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Title: Sea-Hounds
Author: Freeman, Lewis R. (Lewis Ransome), 1878-1960
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sea-Hounds" ***

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                              SEA-HOUNDS



              [Illustration: BRITISH BATTLE-SHIPS ON PATROL]



                              SEA-HOUNDS



                                  BY

                           LEWIS R. FREEMAN

                            Lieut. R.N.V.R.



                        WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM
                       PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR



                               NEW YORK

                        DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

                                 1919

                     PUBLISHED IN THE U.S.A 1919
                   By DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, INC.



                                =To=

               Commodore Sir DOUGLAS BROWNRIGG, Bart.
                C.B., R.N., Chief Censor, Admiralty



                               CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                   PAGE

    I THE MEN WHO CHANGED SHIPS                              1

   II "FIREBRAND"                                           35

  III "BACK FROM THE JAWS"                                  59

   IV HUNTING                                               82

    V THE CONVOY GAME                                      112

   VI YANK BOAT _VERSUS_ U-BOAT                            135

  VII ADRIATIC PATROL                                      157

 VIII PATROL                                               173

   IX "Q"                                                  199

    X THE _WHACK_ AND THE _SMACK_                          232

   XI BOMBED!                                              250

  XII AGAINST ODDS                                         268

 XIII ROUNDING UP FRITZ                                    287



                            ILLUSTRATIONS


 British Battleships on Patrol                          _Frontispiece_

                                                                  PAGE

 German Shells Striking the Water at the Battle of Jutland          12

 A Broadside at Night at the Battle of Jutland                      12

 "Kamerading" with Uplifted Paws                                    90

 Helping the Cook to Peel Potatoes                                  90

 Where the Great Liner Plowed Along                                128

 We Had Collided with the "Brick Wall"                             128

 Now She Was Back at Base                                          128

 A Limit to the Number of "Cans" a Destroyer Can Carry             152

 A Depth Charge                                                    188

 Disabled Destroyer in Tow                                         188

 The Lookout on a Destroyer, and Part of His View                  242

 She Came Bowling Along Under Sail                                 284



SEA HOUNDS



CHAPTER I

THE MEN WHO CHANGED SHIPS


Between the lighter-load of burning beeves that came bumping down along
their line at noon, a salvo of bombs slapped across them at one o'clock
from a raiding Bulgar air squadron, a violent Levantine squall which all
but broke them loose from their moorings at sundown, and a signal to
raise steam for full speed with all dispatch at midnight, it had been a
rather exciting twelve hours for the destroyers of the First Division of
the ----th Flotilla, and now, when at dawn the expected order to proceed
to sea was received, it began to look as though there might be still
further excitement in pickle down beyond the horizontal blur where the
receding wall of the paling purple night-mist was uncovering the Gulf's
hard, flat floor of polished indigo.

"It's probably the same old thing," said the captain of the _Spark_,
repressing a yawn after he had given the quartermaster his course to
enter the labyrinthine passage where puffing trawlers were towing back
the gates of the buoyed barrages, "a U-boat or two making a bluff at
attacking a convoy. They've been sinking a good deal more than we can
afford to lose; last week they got an oiler and another ship with the
whole summer's supply of mosquito-netting aboard--but that was off the
south peninsula of Greece or up Malta way. Here they haven't more than
'demonstrated' about the mouth of the Gulf for two or three months. They
know jolly well that if they once come inside, no matter if they do sink
a ship or two, that it's a hundred to one--between sea-planes, 'blimps,'
P.B.s, and destroyers--against their ever getting out again. There's
just a chance that they may try it this time, though, for they must know
how terribly short the whole Salonika force is of petrol, and what a
real mess things will be left in if they can pot even one of the two or
three oilers in this convoy. You'll see a merry chase with a kill at the
end of it if they do, I can promise you, for the convoy is beyond the
neck of the bag even now, and if a single Fritz has come in after them,
the string will be pulled and the rest of the game will be played out
here in the 'bull-ring.'"

The captain had just started telling me how the game was played, when
the W.T.[A] room called him on the voice-pipe to say that one of the
ships of the convoy had just been torpedoed and was about to sink, and
shortly afterwards a radio was received from the C.-in-C. ordering the
flotilla to proceed to hunt the submarine responsible for the trouble.
Then the officer commanding the division leader flashed his orders by
"visual" to the several units of the flotilla, and presently these were
spreading fan-wise to sweep southward toward where, sixty to a hundred
miles away, numerous drifters would be dropping mile after mile of light
nets across the straits leading out to the open Mediterranean.
Northeastward, where the rising sun was beginning to prick into vivid
whiteness the tents of the great hospital areas, several sea-planes were
circling upwards; and southeastward, above the dry brown hills of the
Cassandra peninsula, the silver bag of an air-ship floated across the
sky like a soaring tumble bug. The hounds of the sea and air had begun
to stalk their quarry.

[Footnote A: Wireless Telegraph]

"It's a biggish sort of a place to hunt over," said the captain, as the
_Spark_ stood away on a course that formed the outside left rib of the
flotilla's "fan," and took her in to skirt the rocky coast of Cassandra;
"and there's so many in the hunt that the chances are all in favour of
some other fellow getting the brush instead of you. And unless we have
the luck to do some of the flushing ourselves, I won't promise you that
the whole show won't prove no end of a bore; and even if we do scare him
up--well, there are a good many more exciting things than dropping
'ash-cans' on a frightened Fritzie. It won't be a circumstance, for
instance, to that rough house we ran into at the 'White Tower' last
night when that boxful of French 'blue-devils' wouldn't stop singing
'Madelon' when the couchee-couchee dancer's turn began, and her friend,
the Russian colonel in the next box, started to dissolve the Entente
by----"

The captain broke off suddenly and set the alarm bell going as a
lynx-eyed lookout cut in with "Connin' tower o' submreen three points on
port bow," and, with much banging of boots on steel decks and ladders,
the ship had gone to "Action Stations" before a leisurely mounting
recognition rocket revealed the fact that the "enemy" was a friend,
doubtless a "co-huntress."

