Submarine Warfare of To-day
by Charles W. Domville-Fife
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Lieut. R.N.V.R., late of the Staff of H.M. School of Submarine Mining




Science of To-Day Series


13. Submarine Warfare of To-Day.

By C. W. DOMVILLE-FIFE, Lieut., R.N.V.R., late of the Staff of H.M. School of Submarine Mining. Author of "Submarines and Sea Power," "Submarines of the World's Navies," "Submarine Engineering of To-Day," &c. &c. With many Illustrations and Diagrams. Extra Crown 8vo. 7s. 6d. nett.











11. GEOLOGY OF TO-DAY. By Professor J. W. GREGORY, F.R.S.


SEELEY, SERVICE & CO., LTD., 38 Great Russell St.







I DESIRE simply to say that I commenced taking an active interest in submarines in 1904. I wrote my first book on the subject, Submarines of the World's Navies, in 1910, and I have watched and written of the rise of these and kindred weapons for the past fifteen years of rapid development in peace and war, finally taking a humble part in the defeat of the great German submarine armada during the years 1914-1918.

C. D.-F.



WHILE Great Britain remains an island, with dominion over palm and pine, it is to the sea that her four hundred millions of people must look for the key to all that has been achieved in the past and all that the future promises in the quickening dawn of a new era.

Not only over Great Britain alone, however, does the ocean cast its spell, for it is the free highway of the world, sailed by the ships of all nations, without other hindrances than those of stormy nature, and navigated without restriction from pole to pole by the seamen of all races. It was the international meeting-place, where ensigns were "dipped" in friendly greeting, and since the dawn of history there has been a freemasonry of the sea which knew no distinction of nation or creed.

When the call of humanity boomed across the dark, storm-tossed waters the answer came readily from beneath whatever flag the sound was heard. But in August, 1914, there came a change, so dramatic, so sudden, that maritime nations were stunned. Germany, in an excess of war fever, broke the sea laws, and laughed while women and children drowned. Crime followed crime, and the great voice of the Republican West protested in unison with that of the Imperial East. Still the Black Eagle laughed as it flew far and wide, carrying death to whomsoever came within its shadow, regardless of race and sex.

But there was an avenger upon the seas, one who had been rocked in its cradle from time immemorial, and to whom the world appealed to save the lives of their seamen. It sailed beneath the White Ensign and the Blue, and with aid from France, Italy and Japan it fought by day and by night, in winter gale and snow, and in summer heat and fog, in torrid zone and regions of perpetual ice to free the seas of the traitorous monster who had, in the twentieth century, hoisted the black flag of piracy and murder. For three years this ceaseless war was waged, and then, with her wonderful patience exhausted, the great sister nation of the mother tongue joined her fleets and armies with those of the battle-worn Allies and peace came to a long-suffering world.

In that abyss of war there was romance sufficient for many generations of novelists and historians. Many were the epic fights, unimportant in themselves, but which need only a Kingsley or a Stevenson to make them famous for all time. So with the happenings to be described in this book, many of them historically unimportant compared with the epoch-making events of which they formed a decimal part, but told in plain words; just records of romance on England's sea frontier in the years 1914-1918.

Although jealous of any encroachment on the space available for the description of guerrilla war at sea, there are many things which must first be said regarding the organisation and training of what may appropriately be termed the "New Navy," which took the sea to combat the submarine and the mine; also of the novel weapons devised amid the whirl of war for their use, protection and offensive power. Into this brief recital of the events leading to the real thing an endeavour will be made to infuse the life and local colour, which, however, would be more appropriate in a personal narrative than in a general description of anti-submarine warfare of to-day, but without which much that is essential could not be written without dire risk of tiring the reader before the first few chapters had been passed.

The names of places and ships have necessarily been changed to avoid anything of a personal character, and all references to existing or dead officers and men have been rigidly excluded as objectionable and unnecessary in a book dealing entirely with events.

Many of the incidents described—written while the events stood out in clear, mental perspective—could no doubt be duplicated and easily surpassed by many whose fortunes took them into zones of sea war during the historic years just past. If such is found to be the case, then the object of this book has been accomplished, for it sets out to tell, not of great epoch-making events, but of the organisation, men, ships, weapons and ordinary incidents of life in what, for lack of a better term, has been called the "New Navy"—a production of the World War.

It may be that an apology is due for placing yet another war book before a war-weary public, but an effort has been made to make of the following chapters a record of British maritime achievement, more than a narrative of sea fighting, although to do this without introducing the human element, the arduous nature of the work, the monotony, the danger and, finally, the compensating moments of excitement would have been to falsify the account and belittle the achievement.

There are many books available, full of exciting stories of sea and land war, but no other, so far as the Author knows, which describes in detail and in plain phraseology those important "little things"—liable to be overlooked amid the whirl of war—which go to make an anti-submarine personnel, fleet and base, together with an account of "how it was done."






















XXI. THE S.O.S. 238







List of Illustrations


























THE hour was that of the Allies' greatest need—the last months of the year 1914. On that fateful 4th August the British navy was concentrated in the North Sea, and the chance for a surprise attack by the German fleet, or an invasion of England by the Kaiser's armies, vanished for ever, and with this one chance went also all reasonable possibility of a crushing German victory.

Although during the years of bitter warfare which followed this silent coup de main the German fleet many times showed signs of awakening ambition, it did not, after Jutland, dare to thrust even its vanguard far into the open sea. Behind its forts, mines and submarines it waited, growing weaker with the dry-rot of inaction, for the chance that fickle Fortune might place a single unit of the Allied fleet within easy reach of its whole mailed-fist.

With a great and modern fleet—the second strongest in the world—awaiting its chance less than twenty hours' steam from the coast of Great Britain, it quickly became evident that the old Mistress of the Seas would have to call upon her islanders to supply a "new navy" to scour the oceans while her main battle squadrons waited and watched for the second Trafalgar.

Faced, then, with the problem of a long blockade, a powerful fleet in readiness to strike at any weak or unduly exposed point of land or squadron, and with similar problems on a decreasing scale imposed by Austria in the Adriatic and by Turkey behind the Dardanelles, the work of the main battle fleets became well defined by the commonest laws of naval strategy.

All this without taking into account the widespread menace of submarines and mines, and, in the earlier stages of the war, the rounding-up of detached enemy squadrons, such as that under Von Spee in South American waters, and the protection of the transport and food ships from raiders like the Wolfe and the Moewe.

The German High Command realised this as quickly as that of the Allies. Their oversea commerce was strangled within a few days of the Declaration of War with Great Britain, and their fleet was confined to harbour, with the exception of occasional operations against Russia in the Baltic. From the German standpoint the naval problem resolved itself into one of how best to strike at the lines of communication of the Allies, paying special attention, first, to the transport of troops, and, second, to England's food supply. As they alone knew to what extent they would violate the laws of war and of humanity, it became apparent that the submarine and the mine were the only possible weapons which could be used for this purpose in face of the superior fleets of the Allies. But the number of these weapons was strictly limited compared with the immense shipping resources at the command of the Western Powers, so one submarine must do the work of many, and an effort was made to accomplish this by a reign of sea terrorism and inhuman conduct unparalleled in the history of the world. It opened with the sinking of the Lusitania.

The Allies had secured and maintained the command of the sea, and all that it implies, but to do this with the certainty of correct strategy they had to dedicate almost their entire battle fleet to the purpose for which battle fleets have always been intended—the checkmating or annihilation of the opposing navy.

There came a second problem, however, one entirely new to sea warfare, and unconsidered or provided against in its strategic and tactical entirety because hitherto deemed too inhuman for modern war. This was the ruthless use of armed submarines against unarmed passenger and merchant ships, and the scattering broadcast over the seas, regardless of the lives and property of neutrals, of thousands of explosive mines.

