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splendid a ship's company should have been lost a little later in action
with another submarine which she engaged unsuccessfully during daylight,
and which followed her in a submerged condition until nightfall and then
torpedoed her, all hands being lost.

It was my privilege during my visit to New Zealand in 1919 to unveil a
memorial to the gallant Sanders which was placed in his old school at
Takapuna, near Auckland.

On June 7, 1917, a decoy ship, the S.S. _Pargust_, armed with one 4-inch
gun, four 12-pounder guns and two torpedo tubes, commanded by Captain
Gordon Campbell, R.N., who had meanwhile been awarded the Victoria
Cross, was in a position Lat. 51.50 N., Long. 11.50 W., when a torpedo
hit the ship abreast the engine-room and in detonating made a hole
through which water poured, filling both engine-room and boiler-room.
The explosion of the torpedo also blew one of the boats to pieces. The
usual procedure of abandoning ship was carried out, and shortly after
the boats had left, the periscope of a submarine was sighted steering
for the port side. The submarine passed close under the stern, steered
to the starboard side, then recrossed the stern to the port side, and
when she was some fifty yards off on the port beam her conning tower
appeared on the surface and she steered to pass round the stern again
and towards one of the ship's boats on the starboard beam. She then came
completely to the surface within one hundred yards, and Captain Campbell
disclosed his true character, opened fire with all guns, hitting the
submarine at once and continuing to hit her until she sank. One officer
and one man were saved. The decoy ship lost one man killed, and one
officer was wounded by the explosion of the torpedo.

As in the case of the action on February 17 the distinguishing feature
of this exploit was the great restraint shown by Captain Campbell in
withholding his fire although his ship was so seriously damaged. The
gallantry and fine discipline of the ship's company, their good shooting
and splendid drill, contributed largely to the success. The decoy ship,
although seriously damaged, reached harbour.

On July 10, 1917, a decoy ship, H.M.S. _Glen_, a small schooner with
auxiliary power and armed with one 12-pounder and one 6-pounder gun,
commanded by Sub-Lieutenant K. Morris, R.N.R., was in a position about
forty miles south-west of Weymouth when a submarine was sighted on the
surface some three miles away. She closed to within two miles and opened
fire on the _Glen_. The usual practice of abandoning ship was followed,
the submarine closing during this operation to within half a mile and
remaining at that distance examining the _Glen_ for some time. After
about half an hour she went ahead and submerged, and then passed round
the ship at about 200 yards distance, examining her through the
periscope, finally coming to the surface about 50 yards off on the port
quarter. Almost immediately she again started to submerge, and fire was
at once opened. The submarine was hit three or four times before she
turned over on her side and disappeared. There was every reason to
believe that she had sunk, although no one was on deck when she
disappeared. No survivors were rescued.

The feature of this action was again the restraint shown by the
commanding officer of the _Glen_ and the excellent discipline of the

On August 8, 1917, the decoy ship H.M.S. _Dunraven_, in Lat. 48.0 N.,
Long. 7.37 W., armed with one 4-inch and four 12-pounder guns and two
torpedo tubes, commanded by Captain Gordon Campbell, V.C., R.N., sighted
a submarine on the surface some distance off. The submarine steered
towards the ship and submerged, and soon afterwards came to the surface
some two miles off and opened fire. The _Dunraven_, in her character of
a merchant ship, replied with an after gun, firing intentionally short,
made a smoke screen, and reduced speed slightly to allow the submarine
to close.

