MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
THE FRINGES OF THE FLEET 1
TALES OF "THE TRADE" 93
DESTROYERS AT JUTLAND 145
THE FRINGES OF THE FLEET
In Lowestoft a boat was laid,
Mark well what I do say!
And she was built for the herring trade,
But she has gone a-rovin', a-rovin', a-rovin',
The Lord knows where!
They gave her Government coal to burn,
And a Q.F. gun at bow and stern,
And sent her out a-rovin', etc.
Her skipper was mate of a bucko ship
Which always killed one man per trip,
So he is used to rovin', etc.
Her mate was skipper of a chapel in Wales,
And so he fights in topper and tails--
Religi-ous tho' rovin', etc.
Her engineer is fifty-eight,
So he's prepared to meet his fate,
Which ain't unlikely rovin', etc.
Her leading-stoker's seventeen,
So he don't know what the Judgments mean,
Unless he cops 'em rovin', etc.
Her cook was chef in the Lost Dogs' Home,
Mark well what I do say!
And I'm sorry for Fritz when they all come
A-rovin', a-rovin', a-roarin' and a-rovin',
Round the North Sea rovin',
The Lord knows where!
The Navy is very old and very wise. Much of her wisdom is on record
and available for reference; but more of it works in the unconscious
blood of those who serve her. She has a thousand years of experience,
and can find precedent or parallel for any situation that the force of
the weather or the malice of the King's enemies may bring about.
The main principles of sea-warfare hold good throughout all ages, and,
_so far as the Navy has been allowed to put out her strength_, these
principles have been applied over all the seas of the world. For
matters of detail the Navy, to whom all days are alike, has simply
returned to the practice and resurrected the spirit of old days.
In the late French wars, a merchant sailing out of a Channel port
might in a few hours find himself laid by the heels and under way for
a French prison. His Majesty's ships of the Line, and even the big
frigates, took little part in policing the waters for him, unless he
were in convoy. The sloops, cutters, gun-brigs, and local craft of all
kinds were supposed to look after that, while the Line was busy
elsewhere. So the merchants passed resolutions against the inadequate
protection afforded to the trade, and the narrow seas were full of
single-ship actions; mail-packets, West Country brigs, and fat East
Indiamen fighting, for their own hulls and cargo, anything that the
watchful French ports sent against them; the sloops and cutters
bearing a hand if they happened to be within reach.
THE OLDEST NAVY
It was a brutal age, ministered to by hard-fisted men, and we had put
it a hundred decent years behind us when--it all comes back again!
To-day there are no prisons for the crews of merchantmen, but they
can go to the bottom by mine and torpedo even more quickly than their
ancestors were run into Le Havre. The submarine takes the place of the
privateer; the Line, as in the old wars, is occupied, bombarding and
blockading, elsewhere, but the sea-borne traffic must continue, and
that is being looked after by the lineal descendants of the crews of
the long extinct cutters and sloops and gun-brigs. The hour struck,
and they reappeared, to the tune of fifty thousand odd men in more
than two thousand ships, of which I have seen a few hundred. Words of
command may have changed a little, the tools are certainly more
complex, but the spirit of the new crews who come to the old job is
utterly unchanged. It is the same fierce, hard-living, heavy-handed,
very cunning service out of which the Navy as we know it to-day was
born. It is called indifferently the Trawler and Auxiliary Fleet. It
is chiefly composed of fishermen, but it takes in every one who may
have maritime tastes--from retired admirals to the sons of the
sea-cook. It exists for the benefit of the traffic and the annoyance
of the enemy. Its doings are recorded by flags stuck into charts; its
casualties are buried in obscure corners of the newspapers. The Grand
Fleet knows it slightly; the restless light cruisers who chaperon it
from the background are more intimate; the destroyers working off
unlighted coasts over unmarked shoals come, as you might say, in
direct contact with it; the submarine alternately praises and--since
one periscope is very like another--curses its activities; but the
steady procession of traffic in home waters, liner and tramp, six
every sixty minutes, blesses it altogether.
Since this most Christian war includes laying mines in the fairways of
traffic, and since these mines may be laid at any time by German
submarines especially built for the work, or by neutral ships, all
fairways must be swept continuously day and night. When a nest of
mines is reported, traffic must be hung up or deviated till it is
cleared out. When traffic comes up Channel it must be examined for
contraband and other things; and the examining tugs lie out in a blaze
of lights to remind ships of this. Months ago, when the war was young,
the tugs did not know what to look for specially. Now they do. All
this mine-searching and reporting and sweeping, _plus_ the direction
and examination of the traffic, _plus_ the laying of our own
ever-shifting mine-fields, is part of the Trawler Fleet's work,
because the Navy-as-we-knew-it is busy elsewhere. And there is always
the enemy submarine with a price on her head, whom the Trawler Fleet
hunts and traps with zeal and joy. Add to this, that there are boats,
fishing for real fish, to be protected in their work at sea or chased
off dangerous areas whither, because they are strictly forbidden to
go, they naturally repair, and you will begin to get some idea of what
the Trawler and Auxiliary Fleet does.
THE SHIPS AND THE MEN
Now, imagine the acreage of several dock-basins crammed, gunwale to
gunwale, with brown and umber and ochre and rust-red steam-trawlers,
tugs, harbour-boats, and yachts once clean and respectable, now dirty
and happy. Throw in fish-steamers, surprise-packets of unknown lines
and indescribable junks, sampans, lorchas, catamarans, and General
Service stink-pontoons filled with indescribable apparatus, manned by
men no dozen of whom seem to talk the same dialect or wear the same
clothes. The mustard-coloured jersey who is cleaning a six-pounder on
a Hull boat clips his words between his teeth and would be happier in
Gaelic. The whitish singlet and grey trousers held up by what is
obviously his soldier brother's spare regimental belt is pure
Lowestoft. The complete blue-serge-and-soot suit passing a wire down a
hatch is Glasgow as far as you can hear him, which is a fair distance,
because he wants something done to the other end of the wire, and the
flat-faced boy who should be attending to it hails from the remoter
Hebrides, and is looking at a girl on the dock-edge. The bow-legged
man in the ulster and green-worsted comforter is a warm Grimsby
skipper, worth several thousands. He and his crew, who are mostly his
own relations, keep themselves to themselves, and save their money.
The pirate with the red beard, barking over the rail at a friend with
gold earrings, comes from Skye. The friend is West Country. The
noticeably insignificant man with the soft and deprecating eye is
skipper and part-owner of the big slashing Iceland trawler on which he
droops like a flower. She is built to almost Western Ocean lines,
carries a little boat-deck aft with tremendous stanchions, has a nose
cocked high against ice and sweeping seas, and resembles a hawk-moth
at rest. The small, sniffing man is reported to be a "holy terror at
HUNTERS AND FISHERS
The child in the Pullman-car uniform just going ashore is a wireless
operator, aged nineteen. He is attached to a flagship at least 120
feet long, under an admiral aged twenty-five, who was, till the other
day, third mate of a North Atlantic tramp, but who now leads a
squadron of six trawlers to hunt submarines. The principle is simple
enough. Its application depends on circumstances and surroundings. One
class of German submarines meant for murder off the coasts may use a
winding and rabbit-like track between shoals where the choice of water
is limited. Their career is rarely long, but, while it lasts,
moderately exciting. Others, told off for deep-sea assassinations, are
attended to quite quietly and without any excitement at all. Others,
again, work the inside of the North Sea, making no distinction between
neutrals and Allied ships. These carry guns, and since their work
keeps them a good deal on the surface, the Trawler Fleet, as we know,
engages them there--the submarine firing, sinking, and rising again in
unexpected quarters; the trawler firing, dodging, and trying to ram.
The trawlers are strongly built, and can stand a great deal of
punishment. Yet again, other German submarines hang about the skirts
of fishing-fleets and fire into the brown of them. When the war was
young this gave splendidly "frightful" results, but for some reason or
other the game is not as popular as it used to be.
Lastly, there are German submarines who perish by ways so curious and
inexplicable that one could almost credit the whispered idea (it must
come from the Scotch skippers) that the ghosts of the women they
drowned pilot them to destruction. But what form these shadows
take--whether of "The Lusitania Ladies," or humbler stewardesses and
hospital nurses--and what lights or sounds the thing fancies it sees
or hears before it is blotted out, no man will ever know. The main
fact is that the work is being done. Whether it was necessary or
politic to re-awaken by violence every sporting instinct of a
sea-going people is a question which the enemy may have to consider
Dawn off the Foreland--the young flood making
Jumbled and short and steep--
Black in the hollows and bright where it's breaking--
Awkward water to sweep.
"Mines reported in the fairway,
"Warn all traffic and detain.
"'Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain."
Noon off the Foreland--the first ebb making
Lumpy and strong in the bight.
Boom after boom, and the golf-hut shaking
And the jackdaws wild with fright!
"Mines located in the fairway,
"Boats now working up the chain,
"Sweepers--Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock and Golden Gain."
Dusk off the Foreland--the last light going
And the traffic crowding through,
And five damned trawlers with their syreens blowing
Heading the whole review!
"Sweep completed in the fairway.
"No more mines remain.
"'Sent back Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain."
The Trawlers seem to look on mines as more or less fairplay. But with
the torpedo it is otherwise. A Yarmouth man lay on his hatch, his gear
neatly stowed away below, and told me that another Yarmouth boat had
"gone up," with all hands except one. "'Twas a submarine. Not a mine,"
said he. "They never gave our boys no chance. Na! She was a Yarmouth
boat--we knew 'em all. They never gave the boys no chance." He was a
submarine hunter, and he illustrated by means of matches placed at
various angles how the blindfold business is conducted. "And then," he
ended, "there's always what _he'll_ do. You've got to think that out
for yourself--while you're working above him--same as if 'twas fish."
I should not care to be hunted for the life in shallow waters by a man
who knows every bank and pothole of them, even if I had not killed his
friends the week before. Being nearly all fishermen they discuss their
work in terms of fish, and put in their leisure fishing overside, when
they sometimes pull up ghastly souvenirs. But they all want guns.
Those who have three-pounders clamour for sixes; sixes for twelves;
and the twelve-pound aristocracy dream of four-inchers on
anti-aircraft mountings for the benefit of roving Zeppelins. They will
all get them in time, and I fancy it will be long ere they give them
up. One West Country mate announced that "a gun is a handy thing to
have aboard--always." "But in peacetime?" I said. "Wouldn't it be in
"We'm used to 'em now," was the smiling answer. "Niver go to sea again
without a gun--_I_ wouldn't--if I had my way. It keeps all hands
They talk about men in the Army who will never willingly go back to
civil life. What of the fishermen who have tasted something sharper
than salt water--and what of the young third and fourth mates who have
held independent commands for nine months past? One of them said to me
quite irrelevantly: "I used to be the animal that got up the trunks
for the women on baggage-days in the old Bodiam Castle," and he
mimicked their requests for "the large brown box," or "the black dress
basket," as a freed soul might scoff at his old life in the flesh.
"A COMMON SWEEPER"
My sponsor and chaperon in this Elizabethan world of
eighteenth-century seamen was an A.B. who had gone down in the
_Landrail_, assisted at the Heligoland fight, seen the _Blücher_ sink
and the bombs dropped on our boats when we tried to save the drowning
("Whereby," as he said, "those Germans died gottstrafin' their own
country because _we_ didn't wait to be strafed"), and has now found
more peaceful days in an Office ashore. He led me across many decks
from craft to craft to study the various appliances that they
specialise in. Almost our last was what a North Country trawler called
a "common sweeper," that is to say, a mine-sweeper. She was at tea in
her shirt-sleeves, and she protested loudly that there was "nothing in
sweeping." "'See that wire rope?" she said. "Well, it leads through
that lead to the ship which you're sweepin' _with_. She makes her end
fast and you make yourn. Then you sweep together at whichever depth
you've agreed upon between you, by means of that arrangement there
which regulates the depth. They give you a glass sort o' thing for
keepin' your distance from the other ship, but _that's_ not wanted if
you know each other. Well, then, you sweep, as the sayin' is. There's
nothin' _in_ it. You sweep till this wire rope fouls the bloomin'
mines. Then you go on till they appear on the surface, so to say, and
then you explodes them by means of shootin' at 'em with that rifle in
the galley there. There's nothin' in sweepin' more than that."
"And if you hit a mine?" I asked.
"You go up--but you hadn't ought to hit em', if you're careful. The
thing is to get hold of the first mine all right, and then you go on
to the next, and so on, in a way o' speakin'."
"And you can fish, too, 'tween times," said a voice from the next
boat. A man leaned over and returned a borrowed mug. They talked about
fishing--notably that once they caught some red mullet, which the
"common sweeper" and his neighbour both agreed was "not natural in
those waters." As for mere sweeping, it bored them profoundly to talk
about it. I only learned later as part of the natural history of
mines, that if you rake the tri-nitro-toluol by hand out of a German
mine you develop eruptions and skin-poisoning. But on the authority of
two experts, there is nothing in sweeping. Nothing whatever!
A BLOCK IN THE TRAFFIC
Now imagine, not a pistol-shot from these crowded quays, a little
Office hung round with charts that are pencilled and noted over
various shoals and soundings. There is a movable list of the boats at
work, with quaint and domestic names. Outside the window lies the
packed harbour--outside that again the line of traffic up and down--a
stately cinema-show of six ships to the hour. For the moment the film
sticks. A boat--probably a "common sweeper"--reports an obstruction in
a traffic lane a few miles away. She has found and exploded one mine.
The Office heard the dull boom of it before the wireless report came
in. In all likelihood there is a nest of them there. It is possible
that a submarine may have got in last night between certain shoals and
laid them out. The shoals are being shepherded in case she is hidden
anywhere, but the boundaries of the newly discovered mine-area must be
fixed and the traffic deviated. There is a tramp outside with tugs in
attendance. She has hit something and is leaking badly. Where shall
she go? The Office gives her her destination--the harbour is too full
for her to settle down here. She swings off between the faithful tugs.
Down coast some one asks by wireless if they shall hold up their
traffic. It is exactly like a signaller "offering" a train to the next
block. "Yes," the Office replies. "Wait a while. If it's what we
think, there will be a little delay. If it isn't what we think, there
will be a little longer delay." Meantime, sweepers are nosing round
the suspected area--"looking for cuckoos' eggs," as a voice suggests;
and a patrol-boat lathers her way down coast to catch and stop
anything that may be on the move, for skippers are sometimes rather
careless. Words begin to drop out of the air into the chart-hung
Office. "Six and a half cables south, fifteen east" of something or
other. "Mark it well, and tell them to work up from there," is the
order. "Another mine exploded!" "Yes, and we heard that too," says
the Office. "What about the submarine?" "_Elizabeth Huggins_ reports...."
_Elizabeth's_ scandal must be fairly high flavoured, for a
torpedo-boat of immoral aspect slings herself out of harbour and
hastens to share it. If _Elizabeth_ has not spoken the truth, there
may be words between the parties. For the present a pencilled
suggestion seems to cover the case, together with a demand, as far as
one can make out, for "more common sweepers." They will be forthcoming
very shortly. Those at work have got the run of the mines now, and are
busily howking them up. A trawler-skipper wishes to speak to the
Office. "They" have ordered him out, but his boiler, most of it, is on
the quay at the present time, and "ye'll remember, it's the same wi'
my foremast an' port rigging, sir." The Office does not precisely
remember, but if boiler and foremast are on the quay the rest of the
ship had better stay alongside. The skipper falls away relieved. (He
scraped a tramp a few nights ago in a bit of a sea.) There is a little
mutter of gun-fire somewhere across the grey water where a fleet is
at work. A monitor as broad as she is long comes back from wherever
the trouble is, slips through the harbour mouth, all wreathed with
signals, is received by two motherly lighters, and, to all appearance,
goes to sleep between them. The Office does not even look up; for that
is not in their department. They have found a trawler to replace the
boilerless one. Her name is slid into the rack. The immoral
torpedo-boat flounces back to her moorings. Evidently what _Elizabeth
Huggins_ said was not evidence. The messages and replies begin again
as the day closes.
THE NIGHT PATROL
Return now to the inner harbour. At twilight there was a stir among
the packed craft like the separation of dried tea-leaves in water. The
swing-bridge across the basin shut against us. A boat shot out of the
jam, took the narrow exit at a fair seven knots and rounded in the
outer harbour with all the pomp of a flagship, which was exactly what
she was. Others followed, breaking away from every quarter in silence.
Boat after boat fell into line--gear stowed away, spars and buoys in
order on their clean decks, guns cast loose and ready, wheel-house
windows darkened, and everything in order for a day or a week or a
month out. There was no word anywhere. The interrupted foot-traffic
stared at them as they slid past below. A woman beside me waved her
hand to a man on one of them, and I saw his face light as he waved
back. The boat where they had demonstrated for me with matches was the
last. Her skipper hadn't thought it worth while to tell me that he was
going that evening. Then the line straightened up and stood out to
"You never said this was going to happen," I said reproachfully to my
"No more I did," said he. "It's the night-patrol going out. Fact is,
I'm so used to the bloomin' evolution that it never struck me to
mention it as you might say."
Next morning I was at service in a man-of-war, and even as we came to
the prayer that the Navy might "be a safeguard to such as pass upon
the sea on their lawful occasions," I saw the long procession of
traffic resuming up and down the Channel--six ships to the hour. It
has been hung up for a bit, they said.
Farewell and adieu to you, Greenwich ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies ashore!
For we've received orders to work to the eastward
Where we hope in a short time to strafe 'em some more.
We'll duck and we'll dive like little tin turtles,
We'll duck and we'll dive underneath the North Seas,
Until we strike something that doesn't expect us,
From here to Cuxhaven it's go as you please!
The first thing we did was to dock in a mine-field,
Which isn't a place where repairs should be done;
And there we lay doggo in twelve-fathom water
With tri-nitro-toluol hogging our run.
The next thing we did, we rose under a Zeppelin,
With his shiny big belly half blocking the sky.
But what in the--Heavens can you do with six-pounders?
So we fired what we had and we bade him good-bye.
The chief business of the Trawler Fleet is to attend to the traffic.
The submarine in her sphere attends to the enemy. Like the destroyer,
the submarine has created its own type of officer and man--with
language and traditions apart from the rest of the Service, and yet at
heart unchangingly of the Service. Their business is to run monstrous
risks from earth, air, and water, in what, to be of any use, must be
the coldest of cold blood.
The commander's is more a one-man job, as the crew's is more
team-work, than any other employment afloat. That is why the relations
between submarine officers and men are what they are. They play
hourly for each other's lives with Death the Umpire always at their
elbow on tiptoe to give them "out."
There is a stretch of water, once dear to amateur yachtsmen, now given
over to scouts, submarines, destroyers, and, of course, contingents of
trawlers. We were waiting the return of some boats which were due to
report. A couple surged up the still harbour in the afternoon light
and tied up beside their sisters. There climbed out of them three or
four high-booted, sunken-eyed pirates clad in sweaters, under jackets
that a stoker of the last generation would have disowned. This was
their first chance to compare notes at close hand. Together they
lamented the loss of a Zeppelin--"a perfect mug of a Zepp," who had
come down very low and offered one of them a sitting shot. "But what
_can_ you do with our guns? I gave him what I had, and then he started
"I know he did," another said. "I heard him. That's what brought me
down to you. I thought he had you that last time."
