Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

. (page 15 of 30)
Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 15 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

occupants. Another burst in the fighting top, killing a Lieutenant
and eight men, who were doing excellent work with two pompoms and
four machine guns.

The battery of eleven-inch guns at the end of the mole was only 300
yards away, and it kept trying to reach us. The shore batteries also
were diligent. Only a few German shells hit our hull, because it was
well protected by the wall of the mole, but the upper structure,
mast, stacks, and ventilators showed above the wall and were
riddled. A considerable proportion of our casualties were caused by
splinters from these upper works.

Meanwhile the Daffodil continued to push us against the wall as if
no battle was on, and if she had failed to do this none of the
members of the landing party would have been able to return to the

Twenty-five minutes after the Vindictive had reached the wall the
first block ship passed in and headed for the canal. Two others
followed in leisurely fashion while we kept up the fight on the
mole. One of the block ships stranded outside of the canal, but the
two others got two or three hundred yards inside, where they were
successfully sunk across the entrance.

Fifteen minutes after the Vindictive arrived alongside the mole our
submarine exploded under the viaduct connecting the mole with the
mainland. The Germans had sent a considerable force to this viaduct
as soon as the submarine arrived, and these men were gathered on the
viaduct, attacking our submersible with machine guns. When the
explosion occurred the viaduct and Germans were blown up together.
The crew of the submarine, consisting of six men, escaped on board a
dinghy to a motor launch.

Early in the fighting a German shell knocked out our howitzer, which
had been getting in some good shots on a big German seaplane station
on the mole half a mile away. This is the largest seaplane station
in Belgium. Unfortunately, our other guns could not be brought to
bear effectively upon it. The shell which disabled the howitzer
killed all the members of the gun crew. Many men were also killed by
a German shell which hit the mole close to our ship and scattered
fragments of steel and stone among the marines assembling on the
deck around the gangway.

Half an hour after the block ships went in, we received the signal
to withdraw. The Vindictive's siren was blown, and the men returned
from all parts of the mole and thronged down the gangway. We put off
after having lain alongside just about an hour. The Germans made no
effort to interfere with our getaway other than to continue their
heavy firing.


One of the most thrilling incidents was the rescue by two American-built
motor launches of nearly 200 members of the crews of two block ships
sunk at the entrance to the Bruges Canal. The feat was accomplished
under a heavy fire and the actual transfer was made in less than five
minutes. One launch delivered ninety-nine men to the destroyer.

The dead and wounded could not all be brought away, but the loss of
personnel in this way was declared to be remarkably small.

Stoker Bendall of the submarine which blew up the Zeebrugge mole said:

It was silent and heavy business. We were going full tilt when we
hit the viaduct. It was a good jolt, and we ran right into the
middle of the viaduct and stuck there, as we intended to do. I don't
think anybody said anything except, "Well, we are here all right."

We lowered a skiff and stood by while the commander touched off the
fuse and then tumbled into the skiff and pushed off. By bad luck the
propeller fouled the exhaust pipe and left us with only two oars and
two minutes to get away. The enemy lights were on us, and the
machine guns were firing from the shore.

Before we made 200 yards the submarine went up, and there was a
tremendous flash and roar, and lots of concrete from the mole fell
around us. Luckily, we were not struck.

Photographs taken from an airplane a few days later showed that the
effort to block the canal entrance had been successful. The Intrepid and
Iphigenia had reached the precise positions in which they were intended
to be sunk, while the exploded submarine had blown a gap of sixty to a
hundred feet in the shore end of the mole. The Frankfurter Zeitung, in
commenting on the affair, said: "It would be foolish to deny that the
British fleet scored a great success through a fantastically audacious
stroke in penetrating into one of the most important strongholds over
which the German flag floats."


At Ostend the operations on the same night were unsuccessful, largely
owing to a shift of wind. Small craft with smoke apparatus ran in
according to program, set up a screen, and lit two large flares to mark
the entrance to the harbor for the two concrete-laden cruisers that were
to be sunk in the channel. Before the cruisers could arrive, however,
the wind shifted and blew away the smoke screen, after which the German
gunfire quickly destroyed the flares. The cruisers tried to proceed by
guesswork under heavy fire, but their efforts were in vain. One of the
block ships was sunk, but not in a position to obstruct the channel.

A second attempt to close the Ostend harbor was made on the night of
May 9-10, when the battered old Vindictive, which had borne the brunt of
the shellfire at the Zeebrugge mole, was sunk in the channel with her
inside full of concrete. A member of the expedition gave this account:

As the Vindictive neared Ostend it became apparent that the Germans
had got wind of our presence, for suddenly there was a regular
pyrotechnic display of star shells. The effect was brilliant, but
quite undesirable from our point of view. Immediately guns of all
sizes opened fire on us, and there was a terrific din.

