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strain in heavy weather. The Corsair secured her
end of the hawser by means of a wire span leading
to the two after gun mounts, and then she was
ready to go ahead and pull her heart out. It is need-
less to remark that the yacht had not been designed
or built to yank disabled freighters through the Bay
of Biscay in the tail-end of a nasty gale of wind.

They went ahead, Corsair and Dagfin, and worked
up to a speed of five knots, reducing it a trifle when
the strain seemed too great. They slogged along in
this manner until 8.30 p.m. when the chain parted
and the Dagfin went adrift. Commander Porter
describes the rest of it in his report:

We observed that the Dagfin had broken adrift, and
when attempting to haul in our tow-line I found that
it was weighted with the Dagfin 1 s chain which had
parted in the hawse-pipe. A six-inch line was bent
and used as a messenger to the forward capstan, but
as this would hold only four turns, which rendered,
the starboard capstan was used to assist. No lead
blocks of sufficient size were available to keep the line
clear of the deck-house, and both houses were dam-
aged. It was difficult to stopper and secure the mes-
senger to the wet hawser. This was chafed its entire
length, although the ship went ahead slowly to angle
the hawser slightly and reduce the bend over the lip
of the chock.



After three hours' work the hawser was all in and
the chain let go. Had conditions been favorable, of
course the chain could have been hove in through the
hawse-pipe, but I desired to intercept the French tug
Penguin, sent out from Brest, which was then close
by. The strain had unlaid the hawser, and releasing
the chain allowed the turns to take up again. Remov-
ing numerous kinks from a wet, ten-inch rope is a long,
tedious job.

As the tug had passed us in the night and was not
in sight at daylight, I closed in to pick up our tow.
Attempting to throw a line on board, we could not get
near enough to reach, as there was still a moderate
swell and we were both rolling and surging. A boat was
lowered and our hawser bent to the Dagfin's cable, and
at 7.45 a.m. we went ahead at six knots. The average
speed for twenty-six and a half hours was actually six
and a quarter knots.

At 8.15 the Penguin arrived and I had difficulty in
communicating, as she could not comprehend sema-
phore signals nor was our language perfectly clear to
them. Our radio communication had been very good,
although I was more reluctant to use it than was the
Penguin, especially in stating latitude and longitude.
To my question, "What are your orders ?" the reply
was, " Bordeaux.' ' She also informed me that she could
tow four knots and as this would not bring us into
port before dark of the following day, I decided to con-
tinue towing and requested that the Penguin escort.
I considered that the advantages of greater speed and
a much shorter time at sea gave us the larger margin
of safety.

In my opinion (with a very limited experience in
towing) the method adopted was by far the best way
of towing a ship. Not only is the windlass usually the



strongest and most convenient place to secure to, but
in the absence of a very long hawser the weight of
chain sagging down makes an effective spring. There
was never any undue strain and the Dagfin's chain
could not have parted if it had been in good condition.

In the early morning of September 14th the
Corsair trailed into the mouth of the Gironde,
doggedly kicking along at six knots, with the Nor-
wegian water-bruiser dragging in her wake. There
the Penguin took hold and the yacht went on
alone to a berth at Pauillac, none the worse for the
experience. It was all in the job, not so sensational
as dropping depth bombs on a submarine, but per-
haps requiring more courage, endurance, and sea-
manship. Commander Porter's description of the
tussle with the hawser is highly technical, but one
catches glimpses of the hard and heavy toil of the
sea and the ability to do the right thing in time of
stress which comes only with experience. The sail-
ors of the Corsair, many of them landlubbers only
a year before, were learning the tricks of the trade.

It was back to the convoys again, the same old
round of discomfort at sea and coaling ship in port,
but the spirit of the great adventure had not been
dulled. By way of change and respite, the Corsair
was twice chosen to carry distinguished official
visitors from one French base to another. The first
occasion was on August 24th when the passengers
comprised the party of members of the House
Committee on Naval Affairs who were inspecting



for themselves the American naval and military
forces overseas — Chairman L. P. Padgett, D. J.
Riordan, W. L. Hensley, J. R. Connelly, W. B.
Oliver, W. W. Venable, J. C. Wilson, T. S. Butler,
W. J. Browning, J. R. Farr, S. E. Mudd, J. A.
Peters, and F. C. Hicks.