"No, I was forty foot under when he hove out the big un. What happened
"My steering-gear jammed just after I went down, and I had to go round
in circles till I got it straightened out. But _wasn't_ he a mug!"
"Was he the brute with the patch on his port side?" a sister-boat
"No! This fellow had just been hatched. He was almost sitting on the
water, heaving bombs over."
"And my blasted steering-gear went and chose _then_ to go wrong," the
other commander mourned. "I thought his last little egg was going to
Half an hour later, I was formally introduced to three or four quite
strange, quite immaculate officers, freshly shaved, and a little tired
about the eyes, whom I thought I had met before.
LABOUR AND REFRESHMENT
Meantime (it was on the hour of evening drinks) one of the boats was
still unaccounted for. No one talked of her. They rather discussed
motor-cars and Admiralty constructors, but--it felt like that queer
twilight watch at the front when the homing aeroplanes drop in.
Presently a signaller entered. "V 42 outside, sir; wants to know which
channel she shall use." "Oh, thank you. Tell her to take so-and-so."
... Mine, remember, was vermouth and bitters, and later on V 42
himself found a soft chair and joined the committee of instruction.
Those next for duty, as well as those in training, wished to hear what
was going on, and who had shifted what to where, and how certain
arrangements had worked. They were told in language not to be found in
any printable book. Questions and answers were alike Hebrew to one
listener, but he gathered that every boat carried a second in
command--a strong, persevering youth, who seemed responsible for
everything that went wrong, from a motor cylinder to a torpedo. Then
somebody touched on the mercantile marine and its habits.
Said one philosopher: "They can't be expected to take any more risks
than they do. _I_ wouldn't, if I was a skipper. I'd loose off at any
blessed periscope I saw."
"That's all very fine. You wait till you've had a patriotic tramp
trying to strafe you at your own back-door," said another.
Some one told a tale of a man with a voice, notable even in a Service
where men are not trained to whisper. He was coming back,
empty-handed, dirty, tired, and best left alone. From the peace of the
German side he had entered our hectic home-waters, where the usual
tramp shelled, and by miraculous luck, crumpled his periscope. Another
man might have dived, but Boanerges kept on rising. Majestic and
wrathful he rose personally through his main hatch, and at 2000 yards
(have I said it was a still day?) addressed the tramp. Even at that
distance she gathered it was a Naval officer with a grievance, and by
the time he ran alongside she was in a state of coma, but managed to
stammer: "Well, sir, at least you'll admit that our shooting was
"And that," said my informant, "put the lid on!" Boanerges went down
lest he should be tempted to murder; and the tramp affirms she heard
him rumbling beneath her, like an inverted thunder-storm, for fifteen
"All those tramps ought to be disarmed, and _we_ ought to have all
their guns," said a voice out of a corner.
"What? Still worrying over your 'mug'?" some one replied.
"He _was_ a mug!" went on the man of one idea. "If I'd had a couple of
twelves even, I could have strafed him proper. I don't know whether I
shall mutiny, or desert, or write to the First Sea Lord about it."
"Strafe all Admiralty constructors to begin with. _I_ could build a
better boat with a 4-inch lathe and a sardine-tin than ----," the
speaker named her by letter and number.
"That's pure jealousy," her commander explained to the company. "Ever
since I installed--ahem!--my patent electric washbasin he's been
intriguin' to get her. Why? We know he doesn't wash. He'd only use
the basin to keep beer in."
However often one meets it, as in this war one meets it at every turn,
one never gets used to the Holy Spirit of Man at his job. The "common
sweeper," growling over his mug of tea that there was "nothing in
sweepin'," and these idly chaffing men, new shaved and attired, from
the gates of Death which had let them through for the fiftieth time,
were all of the same fabric--incomprehensible, I should imagine, to
the enemy. And the stuff held good throughout all the world--from the
Dardanelles to the Baltic, where only a little while ago another batch
of submarines had slipped in and begun to be busy. I had spent some of
the afternoon in looking through reports of submarine work in the Sea
of Marmora. They read like the diary of energetic weasels in an
overcrowded chicken-run, and the results for each boat were tabulated
something like a cricket score. There were no maiden overs. One came
across jewels of price set in the flat official phraseology. For
example, one man who was describing some steps he was taking to remedy
certain defects, interjected casually: "At this point I had to go
under for a little, as a man in a boat was trying to grab my periscope
with his hand." No reference before or after to the said man or his
fate. Again: "Came across a dhow with a Turkish skipper. He seemed so
miserable that I let him go." And elsewhere in those waters, a
submarine overhauled a steamer full of Turkish passengers, some of
whom, arguing on their allies' lines, promptly leaped overboard. Our
boat fished them out and returned them, for she was not killing
civilians. In another affair, which included several ships (now at the
bottom) and one submarine, the commander relaxes enough to note that:
"The men behaved very well under direct and flanking fire from rifles
at about fifteen yards." This was _not_, I believe, the submarine that
fought the Turkish cavalry on the beach. And in addition to matters
much more marvellous than any I have hinted at, the reports deal with
repairs and shifts and contrivances carried through in the face of
dangers that read like the last delirium of romance. One boat went
down the Straits and found herself rather canted over to one side. A
mine and chain had jammed under her forward diving-plane. So far as I
made out, she shook it off by standing on her head and jerking
backwards; or it may have been, for the thing has occurred more than
once, she merely rose as much as she could, when she could, and then
"released it by hand," as the official phrase goes.
And who, a few months ago, could have invented, or having invented,
would have dared to print such a nightmare as this: There was a boat
in the North Sea who ran into a net and was caught by the nose. She
rose, still entangled, meaning to cut the thing away on the surface.
But a Zeppelin in waiting saw and bombed her, and she had to go down
again at once--but not too wildly or she would get herself more
wrapped up than ever. She went down, and by slow working and weaving
and wriggling, guided only by guesses at the meaning of each scrape
and grind of the net on her blind forehead, at last she drew clear.
Then she sat on the bottom and thought. The question was whether she
should go back at once and warn her confederates against the trap, or
wait till the destroyers which she knew the Zeppelin would have
signalled for, should come out to finish her still entangled, as they
would suppose, in the net? It was a simple calculation of comparative
speeds and positions, and when it was worked out she decided to try
for the double event. Within a few minutes of the time she had allowed
for them, she heard the twitter of four destroyers' screws quartering
above her; rose; got her shot in; saw one destroyer crumple; hung
round till another took the wreck in tow; said good-bye to the spare
brace (she was at the end of her supplies), and reached the
rendezvous in time to turn her friends.
And since we are dealing in nightmares, here are two more--one
genuine, the other, mercifully, false. There was a boat not only at,
but _in_ the mouth of a river--well home in German territory. She was
spotted, and went under, her commander perfectly aware that there was
not more than five feet of water over her conning-tower, so that even
a torpedo-boat, let alone a destroyer, would hit it if she came over.
But nothing hit anything. The search was conducted on scientific
principles while they sat on the silt and suffered. Then the commander
heard the rasp of a wire trawl sweeping over his hull. It was not a
nice sound, but there happened to be a couple of gramophones aboard,
and he turned them both on to drown it. And in due time that boat got
home with everybody's hair of just the same colour as when they had
The other nightmare arose out of silence and imagination. A boat had
gone to bed on the bottom in a spot where she might reasonably expect
to be looked for, but it was a convenient jumping-off, or up, place
for the work in hand. About the bad hour of 2.30 A.M. the commander
was waked by one of his men, who whispered to him: "They've got the
chains on us, sir!" Whether it was pure nightmare, an hallucination of
long wakefulness, something relaxing and releasing in that packed box
of machinery, or the disgustful reality, the commander could not tell,
but it had all the makings of panic in it. So the Lord and long
training put it into his head to reply! "Have they? Well, we shan't be
coming up till nine o'clock this morning. Well see about it then. Turn
out that light, please."
_He_ did not sleep, but the dreamer and the others did, and when
morning came and he gave the order to rise, and she rose unhampered,
and he saw the grey, smeared seas from above once again, he said it
was a very refreshing sight.
Lastly, which is on all fours with the gamble of the chase, a man was
coming home rather bored after an uneventful trip. It was necessary
for him to sit on the bottom for awhile, and there he played patience.
Of a sudden it struck him, as a vow and an omen, that if he worked out
the next game correctly he would go up and strafe something. The cards
fell all in order. He went up at once and found himself alongside a
German, whom, as he had promised and prophesied to himself, he
destroyed. She was a mine-layer, and needed only a jar to dissipate
like a cracked electric-light bulb. He was somewhat impressed by the
contrast between the single-handed game fifty feet below, the ascent,
the attack, the amazing result, and when he descended again, his cards
just as he had left them.
The ships destroy us above
And ensnare us beneath.
We arise, we lie down, and we move
In the belly of Death.
The ships have a thousand eyes
To mark where we come ...
And the mirth of a seaport dies
When our blow gets home.
I was honoured by a glimpse into this veiled life in a boat which was
merely practising between trips. Submarines are like cats. They never
tell "who they were with last night," and they sleep as much as they
can. If you board a submarine off duty you generally see a perspective
of fore-shortened fattish men laid all along. The men say that except
at certain times it is rather an easy life, with relaxed regulations
about smoking, calculated to make a man put on flesh. One requires
well-padded nerves. Many of the men do not appear on deck throughout
the whole trip. After all, why should they if they don't want to? They
know that they are responsible in their department for their
comrades' lives as their comrades are responsible for theirs. What's
the use of flapping about? Better lay in some magazines and
When we set forth there had been some trouble in the fairway, and a
mined neutral, whose misfortune all bore with exemplary calm, was
careened on a near-by shoal.
"Suppose there are more mines knocking about?" I suggested.
"We'll hope there aren't," was the soothing reply. "Mines are all
Joss. You either hit 'em or you don't. And if you do, they don't
always go off. They scrape alongside."
"What's the etiquette then?"
"Shut off both propellers and hope."
We were dodging various craft down the harbour when a squadron of
trawlers came out on our beam, at that extravagant rate of speed which
unlimited Government coal always leads to. They were led by an ugly,
upstanding, black-sided buccaneer with twelve-pounders.
"Ah! That's the King of the Trawlers. Isn't he carrying dog, too!
Give him room!" one said.
We were all in the narrowed harbour mouth together.
"'There's my youngest daughter. Take a look at her!'" some one hummed
as a punctilious navy cap slid by on a very near bridge.
"We'll fall in behind him. They're going over to the neutral. Then
they'll sweep. By the bye, did you hear about one of the passengers in
the neutral yesterday? He was taken off, of course, by a destroyer,
and the only thing he said was: 'Twenty-five time I 'ave insured, but
not _this_ time.... 'Ang it!'"
The trawlers lunged ahead toward the forlorn neutral. Our destroyer
nipped past us with that high-shouldered, terrier-like pouncing action
of the newer boats, and went ahead. A tramp in ballast, her propeller
half out of water, threshed along through the sallow haze.
"Lord! What a shot!" somebody said enviously. The men on the little
deck looked across at the slow-moving silhouette. One of them, a
cigarette behind his ear, smiled at a companion.
Then we went down--not as they go when they are pressed (the record, I
believe, is 50 feet in 50 seconds from top to bottom), but genteelly,
to an orchestra of appropriate sounds, roarings, and blowings, and
after the orders, which come from the commander alone, utter silence
"There's the bottom. We bumped at fifty--fifty-two," he said.
"I didn't feel it."
"We'll try again. Watch the gauge, and you'll see it flick a little."
THE PRACTICE OF THE ART
It may have been so, but I was more interested in the faces, and above
all the eyes, all down the length of her. It was to them, of course,
the simplest of manoeuvres. They dropped into gear as no machine
could; but the training of years and the experience of the year leaped
up behind those steady eyes under the electrics in the shadow of the
tall motors, between the pipes and the curved hull, or glued to their
special gauges. One forgot the bodies altogether--but one will never
forget the eyes or the ennobled faces. One man I remember in
particular. On deck his was no more than a grave, rather striking
countenance, cast in the unmistakable petty officer's mould. Below, as
I saw him in profile handling a vital control, he looked like the Doge
of Venice, the Prior of some sternly-ruled monastic order, an old-time
Pope--anything that signifies trained and stored intellectual power
utterly and ascetically devoted to some vast impersonal end. And so
with a much younger man, who changed into such a monk as Frank Dicksee
used to draw. Only a couple of torpedo-men, not being in gear for the
moment, read an illustrated paper. Their time did not come till we
went up and got to business, which meant firing at our destroyer, and,
I think, keeping out of the light of a friend's torpedoes.
The attack and everything connected with it is solely the commander's
affair. He is the only one who gets any fun at all--since he is the
eye, the brain, and the hand of the whole--this single figure at the
periscope. The second in command heaves sighs, and prays that the
dummy torpedo (there is less trouble about the live ones) will go off
all right, or he'll be told about it. The others wait and follow the
quick run of orders. It is, if not a convention, a fairly established
custom that the commander shall inferentially give his world some idea
of what is going on. At least, I only heard of one man who says
nothing whatever, and doesn't even wriggle his shoulders when he is on
the sight. The others soliloquise, etc., according to their
temperament; and the periscope is as revealing as golf.
Submarines nowadays are expected to look out for themselves more than
at the old practices, when the destroyers walked circumspectly. We
dived and circulated under water for a while, and then rose for a
sight--something like this: "Up a little--up! Up still! Where the
deuce has he got to--Ah! (Half a dozen orders as to helm and depth of
descent, and a pause broken by a drumming noise somewhere above, which
increases and passes away.) That's better! Up again! (This refers to
the periscope.) Yes. Ah! No, we _don't_ think! All right! Keep her
_down_, damn it! Umm! That ought to be nineteen knots.... Dirty trick!
He's changing speed. No, he isn't. _He's_ all right. Ready forward
there! (A valve sputters and drips, the torpedo-men crouch over their
tubes and nod to themselves. _Their_ faces have changed now.) He
hasn't spotted us yet. We'll ju-ust--(more helm and depth orders, but
specially helm)--'Wish we were working a beam-tube. Ne'er mind! Up! (A
last string of orders.) Six hundred, and he doesn't see us! Fire!"
The dummy left; the second in command cocked one ear and looked
relieved. Up we rose; the wet air and spray spattered through the
hatch; the destroyer swung off to retrieve the dummy.
"Careless brutes destroyers are," said one officer. "That fellow
nearly walked over us just now. Did you notice?"
The commander was playing his game out over again--stroke by stroke.
"With a beam-tube I'd ha' strafed him amidships," he concluded.
"Why didn't you then?" I asked.
There were loads of shiny reasons, which reminded me that we were at
war and cleared for action, and that the interlude had been merely
play. A companion rose alongside and wanted to know whether we had
seen anything of her dummy.
"No. But we heard it," was the short answer.
I was rather annoyed, because I had seen that particular daughter of
destruction on the stocks only a short time ago, and here she was
grown up and talking about her missing children!
In the harbour again, one found more submarines, all patterns and
makes and sizes, with rumours of yet more and larger to follow.
Naturally their men say that we are only at the beginning of the
submarine. We shall have them presently for all purposes.
THE MAN AND THE WORK
Now here is a mystery of the Service.
A man gets a boat which for two years becomes his very self--
His morning hope, his evening dream,
His joy throughout the day.
With him is a second in command, an engineer, and some others. They
prove each other's souls habitually every few days, by the direct test
of peril, till they act, think, and endure as a unit, in and with the
boat. That commander is transferred to another boat. He tries to take
with him if he can, which he can't, as many of his other selves as
possible. He is pitched into a new type twice the size of the old one,
with three times as many gadgets, an unexplored temperament and
unknown leanings. After his first trip he comes back clamouring for
the head of her constructor, of his own second in command, his
engineer, his cox, and a few other ratings. They for their part wish
him dead on the beach, because, last commission with So-and-so,
nothing ever went wrong anywhere. A fortnight later you can remind the
commander of what he said, and he will deny every word of it. She's
not, he says, so very vile--things considered--barring her five-ton
torpedo-derricks, the abominations of her wireless, and the tropical
temperature of her beer-lockers. All of which signifies that the new
boat has found her soul, and her commander would not change her for
battle-cruisers. Therefore, that he may remember he is the Service and
not a branch of it, he is after certain seasons shifted to a
battle-cruiser, where he lives in a blaze of admirals and
aiguillettes, responsible for vast decks and crypt-like flats, a
student of extended above-water tactics, thinking in tens of thousands
of yards instead of his modest but deadly three to twelve hundred.
And the man who takes his place straight-way forgets that he ever
looked down on great rollers from a sixty-foot bridge under the whole
breadth of heaven, but crawls and climbs and dives through
conning-towers with those same waves wet in his neck, and when the
cruisers pass him, tearing the deep open in half a gale, thanks God he
is not as they are, and goes to bed beneath their distracted keels.
* * * * *
"But submarine work is cold-blooded business."
(This was at a little session in a green-curtained "wardroom" cum
"Then there's no truth in the yarn that you can feel when the
torpedo's going to get home?" I asked.
"Not a word. You sometimes see it get home, or miss, as the case may
be. Of course, it's never your fault if it misses. It's all your
"That's true, too," said the second. "I catch it all round. That's
what I am here for."
"And what about the third man?" There was one aboard at the time.
"He generally comes from a smaller boat, to pick up real work--if he
can suppress his intellect and doesn't talk 'last commission.'"
The third hand promptly denied the possession of any intellect, and
was quite dumb about his last boat.
"And the men?"
"They train on, too. They train each other. Yes, one gets to know 'em
about as well as they get to know us. Up topside, a man can take you
in--take himself in--for months; for half a commission, p'rhaps. Down
below he can't. It's all in cold blood--not like at the front, where
they have something exciting all the time."
"Then bumping mines isn't exciting?"
"Not one little bit. You can't bump back at 'em. Even with a Zepp----"
"Oh, now and then," one interrupted, and they laughed as they
"Yes, that was rather funny. One of our boats came up slap underneath
a low Zepp. 'Looked for the sky, you know, and couldn't see anything
except this fat, shining belly almost on top of 'em. Luckily, it
wasn't the Zepp's stingin' end. So our boat went to windward and kept
just awash. There was a bit of a sea, and the Zepp had to work against
the wind. (They don't like that.) Our boat sent a man to the gun. He
was pretty well drowned, of course, but he hung on, choking and
spitting, and held his breath, and got in shots where he could. This
Zepp was strafing bombs about for all she was worth, and--who was
it?--Macartney, I think, potting at her between dives; and naturally
all hands wanted to look at the performance, so about half the North
Sea flopped down below and--oh, they had a Charlie Chaplin time of it!
Well, somehow, Macartney managed to rip the Zepp a bit, and she went
to leeward with a list on her. We saw her a fortnight later with a
patch on her port side. Oh, if Fritz only fought clean, this wouldn't
be half a bad show. But Fritz can't fight clean."