The type of ship constructed exclusively for open sea warfare against surface adversaries was not the best answer to the submarine. The blockading of the hostile surface fleet did not prevent, or even greatly hinder, the free passage of submarine flotillas, and the building by Germany of under-water mine-layers enabled fields of these weapons to be laid anywhere within the carrier's radius of action.

In this way the second, or submarine, phase of the naval war opened, and it was to supplement the comparatively few fast destroyers and other suitable ships which could be spared from the main fleets that the "new navy" was formed.


The area of the North Sea alone exceeds 140,000 square miles, and when the whole vast stretch of water encompassed by what was known as the radius of action of hostile submarines, from their bases on the German, Belgian, Austrian, Turkish and Bulgarian coasts, had to be considered as a possible zone of operations for German and Austrian under-water flotillas, much of the water surface of the world was included. Likewise the network of sea communications on which the Allies depended for the maintenance of essential transport and communication comprised the pathways of the seven seas. To patrol all these routes adequately, and to guard the food and troop ships, hastening in large numbers to the aid of the Motherland from the most distant corners of the earth; to protect the 1500 miles sea frontier of the British Isles; to give timely aid to sinking or hard-pressed units of the mercantile fleet; to hound the submarine from the under-seas and to sweep clear, almost weekly, several thousand square miles of sea, from Belle Isle to Cape Town and the Orkneys to Colombo, required ships, not in tens, but in thousands. To find these in an incredibly short space of time became the primary naval need of the moment.

Who that lived through those days will forget the struggle to supply ships and guns? The searching of every harbour for craft, from motor boats to old-time sailing-ships, and from fishing craft to liners. The scouring of the Dominions and Colonies. How blessed was their aid! Help, generous and spontaneous, came from all quarters, including the most unexpected. Over five hundred fast patrol boats, or motor launches, in less than twelve months from Canada and America. Guns from Japan. Coasting steamers from India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Seaplanes from the Crown Colonies. Rifles from Canada. Machine guns from the United States. Ambulances from English and Colonial women's leagues. In fact, contributions to the "new navy" from all corners of the earth.

To patrol the coasts of Britain alone, and to keep its harbours and coastal trade routes clear of mines, needed over 3500 ships, with at least an equal number of guns, 30,000 rifles and revolvers, and millions of shells.

In addition to this huge fleet other smaller squadrons were required for the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and Red Sea, the East and West Indies, the coasts of the Dominions and Colonies, and for the Russian lines of communication in the White Sea. For these oversea bases just under 1000 ships were required, exclusive of those locally supplied by the Dominions and Colonies themselves.

All this without considering the main battle fleets or, in fact, any portion of the regular navy, and the ships required for the transport of food, troops and munitions of war, together with their escorts. Some idea of the numbers engaged in keeping the Allies supplied with the diverse necessities of life and war may be gathered from the fact that the average sailings in and out of the harbours of the United Kingdom alone during the four years of war amounted to over 1200 a week.

The immense fleet forming the new navy was not homogeneous in design, power, appearance or, in fact, in anything except the spirit of the personnel and the flag beneath which they fought—and alas! nearly 4000 died. The squadrons, or units, as they were called, consisted of fine steam yachts, liners from the ocean trade routes, sturdy sea tramps, deep-sea trawlers, oilers, colliers, drifters, paddle steamers, and the more uniform and specially built fighting sloops, whalers, motor launches and coastal motor boats. The latter type of craft was aided by its great speed, nearly fifty miles an hour; but more about these ships and their curious armament later.


The great auxiliary navy had to be built or obtained without depleting the ordinary mercantile fleets, and the shipbuilding and repairing yards, even in the smallest sea and river ports, worked day and night. The triumph was as wonderful as it was speedy. In less than fifteen months from August, 1914, the new navy was a gigantic force, and its operations extended from the Arctic Sea to the Equator. All units were armed, manned and linked up by wireless and a common cause.

Before this could be accomplished, however, the problem of maintaining this vast fleet and adequately controlling its operations had to be faced and overcome. The seas adjacent to the coasts of the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean Littoral and Colonial waters were divided into "patrol areas" on special secret charts, and each "area" had its own naval base, with harbour, stores, repairing and docking facilities, intelligence centre, wireless and signal stations, reserve of officers and men, social headquarters, workshops and medical department.

Each base was under the command of an admiral and staff, many of the former returning to duty, after several years of well-earned rest, as captains and commodores, with salaries commensurate with their reduced rank. Their staffs consisted of some six to twelve officers of the new navy, with possibly one or two from the "pukka service," and their command often extended over many hundreds of square miles of submarine and mine infested sea.

Of these bases, which will be fully described in later chapters, there were about fifty, excluding the great dockyards and fleet headquarters, but inclusive of those situated overseas. When it is considered what a war base needs to make it an efficient rendezvous for some hundreds of ships and thousands of men, some idea of the gigantic task of organisation which their establishment, often in poorly equipped harbours and distant islands, required, not only in the first instance, but also with regard to maintenance and supplies, will be realised, perhaps, however, more fully when it is stated that the average ship needs a month spent in docking and overhauling at least once a year, and that the delicate and more speedy units of such a fleet need nearly four times that amount of attention.


One of the first requisites of the auxiliary navy was the creation of a headquarters staff at the Admiralty, London. This was formed from naval officers of experience both in the regular service and in the two reserves (R.N.R. and R.N.V.R.).

Forming an integral part of the great British or Allied armada, all operations were under the control of the Naval War Staff, but for purposes of more detailed organisation and administration additional departments were created which exercised direct jurisdiction over their respective fleets. The principal of these was known as the "Auxiliary Patrol Office," under the Fourth Sea Lord and the Department of the Director of Minesweeping. These formed a part of the General Staff—if a military term is permissible—and both issued official publications periodically throughout the war, which served to keep the staffs of all the different war bases and the commanding officers of the thousands of ships informed as to current movements and ruses of the enemy.

It is unnecessary to detail more closely the work of these departments, especially as much has yet to be said before plunging into the maelstrom of war. A sufficient indication of the colossal nature of the work they were called upon to perform will be found in a moment's reflection of what the administration and control of such a large and nondescript fleet, spread over the world—from the White Sea to the East Indies—must have meant to the small staff allowed by the exigencies of an unparalleled war.


The greatest problem in modern naval war is, undoubtedly, the supply of trained men. For this reason it has been left to the last to describe how the difficulty was faced and overcome by England and her oversea Dominions in 1914.

Before doing so, however, it may be of interest to give here a few extracts from an excellent little official publication, showing how the British fleet was manned and expanded in bygone days of national peril[1]:

"In time of war there has always been an intimate connection between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service. Latterly, and more especially since the Russian War of 1854 to 1856, this fact tended to be forgotten, partly because men-of-war developed on particular lines and became far more unlike merchantmen than they had ever been before, and also because, by the introduction of continuous service, the personnel of the Navy seemed to have developed into a separate caste, distinguished by its associations, traditions and esprit de corps, as much by its special training and qualifications, from other seafaring men. This war has proved once again, to such as needed proof, that the two services cannot exist without each other, and that the Sea Power of the Empire is not its naval strength alone, but its maritime strength. Even at the risk of insisting on the obvious, it is necessary to repeat that, for an Island Empire, a war at sea cannot be won merely by the naval action which defeats the enemy; naval successes are of value for the fruit they bear, the chief of which is the power that they give to the victor to maintain his own sea-borne trade and to interrupt that of the enemy.

