted men near me, just back from what they called rough work at the front. The little one, called Scotty, had a fear that the boat might leave before he could get there. He wanted to "mak' a train oot o' Lunnon" at two of the next afternoon, "mak' a nicht train oot o' Glesgie" (Glasgow) and surprise his folk by walking in on 'em "afore brekkist." They would be glad to see him, be sure.
"Almost as glad to see you come as they was goin'?" asked the soldier with him, and then urged Scotty to stop over in London for a bit o' fun.
"I'll not," said Scotty. "I'll mak' the trains as I said an' surprise 'em afore brekkist. Besides, there's a football match on for the arternoon arter to-morrer, and an old pal o' mine is playin' for'ard for oor team. But let 'em allow all these officers aboord first—'ere's anither ane—listen tae 'im!"
But it was not an officer this time. It was a voice asking if any privileges were accorded a King's messenger. The guard at the door said certainly, but where was he? Everybody made way for the voice. He turned out to be a little man with a scraggy beard and large round spectacles. The guard eyed him doubtfully. The King's messenger stood on his toes and whispered up into the guard's ear.
The guard looked down on him. "King's messenger! Go on with yer!" He shoved him back.
"Yes, garn with yer!" said Scotty, "but he's gained a guid half oor wi' his King's-messenger talk. I think I'll hae tae be something important masel' sune."
The soldier with Scotty could speak French. He spoke it to a pretty young French girl and her mother who had been pressed up against them. The mother had a new hat in a big paper box. Whenever the rush threatened to crush the hat-box, she would hold it high over her head till she could hold it no longer, when she let it get crushed.
Whenever the girl spoke to the other soldier Scotty would want to know what she said. "She's sairtainly pretty. What did she say that time, Tid?"
Tid kept to himself what she said. "It's a cut above the likes of you we're discussin'," said Tid.
"She'll be goin' to England to marry an English officer," said Scotty.
The girl whirled on him. "No. No Engleesh officier—a French officier!"
"I had a notion you'd spoil it," said Tid.
"Ma Gud," groaned Scotty. "I wonder, Tid, did she hear a' I said this nicht o' her, and ma lips no two feet frae her ear!"
The night was growing cooler. The girl's fur neck-piece slipped down from her shoulders. The mother had passed her the hat-box, and the girl had no hand free for the neck-piece. Scotty put it back for her. She thanked him sweetly.
"You're no mad noo?" said Scotty. "I'll tak' a steady billet tae put it back." He took to slyly stroking the fur piece when he thought she could not see him.
A woman lost her passport, but did not know it until she was about to be passed through the door. Then she shrieked. She came back in the crowd to look for it. She had been standing in one spot for an hour—it must be there. She rushed to the spot, lit a match, and began to look under her feet. A man lit a match and began to look under his feet. Another man lit a match and began to look under his feet. We all lit matches and began to look under our feet.
She shrieked again. "Ma Gud, she's a dyin' woman!" said Scotty.
She was not. She had found her passport. The business of waiting was resumed by the rest of us.
The little cafes along the water-front were closing; loads of soldiers and sailors began to flow out on to the jetty. One began to sing, and another; others to whirl along in grotesque dance steps. Two began to talk loudly. They came to blows. A third one stepped in to stop it, whereupon one of the first two turned on him to inquire what he was interfering for.
"But he's a friend o' mine," explained the third man.
"Is he a better friend o' yours than o' me? Answer me that. Is he? Do you know him longer than I know him? No? Then mind your own and do not be interferin'." The third man felt properly rebuked. He withdrew his objections and the other two resumed their fight.
We were inside the shed at last; and by and by I came before a man in a little office inside the shed. He was a Frenchman, but spoke good English.
"Your passport, please."
I produced it. He took a look and passed it back.
"Any gold on your person?"
"Hand it over, please. Wait. Are you American?"
"In that case keep it. That is all. Pass out. Next."
Next came a little house with a row of men sitting at a long, narrow pine-board table. The first had a quick look at my passport and handed it on to a man who sat on his left before a card index in boxes. That one dug into his boxes, found what he was looking for, and slid the passport along to the next on his left, who slid it along to the man on his left, and he to the man on his left, and he to the last one.
You chased that passport down the line, answering the questions which each one put in turn, as to where you last came from, where before that, and before that, and the date, your business, where you were going in England, why, for how long, and where you would stay. They were all pleasantly put, but you had the feeling that let you stumble and it would be God help you. Each asked a question or two that nobody else had thought of. The last one had the least of all to say. He probably thought that if, after all, you were a German spy, you had earned your exemption. He only made a note of your name, handed out a red card, said to give it to the soldier at the out-going door, claim your baggage, have the customs inspector pass it, and go aboard the steamer when you liked. All I saw liked to go aboard at once.