"And _we_ can't do what he does--even if we were allowed to," one
"No, we can't. 'Tisn't done. We have to fish Fritz out of the water,
dry him, and give him cocktails, and send him to Donnington Hall."
"And what does Fritz do?" I asked.
"He sputters and clicks and bows. He has all the correct motions, you
know; but, of course, when he's your prisoner you can't tell him what
he really is."
"And do you suppose Fritz understands any of it?" I went on.
"No. Or he wouldn't have lusitaniaed. This war was his first chance of
making his name, and he chucked it all away for the sake of showin'
off as a foul Gottstrafer."
And they talked of that hour of the night when submarines come to the
top like mermaids to get and give information; of boats whose business
it is to fire as much and to splash about as aggressively as possible;
and of other boats who avoid any sort of display--dumb boats watching
and relieving watch, with their periscope just showing like a
crocodile's eye, at the back of islands and the mouths of channels
where something may some day move out in procession to its doom.
Be well assured that on our side
Our challenged oceans fight,
Though headlong wind and heaping tide
Make us their sport to-night.
Through force of weather, not of war,
In jeopardy we steer.
Then, welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it shall appear
How in all time of our distress
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game,
And the ship is more than the crew!
Be well assured, though wave and wind
Have mightier blows in store,
That we who keep the watch assigned
Must stand to it the more;
And as our streaming bows dismiss
Each billow's baulked career,
Sing, welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game,
And the ship is more than the crew!
Be well assured, though in our power
Is nothing left to give
But time and place to meet the hour
And leave to strive to live,
Till these dissolve our Order holds,
Our Service binds us here.
Then, welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress
And our deliverance too,
The game is more than the player of the game,
And the ship is more than the crew!
On the edge of the North Sea sits an Admiral in charge of a stretch of
coast without lights or marks, along which the traffic moves much as
usual. In front of him there is nothing but the east wind, the enemy,
and some few our ships. Behind him there are towns, with M.P.'s
attached, who a little while ago didn't see the reason for certain
lighting orders. When a Zeppelin or two came, they saw. Left and right
of him are enormous docks, with vast crowded sheds, miles of
stone-faced quay-edges, loaded with all manner of supplies and crowded
with mixed shipping.
In this exalted world one met Staff-Captains, Staff-Commanders,
Staff-Lieutenants, and Secretaries, with Paymasters so senior that
they almost ranked with Admirals. There were Warrant Officers, too,
who long ago gave up splashing about decks barefoot, and now check and
issue stores to the ravenous, untruthful fleets. Said one of these,
guarding a collection of desirable things, to a cross between a
sick-bay attendant and a junior writer (but he was really an expert
burglar), "_No!_ An' you can tell Mr. So-and-so, with my compliments,
that the storekeeper's gone away--right away--with the key of these
stores in his pocket. Understand me? In his trousers pocket."
He snorted at my next question.
"_Do_ I know any destroyer-lootenants?" said he. "This coast's rank
with 'em! Destroyer-lootenants are born stealing. It's a mercy they's
too busy to practise forgery, or I'd be in gaol. Engineer-Commanders?
Engineer-Lootenants? They're worse!... Look here! If my own mother was
to come to me beggin' brass screws for her own coffin, I'd--I'd think
twice before I'd oblige the old lady. War's war, I grant you that;
but what I've got to contend with is crime."
I referred to him a case of conscience in which every one concerned
acted exactly as he should, and it nearly ended in murder. During a
lengthy action, the working of a gun was hampered by some empty
cartridge-cases which the lieutenant in charge made signs (no man
could hear his neighbour speak just then) should be hove overboard.
Upon which the gunner rushed forward and made other signs that they
were "on charge," and must be tallied and accounted for. He, too, was
trained in a strict school. Upon which the lieutenant, but that he was
busy, would have slain the gunner for refusing orders in action.
Afterwards he wanted him shot by court-martial. But every one was
voiceless by then, and could only mouth and croak at each other, till
somebody laughed, and the pedantic gunner was spared.
"Well, that's what you might fairly call a naval crux," said my friend
among the stores. "The Lootenant was right. 'Mustn't refuse orders in
action. The Gunner was right. Empty cases _are_ on charge. No one
ought to chuck 'em away that way, but.... Damn it, they were _all_ of
'em right! It ought to ha' been a marine. Then they could have killed
him and preserved discipline at the same time."
A LITTLE THEORY
The problem of this coast resolves itself into keeping touch with the
enemy's movements; in preparing matters to trap and hinder him when he
moves, and in so entertaining him that he shall not have time to draw
clear before a blow descends on him from another quarter. There are
then three lines of defence: the outer, the inner, and the home
waters. The traffic and fishing are always with us.
The blackboard idea of it is always to have stronger forces more
immediately available everywhere than those the enemy can send. _x_
German submarines draw _a_ English destroyers. Then _x_ calls _x + y_
to deal with _a_, who, in turn, calls up _b_, a scout, and possibly
_a²_, with a fair chance that, if _x + y + z_ (a Zeppelin) carry on,
they will run into _a² + b² + c_ cruisers. At this point, the equation
generally stops; if it continued, it would end mathematically in the
whole of the German Fleet coming out. Then another factor which we may
call the Grand Fleet would come from another place. To change the
comparisons: the Grand Fleet is the "strong left" ready to give the
knock-out blow on the point of the chin when the head is thrown up.
The other fleets and other arrangements threaten the enemy's solar
plexus and stomach. Somewhere in relation to the Grand Fleet lies the
"blockading" cordon which examines neutral traffic. It could be drawn
as tight as a Turkish bowstring, but for reasons which we may arrive
at after the war, it does not seem to have been so drawn up to date.
The enemy lies behind his mines, and ours, raids our coasts when he
sees a chance, and kills seagoing civilians at sight or guess, with
intent to terrify. Most sailor-men are mixed up with a woman or two; a
fair percentage of them have seen men drown. They can realise what it
is when women go down choking in horrible tangles and heavings of
draperies. To say that the enemy has cut himself from the fellowship
of all who use the seas is rather understating the case. As a man
observed thoughtfully: "You can't look at any water now without seeing
'Lusitania' sprawlin' all across it. And just think of those words,
'North-German Lloyd,' 'Hamburg-Amerika' and such things, in the time
to come. They simply mustn't be."
He was an elderly trawler, respectable as they make them, who, after
many years of fishing, had discovered his real vocation. "I never
thought I'd like killin' men," he reflected. "Never seemed to be any
o' my dooty. But it is--and I do!"
A great deal of the East Coast work concerns mine-fields--ours and the
enemy's--both of which shift as occasion requires. We search for and
root out the enemy's mines; they do the like by us. It is a perpetual
game of finding, springing, and laying traps on the least as well as
the most likely runaways that ships use--such sea snaring and wiring
as the world never dreamt of. We are hampered in this, because our
Navy respects neutrals; and spends a great deal of its time in making
their path safe for them. The enemy does not. He blows them up,
because that cows and impresses them, and so adds to his prestige.
DEATH AND THE DESTROYER
The easiest way of finding a mine-field is to steam into it, on the
edge of night for choice, with a steep sea running, for that brings
the bows down like a chopper on the detonator-horns. Some boats have
enjoyed this experience and still live. There was one destroyer (and
there may have been others since) who came through twenty-four hours
of highly-compressed life. She had an idea that there was a
mine-field somewhere about, and left her companions behind while she
explored. The weather was dead calm, and she walked delicately. She
saw one Scandinavian steamer blow up a couple of miles away, rescued
the skipper and some hands; saw another neutral, which she could not
reach till all was over, skied in another direction; and, between her
life-saving efforts and her natural curiosity, got herself as
thoroughly mixed up with the field as a camel among tent-ropes. A
destroyer's bows are very fine, and her sides are very straight. This
causes her to cleave the wave with the minimum of disturbance, and
this boat had no desire to cleave anything else. None the less, from
time to time, she heard a mine grate, or tinkle, or jar (I could not
arrive at the precise note it strikes, but they say it is unpleasant)
on her plates. Sometimes she would be free of them for a long while,
and began to hope she was clear. At other times they were numerous,
but when at last she seemed to have worried out of the danger zone
lieutenant and sub together left the bridge for a cup of tea. ("In
those days we took mines very seriously, you know.") As they were in
act to drink, they heard the hateful sound again just outside the
wardroom. Both put their cups down with extreme care, little fingers
extended ("We felt as if they might blow up, too"), and tip-toed on
deck, where they met the foc'sle also on tip-toe. They pulled
themselves together, and asked severely what the foc'sle thought it
was doing. "Beg pardon, sir, but there's another of those blighters
tap-tapping alongside, our end." They all waited and listened to their
common coffin being nailed by Death himself. But the things bumped
away. At this point they thought it only decent to invite the rescued
skipper, warm and blanketed in one of their bunks, to step up and do
any further perishing in the open.
"No, thank you," said he. "Last time I was blown up in my bunk, too.
That was all right. So I think, now, too, I stay in my bunk here. It
is cold upstairs."
Somehow or other they got out of the mess after all. "Yes, we used to
take mines awfully seriously in those days. One comfort is, Fritz'll
take them seriously when he comes out. Fritz don't like mines."
"Who does?" I wanted to know.
"If you'd been here a little while ago, you'd seen a Commander comin'
in with a big 'un slung under his counter. He brought the beastly
thing in to analyse. The rest of his squadron followed at two-knot
intervals, and everything in harbour that had steam up scattered."
THE ADMIRABLE COMMANDER
Presently I had the honour to meet a Lieutenant-Commander-Admiral who
had retired from the service, but, like others, had turned out again at
the first flash of the guns, and now commands--he who had great ships
erupting at his least signal--a squadron of trawlers for the protection
of the Dogger Bank Fleet. At present prices--let alone the chance of the
paying submarine--men would fish in much warmer places. His flagship
was once a multi-millionaire's private yacht. In her mixture of stark,
carpetless, curtainless, carbolised present, with voluptuously curved,
broad-decked, easy-stairwayed past, she might be Queen Guinevere in the
convent at Amesbury. And her Lieutenant-Commander, most careful to pay
all due compliments to Admirals who were midshipmen when _he_ was a
Commander, leads a congregation of very hard men indeed. They do
precisely what he tells them to, and with him go through strange
experiences, because they love him and because his language is volcanic
and wonderful--what you might call Popocatapocalyptic. I saw the Old
Navy making ready to lead out the New under a grey sky and a falling
glass--the wisdom and cunning of the old man backed up by the passion
and power of the younger breed, and the discipline which had been his
soul for half a century binding them all.
"What'll he do _this_ time?" I asked of one who might know.
"He'll cruise between Two and Three East; but if you'll tell me what
he _won't_ do, it 'ud be more to the point! He's mine-hunting, I
expect, just now."
Here is a digression suggested by the sight of a man I had known in
other scenes, despatch-riding round a fleet in a petrol-launch. There
are many of his type, yachtsmen of sorts accustomed to take chances,
who do not hold masters' certificates and cannot be given sea-going
commands. Like my friend, they do general utility work--often in their
own boats. This is a waste of good material. Nobody wants amateur
navigators--the traffic lanes are none too wide as it is. But these
gentlemen ought to be distributed among the Trawler Fleet as strictly
combatant officers. A trawler skipper may be an excellent seaman, but
slow with a submarine shelling and diving, or in cutting out enemy
trawlers. The young ones who can master Q.F. gun work in a very short
time would--though there might be friction, a court-martial or two,
and probably losses at first--pay for their keep. Even a hundred or so
of amateurs, more or less controlled by their squadron commanders,
would make a happy beginning, and I am sure they would all be
Where the East wind is brewed fresh and fresh every morning,
And the balmy night-breezes blow straight from the Pole,
I heard a destroyer sing: "What an enjoyable life does one
lead on the North Sea Patrol!
"To blow things to bits is our business (and Fritz's),
Which means there are mine-fields wherever you stroll.
Unless you've particular wish to die quick, you'll avoid steering
close to the North Sea Patrol.
"We warn from disaster the mercantile master
Who takes in high dudgeon our life-saving rôle,
For every one's grousing at docking and dowsing
The marks and the lights on the North Sea Patrol."
[Twelve verses omitted.]
So swept but surviving, half drowned but still driving,
I watched her head out through the swell off the shoal,
And I heard her propellers roar: "Write to poor fellers
Who run such a Hell as the North Sea Patrol!"
The great basins were crammed with craft of kinds never known before
on any Navy List. Some were as they were born, others had been
converted, and a multitude have been designed for special cases. The
Navy prepares against all contingencies by land, sea, and air. It was
a relief to meet a batch of comprehensible destroyers and to drop
again into the little mouse-trap ward-rooms, which are as
large-hearted as all Our oceans. The men one used to know as
destroyer-lieutenants ("born stealing") are serious Commanders and
Captains to-day, but their sons, Lieutenants in command and
Lieutenant-Commanders, do follow them. The sea in peace is a hard
life; war only sketches an extra line or two round the young mouths.
The routine of ships always ready for action is so part of the blood
now that no one notices anything except the absence of formality and
of the "crimes" of peace. What Warrant Officers used to say at length
is cut down to a grunt. What the sailor-man did not know and expected
to have told him, does not exist. He has done it all too often at sea
I watched a little party working under a leading hand at a job which,
eighteen months ago, would have required a Gunner in charge. It was
comic to see his orders trying to overtake the execution of them.
Ratings coming aboard carried themselves with a (to me) new
swing--not swank, but consciousness of adequacy. The high, dark
foc'sles which, thank goodness, are only washed twice a week,
received them and their bags, and they turned-to on the instant as a
man picks up his life at home. Like the submarine crew, they come to
be a breed apart--double-jointed, extra-toed, with brazen bowels and
no sort of nerves.
It is the same in the engine-room, when the ships come in for their
regular looking-over. Those who love them, which you would never guess
from the language, know exactly what they need, and get it without
fuss. Everything that steams has her individual peculiarity, and the
great thing is, at overhaul, to keep to it and not develop a new one.
If, for example, through some trick of her screws not synchronising, a
destroyer always casts to port when she goes astern, do not let any
zealous soul try to make her run true, or you will have to learn her
helm all over again. And it is vital that you should know exactly what
your ship is going to do three seconds before she does it. Similarly
with men. If any one, from Lieutenant-Commander to stoker, changes his
personal trick or habit--even the manner in which he clutches his chin
or caresses his nose at a crisis--the matter must be carefully
considered in this world where each is trustee for his neighbour's
life and, vastly more important, the corporate honour.
"What are the destroyers doing just now?" I asked.
"Oh--running about--much the same as usual."
The Navy hasn't the least objection to telling one everything that it
is doing. Unfortunately, it speaks its own language, which is
incomprehensible to the civilian. But you will find it all in "The
Channel Pilot" and "The Riddle of the Sands."
It is a foul coast, hairy with currents and rips, and mottled with
shoals and rocks. Practically the same men hold on here in the same
ships, with much the same crews, for months and months. A most senior
officer told me that they were "good boys"--on reflection, "quite good
boys"--but neither he nor the flags on his chart explained how they
managed their lightless, unmarked navigations through black night,
blinding rain, and the crazy, rebounding North Sea gales. They
themselves ascribe it to Joss that they have not piled up their ships
a hundred times.
"I expect it must be because we're always dodging about over the same
ground. One gets to smell it. We've bumped pretty hard, of course, but
we haven't expended much up to date. You never know your luck on
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
Personally, though they have been true friends to me, I loathe
destroyers, and all the raw, racking, ricochetting life that goes with
them--the smell of the wet "lammies" and damp wardroom cushions; the
galley-chimney smoking out the bridge; the obstacle-strewn deck; and
the pervading beastliness of oil, grit, and greasy iron. Even at
moorings they shiver and sidle like half-backed horses. At sea they
will neither rise up and fly clear like the hydroplanes, nor dive and
be done with it like the submarines, but imitate the vices of both. A
scientist of the lower deck describes them as: "Half switchback, half
water-chute, and Hell continuous." Their only merit, from a landsman's
point of view, is that they can crumple themselves up from stem to
bridge and (I have seen it) still get home. But one does not breathe
these compliments to their commanders. Other destroyers may be--they
will point them out to you--poisonous bags of tricks, but their own
command--never! Is she high-bowed? That is the only type which
over-rides the seas instead of smothering. Is she low? Low bows glide
through the water where those collier-nosed brutes smash it open. Is
she mucked up with submarine-catchers? They rather improve her trim.
No other ship has them. Have they been denied to her? Thank Heaven,
_we_ go to sea without a fish-curing plant on deck. Does she roll,
even for her class? She is drier than Dreadnoughts. Is she permanently
and infernally wet? Stiff; sir--stiff: the first requisite of a
"SERVICE AS REQUISITE"
Thus the Cæsars and their fortunes put out to sea with their subs and
their sad-eyed engineers, and their long-suffering signallers--I do
not even know the technical name of the sin which causes a man to be
born a destroyer-signaller in this life--and the little yellow shells
stuck all about where they can be easiest reached. The rest of their
acts is written for the information of the proper authorities. It
reads like a page of Todhunter. But the masters of merchant-ships
could tell more of eyeless shapes, barely outlined on the foam of
their own arrest, who shout orders through the thick gloom alongside.
The strayed and anxious neutral knows them when their searchlights pin
him across the deep, or their syrens answer the last yelp of his as
steam goes out of his torpedoed boilers. They stand by to catch and
soothe him in his pyjamas at the gangway, collect his scattered
lifeboats, and see a warm drink into him before they turn to hunt the
slayer. The drifters, punching and reeling up and down their ten-mile
line of traps; the outer trawlers, drawing the very teeth of Death
with water-sodden fingers, are grateful for their low, guarded
signals; and when the Zeppelin's revealing star-shell cracks darkness
open above him, the answering crack of the invisible destroyers' guns
comforts the busy mine-layers. Big cruisers talk to them, too; and,
what is more, they talk back to the cruisers. Sometimes they draw
fire--pinkish spurts of light--a long way off, where Fritz is trying
to coax them over a mine-field he has just laid; or they steal on
Fritz in the midst of his job, and the horizon rings with barking,
which the inevitable neutral who saw it all reports as "a heavy fleet
action in the North Sea." The sea after dark can be as alive as the
woods of summer nights. Everything is exactly where you don't expect
it, and the shyest creatures are the farthest away from their holes.
Things boom overhead like bitterns, or scutter alongside like hares,
or arise dripping and hissing from below like otters. It is the
destroyer's business to find out what their business may be through
all the long night, and to help or hinder accordingly. Dawn sees them
pitch-poling insanely between head-seas, or hanging on to bridges that
sweep like scythes from one forlorn horizon to the other. A
homeward-bound submarine chooses this hour to rise, very
ostentatiously, and signals by hand to a lieutenant in command. (They
were the same term at Dartmouth, and same first ship.)
"What's he sayin'? Secure that gun, will you? 'Can't hear oneself
speak," The gun is a bit noisy on its mountings, but that isn't the
reason for the destroyer-lieutenant's short temper.