Although we were still far from where there was yet any chance of
encountering the U-boat which had attacked the convoy, there were two or
three alarms in the course of the next hour. The first was when we
altered our course to avoid a torpedo reported as running to strike our
port bow, to discover an instant later that the doughty _Spark_ was
turning away from a gambolling porpoise. The second was when some kind
of a long-necked sea-bird rose from a dive about two hundred yards on
the starboard beam and created an effect so like a finger-periscope with
its following "feather" that it drew a shell from the foremost gun which
all but blew it out of the water. It was my remarking the smartness with
which this gun was served that led the captain, when a floating mine was
reported a few minutes later, to order that sinister menace to be
destroyed by shell-fire rather than, as usual, by shots from a rifle.
All the guns which would bear were given an even start in the race to
hit the wickedly horned hemisphere as we brought it abeam at a range of
six or eight hundred yards; but the lean, keen crew of the pet on the
forecastle--splashing the target with their first shot and detonating it
with their second--won in a walk and left the others nothing but a
hundred-feet-high geyser of smoke-streaked spray tumbling above a heart
of flame to pump their tardier shells into.

The captain gazed down with a smile of affectionate pride to where the
winners, having trained their gun back amidships, were wiping its smoky
nose, sponging out its mouth, polishing its sleek barrel, and patting
its shiny breech, for all the world as though they were grooms and
stable-boys and jockeys performing similar services for the Derby winner
just led back to his stall.

"There's not another such four-inch gun's crew as that one in any ship
in the Mediterranean," he said, "which makes it all the greater pity
that they have never once had a chance to fire a shot at anything of the
enemy's any larger than that Bulgar bombing plane they cocked up and
took a pot at after he had gone over yesterday. I mean that they never
had a chance as a crew. Individually, I believe there are two or three
of them that have been through some of the hottest shows in the war.
That slender chap there in the blue overall was in the _Killarney_ when
she was shot to pieces and sunk by German cruisers at Jutland, and I
believe his Number Two--that one in a singlet, with his sleeves rolled
up and just a bit of a limp--was in the _Seagull_ when she was rammed,
right in the middle of an action with the Huns, by both the _Bow_ and
the _Wreath_. A number of ratings from the _Seagull_ clambered over the
forecastle of the _Bow_ while the two were locked together, evidently
because they thought their own ship was going down, while two or three
men from the _Bow_ were thrown by the force of the collision on to the
_Seagull_. When the two broke loose and drifted apart men from each of
them were left on the other, and by a rather interesting coincidence, we
have right here in the _Spark_ at this moment representatives of both
batches. They, with two or three other Jutland 'veterans' who chance
also to be in the _Spark_, call themselves the 'Black Marias.' Just why,
I'm not quite sure, but I believe it has something to do with their all
being finally picked up by one destroyer and carried back to harbour
like a lot of drunks after a night's spree. And, to hear them talk of it
when they get together, that is the spirit in which they affect to
regard a phase of the Jutland battle which wiped out some scores of
their mates and two or three of the destroyers of their flotilla.
Talking with one of them alone, he will occasionally condescend to speak
of the serious side of the show, but their joint reminiscences, in the
constant by-play of banter, are more suggestive of tumultuous 'nights of
gladness' on the beach at Port Said or Rio than the most murderous spasm
of night fighting in the whose course of naval history. You've got a
long and probably tiresome day ahead of you. Perhaps it might ease the
monotony a bit if you had a yarn with two or three of them. They'll be
bored stiff standing by in this blazing sun with small prospects of
anything turning up, and probably easier to draw out than at most times.
Gains, there by the foremost gun, would be a good one for a starter.
There is no doubt of his having seen some minutes of the real thing in
the _Killarney_. Only don't try a frontal attack on him. Just saunter
along and start talking about anything else on earth than Jutland and
the _Killarney_, and then lead him round by degrees."

       *       *       *       *       *

We were just passing the riven wreck of a large freighter as I sidled
inconsequently along to the forecastle, and the strange way in which the
stern appeared to be stirring to the barely perceptible swell gave ample
excuse for turning to the crew of the foremost gun for a possible
explanation. It was Leading Seaman Gains, as incisive of speech as he
was quick of movement, who replied, and I recognized him at once as a
youth of force and personality, one of the type to whom the broadened
opportunities for quick promotion offered the Lower Deck through the
war has given a new outlook on life.

"She was a tramp with a cargo of American mules for the Serbs, sir," he
said, "and she was submarined two or three miles off shore. The mouldie
cracked her up amidships, but her back didn't break till she grounded on
that sand spit there. At first her stern sank till her poop was awash at
high tide--there's only a few feet rise and fall here, as you probably
know, sir--but when the bodies of the mules that had been drowned 'tween
decks began to swell they blocked up all the holes and finally generated
so much gas that the increased buoyancy lifted the keel of the stern
half clear of the bottom and left it free to move with the seas. I have
heard they intend to blow out her bottom and sink her proper for fear
that end of her might float off in a storm and turn derelict."

That story was, as I learned later, substantially true, but it had just
enough of the fantastic in it to tempt the twinkling eyed "Number Two"
to a bit of embroidery on his own account. He was the one with the
muscular forearms and the slight limp. The suggestion of "New World"
accent in his speech was traceable, he subsequently told me, to the many
years he had spent on the Esquimault station in British Columbia.

