Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

Banzai! by Parabellum online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

things from one place to another, until the energetic efforts of the
officers brought them to their senses.

Someone called for the keys of the ammunition chambers, and then began a
search for the ordnance officer in the passages filled with the
poisonous fumes of the Shimose-powder. But it was all in vain, for he
lay on the front bridge torn into an unrecognizable mass by the enemy's

At last a young lieutenant with the blood pouring down his cheek in
bright red streaks, rushed into the captain's cabin, broke open the
closet beside the desk with a bayonet and seized the keys of the
ammunition rooms. Now down the stairs and through the narrow openings in
the bulkheads, where the thud of the hostile projectiles sounds more and
more hollow, and here, at last, is the door of the shell-chamber
containing the shells for the 8-inch guns in the forward starboard

Inside the bells rang and rattled, calling in vain for ammunition; but
the guns of the _Connecticut_ still remained silent.

The petty officer, hurrying on before his three men, now stood at the

"Armor-piercing shells, quickly!" came the urgent order from above. And
when the electric lever refused to work, the two sailors raised the
shell weighing over two hundredweight in their brawny arms and shoved it
into the frame of the lift, which began to move automatically.

"Thank God," said the lieutenant in command of the turret, as the first
shell appeared at the mouth of the dark tube. Into the breech with it
and the two cartridges after it. When the lieutenant had taken his
position at the telescope sight in order to determine the direction and
distance for firing, orders came down from the commander to fire at the
enemy's leading ship, the _Satsuma_. The distance was only 2800 yards,
so near had the enemy come. And at this ridiculously short distance,
contrary to all the rules of naval warfare, the Americans opened fire.

"2800 yards, to the right beneath the first gun-turret of the
_Satsuma_," called the lieutenant to the two gunners. They took the
elevation and then waited for the ship that was rolling to port to
regain the level after being lifted up by the waves. Detached clouds
hurried across the field of the telescope, but suddenly the sun appeared
like a bright spot above the horizon and dark brown smoke became
visible. The foremast of the _Satsuma_ with its multicolored
signal-flags appeared in the field of vision.... A final quick
correction for elevation ... a slight pressure of the electric trigger.
Fire! The gray silhouette of the _Satsuma_, across which quivered the
flash from the gun, rose quickly in the round field; then came foaming,
plunging waves, and columns of water that rose up as the shells struck
the water.

The loud reverberation of the shot - the first one fired on the American
side - acted as a nerve-tonic all round, and all felt as though they had
been relieved from an intolerable burden.

While the right gun was being reloaded and the stinking gases escaping
from the gun filled the narrow chamber with their fumes, the lieutenant
looked for traces of the effect of the shot. The wind whistled through
the peep-hole and made his eyes smart. The shot did not seem to have
touched the _Satsuma_ at all. The foam seen in the bow was that produced
by the ship's motion.

"Two hundred and fifty yards over," came through the telephone, and on
the glass-plate of the distance-register, faintly illuminated by an
electric lamp, appeared the number 2550.

"2550 yards!" repeated the lieutenant to the captain of the left gun,
giving the angle of direction himself. The _Connecticut_ again heaved
over to port, and the thunder of cannon rolled over the waves of the

"The shell burst at a thousand yards!" called the lieutenant. "What
miserable fuses!"

"Bad shot," came down reproachfully through the telephone, "use
percussion fuses."

"I am, but they're no good, they won't work," roared back the
lieutenant. Then he went down into the turret and examined the new shell
on the lift before it was pushed into the breech.

"All right," he said aloud, but added under his breath, suppressing an
oath: "We mustn't let the men notice there's anything wrong, for the

Another shot rang out, and again the shell burst a few hundred yards
from the _Connecticut_, sending the water flying in every direction.

Again came the reproachful voice from above: "Bad shot, take percussion

"That's what these are supposed to be," replied the lieutenant in a
terrible state of excitement; "the shells are absolutely useless."

"Fire at the forepart of the _Satsuma_ with shrapnel," rang out the
command from the wall.

"Shrapnels from below!" ordered the lieutenant, and "shrapnels from
below" was repeated by the man at the lift into the 'phone leading to
the ammunition chamber.

