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proceed to the aid of the ship in distress.

After we had arrived at Saint-Nazaire the work of
the radio-room did not cease, for we kept a continuous
watch, intercepting every message of importance which
we were able to copy. When the Corsair was ordered
to proceed to Brest, it was necessary to observe the
regulation which required all vessels desiring to enter
that port to transmit by radio a special form of mes-
sage, addressed to the port authorities, requesting per-
mission. Failure to do so would have risked bombard-
ment by the shore batteries. The reply from Brest
stated whether or not the channel was clear of mines
and enemy submarines.

The radio shore station at Brest was about five
miles from the American naval base and was an old
type, low frequency installation. The "spark" at the
time of our arrival was very difficult to read through
atmospheric electrical disturbances, and did not have
sufficient range. However, after the American base
was permanently organized, a modern installation re-
placed the old one and American naval operators were
placed on duty to handle all radio traffic that concerned
our naval and other shipping. This was a great im-
provement over the early method of letting the French
operators handle it.

When the Corsair went out on patrol duty, the radio
force caught many distress calls and submarine warn-
ings, and the information enabled the ship to render
aid on several occasions. In working with the Aphrodite
when we covered adjoining patrol areas, the captains
were able to exchange information concerning new
situations to be dealt with and to operate in concert.



The messages intercepted from the British radio sta-
tion at Lands End were particularly useful and the
operators kept a sharp lookout for them. At least one
crew of survivors of a French fishing vessel was rescued
by the Corsair because of a message intercepted from
this coastal station.

In the later duty on escort with the convoys, the
amount of traffic handled by the radio force was largely
increased. Because of difficulties unforeseen, such as
stormy weather, break-downs, etc., it was rarely that a
convoy was sighted in the exact position designated.
The radio enabled the escort commander to ask the
•convoy for definite information as to location, course,
direction, and speed. It also kept the convoys clear of
the enemy mine-fields. I recall an instance when the
Corsair put into Penzance. The day before sailing from
that port the radio operator on duty intercepted a
message from the French high-powered station • at
Nantes, stating that the entrance to Brest had been
mined by German submarines and that all ships were
forbidden to approach. The Corsair thereupon waited
at Penzance with her convoy until word was received
that the Brest channel had been swept clear.

The severest test for the radio personnel came in
December, 19 17, when a hurricane almost finished the
yacht. Early in the storm it was almost impossible for
the operator on watch to stay in his chair although it
was screwed to the deck. The climax came in the dead
of night when a terrific sea struck the Corsair on the
port side, stove in bulkheads, and lifted the hatch over
the radio-room clear of the deck and allowed about a
ton of icy sea water to pour in. The operator was half-
drowned, as well as the whole installation, and the
apparatus was rendered useless for the time. As the
seas got worse, the water forced itself into the radio-


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room through the doors in spite of the fact that every
crack was calked as tightly as possible. More than
a foot of water piled up on the floor and there was no
system of drainage, so every time the vessel rolled or
pitched it all swashed up at one side of the room or
the other.

About this time the depth charges washed overboard
and I can tell you that the " Sparks" on board the
Corsair were sure they were up against a big propo-
sition. Here we were, with the entire receiver swim-
ming in water, the transmitting panel splashed with
it, the motor generator submerged most of the time,
our lead-in insulator and lead-in frequently grounded
by the huge waves which swept clear over us, and yet
facing a probable order from the skipper to send out a
distress call. We were all soaked to the skin, impossible
to brew any Java to warm us up, and all the time
working hard to get the apparatus back into shape.

I gave up the receiver as hopeless and tried to clear
the grounds on the motor generator while the rest of
the gang tried to bale out the water, but the ocean
came in faster than they could scoop it out. However,
we managed to keep the water below the level of the
commutator and the collector rings of the motor gen-
erator, and after clearing some of the worst grounds,
during which the toilers were most beautifully "jolted,"
we gave the transmitter a short test and it worked fairly
well, considering the circumstances. Then I made my
way up to the boat deck and between seas managed to
clean a layer of salt off the lead-in insulator and gave
it a heavy coat of oil.

