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this is to smash his main force wherever it happens to be. And the
best way to smash it is to throw all your own forces against it once
you get a hold on it. But people who are scared in one place will not
think about the war as a whole, though that is the way to save these
very people as well as all the rest. So they ask for some defence they
can actually see. It was much the same as in the days of the Spanish
Armada. Drake and Jellicoe wanted to do the right thing. But Queen
Elizabeth's Council and King George's Government wanted to humour the
people concerned. The only comfort is that, with all our faults, we of
the British Empire make fewer naval mistakes than other people do.

The light craft that did reach that famous battlefield could not have
done more to guard the British battle lines and harass the flying
Germans. There was many a weird sight as scurrying cruisers and
destroyers suddenly showed up, ominously black, against the ghastly
whiteness of the searchlit sea. Hunters and hunted raced, turned, and
twisted without a moment's pause. "We couldn't tell what was
happening," said the commander of a dashing destroyer. "Every now and
then out of the silence would come _Bang! bang!! boom!!!_ as hard as it
could for ten minutes on end. The flash of the guns lit up the whole
sky for miles and miles, and the noise was far more penetrating than by
day. Then you would see a great burst of flame from some poor devil,
as the searchlights switched on and off, and then perfect silence once
more."

_Next Day_. Dawn comes early on the 1st of June at 55 degrees North.
But the mist veiled everything more than three or four miles off. At
3.30 A.M. a huge Zeppelin flew across the British battle line,
wirelessing down to any Germans still to the westward the best way to
get home. By nine the light craft had all come in after scouring the
sea for Germans. At a quarter past one it was plain that not a German
ship remained to challenge the Grand Fleet. So Jellicoe made for his
base; took in fuel, stores, and ammunition; and at half-past nine next
evening was ready for another battle.

_The News_. Very different was the plight of the flying Germans, who
lost more ships than the British (eighteen, and perhaps six more, to
fourteen British) and who left the field for good and all. But Germany
sorely needed a victory just then. So the Kaiser proclaimed one, and
all the German papers echoed his words. The German lie got two days
start of the British truth, and was eagerly repeated by every one who
hated the British or Allies. On the other hand, the British Government
simply said that there had been a battle and that fourteen British
ships were down. They shrank from proclaiming the victory, because
they thought that most people, knowing nothing of modern naval war and
making no allowance for the weather and other German advantages, would
not believe in a victory which let any of the German ships escape. And
so the lie went round the world much faster than the truth. Yet it was
only believed by those who wanted to believe it. Even some Italian
mountaineers who had never seen a ship said, "That's a lie," when
Italian traitors told them the Grand Fleet had been sunk.

After waiting a month to examine the whole case thoroughly the Board of
Admiralty, which has always been most sparing in its praise, wrote
Jellicoe an official letter, saying that "the Grand Fleet has known
both how to study the new problems and how to turn the knowledge to
account. The expectations of the country were high. They have been
well fulfilled. My Lords (the Members of the Board) desire to convey
to you their full approval of your proceedings in this action."

What Jellicoe himself thought of those who fought so well under his
inspiring leadership cannot be said better than in his own words. "The
conduct of officers and men throughout the day and night actions was
entirely beyond praise. No words of mine could do them justice. On
all sides it is reported to me that the glorious traditions of the past
were worthily upheld. Officers and men were cool and determined, with
a cheeriness that would have carried them through anything. The
heroism of the wounded was the admiration of all. I cannot express the
pride with which the spirit of the Grand Fleet filled me."

_Results_. Jutland taught the German Navy what every one should have
known before: that whenever tyrants have tried to lord it over all the
world they have always had to reckon with the British Navy first, and
that this Navy has never failed to lay them low. More things were
wrought by Jutland than the British Empire thinks, and more, far more,
than other people, for lack of knowledge, can imagine. There was a
regular, unbreakable chain of cause and effect, and Jutland was the
central link.

