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The Corsair in the war zone online

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With Illustrations



The Riverside Press Cambridge


'North, East, South, and West,

The Corsair sails and knows no rest.* 1



I. The Call of Duty Overseas i

II. "Lafayette, we are here!" 29

III. At Sea with the Breton Patrol 55

IV. Tragedies and Rescues 76
V. When the Antilles went down ioi

VI. Admiral Wilson comes to Brest 122

VII. Smashed by a Hurricane 146

VIII. The Pleasant Interlude at Lisbon 174

IX. Uncle Sam's Bridge of Ships 198

X. The Corsair stands by 225

XI. In the Radio-Room 251

XII. The Long Road Home 266

XIII. Honorably Discharged 289

XIV. The Ship's Company 296


The Corsair rescues the Crew of the Sinking
Californian Frontispiece

Admiral H. B. Wilson, commanding the U.S. Naval
Forces in France 4

Commander Theodore A. Kittinger, U.S.N. , com-
manding U.S.S. Corsair io

Lieutenant Commander William B. Porter, later


Robert E. Tod, Navigator 16

Fitting the Corsair for the War Zone 22

Number Two Gun Crew on Watch 26

They are All Sea Dogs together 26

Some of the Officers and Crew, before leaving

New York 32

With America's First Convoy: Troop-Ships Hen-
derson, Antilles, Mom us, and Lenape 38
The Mine functions and a Lurking U-Boat would

find it excessively Unhealthy 38

The Kind of "Gobs" the Country was proud of 44
The German Submarine was a Tiny Target even

when on the surface 44

Boatswain's Mate Seger, from Passaic 50

Pharmacist's Mate Feeley and Mess Attendant

Martinez 50

Winning Boat Crew in Fourth of July Race with

Aphrodite 56

"The Bridge Gang" 56



Starting the Swimming Race from a Mooring

Buoy 62

Water Sports on the Fourth of July: The Race

between Life-Rafts with Coal Shovels for

Paddles 62

A Wet Day for the Deck Watch 66

French and Underhill are dolled up for the

Camera 66

The Burning American Schooner Augustus Weld 70
From the Corsair's Main-Top: The Convoy steams

out 70

"Coal on the Corsair, Fill every bin. We work

like hell, boys, tlll it's all in" 74

A French Fishing-Smack which dared the Ruthless

Warfare 78

The S.S. Manto, which sped through the War Zone

at Five Knots 78

A Group of Chief Petty Officers 84

A Liberty Party at Brest 84

The Gunner's Mates and the Long Row of Depth

Charges ready to plop over the Stern 88

Another View of the Mine Track, showing the

Y Gun or Double Mortar 88

French Fishermen who were set adrift 92

The Castaways find a Hearty Welcome on the

Corsair 92

Gunner's Mates Barko and Moore, and a Depth

Charge 98

Watching the Aphrodite go out on Patrol 98

Engineering Force of the Corsair 102

Lieutenant J.J. Patterson, Engineer Officer, and

his Husky "Black Gang" 102



A Boat-Load of Survivors from the Antilles com-

Naval Officers rescued from the Antilles, with

General McNair, U.S.A. 106

The Antilles crowded with Troops on her Last

Voyage to France i io

The Alcedo picks up the Antilles Survivors iio

The Corsair drops a Mine and shakes up Fritz 114
The Finland, just after she was torpedoed 118

Destroyer Preston, which was caught in the Hur-

Chief Yeoman Paulson 122

Gunner's Mate Wiley 122

Bucking into the Winter Seas 128

She takes 'em aboard Green 128

The Ship's Cooks and the Wardroom Steward 134

The Noble Job of peeling "Spuds" 134
Boatswain's Mate Houtz in the Navy's Storm

Clothes 140

Swollen Sea, from the Forward Crow's-Nest 140

A Letter from Home: Coaling Ship must wait 144

Carroll Bayne gets his Ensign's Commission 144
How the Hurricane Seas pounded the Yacht : "The

Poor Old Ship was a Mess " 150

What was left of the Emergency Wheel 156

When the Hurricane slapped the Windows 156

Assistant Engineer Hawthorn and his Watch 160

The Crew of Number Three Gun 160

Temporary Repairs, after the Hurricane 164
What the Forward Deck-House looked like

while running for lisbon 1 64



Cleaning up at Lisbon, after the Hurricane 172

Lisbon Harbor and the Tug that towed the Cor-
sair to the Dockyard 176
The American Legation at Lisbon where the Cor-
sair's Crew found a Home 176
The Corsair in Drydock at Lisbon 182
At her Mooring Buoy, Brest 182
"Doc" Laub agrees that "this is the Life if you

don't weaken" 188

Coxswain Dave Tibbott waits with the Launch 188
The Cheery French Pilot, Lieutenant Mejeck 194
Chief Quartermaster Benton 194

