The first hydrophone station which was established in the spring of 1915
was from Oxcars Lighthouse in the Firth of Forth; it was later in the
year transferred to Inchcolm. Experimental work under Captain Ryan
continued at Hawkcraig during 1915, and in 1916 a section of the Board
of Invention and Research went to Hawkcraig to work in conjunction with
him. This station produced the Mark II directional hydrophone of which
large numbers were ordered in 1917 for use in patrol craft. It was a
great improvement on any hydrophone instrument previously in use.
Hawkcraig also produced the directional plates fitted to our submarines,
as well as many other inventions used in detecting the presence of
In addition to the work at Hawkcraig an experimental station under the
Board of Invention and Research was established near Harwich in January,
1917. The Mark I directional hydrophone was designed at this
establishment in 1917, and other exceedingly valuable work was carried
out there connected with the detection of submarines.
At Malta an experimental station, with a hydrophone training school, was
started in the autumn of 1917, and good work was done both there and at
a hydrophone station established to the southward of Otranto at about
the same time, as well as at a hydrophone training school started at
Gallipoli at the end of the year.
"OTTERS" AND PARAVANES
_The "Otter" system_ of defence of merchant ships against mines was
devised by Lieutenant Dennis Burney, D.S.O., R.N. (a son of Admiral Sir
Cecil Burney), and was on similar lines to his valuable invention for
the protection of warships. The latter system had been introduced into
the Grand Fleet in 1916, although for a long period considerable
opposition existed against its general adoption, partly on account of
the difficulties experienced in its early days of development, and
partly owing to the extensive outlay involved in fitting all ships.
However, this opposition was eventually overcome, and before the end of
the war the system had very amply justified itself by saving a large
number of warships from destruction by mines. It was computed that there
were at least fifty cases during the war in which paravanes fitted to
warships had cut the moorings of mines, thus possibly saving the ships.
It must also be borne in mind that the cutting of the moorings of a mine
and the bringing of it to the surface may disclose the presence of an
hitherto unknown minefield, and thus save other ships.
Similarly, the "Otter" defence in its early stages was not introduced
without opposition, but again all difficulties were overcome, and the
rate of progress in its use is shown in the following statement giving
the number of British merchant ships fitted with it at different periods
By July 1, 95 ships had been fitted.
By September 1, 294 ships had been fitted.
By December 1, 900 ships had been fitted.
The system was also extended to foreign merchant ships, and supplies of
"Otters" were sent abroad for this purpose.
A considerable number of merchant ships were known to have been saved
from destruction by mine by the use of this system.
DEFENSIVE ARMING OF MERCHANT SHIPS
The _defensive arming_ of merchant ships was a matter which was pressed
forward with great energy and rapidity during the year 1917. The matter
was taken up with the Cabinet immediately on the formation of the Board
of Admiralty presided over by Sir Edward Carson, and arrangements made
for obtaining a considerable number of guns from the War Office, from
Japan, and from France, besides surrendering some guns from the
secondary and anti-torpedo boat armament of our own men-of-war,
principally those of the older type, pending the manufacture of large
numbers of guns for the purpose. Orders for some 4,200 guns were placed
by Captain Dreyer, the Director of Naval Ordnance, with our own gun
makers in March, April and May, 1917, in addition to nearly 3,000 guns
already on order for this purpose; 400 90-m.m. guns were obtained from
France, the mountings being made in England. Special arrangements were
also made by Captain Dreyer for the rapid manufacture of all guns,
including the provision of the material and of extra manufacturing
These orders for 4,200 guns and the orders for 2,026 howitzers placed at
the same time brought the total number of guns and howitzers under
manufacture in England for naval and merchant service purposes in May,
1917, up to the high figure of 10,761.
At the end of the year 1916 the total number of merchant ships that had
been armed since the commencement of the war (excluding those which were
working under the White Ensign and which had received _offensive_
armaments) was 1,420. Of this number, 83 had been lost.