"An elementary way of looking at the problems of manning the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service is to consider that there is in the country a common stock of seamen, on which both can draw. But this theory, like many others equally obvious and tempting, has the disadvantage that it leaves important factors out of account and, if worked out, results in an absurdity. Thus, shortly before war began there were in the country some 420,000 seamen, of whom one-third were in the Navy and two-thirds engaged in merchant ships and fishing vessels. There was no considerable body of unemployed seamen. During the war the personnel of the Navy was expanded to something like the 420,000 which represents the common stock of seamen. Therefore, if the theory met the case, there would have been no men left for the Merchant Service. But the merchant ships, in spite of difficulty and danger, continued to run, employing great numbers of men. And we must not forget to take into account the number of men, amounting to 48,000 killed and 4500 prisoners of war, who have been lost in the two services during the war. So it comes to this, that the common stock of seamen, or at least of men fit to man ships, has expanded during the war by more than 50 per cent. Whence came these extra men? Clearly for the most part from the non-seafaring classes.

"The Navy in November, 1918, employed some 80,000 officers and men from the Merchant Service—viz. 20,000 R.N.R. ratings, 36,000 Trawler Reserve, and 20,000 mercantile seamen and firemen on Transport agreements, plus the officers. If the supposition, made in the absence of statistics, is correct that at this time the number of men in the Merchant Service itself had decreased proportionately to the loss of tonnage, it would seem that the Merchant Service needed no considerable inflow of men during the war. In other words, most of those added to the stock of seamen during the war must have gone into the Navy. This corresponds with known fact: the Navy has, in addition to the Reserve men already mentioned, nearly 200,000 men to demobilise in order to put its personnel on the footing on which it stood when war broke out.

"It will be of interest to see how the personnel of the Navy expanded in former wars, and how at the peace it was invariably reduced to something like its pre-war figures. This can readily be done in tabular form:


Year Name of War Before War Maximum After the during War Peace 1689} 7,040 — — 1697}League of Augsburg — 40,000 — 1700} — — 7,000

1700} 7,000 — — 1712}Spanish Succession — 40,000 — 1713} — — 10,000

1738}Austrian 10,000 — — 1748}Succession — 40,000 — 1759} — — 10,000

1754} 10,000 — — 1762}Seven Years' War — 70,000 — 1764} — — 16,000

1775}American 18,000 — — 1783}Independence — 110,000 — 1785} — — 18,000

1793}French 16,000 — — 1801}Revolution — 135,000 — 1803} — — 50,000

1803} 50,000 — — 1812}Napoleonic War — 145,000 — 1817} — — 19,000

1853} 45,500 — — 1856}Russian War — 76,000 — 1857} — — 53,000

1914}The Present War 146,000 — — 1918} — 450,000 —

"It appears at once from these figures that the naval expansion during earlier wars was in most cases much greater proportionately than it has been in this. Roughly the personnel in this war has been multiplied by three; in earlier wars it was increased six, seven, eight, or even nine fold, if we take the difference between the figures for 1792 and 1812.

"It is a common error to suppose that our ships in the old wars were manned entirely by seamen. A knowledge of how the men were raised shows that this cannot have been so; and confirmation can be had from a very brief study of ships' muster books. Only about a third of the crew of a line-of-battle ship were, in the seaman's phrase, 'prime seamen.' The rest were either only partly trained or were frankly not sailor men. The Victory at Trafalgar was not an ill-manned ship—here is an analysis of her crew: officers, commissioned and warrant, 28; petty officers, including marines, 63; able seamen, 213; ordinary seamen and boys, 225; landsmen, 86; marines, 137; artificers, 18; quarter gunners, 12; supernumeraries and domestics, 37.

"During the whole of our naval history down to 1815 it was the invariable rule that in peace time the battle fleets were laid up unmanned, and only enough ships were kept in commission to 'show the flag' and to police the sea. This accounts for the very large increase of the naval personnel which immediately became necessary when there was a threat of war; and it accounts also for the difficulty which was always experienced in raising the men. This difficulty was even greater than we are apt to suppose, for the Merchant Service has never been able to give the navy more than a fraction of the total number of men needed, and the machinery for raising extra men has, until this war, always been of a most primitive nature.

"When war came the ships were commissioned, without crews. This could be done because from the latter part of the seventeenth century there was a permanent force of officers. Then the officers had to find their own crews. They began by drawing their proportion of marines, and then proceeded to invite seamen to volunteer. In this way they got a number of skilled seamen, men who had been in the navy before, and came back to it either as petty officers or in the hope of becoming so. Then warrants to impress seamen would be issued. Theoretically the impress was merely a form of conscription, the Crown claiming by prerogative the right to the services of its seafaring subjects. Practically a good deal of violence was at times necessary, as many of the men, preferring to sail in merchant ships, or wishing to wait for a proclamation of bounty, tried to avoid arrest. The scuffles that took place on these occasions gave the impress service a bad name, not altogether deserved, for real efforts were made to avoid hardship, and in any case the number of men raised in this way was greatly exaggerated by popular report."

There was no compulsion during the Great War to join any unit of the British fleet. Therefore all were either in the regular service, reservists or volunteers. The need was made known not only throughout the British Isles, but also from Vancouver to Cape Town, Sydney and Wellington, and men in all walks of life, but with either the Wander-Lust or true love of the wide open sea in their blood, rallied from all parts of the far-flung Empire to the call of the White Ensign.

In order to obtain some 6000 officers and nearly 200,000 trained or semi-trained men, new sources of supply had to be tapped. Already the great battle fleets, brought up to full war strength and with adequate reserves, had absorbed nearly all the Reserve officers who could be spared from the food and troop transports.[2]

First came the great sea-training establishment of the Empire—the Mercantile Marine and its retired officers and men—already heavily depleted. Then the yacht clubs from the Fraser to the Thames and Clyde. Thousands of professionals and amateurs came overseas to the training cruisers and the "naval university," Canada alone supplying several hundred officers.

Doctors came from the hospitals and from lucrative private practices. The engineering professions and trades supplied the technical staffs and skilled mechanics. The great banks and city offices yielded the accountants, and the fishing and pleasure-boating communities, not only of Great Britain, but also of the Dominions and Colonies, yielded the men in tens of thousands. In this way the personnel of the new navy was completed in a very few months.

Before passing on to describe, in the detail of personal acquaintance, the severe training of this naval force, a general knowledge of its heterogeneous character is necessary to enable the reader to understand this great assemblage of the sons of the Empire.

In the smoke-filled wardroom and gunroom of the training cruiser, H.M.S. Hermione one windy March evening in 1916 there were some eighty officers of the auxiliary fleet, and of this number one hailed from distant Rhodesia, where he was the owner of thousands of acres of land and a goodly herd of cattle, but who, some time in the past, had rounded the Horn in a wind-jammer and taken sights in the "Roaring Forties." Another was a seascape painter of renown both in England and the United States. A third was a member of a Pacific coast yacht club. A fourth was the son of an Irish peer, the owner of a steam yacht. Then came a London journalist, a barrister, a solicitor and a New Zealand yachtsman, while sitting at the table was a famous traveller and a pukka commander.

In the neighbouring gunroom, among the crowd of sub-lieutenants—all of the same great force, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve—was a grey-haired veteran from the Canadian Lakes, a youngster from the Clyde, the son of a shipowner from Australia and a bronzed mine manager from the Witwatersrand.

Among the engineers and mechanics the same diversity. Men from several of the great engineering establishments, a student from a North Country university, electrical engineers from the power stations and mechanics from the bench, with here and there one or two with sea-going experience.

In the forecastle and elsewhere about the old cruiser—now merely a training establishment—were sailors with years of experience in both sail and steam. Fishermen from the Hebrides and Newfoundland rubbing shoulders with yacht hands from the Solent and Clyde.

