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scopes, but they may have been buoys. We have added
a French pilot to our crew. No shore liberty, as we are
too tired. We hear we are to be over here a long time,
with Brest as our base.

July yd. I spent the day painting the bridge. The
ship looks fine. I am also standing a twelve-hour watch
in order to give the other signal-men shore liberty.
We caught a bunch of mackerel over the side to-day
and will fry them. The Aphrodite has challenged us to
row them a race to-morrow. A big French dirigible
went out to sea to look for submarines.



July 4th. A national holiday, but not for us. We won
the race from the Aphrodite. The Noma and the Kana-
wha arrived this morning. They fought a submarine,
but no damage was done on either side. We expect to
get under way any minute and will look for the U-boat
that shot at the Noma. We had water sports in the
afternoon and they were good fun.

July 5th. The Sultana arrived to-day. She picked up
all the survivors of the S.S. Orleans which was torpe-
doed on the 3rd. Five of them were put aboard this
ship and their description of the sinking was harrow-
ing. Only two lifeboats got away. Four men were killed.
The ship sank in ten minutes. According to the dope,
the Corsair will sink in three minutes, if struck. Cheer-
ful, what?

July 6th. This was my first liberty in Brest. It is a
very old town high on the cliffs. We went through the
Duke of Brittany's old castle which dates back some
fifteen hundred years and was once the homestead of
Anne of Brittany. The dungeons were mighty inter-
esting. They surely did treat 'em rough in those days.
These rooms are more than two hundred feet down in
the solid rock and have been dark for ages. I should
call them unhealthy. The tortures they used to inflict
on the prisoners were diabolical. And yet you'll hear
gobs growling about the Navy. All of which reminds
me that life on shipboard has been running along with-
out much change. Several Russian destroyers came
into the harbor this afternoon.

July yth. A lot more of the men got Paris liberty to-
day. We had a bad little accident on board. The hook
at the bow of the small motor sailer pulled out when
the boat was suspended about forty feet above the
water. It fell and three men working in it were spilled
into the drink. Mr. Mason, assistant engineer, struck



his back and head and was badly bruised. . . . gth. I
certainly will be glad when the other signal-men get
back from Paris. These twelve-hour watches are wear-
ing me out. There are two rumors — one that we are
to go to sea again for three days, put in at Saint-
Nazaire, out again three days, and then back. The
other rumor is that we are going to England. I hope
this is correct. This is the first time I have felt home-
sick, and for some reason to-night I do. I guess it is
because poor old Art Coffey is to be shipped back to
the States. His eye trouble can't be treated over here.
Nothing has happened aboard ship excepting that the
commander told Art that the Corsair would not go
back home for a long, long time, if he could help it.
Golly, but I would like to go; not to stay, but just to
get a glimpse of home and the folks.

July 13th. Spent the morning washing my white
clothes. A new rumor! We are to leave here Saturday
for five days, put into Queenstown for coal and then
back to the States, spend a couple of weeks there and
then convoy the National Guardsmen or more of the
Regular Army back. I hope this is true. How I would
like to see a real country again. France is beautiful,
but dead. Brest is no livelier than Edgartown and there
is only one Paris. Its name is New York. This was
Friday, the 13th, so I was mighty careful to watch my
step. To-morrow is the French Fourth of July and it is
a big fete day. Wish I were going ashore to see the
celebration. Met some Yale men off the Harvard and
they are very nice chaps. I am improving on the
blinker signals and feel encouraged. No more dope!

The Corsair sailed next day on her first patrol
cruise, and the author of the foregoing observations
affords us a glimpse of what the job seemed like



while they were becoming hardened to it. He goes
on to say:

July 15th. At sea. A cold, rough day. I feel a bit
shaky and have a sore throat. Our work out here is
answering S.O.S. calls, looking for submarines, and
convoying merchant ships. We convoyed one Dane
and two Britishers most of the day. One of the Limies
had swapped shots with a sub. . . . No chance to take
off my clothes or wash. Took a practice shot at a barrel
and hit it at half a mile. . . . 17th. Ran over a sub-
marine at 2.15 a.m. but could not get a shot at it. This
trip has been awful weather most of the time, rain,
mist, wind, and fog. Nothing is dry on the whole ship.
Anybody that says life in the Navy is a cinch has
never been in it. If this war lasts a year we shall all be
changed men.

