The Pirates Of The Under Seas
( Originally Published 1918 )
GERMANY relied upon the submarine to win the war. This in a nut-shell explains the main reason why the United States was drawn into the World War. Von Tirpitz, the German Admiral, obsessed with the theory that no effective answer could be made to the submarine, convinced the German High Command and the Kaiser that only through unrestricted submarine warfare could England be starved and the war brought to an end with victory for Germany. Since August, 1914, the theory held by von Tirpitz and his party of extremists had been combated by Prince Maximilian of Baden and by Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg and-by others high in the council of the Kaiser. These men pointed out that, leaving out such questions as piracy on the high seas, the drowning of women and children, the destruction of the property of neutrals, there still remained the question of expediency. America, they asserted, was certain to enter the war if unrestricted submarine warfare was de-creed. These men were denounced as cowards and von Tirpitz finally triumphed.
The submarine employed by the Germans was of the type designed by Simon Lake, an American. The Germans bought two sub-marines built by Mr. Lake at Kronstadt for the Russians during the Russian-Japanese war. Various improvements upon the Diesel engine and special training for submarine crews enabled the German navy to strike terrible blows during the early part of the war.
Little by little, however, the Allies discovered the answer to the submarine menace. One of these was the convoy : fleets of merchant vessels surrounded by fast destroyers made life a misery for the submarine crews. In the early days vessels of all character fled from the approach of the submarine. The destroyers of the convoys, however, adopted a different method. They rushed at the periscopes in efforts to ram the submarine, and as they raced over the spot where the submarine had been at the rate of twenty-two knots or more an hour, they dropped huge containers, dubbed "ash cans," containing depth charges of trinitrotoluol.
Sea planes carrying bombs, small dirigible balloons known as "blimps," observation balloons moored on the decks of warships, steel nets, and especially devised anti-submarine mines, were also factors in the general work of submarine destruction.
In addition to all these, every ship, both cargo carrier and war vessel, had its well-trained gun crew, and hundreds of thousands of keen-eyed mariners daily and nightly swept the seas with binoculars watching for anything that resembled a periscope.
As a consequence of this combination of destructive agencies the British Admiralty was enabled to announce at the close of the war that more than 150 German submarines had been destroyed.
The names of the commanding officers of the German submarines which had been disposed of were given out by the government in order to substantiate to the world the statement made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on August 7th, and denied in the German papers, that "at least 150 of these ocean pests had been destroyed." The statement included no officers commanding the Austrian sub-marines, of which a number had been destroyed, and did not exhaust the list of German sub-marines put out of action.
The fate of the officers was given, and of these the majority (116) were dead; twenty-seven were prisoners of war, six were interned for the duration of the war in neutral countries where they took refuge, and one succeeded in returning to Germany.
Further light on the subject of German submarines was given on September 18, 1918, by Senator William H. Thompson of Kansas in a speech in which he told the Senate:
The submarine is no longer a serious menace to transportation across the seas. It is, of course, an annoyance and a great hindrance, and as long as there is a single submarine in the waters of the sea every effort must be made by the allied powers to destroy it, for it is an out-law and must not exist. The truth is that Germany never had more than 820 submarines all told, including all construction before and since the war.
We have positive knowledge of the destruction of more than one-half of these submarines, and we also know, that it is practically impossible for Germany to keep in operation more than 10 per cent of those remaining. It is therefore reduced to a negligible quantity so far as its ultimate effect upon the result of the war is concerned.
I saw a reliable statement in France to the effect that there is one ship of some character leaving the eastern shores of America for the war zone every six minutes, and it is only a few vessels which are ever torpedoed, estimated at about 1 per cent. This is less than the loss by storm and accident in the earlier days of transportation and is not much greater than such loss now. We must bear in mind that we read only of the ships which have been torpedoed and see but little account of the hundreds of ships which pass over the ocean safely and undisturbed. Three hundred thousand soldiers are conveyed across the Atlantic every thirty days, and an average of about 500,000 tons of freight carried to the French coast. There are warehouses in only one of the many ports of France with a capacity of over 2,000,000 tons.
