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had fouled the Alcedo but that the yacht had rejoined
and was in position with the escort. During this detour,
received from the Noma, "I am proceeding with the
City of Atlanta.'" At this time a large convoy was ob-
served standing to the northward and cutting off the
Noma and City of Atlanta from our convoy.

6.15 a.m. Received from Noma, "Lost City of Atlanta
about 4.30 a.m. in passing through large convoy. Is she
with you ?" The Noma was instructed to search for the
missing ship and escort her in.

8.44 a.m. Noma reported that she had found the City
of Atlanta and was proceeding to Teignouse Channel.

So much for the routine of faithful endeavor,
continual danger, and incessant vigilance! The
month of October was very different. It was memor-
able in the Corsair's calendar because she fought a
submarine, rescued many survivors of abandoned
ships, and saw two fine transports torpedoed, the
Antilles and the Finland, with heavy loss of life.
There was no more grumbling at the uneventful
drudgery of war. The crowded activity began on
the second day of October when this radio message
was caught and decoded :

To all Allied men-of-war, — from Land's End :

Picked up five men of French fishing vessel sunk by


Five boats still adrift — twenty-one men. Position


The Corsair was in company with the yachts
Wakiva and Alcedo, and promptly signalled them to



disregard her movements as she was going in search
of survivors. Shortly after noon, the wreck of a
schooner was sighted, the hull awash, and many
barrels of oil floating near it. The Corsair's gunners
fired seven shots into the derelict, but were unable
to sink it and the yacht hastened on her errand of
mercy, guided by the squared areas of the secret
chart to which the radio message had referred.
Three hours later the first boat was found, a dory
four men from the French fishing bark, Saint
Pierre, which had been set on fire by a boarding
party from a U-boat one hundred and eighty miles
off Ushant.

The mate, who was one of those rescued, swore
that after the crew of the Saint Pierre had scram-
bled into the boats two more large submarines ap-
peared, and that all three of these infernal sea mon-
sters had made a circuit of the hapless bark before
destroying her. It was also his belief that each sub-
marine was very formidable, at least a hundred
metres in length and mounting two large cannon.

The crew of the Corsair cheered at the tidings
while they sympathized with the forlorn fishermen.
"The U-boats were coming in bunches," joyously
reflected the deck force, and the "black gang"
slung the coal with an earnest determination to
give her twenty knots or blow the boilers out of her.
The ship raced to scan the sea for the other boats
of the Saint Pierre and at 4.35 p.m. heard firing in
the direction of a tall barkentine whose sails gleamed



seven miles to the northward. Here was a second
fisherman in trouble and a U-boat actually shelling
her within sight of the U.S.S. Corsair! Ten minutes
more, with speed worked up to eighteen knots, and
the submarine could be clearly recognized through
the binoculars aimed from bridge and crow's-nest.
Etched very small against the horizon was the
deck, like a fine, black line, and the conning tower
as a tiny hump in the middle, while a gun winked
as a red spark, and the water splashed high near
the target of a sailing vessel and was visible as so
many white specks resembling dabs of cotton. The
Corsair was then four miles distant, too far to use
her own guns effectively. The submarine delayed
five minutes longer, rolling on the surface and using
her battery in order to sink the fisherman without
wasting a precious torpedo on a victim so unim-
portant. Then the cruel U-boat filled her ballast
tanks and submerged as a whale sounds when
alarmed. Sighs from the Corsair's decks were min-
gled with the deep and hearty curses of the salt-
water vocabulary. The commander expurgated his
report when it came to writing it, and this was his
unadorned narrative:

Shortly after this, six dories were observed pulling
away from the vessel. At 5.08 we came up and found
her to be the French barkentine, Eugene Louise, from
the Grand Banks to Saint-Malo. Searched for where-
abouts of the enemy. A long wake was observed. Ran
the ship into this wake and at 5.16, at the place where



it disappeared, let go an English depth charge, 120
pounds TNT. Circled around and passed close to sur-
vivors' boats and asked them the location of the enemy.
They were so badly demoralized that they could give
no intelligible replies and pointed generally to the west-
ward. Search was continued and at 5.34 returned and
picked up the survivors, the entire crew of the Eugene

At 5.45 we started ahead at eighteen knots. The first
estimate made of the damage to the Eugene Louise
was that her bob-stays had been carried away and that
her topmasts and topgallant-masts would probably
come down. At this time she was hove to with all
square sails aback. The fore-staysails and jib halliards
having been let go, the sails were halfway down the
stays. Approaching closer to make a careful inspec-
tion, we found that what appeared to be the bob-stays
were a couple of rope-ends hanging from the dolphin
striker to the water.