July 20th. Back at Brest. The Harvard came in with
survivors of two torpedoed ships. One crew had been
blown up twice within twenty-four hours. They had
been picked up and then the rescuing ship was sunk.
The submarine took the captain and the gunner along
as prisoners. . . . 21st. At sea. This has been a very
exciting day. We have seen three submarines. We fired
at one periscope and either hit it or near it. When the
splash cleared away the submarine had disappeared.
We were at our battle stations almost all day. We
passed a great deal of wreckage, some of it barrels of
oil and gasoline. Also passed an upset lifeboat with
two masts and a beautiful big life-raft. We always
cruise around such objects before approaching them,
as they may be submarine bait. I stood the midnight
watch and sighted a light which we headed towards.
It turned out to be a large American schooner, deserted
and on fire. The masts were gone and it was a complete



wreck. We met a British Naval Reserve ship bound to
Africa, a funny-looking craft for ocean work, flat-
bottomed with side wheels.

July 2yd. To-day we had lots of excitement. In my
watch I discovered an object five miles off which looked
exactly like a periscope. I sounded the alarm and we
approached it very carefully. It turned out to be a
large piece of wreckage with a ventilator on top. More
empty lifeboats to-day, and no clew to tell where they
came from. At night Captain Kittinger sighted a
strange ship which he swore was a submarine. It proved
to be a British destroyer and the joke was on the

July 26th. In port. To-day as per our weekly sched-
ule we coaled ship with the usual results. Filth and coal
dust everywhere. Instead of coaling I had to stand a
twelve-hour signal watch. In sending a semaphore
message to the Vidette I was nearly killed. A Spanish
freighter was between the two ships and I had to climb
into the rigging about fifty feet above the deck. As I
could not hold on with either hand, only with my feet,
it was ticklish work. I slipped and started to fall, but
luckily caught hold of the rigging in time and saved
myself. It was too close for comfort. A torpedo missed
the Noma by ten feet. Wow!

July 27th. Sailed this morning to meet and escort
U.S. troopships. The Aphrodite is supposed to be with
us, but she blew a boiler tube and has gone back. We
had a pretty close shave this afternoon. Ran into a
mine field, but zigzagged through it and, thank God,
dodged them all. A mine would blow every one of us
to kingdom come without a chance to get a boat over.
. . . 29th. Left the transports we were convoying at
Saint-Nazaire and then put out to patrol our regular
area. Escorted several ships to-day, most of them



British. One of the Limies was an awful bonehead and
when we demanded to know his nationality he showed
no colors. We hoisted our battle flag at the fore, but he
came to and ran up his ensign just as we were about to
throw a shot across his bow. We convoyed a big Cu-
narder, the Tuscania, carrying mail and supplies from
America to Falmouth and dropped her at the end of
our patrol area. Our Queenstown destroyers probably
picked her up after we left her. ... 315/. Early this
morning a Greek steamer got mixed in her bearings
and nearly ran into us. We had to stop and back at
full speed. This is the roughest day I have ever seen
on the ocean. The waves are half as high as the mast.
We are shipping water almost constantly and it is
dangerous to walk on deck.

August 2nd. Left Saint-Nazaire convoying the
Bohemian. This is the largest cargo ship afloat, and it is
quite a feather in our cap to be given the escort duty.
The roughest sea yet and it is impossible to enter our
compartment below. Almost everybody seasick. A big
wave carried away our hatch ventilator and mess gear
last night with a terrible crash. I was asleep, and when
the noise came and the water poured down on us I
thought we were sinking. I grabbed my life-preserver
and started for my station, but got word that all was
well, so went back to my bunk. It was soaked, with
six inches of water on the deck under me, but I slept

August 15th. Convoying the Celtic. We had been at
sea only two hours when the fo'castle began shipping
water which lavishly deluged the " hell-hole* ' below,
as usual. I slept in the motor sailer and got wet, as
usual. It rained on me all night and all I had was one
blanket. My clothes dried out in the wind. . . . Left
the Celtic and started for Brest. Got an S.O.S. call and


■ ; ;

1 ■





headed for it. Found three ships there, but no sign of
a torpedoed vessel. I understand that she was not sunk,
but got away under her own steam. I slept in a boat
again. Could n't stand it below decks. Hear we coal to-
morrow and put to^sea again at night. Hope it's a lie.
August 19th. Got liberty after coaling ship and went
ashore. Was hungry, so bought quite a dinner — one
omelette, two steaks, two orders of peas and potatoes,
tomato salad, three plates of ice-cream, five small
cakes, two peaches, coffee, and some champagne.
Wasn't at all hungry when I got through. The life
begins to agree with me.