When the shells from the submarine began to fall close to the ship the
order to abandon her was given, and, as usual with the splendidly
trained ship's company working under Captain Campbell, the operation was
carried out with every appearance of disorder, one of the boats being
purposely left hanging vertical with only one end lowered. Meanwhile the
submarine closed. Several shells from her gun hit the after part of the
_Dunraven_, causing a depth charge to explode and setting her on fire
aft, blowing the officer in charge of the after gun out of his control
station, and wounding severely the seaman stationed at the depth
charges. The situation now was that the submarine was passing from the
port to the starboard quarter, and at any moment the 4-inch magazine and
the remaining depth charges in the after part of the _Dunraven_ might be
expected to explode. The 4-inch gun's crew aft knew the imminence of
this danger, but not a man moved although the deck beneath them was
rapidly becoming red hot; and Captain Campbell was so certain of the
magnificent discipline and gallantry of his crew that he still held on
so that the submarine might come clearly into view on the starboard side
clear of the smoke of the fire aft. In a few minutes the anticipated
explosion occurred. The 4-inch gun and gun's crew were blown into the
air just too soon for the submarine to be in the best position for being
engaged. The explosion itself caused the electrical apparatus to make
the "open fire" signal, whereupon the White Ensign was hoisted and the
only gun bearing commenced firing; but the submarine submerged at once.

Fifteen minutes later a torpedo hit the ship, and Captain Campbell again
ordered "abandon ship" and sent away a second party of men to give the
impression that the ship had now been finally abandoned although her
true character had been revealed. Meanwhile he had made a wireless
signal to other ships to keep away as he still hoped to get the
submarine, which, now keeping submerged, moved round the ship for three
quarters of an hour, during which period the fire gained on the
_Dunraven_ and frequent explosions of ammunition took place.

The submarine then came to the surface right astern where no guns could
bear on her, and recommenced her shellfire on the ship, hitting her
frequently. During this period the officers and men still remaining on
board gave no sign of their presence, Captain Campbell, by his example,
imbuing this remnant of his splendid ship's company with his own
indomitable spirit of endurance. The submarine submerged again soon
afterwards, and as she passed the ship Captain Campbell from his
submerged tube fired a torpedo at her, which just missed. Probably the
range was too short to allow the torpedo to gain its correct depth. She
went right round the ship, and a second torpedo was fired from the other
tube, which again missed. This torpedo was evidently seen from the
submarine, as she submerged at once. The ship was sinking, and it was
obviously of no use to continue the deception, which could only lead to
a useless sacrifice of life; wireless signals for assistance were
therefore made, and the arrival of some destroyers brought the action to
a conclusion. The wounded were transferred to the destroyers and the
ship taken in tow, but she sank whilst in tow forty-eight hours later.

This action was perhaps the finest feat amongst the very many gallant
deeds performed by decoy ships during the war. It displayed to the full
the qualities of grim determination, gallantry, patience and resource,
the splendid training and high standard of discipline, which were
necessary to success in this form of warfare. Lieutenant Charles G.
Bonner, R.N.R., and Petty-Officer Ernest Pitcher, R.N., were awarded the
V.C. for their services in this action, and many medals for conspicuous
gallantry were also given to the splendid ship's company.

Captain Campbell, as will be readily realized, met with great success in
his work, and he was the first to acknowledge how this success was due
to those who worked so magnificently under his command, and he also
realized the magnitude of the work performed by other decoy ships in all
areas, since he knew better than most people the difficulties of
enticing a submarine to her doom.

On September 17, 1917, in position Lat. 49.42 N., Long. 13.18 W., the
decoy ship _Stonecrop_, a small steamer commanded by Commander M.
Blackwood, R.N., armed with one 4-inch, one 6-pounder gun and some
stick-bomb throwers and carrying four torpedo tubes, sighted a
submarine, which opened fire on her at long range, the fire being
returned by the 6-pounder mounted aft. After the shelling had continued
for some time the usual order was given to "abandon ship," and a little
later the periscope of the submarine was sighted some distance away. The
submarine gradually closed, keeping submerged, until within about a
quarter of a mile, when she passed slowly round the ship, and finally
came to the surface at a distance of about 500 yards on the starboard
quarter. She did not close nearer, so the order was given to open fire,
and hitting started after the third round had been fired and continued
until the submarine sank stern first. No survivors were picked up, but
all the indications pointed to the certainty of the destruction of the


Mention may here be made of another vessel of a special class designed
in 1917. In the early summer, in consequence of the shortage of
destroyers, of the delays in the production of new ones, and the great
need for more small craft suitable for escorting merchant ships through
the submarine zone, arrangements were made to build a larger and faster
class of trawler which would be suitable for convoy work under
favourable conditions, and which to a certain extent would take the
place of destroyers. Trawlers could be built with much greater rapidity
than destroyers, and trawler builders who could not build destroyers
could be employed for the work, thus supplementing the activities of the
yards which could turn out the bigger craft.