Attempts were made to persuade the crew to return
to the Eugene Louise and bring her in. The captain
consented on condition that the Corsair should escort
him. He was assured that the Corsair would stand by.
After conferring with his crew he asked that one of the
ship's officers would confirm this assurance in person.
The Gunnery Officer, Ensign Schanze, gave this assur-
ance to the crew in their own language. A long talk
ensued among the Frenchmen of the Eugene Louise.
The indications were that they had no intention of
boarding their ship again.

At 6.19 p.m. proceeded S. 17 East, speed fourteen
knots, and continued search for survivors of the Saint
Pierre. Opened communication with some British
destroyers and informed them of the condition and
position of the Eugene Louise. At 9.08 p.m. the destroy-




ers radioed that they had the Eugene Louise in tow
and were proceeding to the Scillys. Heard two German
submarines communicating with each other by radio.
Five minutes later heard two more enemy submarines
in radio communication. The signals were coming in
very strongly which indicated their close proximity.
Under these circumstances it was considered unwise
to take the Eugene Louise in tow without the presence
of escorting vessels.

It was an animated scene aboard the Corsair
when the thirty-one men and officers of the Eugene
Louise were disputing whether or not they should
go back to their ship and sail her into port. There
were also two dogs, one of them shaggy and black,
who barked in energetic approval of remaining on
the Corsair. Their Breton shipmates appeared to
share this opinion. Panic had gripped most of them.
They were literally frightened out of their wits.
Red kerchiefs knotted about their heads, gold rings
twinkling in their ears, they looked like shipwrecked
buccaneers, but their spirit was quite otherwise.

The captain of the Eugene Louise was a man of
stout heart and, besides, he owned a share of the
barkentine. He raced between bridge and deck,
conferring, imploring, expostulating, but his fisher-
men refused to follow him. They were fed up with
submarine warfare and, in their opinion, once was
enough. The next U-boat would undoubtedly cut
their throats and it was a long road to Saint-Malo.
Their refusal brought genuine grief to the navigat-
ing officer of the Corsair. Nothing would have



pleased Lieutenant Robert E. Tod more than to
sail the barkentine Eugene Louise into the nearest
French port, and he had already volunteered for the

He was a faithful and zealous officer of the Cor-
sair ', but, after all, she was a steam kettle and his
heart went out to the spars and stays and canvas
of a sailing vessel and the winds that served to
steer her by. Such had been his own training as a
yachtsman, and he knew he could shove this French
square-rigger along for all she was worth, with
thirty nimble Breton sailors to swarm aloft. Alas,
Captain Pierre Catharine, of the Eugene Louise,
could not argue his frightened crew into accepting
this sporting proposition. It was left for the indus-
trious British destroyers to take her to safety at
the end of a tow-line. The news was gratifying,
when received later, that the barkentine with her
cargo of fish, so welcome to the Breton villages,
had been rescued from the brutal destruction of the
enemy. One of the Corsair's deck force sadly noted
in his journal:

I also volunteered to go with Commodore Tod as
quartermaster for signals, but our skipper decided to
leave her derelict. It was a great disappointment.
Mr. Tod thanked me for offering to take a chance on
the barkentine, which I appreciated.

I During the night of this same day the Corsair
was zigzagging toward Brest at twelve knots when
she encountered one of the submarines which had



been running amuck among the fishing vessels.
The weather was hazy and obscured and an occa-
sional rain squall drove across the ship. The bridge
and deck watches were peering into the gloom
which lifted between the squalls to let a watery
moon gleam through. Lieutenant Tod was officer
of the watch and Quartermaster Augustus C.
Smith, Jr., stood at the wheel. At 11.25 p - M - one of
the whistling flurries of rain and wind had passed
and the sea was visible in the illumination of the
misty moonlight.