From this curiously mixed but excellent raw material a naval personnel, with its essential knowledge and discipline, had to be fashioned in record time by an incredibly small staff of commissioned and warrant officers of the permanent service, aided by the more experienced amateurs.

It must, however, not be thought from this that the amateur was converted into a professional seaman in the space of a week or two. Three months of specialised training enabled them to take their place in the new fleet, but with some it required a much longer period to enable them to feel that perfect self-confidence when alone in the face of difficulties and dangers which is the true heritage of the sea.

To describe here the training of officers and men would be to repeat what will be more fully and personally described in succeeding chapters. It is sufficient to say that the aim was to bring them all to a predetermined standard of efficiency, which would enable the officers to command ships of specific types at sea and in action, and the men to form efficient engineers and deck hands for almost any ship in the Navy.

The medical branches naturally required no special training and the accountants merely a knowledge of naval systems of financial and general administration. These two branches had their own training establishments.

When the period of preliminary training in the cruiser Hermione was over the officers were passed on to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, and from there to one or other of the fifty war bases in the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean or farther afield. Their appointments were to ships forming the fleets attached to each of these bases and generally operating in the surrounding seas.

In this way the whole zone of war was covered by an anti-submarine and minesweeping organisation and general naval patrol, which operated in conjunction with, but separate from, the battle fleets, squadrons and flotillas, which were thus left free to perform their true functions in big naval engagements.


[1] Extract from Naval Demobilisation—issued by the Ministry of Reconstruction.

[2] The personnel of the new navy consisted of R.N., R.N.R. and R.N.V.R. officers. The former came mostly from the retired list. The R.N.R. needed training only in such subjects as gunnery, tactics, etc. The training of the R.N.V.R. is here described.



HAVING described the raison d'etre of the new navy, and how it became a fleet in being, with its own admirals, captains, staffs, bases and all the paraphernalia of war, I can pass on to a more intimate description of the training of the officers and men, preparatory to their being drafted to the scattered units of this great anti-submarine force.

Lying in the spacious docks at Southampton was the old 4000-ton cruiser Hermione, which had been brought round from her natural base in Portsmouth dockyard to act as the depot ship and training establishment for a large section of this new force. Not all the officers and men of the auxiliary fleet were, however, destined to pass across its decks. This vessel was reserved for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, from which a very considerable proportion of the entire personnel of the new fleet was drawn. Nor was H.M.S. Hermione the first depot ship of the war-time R.N.V.R. at Southampton, for the Admiralty yacht Resource II. had been used for the first few drafts, but was unfortunately burned to the water's edge. There were also other vessels and establishments at Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham. These were, however, mainly for the reception and brief training of the more experienced Merchant Service officers, entered in the Royal Naval Reserve for the duration of the war, and for the surgeons and accountants.

The men of the new force were mostly trained in the naval barracks and depot ships situated at the big naval centres, such as Portsmouth and Chatham. After a few weeks all these establishments were drafting, in a constant stream, the trained human element to the vessels awaiting full complements at the different war bases, or being constructed in the hundreds of shipyards of the Empire.

About H.M.S. Hermione, which has been selected as being representative of the training depots of a large section of the auxiliary service, little need be said, beyond the fact that she was commanded, first, by a distinguished officer from the Dardanelles, and subsequently by an equally capable officer, who, by the irony of fate, had in pre-war times been a member of the British Naval Mission to the Turkish navy—both of them men whose experience and unfailing tact contributed largely to the success of the thousands of embryo officers trained under their command.

The ship herself was a rambling old cruiser, but very little of the actual training was carried out on board. Spacious buildings on the quayside provided the training grounds for gunnery, drill, signalling, engineering and all the complicated curricula, of which more anon. Lying in the still waters of the dock, alongside the comparatively big grey cruiser, were the trim little hulls of a numerous flotilla of 20-knot motor launches, newly arrived from Canada, with wicked-looking 13-pounder high-angle guns, stumpy torpedo-boat masts and brand-new White Ensigns and brass-bound decks. These were the advance guard of a fleet of over 500 similar craft, to the command of which many of the officers being trained would, after a period of practical experience at sea, eventually succeed.

There were besides numerous other mosquito craft, which throbbed in and out of the dock from that vast sheltered arm of the sea called Southampton Water on mysterious errands, soon to be solved by new recruits in the chilly winds of winter nights and early mornings.

This, then, was the mother ship and her children. When once the aft gangway leading up from the dockside to the clean-scrubbed decks had been crossed, and the sentry's challenge answered, the embryo officer left civilian life behind and commenced his training for the stern work of war.

It may not be out of place to give here a closer description of the training of the officers and men of the new navy, drawn from personal experience. To do this without the irritating egoism of the personal narrative it will be necessary, as often in future pages, to adopt the convenient "third person."

* * * * *

The night was fine, but a keen March wind blew from off the sea. The dock lights were reflected in the still waters of the harbour. Tall cranes stood out black and clearly defined against the cold night sky. The shadows were deep around the warehouses, stores and other buildings of the busy dockside.

Lying in the south-western basin was the big grey hull of the cruiser, newly painted, and looking very formidable, with its tall masts and fighting-tops towering into the blue void, and its massive bow rising high above the dock wall.

Coming from the darkness on board were the tinkling notes of a banjo and the subdued hum of voices. Then the loud call of the quartermaster and the ringing of eight bells.

A group of newly appointed officers picked their way carefully among the tangled mooring ropes on the quayside and as they approached the warship were duly challenged by the sentries. Two of them had only just arrived from distant New Zealand. They were all "for training," and on mounting the quarterdeck gangway were politely requested by the smiling quartermaster to report at the ship's office.

In order to get from the deck to this abode of paymasters and writers, except by the tabooed "captain's hatchway," there had to be negotiated a long passage leading past the wardroom and the gunroom. In normal times at such an hour this passage would probably have been almost deserted, with the exception of a sentry, but the training was being speeded up to meet the demands of war, and with nearly 200 officers, many of whom fortunately lived ashore, constantly moving to and fro, it became either a semi-dark, congested thoroughfare, in which everyone was curtly apologising for knocking against someone else, or else it contained the steady pressure of a gunroom overflow meeting, with a tobacco-scented atmosphere peculiarly its own.

When the formality of reporting arrival had been completed, the embryo officers were taken in tow by the "Officer of the Day," whose duty it was to introduce them to the gunroom and make them familiar in a general way with the routine of the ship. The officer who performed this ceremony on the night in question has since held a highly responsible post at the Admiralty—such is the fortune of war.

The first shock came when the work for the following day was explained. It commenced with physical drill on the quayside at 7 A.M. and ended with instruction in signalling at 6 P.M.!

. . . . . . . .

The early morning was bitterly cold but fine. Physical "jerks" was not a dress parade; in fact, some of the early risers on the surrounding transports and ocean mail boats must have wondered what particular form of mania the crowd of running, leaping and arm-swinging men, in all stages of undress on the quayside, really suffered from.

Breakfast and Divisions were the next items on the programme, and the new-comers looked forward to the day's work with the keen interest of freshness.

Morning Divisions and Evening Quarters are events of some importance in the daily routine of his Majesty's ships. They are parades of the entire ship's company, with the exception of those on important duty, marking the beginning and end of the day's work. The crew, or men under training, are mustered in "Watches," under their respective officers, and stand to attention at the bugle call. The senior officer taking divisions then enters, a roll is called and the names of those absent reported. The chaplain stands between the lines of men; the order "Off caps!" is given and prayers commence. When these are finished certain orders of the day are read out to the assembled ship's company and the parade is over.

At evening quarters, on certain days in the week, the names were read out of the officers and men detailed for special duties or for draft to a zone of war.