"'Says he's goin' down, sir," the signaller replies. What the
submarine had spelt out, and everybody knows it, was: "Cannot approve
of this extremely frightful weather. Am going to bye-bye."
"Well!" snaps the lieutenant to his signaller, "what are you grinning
at?" The submarine has hung on to ask if the destroyer will "kiss her
and whisper good-night." A breaking sea smacks her tower in the middle
of the insult. She closes like an oyster, but--just too late. _Habet!_
There must be a quarter of a ton of water somewhere down below, on its
way to her ticklish batteries.
"What a wag!" says the signaller, dreamily. "Well, 'e can't say 'e
didn't get 'is little kiss."
The lieutenant in command smiles. The sea is a beast, but a just
This is trivial enough, but what would you have? If Admirals will not
strike the proper attitudes, nor Lieutenants emit the appropriate
sentiments, one is forced back on the truth, which is that the men at
the heart of the great matters in our Empire are, mostly, of an even
simplicity. From the advertising point of view they are stupid, but
the breed has always been stupid in this department. It may be due,
as our enemies assert, to our racial snobbery, or, as others hold, to
a certain God-given lack of imagination which saves us from being
over-concerned at the effects of our appearances on others. Either
way, it deceives the enemies' people more than any calculated lie.
When you come to think of it, though the English are the worst
paper-work and _viva voce_ liars in the world, they have been
rigorously trained since their early youth to live and act lies for
the comfort of the society in which they move, and so for their own
comfort. The result in this war is interesting.
It is no lie that at the present moment we hold all the seas in the
hollow of our hands. For that reason we shuffle over them shame-faced
and apologetic, making arrangements here and flagrant compromises
there, in order to give substance to the lie that we have dropped
fortuitously into this high seat and are looking round the world for
some one to resign it to. Nor is it any lie that, had we used the
Navy's bare fist instead of its gloved hand from the beginning, we
could in all likelihood have shortened the war. That being so, we
elected to dab and peck at and half-strangle the enemy, to let him go
and choke him again. It is no lie that we continue on our inexplicable
path animated, we will try to believe till other proof is given, by a
cloudy idea of alleviating or mitigating something for somebody--not
ourselves. [Here, of course, is where our racial snobbery comes in,
which makes the German gibber. I cannot understand why he has not
accused us to our Allies of having secret commercial understandings
with him.] For that reason, we shall finish the German eagle as the
merciful lady killed the chicken. It took her the whole afternoon, and
then, you will remember, the carcase had to be thrown away.
Meantime, there is a large and unlovely water, inhabited by plain men
in severe boats, who endure cold, exposure, wet, and monotony almost
as heavy as their responsibilities. Charge them with heroism--but that
needs heroism, indeed! Accuse them of patriotism, they become ribald.
Examine into the records of the miraculous work they have done and are
doing. They will assist you, but with perfect sincerity they will make
as light of the valour and fore-thought shown as of the ends they have
gained for mankind. The Service takes all work for granted. It knew
long ago that certain things would have to be done, and it did its
best to be ready for them. When it disappeared over the sky-line for
manoeuvres it was practising--always practising; trying its men and
stuff and throwing out what could not take the strain. That is why,
when war came, only a few names had to be changed, and those chiefly
for the sake of the body, not of the spirit. And the Seniors who hold
the key to our plans and know what will be done if things happen, and
what lines wear thin in the many chains, they are of one fibre and
speech with the Juniors and the lower deck and all the rest who come
out of the undemonstrative households ashore. "Here is the situation
as it exists now," say the Seniors. "This is what we do to meet it.
Look and count and measure and judge for yourself, and then you will
It is a safe offer. The civilian only sees that the sea is a vast
place, divided between wisdom and chance. He only knows that the
uttermost oceans have been swept clear, and the trade-routes purged,
one by one, even as our armies were being convoyed along them; that
there was no island nor key left unsearched on any waters that might
hide an enemy's craft between the Arctic Circle and the Horn. He only
knows that less than a day's run to the eastward of where he stands,
the enemy's fleets have been held for a year and four months, in order
that civilisation may go about its business on all our waters.
TALES OF "THE TRADE"
They bear, in place of classic names,
Letters and numbers on their skin.
They play their grisly blindfold games
In little boxes made of tin.
Sometimes they stalk the Zeppelin,
Sometimes they learn where mines are laid
Or where the Baltic ice is thin.
That is the custom of "The Trade."
Few prize-courts sit upon their claims.
They seldom tow their targets in.
They follow certain secret aims
Down under, far from strife or din.
When they are ready to begin
No flag is flown, no fuss is made
More than the shearing of a pin.
That is the custom of "The Trade."
The Scout's quadruple funnel flames
A mark from Sweden to the Swin,
The Cruiser's thundrous screw proclaims
Her comings out and goings in:
But only whiffs of paraffin
Or creamy rings that fizz and fade
Show where the one-eyed Death has been.
That is the custom of "The Trade."
Their feats, their fortunes and their fames
Are hidden from their nearest kin;
No eager public backs or blames,
No journal prints the yarns they spin
(The Censor would not let it in!)
When they return from run or raid.
Unheard they work, unseen they win.
That is the custom of "The Trade."
SOME WORK IN THE BALTIC
No one knows how the title of "The Trade" came to be applied to the
Submarine Service. Some say that the cruisers invented it because they
pretend that submarine officers look like unwashed chauffeurs. Others
think it sprang forth by itself, which means that it was coined by the
Lower Deck, where they always have the proper names for things.
Whatever the truth, the Submarine Service is now "the trade"; and if
you ask them why, they will answer: "What else could you call it? The
Trade's 'the trade,' of course."
It is a close corporation; yet it recruits its men and officers from
every class that uses the sea and engines, as well as from many
classes that never expected to deal with either. It takes them; they
disappear for a while and return changed to their very souls, for the
Trade lives in a world without precedents, of which no generation has
had any previous experience--a world still being made and enlarged
daily. It creates and settles its own problems as it goes along, and
if it cannot help itself no one else can. So the Trade lives in the
dark and thinks out inconceivable and impossible things which it
afterwards puts into practice.
It keeps books, too, as honest traders should. They are almost as bald
as ledgers, and are written up, hour by hour, on a little sliding
table that pulls out from beneath the commander's bunk. In due time
they go to my Lords of the Admiralty, who presently circulate a few
carefully watered extracts for the confidential information of the
junior officers of the Trade, that these may see what things are done
and how. The juniors read but laugh. They have heard the stories, with
all the flaming detail and much of the language, either from a chief
actor while they perched deferentially on the edge of a mess-room
fender, or from his subordinate, in which case they were not so
deferential, or from some returned member of the crew present on the
occasion, who, between half-shut teeth at the wheel, jerks out what
really happened. There is very little going on in the Trade that the
Trade does not know within a reasonable time. But the outside world
must wait until my Lords of the Admiralty release the records. Some of
them have been released now.
SUBMARINE AND ICE-BREAKER
Let us take, almost at random, an episode in the life of H.M.
Submarine E9. It is true that she was commanded by Commander Max
Horton, but the utter impersonality of the tale makes it as though the
boat herself spoke. (Also, never having met or seen any of the
gentlemen concerned in the matter, the writer can be impersonal too.)
Some time ago, E9 was in the Baltic, in the deeps of winter, where
she used to be taken to her hunting grounds by an ice-breaker.
Obviously a submarine cannot use her sensitive nose to smash heavy ice
with, so the broad-beamed pushing chaperone comes along to see her
clear of the thick harbour and shore ice. In the open sea apparently
she is left to her own devices. In company of the ice-breaker, then,
E9 "proceeded" (neither in the Senior nor the Junior Service does any
one officially "go" anywhere) to a "certain position."
Here--it is not stated in the book, but the Trade knows every aching,
single detail of what is left out--she spent a certain time in testing
arrangements and apparatus, which may or may not work properly when
immersed in a mixture of block-ice and dirty ice-cream in a
temperature well towards zero. This is a pleasant job, made the more
delightful by the knowledge that if you slip off the superstructure
the deadly Baltic chill will stop your heart long before even your
heavy clothes can drown you. Hence (and this is not in the book
either) the remark of the highly trained sailor-man in these latitudes
who, on being told by his superior officer in the execution of his
duty to go to Hell, did insubordinately and enviously reply: "D'you
think I'd be here if I could?" Whereby he caused the entire personnel,
beginning with the Commander, to say "Amen," or words to that effect.
E9 evidently made things work.
Next day she reports: "As circumstances were favourable decided to
attempt to bag a destroyer." Her "certain position" must have been
near a well-used destroyer-run, for shortly afterwards she sees three
of them, but too far off to attack, and later, as the light is
failing, a fourth destroyer towards which she manoeuvres.
"Depth-keeping," she notes, "very difficult owing to heavy swell." An
observation balloon on a gusty day is almost as stable as a submarine
"pumping" in a heavy swell, and since the Baltic is shallow, the
submarine runs the chance of being let down with a whack on the
bottom. None the less, E9 works her way to within 600 yards of the
quarry; fires and waits just long enough to be sure that her torpedo
is running straight, and that the destroyer is holding her course.
Then she "dips to avoid detection." The rest is deadly simple: "At the
correct moment after firing, 45 to 50 seconds, heard the unmistakable
noise of torpedo detonating." Four minutes later she rose and "found
destroyer had disappeared." Then, for reasons probably connected with
other destroyers, who, too, may have heard that unmistakable sound,
she goes to bed below in the chill dark till it is time to turn
homewards. When she rose she met storm from the north and logged it
accordingly. "Spray froze as it struck, and bridge became a mass of
ice. Experienced considerable difficulty in keeping the conning-tower
hatch free from ice. Found it necessary to keep a man continuously
employed on this work. Bridge screen immovable, ice six inches thick
on it. Telegraphs frozen." In this state she forges ahead till
midnight, and any one who pleases can imagine the thoughts of the
continuous employee scraping and hammering round the hatch, as well as
the delight of his friends below when the ice-slush spattered down the
conning-tower. At last she considered it "advisable to free the boat
of ice, so went below."
In the Senior Service the two words "as requisite" cover everything
that need not be talked about. E9 next day "proceeded as requisite"
through a series of snowstorms and recurring deposits of ice on the
bridge till she got in touch with her friend the ice-breaker; and in
her company ploughed and rooted her way back to the work we know.
There is nothing to show that it was a near thing for E9, but somehow
one has the idea that the ice-breaker did not arrive any too soon for
E9's comfort and progress. (But what happens in the Baltic when the
ice-breaker does not arrive?)
That was in winter. In summer quite the other way, E9 had to go to bed
by day very often under the long-lasting northern light when the
Baltic is as smooth as a carpet, and one cannot get within a mile and
a half of anything with eyes in its head without being put down. There
was one time when E9, evidently on information received, took up "a
certain position" and reported the sea "glassy." She had to suffer in
silence, while three heavily laden German ships went by; for an attack
would have given away her position. Her reward came next day, when she
sighted (the words run like Marryat's) "enemy squadron coming up fast
from eastward, proceeding inshore of us." They were two heavy
battleships with an escort of destroyers, and E9 turned to attack. She
does not say how she crept up in that smooth sea within a quarter of a
mile of the leading ship, "a three-funnel ship, of either the
Deutschland or Braunschweig class," but she managed it, and fired both
bow torpedoes at her.
"No. 1 torpedo was seen and heard to strike her just before foremost
funnel: smoke and _débris_ appeared to go as high as masthead." That
much E9 saw before one of the guardian destroyers ran at her. "So,"
says she, "observing her I took my periscope off the battleship." This
was excusable, as the destroyer was coming up with intent to kill and
E9 had to flood her tanks and get down quickly. Even so, the destroyer
only just missed her, and she struck bottom in 43 feet. "But," says
E9, who, if she could not see, kept her ears open, "at the correct
interval (the 45 or 50 seconds mentioned in the previous case) the
second torpedo was heard to explode, though not actually seen." E9
came up twenty minutes later to make sure. The destroyer was waiting
for her a couple of hundred yards away, and again E9 dipped for the
life, but "just had time to see one large vessel approximately four or
five miles away."
Putting courage aside, think for a moment of the mere drill of it
all--that last dive for that attack on the chosen battleship; the eye
at the periscope watching "No. 1 torpedo" get home; the rush of the
vengeful destroyer; the instant orders for flooding everything; the
swift descent which had to be arranged for with full knowledge of the
shallow sea-floors waiting below, and a guess at the course that might
be taken by the seeking bows above, for assuming a destroyer to draw
10 feet and a submarine on the bottom to stand 25 feet to the top of
her conning-tower, there is not much clearance in 43 feet salt water,
specially if the boat jumps when she touches bottom. And through all
these and half a hundred other simultaneous considerations, imagine
the trained minds below, counting, as only torpedo-men can count, the
run of the merciless seconds that should tell when that second shot
arrived. Then "at the correct interval" as laid down in the table of
distances, the boom and the jar of No. 2 torpedo, the relief, the
exhaled breath and untightened lips; the impatient waiting for a
second peep, and when that had been taken and the eye at the periscope
had reported _one_ little nigger-boy in place of two on the waters,
perhaps cigarettes, &c., while the destroyer sickled about at a
Certainly they give men rewards for doing such things, but what reward
can there be in any gift of Kings or peoples to match the enduring
satisfaction of having done them, not alone, but with and through and
by trusty and proven companions?
DEFEATED BY DARKNESS
E1, also a Baltic boat, her Commander F.N. Laurence, had her
experiences too. She went out one summer day and late--too late--in
the evening sighted three transports. The first she hit. While she was
arranging for the second, the third inconsiderately tried to ram her
before her sights were on. So it was necessary to go down at once and
waste whole minutes of the precious scanting light. When she rose, the
stricken ship was sinking and shortly afterwards blew up. The other
two were patrolling near by. It would have been a fair chance in
daylight, but the darkness defeated her and she had to give up the
It was E1 who during thick weather came across a squadron of
battle-cruisers and got in on a flanking ship--probably the _Moltke_.
The destroyers were very much on the alert, and she had to dive at
once to avoid one who only missed her by a few feet. Then the fog shut
down and stopped further developments. Thus do time and chance come to
The Trade has many stories, too, of watching patrols when a boat must
see chance after chance go by under her nose and write--merely
write--what she has seen. Naturally they do not appear in any
accessible records. Nor, which is a pity, do the authorities release
the records of glorious failures, when everything goes wrong; when
torpedoes break surface and squatter like ducks; or arrive full square
with a clang and burst of white water and--fail to explode; when the
devil is in charge of all the motors, and clutches develop play that
would scare a shore-going mechanic bald; when batteries begin to give
off death instead of power, and atop of all, ice or wreckage of the
strewn seas racks and wrenches the hull till the whole leaking bag of
tricks limps home on six missing cylinders and one ditto propeller,
_plus_ the indomitable will of the red-eyed husky scarecrows in
There might be worse things in this world for decent people to read
than such records.
BUSINESS IN THE SEA OF MARMARA
This war is like an iceberg. We, the public, only see an eighth of it
above water. The rest is out of sight and, as with the berg, one
guesses its extent by great blocks that break off and shoot up to the
surface from some underlying out-running spur a quarter of a mile
away. So with this war sudden tales come to light which reveal
unsuspected activities in unexpected quarters. One takes it for
granted such things are always going on somewhere, but the actual
emergence of the record is always astonishing.
Once upon a time, there were certain E type boats who worked the Sea
of Marmara with thoroughness and humanity; for the two, in English
hands, are compatible. The road to their hunting-grounds was strewn
with peril, the waters they inhabited were full of eyes that gave them
no rest, and what they lost or expended in wear and tear of the chase
could not be made good till they had run the gauntlet to their base
again. The full tale of their improvisations and "makee-does" will
probably never come to light, though fragments can be picked up at
intervals in the proper places as the men concerned come and go. The
Admiralty gives only the bones, but those are not so dry, of the
boat's official story.
When E14, Commander E. Courtney-Boyle, went to her work in the Sea of
Marmara, she, like her sister, "proceeded" on her gas-engine up the
Dardanelles; and a gas-engine by night between steep cliffs has been
described by the Lower-deck as a "full brass band in a railway
cutting." So a fort picked her up with a searchlight and missed her
with artillery. She dived under the minefield that guarded the
Straits, and when she rose at dawn in the narrowest part of the
channel, which is about one mile and a half across, all the forts
fired at her. The water, too, was thick with steamboat patrols, out of
which E14 selected a Turkish gunboat and gave her a torpedo. She had
just time to see the great column of water shoot as high as the
gunboat's mast when she had to dip again as "the men in a small
steamboat were leaning over trying to catch hold of the top of my
"SIX HOURS OF BLIND DEATH"
This sentence, which might have come out of a French exercise book, is
all Lieutenant-Commander Courtney-Boyle sees fit to tell, and that
officer will never understand why one taxpayer at least demands his
arrest after the war till he shall have given the full tale. Did he
sight the shadowy underline of the small steamboat green through the
deadlights? Or did she suddenly swim into his vision from behind, and
obscure, without warning, his periscope with a single brown clutching
hand? Was she alone, or one of a mob of splashing, shouting small
craft? He may well have been too busy to note, for there were patrols
all around him, a minefield of curious design and undefined area
somewhere in front, and steam trawlers vigorously sweeping for him
astern and ahead. And when E14 had burrowed and bumped and scraped
through six hours of blind death, she found the Sea of Marmara
crawling with craft, and was kept down almost continuously and grew
hot and stuffy in consequence. Nor could she charge her batteries in
peace, so at the end of another hectic, hunted day of starting them up
and breaking off and diving--which is bad for the temper--she decided
to quit those infested waters near the coast and charge up somewhere
off the traffic routes.
This accomplished, after a long, hot run, which did the motors no
good, she went back to her beat, where she picked up three destroyers
convoying a couple of troopships. But it was a glassy calm and the
destroyers "came for me." She got off a long-range torpedo at one
transport, and ducked before she could judge results. She apologises
for this on the grounds that one of her periscopes had been
damaged--not, as one would expect, by the gentleman leaning out of the
little steamboat, but by some casual shot--calibre not specified--the
day before. "And so," says E14, "I could not risk my remaining one
being bent." However, she heard a thud, and the depth-gauges--those
great clock-hands on the white-faced circles--"flicked," which is
another sign of dreadful certainty down under. When she rose again she
saw a destroyer convoying one burning transport to the nearest beach.
That afternoon she met a sister-boat (now gone to Valhalla), who told
her that she was almost out of torpedoes, and they arranged a
rendezvous for next day, but "before we could communicate we had to
dive, and I did not see her again." There must be many such meetings
in the Trade, under all skies--boat rising beside boat at the point
agreed upon for interchange of news and materials; the talk shouted
aloud with the speakers' eyes always on the horizon and all hands
standing by to dive, even in the middle of a sentence.
