Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

simistic, and the part we were endeavouring to play in the great game appeared an insignificant and somewhat futile

one.

Still, it was no use growling: we exerted ourselves to keep the men interested and amused, and found them intelligently resolved to make the best of things, whether we were lying sluggishly becalmed for days at a stretoh, or whether we were sheltering under Soarpanto from the vigorous gales that occasionally troubled us.

And after much waiting an opportunity presented itself. Still oruising in company with Brig Y, a submarine was reported at daybreak, and we went as briskly as might be to action stations. The submarine completely ignored our own ship, probably deciding that we were too trifling a fabric to be worthy of attention, and concentrated her efforts on Brig Y.

We were relegated to the position of spectators. Because of the seniority of Brig Y's C.O., it was not incumbent on us to do a single thing until we received orders: the hands ́were in readiness for whatever might happen, and for once in a while we were able to take in undisturbed impressions of what was happening.

The submarine lobbed two shell in quick succession ahead and astern of Brig Y. The big brig-she measured two hundred tons-seemed to be literally enveloped in upthrown spouts of water. She looked particularly helpless and serrowful, especially when she

threw her fore-yards aback and lowered away her abandonship boat. In the position in which we ourselves were we could have opened fire with a remarkably good chance of destroying Fritz; but orders were orders, and though we strained our eyes to see the shirt of Brig Y's skipper appear on the main-boom, we did so in vain. Afterwards, when comparing notes, it transpired that he had clean forgotten the appointed signal in the rush of events. But we were not to know that.

Brig Y, hauling her wind in order to stop her way and lower her boat, was well ahead on our weather bow. We ourselves, hugging the wind, although not stopped, and with no immediate intention of lowering a boat, were naturally to leeward of our consort. The U-boat was at an acute angle to both of us. The best explanation that can be given without a diagram is that Brig Y and ourselves formed the base of a triangle, of which the submarine was the apex. Her range at this time was about two thousand yards, and she was well out of the water. Had the two ships brought every available gun to bear, as they could have done under those circumstances, the U-boat would have been subjected to a rain of shell from five guns. But the C.O. of Brig Y was adhering closely to bis instructions. He had sent away his panic party; it was necessary to pretend that his ship was abandoned. The submarine was firing steadily, though

with somewhat indifferent aim, and from our post of vantage we could see the enemy shell falling wide of Brig Y. Walker -the C.O.-evidently decided to lure on the hostile oraft until he was sure of hitting to kill. He therefore set off a smokebox aft, to give the impression that a hit had been registered, and permitted his command to fall away before the wind. In doing so his bow pointed straight towards Brig X; and before we could do anything Brig Y had almost run us down.

"For God's sake, Walker, open fire; we've got him cold!" shouted Allan at the top of his voice; but, so far as we could gather, Walker heard nothing of it. He carried on; we dodged him, and went on, awaiting orders to open fire.

The fortune of war was against us. It may be that Fritzsuspected something fishy; he plastered the sea about Brig Y with shell, throwing up huge gouts of foam-topped water, failing to hit; and then suddenly broke off the action, submerged, and disappeared.

Before we could exchange compliments, orders came through by wireless from the Base, ordering us back to refit and replenish, and instructing Brig Y to take another beat. We therefore parted company, and in the course of a few days we of Brig X were snugly in port.

The brig was handed over to the shipwrights and riggers in the naval dook; and to live aboard her under the conditions attendant on refitting

No

was frankly impossible. depot ship was provided as a rendezvous for "Q" boats; the men were drafted into the naval barracks ashore, and we officers were instructed to secure such accommodation as was available-no easy matter in hotels in Valetta.

Proposals were put forward suggesting that Brig X should be equipped with a 4-inch gun in lieu of one of her 12pounders; but the minute size of the vessel precluded this possibility, though our armament was added to by the providing of a depth-ohargethrowing howitzer, designed by an engineer-commander of the Royal Navy, and which, although anything but graceful in appearance, promised to be extremely effective. By its means a charge of some three hundred pounds of T.N.T., supplied with a hydrostatio fuse that was aotuated by water pressure, and that could be adjusted to explode at varying depths, could be thrown a distance of some eighty yards or so in any required direction. In view of the fact that enemy submarines were constantly growing more wary, and evinoing a lack of desire to attack on the surface, where they showed themselves as targets for gun-fire, depth-charges were very necessary if successful results were to be obtained.

It was somewhat strange how slowly the naval mind adapted itself to the constantly changing conditions of warfare afloat. We iconoclasts of the Naval Reserve argued that there was "too much Nelson"

We "Q" boat men, being

We

about the Navy; the senior comprehensive training in atofficers could not get away from tack. the gun-duel theory, although guns, as fitted, were totally keen as mustard still, despite inadequate to deal with under- the meagreness of our offenwater oraft that could submerge sive equipment, rather set completely within twenty-five ourselves out to tap the brains seconds or less of receiving an of these enthusiastic U.S. alarm. Even thus late in the naval officers, who seemed to war, when the submarine had us to be entering the great shown its potentialities of at- game with a ruthless detertacking under the surface, an minatien to win a complete almost meticulous attention and abiding success. was paid to gunnery, whilst the learnt much about the manpractice of attack by depth- nerisms of Fritz when engaged charge was consistently over- upon his unlawful occasions, looked. and the more we pondered over the matter the more convinced we became that guns were almost obsolete, except that they bore the same relation to anti-submarine warfare as did the executioner's knife to his axe. They were all very well to finish off a submarine with, but it was essentially necessary that Fritz should first be brought to the surface.

Guns had settled the question of of British supremacy afloat in 1805, said we malcontents, and, so far as the evidence went, went, guns were expected to repeat the process in 1918.