"They do say, sir," he said solemnly, rubbing hard at an imaginary patch
of inferior refulgency on the shining breech of his gun, "that she's
that light and jumpy with mule-gas, after the sun's been beating on her
poop all day, that she lifts right up in the air and tugs at her
moorings like a kite balloon. And there's one buzz winging round that
they're going to run a pipe-line to her end and use the gas for
inflating----"

Gains, evidently feeling that there were limits to which the credulity
of a landsman should be imposed upon, cut in coldly and crushingly with:
"She's not the only old wreck 'round here that they could draw on for
'mule-gas' if there's ever need of it, my boy; and as for her rising
under her own power--well, if she ever goes as far as you did under
yours the night you jumped from the _Seagull_ to the _Bow_ I'll----"

The gusty guffaw that drowned the rest of Gains' broadside left us
all on good terms, and, by a happy chance, with the "Jutland ice"
already broken. Number Two, joining heartily in the laugh, said that,
"nifty" as was his jump from the _Seagull_ to the _Bow_, it wasn't a
"starter" to the "double back-action-summerset" with which Jock
Campbell was chucked from the _Bow_ to the _Seagull_. "We played a
sort of 'Pussy-Wants-a-Corner' exchange, Jock and me," he said, "for
Jock was Number Four or 'Trainer' of the crew of one of the fo'c'sle
guns of the _Bow_, and I was the same in the _Seagull_. We didn't
quite land in each other's place when the wallop came, but it wasn't
far from it; and we each finished the scrap in the other guy's ship.
You might pike aft and try to get a yarn out of Jock when 'Pack up!'
sounds. He's a close-mouthed tyke, though, and if you can get him to
tell how he played the human proj, you'll be doing more'n anyone else
has been able to pull off down to now. He's half clam and half sphinx,
I think Jock is, and that makes a 'dour lad' when crossed with a
'Glasgie' strain. Which makes it all the sadder to have him qualify
for membership in the 'Black Marias,' and me, because I finished in
the _Bow_, froze out."

I told him that I would gladly have a try at Jock later, provided only
that he would first tell me what happened in his own case, adding that
it wasn't every British sailor who could claim the distinction of
fighting the Hun from two different ships within the hour.

"It would have been a darned sight better for me if I'd confined my
fighting to _one_ ship," he replied with a wry smile, "and it was mighty
little fighting I got out of it anyhow. But sure, I'll tell you what I
saw of the fracas, and then you can take a chance at Jock. It was along
toward midnight, and the _Seagull_ was steaming in 'line ahead' with her
half of the flotilla. The _Killarney_ and _Firebrand_ was leading us,
with the _Wreath_ and one or two others astern. I was at 'action
station' with the crew of the foremost gun, and keeping my eye peeled
all round, for some of the ships astern had just been popping away at
some Hun destroyers they had reported. All of a sudden I saw the
officers on the bridge peering out to starboard, and there, coming up
astern of us and steering a converging course, I saw the first, and
right after, the second and third, of a line of some big lumping
ships--some kind of cruisers. All of the flotilla must have thought they
was our own ships, for no one challenged or fired all the time they came
drawing up past us, making four or five knots more than the seventeen we
were doing.

"When the leader was about abreast the _Killarney_ and inside of half a
mile range, she flashed on some red and green lights, switched on her
searchlights and opened fire. Ship for ship, the Huns were just about
even with our line now, and the _Firebrand_ and _Seagull_ must have
launched mouldies at the second and third cruisers at near the same
moment. Hitting at that range ships running on parallel courses was a
cinch, and both slugs slipped home. It was some sight, those two spouts
of fire and smoke shooting up together, and by the light of 'em I could
see that the _Firebrand's_ bag was a four-funneller, and ours a three.
The first one keeled right over and began to sink at once, but the one
our mouldie hit went staggering on, though down by the stern and with a
heavy list to port.

"We would sure have put the kibosh on this one with the next torpedo if
we hadn't had to turn sharp to port to avoid the _Killarney_ just then,
and so missed our last chance to do something in 'the Great War.' I lost
sight of the _Firebrand_ and took it for granted she had been blown up.
It was not till a week afterwards that we learned she had turned the
other way, engaged one Hun cruiser with gunfire, rammed another, just
missed being rammed by a third, and finally crawled into port under her
own steam.

"The _Seagull_ came under the searchlights of the leading Hun cruiser
for a few seconds as she came up abreast of the burning _Killarney_, and
then the smoke and steam cut off the beam and I was blind as a bat for a
minute. The _Killarney_ had been left astern when I looked for her
again, and seemed all in, with fires all over her and only one gun
yapping away on her quarter-deck. I didn't know it at the time, but it
was my old college friend, Gains, here, who was passing the projes, for
that pert little piece. You'd never think it to look at him, would you?"
Gains, feigning to discover something which needed adjustment in the
training mechanism, ducked his head behind the breech of his gun at this
juncture, and did not bob up again until a resumption of the yarn
deflected the centre of interest back to Number Two.

[Illustration: GERMAN SHELLS STRIKING THE WATER AT THE BATTLE OF
JUTLAND]

[Illustration: A BROADSIDE AT NIGHT AT THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND]

"Turning to port took us over into the line of the other Division, and
the first thing I knew the _Seagull_ had poked in and taken station
astern of the _Bow_, which was leading it. Just then some Hun
ship, I think it was the same one that strafed the _Killarney_, opened
on the _Bow_ from starboard, the bursting shell splashing all over her
from the funnels right for'ard. _Bow_ turned sharp to port to try to
shake off the searchlights, and _Seagull_ altered at same time to keep
from turning in her wake and running into the shells she was
side-stepping. All of a sudden I saw another destroyer steering right
across our bows, and to keep from ramming her the captain altered back
to starboard. That cleared her stern by an eyelash, but the next second
I saw that it was now only a question of whether _Seagull_ would ram
_Bow_, or _Bow_ would ram _Seagull_. How a dished and done-for
quartermaster, falling across his wheel as he died, decided it in favour
of _Bow_ I did not learn till later.

"The Hun shells were tearing up the water astern of the _Bow_ for half a
minute as she began to close us; then they stopped, and the smash came
at the end of five or ten seconds of dead quiet. It was pitchy dark,
with the flicker of fires on the deck of the _Bow_ making trembly red
splotches in the smoke and steam. A sight I saw by the light of one of
those fires just before the wallop is my main memory of all the hell I
saw in the next quarter hour. It has lasted just as if it was burned
into my brain with a hot iron, and it figures in one way or other in
every nightmare I've had since."

The humorous twinkle in the corner of the man's eye, which had persisted
during all of his recital up to this point, suddenly died out, and he
was staring into nothingness straight ahead of him, where the picture
his memory conjured up seemed to hang in projection.