There was a man of many buttons behind a shining brass grill on the steamer—French, apparently, but also speaking plain English. I handed in my ticket and asked for a berth. He was snappy. "Have you one reserved?"
"Why, no. When I bought my steamer ticket I was told that there would be no need to reserve a berth—there would be plenty."
"He told you wrong. There are no berths."
"But is he not your agent—the man who sold me the ticket?"
"But you accept his ticket?"
"There is no berth."
"You mean that I pay for a first-class ticket on your steamer and then have to walk the deck?"
"There is no berth, I say." He talked like a machine-gun, and the marble Roman gods were not more impassive as he turned to the next. I saluted him. You just have to honor a man who knows exactly what he wants to say and says it, which did not prevent me from saying over the next one's shoulder what I thought of his manners, the ethics of his company, and the cheek of the well-known tourist agency which had sold me the ticket in Paris.
But it did not get me anything. He went right on about his business of turning more people away.
I had a look around. The smoking-room air was all blue, and all khaki as to chairs and tables. Also all khaki as to sleeping-quarters. They had been campaigning for a year or more on the western line, and had not lost any time here. And every blessed one of them had a whiskey and soda before him. They were talking, but not of the war. They were going home for a ten days' leave after a year at the front and were trying to forget the war. There was also a lounge-room and a dining-saloon, but bunks there were also already commandeered by the strategic military.
It could be a worse night to walk the deck. To see what was doing a man would want to walk the deck anyway.
There was a fine bright moon mounting above the housetops of the water-front when we slid away from our jetty berth. Slid is the word. She was all power, this Channel steamer of hardly 1,500 tons, yet with two great smoke-stacks, three propellers, turbine-engines, and burning oil for fuel. That last is a cheerful item when you have to walk the deck—it means no cinders in your eyes.
Fuss? A strange word to her. She slipped like running oil from the jetty, past the breakwater lights, out by the few craft anchored there—a fast one for sure. To get a line on her speed, you had but to watch the shore marks fall away or the water slide by her side as out into the Channel she went.
People without berths, but with a chair and a rug from the head steward, began now to tuck away. At first they sat mostly by the rail watching things. Later they sought snugger corners; but two o'clock of a September morning in 50 deg. north is still two o'clock in the morning. They began to go inside. The lights were turned off inside the ship, so when you walked around in there and felt your foot come down on something soft, you needed to tread lightly—that would be somebody's neck or stomach. There were life-rafts on the top deck, of a homelike sort of model, in the form of two benches with the air-tanks under the benches. If anything happened to the ship, you could go floating off with all the comforts of a seat on a bench in the park—if too many did not try to have seats at the same time. It was a fine night for anybody to spot us, but just as fine a night for us to spot them. And a ship cutting out devious courses at twenty-one knots, or whatever she was logging—she is not too easy to hit. To lay out for the ten and eleven knot cargo boats is more economical. Still, who knows? We paid tribute to the U-boats by making detours. All the big stars of the night were out, and by them we could follow her shifting courses. But no harm; she had speed enough to sail the Channel sidewise and still bring us in by morning. The night grew older and cooler. The last of the people who had paid toll to the steward for a chair and rug went inside. Only one couple were left; and they had not hired any chair. He was a young officer, and they sat under his olive-drab blanket, on a life-raft bench athwartship. From there without moving they could get sidewise peeks at the climbing moon. At five o'clock in the morning they were still sitting there, heads together and arms across each other's shoulders.
When we grew tired of walking we sought little anchorages. By two o'clock any man on deck could have had his pick of abandoned chairs, but they were not good chairs—the extension part too short. One very young Canadian officer opened up his kit, made a bed and what lee he could of the forward smoke-stack. A round smoke-stack makes a poor lee, but once tucked in he stuck, and was there in the morning when clear light came.
The moon went behind clouds, and from the clouds little cold showers of rain came peppering down. Heavier clouds came, and heavier squalls with rain; and a mean little cross sea began to make. Straight ahead, above the little seas a light showed, and soon another—this a powerful one. We were still going at a great clip. We might know it anew by the way that big light jumped forward to meet us. Soon we had it off our bow, abeam, on our quarter; we were inshore.
A destroyer came out to meet us and blinked a message from screened lights. More ships met us. We passed other ships—all kinds of ships, of which in detail a man must not write here.
In good time and in smooth waters we made our landing. There was another long wait, the same passport grilling, but in a different way, and then a fast train to London. A taxi then, a room, a shave and bath, clean linen, and—oh boy!—the roast beef of old England and people you knew to talk to!