During the first six months of 1917 armaments were provided for an
additional 1,581 ships, and during the last six months of that year a
further total of 1,406 ships were provided with guns, an aggregate
number of 2,987 ships being thus furnished with armaments during the
year. This total was exclusive of howitzers.
The progress of the work is shown by the following figures:
Number or guns that had been
Date. provided for British Merchant
Ships excluding Howitzers.
January 1, 1917 1,420
April 1, 1917 2,181
July 1, 1917 3,001
October 1, 1917 3,763
January 1, 1918 4,407
The figures given include the guns mounted in ships that were lost
through enemy action or from marine risks.
It should be stated that the large majority of the guns manufactured
during 1917 were 12-pounders or larger guns, as experience had shown
that smaller weapons were usually outranged by those carried in
submarines, and the projectiles of even the 12-pounder were smaller than
was desirable. Of the 2,987 new guns mounted in merchant ships during
the year 1917 only 190 were smaller than 12-pounders.
AIRCRAFT FOR ANTI-SUBMARINE WORK
_Anti-submarine work by aircraft_ was already in operation round our
coasts by the beginning of 1917, and during the year the increase in
numbers and improvement in types of machines rendered possible
considerable expansion of the work. Closer co-operation between surface
vessels and aircraft was also secured, and as the convoy system was
extended aircraft were used both for escort and observation work, as
well as for attack on submarines. For actual escort work airships were
superior to heavier-than-air machines owing to their greater radius of
action, whilst for offensive work against a submarine that had been
sighted the high speed of the seaplane or aeroplane was of great value.
In 1916 and the early part of 1917 we were but ill provided with
aircraft suitable for anti-submarine operations at any considerable
distance from the coast, and such aircraft as we possessed did not carry
sufficiently powerful bombs to be very effective in attacking
submarines, although they were of use in forcing these vessels to
submerge and occasionally in bringing our surface craft to the spot to
press home the attack.
The Royal Naval Air Service, under Commodore Godfrey Paine, devoted much
energy to the provision of suitable aircraft, and the anti-submarine
side of the Naval Staff co-operated in the matter of their organization;
with the advent of the large "America" type of seaplane and the
Handley-Page type of aeroplane, both of which carried heavy bombs,
successful attacks on enemy submarines became more frequent. They were
assisted by the airships, particularly those of the larger type.
Improvements which were effected in signalling arrangements between
ships and aircraft were instrumental in adding greatly to their
efficiency, and by the early summer of 1917 aircraft had commenced to
play an important part in the war against submarines and in the
protection of trade.
Thereafter progress became rapid, as the following figures show:
In June, 1917, aeroplanes and seaplanes patrolling for anti-submarine
operations covered 75,000 miles, sighted 17 submarines, and were able to
attack 7 of them.
In September, 1917, the distance covered by anti-submarine patrols of
aeroplanes and seaplanes was 91,000 miles, 25 submarines were sighted,
of which 18 were attacked.
In the four weeks ending December 8, 1917, in spite of the much shorter
days and the far less favourable flying weather experienced, the mileage
covered was again 91,000 miles; 17 submarines were sighted, of which 11
were attacked during this period.
As regards airships the figures again show the increased anti-submarine
work carried out:
In June, 1917, airships engaged in anti-submarine patrol covered 53,000
miles, sighted and attacked 1 submarine.
In September, 1917, they covered 83,000 miles, and sighted 8 submarines,
of which 5 were attacked.
In the four weeks ending December 8, 1917, they covered 50,000 miles,
sighted 6 submarines, and attacked 5 of them.
The airships were more affected by short days, and particularly by bad
weather, than the heavier than air craft, and the fact that they covered
practically the same mileage in the winter days of December as in the
summer days of June shows clearly the development that took place in the
During the whole of 1917 it was estimated that our heavier than air
craft sighted 135 submarines and attacked 85 of them, and our lighter
than air craft sighted 26 and attacked 15. The figures given in Chapter
IX of the number of submarines sunk during the war by aircraft (viz. 7
as a minimum), when compared with the number of attacks during 1917
alone suggest the difficulties of successful attack.