It is to the navy that the credit for the destruction of this outlaw seagoing craft is due. The navy is and has been the backbone of this war, the same as it has been of almost every great war in history. Without the allied navy the submarine would have perhaps accomplished its nefarious purpose in starving the European allies and in preventing them from securing the necessary munitions of war to defend themselves. It has utterly failed in this respect. The Allies are amply supplied with food, and there are provisions enough on hand now, if every ship should be sunk, to last the Allies and armies for months. The destroyer is the ship which has brought Germany to her knees in submarine warfare and will keep her there. We have not enough destroyers, and it is for this reason we are obliged in this great transportation problem to run risks which would not be taken under ordinary conditions. If every ship was escorted by a sufficient number of destroyers I doubt if there would be a single ship of any consequence sunk, except by the merest accident.
Upon the same subject, Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the British Admiralty, on October 14th, reviewing the British effort in the war said that during 1918 the casualties of the British on the western front equaled those of all the Allies combined. The British Navy, he said, since the beginning of the war had lost in fighting ships of all classes a total of 230, more than twice the losses in war vessels of all the Allies.
In addition to these, Great Britain had lost 450 auxiliary craft, such as mine-sweepers and trawlers, making a total of 680. He revealed the fact that the effective warship barrage, which had been drawn between the Orkneys and Norway against German submarines and surface craft, was, during the later months of the war, maintained largely by ships of the United States.
The British merchant ships lost since 1914 exceeded 2,400, representing a gross tonnage of 7,750,000, nearly three times the aggregate loss of all other allied and neutral countries.
In his statement on the submarine situation he said:
In February, 1917, the ruthless submarine warfare confronted us, whilst the armies in France at that time were feeling a sense of superiority over the enemy which was illustrated by the successes of the battle of Arras, the taking of Vimy Ridge, the advance between the Ancre and the Somme, the offensive in Champagne, Chemin des Dames, Messines and Passchendaele Ridges. Thus we felt, and rightly felt, that the weakest front at that time was the sea—not on the surface, but under-water.
The whole of the available energies of the Allies were consequently thrown into overcoming the submarine and the menace which threatened to destroy the lines of communication of the Alliance. The reduced sinkings which have been published since that period show how we gradually overcame that menace—and today most men say that the submarine menace is a thing of the past.
That it is a thing of the past in so far as it can never win the war for the enemy or enable the enemy to pre-vent us from winning the war, provided we do not under-rate the danger but take adequate steps against it, I affirm now as the opinion of the British Admiralty; but it is a menace that comes and goes.
The end of the great submarine menace came on November 20th, when twenty German sub-marines were officially surrendered to Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt of the British Navy, thirty miles off Harwich, England. Within the following week more than eighty other German submarines and a number of Austrian craft were also surrendered to the British. The spectacle of the surrender was most impressive.
After steaming some twenty miles across the North Sea, the Harwich forces, which consisted of five light cruisers and twenty destroyers, were sighted. The flagship of Admiral Tyrwhitt, the commander, was the Curaçao.
High above about the squadron hung a big observation balloon.
The squadron, headed by the flagship, then steamed toward the Dutch coast, followed by the Coventry, Dragoon, Papal and Centaur. Other ships followed in line with their navigation lights showing. The picture was a noble one as the great vessels, with the moon still shining, ploughed their way to take part in the surrender of the German U-boats.
Soon after the British squadron started the "paravanes" were dropped overboard. These devices are shaped like tops and divert any mines which may be encountered, for the vessels were now entering a mine field.
Almost everyone on board donned a life belt and just as the red sun appeared above the horizon the first German submarine appeared in sight.
Soon after seven o'clock twenty submarines were seen in line, accompanied by two German destroyers, the Tibania and the Sierra Ventana, which were to take the submarine crews back to Germany after the transfer.
All the submarines were on the surface with their hatches open and their crews standing on deck. The vessels were flying no flags whatever and their guns were trained fore and aft, in accordance with the terms of surrender.