Before a visiting correspondent can do anything on the other side he has to report to a censor somewhere. In London the Chief Admiralty Censor was a retired Royal Navy captain and a Sir Knight, but not wearing his uniform or parading his knighthood. He was quartered in an old dark building where Nelson used to hang out in the days before Trafalgar. There was a sign on the door:
DON'T KNOCK. COME IN
He was a good sort, with not a sign about him of that swank which so many of the military caste seem to think it necessary to adopt. He was perfectly willing to pass me on to our naval base and go right ahead with my work; but he did not have charge of the naval base. There was an admiral over there—not an American admiral—who had full charge of our war-ships there. Without his permission not one of them could tie up to a mooring in the harbor. I would have to get his permission even to visit the base. My very human censor in London said he would cable to him and let me know just as soon as word came.
Awaiting the pleasure of the naval base dictator held me two weeks in London. While waiting I had a look over the city. It was during a period when the moon was ripe for air-raids. There were seven of them in nine nights. My business in life being to see things and then to write about them, I walked the streets during two of them and viewed some of the others from club and hotel windows.
The underground railway stations did a great business while the raids were on; also bomb-proof basements. In a newspaper office, where I used to visit, were precise directions how to get to their bomb-proof cellar. And be sure to take the right one. They had two cellars, but only one was bomb-proof. Shops in the expensive shopping districts had signs up, advertising their bomb-proof cellars and inviting their patrons to make use of them; but the trouble with the shops was that most air-raids took place after they had shut up for the day.
There was a local regulation which said that when an air-raid was on any person at all might knock at the door of any house he pleased and claim admittance. If he were not admitted at once he could call a policeman, who would have to see that he was admitted. We used to speculate on what would happen if some hobo knocked at the front door of the town house of the Duke of Westminster, say, and demanded of the butler in plush knee-breeches that he be let in.
The chief defense against the Goths was a barrage of guns mounted mostly on the roofs of buildings. An expected air-raid would be announced by policemen running through the streets on bicycles, on their chests and back were signs: AIR RAID ON. They also blew whistles.
The great search-lights would sweep the skies, and by and by there would be a great banging of barrage guns. Bang, bang, bang—that would be the defense guns. Boom! That would be a bomb. Bang, bang, bang, and Boo-oom! The guns fired 3-inch shrapnel. Three miles into the air the shrapnel shells would go! And what goes up has to come down. The next thing would be shrapnel showering into the streets. It seemed to me that I would rather take my chance with the bombs than with the shrapnel. A bomb came down, exploded, and had done with it; but the shrapnel fell all over the place.
You could see the shrapnel shells bursting high in the air—a beautiful sight—twinkling like big yellow stars, and then fading out. They would look more beautiful if only the pieces of them would stay up there after they burst. I was in Oxford Circus one night when a hatful of shrapnel fell about 20 feet away. One piece was about 5 inches long. Imagine that falling down from a height of 3 miles and hitting a fellow on the head. It would go clear on down through to your toes. Before any American city is raided I hope some chemist will invent a barrage shell which will dissipate all its energy and substance in the bursting. Surely an airplane can be wrecked by concussion.
An Australian soldier and a girl were standing in a doorway near me watching the shells burst. His was that common case—a soldier in London on leave, speculating on where the shrapnel would fall, and becoming peeved as he thought of it. "A hell of a place for a man to come on leave! I came here to get rest and quiet, and I run into this gory mess!"
While waiting the permission of the British authorities I learned that all a correspondent's troubles do not come from foreign censorship. An American newsman had cabled over something which did not please one of our admirals then in London. Meeting that same admiral, I put in a word for my trip to the naval base, thinking that he might warm up and hurry things along for me. He warmed up, but on the side away from me. He recounted the enormous villainy of that newsman, and in conclusion said: "Perhaps, after all, the best way to do is not to allow you newspaper men to send a word at all!"
Such an air of finality! He spoke as though he owned the navy; also the press.
One now and again grows up like that. By taking care not to die, and in the absence of plucking boards, they rise to be admirals. Then side-boys, the bosun's pipes, the 13 guns coming over the side—all this ritual goes to their heads. They get to thinking after a while that the whole business is a tribute to their genius, or valor, or something or other personal. Perhaps all this one needed was a little salve; but I thought it up to some writer to fire a shot across his bows. So I came back with: "That's all very well, sir, about your not allowing a word to be sent, but there may be another point of view. There are 110,000,000 people over in our country, and some of them may not look on our navy as the sole property of its officers. They may want to know what that navy of theirs is doing over here. And perhaps no harm in telling them—or some day they may decide to have no navy at all."
Imagination was not his long suit, so he had no card to follow with. But he did glare.
After two weeks of waiting I got word from my very human London censor that I might leave for the naval base. I left from Euston Station during an air-raid. The station had been darkened hours earlier, and it was a new kind of sport going around that big black place to locate the cloak-room, and after you got the cloak-room to identify your baggage from a big tumbled pile.
