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The Pensacola journal. (Pensacola, Fla.) 1898-1985, October 26, 1919, Image 9

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062268/1919-10-26/ed-1/seq-9/

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By Admiral William Sowden Sims
Ambassador Psfle Plead. .
It isn't strong enough." he said.
I can do better than this roy
He immediately sat down and wrote
cablegram to Washington which" is
Bat Mr. Page and I thought that we
ad not completely done our duty even
We were determined v that,
Utever might happen, we could nev-
be charged with not haying present
ee Allied situation in its absolute-
true liKh't. It seemed likely that an
.thoritatlye statement f rorn the Brlt-
: government would give added as
junee that our statements were not
e result of panic, and with this idea
.-. mind. Mr. Page and I called upon
- Balfour, Foreign Secretary, who,
response to our request, sent a- de-
.a:ch to Washington describing the
k-r'.ousness oi me siiuauwu.
All these messages made the same
Int: that the United States should
-.mediately assemble all its destroyers
nl other light craft, and send them
the vital spot in the ', submarine
impaign Queenstown. ... . ...
VJ this time that we were seeking
solution for the submarine' problem
e real'.y had the solution in our
iids. The seas presented two im
essive spectacles in those terrible
:nths of April, May, and June, 19 IT.
-e was the comparative ease with
uch the German submarines were
:.king: merchant vessels: the other
'j their failure materially to weaken
filled fleets. "If we wish a counter
ture of that ' presented Ty the Irish
i and the English Channel, where
rvhant shipping was constantly go
; down, we should look to the North
ii, where the British Grand -Fleet,
olutely intact,' was defiantly riding
e waves. The uninrormea puduc
plained this apparent security in a
y or its own: It Deuevea tnai xne
itish dreadnaughts were anchored
:ind booms, nets, and mine fields.
ough which the submarines could
penetrate. Yet the tact of tne
.ter was that the Grand Fleet was
quently cruising in the open sea in
; waters which were known to be
st infested with submarines. The
man submarines had been attempt
s' to destroy this fleet for two and
half years. It had been the Ger-
plan to weaken this great battle
: by "attrition, mat is, to smic
ugh battleships to make possible a
'.eral engagement with some chances
success; yet the submarines had not
droved a single dreadnaught. In
s situation.' merchant ships con
.nr.y being torpedoed and battleships
'.stantly, repelling such attacks,
re was' certainly much food for
iy the Grand Fleet Was Immune.
let there was no mystery about the
nunity which these great fighting
'sela enjoyed, for the submarine
oblem. so far as It affected the
tie-fleet, had already been solved.
e explanation was that wnenever
dreadnaughts put to sea they
re preceded by a screen of cruisers
i destroyers. , These surface craft
arently served as a kind of im-
"etrable wall, against which the
man U-boats were . beating them
es unavallingly. To' the casual
'rver. however, there seemed to be
reason why the destroyers should
any particular . terror for sub
lines. Externally they are the least
eslve war . vessels afloat. Sall-
ahead of the battle squadrons, the
foyers were little, ungraceful ob-
"-s upon the surface of the water;
1 suggested fragility rather than
g:h, and the idea that they were
' guardians of the mighty battle-
4 behind them at first seemed al-
grotesque. Yet these little ves-
doming the submarine. The war
not progressed far when t be
apparent that the U-boat could
iinger long any where near this
little ' surface vessel without
nr Berinna cl.v inn v
!:. until the reDOrts of submarine
"tag began to find their way Into
pers. tt was probably the one
1 warship in which the public
lh smallest interest. It had be-
instead. & IrlnA . -1 ..Irllnr.
a N'avy. Our ConrrM haf
'"y neclM-tai . .
'aval niurii v, .
" 'OUr l!itnv.u v.- m
. . --".'ia Lna uuiti iur every
":P. and anntlallv r'vno.-aa V I
riatej for one or twK
out r alSO found Great Britain
y a sufficient number of des
for the purpose of anti-sub-
m l. nou8l for screening the
but It was called upon to divert so
many for the protection of troop trans
portation, supply ships and commerce
generally that the efficiency of the
fleet was greatly undermined. Thus
Britain found - herself without enough
destroyers . to meet the submarine
campaign ."this situation was not due
to any lack of. foresight, but to a
failure to. foresee that any civilized
nation ' could" ever employ the torpedo
in unrestricted warfare against mer
chant ships and their crews.
The one time that this type of ves
sel had come prominently into notice
was - in -1904,- - when it attacked the
Russian fleet at Port Arthur, damag
ing several powerful vessels and prac
tically ending Russian sea. power in
the far east. The history of the
destroyer, however, goes back: much
lurtner. it .was created to fulfill a
duty . not . unlike . that . which At has
played so gloriously in the "World War.
