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Submarine: Hunter & Hunted

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Submarine: Hunter & Hunted
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Author(s): Charles W. Domville-Fife
Date Published: 2020/03
Page Count: 248
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-975-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-976-3

A fine overview of subs and sub-killers

This comprehensive book concerns the operations of the Royal Navy to deal with the enemy submarine threat in the conflict for the dominance of the seas and oceans during the Great War. The global nature of this first massive war of the twentieth century gave the submarine its first opportunity to be a significant and influential weapon. Such was its impact and so clandestine its sphere of operation that methods to oppose it were developed with urgency, ingenuity and variety. Here the reader is introduced to the hydrophone, the depth charge and other bizarre initiatives to combat the underwater predators. The Convoy system, mine-laying, mine-sweeping, nets and traps are covered in detail. Of particular interest are the ships specifically designed to destroy the submarines—here are the armed trawlers, the ships disguised as harmless merchant vessels, secretly armed to deliver deadly retaliation as their trap was sprung and the fast patrol and torpedo pursuit boats. Finally, the newest arm is described as sea-planes are developed and put into service to rain destruction down from the skies. A fine all round history on the subject excellently complimented by photographs and diagrams. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.

Steaming slowly round in widening circles, the sloop searched while the light lasted, but the whirling haze of fine snow blotted out the distance, and soon the early darkness of a winter night settled over the sea. The cold became intense. The white beam of a searchlight now flashed out over the black waters. There was a grave risk in this betraying light, one not sanctioned by the theory of war. It made the warship a target for any hostile submarine lurking around, but it seemed impossible to believe that a 6000-ton liner, with probably several hundred human beings on board, could have been so completely obliterated, and to the commander of the sloop the risk seemed justified. <br>
Other ships might have intercepted the S.O.S. call and reached the scene of the disaster earlier, but the sloop’s wireless, although put into action, could not confirm this, and so the search was continued.<br>
On and off during the bitter night the white beam of light flashed out through the snow. For a few seconds it swept the sea close around and was then shut off. In the pall-like blackness which followed ears listened intently, but could distinguish nothing except the lash of the sea.<br>
The sound-deadening qualities of falling snow would have cut short the range of any cry, for the human voice at its strongest, and with the atmospheric conditions favourable, can seldom be heard more than 1000 yards distant. So hour after hour of numbing cold went by with nothing to show except the occasional pathway of light on the grey slopes of sea and the low moaning wind.<br>
The snowing ceased, and in the cold stillness which so often precedes daybreak in the north a faint cry came from the sea, at first so indistinct and mingled with water noises that it would never have been heard at all if the engines of the sloop had not been shut off, as they had been at frequent intervals during the night, to enable those on board to listen. The cry was quickly followed by the “snore” of a boat’s fog-horn. A few turns of the sloop’s propellers and in the grey light of the December dawn a large ship’s life-boat could be dimly seen, away to starboard, when it rose on the bosom of the swell.<br>
Careful manoeuvring placed the warship alongside the boat-load of half-frozen castaways and the work of rescue commenced. It was a sad task. Amongst the thirty-two survivors there were twelve women and children, seven of whom had died of cold and exposure during that bitter night. One, a young Canadian wife coming home to her wounded soldier husband, had been crushed by the explosion of the first torpedo and suffered agonies in the open boat before sinking into the peace of death.<br>
To dwell here on the suffering caused by intense cold, exposure, hunger, thirst, untended wounds, and the mental agony of suspense, often to delicate women and children, when cast adrift on the open sea, would be merely to repeat what has so often been written, and which will live for ever in the memory of sailormen.<br>
When the survivors had all been lifted on board—and many had suffered badly from frost-bite—the search for two other life-boats which it was learned had succeeded in getting away from the wrecked liner was commenced.<br>
Shortly before midday the snowing began again and the wind moaned dismally through the rigging. Spurts of icy spray shot upwards from the bows and were blown back across the fore-deck of the ship, searing the skin of the tired men on watch. For several hours the sea around was searched in vain. Flurries of snow obscured everything more than a few hundred yards distant. Then towards four bells the storm passed and the air cleared of its white fog, but nothing was visible except the wide sweep of colourless heaving sea and leaden sky.<br>
It came suddenly—an indescribable explosion with a violent uprush of water, followed by the hoarse shouting of orders, the low groans of wounded men and the sharp crack of cordite. The bows of the sloop had been blown off by a torpedo, and the vessel commenced to rapidly settle down.<br>
The two undamaged boats were lowered and the survivors from the liner once again cast adrift to face the horrors of the previous night. Rafts floated free with all that were left of the crew of the sloop—two officers and thirty men. Their condition was pitiable. There had been no time to get either food or extra clothing, and so heavily laden were the light structures of capuc and wood that the occupants were continually awash.<br>
Barely had the boats and rafts got clear of the ship before she took the final plunge, going down in a cloud of steam. A few minutes later the U-boat rose to the surface about 300 yards distant, and after remaining there for some time, without making any effort to render assistance, she steamed slowly away.<br>
The boats took the rafts in tow, and the wounded, who suffered terribly from the cold and the salt water, were all transferred to the former. One of the women survivors from the torpedoed liner collapsed during the first hour, and although given extra clothing cheerfully discarded by the men, she died soon afterwards.<br>
Seas washed over the rafts and sent clouds of stinging spray into the crowded life-boats. A biting frost stiffened the wet garments, which rasped the raw and bleeding wrists of the men who tugged at the oars—partly to increase their circulation and partly to keep the boats head-on to the sea. The only hope of rescue lay in keeping afloat until daylight, when the “S.O.S.” call sent out before the sloop foundered might bring them aid. The coast of Ireland lay 300 miles to the south-east, and so intense was the cold that few expected to live through the night.<br>
The gloom of a winter afternoon gave place to darkness, and with the fading of daylight the cold increased. Men became numb and were washed unnoticed from the rafts. Others were dragged unconscious into the already overcrowded life-boats, which sank so deep in the water with the additional weight that green seas now splashed inboard and baling became necessary. Limbs stiffened in the sharp frost and had to be pounded back to life by unselfish comrades. Even under cover of the sails the cold was so intense that only five women and two children were left alive by midnight.<br>
Through the long dark hours men struggled under the drenching showers of bitter spray. When dawn broke, throwing a pale mystic light over the acre-wide Atlantic swell, each one knew that life depended on the coming of a ship before the light of day again faded in the west.