No more than five hundred yards away the out-
line of a large submarine was clearly discernible as
it rested at leisure upon the surface of the water,
having emerged, no doubt, to open hatches and
give the crew a breathing spell. This was a sight
which the crew of the Corsair had dreamed of. It
was too good to be true. Quartermaster Augustus
Smith, a bland, unruffled young man in all circum-
stances, had an uncommonly keen pair of eyes and
he did not have to be informed that yonder was the
enemy. He spun the wheel at the order. Lieutenant
Tod threw the handle of the engine-room indicator
to emergency speed, and the Corsair swung to rush
straight at the U-boat, hoping to ram.

Commander Kittinger and his executive, Lieu-
tenant Commander Porter, instantaneously ap-
peared upon the bridge, while Ensign Gray dashed
for the chart-house deck to make certain that the
forward gun crew had sighted the submarine for



themselves. There was excitement, but no confu-
sion. Long training and disciplined habit had pre-
pared them all for such an episode as this, like
sprinters set and ready on the mark. No time was
lost in wondering what ought to be done. Those
who hunted Fritz had to be quickwitted or else he
would scupper them.

The submarine, caught napping, went ahead on
its oil engines, moving slowly on the surface and
almost in the same direction as the plunging Corsair
whose forward battery endeavored to bear on the
mark, which was difficult for lack of a bow-chaser.
Number Two gun barked once and the shell kicked
up foam astern of the U-boat which was submerging
in the very devil of a hurry, as one may imagine.
Before the Corsair could fire again, the conning
tower had vanished and the gray shape of the slink-
ing submarine was slanting downward in a " crash

The yacht had three hundred yards to go before
she passed over the spot. Her keel failed to strike
and rip through the thin plates of the German craft
which was, perhaps, thirty feet beneath the sea,
but a bubbling wake was visible and into it the
depth charges began to drop from the stern of the
Corsair, The gunnels mates played no favorites,
but let go an English "ash can" with 120 pounds
of TNT, then two French "Grenades Giraud," and
finally an American Sperry bomb.

All four of the Allied gifts for Fritz functioned



with terrific effect. The Corsair, charging ahead at
full speed to avoid being hoisted herself, was shaken
as though she had hit a reef. The sea was violently
agitated in a foaming upheaval. The men asleep
below decks came spilling up through the hatches,
convinced that the ship had been blown up. One of
the French fishermen vowed that he had a glimpse
of the shadowy shape of the submarine as it passed
directly under the Corsair. It seemed reasonable to
assume that the four depth charges had been placed
where they would do the most good. Nothing could
survive the destructive effect of the solid wall of
water impelled by these explosions. And the sub-
marine had been near enough, in all probability, to
receive the force of these rending shocks.

The Corsair moved ahead for five minutes, along
the track which the U-boat had taken when it sub-
merged. There was the hope that it might rise to
the surface disabled, but the moonlit surface of the
sea was unbroken. The mist had cleared and the
sky was bright. Swinging about, the Corsair re-
traced her path on the chance of finding some sign
or token of a shattered U-boat. Soon she ran through
a spreading oil slick, a patch of greasy calm amid
the glinting waves, and the smell of mineral oil was
strong. They sniffed it greedily aboard the Corsair
and the French fishermen forgot to mourn the
Eugene Louise. It was their belief that the glorious
American Navy had evened the score with the
Boche. The bluejackets were of the same opinion



and felt confident that the Corsair would be
awarded a star to display on her funnel, the Croix
de Guerre of the sea, to show that she had bagged
her submarine.

The officers were not quite so cock-sure. Daylight
might have disclosed some bits of debris, enough
wreckage to substantiate the claim beyond a
shadow of doubt, but the mere presence of floating
oil was no longer admitted as final proof either by
the American Navy Department or the British
Admiralty. Submarines were apt to leak a certain
amount of fuel oil, or to blow it through the exhaust
when running on the surface, and it was suspected
that Fritz had learned the trick of opening a valve
in order to delude the pursuers into the belief that
they had crippled or smashed him.

