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just before it struck the ship. It is worthy of mention
that the conduct and bearing of the Armed Guard were
a credit to the service.

No visual signals of any kind were made by the
Corsair or Alcedo after nightfall at any time, and only



one PDL flash-light signal was noted in the convoy.
Only one radio signal was made and that at low power
to the Henderson in thick weather, at night. Command-
ing officers were all thoroughly indoctrinated before
getting under way in regard to the course, zigzagging,
etc., and the escort vessels were unusually alert and

The senior naval officer on board the Antilles was
Commander Daniel T. Ghent whose report to the
Navy Department contained many incidents of
interest in the story of the Corsair. Of the sixty-
seven men who perished with the ship, he stated
that forty-five of them belonged to the merchant
crew, four were members of the armed guard, six-
teen were soldiers who had been sent home, one was
an ambulance driver, and one a colored stevedore.
It was strange that the detonation of the torpedo
was unheard by the escort vessels and that there
was no visible disturbance, for on board the Antilles,
according to Commander Ghent, the explosion was
terrific. The ship shivered from stern to stem, listing
immediately to port. One of the lookouts in the
maintop, although protected by a canvas screen
about five feet high, was hurled clear of this screen
and killed when he struck the hatch below.

The explosion wrecked everything in the engine-
room, including the ice machine and dynamo, and
almost instantly flooded the compartment. The engine-
room was filled with ammonia fumes and with the high-
pressure gasses from the torpedo, and it is believed
that every one on duty there was either instantly killed

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or disabled, excepting one oiler. This man happened
to be on the upper gratings at the time. He tried to
escape through the engine-room door but found it
jammed and the knob blown off. Unable to force the
door and finding that he was being overcome by the
gases and ammonia fumes, he managed to escape
through the engine-room skylight just as the ship was
going under. Within a few seconds after the explosion,
the water was over the crossheads of the main engines
which were still turning over slowly. Of the twenty-one
men on duty in the engine and fire rooms, only three
escaped. Besides the oiler, two firemen crawled up
through a ventilator. The fact that the engines could
not be stopped and the headway checked, added to the
difficulty of abandoning ship.

That only four boats out of ten succeeded in getting
clear was due to this and several other causes, — the
short time the ship stayed afloat, which was four and
a half minutes by my watch, the rough sea, the heavy
list, and the destruction of boats by the explosion.
When there was no one left in sight on the decks, I
went aft on the saloon deck where several men were
struggling in the water near No. 5 boat and making no
attempt to swim away from the side of the ship. I
thought that they might be induced to get clear before
the suction carried them down. By this time, however,
the ship which was listed over at an angle of forty-five
degrees, started to upend and go down. This motion
threw rne across the deck where I was washed over-

The behavior of the naval personnel was equal to
the best traditions of the service. The two forward
gun's crews, in command of Lieutenant Tisdale, re-
mained at their gun stations while the ship went down
and made no effort to leave their stations until ordered



to save themselves. Radio Electrician Ausburne went
down with the ship while at his station in the radio-
room. When the ship was struck, Ausburne and
McMahon were asleep in adjacent bunks opposite the
radio-room. Ausburne, realizing the seriousness of the
situation, told McMahon to get his life-preserver on,
saying, as he left to take his station at the radio key,
"Good-bye, Mac." McMahon, later finding the radio-
room locked and seeing the ship was sinking, tried to
get Ausburne out, but failed.

The Corsair and Alcedo returned to the scene of the
accident and circled about for two hours when the
Alcedo began the rescue of the survivors, the Corsair
continuing to look for the submarine. Too much credit
cannot be given to the officers and men of the Corsair
and Alcedo for their rescue work and for their whole-
heartedness and generosity in succoring the needs of
the survivors. The work of the medical officers attached
to these yachts was worthy of highest praise.

It is one of the many black marks against the
sinister record of the German submarine campaign
that the naval vessels with a convoy in such a
catastrophe as this were compelled to delay the
rescue of the survivors — dazed, wounded, helpless
men in the last struggle for life.