But the lift continued to bring up the blue armor-piercing shells; five
times more and then it stopped.

During a momentary pause in the firing on both sides, the buzzing and
whirring of the electric apparatus of the lift could be distinctly
heard. Then the lift appeared once more, this time with a red explosive

"Aim at the forepart of the _Satsuma_, 1950 yards!"

The _Connecticut_ rolled over heavily to starboard, the water splashed
over the railing, rushing like a torrent between the turrets; then the
ship heeled over to the other side. The shot rang out.

"At last," cried the lieutenant proudly, pointing through the peep-hole.
High up in the side of the _Satsuma_, close to the little 12-cm.
quick-firing gun, a piece was seen to be missing when the smoke from the
bursting shell had disappeared.

"Good shot," came from above; "go on firing with shrapnel!"

The distance-register silently showed the number 1850. Then came a
deafening roar from below and the sharp ring of tearing iron. A hostile
shell had passed obliquely below the turret into the forepart of the
_Connecticut_, and clouds of thick black smoke completely obscured the
view through the peep-hole.

"Four degrees higher!" commanded the lieutenant.

"Not yet correct," he grumbled; "three degrees higher still!" He waited
for the _Connecticut_ to roll to port.

"What's the matter?"

"Use higher elevation in turrets. The _Connecticut_ has a leak and is
listing to starboard," said the telephone. "Three degrees higher!"
ordered the lieutenant.

A shot from the left barrel.

"Splendid," cried the lieutenant; "that was a fine shot! But lower,
lower, we're merely shooting their upper plates to bits," and the gun
went on steadily firing.

The turrets on the starboard side were hit again and again, the hostile
shells bursting perpetually against their armored sides. As if struck by
electric discharges the gunners were continually thrown back from the
rumbling walls, and they were almost deaf from the fearful din, so that
all commands had to be yelled out at the top of the lungs.

The raging storm and the rough sea prevented the Americans from using a
part of their guns. While the explosive shells from the enemy's heavy
intermediate battery were able to demolish everything on deck and to
pass through the unarmored portions of the sides, working fearful havoc
in the interior and among the crew, the light American secondary battery
was compelled to keep silence.

An attempt had been made, to be sure, to bring the 7-inch guns into
action, but it proved of no avail. The gunners stood ready at their
posts to discharge the shells at the enemy, but it was utterly
impossible, for no sooner had they taken aim, than they lost it again as
the hostile ships disappeared in the foaming glassy-green waves that
broke against their sides. The water penetrated with the force of a
stream from a nozzle through the cracks in the plates and poured into
the casemates till the men were standing up to their knees in water. At
last the only thing that could be done was to open the doors behind the
guns in order to let the water out; but this arrangement had the
disadvantage of allowing a good deal of the water which had run out to
return in full force and pile up in one corner the next time the ship
rolled over, and on account of this perpetual battle with the waves
outside and the rolling water inside, it was impossible for the men to
aim properly or to achieve any results with their shots. It was
therefore deemed best to stop the firing here, and to have the gunners
relieve the men at the turret-guns, who had suffered greatly from the
enemy's fire. The men in charge of the completely demolished small guns
on the upper deck had already been assigned to similar duty.

We therefore had to depend entirely on our 12-inch and 8-inch guns in
the turrets, while the enemy was able to bring into action all his
broadside guns on the starboard side, which was only little affected by
the storm. And this superiority had been used to such advantage in the
first eleven minutes of the battle, before the surprised Americans could
reply, that the decks of the latter's ships, especially of the admiral's
flag-ship, were a mass of wreckage even before the first American shot
had been fired. The decks were strewn with broken bridges, planks,
stanchions and torn rigging, and into the midst of this chaos now fell
the tall funnels and pieces of the steel masts. In most instances the
water continually pouring over the decks put out the fires; but the
_Vermont_ was nevertheless burning aft and the angry flames could be
seen bursting out of the gaping holes made by the shells.