The Home of the American Naval Officers' Club

in Brest 200

American Yachts clustered inside the Break-
water, Brest 206
The Faithful Wakiva, which was sunk in Colli-
sion 212
Big Transports in Brest Harbor 212
Chief Quartermaster Farr stands with Folded
Arms and indicates that he has his Sea-Legs
with him 216
Commander Kittinger says Good-Bye to Lieuten-
ant Commander Porter as the Latter takes
over the Command 216

Lieutenant Schanze, Ensign Gray, Lieutenant
Commander Porter, Chief Engineer Hutchison,
Commander Kittinger, and Lieutenant McGuire 220

At Rosyth: Lieutenant Nolan, Dr. Agnew, Com-
mander Porter, Lieutenant McGuire, Ensign
Acorn, Lieutenant Patterson, Ensign Wangerin,
and Paymaster Erickson 220



Rolling out to find a Convoy 226

A Little Water on Deck 226

The Sinking Californian: Going, Going, Almost

Gone! 232

Californian Survivors aboard the Corsair 232

A Mascot from the Californian, known as "The
Mutt" 238

The Newfoundland Pup saved from the French
Fishing Bark 238

The Dagfin, broken down and helpless. The Cor-
sair STANDS BY 244

Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of
the Atlantic Fleet 248

H. A. Breckel, Chief Radio Operator 256

Electricians Swan and Plummer, of the highly
Efficient Radio Gang 256

At the Emergency Wheel: Heavy Weather Off-
shore 262

The Trim, Immaculate Navy Man: After Coaling
Ship 262

Boatswain's Mate French bought a Pet Parrot in
Lisbon 268

"Tommy," the Ship's Cat, who finished strong in
the Hurricane 268

"Teddy," who was given a Military Funeral when
he swallowed a Nail 268

With the Grand Fleet at Rosyth 274

Surrendered German Submarines tied up at Port-
land 274

The Corsair at Queenstown as Flagship of Ad-
miral Sims 278



Seaman Henry Barry, before they wished An-
other Job on him 282

Gunner's Mate Simpson hopes to spot that Sub 282

The Homeward-Bound Pennant: "We're off for
Little Old New York, thank God" 286

The Corsair when in Commission as a Yacht before
the War 290

Admiral William S. Sims, commanding the U.S.
Naval Forces in European Waters 294

Map showing the Corsair's Wanderings in the
War Zone 304




THE task of the American Navy in the great
conflict was performed exceedingly well, but
so very quietly that even now the merits of the
achievement are realized only by those who knew
how near the German submarine campaign came
to winning the war. There was no blacker period
than the spring of 191 7 when the losses of Allied
merchant shipping were mounting toward a million
tons a month, and the Admiralty was well aware
that England stood face to face with starvation
and defeat unless this piracy could soon be checked.
It was when Admiral Sims cabled to his own Gov-
ernment, from London, "Briefly stated, I consider
that at the present moment we are losing the
war"; when Admiral Jellicoe privately admitted,
"It is impossible for us to go on if losses like this
continue"; and when Lord Balfour could see no
escape from the same tragic conclusion.

The facts were purposely concealed from the
people of both countries, and even after the decla-
ration of war the attitude of the American mind


was all too leisurely, while the British grimly hung
on and tightened their belts with the tenacity of
the breed. The battleship squadrons of the Grand
Fleet still dominated the surface of the Seven Seas,
but they were helpless to aid in this vital problem.
It was perceived that the chief hope of salvation
was in massing destroyers to protect the converging
trade routes of the Irish Sea and the English Chan-
nel and thereby increasing the supply of food and
material. For this service the British Navy was
able to spare a flotilla of less than a score of these
craft, a patrol force obviously inadequate. These
were the reasons why the fleet of thirty-five fast
and powerful American destroyers was sent across
the Atlantic, and why Queenstown was chosen as
the strategic base port.