When morning divisions were over the day's work began. The embryo officers were attached to the seamanship class, consisting of about twenty men of all ages. Oilskins were donned, for the sky was overcast and the wind keen. They climbed down the steel sides of the cruiser on to the small deck of a tender, which was to convey them out on to the broad but sheltered waters where much of the preliminary practical training was to take place during the following weeks.

The instructor, an officer attached for the purpose, then divided his class into two "watches," one being directed to work out the proposed course of the ship on the charts in the cabin and to give the necessary orders to the other watch on deck, who were to carry them into effect as the ship steamed along, with the aid of sextant, compass, wheel, engine-room telegraph, lead and log-line. As all possessed some knowledge of the sea, and had experience in navigating, this work did not prove as difficult as it undoubtedly would to anyone entirely devoid of nautical knowledge.

Those in the cabin with the charts worked out the compass courses from one point to another, making the necessary allowances for tide, deviation, etc. Others of the same watch received reports from the "bridge" and made the correct entries in the log-book. All elementary work, but which needed practice to make perfect, and on the accuracy of which men's lives would depend in the very near future.

The watch on deck was engaged in the more practical work of coastal navigation and could see the effect of any mistake made theoretically by their companions below. At midday the watches were reversed. Those working at the charts and courses came on deck and the seamen of the morning became the navigating officers of the afternoon.

On this particular day the second or port watch had the worst of it. A squally wind and rain had set in, making the work on deck thoroughly wet and uncomfortable. An hour or so later the small ship was rolling and pitching and everyone was drenched. The lead was kept going by hands numb with cold—a foretaste of the long and bitter days and nights to be afterwards spent in wintry seas.

The training cruises were continued for many days and were interspersed with lectures on the elements of good seamanship, the more advanced theory and practice of navigation being left for a later course at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

After seamanship came gunnery. Each of the different types of heavy but finely made weapons had to be learned in detail—a feat of memory when it came to the watch-like mechanism of the Maxim. Guns were disabled and had to be put right. They missed fire and were made by the instructors—old naval gunners—to play every dastardly trick conceivable. The final test which had to be successfully passed was the dismantling of each type of gun used in the auxiliary fleet and the reassembling of it.

With gunnery came also the marks and uses of the different kinds of ammunition, the systems of "spotting" and "range-finding." Every gun had its officer crew and the rapidity of fire was recorded. Each man in turn was chosen to give the necessary orders and to judge the ranges and deflections. In this way not only was the practical work learned by heart, but also the theory of naval gunnery, so far as it related to the smaller types of weapon.

The use of the depth charge, both mechanically and tactically, was expounded and practically demonstrated, together with that of the torpedo, the mine, mine laying and sweeping, and the peculiarities of various explosives. Rifle and revolver practice was encouraged, and morse and semaphore signalling formed part of the daily routine.

The training was not entirely preparatory for work afloat. Squad and company drill, rifle and bayonet exercise, and manoeuvring in extended order formed a part of the comprehensive training. One day, not many weeks after their arrival, the officers whose fortunes have been followed found themselves shouting orders and directing by arm and whistle lines of dusty camarades advancing over a common in the most approved military fashion.

The training was not all hard work. The gathering of so many men from all quarters of the world, with a wealth of experience and adventure behind them, was in itself a source of mutual interest—and incidentally an education in modern British Imperialism. Scarcely any part of the world went for long unrepresented in either the wardroom or gunroom of the old cruiser Hermione in those days of war, and many were the yarns told of Alaska days, hunting in Africa, experiences in remote corners of North America, pearling in the Pacific and life on the Indian frontier, to say nothing of wild nights on the seven seas. Grey heads and round, boyish faces, the university and the frontier, with a camaraderie seldom equalled.

The period of training in the old cruiser was drawing to a close when each officer was appointed to "Boat Duty." There were five launches on duty at a time, and their crews had to be instantly ready day and night. The most coveted were the two 21-knot boats, used almost exclusively for the conveyance of pilots to and from the hospital ships and transports. Then came the patrol boat, a slow old tub with a comfortable cabin, and work out on Southampton Water at night. The three "duty boats" were for emergency use and were held at the disposal of the naval transport officer.

The duties on each boat varied and were in the nature of training. The pilot boat was required to lie alongside the cutter, out beyond the harbour, and to convey the pilots at high speed to and from the stream of shipping. It was a pleasant duty which entailed alternate nights in the generous, breezy company of the old sea-dogs of the cutter, with occasional races at half-a-mile a minute through the darkness and spray to the moving leviathans of the ocean.

The patrol ambled up and down the sheltered waterways during the day and night, examining the "permits" of fishermen and preventing the movement of small craft during the hours of darkness, when the long lines of troop-ships were leaving for France.

The work of the duty boats varied from day to day, but there was always the morning and evening mail to be collected from and delivered to the ships of the auxiliary fleet lying out in the fair-way.

When this spell of water-police work was over there came a few days' practice in the handling of the fast sea-going patrol launches, or "M.L.'s," about which so much has since been written in the daily papers.

After the cramming received in the lecture-rooms, the arduous drill and the somewhat monotonous work on the slow-moving tenders, the runs seaward on these new and trim little vessels, the manoeuvring at nineteen knots, the breeze of passage and the feeling of controlled power acted as an elixir on both mind and body. Then came firing practice in the open sea. The sharp crack of cordite, the tongues of livid flame, the scream of the shells, the white splashes of the ricochet and the salt sea breezes.

Two days later the preliminary training was over and there loomed ahead a period of hard study at the Royal Naval College.



BUILT by King Charles I. for the Stuart navy, and used for over two and a half centuries as the university of the Senior Service, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, is a building with an historic past. It has housed, fed and taught many of England's most illustrious sailors.

It was to cabin and lecture hall in this fine old building that officers of the new navy went to complete their knowledge of navigation and kindred subjects when their preliminary sea training came to a close.

There is but little romance in a highly specialised course of study designed to enable the recipients to find their way with safety, both in sunshine and storm, over the vast water surface of the world. To describe here the subjects taught would only be wearisome and uninteresting. Sufficient to say that the course was a most comprehensive one and admirably arranged by masters of the mariner's art. If any fault can be found it is certainly not one of paucity of information, and the proof of its efficacy can be found in the fact that, so far as the author knows, there was not a single ship, afterwards commanded by officers who underwent this training, lost through insufficient knowledge of the art of navigation.

The days spent in the Naval College were fully occupied by attendance at lectures and the evenings in private study and the preparation of elaborate notes and sketches for the final passing-out examination. There was one moment of each day which was rendered historic by old custom. It came at the conclusion of dinner in the big white hall, when the officer whose turn it happened to be rose to his feet and gave the toast of the navy—"Gentlemen, the King!"

It was in the grounds of this college that many officers saw their first zeppelin raid. On one occasion it occurred late in the fourth week of the course. Nearly all were in their respective studies, surrounded by a mass of papers, charts, drawing instruments and books, making the last determined attack on various knotty problems previous to the final examination.

Ten P.M. had just been registered by the electric clocks in the famous observatory overlooking the college, when the sound of running feet came down the long corridors. A stentorian voice shouted: "All lights out!"

In a moment the whole building, with its labyrinth of corridors, was plunged into Ethiopian darkness. Doors were opened and a jostling crowd of men groped their way down passages and stone staircases into the grounds. Here the Admiral and his staff were making sure that no lights were visible. Traffic in the near-by thoroughfare had been stopped, and all around lay the Great Metropolis, oppressively dark and still.

A searchlight flashed heavenwards and was followed by other beams. All of these suddenly concentrated on the gleaming white hull of a zeppelin, high in the indigo sky. The ground trembled under the fire of the anti-aircraft batteries. Shells whistled and moaned over the College and bright flashes came from little puffs of white smoke high in the central blue.