It may be noted that in these extracts from the
day's routine of several weeks of active duty, the
Corsair was engaged in patrolling a certain definite
area of ocean and in escorting single ships through
her block, like a policeman on a beat, or in saving
mariners and vessels in distress. Incidentally she
endeavored to lift the scalp of Fritz whenever oppor-
tunity offered. These areas, as laid off on the chart
in degrees of latitude and longitude, would measure
perhaps sixty by one hundred miles. The same
system was employed by the Queenstown destroyer
flotilla during the early months of its service. Some
protection was given shipping and the submarines
were driven farther offshore, but as an offensive
campaign the patrol system was a little better than
nothing. Of the destroyer patrol, Admiral Sims had
this to say:

The idea is sound enough if you can have destroyers
enough. We figured that to make the patrol system



work with complete success, we should have to have
one destroyer for every square mile. The area of the
destroyer patrol off Queenstown comprised about
25,000 square miles. In other words, the complete pro-
tection of the trans- Atlantic trade would have required
about 25,000 destroyers.

The alternative and by far the more effective
scheme was to group a number of merchant vessels
or transports and send them out from port or take
them in with a sufficient force of destroyers and
yachts to screen the convoy from submarine attack.
Valuable ships could not be allowed to run by them-
selves. This was the procedure worked out and
generally adopted after the United States had come
into the war, and it made possible the enormous
task of placing two million men in France and
feeding a large part of Europe besides.

When the Corsair was on the Breton patrol, in
company with other American yachts, it was diffi-
cult to realize how few U-boats were actually cruis-
ing at one time and how great were the odds against
finding one in a designated patrol area.

Now in this densely packed shipping area [declared
Admiral Sims], extending, say, from the north of
Ireland to Brest, there were seldom more than eight
or ten submarines operating at any one time. The larg-
est number I had record of was fifteen, but this was
exceptional. The usual number was four, six, eight, or
perhaps ten. We estimated that the convoys and troop-
ships brought in reports of sighting about three hun-
dred submarines for every submarine actually in the



field. We also estimated that for every hundred sub-
marines the Germans possessed, they could keep only
ten or a dozen at work in the open sea. Could Germany
have kept, let us say, fifty submarines constantly at
work on the great shipping routes in the winter and
spring of 191 7, before we had learned how to handle
the situation, nothing could have prevented her from
winning the war. Instead of sinking 850,000 tons in
a single month, she would have sunk 2,000,000 or 3,000-
000 tons.

With such handicaps it was all the more credit-
able to the Corsair and her sister yachts that they
were able to accomplish so much in the summer of
1 91 7, before they were shifted to the troop and
supply convoys. It was knight-errantry, in a way,
this work of the Breton Patrol — rough-riders of
the sea whose spirit was akin to that of the impetu-
ous regiment which Theodore Roosevelt led at
Santiago. The Breton pilots were eloquent in admir-
ation, but shrugged their shoulders at the notion of
weathering a Bay of Biscay winter in these yachts,
so slender, so elegant, of such light construction,
of a certainty built for pleasure and le sport!

The programme of patrol duty sent the larger
yachts out two and two, each pair to be relieved
after four days at sea. The Corsair and Aphrodite
were coupled as cruising in adjoining areas, and
when they returned to port the Noma and Kanawha
went out to take the same stations. The smaller
yachts of the "Suicide Fleet' ' were assigned areas
nearer the Breton coast, where they guarded the



shipping that flowed alongshore between the Chan-
nel and the ports of France and Spain. The Patrol
Instructions included the following plan of operation :

When on an area patrol, vessels shall steer courses
to cover the area but the method adopted must be
irregular. Do not proceed with such regularity that
the vessel's position may be plotted.