As soon as the troop-ships began to move over-
seas, these destroyers were able to extend their op-
erations and to help guard and escort the convoys
through the Bay of Biscay to the coast of France.
Meanwhile another urgent situation had developed
and an appeal no less insistent had been conveyed
to Washington. The navy of France was mostly in
the Mediterranean where it properly belonged, and
the small patrol force off the stormy shores of
Brittany was racked, weary, almost discouraged.
Thousands of French sailors had been sent from
the ships and bases to fight in the trenches. The
little torpedo boats and trawlers were unable to
cope with the U-boats which ran amuck among the



precious coastwise convoys or intercepted the ships
that were homeward bound from distant voyages.

France was magnificent, but her maritime
strength in the Atlantic was almost spent. To safe-
guard the approaches to her ports in which Amer-
ican regiments and divisions were to be landed,
hundreds of thousands of men, with their moun-
tains of supplies, was more than she could attempt.
Help was needed and the American Navy was eager
to respond, but no more destroyers were available.
It was necessary to retain a certain number of
them in home waters as units of the fighting fleet
of big ships which was held in readiness for what-
ever emergency the war might suddenly unfold. To
France, therefore, the Navy was compelled to send
whatever it could lay hands on at short notice, plan-
ning to reinforce this vanguard with destroyers as
fast as they could be launched and commissioned.

In these circumstances the only ships which
could be hastily fitted out and sent across were the
larger yachts, about twenty in number, whose
owners had enrolled and offered them for service
when the war clouds were gathering. It had been
expected that these pleasure craft, with their vol-
unteer officers and crews, would be used only in
the coastal patrol areas and not for duty in the
war zone, and in the naval organization they were
defined as belonging to "Class IV," which had a
limited field of operation. This was no obstacle, it is
needless to say, for when the greater opportunity



offered, the amateur bluejackets who manned these
yachts were eager to shift into "Class II, " or com-
batant ships, and to sign on for the adventure in
the war zone.

The story of one of these yachts which bravely
endured almost two years of battering service in
foreign waters is more than a record of a single ship,
for it will convey, I hope, something of the spirit
and the experiences which they all shared together
and which the Navy at large regards with pride as
worthy of its traditions. These ships were flung into
work for which they were presumably unfitted, into
a kind of warfare which was wholly novel, and they
sailed with crews who were mostly greenhorns, but
they passed the test with flying colors and their ad-
miral who commanded the American Naval Forces
in France took pleasure in writing, not long ago :

U.S.S. Pennsylvania
New York, N.Y.
8 September, 19 19

My dear Mr. Paine:

I am glad that you are to write the war story of the
Corsair because the story of the yachts that came to
France in 191 7 is well worthy of record. These vessels,
designed for pleasure and manned, in large part, by
officers and men of little naval training, but of uncon-
querable spirit, were by peculiar circumstances given
an important role in the war.

Because of the lack of destroyers, the yachts con-
tributed a large share of the American naval effort on
the French coast during the summer and fall of 191 7
— trying months of the submarines' greatest activity.

Copyright by Underwood and Underwood, N. F.


Their work then and subsequently, whether on troop
and store-ship escort in the Bay of Biscay, convoy es-
cort through the difficult coastal channels of France,
or on the Gironde convoys, was frequently hazardous
and was always well done.

Very sincerely R B WiLSQN

(Admiral, U.S. Navy)

Such was the " Suicide Fleet" as it was dubbed by
certain pessimists who were later compelled to eat
their words. Of these yachts one of the largest and
fastest was the Corsair , owned by J. Pierpont
Morgan, and the second of her name to fly the pen-
nant of the American Navy in war-time. The first
Corsair was renamed the Gloucester and won a
well-deserved renown at Santiago in 1898, under
Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright, who
engaged two Spanish destroyers, driving one ashore
and sinking the other in the most brilliant single
exploit of that battle. In size and armament either
destroyer was more than a match for the converted
yacht, called a gunboat by courtesy, whose main
battery consisted of four six-pounders. This was
the kind of blue-water warfare which American
sailors would have vastly preferred in 191 7, ship
to ship, between honorable foemen, as navies had
fought in days gone by. I

The contrast between the naval careers of these
two Corsairs is wide and significant. The older ship
had known what to expect, a certain chivalry of
the sea which had never been obscured, even when


men slew each other with cutlass and boarding-pike
upon reddened decks. It was exemplified in the con-
duct of the Spanish Admiral Cervera, and reflected
in the behavior of Captain "Jack" Phillip of the
Texas when he shouted to his bluejackets in the
moment of victory, " Don't cheer, boys. The poor
devils are dying.' '

The Corsair of twenty years later was to sail
against an enemy who skulked beneath the sea with
malice toward all and mercy toward none, who
counted women and children as fair prey in war,
and whose trail was marked by the agonies of un-
armed and helpless castaways adrift in open boats.