A bugle sounded on the Curaçao and all the gun crews took up their stations, ready for any possible treachery.
The leading destroyer, in response to a signal from the admiral, turned and led the way towards England and the submarines were ordered to follow. They immediately did so. The surrender had been accomplished.
Each cruiser turned, and, keeping a careful lookout, steamed toward Harwich. On the deck of one of the largest of the submarines, which carried two 5.9 guns, twenty-three officers and men were counted. The craft was estimated to be nearly 300 feet in length. Its number had been painted out.
Near the Ship Wash lightship three large British seaplanes, followed by an airship, were observed.
One of the submarines was seen to send up a couple of carrier pigeons and at once a signal was flashed from the admiral that it had no right to do this.
When the ships had cleared the mine field and entered the war channel the "paravanes" were hauled aboard. On reaching a point some twenty miles off Harwich the ships dropped anchor and Captain Addison went out on the warship Maidstone.
British crews were then put on board the submarines to take them into harbor. With the exception of the engine staffs all the German sailors remained on deck. The sub-marines were then taken through the gates of the harbor and the German crews were transferred to the transports and taken back to Germany.
As the boats went through the gates a white signal was run up on each of them with the German flag underneath.
Each German submarine commander at the transfer was required to sign a declaration to the effect that his vessel was in running order, that its periscope was intact, that its torpedoes were unloaded and that its torpedo heads were safe.
Orders had been issued forbidding any demonstration and these instructions were obeyed to the letter. There was complete silence as the submarines surrendered and as the crews were transfrred.
On November 21st, the German High Seas Fleet that had been protected by the sub-marines surrendered to the combined fleet consisting of British, American and French battle-ships. The British admiralty's terse statement concerning the historic spectacle follows:
The commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet has re-ported that at 9.30 o'clock this morning he met the first and main installment of the German high seas fleet, which is surrendering for internment. Admiral Sir David Beatty is Commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet.
On the same day another flotilla of German U-boats also was surrendered to a British squadron. There were nineteen submarines in all; the twentieth broke down on the way.
The Grand Fleet, accompanied by five American battleships and three French cruisers, steamed out at 3 o'clock on the morning of November 21st, from its Scottish base to accept the surrender. The vessels moved in two long columns,
The German fleet which surrendered consisted of nine battleships, five cruisers, seven light cruisers and fifty destroyers. Seventy-one vessels in all. There remained to be surrendered two battleships, which were under re-pair, and fifty modern torpedo-boat destroyers.
One German destroyer while on its way across the North Sea with the other ships of the German high seas fleet to surrender struck a mine. It was so badly damaged that it sank.
Describing the surrender of the German warships to Sir David Beatty, the Commanderin-Chief of the grand fleet, correspondents said that after all the German ships had been taken over, the British admiral went through the line on the Queen Elizabeth, every Allied vessel being manned and greeting the admiral and the flagship with loud and ringing cheers.
The British grand fleet put to sea in two single lines six miles apart, and so formed as to enable the surrendering fleet to come up the center. The leading ship of the German line was sighted between 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning. It was the Seydlitz, flying the German naval ensign.
A telegram received in Amsterdam from Berlin gave this list of surrendered warships, which includes one more battleship than later reports showed:
Battleships—Kaiser, 24,113 tons; Kaiserin, 24,113 tons; Koenig Albert, 24,113 tons; Kronprinz Wilhelm, 25,000 tons; Prinzregent Luitpold, 24,118 tons; Markgraf, 25,293 tons; Grosser Kurfuerst, 25,293 tons; Bayern, 28,-000 tons; Koenig, 25,295 tons, and Friedrich der Grosse, 24,113.
Battle Cruisers—Hindenburg, 27,000 tons; Derfiinger, 28,000 tons; Seydlitz, 25,000 tons; Moltke, 23,000 tons, and Von Der Tann, 18,800 tons.
Light Cruisers—Bremen, 4000 tons ; Brummer, 4000 tons ; Frankfurt, 5400 tons; Koeln, tonnage uncertain; Dresden, tonnage uncertain, and Emden, 5400 tons.