Ralph Delahaye Paine.

The Corsair in the war zone online

. (page 4 of 20)
Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 4 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

unable to keep up. The blowers were run continually
to assist. The forward boiler could not be lighted off
as it was banked in with reserve coal supply. Between
4 and 5 a.m. while cleaning fires the speed by revolu-
tions dropped to 1 1 knots. A moderate sea was running
which caused seasickness among the firemen. The fire-
men were drafted from the U.S.S. Delaware through
the receiving ship at New York and were unfamiliar
with firing Scotch boilers and not accustomed to the
quick and deep roll of small ships. Most of them be-
came useless during the cleaning fire period and their
places were taken by petty officers of the engine and
fire-room watch. The ship continued to lose distance



astern of convoy, a logged speed of 10 1/2 knots being
maintained. 1 gave this matter my personal attention
and every effort was made to rejoin the convoy. From
noon to midnight an average speed of 11 3/4 knots
was logged. At 4.45 p.m. the Wilkes came within hail
and made inquiries as to the cause of the Corsair's
inability to keep in position.

June 16th. An average speed of 10 1/2 knots was
logged for the day. I found that the seasoned men,
most of them petty officers, were showing fatigue due
to the hard steaming qualities of the ship. A number
of volunteers from the deck force went below and
passed coal and handled ashes to assist. The reserve
coal from the dead fire-room was removed to allow
the forward boiler to be lighted off. Group No. 1 was
not seen this day. Group No. 2 was sighted astern at
3.40 a.m. Lighted fires in boiler No. 1 at 6 p.m.

June 17th. Maintained about 11 knots (by revolu-
tions). Some of the firemen who had suffered from sea-
sickness were back at useful work and the ship had
become considerably lighter. At 5 p.m. cut in boiler
No. 1 and increased speed to 13 knots. Between 1 and
2 p.m. two U.S. destroyers passed six miles to the
southward, one heading east and one west.

June 18th. Averaged 13 1/2 knots until 10.40 a.m.
when speed was reduced to 10 knots to lose distance
and join Group No. 2.

June igth. Proceeding at reduced speed to allow
Group No. 2 to overhaul.

June 20th. Proceeding at reduced speed, about 9
knots, to allow Group No. 2 to overhaul. It was desir-
able to keep a speed that was low but economical to
get the mileage for the fuel.

June 21st. Proceeding at reduced speed, about 7
knots. At 3.45 a.m. sighted Group No. 2 on port



quarter, — distance four miles. Changed course to
intercept. At 5.15 a.m. took position on starboard
beam of Henderson, distance 2000 yards. At 6 p.m.
sighted U.S.S. Maumee and U.S.S. Henley on star-
board bow. The Burrows joined the Maumee and re-
fueled. At 8.22 a.m. stopped and lowered a boat and
boarded the Birmingham for orders. At 9.35 a.m. pro-
ceeded in formation at 12 knots. Had no trouble in
keeping position from this time on with natural draft.
Zigzagged during the afternoon.

June 22nd and 2yd, Proceeding with Group No. 2.
Zigzagged during daylight.

June 2\ih. Momus broke out break-down flag and
dropped astern of formation. At 8.17 a.m. sighted three
destroyers one point on port bow. Five destroyers
joined escort during the morning.

June 25th. Proceeding as before. At 5.30 a.m. steamed
at 14 knots. At noon steamed at 13 knots. Zigzagged
during daylight.

June 26th. Proceeding with Group No. 2, steaming
at 13 knots. The U.S.S. Cummings let go a depth
charge at 2.00 p.m. about 600 yards ahead. Manoeuvred
for attack. Nothing sighted. Returned to formation.
Two French torpedo craft joined escort about 4 p.m.

June 27th. Entered port during mid-watch. Anchored
during morning watch with 32 tons of coal remaining.
Arrived at Saint-Nazaire, France, with Group No. 2 of
Expeditionary Force.

These were tired and grateful sailors aboard the
Corsair, for the slow-gaited transports, thirteen
days on the voyage, had caused continual anxiety
among the war vessels of the escort. The first group
had been attacked by submarines, as reported by


. ; , ; > > >


Photograph by Underwood and Underwood, N. Y.