They were the guests of the Corsair from Royan
to the great American aviation base at Pauillac,
and their enthusiastic approval of the work of the
Navy in the war was pleasant for the crew of the
Corsair to hear. Their report, later submitted to
the Secretary of the Navy, contained this non-
partisan opinion, signed by Republican and Demo-
cratic members alike:

The committee visited and inspected the United
States naval activities at Bordeaux, Moutchic, Pauillac,
Rochefort, La Rochelle, La Pallice, Fromentine, Paim-
bceuf, Saint-Nazaire, Montoir, Le Croisic, L'Orient,
lie Tudy, and Brest. The amount of money expended
at these various stations mounts into the hundreds of
millions of dollars and the activities involve the em-
ployment of thousands upon thousands of men. They
represent activities on land and water, under the water,
and in the air. They involve transportation of troops,
munitions, equipment, food, and clothing from the
United States into France of the value of untold mil-
lions. The duties and responsibilities of the Navy were
to escort and convoy ships transporting troops, and
all manner of effort and activity in the air, patrolling
the seas against German submarines, and safeguarding
the arrival and departure of ships, the construction of
bases for the operation and the care of the enormous


Copyright by Underwood and Underwood, N. Y.


aviation organization, and also at the various bases
providing first aid and hospital accommodations for
the sick and disabled and the establishment of sanitary
conditions, housing facilities, and numerous other
activities essential to the proper care of the men, be-
sides the many other efforts essential to the successful
prosecution of the war.

The whole work was so colossal that while there
may have been mistakes and matters subject to criti-
cism in small details, they were lost in the magnitude
of the success accomplished. Taken as a whole, by and
large, the Navy has achieved a great work and is en-
titled to approval and commendation.

Late in October the word came to the Corsair
that the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic
Fleet, Admiral Henry T. Mayo, and staff, would be
graciously pleased to use the yacht (or fourth-class
gunboat, to be precise) to take them from Royan
to Pauillac. Now a four-starred admiral is abso-
lutely top-hole in naval rank and dignity, and the
three gold stripes above the broad band on his
sleeve are viewed with awe and bedazzlement by
the younger officers. To be a vice-admiral, or even
a rear admiral, is a resounding distinction, but an
admiral is so much more imposing that there are
very few of him extant.

You may be sure that the Corsair was fit for
minute inspection when the Commander-in-Chief
of the Atlantic Fleet stepped aboard at Royan,
with side boys at the gangway and the boatswain's
mate to pipe him with proper ceremony. The ship's



officers found him to be the affable gentleman and
manly sailor which his reputation in the Navy had
led them to expect. Admiral Mayo later recalled
this trip in a letter to the writer of this story of the
Corsair, and was kind enough to say:

Department of the Navy

General Board

Washington, August 22, 191 9

Dear Sir:

Your letter of August 12th with reference to the war
story of Mr. J. P. Morgan's yacht Corsair reached me
while absent on leave. My only opportunity to observe
the Corsair was in a very short trip during which I was
a passenger on board, but I do not hesitate to say that
I received a most favorable impression as to the con-
dition of the ship and the efficiency of the personnel
at that time, and that the reports as to the general
efficiency and good work of the vessel during her serv-
ice on the French coast were of an extremely high

(Signed) Henry T. Mayo


IN this strange warfare against an enemy who
fought, for the most part, under the sea, there
was no more effective agency than the wireless
telegraph or radio. It enabled the convoys to re-
ceive warnings and to steer safe courses, it brought
help to hundreds of ships in distress, and as an
offensive weapon enabled the Allied naval forces
to locate and destroy a large number of German
submarines. Without the highly developed employ-
ment of radio communication, it would have been
impossible to protect the transportation of troops,
food, and material. More than any other factor, the
radio won the war at sea.