Accordingly a 13-knot trawler was designed, and a large number ordered.
Great delays occurred, however, in their construction, as in that of all
other classes of vessel owing to the pressure of various kinds of war
work and other causes, and only one was delivered during 1917 instead of
the twenty or so which had been promised, whilst I believe that by July,
1918, not more than fourteen had been completed instead of the
anticipated number of forty. I was informed that they proved to be a
most useful type of vessel for the slower convoys, were excellent sea
boats, with a large radius of action, were a great relief to the
destroyers, and even to light cruisers, for convoy work. It is
understood that some fifty were completed by the end of the war.


This idea originated in 1915 or 1916 with Captain Edward C. Villiers, of
the _Actaeon_ Torpedo School ship. Experiments were carried out by a
battleship at Rosyth, in the first instance, and later at Scapa. They
were at that time unsuccessful.

At the end of 1916 I gave directions for a reconsideration of the
matter, and fresh trials were made; but early in 1917 there seemed to be
no prospect of success, and the trials were again abandoned. However,
Captain Villiers displayed great confidence in the idea, and he
introduced modifications, with the result that later in the year 1917
directions were given for fresh trials to be undertaken. At the end of
the year success was first obtained, and this was confirmed early in
1918, and the device finally adopted. A curious experience during the
trials was that the vessel carrying them out was actually fired at by a
German submarine, with the result that the net protection saved the ship
from being torpedoed. It is not often that an inventor receives such a
good advertisement.


The first proposal for this device came from Portsmouth, where the
Commander-in-Chief, Admiral the Hon. Sir Stanley Colville, was
indefatigable in his efforts to combat the submarine; throwers
manufactured by Messrs. Thornycroft, of Southampton, were tried and gave
good results. The arrangement was one by which depth charges could be
projected to a distance of 40 yards from a vessel, and the throwers were
usually fitted one on each quarter so that the charges could be thrown
out on the quarter whilst others were being dropped over the stern, and
the chances of damaging or sinking the submarine attacked were thus
greatly increased.

As soon as the earliest machines had been tried orders were placed for
large numbers and the supplies obtained were as follows:

Deliveries commenced in July, 1917.
By September 1, 30 had been delivered.
By October 1, 97 had been delivered.
By December 1, 238 had been delivered.


At the end of 1916 we possessed 13 fast coastal motor boats, carrying
torpedoes, and having a speed of some 36 knots. They had been built to
carry out certain operations in the Heligoland Bight, working from
Harwich, but the preliminary air reconnaissance which it had been
decided was necessary had not been effected by the end of 1916 owing to
bad weather and the lack of suitable machines.

When winter set in it became impossible, with the type of aircraft then
existing, to carry out the intended reconnaissance, and early in 1917 I
abandoned the idea of the operations for the winter and sent the boats
to the Dover Command for Sir R. Bacon to use from Dunkirk in operations
against enemy vessels operating from Ostend and Zeebrugge. They quickly
proved their value, and it became evident that they would also be useful
for anti-submarine work. A large number were ordered, some for
anti-submarine work and some for certain contemplated operations in
enemy waters, including a night attack on the enemy's light cruisers
known to lie occasionally in the Ems River, an operation that it was
intended to carry out in the spring of 1918. A daylight operation in
this neighbourhood, which was carried out during 1918, did not, from the
published reports, meet with success, the coastal motor boats being
attacked by aircraft, vessels against which they were defenceless. The
new boats were of an improved and larger type than the original 40-feet
boats. Delays occurred in construction owing principally to the
difficulty in obtaining engines by reason of the great demand for
engines for aircraft, and but few of the new boats were delivered during
the year 1917.