The Vindictive and one or two other vessels received hits, and a few
casualties were caused by this gunfire. The firing was heavily
returned by our ships. Most of the crew of the Vindictive were taken
off when the ship was at a little distance from the Ostend piers,
only a few officers and men being left to navigate her between the
piers and sink her there. A motor launch which was assisting in
picking up the crew was hit several times by shellfire, and was in a
sinking condition when it came alongside the Admiral's vessel, the
destroyer Warwick, to which they were transferred. The motor launch
had extensive damage in the fore part, and by order of the Admiral
was sunk, as it was apparent that it could not get back to Dover.
There was a heavy explosion when the Vindictive sank between the

The casualties in the second Ostend raid were forty-seven, of whom
eighteen were killed or missing, the rest wounded.

* * * * *

The British Admiralty, in its official report of the second Ostend
action, issued May 14, stated that the Vindictive was "lying at an angle
of about 40 degrees to the pier, and seemed to be hard fast." Commander
Godsal, who was on deck during the critical moments, was missing and was
believed to have been killed; Lieutenant Crutchley blew up the auxiliary
charges in the forward 6-inch magazine from the conning tower. Lieut.
Commander William A. Bury, who blew up the main charges by a switch
installed aft, was severely wounded. The Admiralty reported that the
sunken ship would make the harbor impracticable for any but small craft
and difficult for dredging operations.

German U-Boat Claims

Address by Admiral von Capelle

_German Naval Secretary_

Admiral Von Capelle, the German Secretary of the Navy, delivered an
address before the Reichstag, April 17, 1918, in which he asserted that
the submarine warfare of Germany was a success. In the course of his
speech he said:

"The main question is, What do the western powers need for the carrying
on of the war and the supply of their homelands, and what amount of
tonnage is still at their disposal for that purpose? All statistical
calculations regarding tonnage are today almost superfluous, as the
visible successes of the U-boat war speak clearly enough. The robbery of
Dutch tonnage, by which the Anglo-Saxons have incurred odium of the
worst kind for decades to come, is the best proof of how far the
shipping shortage has already been felt by our opponents. In addition to
the sinkings there must be added a great amount of wear and tear of
ships and an enormous increase of marine accidents, which Sir J.
Ellerman, speaking in the Chamber of Shipping recently, calculated at
three times the peace losses. Will the position of the western powers
improve or deteriorate? That depends upon their military achievements
and the replacing of sunken ships by new construction."

Dealing briefly with Sir Eric Geddes's recent speech on the occasion of
the debate on the naval estimates, Admiral von Capelle declared:

"The assertion of the First Lord of the Admiralty that an unwillingness
to put to sea prevailed among the German U-boat crews is a base


As regards the assertions of British statesmen concerning the
extraordinarily great losses of U-boats, Admiral von Capelle said:

"The statements in the foreign press are very greatly exaggerated. Now,
as before, our new construction surpasses our losses. The number of
U-boats, both from the point of view of quality and quantity, is
constantly rising. We can also continue absolutely to reckon on our
military achievements hitherto attained. Whether Lloyd George can
continue the naval war with prospects of success depends, not upon his
will but upon the position of the U-boats as against shipbuilding.
According to Lloyd's Register, something over 22,000,000 gross register
tons were built in the last ten years before the war in the whole
world - that is, inclusive of the construction of ourselves, our allies,
and foreign countries. The entire output today can in no case be more,
for difficulties of all kinds and the shortage of workmen and material
have grown during the war. In the last ten years - that is, in peace
time - 800,000 gross register tons of the world's shipping was destroyed
annually by natural causes. Now in wartime the losses, as already
mentioned, are considerably greater. Thus, 1,400,000 gross register tons
was the annual net increase for the entire world. That gives, at any
rate, a standard for the present position. America's and Japan's new
construction is to a certain extent destined for the necessities of
these countries.

"In the main, therefore, only the figures of British shipbuilding come
into question. About the middle of 1917 there was talk of 3,000,000 tons
in official quarters in Great Britain. Then Lloyd George dropped to
2,000,000, and now, according to Bonar Law's statement, the output is
1,160,000 tons. As against, therefore, about 100,000 tons monthly put
into service there are sinkings amounting to 600,000 tons, or six times
as much. In brief, if the figures given are regarded as too favorable
and new construction at the rate of 150,000 tons monthly - that is, 50
per cent. higher - be assumed, and the sinkings be reduced to 450,000
tons, then the sinkings are still three times as large as the amount of
new construction.


"One other thing must especially be taken into consideration for the
coming months. Today every ship sunk strikes at the vital nerve of our
opponents. Today, when only the absolutely necessary cargoes of
foodstuffs and war necessities can still be transported, the sinking of
even one small ship has quite a different significance as compared with
the beginning of the U-boat war. Moreover, the loss of one ship means a
falling out of four to five cargoes. In these circumstances even the
greatest pessimist must say that the position of our opponents is
deteriorating in a considerably increasing extent and with rapid
strides, and that any doubt regarding the final success of the U-boat
war is unjustified."