"It was just before we struck," he went on, speaking slowly, and in an
awed voice strangely in contrast to the rather bantering tone he had
affected before; "and the bows of the _Bow_ were only ten or fifteen
yards off, driving down on us in the middle of the double wave of
greeny-grey foam they were throwing on both sides. By the light of a
fire burning in the wreck of her bridge I saw a lot of bodies lying
round on her fo'c'sl', and right then one of them picked itself up and
stood on its feet. It was a whole man from the chest up, and from a bit
below the waist down, but--for all that I could see--nothing between. Of
course, there must have been an unbroken backbone to make a frame that
would stand up at all, but all the shot-away part was in shadow, so I
saw nothing from the chest to the hips. It was just as if the head and
shoulders were floating in the air. I remember 'specially that it held
its cap crushed tight in one of its hands. The face had a kind of a calm
look on it at first. Then it turned down and seemed to look at what was
gone, and I could see the mouth open as if to holler. Then the crash
came, and I didn't see it again till they were stitching it up in canvas
with a fire-bar before dropping it overside the next day. I learned then
that an 8-inch shell had done the trick--rather a big order for one man
to try to stop."

He took a deep breath, blinked once or twice as though to shut out the
gruesome vision, and when he resumed the corners of a sheepish grin were
cutting into and erasing the lines of horror that had come to his face
in describing it.

"There's no use of my claiming that I was thrown over to the _Bow_ by
the shock," he continued, the twinkle flickering up in his eye again,
"like Jock was pitched over to the _Seagull_. That _did_ happen to three
or four ratings from the _Seagull_, though, one signalman and a chap
standing look-out being chucked all the way from the fore bridge. But in
the case of most of the twenty-three of us who found ourselves adorning
the _Bow's_ fo'c'sl' when the ships broke away, it was the result of a
'flap' started by some ijits yelling that we were cut in two and going
down. What was more natural, then, with the _Bow_ looming up there big
and solid--she was a good sight larger than the _Gull_--that the 'rats'
should leave the sinking ship for one that looked like she might go on
floating for a while. I'm not trying to make an excuse for what
happened, but only explaining it. The Lord knows we paid a big enough
price for it, anyhow.

"The _Bow_ hit us like a thousand o' bricks just before the bridge, and
cut more than half-way through to the port side. The shock seemed to
knock the deck right out from under my feet, and I was slammed hard
against the starboard wire rail, which must have kept me from being
ditched then and there. A lot of the wreckage from the _Bow's_ shot-up
bridge showered down on the _Seagull's_ fo'c'sl', but my friend, Jock
Campbell, floated down on the side toward the bridge, so I had no chance
to welcome him. From where I was when I pulled up to my feet, it looked
as if the _Bow_ only lacked a few feet from cutting all the way through
us, and as soon as I saw her screws beating up the sea as she tried to
go astern, I had the feeling that the whole fo'c'sl' of the _Gull_ must
break off and sink as soon as the 'plug' was pulled out. I was still
sitting tight, though, when that howl started that we were already
breaking off and going down, and--well, I joined the rush, and it was
just as easy as stepping from a launch to the side of a quay. I'm not
trying to make out a case for anybody, but the little bunch of us who
climbed to the _Bow_ from that half-cut-off fo'c'sl' sure had more
excuse than them that swarmed over from aft and leaving the main solid
lump of the ship. But we none of us had no business clambering off till
we were ordered. In doing that we were only asking for trouble, and we
sure got it.

"The fo'c'sl' of the _Bow_ was all buckled up in waves from the
collision, and there was a slipperiness underfoot that I twigged didn't
come from sea water just as soon as I stumbled over the bodies lying
round the wreck of the port foremost gun where I climbed over. We
couldn't get aft very well on account of the smashed bridge, and so the
bunch of us just huddled up there like a lot of sheep, waiting for some
one to tell us what to do. The captain had already left the bridge and
was conning her from aft--or possibly the engine-room--at this time.
From the way she was shaking and swinging, I knew they were trying to
worry her nose out, putting the engines astern, now one and now the
other. The clanking and the grinding was something fierce, but pretty
soon she began to back clear.

"It was just a minute or two before the _Bow_ tore free from her that
the poor old _Gull_ got the wallop that was finally responsible for
doing her in. This was from a destroyer that came charging up out of the
night and wasn't able to turn in time to clear the _Gull's_ stern, with
the result that she went right through it. Her sharp stem slashed
through the quarterdeck like it was cutting bully beef, slicing five or
ten feet of it clean off, so that it fell clear and sank. The jar of it
ran through the whole length of the _Seagull_, and I felt the quick kick
of it even in the _Bow_. In fact, I think the shock of this second
collision was the thing that finally broke them clear of the first, for
it was just after that I saw the wreck of the _Seagull's_ bridge begin
to slide away along the _Bow's_ starboard bow, as what was left of it
wriggled clear.

"It wasn't much of a look I had at this last destroyer, but I had a
hunch even then that she was the _Wreath_, who had been our next astern.
It wasn't till a long time afterward that I learned for certain that
this was a fact. The _Wreath_ had followed us out of line when we turned
to clear the stopped and burning _Killarney_, and then, when we messed
up with the _Bow_, not having time to go round, she had to take a short
cut through the tail feathers of the poor old _Seagull_. Then she tore
right on hell-for-leather hunting for Huns, for it's each ship for
herself and the devil take the hind-most in the destroyer game more than
in any other.

"I saw the water boiling into the hole in the side of the _Seagull_ as
the _Bow_ backed away, and expected every minute to see the for'rard end
of her break off and sink. But beyond settling down a lot by the head,
she still held together and still floated. Bulkheads fore and aft were
holding, it looked like, and there was still enough 'ship' left to carry
on with. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the blurred wreck of
her begin to gather stern way. But it was a fact. Though her rudder, of
course, was smashed or carried away, and though she couldn't go ahead
without breaking in two, she was still able to move through the water,
and perhaps even to steer a rough sort of course with her screws. As it
turned out, it wouldn't have made no difference whether we was in her or
no; but just the same it was blooming awful, standing there and knowing
that you'd left her while she still had a kick in her. The ragged line
where some of the wrecked stern of her showed against the phosphorescent
glow of the churn of her screws--that was my good-bye peep at all that
was left of the good old _Seagull_. Gains here, or Jock Campbell, can
tell you what her finish was. I don't like to talk about it.