I lit a cigar, and as I did a policeman jumped me for showing a light. Stopping to light it under my hat, a tall, able woman, dragging a trunk by the strap, bowled into me. While we were in our compartments, the train all made up, there came a banging of barrage guns—bang, bang, bang—with now and then the boo-oom! of a bomb.
While we were waiting there we heard the crash of shrapnel coming through the glass roof. By and by another bunch of shrapnel fell with a fine ringing of metal on the concrete platform alongside the train. No harm done. The raiders passed, the banging and the booming stopped; but there was then no driver and stoker for the train. They had gone with the second load of shrapnel, and we had to wait two hours while they dug up a new crew.
After three and a half hours of deck-pacing on the steamer, and twenty-two hours of sitting up straight in third-class wooden seats, I made the naval base; and late at night though it was, there was a British naval officer at the hotel to let me know I was to report next morning to the British admiral in charge.
This admiral had a reputation in London for having no use for newspaper men. When this staff-officer asked me if I had heard of his admiral before, I told him what I heard in London. "He eats 'em alive," I was told by a big London journalist, and I repeated that now, of course without naming the journalist.
"And what do you think of that?" asked this staff-officer.
"If he tries to eat me alive I hope he chokes," I answered to that. I figured he would tell his chief that, but there had been so much boot-licking done by a couple of writers over there that, for the honor of the craft, I thought somebody ought to have a wallop at these press crushers once in a while.
This admiral is worth a paragraph, because he was a type. He was a capable man up to his limitations; a good executive, a devotee to duty; but he should have lived before printing-presses were invented. Also he, too, lacked imagination.
He was a man who acted as if priding himself on his brusqueness of language. He sat at his flat desk like a pagan image, never looked up, never said aye, no, or go to the devil when I stepped in and wished him "Good morning!"
I told him what I wanted. I wished to cruise with the American destroyers in their U-boat operations.
His answer was a No! Bing! No, sir!
"Whoops!" I said to myself. "I've come more than 4,000 miles, with a fine expense account to Collier's, and I'm turned down before I get going."
I spread before him my credentials—from the department and elsewhere. I spread before him a letter from Colonel Roosevelt, the same in his own handwriting. In France I could have lost my passport and yet got along on that letter. Batteries of inspectors used to sit up and come to life at the sight of a letter in the colonel's own handwriting.
This man did not turn his head to look at what I might have. All the credentials in the world were going to have no influence with him. He repeated his No, putting about seventeen n's in the No!
Then, mildly, I told him that I thought I ought to have something more than a No; that I should have a reason to go with the No. He intimated that he didn't have to give reasons unless he wished to.
I asked him why he should not wish to? Was it not right and fair that he should give a reason? I had come more than 4,000 miles at great expense to Collier's, for one thing. For another—and this more important—there was an anxiety among Americans to know something of the doings of our little destroyer flotilla. They had sailed out into the East, been swallowed up in the mists of the Atlantic—that was the last we had seen of them. They were the first of our forces to come in contact with the enemy. Were they doing good work over here, or were they tied up to a dock in some port and their officers and crews roistering ashore?
Still he said No.
Then I went on to tell him what I had told our own archaic type of admiral in London—with additions: that it was possible that we had in the United States a different idea of the navy from what the British public held; that in our own country a lot of people held the notion that the navy was not the property of the officers, not quite so much as it was the property of the people; and that holding that view, these same people thought themselves entitled to know what that navy was doing to back their faith in it. And perhaps it was not the worst policy in the world to tell them what that navy was doing.
Still he said No.
Well, for one thing (he was disintegrating a little), in the British service they did not allow civilians of any kind to go to sea with their ships in war time. That further—they allowed no reports of their work at sea to appear in the press.
I pointed out that reports of fine deeds were, nevertheless, appearing in the press; that from the London dailies of the week past I had made clippings of such, and if he cared to see them I would show them to him.
"But we allow no civilians to go cruising with ships at sea in war time. And I will not establish a precedent now."
It was the old fetich—precedent. I thought of judges who used to hang men on precedent. He surely had what is called the mediaeval mind, with apologies to that same mediaeval age.
I pointed out that conditions in our country and his were not the same. That there were hundreds of thousands of officers and men in the British navy; that those officers and men were regularly ashore on liberty or leave; that they gossiped, and that hundreds of thousands of officers and men gossiping could pass the word pretty far, especially in a country where there was not a single little hamlet more than 40 miles from tide-water. With us it was different. Our nearest Atlantic port was 3,000 miles from this very naval base; and 3,000 miles farther to the Pacific coast, with no hundreds of thousands of men on liberty ashore. If men like myself were not allowed to tell them something, how were they ever to learn what was doing?