Replying to a question of the reporter, Admiral von Capelle said:

"Our opponents have been busily endeavoring to strengthen their
anti-submarine measures by all the means at their disposal, and,
naturally, they have attained a certain success. But they have at no
time had any decisive influence on the U-boat war, and, according to
human reckoning, they will not do so in the future. The American
submarine destroyers which have been so much talked about have failed.
The convoy system, which, it is true, offers ships a certain measure of
protection, has, on the other hand, also the great disadvantage of
reducing their transport capabilities. The statements oscillate from 25
to 60 per cent.

"For the rest, our commanders are specially trained for attacks on
convoys, and no day goes by when one or more ships are not struck out of
convoys. Experienced commanders manage to sink three to four ships in
succession belonging to the same convoy."


Admiral von Capelle then dealt with the steel question as regards
shipbuilding, which, he said, "is practically the determinative factor
for shipbuilding." He continued:

"Great Britain's steel imports in 1916 amounted to 763,000 tons, and in
1917 only amounted to 497,000 tons. That means that already a reduction
of 37 per cent. has been effected, a reduction which will presumably be
further considerably increased during 1918. Restriction of imports of
ore from other countries, such as America, caused by the U-boat war will
also have a hampering effect on shipbuilding in Great Britain. It is
true that Sir Eric Geddes denied that there was a lack of material, but
expert circles in England give the scarcity of steel as the main reason
for the small shipbuilding output.

"American help in men and airplanes and American participation in the
war are comparatively small. If later on America wants to maintain
500,000 troops in France, shipping to the amount of about 2,000,000 tons
would be permanently needed. This shipping would have to be withdrawn
from the supply service of the Allies.

"Moreover, according to statements made in the United States and Great
Britain, the intervention in the present campaign of such a big army no
longer comes into consideration. After America's entry into the war
material help for the Entente has not only not increased, but has even
decreased considerably. President Wilson's gigantic armament program has
brought about such economic difficulties that America, the export
country, must now begin to ration instead of, as it was hoped,
increasingly to help the Entente. To sum up, it can be stated that the
economic difficulties of our enemies have been increased by America's
entry into the war."


Later in the debate Admiral von Capelle said: "The salient point of the
discussion is the economic internal and political results of the U-boat
war during the coming months. The danger point for England has already
been reached, and the situation of the western powers grows worse from
day to day."

Admiral von Capelle then briefly dealt with that calculation of the
world tonnage made by a Deputy which received some attention in the
Summer of last year. "This calculation," he said, "shows a difference of
9,000,000 tons from the calculation of the Admiralty Staff. In my
opinion, the calculation of the Admiralty Staff is correct. Whence
otherwise comes the Entente's lack of tonnage, which, in view of the
facts, cannot be argued away? The Admiralty Staff in its calculation
adapted itself to the fluctuating situation of the world shipping. At
first each of the enemy States looked after itself. Later, under Great
Britain's leadership, common control of tonnage was established."

Admiral von Capelle quoted the calculation of the American Shipping
Department, according to which the world tonnage in the Autumn of 1917
amounted to 32,000,000, of which 21,000,000 were given as transoceanic.
He insisted, however, that so much attention must not be paid to all
these calculations, but exhorted the people rather to dwell on the
joyful fact that the danger point for the western powers had been

At the close of the sitting Admiral von Capelle stated that all orders
for the construction of U-boats had been given independently by the
Naval Department and that the Naval Administration had never been
instructed to give orders for more U-boats by the Chancellor or the
Supreme Army Command. Every possible means, he said, for the development
of U-boat warfare had been done by the Naval Department.

Admiral von Capelle in a supplemental statement before the Reichstag,
May 11, in discussing the naval estimates, said:

The reports for April are favorable. Naturally, losses occur, but
the main thing is that the increase in submarines exceeds the
losses. Our naval offensive is stronger today than at the beginning
of unrestricted submarine warfare. That gives us an assured prospect
of final success.

The submarine war is developing more and more into a struggle
between U-boat action and new construction of ships. Thus far the
monthly figures of destruction have continued to be several times as
large as those of new construction. Even the British Ministry and
the entire British press admit that.

The latest appeal to British shipyard workers appears to be
especially significant. For the present the appeal does not appear
to have had great success. According to the latest statements
British shipbuilding fell from 192,000 tons in March to 112,000 in
April; or, reckoned in ships, from 32 to 22. That means a decline of
80,000 tons, or about 40 per cent. [The British Admiralty stated
that the April new tonnage was reduced on account of the vast amount
of repairing to merchantmen. - Editor.]

