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as he wishes to carry on a big task properly he frees
himself completely of details, — on his desk are no
papers, no books, no litter of documents. He is pre-
cisely aware of what he wishes to be done, and when he
has spoken his serenity shows that not for a second
does he doubt that he will be obeyed.

1 La Depeche, one of the journals of Brest, mani-
fested the cordial feeling of the city in stating:

Admiral Wilson is now a well-known figure among
us. He takes part in our daily life, shares in all our
sorrows as well as in our hopes. Later, without doubt,
the title of "Citizen of Brest" will be conferred upon
him. It is a pleasure to converse, if only by means of
an interpreter, with this fine mind which has a natural
tendency to action. He makes his resolutions without
embarrassing himself with paper work or useless for-

In the first week of November, the Corsair was
sent to England with a group of American ships
which were to join an outward-bound convoy
assembling at Mount's Bay, Penzance. Quarter-
master Carroll Bayne mentioned this trip in his
diary, as follows:

November 5th. Penzance is very interesting. All sorts
of seaplanes, etc., flying about. I did not rate liberty,
but most of the men did and went ashore for a few
hours. I amused myself by holding a long conversation
with a naval quartermaster on a British yacht, the
Venetia, anchored near us. He was a good chap and a
typical "Limey," with his "carry on" and "awfully."



. . . 6th. Left Penzance. Night very dark. We have in
the convoy, besides the four destroyers, the steamers
Houston, Evangeline, Montanan, and two others. The
Clan Cummings was to have come with us, but joined
the British convoy which left half an hour ahead of us.
She was torpedoed at 8 p.m. She was the biggest ship
in the whole flock and was right in the middle of sixty-
five other vessels. How the Germans do it, I can't see.
We had a scare this morning when the Evangeline hit
something, either a mine or a wreck, or a submarine,
or a torpedo. We dashed around and stirred things up,
but there was no explosion or disturbance in the water.
We proceeded to Saint-Nazaire and anchored safely.
. . . Had a great fight on board. The "Spic" cook got
into an argument with one of the firemen and it was
some set to. The cook drew a knife which Dave Tibbott
snatched away from him. The skipper took a hand
and he surely had a full head of steam.

Another trip out with empty transports and then
the Corsair was assigned to the escort of two of the
huge ships which were unlucky enough to be torpe-
doed several months later, the President Lincoln and
the Covington. This time they passed safely through
hostile waters, and with them were the Pennsyl-
vania, Nansernonde, and Neches. When these tower-
ing troop-ships began crowding into Brest, includ-
ing those which had been German liners, it was
significant of the fact that the American Army was
really moving into France. Instead of battalions
or regiments, the convoys were thenceforth to dis-
embark whole divisions, and Brest was to see from
fifteen thousand to forty thousand stalwart Ameri-



can soldiers pour out of one group of ships after
another. The responsibility of the escort vessels
was heavily increased, and officers and men thanked
God when one of these tremendous argosies had
been moored outside the breakwater without hin-
drance or mishap.

It was while waiting for this convoy, just men-
tioned, to be ready for sea, on November 16th, that
the Corsair became considerably agitated for fear
that Commander Kittinger had been lost or mis-
laid. Quartermaster Bayne reflected the general
state of mind when he noted :

Still in Quiberon Bay, waiting for the captain.
Everybody is getting worried as to what has happened
to him and the Smith. The scuttle-butt is full of rumors.
. . . Tibbott, Houtz, Evans, Barry, and others are to
be sent home to get commissions, but not a chance for
me. The only thing, I guess, that our captain would
recommend me for is a firing squad.

Commander Kittinger was having troubles of
his own which may serve to convey an idea of the
little trials and tribulations which were apt to
beset the course of events in French seaports. In
language admirably restrained, considering the
provocation, he reported to Admiral Wilson:

The escort commander left the Corsair and embarked
in U.S.S. Smith to make passage to Saint-Nazaire for
conference with the Naval Port Officer. Shortly after
passing du Four Light, the Smith was lost in the fog
and anchored about 9.30 a.m. A boat was lowered and



by noon the ship was located as between Grand Char-
pentier and Le Pierre Perce. At this time a strong ebb
tide was running which made navigation by dead
reckoning doubtful. The Smith also had on board the
French military pilot. Another attempt was made to
reach the mouth of the Loire, but the soundings indi-
cated shoal water and the ship was again anchored.
Finally, at 10.30 p.m., the fog lightened sufficiently so
that the principal navigation lights were visible and
the ship got under way and anchored at Saint-Nazaire
at 11.30 p.m. The fog again set in and continued
through the night.