To conquer their bully's "place in the sun" of the white man's empire
overseas the Germans built their Navy. But the Grand Fleet blockaded
it so well that the Germans clamoured for a fight to wipe the British
off the sea and to let the German merchant ships get out. Jutland
settled that. From Jutland on to the end of the war the German
bluejackets could never again be led against the British on the surface
of the sea. So the murderous German submarine campaign was tried
instead. This forced even the American Peace Party to change their
minds and save their country's honour by joining the War Party in armed
defence both of American rights and of the freedom of the world.

After another two years the Germans failed under water as they had upon
the surface; and when, in wild despair, the Kaiser ordered the whole of
his High Sea Fleet to try another fight, the final mutiny began. This
broke out at 5 A.M. on the 3rd of November, 1918, eight days before the
Armistice. It was not the German Army, nor yet the German people, that
began the Revolution, but the German Fleet, which knew that a second
Jutland could only mean the death of every German there. In its own
turn the Revolution brought on the great surrender, a thing unheard-of
in the story of the sea.

Thus, like the immortal Battle of the Marne on land, Jutland was not
only itself a mighty feat of arms but one on which the whole war turned.




CHAPTER XXVI

SUBMARINING

(1917-1918)

Jutland proved to all hands in the German Navy that they had no chance
whatever against Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. But the great mass of the
German people never heard this truth; and even their navy hoped to win
under the water a victory it had found impossible on top. So, for the
last two years of the war, the Germans worked their hardest at what
they called the "Submarine Blockade." As this "Blockade" forced the
United States into war, and as its failure showed the Germans that, in
the end, they had no more chance under water than on top, we can all
see now that Jutland turned the scale.

The British fleets blockading Germany of course seized and kept for the
Government, as spoils of war, whatever warlike stores (guns, shells,
and so on) they could lay their hands on. But all the other goods the
Navy stopped the Government bought, paying fair market prices. So the
American and other neutrals trying to trade with the enemy had really
nothing to complain of; for a blockade at sea is very like a siege on
land, and nobody has ever pretended that a besieging army has not a
perfect right to stop any supplies of any kind from reaching the
besieged. Moreover, the crews of the ships trying to break the British
blockade were always very kindly treated, though their ships were
trying to help the enemy and make fortunes for their owners at the
expense of freedom.

But when we turn to the German "Submarine Blockade" of the British
Isles we find something quite different; for the German submarines sank
every ship they could, and they generally were as utterly careless
about the lives of the crews as they were about the cargo, no matter
what the cargo was. In short, Germany tried everything, no matter how
wrong, that could possibly hurt the hated British. She did let some
neutral ships go by without attacking them. But that was only because
she did not want to turn all the neutrals into enemies; and nothing
proves better what a fiendish crime her "Submarine Blockade" really was
than the fact that it forced even the Peace Party in the United States
to change its mind about the war.

For thirty-two months this Peace Party kept the United States out of a
war waged by Germany against the freedom of the world. There were a
good many reasons why. Most Americans knew next to nothing about the
affairs of Europe; and Germans had long been busy poisoning their minds
against the French and British. Then, Washington and other Presidents
had often advised them not to meddle with anything outside of America;
and President Wilson had even said there was such a thing as being "too
proud to fight."

Of course the Pacifists were against all war, even when their refusing
to fight on the side of right forced them to help the side of wrong.
They had plenty of money, some of it German, and they made almost as
much trouble as the Germans and pro-Germans themselves. Then, the
Germans, pro-Germans, and Pacifists raised the bogey of trouble for the
United States at home, while there did not seem to be much danger of
getting hurt from abroad. Finally, business was booming as it had
never boomed before. The Americans made twelve-and-a-half thousands of
millions of dollars out of the war, clear net profit up to the end of
1918.