"Some of us tried to get aft as soon as we were clear of the _Seagull_,
but couldn't make the grade over the wreck of the bridge. As all the
officers and men who had been there had either been killed or wounded,
or had gone to the after steering position they were now conning her
from, we were as much cut off from them as though we were on another
craft altogether. All the crews of her fo'c'sl' guns--or such of them as
were still alive--were in the same fix. So we just bunched up there in
the dark and waited. Some of the wounded were in beastly shape, but
there wasn't much to be done for them, even in the way of first aid.
Some shipmates of other times drifted together in the darkness, and I
remember 'specially--it was while I was trying to tie up some guy's
scalp with the sleeve of my shirt--hearing one of them telling another
of a wool mat he had just made, all with ravellings from 'Harry
Freeman.'[B] Funny how it's the little things like that a man
remembers. The gunner whose head I bound up was telling me just how the
_Bow_ happened to be strafed, but it went in one ear and out of the
other.

[Footnote B: The bluejackets' name for knitted woollen gifts from
friends on the beach.]

"But the queerest thing was me hearing some guy lying all messed up on
the deck muttering something about _skookum kluches_, and some more
Chinook _wa-wa_ that I knew he couldn't have picked up anywhere else but
from serving in a 'T.B.D.' working up and down the old Inland Passage
from Vancouver Island. I felt my way to where he was huddled up in the
wreck of a smashed gun, told him that I was another _tilicum_ from the
'Squimalt Base, and asked him what ship he had been there in. I knew
there was a good chance that we'd been mates in the old _Virago_, and
there even seemed a familiar sound to his voice. But I wasn't fated ever
to find out. He just kept on muttering, slipping up on some words as if
something was wrong with his mouth, and I didn't dare light a match, of
course. When I tried to ease him up a bit by lifting so he'd lie
straight--well, all of him didn't seem to come along when I started
dragging by his shoulders. I never did find what was wrong with him, for
right then new troubles of my own set in.

"I was still down on my knees trying to locate what was missing with
this poor guy, when--out of the corner of my eye, for it was near behind
me--I spotted the flash of a ship challenging. _Bow_ challenged
back--from somewhere aft--and then what I piped at once for a Hun
destroyer switched on searchlights and opened fire. She was about two
cables off on our port quarter, heading right for us and blazing away
with one or two guns, probably all that would bear on that course. A
second destroyer, right astern her, didn't seem to be firing. I heard
the bang and saw the flash of two or three shells bursting somewhere
amidships, and then the _Bow's_ port after gun began to reply. The crews
of all the others were knocked out, and so were the searchlights.

"Between the twenty-three from the _Seagull_ and what were left of the
_Bow's_ fo'c'sl' guns' crews, there must have been thirty-five to forty
men bunched together there for'rard of the wreck of the bridge. When the
firing started, the whole kaboodle of us did what you're always under
orders to do when you have nothing to stand up for--laid down. Or,
rather, we just tumbled into a heap like a pile of dead rabbits.

"I went sprawling over the poor devil I was trying to help, and there
were two or three on top of me. Into that squirming hump of human flesh
one of the Hun's projes landed kerplump. It didn't hit me at all, that
one, but I can feel yet the kind of heave the whole bunch gave as it
ploughed through. Then it was like warm water was being thrown on the
pile in buckets, but it wasn't till I had scrambled out and found it
sticky that I twigged it was blood.

"Bad as it was, it might have been a lot worse. There hadn't been enough
resistance to explode the proj, and so it killed only four or five and
wounded, maybe, twice that, where it would have scoured every man jack
of us into the sea and Kingdom Come if it had gone off. The next one
found something in the wreck of the bridge hard enough to crack it off
though, and it was a ragged scrap of its casing that drove in to the
point of my hip and put a kink in my rolling gait that I've never quite
shaken out yet. It wasn't much of a hurt to what it gave some, though,
'specially a lad that caught the main kick of it and got ditched to
starboard, some of him going under the wire rail, and some over.

"The Huns couldn't have known how down and out the _Bow_ really was, for
there was nothing in the world but that one port gun to prevent their
closing and polishing her off. The chances are they recognised her
class, knew she was more than a match for the pair of them if she was
right, and were glad to get off with no more'n an exchange of shots in
passing. That was the end of the fighting for the _Bow_, and about time,
too. Her bows were stove in, all the fore part of her was full of water,
her bridge was smashed and useless, her W.T. and searchlights were
finished, all but one gun was out of action, and--when they came to
count noses next day--forty-two of her crew were dead. Far from looking
for more trouble, it was now only a question of making harbour, and
even that--as it turned out--was touch-and-go for two days.

"It was about one in the morning when that brush with the destroyers
came off, and after that there was nothing to do but hang on till
daylight and they could clear a way to reach us from abaft the wreckage
of the bridge. It was pretty awful, ticking off the minutes there in the
darkness. A good many of the worst knocked about were talking a bit
wild, but I never heard the guy with the Chinook _wa-wa_ again. He must
have died and been pitched over while I was being bandaged up. I _did_
hear the 'wool-mat-maker' yapping again, though, saying how 'target
cloth' was better to work on than canvas, and describing how to pull the
stuff through in a loose loop, and then cut them so that they bunched up
in 'soft, puffy balls.' Seems like I was cussing him when I dropped off
to sleep.

"I must have bled a good deal, for I slept like a log for four or five
hours, and woke up only when some one turned me over and began to finger
my hip. It was broad daylight, but hazy, and the sun just showing
through. Some of the wounded had already been carried aft, and they were
mostly dead ones that were lying around. These were being sewed up in
canvas to get ready to bury. I thought there was something familiar in
the face of one guy I saw them laying out and sort of collecting
together, but it wasn't till later that it suddenly came to me that he
was the one I had seen by firelight when he stood up and looked at
himself where he'd been shot in two.