At 6 a.m., November 17th, I left the Smith to go
ashore to confer with the Naval Port Officer. At this
time the tide was running about five knots ebb and
the fog was so thick that objects could not be distin-
guished for more than a hundred yards distant. The
boat missed the landing and fetched up on the beach
at Le Petit Taraict. I walked ashore and reported to
the Naval Port Officer about 9.30 a.m. He informed me
that he had no news, and calls were made at the Army
Base and upon the Commandant Marine. No informa-
tion of importance was obtained at the latter place.
Afterwards a call was made at the Bureau de Ren-
seignements which was found closed. An appointment
was made for me to get the latest news at this office at
1. 00 P.M.

Upon my return at that time the office was still
closed. About 2 p.m. the fog lifted and I returned to
the Smith in the captain of the port's launch. On going
aboard I found that urgent engine repairs were being
made which would delay the ship for two hours or
more. As it was impossible to get to Quiberon and
hold conference in time to move the convoy that night,
I decided to delay sailing until the following morning.



An appointment was made for a visit at the Bureau
de Renseignements at 7 a.m. on the 18th, by the Naval
Port Officer. I reported at that time and found the
office was closed. I communicated by telephone with
the office of the Commandant Marine and received
no further news. Returned to Smith and got under way
for Quiberon.

Six months of service in the Corsair had ham-
mered most of the greenhorns into rough-and-ready
sailor-men who had come to know the ways of a
ship and the feel of the sea. A few still suffered and
were pallid about the gills when the waves rolled
high, but it was everlastingly to the credit of these
unfortunates that they made no effort to be shifted
to shore duty and were resolved to stick it out to
the bitter end. The war bred many kinds of heroes
and among them is to be rated the sailor who con-
tinued to be seasick. One youth in the Corsair con-
fessed that he could never sleep below, but in all
weather, month after month, he curled up on deck,
in a boat, or wedged himself in odd corners, wet or
shivering, nor had he any other intention than to
stay with the ship until she flew her homeward-
bound pennant.

The enlisted personnel, in respect of intelligence,
ambition, and education, excelled the average of
the Regular Navy. This was bound to be true of a
Reserve Force recruited as this was. Many of them
were anxious to win promotion and to attain com-
missioned rank. It was realized that the swift ex-



pansion of the Navy, with a strength of fifteen hun-
dred ships and four hundred thousand men already
in sight, had made the shortage of officers acute.
There was no prejudice against the Naval Reserve,
and from its ranks were chosen most of the ensigns
and lieutenants for the new fleets of destroyers and
submarine chasers, for the transports and the
armed guard of the merchant marine.

The word had passed through the Corsair that
examinations could be held and commissions
granted on board ship or at the base, and also that
applicants whose records merited it might be chosen
by the commander to go to Annapolis for the three
months' intensive course which would turn them
out as temporary ensigns in the Regular Navy.
Some of the aspirants preferred to study while in
the ship and try to pass the tests, a little afraid
that if detached for Annapolis they might not be
sent back to the war zone.

It was inspiring to find the ship's officers anxious
to assist these ambitions. The Corsair became more
or less of a nautical school. Earnest young men were
to be found frowning over problems and text-books
instead of playing cards at the mess tables or read-
ing old magazines. Those who had been in college
had a certain advantage in that they had been com-
pelled to make some sort of an acquaintance with
mathematics and were presumed to have acquired
the habit of study. It was the popular thing to
be a grind. Lieutenant McGuire and Chief Quarter-


master Shelton Fair showed keen interest in teach-
ing navigation and were very helpful to the pupils
who wrestled with the knotty points of the subject.