It was possible that the submarine might come
up to gloat over the murder it had wrought, or at-
tempt to take prisoners, or even to ram the life-
boats or turn a machine gun on the struggling
wretches, as had happened more than once. There-
fore, in this instance the Corsair and Alcedo steamed
at full speed, dropping depth charges and manceu-



vring to avoid torpedo attack while they scouted to
drive away or destroy the ambushed U-boat.

As soon as it seemed advisable, they closed in
and undertook the work of saving life, the Corsair
still circling the outer edge of the area because of
her superior speed. One of her crew described the
scene in this manner:

It should be noted that although the Corsair spent
most of her time looking for the submarine, she picked
up a large number of survivors and without putting
over a boat. One of these rescues* was that of a lad who
was riding upon an ammunition box. When the Corsair
was brought alongside him, he began to semaphore us
to keep off, and then he shouted to steer clear and go
easy because he had a cargo of shells and did n't want
to blow up our ship. When we hoisted him aboard, he
begged us to fetch his salvaged ammunition along, as
he did n't think it ought to be wasted. I doubt if he
had many shells in the box, but he surely did show the
right spirit, and the men agreed that he was "one
game little guy."

Shortly before we picked up this fine young bantam,
we took aboard a loaded life-raft, under our starboard
side. It was a delicate piece of seamanship, with a
troublesome sea running, and the commander let
our executive, Captain Porter, show what he could do
with the yacht. The men of the Antilles owed a lot
to the skill with which the Corsair was handled that

One of the merchant crew of the Antilles had climbed
upon the upturned bow of a broken boat and was
seated astride the stem. Every wave was breaking over
his head and he clung to his precarious perch with his



arms and legs, like a jockey wrapped around the neck
of a runaway horse. How he managed to stick there
was a puzzle. He had drifted several hundred yards
clear of the rest of the wreckage but our executive
had an eye on him. " Skipper, I think we had better
circle around again," said Captain Kittinger. The
"skipper" (Porter) replied that he would like to "go
get that fellow first," pointing to the man on the
piece of boat. " Go ahead, skipper," was the answer,
and before the yacht swung off to fetch another circle
we steered close to this lonely castaway and tossed him
the bight of a heaving-line. He grabbed it with a death
grip and we hauled him over the rail, but he was al-
most unconscious from cold and exhaustion and we
had to pry his fingers open to make him let go the line.
The doctor scored an "assist" on this rescue.

These unfortunates had been flung into the sea
in a moment, some of them scrambling half -dressed
from their bunks. They became chilled to the bone,
half-strangled in the breaking waves, worn out
with trying to cling to overturned boats, submerged
live-rafts, doors and hatches and benches, the flot-
sam spewed up by the stricken ship as she dived
under. Some of them swam from overloaded rafts
to find help elsewhere, or floundered without life-
belts until gallant comrades lent them a hand. It
was a dreadful business, new to the Corsair and
Alcedo, but all too familiar to the maritime annals
of the war.

It is not easy to quench a sailor's sense of humor
even in the presence of death and disaster, and
Ensign Schanze wrote, in a letter to his mother:


• « • •



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itt.' ****' " i







The commander of a supply ship bound to New
York promised me that he would look Dad up if he
could possibly do so, and tell you how I was getting on.
His ship was in our party on the morning the Antilles
was torpedoed, and maybe he got sore at us for letting
a submarine scare the wits out of him. Our yacht had
to stop and fish a lot of very wet citizens out of the
ocean/and the last view I had of his ship was in a
great cloud of smoke, and he was crowding on full
speed to make his get-away. He was going like a scared
rabbit. He never even waved good-bye.

Another gentleman who promised to call on Dad
was a naval officer in charge of the gun crew of the
Antilles, I yanked him out of the ocean and helped
make him at home on the Corsair during the time
between the sinking of the ship and the return to
our base.