In . the late seventies and early eigh
ties a new type of war vessel, the
torpedo boat, caused almost as, much
perturbation as has the submarine in
recent years. This speedy little fight
er was - Invented to serve as a medium
for the? discharge of a newly perfected
engine of naval warfare, the automo
bile torpedo. It was ' Its function to
creep up to a battleship, preferably
under cover of darkness or in thick
weather, and let loose the weapon
against its unsuspecting hulk. ." ,
The appearance "of the torpedo boat
led to the same prediction as that
which was more recently Inspired by
the submarine in the eyes of many it
simply ' meant the end of the great
surface battleship.' ' But naval archi
tects," looking about for the "answer
to this dangerous craft, designed an
other and appropriately called it the
"torpedo boat destroyer. This vessel
was not only larger and speedier than
its appointed antagonist but its radius
of action, and its sea-worthiness en
ables it to accompany the battle fleet.
Its draft was so light that a torpedo
could - pass harmlessly under the keel
and it carried an armament of suffi
cient power to end the career of any
torpedo boat that came Its way. Few
types have ever justified their name
so successfully as the torpedo boat
destroyer. So completely did it elim
inate that little vessel as a danger to
the fighting ships that practically all
navies lang since ceased to build .tor
pedo boats. Yet the destroyers prompt
ly succeeded to the chief function of
the discarded vessel, that of attacking
capital ships with torpedoes, and, in
addition to this It assumed the duty
of protecting battleships from similar
attack by enemy vessels of the same
It surprises many people to learn
that the destroyer is not a little boat
but a warship of considerable size. It
appears small only because all ships,
those used for commerce and those
for war, have increased so greatly in
four powerful four or five-inch guns,
displacement. The latest type carries
and twelve torpedo tubes, each launch
ing a torpedo which weighs more than
a ton, and which runs as straight as
an arrow for more than six miles. The
Santa Maria, the largest vessel of the
squadron with which Columbus made
his first voyage to America, had a
displacement of about five hundred
large as a destroyer, and at the be
ginning of the clipper ship era few
tons, and thus was about half as
vessels were much larger. ,
. Submarine vs. Destroyer.
Previous to. 1914 it was generally
believed that torpedo attacks would
play "a large part In, any great naval
engagement, and this was the reason
why all naval advisers insisted that
a larger number of these vessels
should be constructed as essential
units of the fleet. Yet the war had
had not gone far when it became ap
parent that this versatile craft - had
another great part to play, and that
It would ence more justify Its name
In really .heroic fashion. In the same
way that it had proved Its worth in
driving the surface torpedo boat from
the seas, so now it developed Into a,
very dangerous foe for the torpedo
boat that sailed beneath the waves.
Events soon demonstrated that, in
all open engagements between . sub
marine and destroyer, the submarine
stood very little chance. The reason
for this was simply that the subma
rine had " no weapon with which It
could successfully resist the attack of
the destroyer, whereas the ' destroyer
had several with which It could at
tack the submarine.' The ' submarine
had three or; four" torpedo tubes, and
only one or two guns, and with neither
could afford to risk attacking ; the
more powerfully armed destroyer. The
submarine was of a such a fragile
engage In a combat In which it stood
much chance of getting hit. A des
troyer could . stand a comparatively
severe pounding and still remain fair
ly intact, but a single ' shell striking
a submarine was a very serious mat
ter; even though the vessel did not
sink as a result, it was almost inevi
table that certain parts of its ma
chinery would ' be so Injured that it
would have difficulty in- getting . into
port. - It therefore became necessary
for the submarine always to play safe,
to fight only under conditions in which
it had the enemy at' such a disadvan
tage than it ran little risk Itself; and
this was the reason why -ft preferred
to attack merchant and ' passenger
ships rather than vessels, such as the
destroyer, that could energetically de
fend themselves. -
Destroyers Hard to Hit.'
The comparatively light draft of the
destroyer, which Is about nine or ten
feet pretty effectually protects it from
the submarine's . tornedo, for this tor
pedo," to function with its greatest ef
ficiency, "must take a . course' about
fifteen ". feet... under water; ' if it runs
nearer the surface than this it comes
under the influence of the waves and
does not make a straight course. More
important still, the speed of the des-
precious .weapons,' to Cuse them only
when the chances most factored suc
cess,' and -the U-'bbat commander who
wasted them In attempts to sink des
troyers ; would probably have , been
court-martialed. ;;': .
But while the submarine had prac
tically no means, of successfully fight
ing the destroyer, the latter ; had sev
submarine. The . advantage which
really makes thedestroyer so danger
ous, as already intimated was its ex
cessive speed. On the , surface the
eral ways of putting -an end to the 1 U-boat makes little.more than fifteen
' in cruising and In battle, nature . that it could never afford to
i j,j',r 'f -
sJ-T LZf s
' , "l y ' ' I
I : .". .. it i'
i 4 ' V Hill I ? i - -t it-Pat' "tf1'?''-"'- J . rf-'l -
. .7-
miles an hour, and under the surface
it makes little more than seven or
' eight. If the . destroyer once discov
ered its presence, therefore, it could
-reach its prey in an Incredibly short
- time. . It could attack with gun, and,
if conditions were favorable,, it could
ram -and a destroyer going at thirty
or forty miles could cut a submarine
nearly in two with its strong razor
like bow. In the early days of the
war, these were the main methods of
attack, but by the time I had" reached
London, another and much more
. frightful weapon had ' been ' devised.