The War Party said the whole war was about a question of right and
wrong, and that the French and British were right, while the Germans
were wrong. They said that Americans were safe because the British
Navy barred the way, that all the British oversea Dominions had fought
from the first, though not obliged to send a ship, a dollar, or a man
except of their own free will. They said that every American patriot
should be very proud to fight for the freedom of the world and very
much ashamed to let the French and British uphold the cause of right
alone. They said that the German submarines had already murdered many
Americans, that many other Americans, ashamed to see their country
hanging back, were already enlisting in Canada, England, and France,
and that although business was certainly booming, beyond the wildest
dreams of the keenest money-makers before the war, yet this vast wealth
was too much like blood-money, since the French and British were
suffering immense losses in lives and money and in everything but
honour, while the Americans, losing nothing in lives, were making vast
hoards of money out of a cause that really was their own - the cause of
right and freedom.

Slowly but surely the War Party gained, as more and more members of the
Peace Party began to see the truth. But still, after twenty-seven
months, the most popular cry among those who voted President Wilson in
for a second term was "he kept us out of war." Three months later the
German "Submarine Blockade" began (February 1917). Then, two months
later still, most of the Peace Party, seeing that their own ships would
be sunk just as readily as French or British ships, gave their vote for
war.

It was a glorious moment in world-history when British, French, and
Americans at last stood side by side. The American Navy led the way,
joining the hunt for German submarines with a keenness whetted by
having been held back so long. The Army followed, bit by bit, until
two million men had gone to Europe, thanks chiefly to the British ships
that took them there. The Nation backed both Army and Navy with vast
sums of money, which it could so easily afford, and with patriotic work
of every splendid kind.

But the war lasted only nineteen months longer; and in that time the
Americans were not able to do anything like what the Allies had done
before and still were doing. The entire American loss in men (killed,
wounded, and prisoners) was over one-quarter million. But Canada's
loss of over two hundred thousand was ten times as great in proportion;
for there are twelve-and-a-half times as many people in the United
States as there are in Canada. In the same way the losses of France
and Great Britain were each more than twenty times greater than that of
the United States. In ships and money the difference is far more
striking still. The British alone lost one-and-a-half times as many
ships as all the rest of the world put together. But the Americans
have actually gained, owing to the number of interned German vessels
they seized in their ports. As for money: the British, the French, and
all the Allies have spent so much in fighting for the freedom of the
world that neither they nor their children, nor their children's
children, can ever pay the vast debt off; while the United States have
made, on their own showing, the twelve-and-a-half "billions" mentioned
already.

These few facts (there are hundreds more) will show you a little of
what the Great War means to the world, what the British Navy meant to
the war, and what Jutland meant to both the war and the world, by
sweeping the German Navy off the surface of the sea, and so bringing on
the "Submarine Blockade" that itself forced the American Government to
fight in self-defence.

[Illustration: British Submarine.]

The Germans, wishing to kill off their victims one at a time, were
ready for the French and Russian Navies, but not for the British. They
had less than forty sea-going submarines when the war began. But
nearly four hundred took part, or were ready to take part, before the
war was over, while many more were building.

We have already noted the weak points of submarines. They are "tender"
because they must be thin. An old collier that couldn't steam faster
than you could walk sank a submarine by barging into it, end-on - one
can hardly call it ramming. Submarines are slower on the surface than
dreadnoughts, cruisers, and destroyers; and, after doing a total of ten
or twelve hours under water, they have to recharge their batteries; for
they run by oil engines on the surface and by electricity submerged,
and the crew would be smothered if the oil engines tried to charge
batteries without coming up.