ANNOYING PATROL SHIPS
E14 kept to her job, on the edge of the procession of traffic. Patrol
vessels annoyed her to such an extent that "as I had not seen any
transports lately I decided to sink a patrol-ship as they were always
firing on me." So she torpedoed a thing that looked like a mine-layer,
and must have been something of that kidney, for it sank in less than
a minute. A tramp-steamer lumbering across the dead flat sea was
thoughtfully headed back to Constantinople by firing rifles ahead of
her. "Under fire the whole day," E14 observes philosophically. The
nature of her work made this inevitable. She was all among the
patrols, which kept her down a good deal and made her draw on her
batteries, and when she rose to charge, watchers ashore burned
oil-flares on the beach or made smokes among the hills according to
the light. In either case there would be a general rush of patrolling
craft of all kinds, from steam launches to gunboats. Nobody loves the
Trade, though E14 did several things which made her popular. She let
off a string of very surprised dhows (they were empty) in charge of a
tug which promptly fled back to Constantinople; stopped a couple of
steamers full of refugees, also bound for Constantinople, who were
"very pleased at being allowed to proceed" instead of being
lusitaniaed as they had expected. Another refugee-boat, fleeing from
goodness knows what horror, she chased into Rodosto Harbour, where,
though she could not see any troops, "they opened a heavy rifle fire
on us, hitting the boat several times. So I went away and chased two
more small tramps who returned towards Constantinople."
Transports, of course, were fair game, and in spite of the necessity
she was under of not risking her remaining eye, E14 got a big one in
a night of wind and made another hurriedly beach itself, which then
opened fire on her, assisted by the local population. "Returned fire
and proceeded," says E14. The diversion of returning fire is one much
appreciated by the lower-deck as furnishing a pleasant break in what
otherwise might be a monotonous and odoriferous task. There is no
drill laid down for this evolution, but etiquette and custom prescribe
that on going up the hatch you shall not too energetically prod the
next man ahead with the muzzle of your rifle. Likewise, when
descending in quick time before the hatch closes, you are requested
not to jump directly on the head of the next below. Otherwise you act
"as requisite" on your own initiative.
When she had used up all her torpedoes E14 prepared to go home by the
way she had come--there was no other--and was chased towards Gallipoli
by a mixed pack composed of a gunboat, a torpedo-boat, and a tug.
"They shepherded me to Gallipoli, one each side of me and one astern,
evidently expecting me to be caught by the nets there." She walked
very delicately for the next eight hours or so, all down the Straits,
underrunning the strong tides, ducking down when the fire from the
forts got too hot, verifying her position and the position of the
minefield, but always taking notes of every ship in sight, till
towards teatime she saw our Navy off the entrance and "rose to the
surface abeam of a French battleship who gave us a rousing cheer." She
had been away, as nearly as possible, three weeks, and a kind
destroyer escorted her to the base, where we will leave her for the
moment while we consider the performance of E11 (Lieutenant-Commander
M.E. Nasmith) in the same waters at about the same season.
E11 "proceeded" in the usual way, to the usual accompaniments of
hostile destroyers, up the Straits, and meets the usual difficulties
about charging-up when she gets through. Her wireless naturally takes
this opportunity to give trouble, and E11 is left, deaf and dumb,
somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Marmara, diving to avoid hostile
destroyers in the intervals of trying to come at the fault in her
aerial. (Yet it is noteworthy that the language of the Trade, though
technical, is no more emphatic or incandescent than that of top-side
Then she goes towards Constantinople, finds a Turkish torpedo-gunboat
off the port, sinks her, has her periscope smashed by a six-pounder,
retires, fits a new top on the periscope, and at 10.30 A.M.--they must
have needed it--pipes "All hands to bathe." Much refreshed, she gets
her wireless linked up at last, and is able to tell the authorities
where she is and what she is after.
MR. SILAS Q. SWING
At this point--it was off Rodosto--enter a small steamer which does
not halt when requested, and so is fired at with "several rounds" from
a rifle. The crew, on being told to abandon her, tumble into their
boats with such haste that they capsize two out of three.
"Fortunately," says E11, "they are able to pick up everybody." You can
imagine to yourself the confusion alongside, the raffle of odds and
ends floating out of the boats, and the general parti-coloured
hurrah's-nest all over the bright broken water. What you cannot
imagine is this: "An American gentleman then appeared on the upper
deck who informed us that his name was Silas Q. Swing, of the _Chicago
Sun_, and that he was pleased to make our acquaintance. He then
informed us that the steamer was proceeding to Chanak and he wasn't
sure if there were any stores aboard." If anything could astonish the
Trade at this late date, one would almost fancy that the apparition of
Silas Q. Swing ("very happy to meet you, gentlemen") might have
started a rivet or two on E11's placid skin. But she never even
quivered. She kept a lieutenant of the name of D'Oyley Hughes, an
expert in demolition parties; and he went aboard the tramp and
reported any quantity of stores--a six-inch gun, for instance, lashed
across the top of the forehatch (Silas Q. Swing must have been an
unobservant journalist), a six-inch gun-mounting in the forehold,
pedestals for twelve-pounders thrown in as dunnage, the afterhold full
of six-inch projectiles, and a scattering of other commodities. They
put the demolition charge well in among the six-inch stuff, and she
took it all to the bottom in a few minutes, after being touched off.
"Simultaneously with the sinking of the vessel," the E11 goes on,
"smoke was observed to the eastward." It was a steamer who had seen
the explosion and was running for Rodosto. E11 chased her till she
tied up to Rodosto pier, and then torpedoed her where she lay--a
heavily laden store-ship piled high with packing-cases. The water was
shallow here, and though E11 bumped along the bottom, which does not
make for steadiness of aim, she was forced to show a good deal of her
only periscope, and had it dented, but not damaged by rifle-fire from
the beach. As she moved out of Rodosto Bay she saw a paddle-boat
loaded with barbed wire, which stopped on the hail, but "as we ranged
alongside her, attempted to ram us, but failed owing to our superior
speed." Then she ran for the beach "very skilfully," keeping her stern
to E11 till she drove ashore beneath some cliffs. The demolition-squad
were just getting to work when "a party of horsemen appeared on the
cliffs above and opened a hot fire on the conning tower." E11 got out,
but owing to the shoal water it was some time before she could get
under enough to fire a torpedo. The stern of a stranded paddle-boat is
no great target and the thing exploded on the beach. Then she
"recharged batteries and proceeded slowly on the surface towards
Constantinople." All this between the ordinary office hours of 10
A.M. and 4 P.M.
Her next day's work opens, as no pallid writer of fiction dare begin,
thus: "Having dived unobserved into Constantinople, observed, etc."
Her observations were rather hampered by cross-tides, mud, and
currents, as well as the vagaries of one of her own torpedoes which
turned upside down and ran about promiscuously. It hit something at
last, and so did another shot that she fired, but the waters by
Constantinople Arsenal are not healthy to linger in after one has
scared up the whole sea-front, so "turned to go out." Matters were a
little better below, and E11 in her perilous passage might have been a
lady of the harem tied up in a sack and thrown into the Bosporus. She
grounded heavily; she bounced up 30 feet, was headed down again by a
manoeuvre easier to shudder over than to describe, and when she came
to rest on the bottom found herself being swivelled right round the
compass. They watched the compass with much interest. "It was
concluded, therefore, that the vessel (E11 is one of the few who
speaks of herself as a 'vessel' as well as a 'boat') was resting on
the shoal under the Leander Tower, and was being turned round by the
current." So they corrected her, started the motors, and "bumped
gently down into 85 feet of water" with no more knowledge than the
lady in the sack where the next bump would land them.
THE PREENING PERCH
And the following day was spent "resting in the centre of the Sea of
Marmara." That was their favourite preening perch between operations,
because it gave them a chance to tidy the boat and bathe, and they
were a cleanly people both in their methods and their persons. When
they boarded a craft and found nothing of consequence they "parted
with many expressions of good will," and E11 "had a good wash." She
gives her reasons at length; for going in and out of Constantinople
and the Straits is all in the day's work, but going dirty, you
understand, is serious. She had "of late noticed the atmosphere in the
boat becoming very oppressive, the reason doubtless being that there
was a quantity of dirty linen aboard, and also the scarcity of fresh
water necessitated a limit being placed on the frequency of personal
washing." Hence the centre of the Sea of Marmara; all hands playing
overside and as much laundry work as time and the Service allowed. One
of the reasons, by the way, why we shall be good friends with the Turk
again is that he has many of our ideas about decency.
In due time E11 went back to her base. She had discovered a way of
using unspent torpedoes twice over, which surprised the enemy, and she
had as nearly as possible been cut down by a ship which she thought
was running away from her. Instead of which (she made the discovery at
three thousand yards, both craft all out) the stranger steamed
straight at her. "The enemy then witnessed a somewhat spectacular dive
at full speed from the surface to 20 feet in as many seconds. He then
really did turn tail and was seen no more." Going through the Straits
she observed an empty troopship at anchor, but reserved her torpedoes
in the hope of picking up some battleships lower down. Not finding
these in the Narrows, she nosed her way back and sank the trooper,
"afterwards continuing journey down the Straits." Off Kilid Bahr
something happened; she got out of trim and had to be fully flooded
before she could be brought to her required depth. It might have been
whirlpools under water, or--other things. (They tell a story of a boat
which once went mad in these very waters, and for no reason
ascertainable from within plunged to depths that contractors do not
allow for; rocketed up again like a swordfish, and would doubtless
have so continued till she died, had not something she had fouled
dropped off and let her recover her composure.)
An hour later: "Heard a noise similar to grounding. Knowing this to be
impossible in the water in which the boat then was, I came up to 20
feet to investigate, and observed a large mine preceding the periscope
at a distance of about 20 feet, which was apparently hung up by its
moorings to the port hydroplane." Hydroplanes are the fins at bow and
stern which regulate a submarine's diving. A mine weighs anything from
hundredweights to half-tons. Sometimes it explodes if you merely think
about it; at others you can batter it like an empty sardine-tin and
it submits meekly; but at no time is it meant to wear on a hydroplane.
They dared not come up to unhitch it, "owing to the batteries ashore,"
so they pushed the dim shape ahead of them till they got outside Kum
Kale. They then went full astern, and emptied the after-tanks, which
brought the bows down, and in this posture rose to the surface, when
"the rush of water from the screws together with the sternway gathered
allowed the mine to fall clear of the vessel."
Now a fool, said Dr. Johnson, would have tried to describe that.
RAVAGES AND REPAIRS
Before we pick up the further adventures of H.M. Submarine E14 and her
partner E11, here is what you might call a cutting-out affair in the
Sea of Marmara which E12 (Lieutenant-Commander K.M. Bruce) put through
quite on the old lines.
E12's main motors gave trouble from the first, and she seems to have
been a cripple for most of that trip. She sighted two small steamers,
one towing two, and the other three, sailing vessels; making seven
keels in all. She stopped the first steamer, noticed she carried a lot
of stores, and, moreover, that her crew--she had no boats--were all on
deck in life-belts. Not seeing any gun, E12 ran up alongside and told
the first lieutenant to board. The steamer then threw a bomb at E12,
which struck, but luckily did not explode, and opened fire on the
boarding-party with rifles and a concealed 1-in. gun. E12 answered
with her six-pounder, and also with rifles. The two sailing ships in
tow, very properly, tried to foul E12's propellers and "also opened
fire with rifles."
It was as Orientally mixed a fight as a man could wish: The first
lieutenant and the boarding-party engaged on the steamer, E12 foul of
the steamer, and being fouled by the sailing ships; the six-pounder
methodically perforating the steamer from bow to stern; the steamer's
1-in. gun and the rifles from the sailing ships raking everything and
everybody else; E12's coxswain on the conning-tower passing up
ammunition; and E12's one workable motor developing "slight defects"
at, of course, the moment when power to manoeuvre was vital.
The account is almost as difficult to disentangle as the actual mess
must have been. At any rate, the six-pounder caused an explosion in
the steamer's ammunition, whereby the steamer sank in a quarter of an
hour, giving time--and a hot time it must have been--for E12 to get
clear of her and to sink the two sailing ships. She then chased the
second steamer, who slipped her three tows and ran for the shore. E12
knocked her about a good deal with gun-fire as she fled, saw her drive
on the beach well alight, and then, since the beach opened fire with a
gun at 1500 yards, went away to retinker her motors and write up her
log. She approved of her first lieutenant's behaviour "under very
trying circumstances" (this probably refers to the explosion of the
ammunition by the six-pounder which, doubtless, jarred the
boarding-party) and of the cox who acted as ammunition-hoist; and of
the gun's crew, who "all did very well" under rifle and small-gun fire
"at a range of about ten yards." But she never says what she really
said about her motors.
A BRAWL AT A PIER
Now we will take E14 on various work, either alone or as flagship of a
squadron composed of herself and Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith's boat,
E11. Hers was a busy midsummer, and she came to be intimate with all
sort of craft--such as the two-funnelled gunboat off Sar Kioi, who
"fired at us, and missed as usual"; hospital ships going back and
forth unmolested to Constantinople; "the gunboat which fired at me on
Sunday," and other old friends, afloat and ashore.
When the crew of the Turkish brigantine full of stores got into their
boats by request, and then "all stood up and cursed us," E14 did not
lose her temper, even though it was too rough to lie alongside the
abandoned ship. She told Acting Lieutenant R.W. Lawrence, of the Royal
Naval Reserve, to swim off to her, which he did, and after a "cursory
search"--Who can be expected to Sherlock Holmes for hours with nothing
on?--set fire to her "with the aid of her own matches and paraffin
Then E14 had a brawl with a steamer with a yellow funnel, blue top and
black band, lying at a pier among dhows. The shore took a hand in the
game with small guns and rifles, and, as E14 manoeuvred about the
roadstead "as requisite" there was a sudden unaccountable explosion
which strained her very badly. "I think," she muses, "I must have
caught the moorings of a mine with my tail as I was turning, and
exploded it. It is possible that it might have been a big shell
bursting over us, but I think this unlikely, as we were 30 feet at the
time." She is always a philosophical boat, anxious to arrive at the
reason of facts, and when the game is against her she admits it
There was nondescript craft of a few hundred tons, who "at a distance
did not look very warlike," but when chased suddenly played a couple
of six-pounders and "got off two dozen rounds at us before we were
under. Some of them were only about 20 yards off." And when a wily
steamer, after sidling along the shore, lay up in front of a town she
became "indistinguishable from the houses," and so was safe because we
do not löwestrafe open towns.
Sailing dhows full of grain had to be destroyed. At one rendezvous,
while waiting for E11, E14 dealt with three such cases and then "towed
the crews inshore and gave them biscuits, beef, and rum and water, as
they were rather wet." Passenger steamers were allowed to proceed,
because they were "full of people of both sexes," which is an
unkultured way of doing business.
Here is another instance of our insular type of mind. An empty dhow is
passed which E14 was going to leave alone, but it occurs to her that
the boat looks "rather deserted," and she fancies she sees two heads
in the water. So she goes back half a mile, picks up a couple of badly
exhausted men, frightened out of their wits, gives them food and
drink, and puts them aboard their property. Crews that jump overboard
have to be picked up, even if, as happened in one case, there are
twenty of them and one of them is a German bank manager taking a
quantity of money to the Chanak Bank. Hospital ships are carefully
looked over as they come and go, and are left to their own devices;
but they are rather a nuisance because they force E14 and others to
dive for them when engaged in stalking warrantable game. There were a
good many hospital ships, and as far as we can make out they all
played fair. E11 boarded one and "reported everything satisfactory."
A layman cannot tell from the reports which of the duties demanded the
most work--whether the continuous clearing out of transports, dhows,
and sailing ships, generally found close to the well-gunned and
attentive beach, or the equally continuous attacks on armed vessels of
every kind. Whatever else might be going on, there was always the
problem how to arrange for the crews of sunk ships. If a dhow has no
small boats, and you cannot find one handy, you have to take the crew
aboard, where they are horribly in the way, and add to the
oppressiveness of the atmosphere--like "the nine people, including two
very old men," whom E14 made honorary members of her mess for several
hours till she could put them ashore after dark. Oddly enough she
"could not get anything out of them." Imagine nine bewildered Moslems
suddenly decanted into the reeking clamorous bowels of a fabric
obviously built by Shaitan himself, and surrounded by--but our people
are people of the Book and not dog-eating Kaffirs, and I will wager a
great deal that that little company went ashore in better heart and
stomach than when they were passed down the conning-tower hatch.
Then there were queer amphibious battles with troops who had to be
shelled as they marched towards Gallipoli along the coast roads. E14
went out with E11 on this job, early one morning, each boat taking her
chosen section of landscape. Thrice E14 rose to fire, thinking she
saw the dust of feet, but "each time it turned out to be bullocks."
When the shelling was ended "I think the troops marching along that
road must have been delayed and a good many killed." The Turks got up
a field-gun in the course of the afternoon--your true believer never
hurries--which out-ranged both boats, and they left accordingly.
The next day she changed billets with E11, who had the luck to pick up
and put down a battleship close to Gallipoli. It turned out to be the
_Barbarossa_. Meantime E14 got a 5000-ton supply ship, and later had
to burn a sailing ship loaded with 200 bales of leaf and cut
tobacco--Turkish tobacco! Small wonder that E11 "came alongside that
afternoon and remained for an hour"--probably making cigarettes.
REFITTING UNDER DIFFICULTIES
Then E14 went back to her base. She had a hellish time among the
Dardanelles nets; was, of course, fired at by the forts, just missed a
torpedo from the beach, scraped a mine, and when she had time to take
stock found electric mine-wires twisted round her propellers and all
her hull scraped and scored with wire marks. But that, again, was only
in the day's work. The point she insisted upon was that she had been
for seventy days in the Sea of Marmara with no securer base for refit
than the centre of the same, and during all that while she had not had
"any engine-room defect which has not been put right by the
engine-room staff of the boat." The commander and the third officer
went sick for a while; the first lieutenant got gastro-enteritis and
was in bed (if you could see that bed!) "for the remainder of our stay
in the Sea of Marmara," but "this boat has never been out of running
order." The credit is ascribed to "the excellence of my chief
engine-room artificer, James Hollier Hague, O.N. 227715," whose name
is duly submitted to the authorities "for your consideration for
advancement to the rank of warrant officer."
Seventy days of every conceivable sort of risk, within and without, in
a boat which is all engine-room, except where she is sick-bay; twelve
thousand miles covered since last overhaul and "never out of running
order"--thanks to Mr. Hague. Such artists as he are the kind of
engine-room artificers that commanders intrigue to get hold of--each
for his own boat--and when the tales are told in the Trade, their
names, like Abou Ben Adhem's, lead all the rest.
I do not know the exact line of demarcation between engine-room and
gunnery repairs, but I imagine it is faint and fluid. E11, for
example, while she was helping E14 to shell a beached steamer, smashed
half her gun-mounting, "the gun-layer being thrown overboard, and the
gun nearly following him." However, the mischief was repaired in the
next twenty-four hours, which, considering the very limited deck space
of a submarine, means that all hands must have been moderately busy.
One hopes that they had not to dive often during the job.
But worse is to come. E2 (Commander D. Stocks) carried an externally
mounted gun which, while she was diving up the Dardanelles on
business, got hung up in the wires and stays of a net. She saw them
through the conning-tower scuttles at a depth of 80 ft--one wire
hawser round the gun, another round the conning-tower, and so on.
