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The Victory at Sea

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The Victory at Sea
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Author(s): W. S. Sims and Burton J. Hendrick
Date Published: 2013/01
Page Count: 340
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-043-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-042-0

Victory snatched from imminent defeat

This book by the American, Admiral Sims will be a revelation to many. The British public had no idea that by the time America entered the First World War on 6th April, 1917 the Allied cause was on the brink of falling to the might of Imperial Germany. No plan had been conceived to ensure that vital materials would reach Britain by sea without them falling prey to the omnipresent U-Boat menace. Thousands of tons of essential war supplies were going to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean each week and serious Allied analysts believed that Britain would last less than four months before surrender was inevitable. Given what we now know of the great German land offensives of the final phase of the war, the consequences for the Allies, without a solution to the issue of maritime supply, could have been catastrophic. The solution came in the form of the creation of the convoy system and its effectiveness was due in no small part to the addition of the U. S. N. destroyer fleet to support the activities of the Royal Navy. This book describes how the German U-Boat threat was finally overcome and how this impacted on the Allied victory. Sims also gives much operational detail including the activities of the deadly decoy’s, the ‘Q’ ships, and the operations of the ‘King Cobras’ of the undersea war—the anti-submarine submarines.’ This is the view and account of a senior officer in a position to experience and describe for posterity the strategic and tactical issues of the anti U-Boat campaign and it describes in detail the many methods and types of craft employed together with anecdotes, reports and eyewitness accounts of the action on and under the waves. Recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

On the morning of October 19th, Commander Johnson’s division was escorting a great convoy of British ships on its way to the east coast of England. Suddenly out of the air came one of those calls which were daily occurrences in the submarine zone. The J. L. Luckenback signalled her position, ninety miles ahead of the convoy, and that she was being shelled by a submarine. In a few minutes the Nicholson, one of the destroyers of the escort, started to the rescue. For the next few hours our ships began to pick out of the air the messages which detailed the progress of this adventure—messages which tell the story so graphically, and which are so typical of the events which were constantly taking place in those waters, that I reproduce them verbatim:<br>
8.50 a.m. S.O.S. J. L. Luckenback being gunned by submarine.
Position 48.08 N 9.31 W<br>
9.25 Conyngham to Nicholson: Proceed to assistance of S.O.S. ship.<br>
9.30 Luckenback to U.S.A.: Am manoeuvring around.<br>
9.35 Luckenback to U.S.A.: How far are you away?<br>
9.40 Luckenback to U.S.A.: Code books thrown overboard. <br>
How soon will you arrive?<br>
Nicholson to Luckenback: In two hours.<br>
9.41 Luckenback to U.S.A.: Look for boats. They are shelling us.<br>
Nicholson to Luckenback: Do not surrender!<br>
Luckenback to Nicholson Never!<br>
11.01 Nicholson to Luckenback: Course south magnetic.<br>
12.36 p.m. Nicholson to Conyngham: Submarine submerged 47.47<br>
N 10.00 W at 11.20.<br>
1.23 Conyngham to Nicholson: What became of steamer?<br>
3.41 Nicholson to Admiral (at Queenstown) and Conyngham:<br>
Luckenback now joining convoy. Should be able to make port<br>
I have already said that a great part of the destroyer’s duty was to rescue merchantmen that were being attacked by submarines: this Luckenback incident vividly illustrates this point. Had the submarine used its torpedo upon this vessel, it probably would have disposed of it summarily; but it was the part of wisdom for the submarine to economize in these weapons because they were so expensive and so comparatively scarce, and to use its guns whenever the opportunity offered. The Luckenback was armed, but the fact that the submarine’s guns easily outranged hers made her armament useless. Thus all the German had to do in this case was to keep away at a safe distance and bombard the merchantman. The U-boat had been doing this for more than three hours when the destroyer reached the scene of operations; evidently the marksmanship was poor, for out of a great many shots fired by the submarine only about a dozen had hit the vessel.<br>
The Luckenback was on fire, a shell having set aflame her cargo of cotton; certain parts of the machinery had been damaged, but, in the main, the vessel was intact. The submarine was always heroic enough when it came to shelling defenceless merchantmen, but the appearance of a destroyer anywhere in her neighbourhood made her resort to the one secure road to safety—diving for protection. The Nicholson immediately trained her guns on the U-boat, which, on the second shot, disappeared under the water. The destroyer despatched men to the disabled vessel, the fire was extinguished, necessary repairs to the machinery were made, and in a few hours the Luckenback had become a member of the convoy.<br>
Hardly had she joined the merchant ships and hardly had the Nicholson taken up her station on the flank when an event still more exciting took place. It was now late in the afternoon; the sea had quieted down; the whole atmosphere was one of peace; and there was not the slightest sign or suggestion of a hostile ship. The Orama, the British warship which had accompanied the convoy from its home port as ocean escort, had taken up her position as leading ship in the second column. Without the slightest warning a terrific explosion now took place on her starboard bow. There was no mystery as to what had happened; indeed, immediately after the explosion the wake of the torpedo appeared on the surface; there was no periscope in sight, yet it was clear, from the position of the wake, that the submarine had crept up to the side of the convoy and delivered its missile at close range. There was no confusion in the convoy or its escorting destroyers but there were scenes of great activity.<br>
Immediately after the explosion, a periscope appeared a few inches out of the water, stayed there only a second or two, and then disappeared. Brief as was this exposure, the keen eyes of the lookout and several sailors of the Conyngham, the nearest destroyer, had detected it; it disclosed the fact that the enemy was in the midst of the convoy itself, looking for other ships to torpedo. The Conyngham rang for full speed, and dashed for the location of the submarine. Her officers and men now saw more than the periscope; they saw the vessel itself. The water was very clear; as the Conyngham circled around the Orama her officers and men sighted a green, shining, cigar-shaped thing under the water not far from the starboard side. As she sped by, the destroyer dropped a depth charge almost directly on top of the object.
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