Plummer and the rest of the gang were drying the
various switches and other parts of the transmitter
and we managed to fix things so that an S.O.S. could
have been sent out. And all hands thought it was about



time to shoot it. The deck force succeeded in nailing
up some doors and canvas along the weather side of
the radio-room, which was all that prevented it from
being smashed in. If our bulkheads had gone there
would have been no chance of keeping the transmitter
in working condition.

When we found refuge at Vigo, a survey of the dam-
age was made. The radio-room was simply a mess, like
the rest of the ship, but within eight hours we had the
entire installation restored to the best of health and
ready for any emergency. Considering the fact that
the radio-room had been flooded with sea water for
two and a half days, we flattered ourselves that it was
mighty speedy work.

During the long stay at Lisbon for repairs, we made
a thorough overhauling of the radio equipment but
had no traffic to handle excepting the press news from
the Eiffel Tower which we copied for the crew and for
the American Legation. Our visit at Lisbon will always
be remembered as a very happy one. The people were
most hospitable and seemed to enjoy entertaining the
bluejackets. The radio-room was still in communica-
tion with Brest, 850 miles distant, but there was no
occasion for talking with the base station.

The work of the radio force while on escort duty,
after we returned to France, was much like that of the
earlier cruises. It made us proud to receive a letter
of commendation from Admiral Wilson for forwarding
a message intercepted from the Seattle. I was sorry
when, for a time, I was transferred to shore duty with
the District Commander at Cherbourg and had to
leave the radio-room of the Corsair. Plummer, my right-
hand man, was left in charge of the situation. Shortly
before the yacht sailed to the United States, I was
lucky enough to make a little visit aboard. Nothing



would have pleased me more than a chance to make the
homeward bound voyage with the old crowd.

When the Corsair went to France, she had as fine a
crew of men as were ever assembled on a deck. The
radio force, with whom I worked and lived, got on
splendidly together and made a record of successful
operation which, I feel sure, compared favorably with
that of any other naval vessel engaged in similar duties
and laboring under the same kind of difficulties.


ALTHOUGH foreshadowed by rumor and re-
port, the news of the armistice which meant
the end of the war came as a certain shock to the
ships and sailors on the French coast. It was curi-
ously difficult to realize, because long service had
made the hard routine a matter of habit and the
mind had adjusted itself to the feeling that things
were bound to go on as they were for an indefinite
period. The old life, as it had been lived in the days
of peace, seemed vaguely remote and discarded,
and the Navy thought only of guarding convoys
and hunting submarines, world without end. Then,
at a word, on November u, 191 8, the great game
was finished, the U-boats turned sullenly in the
direction of their own bases to harry the seas no
more as outlaws, and the darkened transports and
cargo steamers ran without fear, the cabin windows
ablaze with light.

It was this which most impressed the crews of the
yachts and destroyers, that they would steer no
more shrouded courses and dice with the peril of
collision while they zigzagged among the huge ships
that threatened to stamp them under, or dodged
to find the rendezvous where the routes of traffic
crossed and the nights were black and menacing.



More by instinct than by sight, the Navy had
learned to feel its way in the dark, and it was actu-
ally true that the ocean seemed unfamiliar when
the running lights shone again and the almost for-
gotten rules of the road had to be observed.

The job was finished. Two million soldiers were
in France to testify that the Navy had done its
share. And now, as soon as the sense of bewilder-
ment lifted, with one common impulse all hands of
this battered, intrepid fleet that flew the Stars and
Stripes talked and dreamed of going home. There
was nothing else to it. All the sundered ties and
yearnings awoke and the faces of these young
sailors were turned westward, toward Sandy Hook
instead of the roadstead of Brest and the fairway
of the Gironde. Every wife and sweetheart was
tugging at the other end of the long tow-rope.

The Corsair went to sea for her last convoy
cruise on October 24th. Returning from this errand,
she was ordered to Bordeaux and was moored
there until November 10th for necessary repair
work. On the day of the armistice she dropped
down the river to Royan and the log-book makes
no mention of one of the greatest events in the his-
tory of mankind, excepting this entry in the " Com-
munication Record," as a signal sent from shore
by the Port Officer:

Have you any colors you can lend the French bal-
loon station to-day?