There was a continuous crackling of small explosions overhead which
she thought were charges aimed at her by the guard-boats who watch the
nets. She considered her position for a while, backed, got up steam,
barged ahead, and shore through the whole affair in one wild surge.
Imagine the roof of a navigable cottage after it has snapped telegraph
lines with its chimney, and you will get a small idea of what happens
to the hull of a submarine when she uses her gun to break wire hawsers
TROUBLE WITH A GUN
E2 was a wet, strained, and uncomfortable boat for the rest of her
cruise. She sank steamers, burned dhows; was worried by torpedo-boats
and hunted by Hun planes; hit bottom freely and frequently; silenced
forts that fired at her from lonely beaches; warned villages who might
have joined in the game that they had better keep to farming; shelled
railway lines and stations; would have shelled a pier, but found there
was a hospital built at one end of it, "so could not bombard"; came
upon dhows crowded with "female refugees" which she "allowed to
proceed," and was presented with fowls in return; but through it all
her chief preoccupation was that racked and strained gun and mounting.
When there was nothing else doing she reports sourly that she "worked
on gun." As a philosopher of the lower deck put it: "'Tisn't what you
blanky _do_ that matters, it's what you blanky _have_ to do." In other
words, worry, not work, kills.
E2's gun did its best to knock the heart out of them all. She had to
shift the wretched thing twice; once because the bolts that held it
down were smashed (the wire hawser must have pretty well pulled it off
its seat), and again because the hull beneath it leaked on pressure.
She went down to make sure of it. But she drilled and tapped and
adjusted, till in a short time the gun worked again and killed
steamers as it should. Meanwhile, the whole boat leaked. All the
plates under the old gun-position forward leaked; she leaked aft
through damaged hydroplane guards, and on her way home they had to
keep the water down by hand pumps while she was diving through the
nets. Where she did not leak outside she leaked internally, tank
leaking into tank, so that the petrol got into the main fresh-water
supply and the men had to be put on allowance. The last pint was
served out when she was in the narrowest part of the Narrows, a place
where one's mouth may well go dry of a sudden.
Here for the moment the records end. I have been at some pains not to
pick and choose among them. So far from doctoring or heightening any
of the incidents, I have rather understated them; but I hope I have
made it clear that through all the haste and fury of these multiplied
actions, when life and death and destruction turned on the twitch of a
finger, not one life of any non-combatant was wittingly taken. They
were carefully picked up or picked out, taken below, transferred to
boats, and despatched or personally conducted in the intervals of
business to the safe, unexploding beach. Sometimes they part from
their chaperones "with many expressions of good will," at others they
seem greatly relieved and rather surprised at not being knocked on the
head after the custom of their Allies. But the boats with a hundred
things on their minds no more take credit for their humanity than
their commanders explain the feats for which they won their respective
DESTROYERS AT JUTLAND
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
_Not this tide._
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"
_Not with this wind blowing, and this tide._
"Has any one else had word of him?"
_Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing and this tide._
"Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?"
_None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he didn't shame his kind
Not even with that wind blowing and that tide._
_Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide,
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!_
STORIES OF THE BATTLE
CRIPPLE AND PARALYTIC
There was much destroyer-work in the Battle of Jutland. The actual
battle field may not have been more than twenty thousand square miles,
but the incidental patrols, from first to last, must have covered many
times that area. Doubtless the next generation will comb out every
detail of it. All we need remember is there were many squadrons of
battleships and cruisers engaged over the face of the North Sea, and
that they were accompanied in their dread comings and goings by
multitudes of destroyers, who attacked the enemy both by day and by
night from the afternoon of May 31 to the morning of June 1, 1916. We
are too close to the gigantic canvas to take in the meaning of the
picture; our children stepping backward through the years may get the
true perspective and proportions.
To recapitulate what every one knows.
The German fleet came out of its North Sea ports, scouting ships
ahead; then destroyers, cruisers, battle-cruisers, and, last, the main
battle fleet in the rear. It moved north, parallel with the coast of
stolen Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland. Our fleets were already out;
the main battle fleet (Admiral Jellicoe) sweeping down from the north,
and our battle-cruiser fleet (Admiral Beatty) feeling for the enemy.
Our scouts came in contact with the enemy on the afternoon of May 31
about 100 miles off the Jutland coast, steering north-west. They
satisfied themselves he was in strength, and reported accordingly to
our battle-cruiser fleet, which engaged the enemy's battle-cruisers at
about half-past three o'clock. The enemy steered south-east to rejoin
their own fleet, which was coming up from that quarter. We fought him
on a parallel course as he ran for more than an hour.
Then his battle-fleet came in sight, and Beatty's fleet went about and
steered north-west in order to retire on our battle-fleet, which was
hurrying down from the north. We returned fighting very much over the
same waters as we had used in our slant south. The enemy up till now
had lain to the eastward of us, whereby he had the advantage in that
thick weather of seeing our hulls clear against the afternoon light,
while he himself worked in the mists. We then steered a little to the
north-west bearing him off towards the east till at six o'clock Beatty
had headed the enemy's leading ships and our main battle-fleet came in
sight from the north. The enemy broke back in a loop, first eastward,
then south, then south-west as our fleet edged him off from the land,
and our main battle-fleet, coming up behind them, followed in their
wake. Thus for a while we had the enemy to westward of us, where he
made a better mark; but the day was closing and the weather
thickened, and the enemy wanted to get away. At a quarter past eight
the enemy, still heading south-west, was covered by his destroyers in
a great screen of grey smoke, and he got away.
NIGHT AND MORNING
As darkness fell, our fleets lay between the enemy and his home ports.
During the night our heavy ships, keeping well clear of possible
mine-fields, swept down south to south and west of the Horns Reef, so
that they might pick him up in the morning. When morning came our main
fleet could find no trace of the enemy to the southward, but our
destroyer-flotillas further north had been very busy with enemy ships,
apparently running for the Horns Reef Channel. It looks, then, as if
when we lost sight of the enemy in the smoke screen and the darkness
he had changed course and broken for home astern our main fleets. And
whether that was a sound manoeuvre or otherwise, he and the still
flows of the North Sea alone can tell.
But how is a layman to give any coherent account of an affair where a
whole country's coast-line was background to battle covering
geographical degrees? The records give an impression of illimitable
grey waters, nicked on their uncertain horizons with the smudge and
blur of ships sparkling with fury against ships hidden under the curve
of the world. One sees these distances maddeningly obscured by walking
mists and weak fogs, or wiped out by layers of funnel and gun smoke,
and realises how, at the pace the ships were going, anything might be
stumbled upon in the haze or charge out of it when it lifted. One
comprehends, too, how the far-off glare of a great vessel afire might
be reported as a local fire on a near-by enemy, or _vice versa_; how a
silhouette caught, for an instant, in a shaft of pale light let down
from the low sky might be fatally difficult to identify till too late.
But add to all these inevitable confusions and misreckonings of time,
shape, and distance, charges at every angle of squadrons through and
across other squadrons; sudden shifts of the centres of the fights,
and even swifter restorations; wheelings, sweepings, and regroupments
such as accompany the passage across space of colliding universes.
Then blanket the whole inferno with the darkness of night at full
speed, and--see what you can make of it.
A little time after the action began to heat up between our
battle-cruisers and the enemy's, eight or ten of our destroyers opened
the ball for their branch of the service by breaking up the attack of
an enemy light cruiser and fifteen destroyers. Of these they accounted
for at least two destroyers--some think more--and drove the others
back on their battle-cruisers. This scattered that fight a good deal
over the sea. Three of our destroyers held on for the enemy's
battle-fleet, who came down on them at ranges which eventually grew
less than 3000 yards. Our people ought to have been lifted off the
seas bodily, but they managed to fire a couple of torpedoes apiece
while the range was diminishing. They had no illusions. Says one of
the three, speaking of her second shot, which she loosed at fairly
close range, "This torpedo was fired because it was considered very
unlikely that the ship would escape disablement before another
opportunity offered." But still they lived--three destroyers against
all a battle-cruiser fleet's quick-firers, as well as the fire of a
batch of enemy destroyers at 600 yards. And they were thankful for
small mercies. "The position being favourable," a third torpedo was
fired from each while they yet floated.
At 2500 yards, one destroyer was hit somewhere in the vitals and
swerved badly across her next astern, who "was obliged to alter course
to avoid a collision, thereby failing to fire a fourth torpedo." Then
that next astern "observed signal for destroyers' recall," and went
back to report to her flotilla captain--alone. Of her two companions,
one was "badly hit and remained stopped between the lines." The other
"remained stopped, but was afloat when last seen." Ships that "remain
stopped" are liable to be rammed or sunk by methodical gun-fire. That
was, perhaps, fifty minutes' work put in before there was any really
vicious "edge" to the action, and it did not steady the nerves of the
enemy battle-cruisers any more than another attack made by another
detachment of ours.
"What does one do when one passes a ship that 'remains stopped'?" I
asked of a youth who had had experience.
"Nothing special. They cheer, and you cheer back. One doesn't think
about it till afterwards. You see, it may be your luck in another
There were many other torpedo attacks in all parts of the battle that
misty afternoon, including a quaint episode of an enemy light cruiser
who "looked as if she were trying" to torpedo one of our
battle-cruisers while the latter was particularly engaged. A destroyer
of ours, returning from a special job which required delicacy, was
picking her way back at 30 knots through batches of enemy
battle-cruisers and light cruisers with the idea of attaching herself
to the nearest destroyer-flotilla and making herself useful. It
occurred to her that as she "was in a most advantageous position for
repelling enemy's destroyers endeavouring to attack, she could not do
better than to remain on the 'engaged bow' of our battle-cruiser." So
she remained and considered things.
There was an enemy battle-cruiser squadron in the offing; with several
enemy light cruisers ahead of that squadron, and the weather was
thickish and deceptive. She sighted the enemy light cruiser, "class
uncertain," only a few thousand yards away, and "decided to attack her
in order to frustrate her firing torpedoes at our Battle Fleet." (This
in case the authorities should think that light cruiser wished to buy
rubber.) So she fell upon the light cruiser with every gun she had, at
between two and four thousand yards, and secured a number of hits,
just the same as at target practice. While thus occupied she sighted
out of the mist a squadron of enemy battle-cruisers that had worried
her earlier in the afternoon. Leaving the light cruiser, she closed to
what she considered a reasonable distance of the newcomers, and let
them have, as she thought, both her torpedoes. She possessed an active
Acting Sub-Lieutenant, who, though officers of that rank think
otherwise, is not very far removed from an ordinary midshipman of the
type one sees in tow of relatives at the Army and Navy Stores. He sat
astride one of the tubes to make quite sure things were in order, and
fired when the sights came on.
_But_, at that very moment, a big shell hit the destroyer on the side
and there was a tremendous escape of steam. Believing--since she had
seen one torpedo leave the tube before the smash came--believing that
both her tubes had been fired, the destroyer turned away "at greatly
reduced speed" (the shell reduced it), and passed, quite reasonably
close, the light cruiser whom she had been hammering so faithfully
till the larger game appeared. Meantime, the Sub-Lieutenant was
exploring what damage had been done by the big shell. He discovered
that only _one_ of the two torpedoes had left the tubes, and
"observing enemy light cruiser beam on and apparently temporarily
stopped," he fired the providential remainder at her, and it hit her
below the conning-tower and well and truly exploded, as was witnessed
by the Sub-Lieutenant himself, the Commander, a leading signalman, and
several other ratings. Luck continued to hold! The Acting
Sub-Lieutenant further reported that "we still had three torpedoes
left and at the same time drew my attention to enemy's line of
battleships." They rather looked as if they were coming down with
intent to assault. So the Sub-Lieutenant fired the rest of the
torpedoes, which at least started off correctly from the shell-shaken
tubes, and must have crossed the enemy's line. When torpedoes turn up
among a squadron, they upset the steering and distract the attention
of all concerned. Then the destroyer judged it time to take stock of
her injuries. Among other minor defects she could neither steam,
steer, nor signal.
TOWING UNDER DIFFICULTIES
Mark how virtue is rewarded! Another of our destroyers an hour or so
previously had been knocked clean out of action, before she had done
anything, by a big shell which gutted a boiler-room and started an oil
fire. (That is the drawback to oil.) She crawled out between the
battleships till she "reached an area of comparative calm" and
repaired damage. She says: "The fire having been dealt with it was
found a mat kept the stokehold dry. My only trouble now being lack of
speed, I looked round for useful employment, and saw a destroyer in
great difficulties, so closed her." That destroyer was our paralytic
friend of the intermittent torpedo-tubes, and a grateful ship she was
when her crippled sister (but still good for a few knots) offered her
a tow, "under very trying conditions with large enemy ships
approaching." So the two set off together, Cripple and Paralytic, with
heavy shells falling round them, as sociable as a couple of lame
hounds. Cripple worked up to 12 knots, and the weather grew vile, and
the tow parted. Paralytic, by this time, had raised steam in a boiler
or two, and made shift to get along slowly on her own, Cripple
hirpling beside her, till Paralytic could not make any more headway in
that rising sea, and Cripple had to tow her once more. Once more the
tow parted. So they tied Paralytic up rudely and effectively with a
cable round her after bollards and gun (presumably because of strained
forward bulkheads) and hauled her stern-first, through heavy seas, at
continually reduced speeds, doubtful of their position, unable to
sound because of the seas, and much pestered by a wind which backed
without warning, till, at last, they made land, and turned into the
hospital appointed for brave wounded ships. Everybody speaks well of
Cripple. Her name crops up in several reports, with such compliments
as the men of the sea use when they see good work. She herself speaks
well of her Lieutenant, who, as executive officer, "took charge of the
fire and towing arrangements in a very creditable manner," and also of
Tom Battye and Thomas Kerr, engine-room artificer and stoker petty
officer, who "were in the stokehold at the time of the shell striking,
and performed cool and prompt decisive action, although both suffering
from shock and slight injuries."
Have you ever noticed that men who do Homeric deeds often describe
them in Homeric language? The sentence "I looked round for useful
employment" is worthy of Ulysses when "there was an evil sound at the
ships of men who perished and of the ships themselves broken at the
Roughly, very roughly, speaking, our destroyers enjoyed three phases
of "prompt decisive action"--the first, a period of daylight attacks
(from 4 to 6 P.M.) such as the one I have just described, while the
battle was young and the light fairly good on the afternoon of May 31;
the second, towards dark, when the light had lessened and the enemy
were more uneasy, and, I think, in more scattered formation; the
third, when darkness had fallen, and the destroyers had been strung
out astern with orders to help the enemy home, which they did all
night as opportunity offered. One cannot say whether the day or the
night work was the more desperate. From private advices, the young
gentlemen concerned seem to have functioned with efficiency either
way. As one of them said: "After a bit, you see, we were all pretty
much on our own, and you could really find out what your ship could
I will tell you later of a piece of night work not without merit.
THE NIGHT HUNT
RAMMING AN ENEMY CRUISER
As I said, we will confine ourselves to something quite sane and
simple which does not involve more than half-a-dozen different
When the German fleet ran for home, on the night of May 31, it seems
to have scattered--"starred," I believe, is the word for the
evolution--in a general _sauve qui peut_, while the Devil, livelily
represented by our destroyers, took the hindmost. Our flotillas were
strung out far and wide on this job. One man compared it to hounds
hunting half a hundred separate foxes.
I take the adventures of several couples of destroyers who, on the
night of May 31, were nosing along somewhere towards the
Schleswig-Holstein coast, ready to chop any Hun-stuff coming back to
earth by that particular road. The leader of one line was Gehenna, and
the next two ships astern of her were Eblis and Shaitan, in the order
given. There were others, of course, but with the exception of one
Goblin they don't come violently into this tale. There had been a good
deal of promiscuous firing that evening, and actions were going on all
round. Towards midnight our destroyers were overtaken by several
three-and four-funnel German ships (cruisers they thought) hurrying
home. At this stage of the game anybody might have been
anybody--pursuer or pursued. The Germans took no chances, but switched
on their searchlights and opened fire on Gehenna. Her acting
sub-lieutenant reports: "A salvo hit us forward. I opened fire with
the after-guns. A shell then struck us in a steam-pipe, and I could
see nothing but steam. But both starboard torpedo-tubes were fired."
Eblis, Gehenna's next astern, at once fired a torpedo at the second
ship in the German line, a four-funnelled cruiser, and hit her between
the second funnel and the mainmast, when "she appeared to catch fire
fore and aft simultaneously, heeled right over to starboard, and
undoubtedly sank." Eblis loosed off a second torpedo and turned aside
to reload, firing at the same time to distract the enemy's attention
from Gehenna, who was now ablaze fore and aft. Gehenna's acting
sub-lieutenant (the only executive officer who survived) says that by
the time the steam from the broken pipe cleared he found Gehenna
stopped, nearly everybody amidships killed or wounded, the
cartridge-boxes round the guns exploding one after the other as the
fires took hold, and the enemy not to be seen. Three minutes or less
did all that damage. Eblis had nearly finished reloading when a shot
struck the davit that was swinging her last torpedo into the tube and
wounded all hands concerned. Thereupon she dropped torpedo work, fired
at an enemy searchlight which winked and went out, and was closing in
to help Gehenna when she found herself under the noses of a couple of
enemy cruisers. "The nearer one," he says, "altered course to ram me
apparently." The Senior Service writes in curiously lawyer-like
fashion, but there is no denying that they act quite directly. "I
therefore put my helm hard aport and the two ships met and rammed each
other, port bow to port bow." There could have been no time to think
and, for Eblis's commander on the bridge, none to gather information.
But he had observant subordinates, and he writes--and I would humbly
suggest that the words be made the ship's motto for evermore--he
writes, "Those aft noted" that the enemy cruiser had certain marks on
her funnel and certain arrangements of derricks on each side which,
quite apart from the evidence she left behind her, betrayed her class.
Eblis and she met. Says Eblis: "I consider I must have considerably
damaged this cruiser, as 20 feet of her side plating was left in my
foc'sle." Twenty feet of ragged rivet-slinging steel, razoring and
reaping about in the dark on a foc'sle that had collapsed like a
concertina! It was very fair plating too. There were side-scuttle
holes in it--what we passengers would call portholes. But it might
have been better, for Eblis reports sorrowfully, "by the thickness of
the coats of paint (duly given in 32nds of the inch) she would not
appear to have been a very new ship."
A FUGITIVE ON FIRE
New or old, the enemy had done her best. She had completely demolished
Eblis's bridge and searchlight platform, brought down the mast and the
fore-funnel, ruined the whaler and the dinghy, split the foc'sle open
above water from the stem to the galley which is abaft the bridge, and
below water had opened it up from the stem to the second bulkhead. She
had further ripped off Eblis's skin-plating for an amazing number of
yards on one side of her, and had fired a couple of large-calibre
shells into Eblis at point-blank range, narrowly missing her vitals.