In September, 1917, as extensive a programme as was consistent with
manufacturing capabilities, in view of the enormous demands of the Army,
was drawn up by the Naval Staff for the development of aircraft for
anti-submarine operations during 1918.
The main developments were in machines of the large "America" type and
heavy bombing machines for attacking enemy bases, as well as other
anti-submarine machines and aircraft for use with the Grand Fleet.
Included in the anti-submarine operations of aircraft during 1917 were
the bombing attacks on Bruges, since the German submarines and the
shelters in which they took refuge were part of the objective.
These attacks were carried out from the aerodrome established by the
Royal Naval Air Service at Dunkirk. During 1917 the Naval Air Forces of
the Dover Command, which included the squadrons at Dunkirk, were under
the command of Captain C.L. Lambe, R.N., and the operations of this
force were of a very strenuous character and of the utmost value.
Bombing operations prior to the year of 1917 had been carried out by
various types of machines, but the introduction of the Handley-Page
aeroplanes in the spring of 1917 enabled a much greater weight of
bombs - viz. some 1,500 lbs. - to be carried than had hitherto been
possible. These machines were generally used for night bombing, and the
weight of bombs dropped on the enemy bases in Belgium rose with great
rapidity as machines of the Handley-Page type were delivered, as did the
number of nights on which attacks were made. It was no uncommon
occurrence during the autumn of 1917 for six to eight tons of bombs to
be dropped in one night. I have not the figures for 1918, but feel no
doubt that with the great increase in aircraft that became possible
during that year this performance was constantly exceeded.
SPECIAL SERVICE OR DECOY SHIPS
The story of the work of these vessels constitutes a record of
gallantry, endurance and discipline which has never been surpassed
afloat or ashore. The earliest vessels were fitted out during the year
1915 at Scapa, Rosyth, Queenstown and other ports, and from the very
first it was apparent that they would win for themselves a place in
history. The earliest success against an enemy submarine by one of these
vessels was achieved by the _Prince Charles_, fitted out at Scapa, and
commanded by Lieutenant Mark-Wardlaw, an officer on the Staff of Admiral
Sir Stanley Colville, then Admiral Commanding the Orkneys and Shetlands.
In the early months of 1917 it was decided to augment greatly the force
of these special service vessels, and steps were taken to organize a
separate Admiralty Department for the work. Special experience was
needed, both for the selection of suitable ships and for fitting them
out, and care was taken to select officers who had been personally
connected with the work during the war; the advice of successful
commanders of decoy ships was also utilized. At the head was Captain
Alexander Farrington, under whose directions several ships had been
fitted out at Scapa with great ingenuity and success. Every class of
ship was brought into the service: steam cargo vessels, trawlers,
drifters, sailing ships, ketches, and sloops specially designed to have
the appearance of cargo ships. These latter vessels were known as
"convoy sloops" to distinguish them from the ordinary sloop. Their
design, which was very clever, had been prepared in 1916 by Sir Eustace
T. D'Eyncourt, the Director of Naval Construction. The enemy submarine
commanders, however, became so wary owing to the successes of decoy
ships that they would not come to the surface until they had inspected
ships very closely in the submerged condition, and the fine lines of the
convoy sloops gave them away under close inspection.
In the early spring of 1917 the Director of Naval Construction was asked
whether the "P" class of patrol boats then under construction could be
altered to work as decoy vessels, as owing to their light draught they
would be almost immune from torpedo attack.
A very good design was produced, and some of the later patrol boats were
converted and called "P Q's." These vessels had the appearance of small
merchant ships at a cursory glance. They would not, however, stand close
examination owing, again, to their fine lines, but being better sea
boats than the "P's," by reason of their greater freeboard, the design
was continued, and they met with considerable success against submarines
(especially in the Irish Sea) by ramming and depth charge tactics, the
submarines when submerged probably not realizing when observing the "P
Q.'s" through a periscope the speed of which they were capable.