As soon as directional wireless was perfected and
used, it became practicable to fix the position of a
U-boat by means of the messages sent from it, and,
as Admiral Sims has said, " Their commanders were
particularly careless in the use of wireless. The
Germanic passion for conversation could not be
suppressed, even though this national habit might
lead to the most serious consequences. Possibly
also the solitary submarine felt lonely; at any rate,
as soon as it reached the Channel or the North Sea,
it started an almost uninterrupted flow of talk. The
U-boats communicated principally with each other,



and also, with the Admiralty at home, and in doing
this they gave away their position to the assidu-
ously listening Allies. The radio direction-finder,
by which we can instantaneously locate the posi-
tion from which a wireless message is sent, was the
mechanism which furnished much of this informa-
tion. Of course, the Germans knew that their mes-
sages revealed their locations, for they had direction-
finders as well as we, but the fear of discovery did
not act as a curb upon a naturally loquacious
nature.' '

The radio service of the Corsair was considered
unusually efficient by no less an authority than
Admiral Wilson, who had occasion to write the
following commendation:

Brest, France
29 April, 19 1 8

From: Commander U.S. Naval Forces in France.
To: Commanding Officer U.S. Corsair.

Subject: Forwarding of radio dispatch.

1. An important message from the U.S.S. Seattle,
addressed to the Commander U.S. Naval Forces in
France, was intercepted by the U.S.S. Corsair and for-
warded to destination via the District Commander
Rochefort. This message was received in the Com-
munication Office, Brest, about three p.m. Sunday, 28
April, 1918.

2. The Commander U.S. Naval Forces in France
is greatly pleased with this proof of the alertness and
efficiency of the radio personnel on board the U.S.S.
Corsair. The message was not heard by the French
high powered station, Brest, and while it was heard



by the Flag Radio Station in Brest, it was not copied
in its entirety because of interference from near-by
stations, and the correct copy as received from the
U.S.S. Corsair was of great assistance.

(Signed) Wilson

The Communications Officer of the ship, Ensign
Gray, took the keenest interest in maintaining the
radio operations at the top notch and a technical
training at Annapolis aided a natural ability for
this sort of work. The chief radio operator, H. C.
Breckel, was an unusually valuable man for his
position and felt a pride in the reputation of the
Corsair's radio-room which was shared by his
"gang" of assistants. The spirit of the organiza-
tion was indicated in the incident which caused
Admiral Wilson to compliment it. The yacht was
moored at Pauillac at the time, and was not re-
quired to keep a radio watch, but the operators
were on the job nevertheless. The Seattle was stand-
ing by a Luckenbach steamer, more than a thou-
sand miles out at sea, which had stripped its tur-
bines and was in urgent need of help from Brest.
The message went through because the Corsair
caught and relayed it.

Every hour of the day and night an operator sat
at a table in the little room which none of the crew
was allowed to enter. With a receiver clamped to
his head, he listened and heard a myriad faint and
phantom voices. The air was filled with them. The
mystery, the incredible magic and romance of it all,



had become commonplace. Ships were talking to
each other hundreds of miles apart, mere routine
sometimes, and then the call for help, or the thrill-
ing report of an escape from a submarine attack.
And woven through it all was the continuous com-
munication of the high-powered shore stations
which shot into space the secret orders and in-
quiries of admiralties and war departments and

The radio log of the Corsair recorded an immense
variety of conversations, some of them quite in-
formal, such as this chat with another vessel of the
Breton Patrol:

"What do you know? What did you see last night?"

"We don't know anything. We saw two submarines
last night."

"We saw a ship torpedoed about 7.00 this morning,
but did not see the submarine."

"Have you been copying much?"

"We have been copying mostly GLD messages and
SOS messages and a few CHGT."

"Here is an SOS that came in at 1.10 p.m. — CG.
GLD de FFK de "VEK" 47:45 08:40 W. 11025."

"We got that one and it did not mean that the last
message was at 8.00 p.m. last night. We have got a few
SOS messages. Have heard a lot of work."

"Yes, yes."

"Did you get that Alio from FFK?"

"I just got part of it and am waiting for a repeti-

"Here it is. Alio 47:30 09:34 W. 1219.

"Thanks. Thanks."