Even so, Eblis is as impartial as a prize-court. She reports that the
second shot, a trifle of eight inches, "may have been fired at a
different time or just after colliding." But the night was yet young,
and "just after getting clear of this cruiser an enemy battle-cruiser
grazed past our stern at high speed" and again the judgmatic mind--"I
think she must have intended to ram us." She was a large
three-funnelled thing, her centre funnel shot away and "lights were
flickering under her foc'sle as if she was on fire forward." Fancy the
vision of her, hurtling out of the dark, red-lighted from within, and
fleeing on like a man with his throat cut!
[As an interlude, all enemy cruisers that night were not keen on
ramming. They wanted to get home. A man I know who was on another part
of the drive saw a covey bolt through our destroyers; and had just
settled himself for a shot at one of them when the night threw up a
second bird coming down full speed on his other beam. He had bare
time to jink between the two as they whizzed past. One switched on her
searchlight and fired a whole salvo at him point blank. The heavy
stuff went between his funnels. She must have sighted along her own
beam of light, which was about a thousand yards.
"How did you feel?" I asked.
"I was rather sick. It was my best chance all that night, and I had to
miss it or be cut in two."
"What happened to the cruisers?"
"Oh, they went on, and I heard 'em being attended to by some of our
fellows. They didn't know what they were doing, or they couldn't have
missed me sitting, the way they did.]
THE CONFIDENTIAL BOOKS
After all that Eblis picked herself up, and discovered that she was
still alive, with a dog's chance of getting to port. But she did not
bank on it. That grand slam had wrecked the bridge, pinning the
commander under the wreckage. By the time he had extricated himself
he "considered it advisable to throw overboard the steel chest and
dispatch-box of confidential and secret books." These are never
allowed to fall into strange hands, and their proper disposal is the
last step but one in the ritual of the burial service of His Majesty's
ships at sea. Gehenna, afire and sinking, out somewhere in the dark,
was going through it on her own account. This is her Acting
Sub-Lieutenant's report: "The confidential books were got up. The
First Lieutenant gave the order: 'Every man aft,' and the confidential
books were thrown overboard. The ship soon afterwards heeled over to
starboard and the bows went under. The First Lieutenant gave the
order: 'Everybody for themselves.' The ship sank in about a minute,
the stern going straight up into the air."
But it was not written in the Book of Fate that stripped and battered
Eblis should die that night as Gehenna died. After the burial of the
books it was found that the several fires on her were manageable,
that she "was not making water aft of the damage," which meant
two-thirds of her were, more or less, in commission, and, best of all,
that three boilers were usable in spite of the cruiser's shells. So
she "shaped course and speed to make the least water and the most
progress towards land." On the way back the wind shifted eight points
without warning--it was this shift, if you remember, that so
embarrassed Cripple and Paralytic on their homeward crawl--and, what
with one thing and another, Eblis was unable to make port till the
scandalously late hour of noon on June 2, "the mutual ramming having
occurred about 11.40 P.M. on May 31." She says, this time without any
legal reservation whatever, "I cannot speak too highly of the courage,
discipline, and devotion of the officers and ship's company."
Her recommendations are a Compendium of Godly Deeds for the Use of
Mariners. They cover pretty much all that man may be expected to do.
There was, as there always is, a first lieutenant who, while his
commander was being extricated from the bridge wreckage, took charge
of affairs and steered the ship first from the engine-room, or what
remained of it, and later from aft, and otherwise manoeuvred as
requisite, among doubtful bulkheads. In his leisure he "improvised
means of signalling," and if there be not one joyous story behind that
smooth sentence I am a Hun!
THE ART OF IMPROVISING
They all improvised like the masters of craft they were. The chief
engine-room artificer, after he had helped to put out fires,
improvised stops to the gaps which were left by the carrying away of
the forward funnel and mast. He got and kept up steam "to a much
higher point than would have appeared at all possible," and when the
sea rose, as it always does if you are in trouble, he "improvised
pumping and drainage arrangements, thus allowing the ship to steam at
a good speed on the whole." There could not have been more than 40
feet of hole.
The surgeon--a probationer--performed an amputation single-handed in
the wreckage by the bridge, and by his "wonderful skill, resource, and
unceasing care and devotion undoubtedly saved the lives of the many
seriously wounded men." That no horror might be lacking, there was "a
short circuit among the bridge wreckage for a considerable time." The
searchlight and wireless were tangled up together, and the electricity
leaked into everything.
There were also three wise men who saved the ship whose names must not
be forgotten. They were Chief Engine-room Artificer Lee, Stoker Petty
Officer Gardiner, and Stoker Elvins. When the funnel carried away it
was touch and go whether the foremost boiler would not explode. These
three "put on respirators and kept the fans going till all fumes,
etc., were cleared away." To each man, you will observe, his own
particular Hell which he entered of his own particular initiative.
Lastly, there were the two remaining Quartermasters--mutinous dogs,
both of 'em--one wounded in the right hand and the other in the left,
who took the wheel between them all the way home, thus improvising one
complete Navy-pattern Quartermaster, and "refused to be relieved
during the whole thirty-six hours before the ship returned to port."
So Eblis passes out of the picture with "never a moan or complaint
from a single wounded man, and in spite of the rough weather of June
1st they all remained cheery." They had one Hun cruiser, torpedoed, to
their credit, and strong evidence abroad that they had knocked the end
out of another.
But Gehenna went down, and those of her crew who remained hung on to
the rafts that destroyers carry till they were picked up about the
dawn by Shaitan, third in the line, who, at that hour, was in no shape
to give much help. Here is Shaitan's tale. She saw the unknown
cruisers overtake the flotilla, saw their leader switch on
searchlights and open fire as she drew abreast of Gehenna, and at
once fired a torpedo at the third German ship. Shaitan could not see
Eblis, her next ahead, for, as we know, Eblis after firing her
torpedoes had hauled off to reload. When the enemy switched his
searchlights off Shaitan hauled out too. It is not wholesome for
destroyers to keep on the same course within a thousand yards of big
She picked up a destroyer of another division, Goblin, who for the
moment had not been caught by the enemy's searchlights and had
profited by this decent obscurity to fire a torpedo at the hindmost of
the cruisers. Almost as Shaitan took station behind Goblin the latter
was lighted up by a large ship and heavily fired at. The enemy fled,
but she left Goblin out of control, with a grisly list of casualties,
and her helm jammed. Goblin swerved, returned, and swerved again;
Shaitan astern tried to clear her, and the two fell aboard each other,
Goblin's bows deep in Shaitan's fore-bridge. While they hung thus,
locked, an unknown destroyer rammed Shaitan aft, cutting off several
feet of her stern and leaving her rudder jammed hard over. As complete
a mess as the Personal Devil himself could have devised, and all due
to the merest accident of a few panicky salvoes. Presently the two
ships worked clear in a smother of steam and oil, and went their
several ways. Quite a while after she had parted from Shaitan, Goblin
discovered several of Shaitan's people, some of them wounded, on her
own foc'sle, where they had been pitched by the collision. Goblin,
working her way homeward on such boilers as remained, carried on a
one-gun fight at a few cables' distance with some enemy destroyers,
who, not knowing what state she was in, sheered off after a few
rounds. Shaitan, holed forward and opened up aft, came across the
survivors from Gehenna clinging to their raft, and took them aboard.
Then some of our destroyers--they were thick on the sea that
night--tried to tow her stern-first, for Goblin had cut her up badly
forward. But, since Shaitan lacked any stern, and her rudder was
jammed hard across where the stern should have been, the hawsers
parted, and, after leave asked of lawful authority, across all that
waste of waters, they sank Shaitan by gun-fire, having first taken all
the proper steps about the confidential books. Yet Shaitan had had her
little crumb of comfort ere the end. While she lay crippled she saw
quite close to her a German cruiser that was trailing homeward in the
dawn gradually heel over and sink.
This completes my version of the various accounts of the four
destroyers directly concerned for a few hours, on one minute section
of one wing of our battle. Other ships witnessed other aspects of the
agony and duly noted them as they went about their business. One of
our battleships, for instance, made out by the glare of burning
Gehenna that the supposed cruiser that Eblis torpedoed was a German
battleship of a certain class. So Gehenna did not die in vain, and we
may take it that the discovery did not unduly depress Eblis's wounded
ASKING FOR TROUBLE
The rest of the flotilla that the four destroyers belonged to had
their own adventures later. One of them, chasing or being chased, saw
Goblin out of control just before Goblin and Shaitan locked, and
narrowly escaped adding herself to that triple collision. Another
loosed a couple of torpedoes at the enemy ships who were attacking
Gehenna, which, perhaps, accounts for the anxiety of the enemy to
break away from that hornets' nest as soon as possible. Half a dozen
or so of them ran into four German battleships, which they set about
torpedoing at ranges varying from half a mile to a mile and a half. It
was asking for trouble and they got it; but they got in return at
least one big ship, and the same observant battleship of ours who
identified Eblis's bird reported _three_ satisfactory explosions in
half an hour, followed by a glare that lit up all the sky. One of the
flotilla, closing on what she thought was the smoke of a sister in
difficulties, found herself well in among the four battleships. "It
was too late to get away," she says, so she attacked, fired her
torpedo, was caught up in the glare of a couple of searchlights, and
pounded to pieces in five minutes, not even her rafts being left. She
went down with her colours flying, having fought to the last available
Another destroyer who had borne a hand in Gehenna's trouble had her
try at the four battleships and got in a torpedo at 800 yards. She saw
it explode and the ship take a heavy list. "Then I was chased," which
is not surprising. She picked up a friend who could only do 20 knots.
They sighted several Hun destroyers who fled from them; then dropped
on to four Hun destroyers all together, who made great parade of
commencing action, but soon afterwards "thought better of it, and
turned away." So you see, in that flotilla alone there was every
variety of fight, from the ordered attacks of squadrons under control,
to single ship affairs, every turn of which depended on the second's
decision of the men concerned; endurance to the hopeless end; bluff
and cunning; reckless advance and red-hot flight; clear vision and as
much of blank bewilderment as the Senior Service permits its children
to indulge in. That is not much. When a destroyer who has been dodging
enemy torpedoes and gun-fire in the dark realises about midnight that
she is "following a strange British flotilla, having lost sight of my
own," she "decides to remain with them," and shares their fortunes and
whatever language is going.
If lost hounds could speak when they cast up next day, after an
unchecked night among the wild life of the dark, they would talk much
as our destroyers do.
The doorkeepers of Zion,
They do not always stand
In helmet and whole armour,
With halberds in their hand;
But, being sure of Zion,
And all her mysteries,
They rest awhile in Zion,
Sit down and smile in Zion;
Ay, even jest in Zion,
In Zion, at their ease.
The gatekeepers of Baal,
They dare not sit or lean,
But fume and fret and posture
And foam and curse between;
For being bound to Baal,
Whose sacrifice is vain,
Their rest is scant with Baal,
They glare and pant for Baal,
They mouth and rant for Baal,
For Baal in their pain.
But we will go to Zion,
By choice and not through dread,
With these our present comrades
And those our present dead;
And, being free of Zion
In both her fellowships,
Sit down and sup in Zion--
Stand up and drink in Zion
Whatever cup in Zion
Is offered to our lips!
THE MEANING OF "JOSS"
A YOUNG OFFICER'S LETTER
As one digs deeper into the records, one sees the various temperaments
of men revealing themselves through all the formal wording. One
commander may be an expert in torpedo-work, whose first care is how
and where his shots went, and whether, under all circumstances of
pace, light, and angle, the best had been achieved. Destroyers do not
carry unlimited stocks of torpedoes. It rests with commanders whether
they shall spend with a free hand at first or save for night-work
ahead--risk a possible while he is yet afloat, or hang on coldly for a
certainty. So in the old whaling days did the harponeer bring up or
back off his boat till some shift of the great fish's bulk gave him
sure opening at the deep-seated life.
And then comes the question of private judgment. "I thought so-and-so
would happen. Therefore, I did thus and thus." Things may or may not
turn out as anticipated, but that is merely another of the million
chances of the sea. Take a case in point. A flotilla of our destroyers
sighted six (there had been eight the previous afternoon) German
battleships of Kingly and Imperial caste very early in the morning of
the 1st June, and duly attacked. At first our people ran parallel to
the enemy, then, as far as one can make out, headed them and swept
round sharp to the left, firing torpedoes from their port or left-hand
tubes. Between them they hit a battleship, which went up in flame and
_débris_. But one of the flotilla had not turned with the rest. She
had anticipated that the attack would be made on another quarter, and,
for certain technical reasons, she was not ready. When she was, she
turned, and single-handed--the rest of the flotilla having finished
and gone on--carried out two attacks on the five remaining
battleships. She got one of them amidships, causing a terrific
explosion and flame above the masthead, which signifies that the
magazine has been touched off. She counted the battleships when the
smoke had cleared, and there were but four of them. She herself was
not hit, though shots fell close. She went her way, and, seeing
nothing of her sisters, picked up another flotilla and stayed with it
till the end. Do I make clear the maze of blind hazard and wary
judgment in which our men of the sea must move?
SAVED BY A SMOKE SCREEN
Some of the original flotilla were chased and headed about by cruisers
after their attack on the six battleships, and a single shell from
battleship or cruiser reduced one of them to such a condition that she
was brought home by her sub-lieutenant and a midshipman. Her captain,
first lieutenant, gunner, torpedo coxswain, and both signalmen were
either killed or wounded; the bridge, with charts, instruments, and
signalling gear went; all torpedoes were expended; a gun was out of
action, and the usual cordite fires developed. Luckily, the engines
were workable. She escaped under cover of a smoke-screen, which is an
unbearably filthy outpouring of the densest smoke, made by increasing
the proportion of oil to air in the furnace-feed. It rolls forth from
the funnels looking solid enough to sit upon, spreads in a
searchlight-proof pat of impenetrable beastliness, and in still
weather hangs for hours. But it saved that ship.
It is curious to note the subdued tone of a boy's report when by some
accident of slaughter he is raised to command. There are certain
formalities which every ship must comply with on entering certain
ports. No fully-striped commander would trouble to detail them any
more than he would the aspect of his Club porter. The young 'un puts
it all down, as who should say: "I rang the bell, wiped my feet on the
mat, and asked if they were at home." He is most careful of the port
proprieties, and since he will be sub. again to-morrow, and all his
equals will tell him exactly how he ought to have handled her, he
almost apologises for the steps he took--deeds which ashore might be
called cool or daring.
The Senior Service does not gush. There are certain formulae
appropriate to every occasion. One of our destroyers, who was knocked
out early in the day and lay helpless, was sighted by several of her
companions. One of them reported her to the authorities, but, being
busy at the time, said he did not think himself justified in hampering
himself with a disabled ship in the middle of an action. It was not as
if she was sinking either. She was only holed foreward and aft, with a
bad hit in the engine-room, and her steering-gear knocked out. In this
posture she cheered the passing ships, and set about repairing her
hurts with good heart and a smiling countenance. She managed to get
under some sort of way at midnight, and next day was taken in tow by a
friend. She says officially, "his assistance was invaluable, as I had
no oil left and met heavy weather."
What actually happened was much less formal. Fleet destroyers, as a
rule, do not worry about navigation. They take their orders from the
flagship, and range out and return, on signal, like sheep-dogs whose
fixed point is their shepherd. Consequently, when they break loose on
their own they may fetch up rather doubtful of their whereabouts--as
this injured one did. After she had been so kindly taken in tow, she
inquired of her friend ("Message captain to captain")--"Have you any
notion where we are?" The friend replied, "I have not, but I will find
out." So the friend waited on the sun with the necessary implements,
which luckily had not been smashed, and in due time made: "Our
observed position at this hour is thus and thus." The tow,
irreverently, "Is it? Didn't know you were a navigator." The friend,
with hauteur, "Yes; it's rather a hobby of mine." The tow, "Had no
idea it was as bad as all that; but I'm afraid I'll have to trust you
this time. Go ahead, and be quick about it." They reached a port,
correctly enough, but to this hour the tow, having studied with the
friend at a place called Dartmouth, insists that it was pure Joss.
And Joss, which is luck, fortune, destiny, the irony of Fate or
Nemesis, is the greatest of all the Battle-gods that move on the
waters. As I will show you later, knowledge of gunnery and a delicate
instinct for what is in the enemy's minds may enable a destroyer to
thread her way, slowing, speeding, and twisting between the heavy
salvoes of opposing fleets. As the dank-smelling waterspouts rise and
break, she judges where the next grove of them will sprout. If her
judgment is correct, she may enter it in her report as a little
feather in her cap. But it is Joss when the stray 12-inch shell,
hurled by a giant at some giant ten miles away, falls on her from
Heaven and wipes out her and her profound calculations. This was seen
to happen to a Hun destroyer in mid-attack. While she was being
laboriously dealt with by a 4-inch gun something immense took her,
and--she was not.
Joss it is, too, when the cruiser's 8-inch shot, that should have
raked out your innards from the forward boiler to the ward-room stove,
deflects miraculously, like a twig dragged through deep water, and,
almost returning on its track, skips off unbursten and leaves you
reprieved by the breadth of a nail from three deaths in one. Later, a
single splinter, no more, may cut your oil-supply pipes as dreadfully
and completely as a broken wind-screen in a collision cuts the
surprised motorist's throat. Then you must lie useless, fighting
oil-fires while the precious fuel gutters away till you have to ask
leave to escape while there are yet a few tons left. One ship who was
once bled white by such a piece of Joss, suggested it would be better
that oil-pipes should be led along certain lines which she sketched.
As if that would make any difference to Joss when he wants to show
what he can do!
Our sea-people, who have worked with him for a thousand wettish years,
have acquired something of Joss's large toleration and humour. He
causes ships in thick weather, or under strain, to mistake friends for
enemies. At such times, if your heart is full of highly organised
hate, you strafe frightfully and efficiently till one of you perishes,
and the survivor reports wonders which are duly wirelessed all over
the world. But if you worship Joss, you reflect, you put two and two
together in a casual insular way, and arrive--sometimes both parties
arrive--at instinctive conclusions which avoid trouble.
AN AFFAIR IN THE NORTH SEA
Witness this tale. It does not concern the Jutland fight, but another
little affair which took place a while ago in the North Sea. It was
understood that a certain type of cruiser of ours would _not_ be
taking part in a certain show. Therefore, if anyone saw cruisers very
like them he might blaze at them with a clear conscience, for they
would be Hun-boats. And one of our destroyers--thick weather as
usual--spied the silhouettes of cruisers exactly like our own stealing
across the haze. Said the Commander to his Sub., with an inflection
neither period, exclamation, nor interrogation-mark can
Said the Sub. in precisely the same tone--"That is them, sir." "As my
Sub.," said the Commander, "your observation is strictly in accord
with the traditions of the Service. Now, as man to man, what _are_
they?" "We-el," said the Sub., "since you put it that way, I'm d----d
if _I'd_ fire." And they didn't, and they were quite right. The
destroyer had been off on another job, and Joss had jammed the latest
wireless orders to her at the last moment. But Joss had also put it
into the hearts of the boys to save themselves and others.