"The two guys who bundled me up in a 'Neil Robertson' stretcher and
packed me aft, picking their way over and through the wreckage, were
both all bound up with rags, and so was about every one else I saw. They
took me below into the wardroom, and then, because that was full up, on
to some officer's cabin, where they found a place for me on the deck.
After a while, a little dark guy--he was also a good deal bandaged, and
so splashed with blood that I didn't notice at the time he was a sick
bay steward--came in, washed my wound out with some dope that smarted
like the devil, and tied it up. He worked like a streak of greased
lightning, and then went on to some one else. That chap was Pridmore,
and, let me tell you, he was the real 'top-liner' of all the heroes of
the _Bow_. The surgeon had been killed at the first salvo the night
before, leaving no one but him to carry on through all the hell that
followed. And some way--God knows how--he did it; yes, even though he
was wounded three or four times himself, and though he had to go without
sleep for more'n two days to find time to dress and tend the thirty or
forty crocks he had on his hands. He was sure the star turn, that
Pridmore, and I was glad to read the other day that they had given him
the D.S.M. Not that he'd have all he deserved if they hung medals all
over him; but--well, a guy likes to have something to show that what
he's done hasn't been lost in the shuffle entirely."

I made an entry of "Pridmore, sick bay steward, _Bow_," in my notebook
for future reference, and as I was returning it to my pocket a sudden
list to starboard, accompanied by a throbbing grind of the helm,
heralded a sharp alteration of course. Round she went through ten or
twelve points, finally to steady and stand away on a course that seemed
to lead toward the dip in the skyline between the jagged range of
mountains back of Monastir and the point where a lowering bank of
cirro-cumuli hid the ancient abode of the gods on the snow-capped summit
of Olympus. On Number Two assuring me that his yarn was spun, that there
was nothing more to it save an attempt he had made, in spite of his
wound, to get into a fight that started when some of the wounded were
hissed by a gang of dockyard "mateys"--I clambered back to the bridge to
learn the significance of the new move. I still wanted to hear Gains'
story of the _Killarney_, but I had already sized him up sufficiently to
know that he was not the type of man who would unbosom himself before
his mates. With him, I knew, I should have to watch my chances, and
endeavour to have a yarn alone. Number Two's parting injunction was to
"try and have a go at Jock Campbell, 'the human proj.' Jock's the guy at
the after gun that looks like he was rigged out for deep-sea diving," he
said. "Most likely he'll only growl at you at first, but if he won't
warm up any other way, try him with a yarn about a skirt. He's 'verra
fond o' a braw lass,' is Jock Campbell."

Our alteration of course, the captain told me, was the consequence of an
order received by wireless directing him to cross over and hunt down a
strip along the western shore of the gulf which was not being covered by
the present formation of the division. "I've had a signal stating that
they're on the track of one U-boat, and there may be something to make
them think another has slipped further along and is lying in ambush for
the convoy about off Volo. They're evidently keeping the rest of the
division heading in to meet the convoy itself."

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Spark_ stood on to the north-west until the Vardar marshes showed
as an olive-green rim around the bend of the gulf, before turning
southward again to skirt the steep shingle-strewn beach along the
alluvial "fans" spreading down to the sea from the base of Olympus. The
wild-looking Thessalian shepherds were just driving their motley flocks
down to the open foreshore to freshen up in the rising midday sea
breeze, and it was when I assured Jock Campbell (where I found him
leaning on the breech of the after gun and staring landwards with his
bushy brows puckered in the incredulous scowl of a man who can't credit
the evidence of his own eyes) that it was an actual fact that the fuzzy
black sheep were wading in and drinking--if sparingly--of the salt
water, that a basis of conversation was finally established. Up to that
moment he had given no sign that any of my carelessly thrown out
tentatives had penetrated to his ears through the "telepad" rig-out
which established his connection with the gunnery control. But when,
bringing my lips close to his nearest "ear-muff," I shouted that I had
come up along that coast from Lharissa but a few weeks previously by
motor and pack-train, and that, in lieu of any fresh water for many
miles in either direction, I had actually seen the sheep and goats
drinking in flocks from the sea, the look of hostile suspicion in his
eyes was replaced by one of friendly interest.

"Weel, weel, y'u dinna say so?" he ejaculated, easing away the edge of
the helmet over one ear; "the puir wee beasties!" Then he volunteered
that he had once kept from freezing to death in a snowstorm on Ben Nevis
by curling up among his sheep, and I told how I had once sheared sheep
(not mentioning it was for only half a day, and that my "clip" was
composed of about equal parts mutton and wool) on a back blocks station
in Queensland. Then he described how he had seen a big merino ram butt a
Ford car off the road up Thurso way, and I--with more finesse than
veracity--capped that with a yarn of how I had seen a flock of
Macedonian sheep blown up by a Bulgarian air-bomb, and how one of them
had landed unhurt upon a passing motor lorry load of forage--and gone
right on grazing! I reckoned that might be calculated to remind Jock of
something of the same character which had befallen him on a certain
memorable occasion, and I was not disappointed.

"'Twas verra like wha' cam ma way on the nicht the _Bow_ rammed the
_Seagull_ at the fecht aff Jutland," he commented instantly, with no
trace of suspicion in his voice. "Wad ye care to hear aboot it? Ye wud?
Weel, then----." As brief, as direct and to the point was the plain
unvarnished tale Jock Campbell told me the while a noon-day storm awoke
reverberant echoes of the Jovian thunders in the snow-caverns of Olympus
and the _Spark_ hunted down through the jade green waters of the
Thessalian coast for a U-boat that was supposed to be lurking in their
lucent depths "somewhere off Volo."

"Ah was at ma action station at the port foremost gun," he began, wiping
his perspiring brow with a wad of greasy waste, which left an undulant
trail of oil from the recoil cylinder in its wake, "when we gaed bang
into a line o' big Hun cru'sers, and we lat blaze at them and them at
us. The range was short, and wi' their serchlichts lichten us up oor
position wasna that Ah wad ca' verra pleasant. Up gaed a Hun cru'ser in
a spoort o' flame and reek, hit, Ah thocht, by a mouldie launched by
oor next astern. Ah was fair jumpin' wi' joy at the sicht, when a hale
salvo o' screechin' projes cam bang inta the fo'c'sl. Ah minded the
licht o' them mair than the soun', which was na great.