This Corsair was no fragile, fair-weather yacht
whose cruises had been confined to sheltered reaches,
but a powerful ship familiar with the Atlantic in all
seasons. She was no longer young, as vessels go,
with eighteen years of service to her credit, but
the Lloyd's surveyor rated her as staunch and
sound in every respect. As a yacht the Corsair had
made six voyages to Europe, while owned by the
late J. Pierpont Morgan, and her shapely lines were
known to mariners from the Channel ports to the
Mediterranean and the Golden Horn.

A faithful ship which has long withstood the
ordeals of the sea becomes something more than a
mere fabric of steel and wood. She seems almost
sentient, like a living thing to those who have
shared her fortunes, and therein is the immemorial
romance which the sea peculiarly vouchsafes. It is



obvious to sailor-men that these many years of fidel-
ity, in winter gales and summer breezes, should have
endeared the Corsair to her owners, father and son.

Designed by J. Beavor Webb, the yacht was
built for offshore work, although not with the
expectation that she would be used as a "fourth-
rate gunboat" in the Bay of Biscay for a year and
a half on end. This was too much to ask of a vessel
so planned and arranged, but like the men of the
Navy she proved that she could do a little better
than her best. Her length was three hundred and
four feet, with a beam of thirty-three and a half
feet, a draft of seventeen feet, and a measurement
of sixteen hundred tons — noble dimensions for a
pleasure craft. The unusual speed of nineteen knots
was maintained, when necessary, in the war zone.
Her yachting complement comprised fifty-five offi-
cers and men. With spacious decks and living quar-
ters, the Corsair was rather comfortable than ornate.

Captain William B. Porter had been in com-
mand of her for sixteen years. He was a deep-water
sailor whose youth had known a merchant marine
now vanished, the stately sailing ships from ports
"down east" which lifted skysail yards to the
breath of the Pacific trades or snugged down to
breast the tempests of Cape Horn. He knew ship-
wreck and the peril and misery of an open boat
adrift in Far Eastern seas. He had gone into steam,
at first on the China coast, and later he became an
officer in the American Line. During the Spanish


War he served on the auxiliary cruiser Yale with the
naval rank of lieutenant (junior grade), and was
given command of the Spanish Steamer Rita which
was captured as a prize and used as a transport.

When the Corsair was taken over by the Navy,
it was ruled that all vessels of this class should
be commanded by an officer of the regular service.
Captain Porter was appointed executive officer of
the yacht, which position he held until promoted
to command during her second year of duty in for-
eign waters.

In April and May of 191 7 the Corsair was over-
hauled and refitted as a fighting craft at the yard
of the W. & A. Fletcher Company in Hoboken, the
firm which had built her. The Navy is severely
practical and beauty was sacrificed to utility. The
bowsprit, which had added the finishing touch to
the fine sheer of the deck, was ruthlessly removed.
Canvas-screened platforms, or crow's-nests, dis-
figured the two tall masts. The white-pine decks,
whose spotlessness had been the officers' pride,
were bored for gun mountings. Teakwood panels
which had covered the steel plates of the bulwarks
were sent ashore for storage. Plate-glass windows
were boarded up and gleaming brass-work painted
to decrease visibility and save the trouble of pol-
ishing it. The quarter-deck, no longer inviting
to leisure with its awnings, cushions, and wicker
chairs, was measured for the track and gear of the
ready depth bombs.



The hardest problem was to stow a hundred and
more men below. The large dining-room forward
was stripped of its fittings and filled with tiers of
bunks and a few hammocks. Down the middle ran
two long mess tables, bare and scrubbed. Forty-
five men were taken care of in this space, and al-
though they could not have whirled a cat around
by the tail, they were no more crowded than is
customary in the Navy. Twenty-four more were
berthed in the forecastle. By ripping out bulkheads,
room was made in the "glory hole" for some of the
petty officers. The old quarters of the yacht's
officers were given over to the chief petty officers.
The bluejackets overflowed into the hold and slept
close to the ice machine, where they philosophi-
cally reflected that they were sure to keep cool in
the event of a torpedo attack.