That is, so far as the British naval administration was concerned. We found a different opinion prevailing amongst the leading officers of the U.S. Navy. A light squadron of submarine hunters had been based on Malta shortly after the entry of the United States into the war, and it was our good fortune to come across a considerable number of the officers commanding the mosquito craft that were designed to "put the wind up" the Han. We found them, to a man, cleansed of the gunnery shibboleth, but enthusiastic about the possibilities of the depth-charge.

Each of the U.S. chasers earried a minimum of fifty depth-charges, and the officers commanding the waspish craft had undergone a thorough

Bearing this in mind, we agitated for still more depthcharges and depth charge throwers, and it is quite on the cards that we might have got them, but that a battleship arrived in the Royal Dockyard for overhaul and refit after rooting at her moorings for many months; and as, according to the Navy's immutable laws, even a depot ship must refit periodically, all minor work was set aside and the attentions of the deckyard staff were concentrated on the big fellow. In course of time the battleship returned to her moorings, polished to the nth degree, with self-filling

lavatory basins fitted in all her flats, and her engines in a state of perfection; whilst we of Brig X had to content ourselves with one depth-chargethrower. We tried to borrow a junior surgeon from the battleship-she carried quite a number-but this mercy was denied us, not even a surgeonprobationer of the R.N.V.R. was forthcoming.

During our stay in port we found, too, that a slight change had come over our general administration. Prior to this date the "Q" brigs had been the definite charge and care of a commander, R.N.R., a man practised in the handling and capabilities of sailing-vessels, a practical seaman, and a man with ideas; but during our last absence our Commander (B.) had obtained permission to proceed to sea in the latest of the brigs. His task of overseeing our welfare and effioiency was relegated to an engineer - lieutenant - commander of the Royal Navy, who had not had a wide experience in the management of sailingvessels,

There was one result obtaining from this transfer of responsibility: there was nothing whatsoever wrong with our auxiliary engines, although we found it somewhat difficult to explain the need for so much rope and canvas as we required -destroyers not creating a wasteful expenditure in these materials under normal conditions!

Finally, with a full complement of stores and ammunition, with our crew vacancies made VOL. CCVII.-NO. MCCLV.

good, and with our brains seething with the new hints we had acquired from a hundred differing sources, we proceeded to our training station for gunnery trials, prior to prooeeding afresh on our quest.

Nothing remarkable occurred during our firing practice, except that our gun-layers proved again their qualifications. The target a six-foot square of canvas lashed to boat - hook staves fixed to a raft was towed out to sea and dropped, and the brig manoeuvred as though in presence of a submarine. When the target was 1800 yards distant, the word was given to bring the guns up and open fire. Within nine seconds of the order being transmitted two hits had been obtained in a twelve-inch bull

that is to say, the two guns were got up, trained, and fired in nine seconds, and the two hits resulted. Not bad shooting, and it promised well for ultimate success, if only Fritz would continue to play the game according to old standards.

We started forth in high spirits enough, because the reports of sinkings were coming in with ever-growing frequenoy; but it seems reasonable to believe that we were considered as too unimportant for Fritz's attentions. Days and weeks went by without our seeing so much as the feather of a periscope. Wreckage in plenty we sighted: grim, heart-rending evidence enough of Hunnish activity. Once we sighted a floating and much-mutilated corpse, which

2 U

we disposed of with all decenoy, by lashing a round-shot to its feet and reading the Burial Service over it; but for all signs to the contrary the U-boat had ceased to exist as a menace to Allied shipping.

It may be that our beat was ill-chosen, though we we frequented parts of the sea that had earned a sinister history on account of enemy depredations. Our instructions were

work round a triangle, having as its corners Cape Marritimo, Bizerta, and Pantellaria. This caused us to navigate the Malta and Skerki Channels, where sinkings were uncommonly frequent; frequent; but there was one factor which mitigated against our success. We were in the main a winddriven vessel, and during practically the whole of this tour we were subjected to considerable gales, which gave us a speed considerably beyond the ordinary, and somewhat detracted from our ostensible reason for using those waters -that reason being that we were a coaster visiting various ports for short periods only. Because of the wind's strength we could not work up to our allotted ports, and as a result we went careering madly round and round the triangle, with the brig rolling and pitching so heavily that, even had we sighted a submarine, we could not have engaged it with even the remotest hope of success.

North of the Skerki Bank we found ourselves mixed up with a thunderstorm of more than common violence. The thunderstorm, qua thunder

storm, was purely disagreeable; we had opportunity to reflect upon our unsheltered depthcharges and our all too vulnerable magazines when the vivid lightning was streaking perilously close to our masts; but just as the storm had spent its primary violence, we were treated to a sight that might well have formed a subject for an Academy picture to be entitled: "Saviours of the World."

A welter of murky cloud overhung the eastern sky so thickly that it appeared a solid thing reaching up from the invisible horizon to the zenith. In the main this cloud-mass was black, though shot with an ugly yellow by here and there where the sun caught it. The western half of the seascape Was emerging into brightness, for it was only early afternoon; and the western horizon was vivid with many colours, and beantiful enough to bring a hungry suggestion to the hearts of the beholders. Purple, red, gold, and saffron, with bright blue crowning all, the colours mixed and changed, until, sheer across the bulk of the eastern cloud - bank, there showed a monstrous rainbow, a perfect arch, as olearly defined as if drawn by human hands. Some atmospheric freak

osused the clouds beneath the rainbow to thin and pale, until the effect was that of a gigantic gateway leading from the infernal regions to the promise of a better world. And then, as we watched, marvelling at

« AnteriorContinuar »