The policy which was carried out during 1917 in this respect, so far as
the supply of mines admitted, aimed at preventing the exit of submarines
from enemy ports. Incidentally, the fact that we laid large numbers of
mines in the Heligoland Bight rendered necessary such extensive sweeping
operations before any portion of the High Sea Fleet could put to sea as
to be very useful in giving us some indication of any movement that
might be intended. In view of the distance of the Grand Fleet from
German bases and the short time available in which to intercept the High
Sea Fleet if it came out for such a purpose as a raid on our coasts, or
on convoys, the information thus gathered would have proved of great

In planning mining operations in the Heligoland Bight, it was necessary
to take into consideration certain facts. The _first_ was the knowledge
that the Germans themselves had laid minefields in some portions of the
Bight, and it was necessary for our minelayers to give such suspected
areas a wide berth. _Secondly_, it was obvious that we could not lay
minefields in areas very near those which we ourselves had already
mined, since we should run the risk of blowing up our own ships with our
own mines.

Mining operations had necessarily to be carried out at night, and as
there were no navigational aids in the way of lights, etc., in the
Heligoland Bight, the position in which our mines were laid was never
known with _absolute_ accuracy. Consequently an area in which we had
directed mines to be laid, and to which a minelayer had been sent, could
not safely be approached within a distance of some five miles on a
subsequent occasion.

The use in mining operations of the device known as "taut wire" gear,
introduced by Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Oliver, was of great help in
ensuring accuracy in laying minefields and consequently in reducing the
danger distance surrounding our own minefields.

As our mining operations increased in number we were driven farther and
farther out from the German ports for subsequent operations. This
naturally increased the area to be mined as the Heligoland Bight is
bell-mouthed in shape, but it had the advantage of making the operations
of German minesweepers and mine-bumpers more difficult and hazardous as
they had to work farther out, thus giving our light forces better
chances of catching them at work and engaging them. Such actions as that
on November 17, 1917, between our light forces and the German light
cruisers and minesweepers were the result. We did not, of course, lay
mines in either the Danish or Dutch territorial waters, and these waters
consequently afforded an exit for German vessels as our minefields
became most distant from German bases.

Broadly speaking, the policy was to lay mines so thoroughly in the
Heligoland Bight as to force enemy submarines and other vessels to make
their exits along the Danish or Dutch coasts in territorial waters.

At the end of the exit we stationed submarines to signal enemy movements
and to attack enemy vessels. We knew, of course, that the enemy would
sweep other channels for his ships, but as soon as we discovered the
position of these channels, which was not a very difficult matter, more
mines were laid at the end. In order to give neutrals fair warning,
certain areas which included the Heligoland Bight were proclaimed
dangerous. In this respect German and British methods may be contrasted:
We never laid a minefield which could possibly have been dangerous to
neutrals without issuing a warning stating that a certain area (which
included the minefield) was dangerous. The Germans never issued such a
warning unless the proclamation stating that half the Atlantic Ocean,
most of the North Sea, and nine-tenths of the Mediterranean were
dangerous could be considered as such. It was also intended, as mines
became available, to lay more deep minefields in positions near our own
coast in which enemy submarines were known to work; these minefields
would be safe for the passage of surface vessels, but our patrol craft
would force the submarines to dive into them. This system to a certain
extent had already been in use during 1915 and 1916.

Schemes were also being devised by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur
Wilson, who devoted much of his time to mining devices, by which mines
some distance below the surface would be exploded by an enemy submarine
even if navigating on the surface.

Such was the policy. Its execution was difficult.

The first difficulty lay in the fact that we did not possess a
thoroughly satisfactory mine. A percentage only of our mines exploded
when hit by a submarine, and they failed sometimes to take up their
intended depth when laid, betraying their presence by appearing on the

Energetic measures were adopted to overcome this latter defect, but it
took time and but few mines were available for laying in the early
months of 1917.

The result of our minelaying efforts is shown in the following table:

Mines laid Deep mines laid
Year. in the Heligoland off our own coasts
Bight. to catch submarines.