Rear Admiral Gleaves, and it was an auspicious
omen that every ship and every soldier had been
carried across unharmed. The Corsair had been
compelled to drop back and join the second group,
but it was not her fault. As her skipper in former
days, Lieutenant Commander Porter was un-
happy, as you may imagine, although he knew
that the yacht would vindicate herself when in
proper trim and with a "black gang" that could
make steam and hold it.

Extra coal and stores had made the draft two
feet deeper than normal. One boiler-room was used
for coal stowage, but a speed of fourteen knots was
to be expected under these conditions. The firemen,
trained in a battleship, were green to their task
and were bowled off their pins by seasickness. It
indicated the spirit of the ship when the petty
officers, deck force and all, and as many other vol-
unteers as could find space to swing slice-bar and
shovel, toiled in the sultry heat of the furnaces
to shove the ship along. Never again was the Cor-
sair a laggard. Month after month on the Breton
Patrol or with the offshore convoys, the destroyers
were the only ships that could show their heels to

The process of " shaking down," of welding a
hundred and thirty men into a crew, and teaching
them what the Navy was like, had begun with the
hard routine at the docks in Hoboken and Brook-
lyn. The voyage was the second lesson and it won-



derfully helped to hammer home the doctrines of
team-work and morale, of cheerful sacrifice and
ready obedience. Those who grumbled repented of
it later and held it as a privilege that they were per-
mitted to play the great game. It was while they
sweltered to make more steam and urge the ship to
greater speed that an Irish stoker expressed him-
self as follows:

"I have heard tell of the meltin'-pot, but 'tis
me first experience with it. Hotter than hell wid
the lid off, and ye can see thim all meltin\ and will
ye listen to the names of the brave American lads,
Brillowski, Schlotfeldt, Aguas, and Teuten that
signed on to juggle the coal. An' will ye pipe off the
true-blue Yankee sailors, Haase, and Skolmowski,
Fusco, Kaetzel, and Balano, not to mintion such
good old. Anglo-Saxon guys as De Armosolo,
Thysenius, and Wysocki. I will make no invidjous
distinctions, but what kind of a fightin' ship would
this be if ye had n't Gilhooley, Mullins, Murphy,
Mulcahy, Egan, Sullivan, and Flynn? The meltin'-
pot! 'Tis a true word. An* may the domned old
Kaiser sizzle in a hotter place, if there is wan."

One of the boyish bluejackets noted his own
change of heart in a diary which contained such
entries as these:

June igth. At 6 a.m. we sighted an empty lifeboat.
Don't know where it came from, as there was no name.
We also saw two objects floating quite far off and
thought they were corpses, but were not sure. . . .



Stood two watches and had an abandon ship drill and
gun practice. Wrote some letters, but don't know when
we can mail them. Sighted a big whale not fifty yards
from the ship. It scared me. I was at the wheel and
thought it was a submarine. Sleeping in my bunk for
the first time since leaving New York.

21st. We are having a typical northeaster and the
ship is burying her rails in the sea now and then. We
have joined the second group of the fleet. It consists
of the Birmingham, four transports, a destroyer, our-
selves, and the Aphrodite. . . . 22nd. The northeaster is
still on in full blast and the sea is running high. We
hope to reach France Tuesday. The food and the life
on this ship are pretty bad, and when this war is over
and I sign off I shall devoutly thank God.

2yd. A pretty bad day all round. High sea, rain,
and fog. We are now in the war zone and zigzagging
back and forth across the ocean. The Birmingham has
kept us busy all day with signals. The ship has been
very hard to steer and I am tired out. Broke a filling
out of my tooth and it hurts. Hope I will get a chance
to have it fixed in France. A toothache out here would
certainly be bad. Have been unable to take a bath for
a week. Am washing in a bucket of water.

2\th. Another day of nasty weather. The mid-watch
was the worst I ever stood. The fog was awful and
when I was at the wheel we almost rammed the
Antilles. We also dodged two suspicious-looking steel
drums that looked very much like mines. . . . 25th. Our
coal is getting low and we will surely land some time
to-morrow morning. I wish I could talk French. Every-
body is writing letters home to-day. Stood a terrible
watch with Mr. Tod on the bridge. He and Captain
Kittinger took turns bawling me out. I almost rammed
a destroyer twice by obeying orders to the letter, but



the officers were in a bad temper and blamed me. Gad,
but I '11 be glad to set foot on dry land.