The fifty survivors saved by the Corsair found a
warm-hearted welcome. Nothing was too good for
them. They were promptly thawed out in the
cabins and engine-room and tucked into bunks,
while the crew, as a committee of the whole, ran-
sacked their bags and boxes for spare clothing.
They were ready and eager to give the shirts off
their backs, and some of them actually did so.
Every man who needed it was comfortably rigged
in the togs of Uncle Sam's Navy and told to go
ashore with the clothes. You may be sure that such
treatment warmed the cockles of the hearts of these
forlorn derelicts from the Antilles and that they
cheered the Corsair before they left her.

The yacht's officers made room in their own



quarters for the officers picked up from the Antilles.
These included Brigadier-General W. S. McNair,
of the United States Army; Lieutenant Commander
Ghent, Lieutenant J. D. Smith, and Lieutenant
R. D. Tisdale, of the Navy; Chief Officer A. G.
Clancy, Third Officer R. M. Christensen, Assistant
Engineer L. L. Rue, and Purser W. C. Gilbert.
They were most cordial in their expressions of
appreciation of the kindness and good-fellowship
which they had found in the yacht during the voy-
age back to Brest.

A dramatic bit of gossip went the rounds of the
Corsair after she reached port. A steward of the
Antilles had been among those rescued and he was
heartily disliked aboard the yacht, the one excep-
tion in the shipwrecked company. He was a Span-
iard, by name and complexion, and he displayed a
curiosity which the Corsair's crew called "nosey."
He was discovered poking about in all sorts of
places. Attempting to take a look at the radio-
room, he was tersely told to beat it or have his
block knocked off. The Executive Officer chased
him away from the after quarters, where he ap-
peared to be interested in the stateroom occupied
by General McNair. Thereafter the movements of
this gimlet-eyed passenger were vigilantly restricted.

The word came later from Saint-Nazaire that he
had been arrested by the French authorities and
shot as a notorious spy. The inference was that he
had been endeavoring to slip away to the United



States in the Antilles when fate returned him to the
secret intelligence service which had information
against him, and he was trapped by the heels. His
last words as he faced the firing squad, so the
Corsair story ran, were that the German submarines
would get the Finland on her next trip home, just
as they had intercepted and sunk the Antilles.
This was peculiarly interesting, because after coal-
ing ship and taking on stores, the Corsair was
ordered to escort a convoy which was expected to
sail from Saint-Nazaire on October 24th. The
transports were the Buford, City of Savannah, and
the Finland.

The flotilla of coal-burning destroyers had ar-
rived from the Azores to reinforce the yachts of the
Breton Patrol, and four of them were assigned to
this escort, the Lamson, Flusser, Preston, and Smith.
The yachts Alcedo and Wakiva were also detailed
to join the group, and no previous convoy outward
bound had been so heavily protected as this. The
loss of the Antilles had aroused excitement in the
United States because of the false report that the
attack had been made by a whole flock of sub-
marines. This was one of those hair-raising news-
paper yarns of war-time which would have been
important if true.

Steaming out to sea, the Corsair led the imposing
column, with a destroyer on each bow of the Fin-
land, the Alcedo to starboard of the Buford, the
Wakiva to port, and a destroyer hovering on each



quarter of the City of Savannah. There had been no
intimation of danger other than the fanciful rumor
of the prediction made by the suddenly deceased
steward of the Antilles and the routine warning
included in the Force orders, " Enemy submarines
operating in war zone as usual.' '

At 9.25 A.M., one day out from port, the Finland
was struck by a torpedo on the starboard side.
Again there was no sign of a submarine. This time,
however, the Corsair heard the explosion and saw
a huge column of water spout up against the ship.
But the Finland had no intention of sinking and
merely slowed down, then halted, blowing off steam
as though waiting for the other transports to catch
up with her. As seen from the Corsair, she rode on
an even keel and it was impossible to realize that a
torpedo had torn a hole thirty-five feet wide in her
side, into which the sea was gushing like a cataract.