In the sailors' diaries there was one brief note,



but it concerned itself also with a mishap to the
beef stew served on that day, as a matter of im-
portance :

Armistice signed. Great stuff. Found a cockroach in
the mulligan. Could you beat it?

From Royan the Corsair moved to Verdon, and
there received orders on November 13 th to proceed
to sea and intercept incoming ships, warning them
how to keep clear of mine-fields and instructing
them as to destinations. The yacht went out, but
received a radio next day from the District Com-
mander, telling her to return to Pauillac. Another
message set the crew to wondering:

Corsair detached from this District and will go to
Brest. State requirements.

As soon as he could get ashore, at midnight,
Commander Porter used the telephone to Roche-
fort and was informed by the District Commander
that the Corsair "had a fine job ahead of her," but
here the information stopped. This was just enough
to set everybody guessing wildly and once more
"the scuttle-butt was full of rumors." Pursuant to
instructions the Corsair promptly took on supplies
and sailed for Brest, arriving on November 16th.
There the other yachts were all astir with the expec-
tation of flying their homeward-bound pennants.
They were soon to set out on the blithe voyage
across the Atlantic, by way of the Azores and
Bermuda — the first division comprising the Vi-










dette, Corona, Sultana, Emiline, and Nokomis; in the
second division the Christabel, May, Remlik, and
Wanderer, veterans of the coastal convoy routes
and the wild weather offshore.

It was decreed otherwise for the Corsair and she
was to remain six months longer in foreign waters,
thereby rounding out a service of almost two years
as a naval vessel. Captain John Halligan, chief of
staff to Admiral Wilson, was kind enough to end
the suspense and vouchsafe the information that
the Corsair would go to England and hoist the flag
of Rear Admiral S. S. Robison who was about to
sail for Kiel to inspect what was left of the German
Navy. This was a highly interesting assignment
and the Corsair was envied by the other ships. In
order to make her fit to serve as a flagship the de-
pleted stock of china, linen, and silver was replaced,
after persuasive arguments with the naval store-
keeper at Brest. Several officers were detached at
this time, which made room on board for an ad-
miral's staff. These were Ensign J. W. McCoy,
Lieutenant S. K. Hall (J.G.), Lieutenant C. R.
Smith (J.G.), Lieutenant R. V. Dolan (J.G.), and
Ensign A. V. Mason, Assistant Engineer. The new
arrivals in the war-room were Ensign E. F. O'Shea
and Lieutenant E. B. Erickson, Assistant Pay-

On November 18th the Corsair sailed from Brest
with the expectation of acting as the flagship rep-
resenting the United States in the surrender and



internment of the naval forces of Imperial Ger-
many. As passengers she carried to England Cap-
tain E. P. Jessop, U.S.N., and Commander C. T.
Hutchins, Jr., who had been commissioned to ex-
amine the German submarines. The orders included
a stop at Saint Helens, Isle of Wight, for routing
instructions. There the Corsair was told to seek
further information from the patrol off Folkstone.
War restrictions concerning war channels, mine-
fields, pilotage, and closed ports were still in force.

Commander Porter jogged along until Folkstone
was reached in the evening, and was there informed
that there was no patrol, but that the channel was
clear to Dover. A fog came down thick while the
Corsair waited off Dover Breakwater for a pilot,
but none appeared, so she went on her way through
the Strait and past the Goodwin Sands, pausing to
inquire at the North Gull light-ship if anybody had
seen a Thames pilot thereabouts. Deal was sug-
gested as a good place to look, so the Corsair re-
turned and anchored there at midnight. No pilot
could be found, however, so at five o'clock in the
morning the skipper hove up his mud-hook and
"trailed along " as he said, with some ships that
were bound to the northward.

The pace was too slow to suit him, so he joined
company with another group of vessels ahead and
discovered, a little later, that they were mine-
sweepers engaged in clearing the channel. This was
considered a fairly good joke on the skipper. He



said good-bye to this dangerous flotilla and steamed
along alone, anchoring twice in a fog that was like
a wool blanket, and fetched up for the night eight
miles below Sheerness.