Then, firing torpedoes is not at all like firing big guns. At a range
of five miles a shell will still be making 2000 feet a second or 1400
miles an hour. At the same range a torpedo like those used at Jutland
would be making only 50 feet a second or 35 miles an hour. Thus shells
whizz through the air forty times faster than torpedoes sneak through
the water. A torpedo, in fact, is itself very like a submarine, more
or less cigar-shaped, and with its own engine, screw, and rudder.
Hitting with a torpedo really means arranging a collision between it
and the ship you are aiming at. When you and the ship and your torpedo
and the water are all moving in different ways you can see that hitting
is not so easy. The shorter the range the better. But you cannot see
at all unless your periscope, with its little mirror, is high and dry
out of the water; and periscopes are soon spotted by a sharp look-out
at very short range. The best torpedoes are over twenty feet long and
as many inches through, and they will go ten miles. But the longer the
range the slower the pace and the less the chance of hitting. The
engine is driven by air, which is compressed so hard into the middle of
the torpedo that it actually bulges out the steel a tiny fraction of an
inch. You may set the air-valve fast or slow, and the torpedo will go
accordingly. But if you want to make pretty sure you must get within
less than a mile, with the ship's broadside toward you, set the torpedo
for the right depth, the right pace to keep it going as fast as
possible just long enough to hit, and of course the right aim. Then,
if all goes well, the cap, or "war head" of the torpedo, on hitting the
ship, will set off the fuse that sets off the tremendous charge of high
explosive; and this may knock a hole in the side big enough to drive a
street car through. But there are many more misses than hits.

Yet the German and Austrian raiders, mines, and submarines sank fifteen
million tons of shipping, which is not far short of a third of all the
merchant tonnage in the world; and the submarines sank more than the
mines and raiders sank together. (Ships are measured by finding out
how many cubic feet of space they contain and counting so many feet to
the ton. Thus you get a much better idea of how much shipping a
country has by counting in tons rather than by the number of ships; for
twenty-five ships of one thousand tons each have only half as much
sea-power as one ship of fifty thousand tons.) The British loss was
nine millions, half as much again as was lost by all the rest of the
world put together. Raiders like the cruiser _Emden_, or the armed and
disguised merchant vessel _M√ґwe_, did a great deal of harm at the
beginning of the war, as we have seen already. Mines did even more
harm, and did it all through. But submarines did most.

Our title "Submarining" means any kind of underwater attack, by mines
as well as by torpedoes, so we must take a glance at the mines before
coming to the submarines.

Most mines are somewhat like big buoys with little horns all over the
top. Each horn ends in a cap which, when hit, sets off the charge.
Mines coupled together by a steel rope are more dangerous than two
separate mines would be, as they are bound to be drawn in against any
ship that strikes any part of the rope. The only safeguard a ship
could carry was a paravane. A paravane is made up of a strong steel
hawser (rope) that serves as a fender, and of two razor-edged blades
that serve to cut the mine-moorings free. It is altogether under water
and is shaped like a V, with the point jutting out on the end of steel
struts ahead of the bows, the two strokes running clear of the sides,
and their ends well winged out astern, where the two sharp blades stand
straight up, one from each end. The lines by which mines are anchored
were thus guided clear of the ship till they reached the blades, where
they were cut. The mines then rose to the surface, where they could be
set off at a safe distance. Dragging a paravane through the water made
the ship go slow. But that was better than being blown up.

Minefields cannot, of course, be crossed at all. You might as well try
to walk over armies of porcupines in your bare feet. Some minefields
were very big. One British field ran from the Orkneys right across to
Norway, to stop the German submarines from getting out round the north
of Scotland. The American Navy did magnificent work at this field, the
greater part of which was laid by American, not by British, vessels at
the latter end of 1917 and earlier part of 1918. Other minefields
blocked the Channel. But here the Germans once played a very clever
trick which might have cost the British dear. A British minefield had
been laid, some fifty feet deep, to catch submarines without being in
the way of vessels on the surface. Two days after it had been secretly
laid at night the _Nubian_, a British destroyer, had her bows blown off
on the very same spot. The German submarine mine-layers had crept in
by night and laid a shallow German minefield, exactly over the deep
British minefield, to catch those who were trying to catch them. That,
however, is not the end of the story. Just after the _Nubian_ had been
towed into Portsmouth with her bows blown off, the _Zulu_, a destroyer
of the same class, was towed in with her stern blown off. So perfectly
were both these vessels built that, when they had each been cut in
half, the good halves made an absolutely perfect new destroyer, which,
under her compound name of _Zubian_, did excellent work against the
Germans during the famous fights at Zeebrugge and Ostend.