During 1917, when the unrestricted submarine warfare was in progress,
many of the decoy vessels were fitted with torpedo tubes, either above
water or submerged, since, as the submarine commanders became more wary,
they showed great dislike to coming to the surface sufficiently close to
merchant ships to admit of the gun armament being used with certainty of
success. A torpedo, on the other hand, could, of course, be used
effectively against a submarine whilst still submerged. The use also
became general of casks or cargoes of wood to give additional flotation
to decoy ships after being torpedoed, so as to prolong their life in
case the submarine should close near enough to allow of effective
Another ruse adopted was that of changing the disguise of a decoy ship
during the night, so that she could not be identified by a submarine
which had previously made an attack upon her. In all cases of disguise
or of changing disguise it was essential that the decoy ship should
assume the identity of some class of vessel likely to be met with in the
particular area in which she was working, and obviously the courses
steered were chosen with that object in view.
Again, since for success it was essential to induce the submarine to
come within close range so that the decoy ship's gunfire should be
immediately effective, it was necessary that her disguise should stand
the closest possible examination through the periscope of a submarine.
German submarine commanders, after a short experience of decoy ships,
were most careful not to bring their vessels to the surface in proximity
to craft that were apparently merchant ships until they had subjected
them to the sharpest scrutiny at short range through the periscope, and
the usual practice of an experienced submarine commander was to steer
round the ship, keeping submerged all the time.
Not only was it essential that there should be no sign of an armament in
the decoy ship, or a man-of-war-like appearance in any respect, but when
the "panic" signal was made to lead the submarine commander to think
that his attack had succeeded, precautions had to be taken against the
presence of more than the ordinary number of men in the boats lowered
and sent away with the supposed whole ship's company; also the sight of
any men left on board would at once betray the real character of the
decoy ship and result in the disappearance of the submarine and the
probable sinking of the disguised craft by torpedo fire.
During the late summer of 1917 it became evident that the submarine
commanders had become so suspicious of decoy craft that the chances of
success by the larger cargo vessels were not sufficient to justify any
further addition to existing numbers in view of the increasing shortage
of shipping; a considerable fleet of steamers building for this purpose
was therefore diverted to trade purposes. The number of smaller vessels,
particularly sailing craft, was, however, increased especially in
Mediterranean waters where they had not been previously operating on an
It is impossible to close these remarks on this class of vessel without
testifying once more to the splendid gallantry, self-sacrifice, skilful
resource and magnificent discipline shown by those on board. This is
illustrated by descriptions of a few typical actions fought during 1917.
The first which I relate took place on February 17, 1917, when a decoy
vessel, a steamship armed with five 12-pounder guns, commanded by that
most gallant officer, Captain Gordon Campbell, R.N., was torpedoed by a
submarine in a position Lat. 51.34 N., Long. 11.23 W.
Captain Campbell saw the torpedo coming and manoeuvred to try and avoid
being hit in the engine-room, but as he purposely always selected a very
slow ship for decoy work his attempt was only partially successful and
the engine-room began to fill. No signal for assistance was made,
however, as Captain Campbell feared that such a signal might bring
another vessel on the scene and this would naturally scare the submarine
away. The usual procedure of abandoning the ship in the boats with every
appearance of haste was carried out, only sufficient hands remaining
hidden on board to work the guns. The periscope of the submarine was
next sighted on the quarter within 200 or 300 yards, and she came slowly
past the ship still submerged and evidently examining the vessel closely
through the periscope. She passed within a few yards of the ship, then
crossed the bow and came to the surface about 200 yards off and passed
down the port side again close to. Captain Campbell waited until every
gun would bear before giving the signal for "action." The decoy ship's
true character was then revealed; concealed gunports were thrown open;
colours were hoisted, and a hot fire opened from all guns. The submarine
was hit at once and continued to be hit so rapidly that it was evidently
impossible for her to submerge. She sank in a very short time. One
officer and one man were picked up. A signal was then made for
assistance and help arrived within a couple of hours. The decoy ship was
rapidly filling, but efforts were made to tow her into port, and with
the greatest difficulty, and entirely owing to the splendid manner in
which all hands stuck to the work, she was brought into Berehaven with
her stern under water thirty-six hours later and beached. The great
restraint shown by Captain Campbell, in withholding fire as the
submarine passed her in a submerged condition, and the truly wonderful
discipline and steadiness and ingenuity which baffled so close an
examination of the ship were the outstanding features of this great
On April 22, 1917, a decoy ship known as "Q22," a small sailing vessel
with auxiliary power, armed with two 12-pounder guns, and commanded by
Lieutenant Irvine, R.N.R., while in a position about fifty miles south
of Kinsale Head, sighted a submarine on the surface which opened fire
immediately at a range of about 4,000 yards. The fire was accurate and
the decoy ship was hit frequently, two men being killed and four wounded
in a few minutes and the vessel considerably damaged. As further
concealment appeared useless the guns were then unmasked and the fire
returned with apparently good results, several hits being claimed. The
enemy's fire then fell off in accuracy and she increased the range, and
after about one and a half hours' fighting the light became too bad to
continue the action. It was thought that the submarine was sunk, but
there was no positive evidence of sinking.