Dull-sounding but earth-shaking booms came from different points as the airship dropped her deadly cargo. Shrapnel fell on the congested house-tops with a peculiar hiss and thud and ambulances rumbled over the stone-paved high-road.

It was a small incident and scarcely worth the space required for its recording, but it served a purpose—to steel the heart and steady the hand for the time to come.



BACK once again on the old cruiser with training completed and awaiting draft to the zones of war. Then came the sailing orders. The name of each officer was called in turn and he disappeared into the ship's office, to return a few minutes later carrying a sheaf of white and blue Admiralty orders, his face grave or gay according to destination.

Some were for the Spanish Main and bemoaned their fate at being ordered to a station so remote from the principal zone of war. Others were destined for the Mediterranean and comforted themselves with hopes that trouble was brewing elsewhere than in the Adriatic, to which a lucky few were appointed. The Suez Canal and Egypt claimed their share, but by far the greater number were bound for the misty northern seas.

About the training given to the 200,000 men little can be said here because of its diversity. They came as volunteers from all quarters of the globe, were collected at the great depots in Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport, were trained in the art of signalling, squad drill, gunnery, seamanship and the hundred and one things required by the "handy man," then belched forth into the ships.

Some had sailed the sea for years before in vessels of all kinds and needed little more than the sense of cohesion and unquestioning obedience imparted by discipline and drill. Others knew more of the working of a loom, or the extraction of coal, than of seamanship, and spent a cheerful but arduous few months in training depots and on special ships completing their education. Cooks there were who could make little else besides Scotch broth, while others, the engineers—or motor mechanics, as they were called when appointed to some of the petrol-driven patrol boats—knew their profession or trade better than they could be taught, and proved themselves untiring and indomitable when it came to the real thing—as will be seen later.

Having now described the training of both officers and men, we come to the ships they were called upon to navigate down to the seas of adventure.


To set on record the formation of the ships of the new navy in divisions, squadrons or units, and to classify them here under separate headings—an easy enough matter with regular fleets constructed for definite duties—is a task of considerable difficulty with a heterogeneous fleet composed of several thousand vessels with seldom two alike.

Beginning with the ocean liners, as the largest and most powerfully armed of the new fleet: these were mostly grouped for administrative purposes in one large formation, known as the "Tenth Cruiser Squadron." But when at sea they operated in smaller units and frequently as single ship patrols. Their principal zone of activity was the vast stretch of Arctic sea extending from Norway and North Russia to Iceland, the Hebrides and Labrador. Their work was arduous in the extreme, as will easily be realised from the nature of the seas in which they primarily operated.

Strictly speaking, were distinct divisions possible, the Tenth Cruiser Squadron did not form part of the auxiliary navy in its true sense, although many of the officers and men were drawn from newly raised corps. It acted rather as a distinct patrol fleet, filling the wide gap of sea between Scotland and the Arctic ice.


Next in order of importance came the newly built screw sloops, with powerful guns and engines. Their numbers varied and they were continually being added to. Some of these vessels were used for patrol duties and others for minesweeping. The sloop flotillas had many zones of activity. One was the North Atlantic, with special care for the coast of Ireland. Another was the North Sea, with a marked preference for the east coast of Scotland and the Straits of Dover.

These flotillas also were frequently assigned duties independent of the auxiliary patrol organisation, but nevertheless formed an important part of the vast anti-submarine and anti-mine navy.

In the Mediterranean also there were a number of patrol gunboats and minesweepers similar to the fighting sloops. Their principal base in this region was on Italian soil.


We now come to that portion of the auxiliary fleet whose special care was the seas around the United Kingdom and the Colonies. First came the armed yachts, over 50 in number, with tonnages varying from one to five hundred. These were obtained from the owners, armed as heavily as their size and strength permitted, and mostly became the flag-ships of patrol flotillas. They were nearly always equipped with wireless, hydrophone listening apparatus, depth charges and all the appliances for anti-submarine warfare.

Their losses were not heavy considering the dangerous nature of their work and could almost be counted on the fingers of both hands. This was due mainly to their good speed and manoeuvring qualities. They made wonderfully efficient auxiliary warships, maintaining the sea in almost all weathers and accounting for quite a number of U-boats. These vessels were, of course, never used for the rougher work of minesweeping.


The whalers were few in number and resembled small destroyers. They were powerful craft and well armed, but their sea-keeping qualities left much to be desired. In fact, to use a naval term, they were dirty boats even in a "lop." It was said that if an officer or man had been for long in one of these ships he was proof against all forms of sea-sickness. A big assertion, as even old sailors will admit—but they call it "liver."


About the screw and paddle minesweepers little can be said beyond the fact that they numbered about 200 and performed some of the most dangerous work in the war. Many of them were old passenger steamers from the Clyde, Bristol Channel, Thames and south and east coast resorts, the famous Brighton Queen being, until her untimely end on a mine off the Belgian coast, one of their number. The loss among this class of ship was about 10 per cent.


By far the largest portion of the auxiliary patrol units consisted of armed and commissioned trawlers. Their numbers far exceeded 1000, and nearly half were used for the dangerous work of minesweeping. About a trawler little need be said, for beyond what can be seen in the accompanying illustrations there is little of interest until we come to the question of their curious arms and appliances, fit subjects for a special chapter.

A large number of these units were fitted with wireless and carried masked batteries of quick-firing guns. To give here their zones of operation would be to set out in detail not only the seas around the British Isles, but distant waters such as the Mediterranean and the White Sea. They had distinct duties to perform, which may be summed up as follows:—(1) minesweeping; (2) night and day patrols alone or in company over immense areas of sea; (3) convoy duty; and (4) fishery guard.

Their losses were heavy, both in ships and men, amounting to about 30 per cent. Many were the lonely sea fights engaged in by these vessels. A few will receive the praise they deserve and the remainder will rest content with the knowledge of duty done.


If numbers or losses were the dominant factors the armed drifters should be high in the list. There were engaged considerably over 1000 of these craft, and the losses amounted to about 20 per cent.

It may be necessary to inform some of my readers that a drifter is not necessarily a vessel that is content to start out on a voyage and rely on drifting to its destination, as its name implies. The term is derived from the drift nets used by these vessels for fishing in time of peace. They are, in almost all respects, small editions of the deep-sea trawler—minus the powerful steam-driven winch for hauling in the trawl nets.

For war purposes the holds of these, and many other types of auxiliary warships, were converted into officers' cabins, or gun platforms for masked batteries. A few carried special nets in which to entangle the wily "Fritz." Others had aboard special types of submarine mines, and one, commanded by the author, was used for the transport of wounded from Admiral Sir David Beatty's flag-ship, H.M.S. Lion, after the Jutland fight.

These were, as might be expected, good sea boats, and carried out duties of great danger and value. Several hundred were fitted with wireless. Their zone of operations was far flung, extending from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. It was, however, in the unequal fights with German destroyers in the Straits of Dover and with Austrian torpedo boat destroyers in the Adriatic that they made a name for valour. In two of these engagements no less than six and fourteen drifters were sunk in a few minutes.


About the now famous motor launches, or "movies," as they are called in the Service, much will be said in later pages. They numbered over 500, and, with but few exceptions, were a homogeneous flotilla of fast sea-going patrol boats, heavily armed for their size. Some idea of their appearance under varying conditions will be gained from a study of the illustrations.

They were all commanded by R.N.V.R. officers, whose training on H.M.S. Hermione and elsewhere has been described in an earlier chapter. They carried a crew of nine men and two officers, and their zones of operations extended from the icy seas which wash the Orkneys and Shetlands to the West Indies and the Suez Canal.