Admiral Perry, in company with the commander and staff-officers, watched
the progress of the battle from the conning-tower. The officers on duty
at the odometers calmly furnished the distance between their ship and
the enemy to the turrets and casemates, and the lieutenant in command of
the fire-control on the platform above the conning-tower coolly and
laconically reported the results of the shots, at the same time giving
the necessary corrections, which were at once transmitted to the various
turrets by telephone. The rolling of the ships in the heavy seas made
occasional pauses in the firing absolutely necessary.

The report that a series of shells belonging to the 8-inch guns in the
front turret had unreliable fuses led to considerable swearing in the
conning-tower, but while the officers were still cursing the commission
for accepting such useless stuff, a still greater cause for anxiety
became apparent.

Even before the Americans had begun their fire, the Japanese shells had
made a few enormous holes in the unprotected starboard side of the
_Connecticut_, behind the stem and just above the armored belt, and
through these the water poured in and flooded all the inner chambers. As
the armored gratings above the hatchways leading below had also been
destroyed or had not yet been closed, several compartments in the
forepart of the ship filled with water. The streams of water continually
pouring in through the huge holes rendered it impossible to enter the
rooms beneath the armored deck or to close the hatchways. The pumps
availed nothing, but fortunately the adjacent bulkheads proved to be
watertight. Nevertheless the _Connecticut_ buried her nose deep into the
sea and thereby offered ever-increasing resistance to the oncoming
waves. Captain Farlow therefore ordered some of the watertight
compartments aft to be filled with water in order to restore the ship's
balance. Similar conditions were reported from other ships.

But scarcely had this damage been thus fairly well adjusted, when a new
misfortune was reported. Two Japanese projectiles had struck the ship
simultaneously just below her narrow armor-belt as she heaved over to
port, the shells entering the unprotected side just in front of the
engine-rooms, and as the adjacent bulkheads could not offer sufficient
resistance to the pressure of the inpouring water, they were forced in,
and as a result the _Connecticut_ heeled over badly to starboard, making
it necessary to fill some of the port compartments with water, since the
guns could not otherwise obtain the required elevation. This caused the
ship to sink deeper and deeper, until the armor-belt was entirely below
the standard waterline and the water which had rushed in through the
many holes had already reached the passageways above the armored deck.
The splashing about in these rushing floods, the continual bursting of
the enemy's shells, the groans and moans of the wounded, and the vain
attempts to get out the collision-mats on the starboard
side - precautions that savored of preservation measures while at the
same time causing a great loss of life - all this began to impair the
crew's powers of resistance.

As the reports from below grew more and more discouraging, Captain
Farlow sent Lieutenant Meade down to examine into the state of the
chambers above the armored deck. The latter asked his comrade, Curtis,
to take his place at the telephone, but receiving no answer, he looked
around, and saw poor Curtis with his face torn off by a piece of shell
still bending over his telephone between two dead signalmen....
Lieutenant Meade turned away with a shiver, and, calling a midshipman to
take his place, he left the conning-tower, which was being struck
continually by hissing splinters from bursting shells.

Everywhere below the same picture presented itself - rushing water
splashing high up against the walls in all the passages, through which
ambulance transports were making their way with difficulty. In a corner
not far from the staircase leading to the hospital lay a young
midshipman, Malion by name, pressing both hands against a gaping wound
in his abdomen, out of which the viscera protruded, and crying to some
one to put him out of his misery with a bullet. What an end to a bright
young life! Anything but think! One could only press on, for individual
lives and human suffering were of small moment here compared with the
portentous question whether the steel sides of the ship and the engines
would hold out.

"Shoot me; deliver me from my torture!" rang out the cry of the
lieutenant's dying friend behind him; and there before him, right
against the wall, lay the sailor Ralling, that fine chap from Maryland
who was one of the men who had won the gig-race at Newport News; now he
stared vacantly into space, his mouth covered with blood and foam. "Shot
in the lung!" thought Meade, hurrying on and trying, oh so hard, not to

[Illustration: "It went up in a slanting direction and then, ... it
steered straight for the enemy's balloon...."]

The black water gurgled and splashed around his feet as he rushed on,
dashing with a hollow sound against one side of the passage when the
ship heeled over, only to be tossed back in a moment with equal force.