When on a line patrol, vessels shall proceed along
the line of patrol until reaching its extremity when a
return over the same line will be made. The courses
steered must be such that the advance of the vessel
will be along the base course.

When on patrol, vessels shall speak all ships sighted.
Obtain the following information:

(a) Name of vessel

(b) From where bound

(c) To where bound

(d) Character of cargo

(e) Nationality

(f) If defensively armed or not

(g) If escort is desired

If the vessel spoken is a valuable vessel, and is bound
to a port on the west coast of France, below Latitude
48 30' North, she may be escorted. The fact that you
have taken her under escort is to be sent to the Base
by radio, in code, in following manner:

Example: "Baltic under escort, bound to "

When acting as escorting vessel, keep on exposed
bow of convoy and about 1200 yards ahead of her.
Insist that all vessels zigzag day and night. Escorting
vessels to break joints when courses are changed.
Leave patrol- and return to Base in time to arrive at
or about scheduled time.





Calls for assistance from vessels will be answered
and in case of disaster crews are to be rescued if pos-
sible. Report rescue of survivors by radio in order to
receive instructions.

Ordinary cruising speed of the faster vessels should
be at least twelve knots. Fires should be kept under all
boilers. The slower vessels should maintain a speed of
nine knots or over.

Ships returning from patrol will signal, using nu-
merals, the amount of coal and water needed. Coaling
may commence upon arrival in port or be done the
day after arrival.

When it was desired to have the Corsair find and
escort some particular ship or assemblage of them
through part of the danger zone, such instructions
as the following were sent to her commander:

United States Patrol Squadron, Flag Office
Brest, France, 27 July, 191 7

Group Operation Order No. 2.

Force: — Group D. — Corsair, Aphrodite.

American convoy, speed 12 knots, escorted, should
arrive Saint-Nazaire 27 July. Make preparations so
that it can be piloted to destination without anchor-
ing and without stopping at sea. Saint-Nazaire has
been informed. Proceed in company as far as practi-
cable, 28 July, to a position about 50 miles west of Belle
Isle, relieving Kanawha and Noma.

Communicate with and join convoy. Radio FFK
and FFL for IL (use AFR) the probable hour of the
entrance into the Loire. Pilot the convoy as far as G'd
Charpentier where river pilots will be ready. Unless
otherwise ordered, steer to pass south of Belle Isle.
The convoy must not stop at sea or anchor.



The Corsair's log-book and the official War
Diary, which was sent as a record to the Navy
Department, are so laconic and technical that one
might conclude the Breton Patrol to be lacking in
all adventure. They serve to check up the yarns
spun by the crew, however, and have the merit of
accuracy. Omitting the daily entries of courses,
position, and speed which could interest nobody,
the commanders record of the first cruise out of
Brest reads like this:

July 14, 1917. Under way from Brest for patrol area.
Spoke to British steamer Ardandeary bound for Fal-
mouth with general cargo.

15th. Speed 14 knots to investigate intercepted S.O.S.
Spoke to British steamer Itola for Falmouth with gen-
eral cargo. Spoke to Danish steamer A //from Montreal
for Havre, course east, speed 9 knots, with general
cargo. She was not zigzagging and was making a great
deal of smoke.

16th. Exchanged recognition signals with three
French destroyers, escorting cargo ships. Intercepted
S.O.S. from British steamer Devon City, light, for New-
port News. She had sighted a periscope and fired five
rounds at same and it disappeared. Fired one shot
from No. 2 gun at a floating barrel, making a hit, dis-
tance about 400 yards. Arrived south limit of patrol
area. Changed course to west, parting company, with
steamer Devon City.

17th. Headed for steamer on horizon. Spoke to Brit-
ish steamer Medford for Plymouth with cargo of mineral
phosphate. Changed course to escort Medford. Held
target practice on floating wreckage. Changed course
to east, speed 12 knots, making best of way to Brest.



iSth. Moored at Base.

igth. Coaling ship.

20th. Cleaning ship and preparing for cruise.