The novelty wore off, of course, and the laggards
fell by the wayside, for the requirements were stiff,
and dogged persistence and many a headache were
required to master the technique of the naval en-
sign's job. The reward was waiting, however, for
those who deserved it, and there was no taint of
caste or favoritism. The service was essentially
democratic, barring only the differences in station
which discipline demanded. Through the autumn
and winter, the Corsair was schooling a fine group
of ensigns for duty in other ships.

It may be of interest to explain what this course
included, as defined by the Bureau of Navigation
in a formidable document "Relative to Examina-
tions of Enlisted Men of Regular Navy for Appoint-
ment as Ensigns for Temporary Service, also of
Certain Reservists and National Naval Volunteers
to Ensigns, Naval Reserve Force/ '

In a general way the would-be ensign of the line
was expected to pass examinations, written and
oral, in such departments of knowledge as these:

General Instructions

Acquaintance with Navy Regulations and Naval
Instructions and General Orders of the Navy Depart-

Care of enlisted men's clothing, bedding, and equip-
ment and marking same.



Emergency drills, — such as fire, collision, abandon
ship, etc.

Navigation {except Nautical Astronomy)

Rules for preventing collisions, international and

System of buoyage in the United States.

Use of charts.

Describe a magnetic compass.

Describe how to lay a course.

What is variation and deviation?

Use of a pelorus.

Ability to take bearings and determine position by

Use of hand lead and precautions to be taken in
obtaining soundings with hand lead.

Use of soundings in fixing positions.

Ability to read mercurial barometer.

Ability to navigate by dead reckoning.

Use of Chip log.

Use of patent log.

Adjustments of a sextant.

Use of an azimuth circle.

Use of Sir William Thompson's sounding machine.

How to obtain chronometer rate by tick at noon.

Navigation {Nautical Astronomy, Sights, etc.)

Ability to take and work out the following sights of
the sun:

Meridian altitude, time sight for longitude, obtain
error of compass.


Types of boats used in the Navy and their equipment.
Handling of boats under oars and sail.



Boat salutes.
Hoisting boats.

Man overboard — lowering and handling of life-

Ground tackle and how to care for. Marking chain.

Duties of officer of the deck.

Ship's log, what is put in, etc.

Etiquette of the side.

Routine ceremonies, such as colors, etc.

Orders to steersman, right rudder, etc.

Ordnance and Gunnery

School of the squad and company in infantry.

School of the section and battery in artillery.

Precautions to be taken in handling small arms and
their ammunition.

Describe any Navy gun with which you are familiar.

Describe the projectile, fuses, and primers for any
Navy gun with which you are familiar.

Brief description of the care and preservation of the

While this mental fodder was in process of diges-
tion, you might, perhaps, have overheard such
abstruse and breezy dialogue as this, aboard the

"Good-morning, old top. When may the officer
of the deck decline to relieve the deck?''

" I pass. When shall the sides be piped, and what
are the limitations placed on sending official sig-

"You can search me. But I'll bet you don't
know how to swing ship for reciprocal bearings*."


4<c i'l -

• •


" A cinch, my boy. Right off the bat, now, what
is the correct dope on a Traverse Table and how do
you use it?"

"You make me smile. Upon getting under way
what special entry must be made in the ship's log?
Likewise and also, what is a Polyconic Projection?
Snap it out, now!"

" You poor simp ! I 'm the man that invented that
gadget. On the level, there's only one question on
the whole list that you are sure of."

"What is it? I'll bite."

"When and where is the meal pennant flown?"


ON the last day of November the Corsair got
under way from Brest to find and escort seven
American store-ships which were bringing cargoes
to France. A division of Queenstown destroyers
had picked them up at fifteen degrees West and
was guiding them to the rendezvous. With the
Corsair went the Reid and Preston, also three French
patrol craft, the Glaive, Claymore, and Marne. As
the senior officer, Commander Seiss, in the Glaive,
was in charge of the Allied escort group. The voy-
age was without notable incident, but the difficulty
of working together in different languages and with
a mixed British and American convoy was indi-
cated by Commander Kittinger in his official
comment :