Somewhat later this same young man was jot-
ting down :

Whoever reads this diary will probably notice my
changed attitude toward what we have to put up with.
What seemed unbearable a few months ago amounts
to nothing, now that we have become hardened to all
things. I have read the whole diary through and
laughed at my early grouches.

And so the Corsair came to France and rested in
the quaint old port of Saint-Nazaire while her men
beheld the troops of Pershing's First Division
stream down the gangways and receive a welcome
thrilling beyond words, the cheers and outstretched
hands, the laughter and the tears of a people who
hailed these tall, careless fighting men as crusaders
come to succor them. This was a sight worth seeing
and remembering. And when the American sailors
went ashore there was an ovation for them, flowers
and kisses and smiles, and if such courtesies were
bestowed upon the bluejackets of the Corsair, they
gallantly returned them, it is quite needless to

Seven of the crew were granted liberty for a
hasty trip to Paris. Seaman Arthur Coffey was in
the party and his written impressions convey a
glimpse of what it meant to these young Americans
to come into contact with the sombre realities of
the struggle which France was enduring with her



back to the wall. It surprised and amused them to
find the American infantrymen already so much at
home in Saint-Nazaire that their liveliest interest
was in shooting craps at the street corners:

Here were soldiers and sailors who had just crossed
an ocean full of hidden terrors [observed Arthur Coffey],
and most of them were to face worse terrors later on,
but did they consider these things? Not for a minute!
They had money in their pockets and beer under their
belts and this "spiggoty" currency, as they called the
wads of paper notes, made them feel like millionaires.
The marines had not arrived to police the streets, so
they rattled the dice in crowds. For all they saw or
cared, they might have been in their own home towns,
perfectly indifferent to their surroundings. The French
onlookers were different. They were appraising these
new comrades-in-arms, whispering among themselves,
admiring the equipment and the rugged stature of
these soldiers from beyond the seas. We watched the
fun until it was time to find the train for Paris and
moved away with cries of, "Shoot the cinq-f rones,"
"Fade him for a cart-wheel, Bill," "Come on, you
baby," ringing in our ears.

We got aboard the right train with the kind assist-
ance of a French lady who interpreted for us. It was
great luck to get the seventy-two-hour leave, and the
crowd was congenial, five men from Princeton, one
from Yale, and one from Cornell. The trip to Paris
was lengthy because we had to travel second class and
sit up all night, being Navy gobs and not officers. The
French took us for plain, ordinary bluejackets and
fraternized at once. Their style of opening a conver-
sation was to sit and look at you for a time, smile, and
then having attracted your attention, with a terrifying



grimace ejaculate : "Le boche, ah-h-h-h!" drawing a hand
across the throat. This done they would beam expect-
antly and, needless to say, we responded with grimaces
even more terrifying and repeated the formula. Having
mutually slit the gullet of the hated foe, I would add,
to show off my French, "Je riaime pas le boche!"
Then the way was opened for a conversation.

11 Parlez-vous frangais, monsieur? " " Mais un peu,
monsieur," I would say, and then bang away with the
stereotyped sentence, "I have studied French two
years at school and I can understand the language
pretty well, but I cannot speak it." As soon as my
friend, the French soldier, heard me rip off this sen-
tence he would open his eyes and say, "Parlez bien
frangais, monsieur" and then start talking so fast that
I could not understand a word, and this would be the
end of the conversation, on my part, at least.

Some of my companions, however, were even worse
performers than I. Poor old Bill Rahill, who was in
my class in college, had taken economic courses and
so knew no modern languages. All he could say was
"Oui" and "Non comprenny, monsieur," at which I
would nudge him and ask if it were not better, per-
haps, to have a little culture and know something
about a foreign language than to be cluttered up with
the Malthusian theory or some other rot like that.

We had a great time on that train to Paris. At the
first long stop almost everybody got out and went into
the waiting-room, or saloon, and bought various re-
freshments. We had seen no grass or green trees for
two weeks, so we piled out and made for the beautiful
lawn near the station. We rolled on the grass and
sniffed the pine trees. We were like cats that had been
shy of catnip for a long time. I suppose the French
people thought we were crazy, but we did n't care, and



it certainly did feel good to have the green earth under
our feet again.

