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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

And sink them by bombs or gunfire


Among

methods of destruction, the mounting of guns on merchantmen was chiefly valuable, as already suggested, because of its effect in forcing submarines to resort to illegal and barbarous methods of warfare. Hitherto, submarines had been accustomed to operate an the surface, board vessels, and sink them by bombs or gunfire. Visit and search, essential in order to avoid injury to neutrals, was now out of the question, for owing to the surface vulnerability of the submarine it might be sent to the bottom by a single well-directed shot. In brief, the guns on the merchant ship kept submarines beneath the surface, forced them to draw upon their limited and costly supply of torpedoes, and hindered them from securing good position and aim for torpedo attack.

Much depended, of course, upon the range of the ship's guns and the size and experience of the gun-crews. When the United States began arming her ships in March, 1917, she was able to put enough trained men aboard to maintain lookouts and man guns both night and day. A dozen or more exciting duels ensued between ships and U-boats before the latter learned that such encounters did not repay the risks involved. On October 19, 1917, the steamer _J. L. Luckenbach_ had a four-hour running battle with a submarine in which the ship fired 202 rounds and the pursuer 225. The latter scored nine hits, but was at last driven off by the appearance of a destroyer. To cite another typical engagement, the _Navajo_,

in the English Channel, July 4, 1917, was attacked first by torpedo and then by gunfire. The 27th shot from the ship hit the enemy's conning tower and caused two explosions. "Men who were on deck at the guns and had not jumped overboard ran aft. The submarine canted forward at an angle of almost 40 degrees, and the propeller could be plainly seen lashing the air."[1]

[Footnote 1: For more detailed narratives of this and other episodes of the submarine campaign, see Ralph D. Payne, THE FIGHTING FLEETS, 1918.]

In coastal waters where traffic converged, large forces of destroyers and other craft were employed for purposes of escort, mine sweeping, and patrol. Yet, save as a means of keeping the enemy under water and guarding merchant ships, these units had only a limited value owing to the difficulty of making contact with the enemy. During the later stages of the war destroyers depended chiefly upon the depth bomb, an invention of the British navy, which by means of the so-called "Y guns" could be dropped in large numbers around the supposed location of the enemy. It was in this way that the United States Destroyers _Fanning_ and _Nicholson_, while engaged as convoy escorts, sank the _U-58_ and captured its crew.

The "mystery" or "Q" ships (well-armed vessels disguised as harmless merchantmen) were of slight efficacy after submarines gave up surface attack. In fact, it was the submarine itself which, contrary to all pre-war theories, proved the most effective type of naval craft against its own kind. Whereas fuel economy compelled German submarines to spend as much time as possible on the surface, the Allied under-water boats, operating near their bases, could cruise awash or submerged and were thus able to creep up on the enemy and attack unawares. According to Admiral Sims, Allied destroyers, about 500 in all, were credited with the certain destruction of 34 enemy submarines; yachts, patrol craft, etc., over 3000 altogether, sank 31; whereas about 100 Allied submarines sank probably 20.[1] Since 202 submarines were destroyed, this may be an underestimate of the results accomplished by each type, but it indicates relative efficiency. Submarines kept the enemy beneath the surface, led him to stay farther away from the coast, and also, owing to the disastrous consequences that might ensue from mistaken identity, prevented the U-boats from operating in pairs. The chief danger encountered by Allied submarines was from friendly surface vessels. On one occasion an American submarine, the AL-10, approaching a destroyer of the same service, was forced to dive and was then given a bombardment of depth charges. This bent plates, extinguished lights, and brought the submarine again to the surface, where fortunately she was identified in the nick of time. The two commanders had been roommates at Annapolis.


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