This was the depth charge," a large
can containing about three hundred
.... i-... - -. '
troyer, and zigzags, . makes it all but
Impossible .for a torpedo to be .'aimed
with much chance of hitting her. More,
over the discharge of this missile is a
far more .complicated undertaking than
is generally "supposed. The submarine
commander-cannot take position any
where and discharge his weapon more
or less wildly, running his chances of
hitting; he must , get his boat in place,
calculate . range, course, ;. and speed,
and take? careful aim.. Clearly it is
difficult for him to do this successful
ly if his intended victim ; Is sourrying
along at the rate of thirty -yr forty
miles an hour.; Moreover," the destroy
er is . constantly, changing its course,
making great circles and , other , dis
concerting movements. So . well did
the Germans understand .the difficulty
of torpedoing .a destroyer that they
practically never attempted so hazard
ous an enterprise.!
Torpedoes are complicated : and ex
pensive . mechanisms; .each one - costs
$8,000 and the average U-boat carried
only from eight to twelve; it was
therefore necessary to husband .these
f' - - IH I ' I ' " " " "
XJ"i . 7
w-tv . -mlV;-,
wSScrr'' V
V'.-'v ' .,.'""-.. '' '
T. .'." ISP?:-- A' -rf
0 vog.A'gfym
pounds of TNT, which, exploded any
where within one hundred feet of the
submarine, either destroyed it entirely
or so injured it that it usually had
to come to the surface and surrender.
The story of the Invention of the
depth charge makes 'clear the part
which it was intended to play in anti
submarine warfare. Admiral Jellicoe
told him the story when asked him
who really invented this annihilating
'No man in particular," he said. 'It
came into existence almost ' spontan
eously, in response to a pressing need.
Gunfire can destroy submarines when
they are on the surface, but it can ac
complish nothing against them when
submerged. This fact made it ex
tremely difficult to sink them In the
early days of the war. One day when
the Grand Fleet was cruising in the
North Sea. a submarine fired a tor
pedo at one of the cruisers. The
cruiser saw the periscope and the
wake of the torpedo, and had little
difficulty in so manoeuvering as to
avoid being struck. She then went
full speed to the spot from which the
submarine had fired its torpedo, in
the hope of ramming it. But. by the
time she arrived, the submarine had
submerged so deeply that the cruiser
passed 1 over her without doing harm.
Yet the officers and crew could see
the submerged hull; there the enemy
lay in full view of her pursuers, yet
perfectly safe! The of fleers : reported
the incident to me in the presence of
Admiral .Madden,- second In command.
"Wouldn't it have been fine," said
Madden, "if they had had on board a
mine so designed that, when dropped
overboard, it would have exploded
when it reached the depth at which
the submarine was lying."
"That remark." continued Admiral
Jelficoe, "gave us the germinal dea of
the depth charge. I asked the Admir
alty to get to work and produce a
mine that would act In the way that
Admiral Madden had ' suggested. It
proved to be very simple to construct
an ordinary steel cylinder filled with
TNT; this was fitted with a simple
firing appliance which was set off
by the pressure of the water, and
could be so adjusted that it would
explode the charge at any depth de
sired. This apparatus was so simple
and so necessary that we at once be
gan to manufacture It."
The depth charge looked like the
innocent domestic ash can, and that
was the name by which it became
popularly known. Each destroyer
eventually carried twenty or thirty at
the .stern; a mere pull on a lever
would make one drop into the water.
Many destroyers also carried strange
looking howitzers, made in the shape"
of a Y, from which two ash cans
could be hurled fifty yards or more
from each side of the vessel. The
exDlosion when it ensued w!tHn m
hundred feet I have mentioned was
usually fatal to the submarine, would
drive the plates Inward, sometimes
making a leak so large that the ves
sel would sink almost instantaneously.
At a somewhat greater distance it
sometimes causes a leak of such seri
ous, proportions that the submarine
would be forced to blow her ballast
tanks, come to the surface and sur
render. Even when the depth charge
exploded considerably more than a
hundred feet away, the result might
be equally disastrous, for the con
cussion might distort the hull and
damage the horizontal rudders, mak
ing It impossible to steer, or it might
so Injure the essential machinery that
the submarine would be rendered help
less. Sometimes the lights went out,
leaving a crew groping In blackness
necessary parts were shaken from
their fastenings; . and in such a case
the commander had his choice of two
alternatives, one to be crushed by the
pressure of the water, and the other
to blow his tanks, come to the sur
face and surrender. It is no reflection
upon the courage of the submarine
commanders to say that, in this em
barrassing situation, they usually pre
ferred to throw themselves upon the
mercy of the enemy rather than to
be smashed or die a lingering and
agonizing death under the water. Even
wnen tne explosion took place at a
distance so- great that the submarine
was not seriously damaged, the ex
perience was a highly discomforting
one for the crew.
Next week Admlra! Sims will tell
how the destroyers hunted the sub
marines, and will give descriptions as
told , to him by survivors, of life on
German submarines. "Depth charge
nerves," the Germans - called their

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