A mine laid by a German submarine blew up the cruiser _Hampshire_ that
was taking Kitchener to Russia by way of the Orkneys on the 5th of
June, 1916. Kitchener was drowned and only twelve men, who floated in
on a raft, were saved. Submarines lurking about at night would
sometimes put mines right in the track of vessels. And sometimes swift
mine-laying ships on the surface would do even more deadly harm,
rolling a hundred mines off a little railway on deck. At other times
mines would be loosed from the shore or from ships at anchor, so as to
float in among vessels with the tide or down the current of a stream.
One of these was tried against the British in West Africa by a German
missionary. Others were sent against the French and British vessels in
the Dardanelles, sometimes blowing them up.

But the enemy never had it all his own way. British submarines did
wonderful work in spite of the mines. Commander Holbrook won the V.C.
by feeling his perilous way through five lines of Turkish mines, though
the currents were very tricky, and more than once the side of his "sub"
actually touched the steel ropes holding the mines to their anchors.
When he reached Constantinople he torpedoed and sank the Turkish
battleship that was supposed to be guarding these very mines! Then he
dived back through the five rows of mines and rejoined the fleet
without a scratch.

Another British submarine stole into the Sea of Marmora with a couple
of land mines to blow up the railway near Constantinople. Lieutenant
D'Oyley-Hughes then swam ashore, pushing a little raft to which the
mines were lashed. He was quite alone, but armed with a bayonet ground
like a razor and an automatic seven-shooter. He also carried a
flash-light and whistle. He shouldered first one mine and then the
other, each the weight of a big man, took them up the hill, and put
them under a little brickwork bridge within a hundred and fifty yards
of the Turkish sentries, who were talking round their fire. Though he
muffled the fuse pistol it was heard by the Turks, who came running
toward him, firing as hard as they could. He let them have his first
clip of seven shots slap in the face and then raced a mile along the
line, doubled back a bit down the cliff, and swam off toward the
submarine. His whistle was not heard at first, as the submarine was in
the next bay; and he had to swim a mile before he came across her
backing out under fire from the Turks. But he slipped into her conning
tower safely, and no one on the British side was hurt.

So great is the danger from mines, unless they are watched and tackled
the whole time, that thousands of mine-sweeping vessels were always at
work, manned by British fishermen who had been handling gigantic nets
and mile-long steel hawsers (ropes) ever since they had gone afloat as
boys. These North Sea fishermen, in whom the Viking blood runs strong,
had always put in eleven months sea time every year of their lives. So
storm and fog and clammy numbing cold had no terrors for them as they
worked their "sweepers" to and fro, fishing for the deadly mines.
Sometimes, for all their skill and care, a mine would foul their tackle
and blow them to pieces. But usually they could "gentle" a mine to the
surface and set it off by rifle shots at a safe distance. Sometimes,
however, a hitch would happen and the mine would come close alongside.
Once a mine actually came aboard, caught fast in the tackle. The
skipper (captain) ordered all hands into the boats, and then himself
cut it clear after a whole hour's work, during which one false touch or
even the slightest jolt would have blown his ship to smithereens. The
wonder of it is that more men were not killed in keeping the seaways so
carefully swept, night and day, all the year round, for tens of
thousands of miles, during the fifty-one months of the war.

[Illustration: Minesweeper at work.]

Still more dangerous was the fishing for those vilest of devil-fish,
the German submarines. The fishermen "shot" enormous steel nets just
as you shoot a fishing net, letting them hang a bit slack so as to be
the more entangling. Then, just as you feel your rod quiver when a
fish takes your fly, so these anglers for Germans would feel the quiver
from a nosing submarine caught in the toils. Very few submarines ever
escaped; for the slack of the waving net was apt to foul the screw, and
there they were held till the last struggle ceased and the last man was
smothered inside.

The fishermen would sometimes have rescued their ruthless enemies if
they could have disentangled them in time. But this could rarely be
done; and the Germans met a just fate. One day a submarine came up


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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 17 of 19)