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Hunting the German Shark

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Hunting the German Shark
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Author(s): Herman Whitaker
Date Published: 2011/09
Page Count: 164
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-646-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-645-9

The ‘shark killers’ of the U. S. fleet

The United States of America entered the First World War in April 1917, though its support for the allied war effort had, of course, been immensely influential in terms of the provision of material up to that point. The direct intervention of America in the war, with its vast resources of military personnel and equipment, backed by a huge manufacturing capacity, was inevitably pivotal. This account, part history, part anecdotal and part first hand account, was written shortly before the end of the conflict and describes in some detail the endeavours of the United States Navy during the war at sea in general and, more particularly, how it dealt with the omnipresent menace of the, ‘German Shark’—the U Boats of the German Navy. This hidden undersea threat bore directly on America’s role in the war. Men and vitally needed supplies had to traverse the Atlantic in merchant vessels to reach Europe. They were perilously exposed to the depredations of the German submarine force whose task it was to prevent them reaching their destinations. This well written and engaging book takes the reader to war on the United States Navy destroyers and with the navy pilots of early military aircraft whose task it was to pursue and destroy U-Boats in order to protect the vulnerable convoys of merchantmen on the high seas. Many interesting engagements, duels and sinkings are described in compelling detail from first hand experience. An essential book for all those particularly interested in submarine and anti-submarine warfare or the Great War generally.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

What of the Q-boats which go out looking for things from which even a destroyer will run! One of their skippers wears the Victoria Cross with the bar of a second achievement; also every other decoration it is possible for a fighting mariner to win. He has been blown up so often that it has become something of a bore—never a thrill left in it. His ship has been sunk under him three times, and on the last occasion he served his guns till the water rose to the breasts of the crew, and sank the attacking submarine with the last shot before the deck went from under their feet.<br>
Apart from their losses in battle, which have been large, the British destroyer flotilla loses on an average one vessel a month. So no wonder they marvel at our luck. They, however, do not squeal. When two of their destroyers were towed into port, one with its bows shot away, the other without a stern, they did not waste time writing editorials on the inefficiency of the officers and crews. The British are not built that way. They just took these two vessels and sawed their ends off clean; then, just as you might solder a tin toy boat, they joined the two odd halves to make one, and sent the result out to sea. And this little feat symbolizes their spirit—the dogged, quiet, uncomplaining devotion to duty which they share with our own American officers and men.<br>
Having seen the Cassin just after she was torpedoed, and talked with members of her crew, and having cruised, as I said before, in company with the Jacob Jones, I can claim to be in better position to pass judgment than the author of the editorial quoted, and the facts are these:<br>
Let us take the last first, and recreate as well as we can the picture of what actually happened from the reports of her commander and crew. She and other destroyers were returning to their base after delivering a convoy at a foreign port; but as she had paused to carry out target practice at sea, the others were out of sight ahead.<br>
Imagine her, that graceful boat, careening as she swung on the turns of her zigzag course at standard speed, officers on the bridge, watches set, crew in their berths below or smoking on deck, all things following their orderly bent. At 4:30 p. m. dusk was already falling in those winter seas. It would be impossible to see the finger periscope that was probably slipped up just long enough to sight the shot. First notice came when the officer on the bridge saw the torpedo coming at the editor’s “leisurely speed” of forty-two miles an hour.<br>
He did the right thing—jammed the helm “hard left” and rang the engine-room for “emergency high speed.” As the boat leaped under the sudden hard thrust of the screws and began to swing like a scared thing, he could see the red warhead of the torpedo as it “porpoised” along the surface, leaping from wave to wave. Once it lifted clean out of the water and swerved, and he thought it might pass astern. But the instant it dived again the deviation automatically corrected. It struck a trifle aft of amidships, and exploded in the fuel oil tank.<br>
The explosion blew twenty feet of the deck clean away, brought down the wireless mast and antennae—leaving the vessel dumb, unable to call her consorts ahead—flooded the after crew quarters and steaming fire-room, from which not one man escaped alive.<br>
So terrific was the explosion the starboard torpedo tube with its two torpedoes, weighing many tons, was blown 200 feet in midair. Yet this was only the beginning. Poised astern, ready to drop on a submarine, were two depth-mines charged with TNT. Two other mines were lashed close by to the deck. One of these “careless and inefficient” officers ran back, at the risk of his life, to try and set the explosion gear of the mines at “safe.” But the stern sank before he could reach them.<br>
Eight minutes after the torpedo struck she sank. But in that eight minutes—listen to what was done. But first picture the scene: imagine the debris flying high in the air, the crash of falling masts, the stupefying roar of successive explosions; the men lying dead and dying about the decks, some floating in the water; the pall of smoke and escaping steam! Now what was done?<br>
The gun crews stood to their guns in readiness for a shot at the submarine. An auxiliary engine was rigged on to the lighting system and a wireless improvised in a vain effort to send out a low-power S.O.S. The life-rafts were launched—the boats, alas, were smashed. The splinter mats that protect the bridge from shrapnel fire, huge mattresses five feet square, were cut away and thrown overboard with the life-buoys to hold up struggling swimmers.<br>
The effort to rig up a wireless failing for lack of time, the guns were repeatedly fired to attract attention. When she began to sink her bows rose almost perpendicular while she twisted a half circle. But just before that happened the commander had run along the deck, ordering everybody into the water. As she sank he stepped off himself into the sea.
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