Then we wandered into the restaurant and loaded up
with cheese and a couple of yards of war bread, and
one of the fellows bought several bottles of champagne
at a ridiculously low price. Thus armed, we climbed
into the train where we met two French soldiers who
were returning to the trenches. They let us try on their
helmets and gas-masks and they spoke a little English,
so with plenty of gestures we got on very well. They
said they knew we were Americans because we talked
through our noses. We took that good-naturedly, but
I noticed that my brother gobs began to speak way
down in their throats right after that. We chewed on
the war bread and washed it down with champagne.
That is a great breakfast combination, you can take
my word for it. And then some one piped up a song.
"Buck" Bayne, Yale 1914, was handy at fitting words
to college airs and we soon had a fine concert going.
One of the ditties, I remember, went like this, to the
tune of " Cheer for Old Amherst":

" Good-night, poor U-boats,

U-boats, good-night!
We 've got your number;

You 're high as a kite.
Good-night, poor U-boats,

You 're tucked in tight.
When the U.S. fleet gets after you,

Kaiser j good-night! I "

Before long we had a crowd around that train com-
partment that you could n't get through to save your
neck. The Frenchmen all applauded the Corsair glee
club and yelled for more, but we felt too conspicuous
and so we persuaded the poilus to sing some funny
trench songs, which we could n't understand, but we



laughed and slapped them on the back as though we
knew every word.

Next morning we arrived in Paris, and, with a few
other men from our ship, were the first American sailors
in that city since our country had declared war. You
can imagine what that meant to us, how the people
greeted us with cordial affection and kindness. Thank
God, the Frenchmen did not try to kiss us! If the Paris
girls had insisted, we should have submitted like
gentlemen. We put up at the Hotel Continental, and
were more than amused at the expressions on the
faces of several dignified English officers when they
saw seven common bluejackets of the American Navy
blow in and eat breakfast next to them.

That day we ran into lots of friends who were in
the American Field Ambulance Service, attached to the
French Army, and they told us gloomy tales about the
war outlook. They said the Russians were through,
that the French were literally shot to pieces, and that
the job of finishing the war was up to us. Imagine it —
I, who had hoped in May that the Russians would
keep on retreating so that I could get a chance to see
the show before it was over, was now wishing that the
war would end. I have seen the light since that day.
We fellows were really feeling the war for the first
time when we noticed that the streets of Paris were
filled with crippled men and with women in mourning.

We spent two busy days in mixing with soldiers of
all nations and doing Paris. The troops who impressed
us most, even more than the French, and that is going
some, were the Canadians. They gave us such a rousing
welcome that it was like being home again. They were
so glad to see us that they almost wrapped themselves
around our necks. "Hello, Jack," was their invariable
greeting. "How are things over in the States?" "It 's



sure good to see you." "When are your troops coming
over?" "What, you came across with some of them?"
"The devil you say!" "Well, all I hope is that they
give us a chance to fight alongside the Yanks. We'll
go through Fritz so fast that he won't know what hit

While we were knocking about Paris with the
Canadians, our money was no good. They insisted on
buying us drinks, cigarettes, and acted as interpreters.
There was nothing they would n't do for us. Our spirits
began to rise at once. We asked them about all the
pessimistic rumors. Were they true? "Hell, no," said
they. "Why, there's nothing to it. Shell 'em a bit, then
shell 'em some more, and when you go over the top,
Fritz just sticks up his hands and yells that he's your
kamerad." "As soon as he sees the cold steel, up goes
his bloody hands," one little chap confided to me. And
he had such a look in his eye when he said it that I think
my blooming hands would have been up if he had said
the word.

They were the most confident lot of men I ever saw.
This was the first visit to Paris for most of them. They
had been out there for two years, getting leave only
among the little villages back of the line, but they
did n't seem to mind going back to the trenches. And
they were always talking about the war and their
campaigns. The soldiers of other nations seemed fed
up with it, but not so with the Canadians. Why, I
heard two of them, a private and a captain, in a heated
argument across a table as to how they could capture
Lens without letting the Germans destroy the coal
mines. The private leaned over and poked the captain
in the stomach to emphasize a point, and the captain
tried to out- shout his companion. One would have
thought them to be a couple of privates.