On board the Finland were many of the survivors
of the Antilles and they were in no mood for an
encore. They set the pace for the crew of the Fin-
land in the race to abandon ship and the big trans-
port seemed fairly to spill boats and men from
every deck. They were dropping overboard before
she had wholly slackened way. It was an amazing
spectacle. At a distance the Finland made one think
of shaking apples from a tree.

Several of us were standing by the engine-room
hatch [wrote Quartermaster Augustus Smith of the
Corsair], watching the Finland as she steamed along




in that very slow convoy. We were discussing her
chances of getting through, and the story that the U-
boats were laying for her, when suddenly a white
burst of water rose under her bridge and climbed to
the top of the foremast. It seemed to be followed by
a pillar of dark smoke. At the same time the Corsair
was fairly lifted out of the sea by the force of the
explosion. All hands made a run for battle stations
without waiting for the call.

The first boat from the Finland was dangling from
the davits, half-filled with men, when somebody either
cut or let go the forward falls. The bow of this big
whaleboat crashed down to the water, dumping most
of them out. A few managed to hang on and were
struggling desperately when the after falls carried away
and the boat dropped upon the heads of the men al-
ready in the sea. The next boat reached the water only
to be up-ended by the headway of the ship. Other
boats then waited for the ship to lose way and these
got clear all right, but we saw one or two more upset
and smashed.

When Commander Freeman, then on the Corsair as
division commander, realized that the Finland was not
sinking, he semaphored the message :

"Do you think you can make Saint-Nazaire?"

The answer came right back from the Finland's

"Why not New York? 11

The Corsair cracked on speed to search for the
submarine, instructing the Wakiva and Alcedo to
aid the Finland's people who were adrift in boats or
upon rafts. Three destroyers proceeded on the voy-
age with the two other transports while the fourth



destroyer remained to operate with the Corsair.
Investigation had disclosed the fact that the Fin-
land was able to move under her own steam and the
task in hand was to put the crew back on board and
escort her into Brest for repairs. Meanwhile the
Corsair, in quest of the enemy, was letting a real
barrage of depth charges slide over her stern, and
her wake was one thundering geyser after another.
Eleven of these bombs jarred her rivets when they
went off, and if a man had any loose teeth in his
head he was liable to lose them entirely. Alas, no
debris, such as dead German sailors, rose to the

The report of the senior naval officer of the Fin-
land, Captain Stephen V. Graham, is a lucid nar-
rative and it is worth while to let him tell the tale:

Due to the congested condition at the port of de-
barkation, which was often serious in the early days
of our transport service, the Finland had been unable
to accompany the group of fast troop transports to
which she belonged and which had proceeded on the
return voyage about two weeks earlier. On this occa-
sion she was in company with two freight transports
of the armed-guard category which were not able to
make more than eleven knots, but the three vessels
had an escort of four destroyers and three converted
yachts, which was uncommonly large at that time
when the demand exceeded the supply. It was fre-
quently necessary for the Finland to slow down to such
a speed as would enable an enemy submarine to take a
favorable position for attack.



By daylight of October 28th the convoy had reached
a position near the line extending from the island of
Ushant to Cape Finisterre, which experience had shown
to be a particularly dangerous area. From that time
on, the senior naval officer of the Finland remained on
the bridge constantly and all the lookouts were exer-
cising the utmost vigilance.

The weather was cloudy and a moderate sea running,
and I was engaged in searching the water on both sides
with powerful binoculars. I had just finished gazing
at the starboard side when the naval signal quarter-
master on watch called out, "Commander! Torpedo!"
I turned and saw a torpedo about fifty or a hundred
yards distant making a surface run directly toward the
ship. The whirring of the torpedo's propellers could be
heard when they broke the surface of the water. To
avoid it was impossible. The effect of the explosion
was considerable but not as great as had been antici-
pated. No one on the bridge was injured.