The owner's cabins and the library aft were occu-
pied by the commissioned officers. Although the
rugs and panels and much of the furniture were
removed and the ship had a bare, business-like
aspect, the officers found a certain luxury in the
fact that there were bathrooms enough to go round.
They ate in the forward house on deck and the
library served as an office, with gun supports ex-
tending from the wide divans to the deck above.
The rough-and-ready transformation must have
seemed almost brutal to those of the crew who, for
many years, had striven for perfection of detail in
maintaining the Corsair as a yacht. As a fighting



ship the gleaming black of the hull and the mahog-
any houses were covered with sombre gray paint.

A naval crew was put aboard as soon as the quar-
ters were ready. For the most part they were eager
and youthful volunteers who had chosen the Navy
because it seemed to promise speedier action than
the Army. They had lost no time in enlisting, many
of them preferring the humble station of a blue-
jacket to the delay incident to studying for a com-
mission at Plattsburg. The lack of seafaring expe-
rience was atoned for by unbounded zeal and enthu-
siasm. Their sublime ignorance was unclouded by
doubts. They yearned to fight German submarines
and expected to find them.

It was a democracy of the forecastle in which
social distinctions were thrown^ overboard as so
much rubbish. The yachts recruited many of their
men from the universities, from offices in Wall
Street and Broadway, and as sweating "gobs"
with blistered palms they rubbed elbows or bunked
with youngsters of all sorts and were proud of it.
Princeton was strong aboard the Corsair, and more
than a dozen of her sons, as a stentorian glee club,
enlivened the Bay of Biscay with praise of Old
Nassau. The older officers of the regular service
disliked this new word "gob" as undignified and
untraditional, but the Reserve Force adopted it
with pride as the badge of their high-hearted

The Corsair was fortunate in the officers assigned


» •

> > J




for the hazardous employments of the war zone.
Lieutenant Commander Theodore A. Kittinger,
U.S.N., was in command of the yacht, having been
transferred from the destroyer Cashing which had
taken part in the long and arduous training that
had whetted the flotilla personnel to a fine edge.

The service record of Commander Kittinger helps
one to realize how varied is the experience and how
rigorous the training of a naval officer, even in time
of peace. Graduated from Annapolis in 1901, he
served first in the battleship Alabama, of the North
Atlantic Squadron, as junior watch and division
officer, on deck and in the engine-room. As an
ensign he was in the converted yacht Vixen in 1903
when she cruised in Caribbean waters and kept an
eye on the attempt of the former Kaiser to meddle
in the affairs of Venezuela. Then shifted to the
China station, the youthful officer was in the mon-
itor Monadnock and the cruiser New Orleans during
the anti-foreign riots and the Russo-Japanese War.

Sent home to join the armored cruiser West
Virginia, Lieutenant Kittinger was an assistant
engineer officer in 1906 and again made the long
voyage to the Far East and the Pacific. He became
gunnery officer of the same ship before the tour
of sea duty ended and he was appointed assistant
inspector of ordnance at the Naval Gun Factory,
Washington. In 1910-13 he was senior engineer
officer of the battleship Minnesota, visiting Europe
and then to Cuba and Vera Cruz. Again ashore,



he was in charge of the smokeless powder works at
Indian Head and executive officer of the station of
the Naval Proving Ground, going from there to the
Fore River Shipyard as naval inspector of machinery.
Then came two years of sea service in a destroyer.

As executive officer of the Corsair, Lieutenant
Commander Porter was an uncommonly experi-
enced and capable seaman and navigator and, of
course, knew the ship from keel to truck and what
she could do in all weathers. Third on the list was
Lieutenant Robert E. Tod as navigating officer.
He was one of the foremost yachtsmen of the
United States, a commodore of the Atlantic Yacht
Club, and a licensed master mariner who had sailed
his own large vessels without the aid of a skipper.
The gunnery officer, Ensign A. K. Schanze, was a
graduate of the Naval Academy who welcomed the
opportunity to return to the Service. The chief
engineer of the Corsair, J. K. Hutchison, who had
been in her for several years, decided to stand by
the ship through thick and thin, as did his assist-
ants, A. V. Mason and W. F. Hawthorn. This was
true also of Lieutenant R. J. McGuire who had
been the first officer of the yacht and of Boatswain
R. Budani and a number of the enlisted force.

The day's work of making the Corsair ready for
sea, the unaccustomed drudgery and the uncer-

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 1 of 20)