In this instance, however, the circumstantial evi-
dence was very strongly in favor of the Corsair,
even though officials ashore might decline to give
her documentary credit. The submarine had been
unusually close aboard, almost under the ship,
when four depth charges were let go and all ex-
ploded perfectly. Commander Kittinger was so re-
luctant to claim too much that he presented no
more than the terse facts and let the matter rest
with that. Earlier in the war, destroyers had been
granted the star on a funnel for evidence no more
conclusive than this — depth charges dropped
within a fatal radius and the presence of abundant
fuel oil as the aftermath.


» ' '





W "*m\i ■


-. • -


It is highly probable that the Corsair wiped one
U-boat from the active list on this moonlit night in
the Bay of Biscay and her crew had the right to
feel pride in the exploit. That careful, well-poised
petty officer, Quartermaster Augustus Smith, who
saw the whole show from his station at the wheel,
took pains to write down his own observations
which confirmed, in every respect, the conclusions
of Commander Kittinger and his officers:

On the night of October 2, 1917, at 11.25 p.m., a
dark object was sighted by the officer of the deck,
bearing about three points on the port bow. The officer
of the deck, after looking at the object with the night
glasses, called out that it was a submarine. The order
was given for full left rudder and to steady on the sub-
marine which was then plainly visible in the moonlight.
At the same time emergency speed was rung up and
before we had swung to the new course we were fast
gaining speed. The captain almost immediately came
on the bridge and ordered that a shot be taken at the
submarine which was about three hundred yards away
and moving slowly on the surface in the general direc-
tion we were steering. We swung a little to starboard
and one shot was fired which cleared the periscope and
showed the submarine distinctly for a second.

From the way the Corsair answered the rudder we
were making fine speed. The submarine completely
disappeared when we were just a little way off. As we
crossed her apparent course we began dropping depth
charges, four in all. As we passed over her position we
went full right rudder> dropping two of the cans as we
swung. We then steadied on North 74 East, the orig-
inal course, and ran it about five minutes. We then



slowed to thirteen knots and went full right rudder,
and steadied on South 8o° West. Returning over the
spot where the charges had exploded, we ran into a
great slick of oil that seemed to spread out for several
hundred yards. A strong odor of oil could be smelled,
even on the bridge.


FOR more than three months the Corsair had
been escorting transports and supply steamers
to and fro, in an area of ocean where the hostile
submarines cruised incessantly. Not a ship in all
these unwieldy convoys had been torpedoed, and
the few hard-driven yachts could feel, without
boasting, that they were doing their bit to keep the
road open to France. It was unreasonable to expect,
however, that the record could be kept wholly clear
of disaster. The fortune of war was not as kind as

The unhappy event occurred without warning
on October 17th when the transport Antilles, a fine,
seven-thousand-ton steamer of the Southern Pacific
Company, was sent to the bottom with many of her
people. It was no fault of the escort, for there was
never a sight of a periscope nor any other indication
that a submarine was near. The Corsair did what
she could and did it well, saving survivors from the
sea with the readiness and courage that might have
been expected.

The convoy had sailed from Saint-Nazaire two
days earlier, waiting at Quiberon for one of the ships
to join. With the Antilles were the Henderson and
the Willehad. The escort comprised the Corsair,



Aphrodite y and the Kanawha, which replaced the
Wakiva after this smaller yacht had returned to
port because of leaky rivets in the main boiler.
With the circumstances as they were, no better
protection could have been given this small convoy
of three transports. The Queenstown destroyers
were employed in guarding the laden ships inward
bound, meeting them far offshore, but the American
Patrol Force in France had to take them to sea
again as best it could, w r ith the yachts and what-
ever aid the French Navy was able to offer.