It may be of interest to give here an extract from the American journal, Rudder, showing how these vessels came into being.[3] Although the hulls were constructed in Canada, and much of the assembling was also carried out on the banks of the St Lawrence, the engines came from the United States. It was to the organising ability of Mr Henry R. Sutphen, of the Electric Boat Company, New York, that the delivery of over 500 of these wonderful little craft in less than a year was due. Here is that gentleman's story of the "M.L." contract:

"It was in February, 1915, that we had our initial negotiations with the British Naval authorities. A well-known English shipbuilder and ordnance expert was in this country, presumably on secret business for the Admiralty, and I met him one afternoon at his hotel. Naturally the menace of the German submarine warfare came into discussion; we both agreed that the danger was a real one, and that steps should be taken to meet it.

"I suggested the use of a number of small, speedy gasolene boats for use in attacking and destroying submarines. My idea was to have a mosquito fleet big enough to thoroughly patrol the coastal waters of Great Britain, each of them carrying a 13-lb. rapid-fire gun.

[Illustration: FIG. 1.—Diagram showing principal characteristics of an armed motor launch. A. Wheel-house. B. Searchlight. C. Chart-room. D. Navigation lights. E. 3 or 13 pounder quick-firing gun. F. Wheel and indicators in wheel-house. H. Hand pumps supplementing power pumps in engine-room. I. Hatchway leading to engine-room. J. Hatchway leading to wardroom. K. Life-boat. L. Officers' cabins. M. Hatchway leading to officers' cabins. N. Depth charges (2 or 4). O. Deck box containing life-belts. P. Stern petrol tanks (2). Q. Officers' sleeping cabin. R. Officers' mess-room. S. Galley. T. Engine-room. U. Main petrol engines (2). V. Reservoirs of compressed air for starting main engines. W. Foreward petrol tanks. X. Forecastle and men's quarters. Y. Men's lavatory. Z. Forepeak.]

"I explained that I had in mind two distinct types. The first would have an over-all length of about 50 feet, and would be fitted with high-speed engines; such a boat would show a maximum of 25 knots. The alternative would be something around 80 feet in length, with slow turning engines and a speed of 19 knots. I added that my preference was for the larger and slower type.

"He asked how many units of that class we could build in a year's time, and I told him that I could guarantee fifty. He said that he would think the matter over, and we parted.

"A few days later I had another interview and was told that the British Government was ready to give us a contract for fifty vessels of the larger type, the whole lot to be delivered within a year's time.

"On April 9th, 1915, the contract for fifty 'chasers' was signed.

. . . . . . . .

"The Lusitania sailed on her last voyage May 1st, 1915, and a week later her torpedoing by a German U-boat was reported. My English friend was sailing that same day from New York, and we were giving him a farewell luncheon at Delmonico's. When the appalling news was communicated to him he appeared much depressed, as indeed was natural enough, and also very thoughtful. Before he said good-bye he intimated to me that he intended advising the Admiralty to increase the number of 'Chasers'; he asked me if I thought I could take care of a bigger order. I told him that I could guarantee to build a boat a day for so long a period as the Admiralty might care to name.

"After he reached England we shortly received a cablegram ordering five hundred additional 'Sutphens,' our code word for submarine 'Chaser'; in other words we were now asked to build five hundred and fifty of these boats and deliver them in complete running order by November 15th, 1915."

[Illustration: FIG. 2.—Plan of armed motor launch, showing internal arrangements. A. Officers' sleeping cabin. B.B. Bunks. C. Cupboard. D. Lavatory. E.E. Stern petrol tanks. F. Wardroom. G. Table. H. Settee. I. Galley. J. Petrol stove. K. Engine-room. L.L. Main engines. M. Compressed air reservoirs. N. Auxiliary petrol engine driving dynamo, bilge pumps, fire pumps and air compressor. O. Electric storage batteries, switchboard and electrical starting arrangements for auxiliary engine. P. Chart-room with petrol tanks below. Q. Magazine. R. Fresh-water tanks. S. Forecastle. T. Bunks for crew. U. Forecastle lavatory. V. Watertight forepeak.]

The armament of a motor launch consisted of a 13-pounder quick-firing high-angle gun, capable of throwing a lyddite shell for over four miles, and was as useful against aircraft as it was against submarines. In addition to this heavy gun for small craft they carried about 1200 lb. of high explosive in the form of depth charges for bombing under-water craft, a Lewis machine gun, rifles and revolvers.

These vessels were driven by twin screws connected to twin engines of about 500 h.p. They possessed, in addition, an auxiliary petrol engine of about 60 h.p. for compressing the air required to start the main engines, for working the fire and bilge pumps, and for driving a dynamo to recharge the electric storage batteries. The triple tanks carried over 3000 gallons of petrol, and the consumption, when travelling at full speed, was a gallon a minute.

Many were fitted with wireless, and all of them had on board the most approved pattern of hydrophone, with which to listen below the surface for the movements of hostile submarines. They had electric light in the cabins and for navigation, fighting and mast-head signalling purposes. A moderately powerful searchlight, fitted with a Morse signalling shutter, was also part of their equipment.

These little miniature warships possessed a small wardroom and sleeping cabin for the officers, a galley with petrol range for cooking, an engine-room, magazine for the ammunition, chart-room, and ample forecastle accommodation for the crew of nine men. All parts of the ship were connected with the bridge by speaking-tubes and electric bells, and the aft deck accommodated a steel life-boat.

The duties of these craft varied considerably. For over three years they maintained a constant patrol in the North Sea, Atlantic, English Channel, Irish Sea, Mediterranean, Adriatic, Suez Canal, Straits of Gibraltar, and in West Indian waters. Only one who knows by experience can fully appreciate what work in these northern seas, with their winter snows and Arctic winds, and their chilly summer fogs, really means to a mere thirty tons of nautical humanity in as many square leagues of storm-swept sea infested with mines and hostile submarines. But when this book has been finished the reader will be in a position to judge for himself.

The losses of motor launches were not heavy considering the dangerous nature of their cargoes (3000 gallons of petrol within a few feet of 1500 lb. of high explosive in a wooden hull) and the duties they were called upon to perform in all weathers short of heavy gales. Several were blown up with terrible results to those aboard. Others caught fire and were burned—allowing only just sufficient time to sink the explosives aboard. A few were smashed to pieces on exposed coasts after struggling for hours amid heavy seas. One struck a mine off Ostend. Another was destroyed by shell-fire in the Mediterranean, and the part they played in the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend, in which two were lost and a V.C. gained, is now world famous.


There was, besides M.L.'s, another smaller but faster type of submarine chaser. These little vessels, of which there were about 80 actually in commission, possessed no cabin or other accommodation for long cruises. They were simply thin grey hulls with powerful high-speed engines. They were known as C.M.B.'s, or, to give them their full title, Coastal Motor Boats. The purpose for which they were constructed was to operate from coastal bases, and to be launched from ocean-going ships to chase a hostile submarine which had been located by seaplanes and reported by wireless in a given locality. This, however, was what they were intended for, but bore little relation to the work they actually accomplished. Their nickname was "Scooters," and they certainly did "scoot" over the sea.

There were three types of C.M.B.'s. One had a length of only 44 feet, and was intended for carriage on the decks of light cruisers or other moderate-sized surface ships. The armament was a Lewis machine gun and two depth charges for anti-submarine warfare. The next class were 55 feet in length and operated from coast bases. These were fitted with one or more Whitehead torpedoes, launched by an ingenious contrivance from the stern. Class III. were 70 feet in length, and were commissioned just before the signing of the Armistice. They were fitted for mine-laying close up to enemy harbours.