Asking permission of the patrol next morning to
proceed up the Thames to Gravesend, the Corsair
learned that her destination had been changed to
Sheerness. Here she met with a disappointment.
The cruiser Chester arrived unexpectedly and was
selected as the flagship of Rear Admiral Robison,
as was quite proper. It's an ill wind that blows no-
body good, however, and just after starting north
for Rosyth and the Grand Fleet, the Chester was
compelled to return with machinery disabled. The
Corsair was ordered to proceed to Scotland in place
of the cruiser and she left the Thames on November
30th to steam up into the gray North Sea, and the
great war base near Edinburgh.

It was fondly believed on board that the yacht
would be employed to take the American admiral
across to visit the German naval ports, but they
found him in the British battleship Hercules with
the other admirals of the Allied naval commission,
and they all sailed next day in this big ship for
Kiel. This was rather hard medicine for the Corsair,
to be disappointed again after singing for so long
in hearty chorus that on the Kiel Canal they'd
float and likewise knock the hell out of Heligoland,
and now they were deprived of a sight of these noto-
rious nests of the enemy's warships.



It was something to remember, however, this
visit to the North Sea and a sojourn with the grim
squadrons of Admiral Sir David Beatty which had,
through four weary, vigilant years held the German
High Sea Fleet in check and made safe the surface
of the seas for the shipping of the world.

The Corsair dropped anchor at Rosyth on the
day that the American battleship division sailed
for home, the first-class fighting ships of Rear
Admiral Hugh Rodman which had shared the vigil
at Scapa Flow in the gloomy Orkneys and had
earned that farewell tribute which Admiral Beatty
paid the American officers and men when he called
them his "comrades of the mist." A storm of Brit-
ish cheers bade a fare-you-well to the New York
and her sister ships as their flag hoists and sema-
phores and blinkers talked for the last time in the
British signal code, which they had used because
they were, not an independent American squadron,
but the Sixth Battle Division of the Grand Fleet
and gladly operating as such.

The Corsair's crew had seen much of the French
Navy on active service, but this was the first oppor-
tunity for intimate contact with British ships and
sailors. They found a spirit of cordial welcome and
there was a pleasant interchange of calls, of enter-
tainment on shipboard, motion-picture shows, and
inspection of the mighty fighting craft which bore
the scars of Jutland. Shore liberty at Edinburgh
was a most interesting diversion, and the American



sailors found that the Scotch people were fond of
them and proud of the record for behavior left by
the thousands of their comrades who had landed
from Admiral Rodman's battleships.

After twelve days in the Firth of Forth, the
Corsair was relieved by the Chester and received
orders to report at Portland, England. During the
voyage north, Commander Porter had navigated
through four hundred miles of swept war channels
where the abundance of German mines was pre-
sumed to require the most ticklish care. The cleared
passages were strewn with wrecks and most British
merchantmen were anchoring at night. The Corsair
had picked her way, not in a reckless spirit, but
because she was due to reach her destination at a
specified time and it was the habit of the ship to
arrive when she was expected. While returning
south to Portland, a pilot was taken on at Yar-
mouth and casual reference was made to the fact
that the yacht had chosen the north channel into
the mouth of the Thames while coming over from

"My word, but you are lucky beggars !" ex-
claimed the ruddy pilot. "You should have gone in
by the south channel, you know. The other one is a
bloomin' muck o' mines that ain't been swept. You
could n't wait a week for a bally pilot, eh? The
sportin' chance! I fancy it's the proper spirit in a
navy, what?"