I directed a radio operator to send out an S.O.S.
call but it was found that the aerial had been carried
away by the force of the explosion. The first report
that reached the bridge was that the forward fire-
room was flooded. At this time it did not appear prob-
able that the ship would sink but in a short time she
began to list to starboard and seemed to be settling.
I ordered the lowering of the remaining boats which
were hanging on their falls at the level of the prome-
nade deck. These boats were scarcely in the water
when the ship began to right herself, and the acting
master, Chief Officer John Jensen, who had gone below
to investigate the extent of the damage, returned to
the bridge and reported to me that the destruction
was confined to No. 4 hold, the bulkheads of which
were intact.



In the meantime I observed Third Assistant Engi-
neer George Mikkelson who had been on watch in the
engine-room when the torpedo struck the ship, moving
about the main deck with a wooden mallet in his hand
and endeavoring to drive the frightened firemen back
to their stations. He came to the bridge and reported
to me that the boilers and engines were not damaged
and that the ship could be got under way again in a
short time if the men could be induced to go to work.

The damaged compartment, just forward of the fire-
rooms, was used as a reserve coal bunker. At that time
it contained about six hundred tons of coal. After the
ship had been placed in dry-dock, upon her return to
France, it was found that most of this coal had run out
through the immense hole made in the side by the
explosion of the torpedo.

When I received the masters report that the dam-
age was confined to this one compartment, I hailed
the boats which were close to the ship and directed
them to come alongside and also sent a signal to the
escorting yachts to turn back the Finland's boats
which were approaching them and tell them to return
to the ship. These yachts, the Alcedo and Wakiva, had
come close to the Finland and lowered boats to rescue
people who had been cast into the water by the drop-
ping of two of the Finland's boats.

The converted yacht Corsair and one of the destroy-
ers were circling at high speed around the Finland and
dropping depth charges in order to prevent the enemy
submarine from delivering a second attack on the
crippled Finland,

While the Finland's boats were in the water, a heavy
squall came up and rendered the return of the heavily
laden boats very difficult. They could come close only
on the starboard side and getting the people back on





board was very slow work. Hoisting the boats was not
to be thought of, for every moment that this large ship
remained stopped was to risk grave danger of receiving
a second torpedo. As soon as the passengers were
aboard, the boats were cast adrift.

The ship got under way to return to the port of
Brest, 150 miles distant. She was escorted by the
Corsair and one of the destroyers, while another de-
stroyer remained with the Alcedo and Wakiva to afford
them protection until they had picked up the rest of
the Finland's crew. During the return to port it became
necessary to send every one to the fireroom who could
shovel coal. Deck-hands, stewards, and even passen-
gers, including some of the discharged American ambu-
lance drivers, responded with alacrity to this call and
within a short time after starting ahead the ship was
making nearly fifteen knots, which was about as good
speed as she had made at any time during her employ-
ment in the transport service. The bulkheads of the
damaged compartment held and there was no leakage
through the water-tight doors.

It is regrettable that eight men lost their lives. The
coolness and resourcefulness of the acting master and
the engineer of the watch deserve commendation.
Cadet Officer David MacLaren was the youngest
officer on board — just eighteen years old. After I had
ordered the boats lowered, this lad, who was in charge
of one of them, would have been justified in leaving
the ship which he believed to be sinking, but he re-
turned to the bridge and reported to me that his boat
was lowered and clear of the ship and asked if he could
be of any service. He stayed on the bridge, giving val-
uable assistance, and displaying courage and readiness
worthy of the best traditions of the sea.

One of the Navy youngsters was down in the living



compartment cleaning up when the ship was struck.
Some one in a boat hanging at the davits, seeing him
hurry along the promenade deck, asked which boat
he belonged in.

"Number Four boat," he replied.

"This is Number Four. Jump in," urged the other,
and the boy answered:

"Not on your life! IVe got to go to my gun."

Unfaltering, the stricken Finland ploughed along
at fifteen knots with a great chasm in her side, while
the anxious Corsair and the destroyer Smith hov-
ered close and felt unspeakable relief when the
Ushant Light was seen on the port bow in the early
evening. Before midnight the Finland had passed

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 8 of 20)