The maximum speed of the 55-feet C.M.B.'s, which were the most numerous, was 40 knots, or nearly a mile a minute. They were driven by twin screws coupled to twin engines of 350 h.p. each—working at 1350 revolutions per minute. Being of very shallow draught, some 26 inches, these little vessels could skim, hydroplane fashion, over any ordinary mine-field, and a torpedo fired at them would merely pass under their keel. The risk of destruction from shell-fire was also reduced to a minimum by their small size and great speed. Their principal enemies were, however, seaplanes armed with machine guns.

It is not difficult to imagine a fight between a C.M.B. travelling at 40 knots, firing with its little Lewis gun at a big seaplane swooping down from the clouds at the rate of 70 miles an hour, and splashing the water around the frail little grey-hulled scooter with bullets from its machine gun. This actually occurred many times off the Belgian coast, and is a typical picture of guerrilla war at sea in the twentieth century.

[Illustration: FIG. 5.—Diagram illustrating method of attack by C.M.B. on surface ship (or submarine on surface). A. Object of attack travelling in direction indicated by arrow E. B. The position of the C.M.B. after delivering the attack. C. The torpedo, released by the C.M.B. at point D, travelling on course ending at F, which, allowing for movement of ship A, is the place where the torpedo should strike its object of attack. From this it will be seen that the torpedo, when released, actually follows the ship from which it is fired until the latter swerves from the straight course, when the torpedo continues until it strikes or misses the object of attack, the speed of the torpedo being about the same or a little less than that of the C.M.B. The total time occupied in such an attack over a course of two miles would be about 2 1/2 minutes before the torpedo struck its object.]

The C.M.B. was a purely British design, and the firm largely responsible for the success achieved was Messrs John J. Thornycroft & Company Limited. There were bases for these sea-gnats at Portsmouth, Dover, Dunkirk, and in the Thames Estuary at Osea Island. From all of these points mid-Channel could be reached in less than thirty minutes. Although useless in rough weather, a trip in a C.M.B., even on a calm day, was sufficiently exciting. The roar of the engines made speech impossible, and vision when sitting in the little glass-screened well, or conning-tower, was limited by the great waves of greenish-white water which curved upwards from either bow, and rolled astern in a welter of foam. There was an awe-inspiring fury in the thunder of the 700 h.p. engines revolving at 1350 per minute, and a feeling of ecstasy in the stiff breeze of passage and the atomised spray. When waves came the slap-slap-slap of the water as the sharp bows cleft through the crest and the little vessel was for a brief moment poised dizzily on the bosom of the swell caused tremors to pass through the thin grey hull, and, to complete the review of sensation, there may be added the human thrill of battle and the indescribable feeling of controlled power beneath one's feet.

The C.M.B.'s record of service, although short, is nevertheless a brilliant one. Towards the close of the year 1916 four of these little vessels coming from the base at Dunkirk intercepted five German destroyers returning from a Channel raid. The scooters raced towards the enemy in a smother of foam. Every quick-firing gun on the German ships spouted shells at the mysterious white streaks approaching them with the speed of lightning. So close did these plucky little ships go to their giant adversaries that the blast of the German guns was felt aboard, but no shells struck them. Then the line of C.M.B.'s swerved and their torpedoes were launched at close range. One of the enemy destroyers was hit and badly damaged, while two others had narrow shaves.

There was no time for German retaliation. For a brief few minutes the sea around the scooters was ploughed up by the shells from the Hun artillery, then the four little attacking craft were five miles distant from the scene of their victory, and presented almost invisible white specks to the enemy gunners.

At Zeebrugge these craft ran close in under the guns of the shore fortifications, and covered the approach of the landing parties and block-ships with a screen of artificial smoke. At Ostend they entered the harbour under heavy fire and ignited flares to enable the block-ships to navigate in the darkness. Others, in the same operations, torpedoed the piers and silenced the guns mounted thereon.

Their exploits savour of old-time sea romance, as, for example, when the little Condor ran in under the guns of the fortress of Alexandria, or further back in our naval history, when sail and round shot took the place of petrol and torpedoes.

For anti-submarine work these wonderfully fast little chasers were used in small flotillas. They were fitted with short-range wireless sets, and when the message came stating that a vessel was being attacked in a certain position, perhaps twenty miles from the coast, a number were instantly released from the leash, and in a fraction of the time taken by larger vessels they were on the scene with torpedoes and Lewis guns for surface attack and depth charges for submerged bombing.

They were commanded, in many instances, by R.N.V.R. officers of the auxiliary service, and carried two engineers. No crew was necessary, nor was space available for them. The plucky dash of these vessels into the harbours of Zeebrugge and Ostend, their subsequent operations on the Belgian coast, and their losses in the action at the entrance to the Heligoland Bight in 1918, when they were launched from a big ship, have earned for them high renown in naval history.


In addition to all these types of anti-submarine craft there were, forming part of the auxiliary fleet, over 300 ships, mostly trawlers and drifters, engaged in maintaining the great lines of boom defences, closing vast stretches of sheltered waters frequented by the battle fleets, and a considerable number of examination ships, staffed by interpreter officers, whose duty it was to examine all neutral shipping passing through the 10,000 miles of the blockade.

* * * * *

These, then, were the ships of the new navy, and their formation into flotillas, or units, was usually accomplished by grouping four or five vessels of similar type together under the command of the senior officer afloat—mostly a lieutenant R.N.R. or R.N.V.R. In the case of minesweepers the unit nearly always consisted of an even number of ships, because their work was carried out in pairs, and with M.L.'s it usually consisted of five boats, as this was the number required for the intricate tactical work of submarine chasing.

There were, of course, units from the United States, French, Japanese, Italian and Brazilian navies, in addition to the formidable British armada.

The auxiliary units were all based on one or other of the fifty odd war stations which encompassed not only the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, but also the littoral of every land in our world-wide Empire. The numbers given here do not include the local fleets of purely colonial naval bases, nor the large flotillas of destroyers and "P" boats operating in home and foreign waters in conjunction with the auxiliary navy. If these were incorporated the anti-submarine fleets would be almost doubled.

Now that the reader is familiar with the raison d'etre of the new navy, the personnel, the ships and their formation into fleets, the scope and limitations of their activity, and of the losses they sustained, the way is clear for a description of the curious weapons used, the mysteries of anti-submarine warfare, and the bases themselves before entering the zone of war and seeing something of the actual work of the auxiliary navy.


[3] Yachting Monthly and R.N.V.R. Magazine, August, 1917.



OF all the weapons used in the anti-submarine war the two most important were the hydrophone and the depth charge. They were employed in conjunction with each other and comprised the surface warship's principal means of offence against submarines operating beneath the surface.

The hydrophone resembles a delicate telephone. It is so constructed that when the instrument is lowered over the side of a ship into the sea any noise, such as the movement of a submarine's propellers, can be heard on deck by an operator listening at an ordinary telephone receiver connected to the submerged microphone by an electrified wire.

There were many different types of hydrophone in use during the Great War. So important was this instrument for the work of submarine hunting that money was spent in millions, and a corps of naval and civil experts were engaged for several years, bringing it to a state of efficiency. Each type introduced into the Service was an improvement on its predecessor, and there were different patterns for the use of almost each class of vessel. The fast destroyer required a different instrument to the slow-moving trawler. The motor launch could only employ successfully a totally different type to the submarine, and, to add to the difficulties, the German submarines themselves were generously supplied with similar instruments. The games of "hide-and-seek" played on and under the seas with the aid of this wonderful little instrument would have been distinctly amusing had men's lives—and often those of women and children—not been dependent upon the issue.

The portable hydrophone, used by some of the smaller and slower vessels of the auxiliary fleet, consisted of a microphone, or delicate mechanical ear, carefully guarded by metal discs from accidental damage, and connected to ear-pieces or ordinary telephone receivers by an electric wire which passed through a battery. Where the wire came in contact with the sea water it was heavily insulated and lightly armoured.

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