At Portland the Corsair found the U.S.S. Bushnell



which had served as the mother ship of the Ameri-
can submarine flotilla in Bantry Bay. With her
waited five mine-sweepers and five submarine
chasers all ready and anxious to sail for home. The
yachts Harvard and Aphrodite had come over from
Brest and were attached to the North Sea patrol.
Later in the winter they were sent to Germany.
The Aphrodite hit a mine en route, but luckily its
action was delayed and, although damaged, she
was able to make port. What aroused eager inter-
est at Portland was a group of five German sub-
marines, moored close to the Bushnell, which com-
prised an installment of the surrendered fleet of
U-boats. Their f rightfulness was done. Meekly they
had crossed the North Sea, at the bidding of the
victors, to be tied up all in a row as a rare show
for the jeering comment of British and American

To the sailors of the Corsair it was fascinating to
inspect and investigate these uncouth sea monsters
which they had hunted and bombed with no more
mercy than if they had been vermin. Instead of
winning the war for Germany, they had turned
the tide against her by arousing the United States
to launch its armed forces in the cause of the Allies.
And they had branded the German name with in-
famy and reddened German hands with the blood
of thousands of slain seamen.

Christmas Day of 1918 was spent in this English
harbor of Portland and the occasion was not as joy-





ous as might have been, although the Corsair's log
of December 24th contained this entry:

Received the following general stores: 118 lbs. geese,
23 lbs. ducks, 12 bunches celery, 100 lbs. cauliflower,
50 lbs. Brussels sprouts, 85 lbs. beets, 700 lbs. bread,
5040 lbs. potatoes.

The home-made poetry inspired by this Christ-
mas in exile seemed to lack the punch of former
ballads as sung by the bluejackets' glee club. One
of the productions went like this, with a perceptible
tinge of pathos:

"It was Christmas on the Corsair,
'Neath England's cold, gray skies,
And one and all on board her
Hove long and pensive sighs.

"Some of us longed for our families,
Our wives and children dear,
While others wished for their sweethearts
And maybe shed a tear.

"We sailors, tho' outwardly happy,
Were moved by memory
Of mother, home, and sweetheart,
So far beyond the sea.

"So while the war is ended

And gladness reigns supreme,
Yet to the boys on the Corsair,
Peace is an idle dream.

"Waiting for sailing orders,
The ships all on the bum,
This special duty is surely enough
To drive a man to rum.



"But the sailor believes in the doctrine
Of sunshine after rain,
And as soon as the job is over,
He is ready to try it again.

"So when we get back to the homeland,
As we will some day, we trust,
There is n't one if called upon,
Who would n't repeat or bust.

"The destroyers are gone to the west'ard,
The battleships, too, are home,
But this poor old yacht has been forgot
And is left here to finish alone!!"

On the day after this rather subdued Christmas,
the Corsair was informed of her destination, which
was Queenstown, Ireland, and her mission was to
relieve the U.S.S. Melville as the flagship of Admiral
Sims, Commanding the U.S. Naval Forces in Euro-
pean Waters. The Melville, the last word in naval
construction as a repair and supply ship, had been
nominally the flagship during the service of the
destroyer flotillas at Queenstown, although the
official headquarters and residence of Admiral Sims
were in London. During this time the Melville had
quartered Captain J. R. P. Pringle, the American
chief of staff and his organization which cooperated
with the British Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly in main-
taining and directing the destroyer force.

The elaborate and smoothly running machine of
operation, supply, equipment, and personnel had
come to a halt with the armistice. The destroyers
had fled homeward. The barracks and depots for



material at Passage, a little way up the river, had
been almost emptied, and the great naval aviation
base on the other side of Queenstown Harbor was
like a deserted eity. All that remained was what
Admiral Bayly called the job of "cleaning up the
mess." For this the American chief of staff was re-
quired to linger on the scene, but it was decided to
send the Melville home and the Corsair was elected
to take the place, or, as her men said, "it was wished
on her."

On December 27th the yacht tied up alongside
the Melville in Queenstown Harbor, and three days
later Captain Pringle and his staff transferred their
offices and living quarters. This group of officers
comprised Commander A. P. Fairfield, Lieutenant
Commander D. B. Wainwright (Pay Corps), Lieu-
tenant A. C. Davis, Ensign W. B. Feagle. Soon the
Corsair was alone as the only American naval vessel
in this port which had swarmed with the keen activ-
ity of scores of destroyers and thousands of blue-
jackets. To build up this force and keep it going at

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 18 of 20)