The garrulous U-boats seem to have kept up an
endless stream of chatter, and the radio force of
the Corsair learned to know and identify some of
them, by their manner of sending, as if they were
old acquaintances. One of the reports will give an
idea of this curious interchange of communication
which was carried on between hostile craft, unseen
and hunting each other with deadly intent:

On November 21, 191 7, the Corsair, Smith, Preston,
Flusser, and Lamson were returning to Base, position
approximately Latitude 47 ° 30' North, Longitude 8°
40' West. A number of enemy submarines were inter-
communicating as follows:

At 8.36 p.m. one sub called another who answered,
and two messages were sent. These signals came in
very strong which indicated that subs were close to

At 8.59 p.m. the same sub transmitted another mes-
sage to the one communicated with before.

At 9.01 p.m. a different sub called three others, one
of which was the first sender.

At 9.18 p.m. Bruges began sending a message to the
sub that called at 9.01 p.m.

At 9.57 p.m. Bruges was still heard.

At 10.16 p.m. a different sub called another which
was the one who received the messages at 8.36 p.m.

At 9.36 p.m. the Corsair was called and received a
message from Brest.

At 10.54 and again at 10.56 p.m. the Corsair was
called by an enemy submarine using P.F.B., the same
call used by Brest.

At 10.59 Corsair answered and told him to go ahead.
Sub sent "3H5" and then his signals died out.



At 11.04 P - M ' su b called Corsair and told Corsair to
go ahead with message.

At 1 1. 10 p.m. the same sub called a British convoy.

At II.IS P - M - SUD called Corsair and said go ahead
with message.

At 1 1. 1 6 Corsair called sub and sent a message, the
groups of which were taken from several intercepted
German messages.

At 1 1. 1 7 sub acknowledged Corsair's message.

At 11.25 p - M - sub called Corsair and asked for a
repetition of the second group.

Corsair did not answer.

Sub repeated message. This time he was impatient
as he said "Go ahead" twice.

The subs continued to intercommunicate during the
night, and also with Bruges.

The radio service of the Corsair in the war zone
was so important and essential a part of her activi-
ties that a description of it in some detail seems
well worth recounting. Chief Radio Electrician
H. F. Breckel went to the trouble of preparing a
narrative which reads as follows, and it goes with-
out saying that he was the man best fitted to under-
take such a task:

I reported on board the U.S.S. Corsair, then at the
Navy Yard, Brooklyn, during the last week in May,
191 7, in accordance with orders from the Bureau of
Navigation. At that time I was attached to the U.S.S.
Ohio t then at Yorktown, Virginia, which was the war
base of the Atlantic Fleet. Reporting to Ensign Gray,
Communications Officer of the Corsair, I was told that
I would be in charge of the operation of the radio



department and to get things in shape for a long cruise
away from any established base of supplies.

My first step was to make sure of a personnel which
would furnish efficient service under all conditions.
Four operators were necessary and this number was
soon sent to the ship, and a better group of men could
not have been found in any vessel. The radio force
comprised :

Ensign Gray, U.S.N.R.F. (Radio Officer)

Harry F. Breckel, U.S.N. (Chief Electrician, Radio)

James A. Plummer, U.S.N.R.F. (Electrician, 1st
Class, Radio)

Meriam H. Swan, U.S.N.R.F. (Electrician, 2nd
Class, Radio)

Ivan E. Davis, U.S.N. (Electrician, 2nd Class,

Each man was given a thorough examination when
he reported on board and the results indicated that
all of them were proficient and reliable operators.
We promptly set to work and the radio-room fairly
hummed, day and night. The transmitting apparatus
was inspected, calibrated to the proper wave lengths,
and tested. The receiving apparatus was also over-
hauled, minor repairs made, and adjusted to receive
the various wave lengths used by other U.S. naval
vessels. Then the inspection included the various
switch-boards, storage batteries, heating and lighting
systems, motor generators, etc.

The radio-room was located on the main deck with
doors opening directly on deck, so it was necessary to
devise a lighting circuit which should automatically
switch off the lamps when the doors were opened, as
the ship moved in total darkness. After stocking up
with spare parts, the antenna was given careful atten-
tion, for nothing is more exasperating than to have



your wires carry away and to have to replace them in
heavy weather.