What was that? - Lieutenant Meade had reached the officers' mess - was it
music or were his ears playing him a trick? Meade opened the door and
thought at first he must be dreaming. There sat his friend and comrade,
Lieutenant Besser, at the piano, hammering wildly on the keys. That same
Johnny Besser who, on account of his theological predilections went by
the nickname of "The Reverend," and who could argue until long after
midnight over the most profound Biblical problems, that same Johnny
Besser, who was perpetually on the water-wagon. There he sat, banging
away as hard as he could on the piano! Meade rushed at him angrily and
seizing him by the arm cried: "Johnny, what are you doing here? Are you

Johnny took no notice of him whatever, but went on playing and began in
a strange uncanny voice to sing the old mariner's song:

"Tom Brown's mother she likes whisky in her tea,
As we go rolling home.
Glory, Glory Hallelujah."

Horror seized Meade, and he tried to pull Johnny away from the piano,
but the resistance offered by the poor fellow who had become mentally
deranged from sheer terror was too great, and he had to give up the

From the outside came the din of battle. Meade threw the door of the
mess shut behind him, shivering with horror. Once more he heard the
strains of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah," and then he hurried upstairs. He
kept the condition in which he had found Johnny to himself.

When Lieutenant Meade got back to the conning-tower to make his report,
the two fleets had passed each other in a parallel course. The enemy's
shells had swept the decks of the _Connecticut_ with the force of a
hurricane. The gunners from the port side had already been called on to
fill up the gaps in the turrets on the starboard side. By this time dead
bodies were removed only where they were in the way, and even the
wounded were left to lie where they had fallen.

When large pieces of wood from the burning boats began to be thrown on
deck by the bursting shells, a fresh danger was created, and the attempt
was made to toss them overboard with the aid of the cranes. But this
succeeded only on the port side. The starboard crane was smashed to bits
by a Japanese explosive shell just as it was raising a launch, the same
shot carrying off the third funnel just behind it. When Togo's last ship
had left the _Connecticut_ behind, only one funnel full of gaping holes
and half of the mainmast were left standing on the deck of the admiral's
flag-ship, which presented a wild chaos of bent and broken ironwork.
Through the ruins of the deck structures rose the flames and thick smoke
from the boilers.

The Japanese ships seemed to be invulnerable in their vital parts. It is
true that the _Satsuma_ had lost a funnel, and that both masts of the
_Kashima_ were broken off, but except for a few holes above the
armor-belt and one or two guns that had been put out of action and the
barrels of which pointed helplessly into the air, the enemy showed
little sign of damage. Those first eleven minutes, during which the
enemy had had things all to himself, had given him an advantage which no
amount of bravery or determined energy could counteract. In addition to
this, many of the American telescope-sights began to get out of order,
as they bent under the blows of the enemy's shells against the turrets.
Thus the aim of the Americans, which owing to the heavy seas and to the
smoke from the Japanese guns blown into their eyes by the wind was poor
enough as it was, became more uncertain still. As the enemy passed,
several torpedoes had been cleared by the Americans, but the shining
metal-fish could not keep their course against the oncoming waves, and
Admiral Perry was forced to notify his ships by wireless to desist from
further attempts to use them, in order that his own ships might not be
endangered by them.

The enemy, on the contrary, used his torpedoes with better success. A
great mass of boiling foam rose suddenly beside the _Kansas_, which was
just heeling to port, and this was followed immediately by sheets of
flame and black clouds of smoke which burst from every hole and crevice
in the sides and the turrets. The _Kansas_ listed heavily to starboard
and then disappeared immediately in the waves. The torpedo must have
exploded in an ammunition chamber. On the burning _Vermont_ the
steering-gear seemed to be out of order. The battleship sheered sharply
to port, thus presenting its stern, which was almost hidden in heavy
clouds of smoke, to the enemy, who immediately raked and tore it with
shells. The _Minnesota_ was drifting in a helpless condition with her
starboard-railing deep under water, while thick streams of water poured
from her bilge-pumps on the port side. She gradually fell behind,
whereupon the last ship of the line, the _New Hampshire_, passed her on
the fire side, covering her riddled hull for a moment, but then steamed
on to join the only two ships in Admiral Perry's fleet which were still
in fairly good condition, namely the _Connecticut_ and the _Louisiana_.