I hold no brief for the Hun, but honestly I think he has not lied as
much about the Jutland fight as people believe, and that when he
protests he sank a ship, he _did_ very completely sink a ship. I am
the more confirmed in this belief by a still small voice among the
Jutland reports, musing aloud over an account of an unaccountable
outlying brawl witnessed by one of our destroyers. The voice suggests
that what the destroyer saw was one German ship being sunk by another.
Our destroyers saw a good deal that night on the face of the waters.
Some of them who were working in "areas of comparative calm" submit
charts of their tangled courses, all studded with notes along the
zigzag--something like this:--
8 P.M.--_Heard explosion to the N.W._ (A neat arrow-head points that
way.) Half an inch farther along, a short change of course, and the
word _Hit_ explains the meaning of--"_Sighted enemy cruiser engaged
with destroyers._" Another twist follows. "9.30 P.M.--_Passed
wreckage. Engaged enemy destroyers port beam opposite courses._" A
long straight line without incident, then a tangle, and--_Picked up
survivors So-and-So_. A stretch over to some ship that they were
transferred to, a fresh departure, and another brush with "_Single
destroyer on parallel course. Hit. 0.7 A.M.--Passed bows enemy cruiser
sticking up. 0.18.--Joined flotilla for attack on battleship
squadron._" So it runs on--one little ship in a few short hours
passing through more wonders of peril and accident than all the old
fleets ever dreamed.
A "CHILD'S" LETTER
In years to come naval experts will collate all those diagrams, and
furiously argue over them. A lot of the destroyer work was inevitably
as mixed as bombing down a trench, as the scuffle of a polo match, or
as the hot heaving heart of a football scrum. It is difficult to
realise when one considers the size of the sea, that it is that very
size and absence of boundary which helps the confusion. To give an
idea, here is a letter (it has been quoted before, I believe, but it
is good enough to repeat many times), from a nineteen-year-old child
to his friend aged seventeen (and minus one leg), in a hospital:
"I'm so awfully sorry you weren't in it. It was rather terrible, but a
wonderful experience, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything, but,
by Jove, it isn't a thing one wants to make a habit of.
"I must say it is very different from what I expected. I expected to
be excited, but was not a bit. It's hard to express what we did feel
like, but you know the sort of feeling one has when one goes in to bat
at cricket, and rather a lot depends upon your doing well, and you are
waiting for the first ball. Well, it's very much the same as that. Do
you know what I mean? A sort of tense feeling, not quite knowing what
to expect. One does not feel the slightest bit frightened, and the
idea that there's a chance of you and your ship being scuppered does
not enter one's head. There are too many other things to think
Follows the usual "No ship like our ship" talkee, and a note of where
she was at the time.
"Then they ordered us to attack, so we bustled off full bore. Being
navigator, also having control of all the guns, I was on the bridge
all the time, and remained for twelve hours without leaving it at all.
When we got fairly close I sighted a good-looking Hun destroyer, which
I thought I'd like to strafe. You know, it's awful fun to know that
you can blaze off at a real ship, and do as much damage as you like.
Well, I'd just got their range on the guns, and we'd just fired one
round, when some more of our destroyers coming from the opposite
direction got between us and the enemy and completely blanketed us, so
we had to stop, which was rather rot. Shortly afterwards they recalled
us, so we bustled back again. How any destroyer got out of it is
"Literally there were hundreds of progs (shells falling) all round us,
from a 15-inch to a 4-inch, and you know what a big splash a 15-inch
bursting in the water does make. We got washed through by the spray.
Just as we were getting back, a whole salvo of big shells fell just in
front of us and short of our big ships. The skipper and I did rapid
calculations as to how long it would take them to reload, fire again,
time of flight, etc., as we had to go right through the spot. We came
to the conclusion that, as they were short a bit, they would probably
go up a bit, and (they?) didn't, but luckily they altered deflection,
and the next fell right astern of us. Anyhow, we managed to come out
of that row without the ship or a man on board being touched.
WHAT THE BIG SHIPS STAND
"It's extraordinary the amount of knocking about the big ships can
stand. One saw them hit, and they seemed to be one mass of flame and
smoke, and you think they're gone, but when the smoke clears away they
are apparently none the worse and still firing away. But to see a
ship blow up is a terrible and wonderful sight; an enormous volume of
flame and smoke almost 200 feet high and great pieces of metal, etc.,
blown sky-high, and then when the smoke clears not a sign of the ship.
We saw one other extraordinary sight. Of course, you know the North
Sea is very shallow. We came across a Hun cruiser absolutely on end,
his stern on the bottom and his bow sticking up about 30 feet in the
water; and a little farther on a destroyer in precisely the same
"I couldn't be certain, but I rather think I saw your old ship
crashing along and blazing away, but I expect you have heard from some
of your pals. But the night was far and away the worse time of all. It
was pitch dark, and, of course, absolutely no lights, and the firing
seems so much more at night, as you could see the flashes lighting up
the sky, and it seemed to make much more noise, and you could see
ships on fire and blowing up. Of course _we_ showed absolutely no
lights. One expected to be surprised any moment, and eventually we
were. We suddenly found ourselves within 1000 yards of two or three
big Hun cruisers. They switched on their searchlights and started
firing like nothing on earth. Then they put their searchlights on us,
but for some extraordinary reason did not fire on us. As, of course,
we were going full speed we lost them in a moment, but I must say,
that I, and I think everybody else, thought that that was the end, but
one does not feel afraid or panicky. I think I felt rather cooler then
than at any other time. I asked lots of people afterwards what they
felt like, and they all said the same thing. It all happens in a few
seconds; one hasn't time to think; but never in all my life have I
been so thankful to see daylight again--and I don't think I ever want
to see another night like that--it's such an awful strain. One does
not notice it at the time, but it's the reaction afterwards.
"I never noticed I was tired till I got back to harbour, and then we
all turned in and absolutely slept like logs. We were seventy-two
hours with little or no sleep. The skipper was perfectly wonderful. He
never left the bridge for a minute for twenty-four hours, and was on
the bridge or in the chart-house the whole time we were out (the
chart-house is an airy dog-kennel that opens off the bridge) and I've
never seen anybody so cool and unruffled. He stood there smoking his
pipe as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
"One quite forgot all about time. I was relieved at 4 A.M., and on
looking at my watch found I had been up there nearly twelve hours, and
then discovered I was rather hungry. The skipper and I had some cheese
and biscuits, ham sandwiches, and water on the bridge, and then I went
down and brewed some cocoa and ship's biscuit."
Not in the thick of the fight,
Not in the press of the odds,
Do the heroes come to their height
Or we know the demi-gods.
That stands over till peace.
We can only perceive
Men returned from the seas,
Very grateful for leave.
They grant us sudden days
Snatched from their business of war.
We are too close to appraise
What manner of men they are.
And whether their names go down
With age-kept victories,
Or whether they battle and drown
Unreckoned is hid from our eyes.
They are too near to be great,
But our children shall understand
When and how our fate
Was changed, and by whose hand.
Our children shall measure their worth.
We are content to be blind,
For we know that we walk on a new-born earth
With the saviours of mankind.
THE MINDS OF MEN
HOW IT IS DONE
What mystery is there like the mystery of the other man's job--or what
world so cut off as that which he enters when he goes to it? The
eminent surgeon is altogether such an one as ourselves, even till his
hand falls on the knob of the theatre door. After that, in the
silence, among the ether fumes, no man except his acolytes, and they
won't tell, has ever seen his face. So with the unconsidered curate.
Yet, before the war, he had more experience of the business and detail
of death than any of the people who contemned him. His face also, as
he stands his bedside-watches--that countenance with which he shall
justify himself to his Maker--none have ever looked upon. Even the
ditcher is a priest of mysteries at the high moment when he lays out
in his mind his levels and the fall of the water that he alone can
draw off clearly. But catch any of these men five minutes after they
have left their altars, and you will find the doors are shut.
Chance sent me almost immediately after the Jutland fight a Lieutenant
of one of the destroyers engaged. Among other matters, I asked him if
there was any particular noise.
"Well, I haven't been in the trenches, of course," he replied, "but I
don't think there could have been much more noise than there was."
This bears out a report of a destroyer who could not be certain
whether an enemy battleship had blown up or not, saying that, in that
particular corner, it would have been impossible to identify anything
less than the explosion of a whole magazine.
"It wasn't exactly noise," he reflected. "Noise is what you take in
from outside. This was _inside_ you. It seemed to lift you right out
"And how did the light affect one?" I asked, trying to work out a
theory that noise and light produced beyond known endurance form an
unknown anaesthetic and stimulant, comparable to, but infinitely more
potent than, the soothing effect of the smoke-pall of ancient battles.
"The lights were rather curious," was the answer. "I don't know that
one noticed searchlights particularly, unless they meant business; but
when a lot of big guns loosed off together, the whole sea was lit up
and you could see our destroyers running about like cockroaches on a
"Then is black the best colour for our destroyers? Some commanders
seem to think we ought to use grey."
"Blessed if _I_ know," said young Dante. "Everything shows black in
that light. Then it all goes out again with a bang. Trying for the
eyes if you are spotting."
"And how did the dogs take it?" I pursued. There are several
destroyers more or less owned by pet dogs, who start life as the
chance-found property of a stoker, and end in supreme command of the
"Most of 'em didn't like it a bit. They went below one time, and
wanted to be loved. They knew it wasn't ordinary practice."
"What did Arabella do?" I had heard a good deal of Arabella.
"Oh, Arabella's _quite_ different. Her job has always been to look
after her master's pyjamas--folded up at the head of the bunk, you
know. She found out pretty soon the bridge was no place for a lady, so
she hopped downstairs and got in. You know how she makes three little
jumps to it--first, on to the chair; then on the flap-table, and then
up on the pillow. When the show was over, there she was as usual."
"Was she glad to see her master?"
"_Ra-ather._ Arabella was the bold, gay lady-dog _then_!"
Now Arabella is between nine and eleven and a half inches long.
"Does the Hun run to pets at all?"
"I shouldn't say so. He's an unsympathetic felon--the Hun. But he
might cherish a dachshund or so. We never picked up any ships' pets
off him, and I'm sure we should if there had been."
That I believed as implicitly as the tale of a destroyer attack some
months ago, the object of which was to flush Zeppelins. It succeeded,
for the flotilla was attacked by several. Right in the middle of the
flurry, a destroyer asked permission to stop and lower dinghy to pick
up ship's dog which had fallen overboard. Permission was granted, and
the dog was duly rescued. "Lord knows what the Hun made of it," said
my informant. "He was rumbling round, dropping bombs; and the dinghy
was digging out for all she was worth, and the Dog-Fiend was swimming
for Dunkirk. It must have looked rather mad from above. But they
saved the Dog-Fiend, and then everybody swore he was a German spy in
"And--about this Jutland fight?" I hinted, not for the first time.
"Oh, that was just a fight. There was more of it than any other fight,
I suppose, but I expect all modern naval actions must be pretty much
"But what does one _do_--how does one feel?" I insisted, though I knew
it was hopeless.
"One does one's job. Things are happening all the time. A man may be
right under your nose one minute--serving a gun or something--and the
next minute he isn't there."
"And one notices that at the time?"
"Yes. But there's no time to keep _on_ noticing it. You've got to
carry on somehow or other, or your show stops. I tell you what one
_does_ notice, though. If one goes below for anything, or has to pass
through a flat somewhere, and one sees the old wardroom clock ticking,
or a photograph pinned up, or anything of that sort, one notices
_that_. Oh yes, and there was another thing--the way a ship seemed to
blow up if you were far off her. You'd see a glare, then a blaze, and
then the smoke--miles high, lifting quite slowly. Then you'd get the
row and the jar of it--just like bumping over submarines. Then, a long
while after p'raps, you run through a regular rain of bits of burnt
paper coming down on the decks--like showers of volcanic ash, you
know." The door of the operating-room seemed just about to open, but
it shut again.
"And the Huns' gunnery?"
"That was various. Sometimes they began quite well, and went to pieces
after they'd been strafed a little; but sometimes they picked up
again. There was one Hun-boat that got no end of a hammering, and it
seemed to do her gunnery good. She improved tremendously till we sank
her. I expect we'd knocked out some scientific Hun in the controls,
and he'd been succeeded by a man who knew how."
It used to be "Fritz" last year when they spoke of the enemy. Now it
is Hun or, as I have heard, "Yahun," being a superlative of Yahoo. In
the Napoleonic wars we called the Frenchmen too many names for any one
of them to endure; but this is the age of standardisation.
"And what about our Lower Deck?" I continued.
"They? Oh, they carried on as usual. It takes a lot to impress the
Lower Deck when they're busy." And he mentioned several little things
that confirmed this. They had a great deal to do, and they did it
serenely because they had been trained to carry on under all
conditions without panicking. What they did in the way of running
repairs was even more wonderful, if that be possible, than their
The Lower Deck nowadays is full of strange fish with unlooked-for
accomplishments, as in the recorded case of two simple seamen of a
destroyer who, when need was sorest, came to the front as trained
experts in first-aid.
"And now--what about the actual Hun losses at Jutland?" I ventured.
"You've seen the list, haven't you?"
"Yes, but it occurred to me--that they might have been a shade
under-estimated, and I thought perhaps--"
A perfectly plain asbestos fire-curtain descended in front of the
already locked door. It was none of his business to dispute the drive.
If there were any discrepancies between estimate and results, one
might be sure that the enemy knew about them, which was the chief
thing that mattered.
It was, said he, Joss that the light was so bad at the hour of the
last round-up when our main fleet had come down from the north and
shovelled the Hun round on his tracks. _Per contra_, had it been any
other kind of weather, the odds were the Hun would not have ventured
so far. As it was, the Hun's fleet had come out and gone back again,
none the better for air and exercise. We must be thankful for what we
had managed to pick up. But talking of picking up, there was an
instance of almost unparalleled Joss which had stuck in his memory. A
soldier-man, related to one of the officers in one of our ships that
was put down, had got five days' leave from the trenches which he
spent with his relative aboard, and thus dropped in for the whole
performance. He had been employed in helping to spot, and had lived up
a mast till the ship sank, when he stepped off into the water and swam
about till he was fished out and put ashore. By that time, the tale
goes, his engine-room-dried khaki had shrunk half-way up his legs and
arms, in which costume he reported himself to the War Office, and
pleaded for one little day's extension of leave to make himself
decent. "Not a bit of it," said the War Office. "If you choose to
spend your leave playing with sailor-men and getting wet all over,
that's _your_ concern. You will return to duty by to-night's boat."
(This may be a libel on the W.O., but it sounds very like them.) "And
he had to," said the boy, "but I expect he spent the next week at
Headquarters telling fat generals all about the fight."
"And, of course, the Admiralty gave _you_ all lots of leave?"
"Us? Yes, heaps. We had nothing to do except clean down and oil up,
and be ready to go to sea again in a few hours."
That little fact was brought out at the end of almost every
destroyer's report. "Having returned to base at such and such a time,
I took in oil, etc., and reported ready for sea at ---- o'clock." When
you think of the amount of work a ship needs even after peace
manoeuvres, you can realise what has to be done on the heels of an
action. And, as there is nothing like housework for the troubled soul
of a woman, so a general clean-up is good for sailors. I had this from
a petty officer who had also passed through deep waters. "If you've
seen your best friend go from alongside you, and your own officer, and
your own boat's crew with him, and things of that kind, a man's best
comfort is small variegated jobs which he is damned for continuous."
THE SILENT NAVY
Presently my friend of the destroyer went back to his stark, desolate
life, where feelings do not count, and the fact of his being cold,
wet, sea-sick, sleepless, or dog-tired had no bearing whatever on his
business, which was to turn out at any hour in any weather and do or
endure, decently, according to ritual, what that hour and that weather
demanded. It is hard to reach the kernel of Navy minds. The unbribable
seas and mechanisms they work on and through have given them the
simplicity of elements and machines. The habit of dealing with swift
accident, a life of closest and strictest association with their own
caste as well as contact with all kinds of men all earth over, have
added an immense cunning to those qualities; and that they are from
early youth cut out of all feelings that may come between them and
their ends, makes them more incomprehensible than Jesuits, even to
their own people. What, then, must they be to the enemy?
Here is a Service which prowls forth and achieves, at the lowest,
something of a victory. How far-reaching a one only the war's end will
reveal. It returns in gloomy silence, broken by the occasional hoot of
the long-shore loafer, after issuing a bulletin which though it may
enlighten the professional mind does not exhilarate the layman.
Meantime the enemy triumphs, wirelessly, far and wide. A few frigid
and perfunctory-seeming contradictions are put forward against his
resounding claims; a Naval expert or two is heard talking "off"; the
rest is silence. Anon, the enemy, after a prodigious amount of
explanation which not even the neutrals seem to take any interest in,
revises his claims, and, very modestly, enlarges his losses. Still no
sign. After weeks there appears a document giving our version of the
affair, which is as colourless, detached, and scrupulously impartial
as the findings of a prize-court. It opines that the list of enemy
losses which it submits "give the minimum in regard to numbers though
it is possibly not entirely accurate in regard to the particular class
of vessel, especially those that were sunk during the night attacks."
Here the matter rests and remains--just like our blockade. There is an
insolence about it all that makes one gasp.
Yet that insolence springs naturally and unconsciously as an oath, out
of the same spirit that caused the destroyer to pick up the dog. The
reports themselves, and tenfold more the stories not in the reports,
are charged with it, but no words by any outsider can reproduce just
that professional tone and touch. A man writing home after the fight,
points out that the great consolation for not having cleaned up the
enemy altogether was that "anyhow those East Coast devils"--a
fellow-squadron, if you please, which up till Jutland had had most of
the fighting--"were not there. They missed that show. We were as
cock-ahoop as a girl who had been to a dance that her sister has
This was one of the figures in that dance:
"A little British destroyer, her midships rent by a great shell meant
for a battle-cruiser; exuding steam from every pore; able to go ahead
but not to steer; unable to get out of anybody's way, likely to be
rammed by any one of a dozen ships; her syren whimpering: 'Let me
through! Make way!'; her crew fallen in aft dressed in life-belts
ready for her final plunge, and cheering wildly as it might have been
an enthusiastic crowd when the King passes."
Let us close on that note. We have been compassed about so long and so
blindingly by wonders and miracles; so overwhelmed by revelations of
the spirit of men in the basest and most high; that we have neither
time to keep tally of these furious days, nor mind to discern upon
which hour of them our world's fate hung.
Brethren, how shall it fare with me
When the war is laid aside,
If it be proven that I am he
For whom a world has died?
If it be proven that all my good,
And the greater good I will make,
Were purchased me by a multitude
Who suffered for my sake?
That I was delivered by mere mankind
Vowed to one sacrifice,
And not, as I hold them, battle-blind,
But dying with opened eyes?
That they did not ask me to draw the sword
When they stood to endure their lot,
What they only looked to me for a word,
And I answered I knew them not?
If it be found, when the battle clears,
Their death has set me free,
Then how shall I live with myself through the years
Which they have bought for me?
Brethren, how must it fare with me,
Or how am I justified,
If it be proven that I am he
For whom mankind has died;
If it be proven that I am he
Who being questioned denied?