During a trial run in Long Island Sound, the radio
installation was tested under normal conditions of
service and was found to be in first class shape. The
very fine type of apparatus aboard the Corsair made
only a few changes necessary in order to make it con-
form with the standards of the Navy. We operators
were fortunate in stepping into a radio-room so effi-
ciently and completely furnished. There was a large
desk with space for the Radio Officer in his work of
coding and decoding despatches, a bookshelf, several
chairs, a large wall settee which I used as a bunk, and
a safe in which were kept the code books, ciphers, and
other confidential material. With regard to comfort,
there was no better "radio shack" aboard any ship
of the Navy.

There was steam heat and running water which was
cold, but we discovered that we could obtain hot water
for scrubbing clothes, paint- work, etc., from the steam
radiator. I ask you, fellow "Sparks" and "ex-Sparks"
of the Navy, can you picture such comfort and con-
venience in a real, honest- to-goodness man-of-war?
And it all helped to maintain good service. Our gang
also had a percolator along with the necessary watts
from the ship's generator, and the outfit could turn
out a brew of "boiler compound" that would keep a
Mississippi colored gentleman with the hook-worm
wide awake. We surely had a home on board the old
Corsair !

At last, on that memorable 14th of June the ship
pointed her bow to the eastward and steamed slowly
down the Bay, with the dreary moans of fog-horns
for farewell, and no cheers or blaring bands or flutter-
ing flags. In the radio-room there was very little to



do as we had been instructed to keep communication
down to the minimum, for the enemy might infer from
the amount of radio traffic in the air that some unusual
movement was under way, or he might plot the exact
positions by means of a direction-finder or radio com-
pass. At the beginning of the war, naval vessels had a
characteristic "spark" or "tone" quite different from
the average commercial or naval shore stations, and
an operator familiar with these variations could readily
tell which was which. It was easy to understand why
the troop convoys were kept as silent as possible.

For several days there was little radio work besides
copying the Time and Weather reports which were
broadcasted from the Arlington station, and inter-
cepting for the skipper's information all radio traffic
heard by the operator on watch. In mid-ocean almost
nothing was heard because we were out of range of the
ordinary "spark stations," but our "long wave" re-
ceiver, constructed by our own force, had no trouble
in copying messages from such stations as Darien
(Canal Zone), Tuckerton, New Jersey, Boston, and
other high-powered naval radio stations while the
Corsair was half way across the Atlantic. It was excel-
lent work when you consider the fact that the special
apparatus and "hook up" used were of the simplest
type and that an amateur Audion detector bulb was

When about five days out, the real job began. The
Corsair was called by the flagship Seattle and a long
code message received by the operator on watch. The
apparatus functioned perfectly and there was every
reason to believe that very little trouble, barring acci-
dents, would be encountered. Soon we received orders
to get in touch with the Birmingham, flagship of the
second division of the convoy and to forward a message



to her. After joining the second division, there was
absolute silence for several days, and no radio signals
were heard at all until we drew near to the coast of
France and the edge of the war zone. Then traffic began
to be heavy and the operators were busy copying mes-
sages into the "intercepted log book" almost every
minute of the day and night.

This log was of great value to the captain, for the
radio station of a fighting ship is an information bureau
which maintains intimate touch with events occurring
in other areas. In these days a man-of-war without
a radio-room would be almost deaf, dumb, and blind.
We knew that we were actually in the war when the
distress calls from sinking ships or those which were
under attack by submarines began to come hurtling
through the air. This in itself was enough to prove the
priceless value of the radio in saving life. For some
time I kept a chart upon which were plotted all the
positions of vessels which transmitted radio calls for
help, but within two months so many of these calls
had been received that I had little space left in which
to record the new ones.

A typical distress call would come in like this:

SOS SOS SOS 48 12' North, 12 00' West. Torpe-
doed Sinking. S.S. John Luckenbach 1025.
When a submarine was sighted by an Allied vessel, a
simple form of position report was broadcasted by the
operator at once, as follows :

Alio (French for Hello) 49 15' N. 09 06' W. 0815

The radio operator continued to broadcast these
signals until an acknowledgment was received from
one of the larger, more powerful coastal radio stations
which immediately broadcasted the message on high
power to all ships and stations for their information.



The radio operators on vessels at sea which received
this general warning would at once notify the captain
who could thereby avoid the dangerous locality or

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 17 of 20)