Two more cruises were made in the month of
July, but they furnished no thrilling episodes be-
yond the discovery of the burning American
schooner Augustus Weld which, no doubt, had been
shelled by a U-boat. What had become of her crew
was left to conjecture. This no*ble four-master was
one of many Yankee sailing vessels which dared
the war zone, tempted by the chance of fabulous
profits, until the War Risk Board refused to grant
them insurance. The easiest marks in the world for
submarines, they loafed along in infested waters, at
the whim of the fickle winds, or drifted becalmed
with towering canvas that was visible for many
miles. Some of them were sailed by sun-dried skip-
pers from Maine and Cape Cod who vowed they
"would take her to hell and repeat if the bonus
was big enough/ ' The episode of the blazing, dere-
lict schooner profoundly impressed the crew of the
Corsair. It was their first glimpse of the heartless
havoc of the U-boat.

They were learning that the service in the war
zone was not all adventure and exhilaration, but,
for the most part, monotonous toil and discomfort,
just as the soldier in the trenches had found it out
for himself. To be wet and cold and slung about in
a rolling ship, to return to port and shovel coal
until almost ready to go to sea again — this was



to be their lot month after month. The danger of it
was always present, but they soon became cheer-
fully indifferent. It went without saying that at the
explosion of a torpedo the yacht would fly apart
like a box of matches, but these young men snored
soundly in their uneasy bunks until the cruel boat-
swain's mate bade them "show a leg" or "rise and

With the elasticity of the American spirit they
adjusted themselves to this new manner of life and
to the ways of the Navy. Their language suffered
an extraordinary sea change. They talked the lingo
of the bluejacket, which is not so much slang as a
strong and racy sort of expression. The officers were
called "bolo-men" because they adorned them-
selves with swords on official occasions. One spoke
of the ship's cooks as "food destroyers," or "belly
robbers," which was sometimes unjust. To pipe
down for mess, or the call to meals, was shortened
to "chow down," and the meal pennant was the
"bean rag." "A hash mark" had nothing to do
with food, but was the service stripe on a sailor's

A "canary" was a man who slept in a hammock
instead of a bunk, and when he got up in the morn-
ing he "hit the deck." The Corsair never departed
from port, but always "shoved off," and when her
crew was granted liberty they "hit the beach." In-
stead of putting on clean clothes they "broke them
out." This phrase was used in so many ways that




a boyish seaman whose best girl had discarded him
for a doughboy was heard to confide that he "had
broke out a pippin of a new one."

The period of enlistment was a " hitch" or a
" cruise." The depth charges were seldom called
such, but figured as "mines," "ash cans," or
11 battle-bricks," and the deck upon which they were
carried was always "top-side." Almost any foreigner
was a "Spic," barring the Briton who was always
a "Limey." The yeomen, gunner's mates, and
quartermasters of the Corsair were "politicians,"
which slurred their habits of industry. "Four bells"
meant to move rapidly, and the weary sailor did
not fall asleep, but "calked off." At the mess table
it might divert a landsman to see the catsup bottle
pass in reply to a request for the "red lead," or to*
hear, " Put a fair wind behind the lighthouse "when
the salt cellar was desired.

During these early months of foreign service,
both the morals and the morale of a ship's company
were bound to be tested. Jack ashore was tradition-
ally presumed to take the town apart to see what
made it tick. But this was a different navy, just as
the American Army was to set new standards of
behavior and self-respect. Among the crew of the
Corsair were all sorts and conditions of youth re-
leased from the restraints of home ties and sub-
jected to all the demoralizing influences which
must ever go hand-in-hand with war. It was a say-
ing among troops freshly landed, when they were



inclined to run riot, that France had gone to their
heads, and there was something in the excuse.

It was most noteworthy that the conduct of the
sailors of the American naval forces was every-
where commendable, whether ashore in Brittany,
or at Queenstown, or with the Grand Fleet at Edin-
burgh. They were, in a sense, on honor to acquit
themselves as became the flag and the uniform,
and in character, intelligence, and upbringing a
large percentage of them represented the best blood
of the United States. This was true of the Corsair
and also typical of the other ships manned by the
Naval Reserve Force on the coast of France.

Shore liberty at Brest was diverting as a respite
from the crowded ship and its routine, but the
novelty was soon dispelled. It was picturesque and
colorful to ramble in the Rue de Siam where the
soldiers and sailors of many races jostled each other,

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 5 of 20)