The senior officer of our escort was in a ship lacking
efficient radio communication. As it is not to be ex-
pected that an eight knot convoy from New York will
ever arrive at a rendezvous on a predetermined course
at a predetermined time, the Chief of Escort should
be in the vessel having the best communication. This
is especially necessary during the winter when the day-
light periods are short. I do not believe that the ships
of our convoy knew their destination. With ships on
their first trip, as most of these ships were, the masters
of the vessels are not prepared to have another escort-



ing force join them and proceed to give them orders.
This is especially true in the case of the British ship
Anglo-Saxon, the master of which could not under-
stand why an American patrol vessel should tell him
to quit a British convoy. It would facilitate matters
if the masters of all vessels, were informed of their
destination and the probable time and place of their
detachment from the New York convoy.

The Chief of Escort did not require the ships to
zigzag nor to assemble in line formation as per doctrine.
I do not believe it is advisable for the Chief of Escort
to be a French officer acting with large convoys of
American and English ships.

After this cruise the Corsair was placed in dry-
dock at Brest, where a week was occupied in scrap-
ing, painting, and such overhauling as was neces-
sary. The ship was in surprisingly good condition
after six months of far more severe and punishing
activity than she could have been reasonably ex-
pected to perform. Chief Engineer Hutchison and
Assistant Engineers Mason and Hawthorn had kept
things running down below without a serious mis-
hap or delay, although the yacht's engines had
shoved her through 19,427 miles of sea during this
half-year period. The fires had not died under the
boilers for a stretch of five months. It seemed no
longer quite fair to the Corsair to think of her as a
pleasure craft. The words were incongruous. She
had proved herself to be a brawny toiler of the sea.

An examination in dry-dock showed that the
hull was almost as undamaged as when the yacht



had sailed overseas. A few butts of the plates needed
calking. A small dent in the keel required new rivets
and two blades of the port propeller had been bent
by hitting something submerged. The crew very
much hoped that the obstruction might have been
the submarine which the ship attempted to ram on
that moonlit night of October.

On December 13th the Corsair returned to her
mooring buoy after this little respite in dry-dock
and undertook the sooty job of rilling the bunkers.
Next day she stood to the southward and found a
convoy waiting in Quiberon Bay. There the trans-
ports and supply-ships were split into two groups.
The escort of the fast convoy, fourteen knots, was
in charge of Commander Kittinger and comprised
the Corsair with the three destroyers, Warrington,
Roe, and Monaghan, which had been added to the
flotilla. The slow convoy escort, twelve knots, was
under the orders of Lieutenant Commander Slay-
ton in the Reid, who had with him the Flusser,
Lamson, Smith, and Preston. The whole destroyer
force then available was therefore employed on
this cruise, with the Corsair as the only yacht.

The German submarines had been creeping in to
lay mines in the channels outside of Quiberon, and
the yacht Guinivere and four American mine-
sweeping vessels were busy clearing the fairways
for the outward-bound convoys. In clear, pleasant
weather the two groups of transports gained the
open sea without running afoul of any mines and



were well on their way by nightfall of December
15th. The sea was smooth, unseasonably so for the
time of year. The air had a nipping edge, but the
temperature was well above freezing and the deck
watches kept warm and dry in the wind-proof
clothing which the Navy supplied for this service.
The Corsair and Monaghan held positions on the
right flank of the transports Madawaska, Occidente,
and Lenape, while the two other destroyers trailed
or scouted off to the left.

There was no premonition of terrific weather.
For several days the barometer had been almost
steady, at 30.50 inches or thereabouts. During the
watch from eight o'clock to midnight of this first
day, the sky clouded and the breeze blew stronger,
hauling from northeast to north with steadily in-
creasing force. The barometer began to drop and
was at 30.00 when the watches were changed.
There came a lull in the early morning, the 16th,
when the rain squalls passed over, and with calm
water the convoy steamed at fourteen knots. The
Corsair was somewhat short-handed for this trip.
Lieutenant Tod, the navigator, had been granted
leave of absence to go to the United States and
Lieutenant McGuire was acting in his stead. Boat-
swain Rocco Budani was also absent on leave.