On the morning of the third day we left Paris for
our port. Dave Tibbott, a classmate of mine, practiced
talking French to a lad in the train, and Bill Rahill
said u Oui" and " Voila" to a pretty girl who shared
the compartment. She seemed to be partial to Bill's
smile, for we all had him beaten on slinging the French.
When she left the train, Bill helped her out and kissed
her hand by way of farewell. When we kidded him
about it, he defended himself on the ground that they
did such things in France and one must follow the
customs of the country.

We had many yarns to spin when we boarded our
ship and we were careful to tell the boys about the
fine baths in the hotel, although we omitted the fact
that there was no hot water. When we described the
wonderful soft beds, it looked as though there might
be a lot of desertions from the Corsair.

I saw many interesting sights during my stay in
French waters, but my eyes went bad and they put me
ashore where I stayed a month and a half waiting for
a ship to take me home. I was finally sent back to the
United States in August and, to my great sorrow, re-
ceived a medical discharge. The life is hard in the Navy
in the war zone, harder than anything I had ever done
before, but I would give ten years of my life to have
been able to stick it out with the boys on the old
Corsair and do my share.


WHEN the Corsair arrived on the French
coast there was nothing to indicate the vast
American organization, military and naval, which
was soon to be created with a speed and efficiency
almost magical. Supply bases, docks, fuel stations,
railroads were, at the outset, such as France could
provide from her own grave necessities. Marshal
Joffre and Lord Balfour had convinced the Govern-
ment at Washington that if the United States de-
layed to prepare, it might be too late. Troops were
demanded, above all else. Man power was the vital
thing. And so these early divisions were hurried
overseas to Pershing with little more than the
equipment on their backs.

The Navy was aware of its own share of the
problem which was to extend its fighting front to
the shores of France as well as to the Irish Sea. To
protect the ocean traffic to and from the United
States, small, swift ships were required by the
dozens and scores, but they could not be built in
a day, and, as a British admiral expressed it, "This
rotten U-boat warfare had caught all the Allies
with their socks down." Of the naval escort with
the First Expeditionary Force, the cruisers returned
to the United States for further convoy duty and



the destroyers went either with them or were or-
dered to join the flotilla at Queenstown. For a short
time the Corsair and another large yacht, the
Aphrodite, were left to comprise the American naval
strength on the French coast. On June 30th, Com-
mander Kittinger received the following instruc-
tions from Rear Admiral Gleaves:

When in all respects ready for sea, proceed with the
vessel under your command to Brest, France, and
report to the Senior French Naval Officer for duty.
Exhibit these orders to the Senior United States Naval
Officer in Brest. Upon the arrival of Captain W. B.
Fletcher, U.S. Navy, report to him for duty.

The tenor of these orders indicated the wise and
courteous policy which Vice- Admiral Henry B.
Wilson was later to develop with brilliant success
— that of cooperation with and deference to the
French naval authorities instead of asserting the
independence of command which, in fact, he ex-
ercised. At this time Captain Fletcher had been ap-
pointed to organize the American "Special Patrol
Force," and he was daily expected to arrive in the
yacht Noma, The ancient port of Brest was selected
as the chief naval base because the French had
long used it for this purpose, maintaining dock-
yards, repair shops, and arsenals, and also because
the largest transports afloat could be moored in
its deep and spacious harbor. Saint-Nazaire and
Bordeaux became the great entry ports for cargo
steamers during the war, while into Brest the huge





liners carried twenty thousand or forty thousand
troops in a single convoy.

The Corsair steamed into Brest on July 2d in
company with the Aphrodite and duly reported to
Vice-Admiral Le Brise, of the French Navy. Two
days later a fleet of other yachts arrived from home
and were warmly welcomed, the Noma, Kanawha ,
Harvard, Christabel, Vidette, and Sultana. With this
ambitious little navy it was possible to operate a
patrol force which Captain Fletcher promptly pro-
ceeded to do, acting in concert with the French
torpedo boats, armed trawlers, submarines, and

The Corsair lay in port ten days to coal, paint
ship, and otherwise prepare for the job of cruising
in the Bay of Biscay. An unofficial log, as kept by
one of the seamen, briefly notes:

July 2nd. Sailed for Brest from Saint-Nazaire at
4 a.m. Arrived at 3 p.m. and received four submarine
warnings on the way. We thought we saw two peri-

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 4 of 20)