On April 30, 1917, a decoy ship - H.M.S. _Prize_ - a small schooner with
auxiliary power, armed with two 12-pounder guns and commanded by
Lieutenant W.E. Sanders, R.N.R., a New Zealand officer, sighted, when in
position Lat. 49.44 N., Long. 11.42 W., a submarine about two miles away
on the port beam at 8.30 P.M. At 8.45 P.M. the submarine opened fire on
the _Prize_ and the "abandon ship" party left in a small boat. The
submarine gradually approached, continuing to pour in a heavy fire and
making two hits on the _Prize_ which put the motor out of action,
wrecked the wireless office, and caused much internal damage besides
letting a great deal of water into the ship.
The crew of the _Prize_ remained quietly hidden at their concealed guns
throughout this punishment, which continued for forty minutes as the
submarine closed, coming up from right astern, a position no doubt which
she considered one of safety. When close to she sheered off and passed
to the port beam at a distance of about one hundred yards. At this
moment Lieutenant Sanders gave the order for "action." The guns were
exposed and a devastating fire opened at point blank range, but not
before the submarine had fired both her guns, obtaining two more hits,
and wounding several of the crew of the _Prize_. The first shell fired
from the _Prize_ hit the foremost gun of the submarine and blew it
overboard, and a later shot knocked away the conning tower. The
submarine went ahead and the _Prize_ tried to follow, but the damage to
her motor prevented much movement. The firing continued as the submarine
moved away, and after an interval she appeared to be on fire and to
sink. This occurred shortly after 9.0 P.M., when it was nearly dark. The
_Prize_ sent her boats to pick up survivors, three being taken out of
the water, including the commander and one other officer. The prisoners
on coming on board expressed their willingness to assist in taking the
_Prize_ into port. It did not at this time seem likely that she would
long remain afloat, but by great exertion and good seamanship the leaks
were got under to a sufficient extent to allow of the ship being kept
afloat by pumping. The prisoners gave considerable help, especially when
the ship caught fire whilst starting the motor again. On May 2 she met a
motor launch off the coast of Ireland and was towed into port. In spite
of the undoubted great damage to the submarine, damage confirmed by the
survivors, who were apparently blown overboard with the conning tower,
and who had no thought other than that she had been sunk, later
intelligence showed that she succeeded in reaching Germany in a very
disabled condition. This incident accentuated still further the
recurrent difficulty of making definite statements as to the fate of
enemy submarines, for the evidence in this case seemed absolutely
conclusive. The commander of the submarine was so impressed with the
conduct of the crew of the _Prize_ that when examined subsequently in
London he stated that he did not consider it any disgrace to have been
beaten by her, as he could not have believed it possible for any ship's
company belonging to any nation in the world to have been imbued with
such discipline as to stand the shelling to which he subjected the
_Prize_ without any sign being made which would give away her true
Lieut.-Commander Sanders was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action
and many decorations were given to the officers and ship's company for
their conduct in the action. It was sad that so fine a commander and so