By noon of this second day the wind had risen
again, and this time it was boisterously in earnest,
with a weight that swiftly tore the sea into foam
and tumbled it in confusion. The barometer was



still "falling gently," as noted in the ship's diary,
and hung at 29.30 until the weather was at its worst.
The Corsair pluckily clung to her station with the
tall transports until 2.30 in the afternoon, although
the seas had begun to pile on board of her. The de-
stroyers of this escort group concluded to turn tail
to it and run for shelter before the storm increased
to hurricane violence, but the five other destroyers
with the twelve-knot convoy, the Smith, Reid,
Lantson, Flusser, and Preston, stubbornly held on
and so were fairly caught in it along with the

When it became impossible to smash ahead any
longer without suffering serious damage, every
effort was made to signal the senior naval officer of
the transports, by semaphore and flag hoists, but
no response could be made out. The big ships,
riding high, were able to snore through the wicked
seas at ten or twelve knots, but the yacht and the
wallowing destroyers had to slow down and ease
up or be swept clean.

Aboard the Corsair it was decided to make for
Brest as a refuge, but this course brought the sea
too much abeam, as was discovered after three
hours of reeling progress which slowed to ten knots.
When the afternoon darkened into dusk, the shout-
ing gale had so greatly risen in fury that it men-
aced destruction. The destroyers had vanished in
the mist and murk, endeavoring to save themselves
and fairly rolling their funnels under. The Bay of



Biscay earned an evil reputation long, long ago,
but very seldom does it brew such wild weather as
this great blow of December, 191 7. French pilots
and fishermen could recall no storm to match it in
twenty years.

It was the supreme test for the Corsair, a yacht
which was, after all, handicapped for such a strug-
gle. Officers and men prepared her to face it as best
they could, but she could not be "battened down"
like the rugged ship that is built to tramp the world.
The deck-houses, contrived for comfort and con-
venience, presented an expanse of large windows
and mahogany walls and were exposed to the bat-
tering of the seas. There was no passageway below
to connect the fore and after parts of the yacht.
As a war- vessel, she was already stripped of all
extra fittings, and all that could be done was to
make everything secure and meet it in the spirit
of that famous old chantey of the Western Ocean:

"She is bound to the west'ard,
Where the stormy winds blow;
Bound away to the west'ard,
Good Lord, let her go!"

The medium-sized destroyers, like the Reid and
Preston, which also weathered this hurricane, had
a narrow beam and a shallow draft that made
them roll terrifically, but, on the other hand, they
could be sealed up like bottles, and they dived
through it with no great risk of foundering even
when swept from end to end. With less than half



the tonnage of the Corsair they had ten thousand
horse-power to whirl their triple screws. The decks
might be washed clean of gear, but there were no
houses to be knocked to pieces. The popular fancy
that the destroyer is a fragile craft was disproved
in the war zone. There were no more seaworthy,
tenacious ships afloat.

Concerning what happened during this black
night when the Corsair seemed to be washing to
pieces and her holds were flooding, there were vari-
ous versions and opinions. Most of the youthful
landsmen, convinced that the yacht was going to
the bottom, were frightened out of a year's growth
and not in the least ashamed to admit it. If they
said their prayers, it was to be counted in their
favor. The professional seafarers had their own
misgivings, but with the stubborn, unreasonable
confidence of their kind, they somehow expected to
pull her through, believing in the ship as long as
she was able to float. This was particularly true of
Lieutenant Commander Porter, who had lived with
the Corsair for so many years that she was almost
a part of himself. He knew her moods, her strength
and her weakness, and because she had never failed
him he could not have been persuaded that she was
unable to survive.

Man has contrived many cunningly ingenious
structures, but none of them nobler than a staunch
and well-found ship. The Corsair was a shell of thin
steel plates, but every line and curve and hollow



of them had been influenced by the experiences of
centuries of warfare with the sea. A good ship is,
in a way, the heritage from unnumbered builders
who, patiently, intelligently, wrought in wood by
rule of thumb to fashion the frames and timbers
and planking of frigates and barks and stately clip-
pers long since vanished. The Corsair was given
beauty, to a sailor's eye, but there was more than
this — the indomitable quality of resistance which
is like the will to endure.

What may be called the professional language of

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 10 of 20)