When the hostile fleet began to fall slowly back - the battle had been in
progress for barely half an hour - Admiral Perry hoped for a moment that
by swinging his three ships around to starboard he would be able to get
to windward of the enemy and thus succeed in bringing his almost intact
port artillery into action. But even before he could issue his commands,
he saw the six Japanese ironclads turn to port and steam towards the
Americans at full speed, pouring out tremendous clouds of smoke.
Misfortunes never come singly; at this moment came the report that the
boilers of the _New Hampshire_ had been badly damaged. Unless the
admiral wished to leave the injured ship to her fate, he was now forced
to reduce the speed of the other two ships to six knots. This was the
beginning of the end.

It was of no use for Admiral Perry to swing his three ships around to
starboard. The enemy, owing to his superior speed, could always keep a
parallel course and remain on the starboard side. One turret after the
other was put out of action. When the casemate with its three intact
7-inch guns could at last be brought into play on the lee-side, it was
too late. At such close quarters the steel-walls of the casemates and
the mountings were shot to pieces by the enemy's shells. The
fire-control refused to act, the wires and speaking-tubes were
destroyed, and each gun had to depend on itself. The electric
installation had been put out of commission on the _Louisiana_ by a
shell bursting through the armored deck and destroying the dynamos. As
the gun-turrets could no longer be swung around and the ammunition-lifts
had come to a stand-still in consequence, the _Louisiana_ was reduced to
a helpless wreck. She sank in the waves at 11.15, and shortly afterwards
the _New Hampshire_, which was already listing far to starboard because
the water had risen above the armored deck, capsized. By 12.30 the
_Connecticut_ was the sole survivor. She continued firing from the
12-inch guns in the rear turret and from the two 8-inch starboard

At this point a large piece of shell slipped through the peep-hole of
the conning-tower and smashed its heavy armored dome. The next shot
might prove fatal. Admiral Perry was compelled to leave the spot he had
maintained so bravely; in a hail of splinters he at last managed to
reach the steps leading from the bridge; they were wet with the blood of
the dead and dying and the last four had been shot away altogether. The
other mode of egress, the armored tube inside the turret, was stopped up
with the bodies of two dead signalmen. The admiral let himself carefully
down by holding on to the bent railing of the steps, and was just in
time to catch the blood-covered body of his faithful comrade, Captain
Farlow, who had been struck by a shell as he stood on the lowest step.
The admiral leaned the body gently against the side of the
military-mast, which had been dyed yellow by the deposits of the hostile

Stepping over smoldering ruins and through passages filled with dead and
wounded men, over whose bodies the water splashed and gurgled, the
admiral at last reached his post below the armored deck.

To this spot were brought the reports from the fire-control stationed at
the rear mast and from the last active stations. It was a mournful
picture that the admiral received here of the condition of the
_Connecticut_. The dull din of battle, the crashing and rumbling of the
hostile shells, the suffocating smoke which penetrated even here below,
the rhythmic groaning of the engine and the noise of the pumps were
united here into an uncanny symphony. The ventilators had to be closed,
as they sent down biting smoke from the burning deck instead of fresh
air. The nerves of the officers and crews were in a state of fearful
tension; they had reached the point where nothing matters and where
destruction is looked forward to as a deliverance.

Who was that beside the admiral who said something about the white flag,
to him, the head of the squadron, to the man who had been intrusted with
the honor of the Stars and Stripes? It was only a severely wounded
petty-officer murmuring to himself in the wild delirium of fever. For
God's sake, anything but that! The admiral turned around sharply and
called into the tube leading to the stern turret: "Watch over the flag;
it must not be struck!"

No one answered - dead iron, dead metal, not a human sound could be heard
in that steel tomb. And now some of the electric lights suddenly went
out. "I won't die here in this smoky steel box," said the admiral to
himself; "I won't drown here like a mouse in a trap." There was nothing
more to be done down here anyway, for most of the connections had been
cut off, and so Admiral Perry turned over the command of the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 12 of 23)