The small flotilla of coal-burning destroyers
which was sent to base on Brest had not yet arrived
and was en route from the Azores. Captain W. B.
Fletcher, who commanded the Patrol Force at this
time, and who was superseded by Admiral Wilson
a little later, received a certain amount of adverse
criticism because of the loss of the Antilles, but the
fact is evident that he had taken all the precautions
within his power to send this convoy safely through
the danger zone.

The three transports and the three large yachts
proceeded without incident until the morning of
the second day at sea, when a freshening wind
kicked up a boisterous sea and the Kanawha found
herself in trouble. She was taking the water green
over her bows and the decks were flooded. To avoid
being seriously battered, she was compelled to
reduce speed, and, to make matters worse, the
weather was growing rougher and a gale threatened.


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Unable to maintain the standard speed of the con-
voy, which slowed down, for a little while, to nine
knots in order to let the Kanawha attempt to regain
position, her captain signalled for permission to
part company and return to port. This was granted,
as the heavy weather had made her of no service
to the convoy. Thereafter the formation was main-
tained in this wise:

Corsair O O Alcedo

O Henderson

Antilles O

O Willehad


The third day out, October 17th, dawned clear
with a moderate wind from the southwest and a
disturbed sea covered with whitecaps. The ships
were zigzagging, with all lookouts properly kept and
gunners at their stations. The Antilles had her own
battery which was manned by a detachment of the
Naval Armed Guard. Early in the morning, at 6.45,
she was steaming directly astern of the Corsair dur-
ing one of the frequent changes of course. The light
was still poor, and it was this hour, before the sun-



rise had brightened the sea, which the submarines
had found most favorable for attack.

The Antilles was seen to sheer out to starboard
and the Henderson hoisted a signal which could not
be read from the bridge of the Corsair, but the
yacht swung about on the instant and sounded the
call to general quarters. There was no other indica-
tion that the Antilles had been hit and mortally
wounded. Presently she was settling by the stern.
Then the bow rose in air, towered there, and the
ship plunged to the bottom five minutes after a
torpedo had ripped open her engine-room. Smoke
and dust and dirty whirlpools marked the spot
where she had been, and the sea was littered with
boats and bits of wreckage and struggling men. On
board the Corsair was Commander F. N. Freeman,
as commander of the patrol division to which the
Corsair and Alcedo were attached, and his report
contained the following description of the disaster:

No explosion was heard on the Corsair, nothing was
seen of it, nor was a submarine sighted. The Henderson
immediately turned to starboard and made a smoke
screen, the Willehad turned to port and from know-
ledge now at hand apparently passed very nearly over
the submarine that fired the torpedo. The Alcedo
turned back to the spot where the Antilles sank. The
Corsair steamed at nineteen knots directly astern of
the Henderson and to the northeast, followed by the
Alcedo. These two escorting vessels continued in the
vicinity of the wreckage until 8.30 A.M. No sign of
the submarine was seen.



During all this time the Alcedo was picking up sur-
vivors while the Corsair continued circling around the
boats and wreckage. The Corsair assisted in picking
up the survivors in outlying boats and patrolling the
vicinity until 10.30 A.M. All survivors having been
rescued, and it being impossible to overhaul either the
Henderson or the Willehad before nightfall, we set
course for Brest.

The total number of persons on board the Antilles
was 237. The number rescued by the Corsair was 50,
by the Alcedo 117 — total rescued, 167.

It is believed that every man on the Antilles who
got into the water alive with life-belt on was rescued.
Attention is invited to the excellent work of the Alcedo
and Corsair in picking up survivors who were in the
boats, on wreckage and life-rafts, floating over an area
of several square miles. The Corsair picked up fifty
persons from outlying wreckage and lifeboats without
lowering a boat. The sea at this time was getting rough.

Officers from the Antilles have informed me that
there was a fire on board the ship during the early
morning, just before dawn, and that nearly all hands
had turned out. This may account for the compari-
tively small loss of life, as the Antilles sank in seven
minutes or less. It is not known whether the lights
which had been turned on at the time of the fire were
visible from outboard, and whether this has anything
to do with the submarine attack. The Corsair reported
no lights on the Antilles. The statements of the sur-
vivors are that several of them had seen the torpedo

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 7 of 20)