"The Huns had switched aff their serchlichts when they opened fire, so
that noo the projes was bursting in inky mirk. I doubtna oor midships
and after guns was firing, but na the foremost, for Ah dinna mind being
blinded by their licht afore the Hun projes gan bursting. My ain gun
wudna bear on the Huns, so Ah was just standing by for the time, ready
to train if we turned.

"Twa salvos cam--maybe frae twa different cru'sers--ane after the ither,
wi' aboot half a meenit atween. Ye ken that the licht o' a shell-burst
is ower afore ye can even think, and a' the furst ane showed me was just
the gun crews, standin', and bracin' themsel's like when a big sea braks
inboard. It was ower like a flash o' lichtnin, and the licht had gone
oot afore Ah saw anybody blown up or knocked oot. But Ah felt a michty
blast o' air and an awfu' shaikin o' the deck, and then the bang o'
lumps o' projes dingin' 'gainst the bridge and smackin' through bodies.

"The flash o' the burst o' the second salvo tellt me what havoc the
first had wrocht, but by noo ma een was licht-blind and Ah cudna see
weel. The sta'bo'd gun was twisht oot o' shape, and a' the crew but ane
were strechit on the deck. To a' appearance that lad had been laid oot
wi' the ithers, but noo he was puin himsel' to his feet and crawlin' up
the wreck o' the gun when a proj frae the second salvo burst richt alow
him. By the flash Ah saw him flyin' inta the air, and--by the licht o'
anither flash a bittie efter--then his corp, wi' twa or three ithers,
gang ower the side. A lump o' that last proj carried awa' the Number Wan
o' ma ain gun, and, onlike some o' the ithers, not a bit o' him was left
ahint. Ah mesel' was knockit flat, but wasna much the worse for a' that.

"That was the hinmost Ah saw o' the Huns for that nicht, and the last I
mind o' the _Bow_ was the dead and deein' wha covert the fo'c'sl', wi'
the licht o' the fires burnin' aft flickerin' ower them. Then cam' a cry
frae the bridge that a 'stroyer was closin' us to port, and then Ah mind
hearin' the captain shoutin' an order ower and ower, like he wasna bein'
answered frae the ither end o' the voice-pipe. 'Hard-a-port!' he roared,
but weel micht he shout for ay, for the qua'termaster, wi' a' on the
signal bridge, was dead by noo, and the helm was left jammed
hard-a-sta'bo'd.

"Then Ah felt her shudder as the engines went full speed astern, and Ah
got to ma feet in time to see she was headin' straicht for the fo'c'sl'
o' a T.B.D. that was steerin' cross her bows. And richt after that she
must ha' struck wi' a michty crash. The next thing Ah mindit--weel, Ah
didna mind much save that I was lyin' on ma back in a sort o' narrow
way atween twa high wa's, wi' a turrible pain in ma back and mony
sea-boots trampin' ower ma face. The bashin' o' the boots didna hurt me,
for Ah was kind o' dazed; but Ah seem to mind turnin' ma face to the
wa', just like ye do whan the flees are botherin' ye in the mornin'.

"What brocht me roun', I'm thinkin', was the shock that Ah got whan that
wa' 'gan to shak' up and doon, and then slid richt awa', leavin' me
hingin' ower the brink o' a black hole, wi' water souchin' aboot the
bottom o't. 'Twas like wakin' oot o' a bad dream and findin' that the
warst o' it was true.

"Ah was too groggy to ken richt awa' that the _Bow_ had rammed anither
ship and that Ah had been pitched oot o' her into the wan she'd hit.
Quite natteral, Ah thocht masel' still in the _Bow_, seem' that Ah cud
be nae mair use on the fo'c'sl', which was a' smashed and rippit up and
drappin' to bits, Ah thocht that Ah ought to run aft to see if Ah could
gie a haun.

"But when Ah tried to get up, Ah fund the bane o' ma spine was so sair
that Ah cudna stand straicht, and a' Ah cud do was to craw' and stagger
alang. Every mon Ah knockit agin, and every bit of wreck Ah felt ower,
sent me sprawlin'. Whan I fund that there was no so mony funnels as Ah
minded afore, and whan Ah cudna find the W.T. hoose, Ah thocht that
they had been shot awa'. Findin' a crew at stations by a midships gun,
Ah speired if they was short o' hauns. They said they werna, so Ah gaed
alang aft, lookin' for a chance to be useful.

"Ah was thinkin' to masel', 'she's awfu' little shot up' (for ye ken Ah
had expectit her to be a' to bits frae the way Ah'd heard the projes
burstin' ahint the bridge), whan a syren gae a michty shriek a' most at
ma lug, and Ah turned to see anither T.B.D., spootin' fire frae her
funnels and throwin' a double bow wave higher'n her fo'c'sl', headin'
richt inta us. Ah cud see that her helm was hard-a-port by the way her
wake was boilin', but it was nae guid. She turned enough to keep frae
rammin' us midships, but she cudna miss oor stern.

"Ah had just been tellt by ane o' the after gun's crew to get oot o' the
wa' (they not bein' short o' hauns), whan this new craft hove inta
sicht. At first it lookit like she wad cut thro' for'ard o' me, leavin'
me ahint to drown in the wreck o' the stern. Then Ah thocht she was
comin' richt at me, and Ah started crawlin' back to whaur Ah had come
frae. But she keepit turnin' and turnin', so that she hit at last richt
abaft the after gun. Ah fell a' in a heap at the shock, and, tho' Ah was
a guid ten feet frae whaur her stem cut in, the bulge o' her crunched
into the quarterdeck till she passed sae close that suthin' stickin' oot
frae her side--it micht hae been the lip o' a mouldie-tube, Ah'm
thinkin'--gae ma puir back a sair dig, and there Ah was amang the mess
left o' the gun and its crew. Ah was near to bein' dragged owerboard
after that T.B.D., and when she was gone Ah fund masel'--for the second
time in ane night--hangin' ower the raggit edge o' a black hole
listenin' to the swish o' ragin' waters.