America thus far has built little, and has fallen far below
expectations. Even if an increase is to be reckoned with in the
future, it will be used up completely by America herself.

In addition to the sinkings by U-boats, there is a large decline in
cargo space owing to marine losses and to ships becoming
unserviceable. One of the best-known big British ship owners
declared at a meeting of shipping men that the losses of the British
merchant fleet through marine accidents, owing to conditions created
by the war, were three times as large as in peace.

The Admiral's Statements Attacked

The British authorities asserted that Admiral von Capelle's figures were
misleading and untrue. The losses published in the White Paper include
marine risk and all losses by enemy action. They include all losses, and
not merely the losses of food ships, as suggested in the German wireless
message dated April 16. Even in the figures of the world's output of
shipbuilding von Capelle seems to have been misled. He states that
"something over 2,000,000 gross tons were built annually in the last ten
years, including allied and enemy countries." The actual figures are
2,530,351 gross tons. He further states that the entire output today can
in no case be more, owing to difficulties in regard to labor and
material. The actual world's output, as shown in the Parliamentary White
Paper, excluding enemy countries, amounted to 2,703,000 gross tons, and
the output is rapidly rising. Von Capelle tried to raise confusion with
regard to the figures 3,000,000 and 2,000,000 tons and the actual output
for 1917. The Admiralty says no forecast was ever given that 3,000,000
tons, or even 2,000,000 tons, would be completed in that year. Three
million tons is the ultimate rate of production, which, as the First
Lord stated in the House of Commons, is well within the present and
prospective capacity of United Kingdom shipyards and marine engineering
works. The exaggerated figures of losses are still relied on by the
enemy. The average loss per month of British ships during 1917,
including marine risk, was 333,000 gross tons, whereas Secretary von
Capelle in his statement bases his argument on an average loss from
submarine attacks alone of 600,000 tons per month. The figures for the
quarter ended March 31, 1918, showed British losses to be 687,576 tons,
and for the month of March 216,003 tons, the lowest during any month,
with one exception, since January, 1917. With regard to steel, the First
Lord has already assured the House of Commons that arrangements have
been made for the supply of steel to give the output aimed at, and at
the present time the shipyards are in every case fully supplied with the

The American production of new tonnage reached its stride in May, and
the estimate of over 4,000,000 tons per annum was regarded as
conservative. It was estimated that the total British and American new
tonnage in the year ending May, 1919, would exceed 6,000,000, as against
total U-boat sinkings, based on the record of the first quarter of 1918,
of 4,500,000.


The following was the official report of losses of British, allied, and
neutral merchant tonnage due to enemy action and marine risk:

Period. British. and Neutral. Total.
1917. Month. Month. Month.
January 193,045 216,787 409,832
February 343,486 231,370 574,856
March 375,309 259,376 634,685
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Quarter 911,840 707,533 1,619,373

April 555,056 338,821 893,877
May 374,419 255,917 630,336
June 432,395 280,326 712,721
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Quarter 1,361,870 875,064 2,236,934

July 383,430 192,519 575,949
August 360,296 189,067 519,363
September 209,212 159,949 369,161
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Quarter 952,938 541,535 1,494,473

October 289,973 197,364 487,337
November 196,560 136,883 333,443
December 296,356 155,707 452,063
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Quarter 782,889 489,954 1,272,843

January 217,270 136,187 353,457
February 254,303 134,119 388,422
March 216,003 165,628 381,631
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Quarter 687,576 435,934 1,123,510

The Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping stated that the tonnage of
steamships of 500 gross tons and over entering and clearing United
Kingdom ports from and to ports overseas was as under:

Period. Period.
1917. Gross Tons. 1918. Gross Tons.
October 6,908,189 January 6,336,663
November 6,818,564 February 6,326,965
December 6,665,413 March 7,295,620

This statement embraces all United Kingdom seaborne traffic other
than coastwise and cross Channel.

The Month's Submarine Record

The British Admiralty, in April, 1918, discontinued its weekly report of
merchant ships destroyed by submarines or mines, and announced that it
would publish a monthly report in terms of tonnage. These figures are
shown in the table above. The last weekly report was for the period
ended April 14, and showed that eleven merchantmen over 1,600 tons, four
under 1,600 tons, and one fishing vessel had been sunk.

In regard to the sinkings in April, French official figures showed that
the total losses of allied and neutral ships, including those from
accidents at sea during the month, aggregated 381,631 tons.

Norway's losses from the beginning of the war to the end of April, 1918,
amounted to 755 vessels, aggregating 1,115,519 tons, and the lives of
1,006 seamen, in addition to about 700 men on fifty-three vessels
missing, two-thirds of which were declared to be war losses.

The American steamship Lake Moor, manned by naval reserves, was sunk by

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 15 of 30)