1915 4,498 983
1916 1,679 2,573
First quarter of 1917 4,865 )
Second quarter of 1917 6,386 ) 3,843
Third quarter of 1917 3,510 )

In the Straits of Dover, Thames Estuary and off the Belgian coast we
laid 2,664 mines in 1914, 6,337 in 1915, 9,685 in 1916, and 4,669 in the
first three quarters of 1917.

These last mines were laid as fast as the alterations, made with a view
to increasing their efficiency, could be carried out.

During the early part of the year 1917 the new pattern of mine, known as
the "H" Type, evolved in 1916, had been tried, and although not
perfectly satisfactory at the first trials, the success was sufficient
to warrant the placing of orders for 100,000 mines and in making
arrangements for the quickest possible manufacture. This was done by the
Director of Torpedoes and Mines, Rear-Admiral the Hon. Edward
Fitzherbert, under the direction of the then Fourth Sea Lord,
Rear-Admiral Lionel Halsey.

Deliveries commenced in the summer of 1917, but by the end of September
only a little over 1,500 were ready for laying. Some 500 of these were
laid in September in the Heligoland Bight and were immediately
successful against enemy submarines. More were laid in the Bight during
October, November and December, and the remainder, as they were
produced, were prepared for laying in the new minefield in the Straits
of Dover. _In the fourth quarter of the year a total of 10,389 mines was
laid in the Heligoland Bight and in the Straits of Dover._

During this last quarter delivery of "H" pattern mines was as follows:
In October 2,350, November 5,300, December 4,800; total 12,450. So that
it will be seen that the mines were laid as fast as delivery was made.

The great increase in projected minelaying operations during the year
1917 made it necessary also to add considerably to the number of
minelaying vessels.

In January, 1917, the only vessels equipped for this service were four
merchant ships and the Flotilla Leader _Abdiel_, with a total minelaying
capacity of some 1,200 mines per trip. It was not advisable to carry out
minelaying operations in enemy waters during the period near full moon
owing to the liability of the minelayers being seen by patrol craft.
Under such conditions the position of the minefield would be known to
the enemy. As the operation of placing the mines on board occupied
several days, it was not passible to depend on an average of more than
three operations per ship per month from the larger minelayers.
Consequently, with the intended policy in view, it was obvious that more
minelayers must be provided.

It was inadvisable to use merchant ships, since every vessel was
urgently required for trade or transport purposes, and the alternative
was to fit men-of-war for minelaying. The only old vessels of this type
suitable for mining in enemy waters were ships of the "Ariadne" class,
and although their machinery was not too reliable, two of these vessels
that were seaworthy were converted to minelayers. In addition a number
of the older light cruisers were fitted with portable rails on which
mines could be carried when minelaying operations were contemplated, in
place of a portion of the armament which could be removed; a flotilla of
destroyers, with some further flotilla leaders, were also fitted out as
minelayers, and several additional submarines were fitted for this

For a projected special scheme of minelaying in enemy waters a number of
lighters were ordered, and some of the motor launches and coastal motor
boats were fitted out and utilized for mining operations on the Belgian
coast towards the end of 1917.

By the end of that year 12 light cruisers, 12 destroyers and flotilla
leaders and 5 submarines had been fitted for minelaying. Two old
cruisers had been added to the minelaying fleet and several other
vessels were in hand for the same purpose. The detailed plans of the
arrangements were prepared and the work of fitting out minelayers
carried out under the supervision of Admiral R.N. Ommanney, C.B., whose
services in this matter were of great value. The rapidity with which
ships were added to the minelaying fleet was largely due to his efforts.

On the entry of the United States of America into the war a further
development of mining policy became feasible. The immense manufacturing
resources of the United States rendered a large production of mines an
easy matter, with the result that as soon as the United States Navy
produced a reliable type of mine the idea of placing a mine barrage
across the northern part of the North Sea which had been previously
discussed became a matter of practical politics. With this end in view a
still further addition to the minelaying fleet became necessary, and

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Online LibraryJohn Rushworth JellicoeThe Crisis of the Naval War → online text (page 7 of 20)