"And then, gin that and ma half-broken back werna enough for ony mon, Ah
hear some ane shoutit that they thocht that last rammin' had done in the
auld _Seagull_, and that the time wad soon come to 'bandon ship.

"'_Seagull!_' says Ah; 'dinna ye ken this ship is the _Bow_?' Ah kind o'
went groggy after that, and Ah have a sort o' dim remembrance that some
ane flashit an 'lectric torch in ma face and said that Ah must have been
pitchit ower whan the _Bow_ rammed the _Seagull_, and that Ah prob'ly
hadna shaken doon to ma new surroundin's. Ah tried hard to speir what
kind o' a shakin' doon they meant gin this hadna been ane. But Ah didna
seem to have the power to mak' ma words come straicht, and they said,
'He's gane a bit off his chuck,' and ca'd some ane to carry me below.

"The pains runnin' up and doon ma spine when Ah was lowered doon the
ladder were ower much for me, and Ah passed off for a bit. Whan Ah cam
roun' Ah was bein' shoved along the ward-room table--whaur Ah had been
lyin'--to mak' room for a lad wi' bandages roun' his head and a'
drippin' wi' salt water. His ship had gone doon twa hours syne, and
maist o' the time he had been in the water or roostin' on a Carley
Float. That lad's name was Gains, noo the gun-layer o' the fo'most gun
o' the _Spark_--him Ah saw ye talkin' wi' just noo. He was strong and
cheery himsel', but fower o' his mates were chilled to the bane, and Ah
wacht 'em shiver to death richt afore ma een.

"It was aboot daylicht when we pickit up a' that was left o' the crew o'
the _Killarney_, and aboot an hour efter we fell in wi' the _Sportsman_,
wha passed us a hawser and tried to tow, stern-first, what was left o'
the _Seagull_. Ah didna see what was wrang, but they tellt me that the
wreck o' the stern and the helm bein' jammed hard a-sta'bo'd made sae
much drag that the cable partit. Then there was naithing else to
do--sin' the _Seagull_ cudna steam--but to sink her wi' gun-fire. The
captain askit permission for this by W.T., and when it came they ditched
the books and signals, transferred abody to the _Sportsman_, and then
gae her a roun' or twa at the water-line wi' the _Sportsman's_ guns.
Doon she gaed, and that," he concluded with a grin, "is the true yarn o'
the sinkin' o' the _Seagull_. If only o' ma mates try to mak' ye b'lieve
that she foundert 'count o' bein' hit and holed by a 'human proj' kent
as Jock Campbell, I'm hopin' ye'll no listen to 'em."



CHAPTER II

"FIREBRAND"


It was a little incident which occurred one night when the Grand Fleet
was returning to Base from one of its periodical sweeps through the
North Sea that set Able-seaman Melton talking of the things he had seen
and felt and heard the time he was standing anti-submarine watch in the
_Firebrand_, when her flotilla of destroyers mixed itself up with a
squadron of German cruisers in the course of the "dog-fight" which
concluded the battle of Jutland.

I had found him, muffled to the eyes and dancing a jangling jig on a
sleet-slippery steel plate to keep warm, when I picked my precarious way
along the coco-matted deck and climbed up to the after searchlight
platform of the Flotilla Leader I chanced to be in at the time. A fairly
decent day was turning into a dirty night, and the steadily thickening
mistiness which accompanied a sodden rain in process of transformation
into soft snow had reduced the visibility to a point where the
Commander-in-Chief deemed it safer for the Fleet to put back to open sea
and take no further chances among the treacherous currents and rocky
islands that beset the approaches to the Northern Base.

The Flagship, which had received the order by wireless, flashed
"Destroyers prepare to take station for screening when Fleet alters to
easterly course at nine o'clock," and shortly before that hour the
Flotilla Leader made the signal to execute. Almost immediately I felt
the hull of the _Flyer_ take on an accelerated throb as her speed was
increased, and a moment later the wake began to boil higher as the helm
was put hard-a-starboard to bring her round. We were steaming a cable's
length on the starboard bow of the _Olympus_, the leading ship of the
squadron at the time, and the carrying out of the manoeuvre involved
the _Flyer's_ leading her division across the head of the battleship
line and down the other side on an opposite course, so that the
destroyers would be in a position to resume night-screening formation
when the fleet had finished turning.

Just how the captain of the _Flyer_ happened to cut his course so fine I
never learned, but the patchiness of the drifting mist must have had a
good deal to do with making him misjudge his distance. At any rate, just
as we had turned through nine or ten points, I suddenly saw the
ominously bulking bows of the _Olympus_ come juggernauting out of the
night, with the amorphous loom of the bridge and foretop towering
monstrously above. The _Flyer_ seemed fairly to jump out of the water
at the kick her propellers gave her as the turbines responded to the
bridge's call for "More steam," and a spinning puff of smoke darkened
the glow above the funnels for a moment as fresh oil was sprayed upon
the fires beneath the boilers.

It was a good deal like a cat scurrying in front of a speeding
motor-car, and the consequences would have been more or less similar had
not one of the _Olympus's_ swarming lookouts, peering into the darkness
from his screened nest, gathered hint of the disaster that menaced in
time to warn the forebridge. The great super-dreadnought responded to
her helm very smartly considering her tonnage, and she turned just far
enough to starboard to avoid grinding us under. I could almost look up
through the port hawse-pipe as the flare of her bow loomed above my
head, and the man standing by the depth-charges on the all-but-grazed
stern of the _Flyer_ might well have been pardoned even if the story his
mates afterwards told of his action on this occasion were true--that he
had tried to fend off one of the largest battleships afloat with a
boat-hook.

A silhouette against the barely perceptible glow at the back of the
forebridge of a "brass-hatted" officer shaking his fist as though in the
act of ramping and roaring like a true British sailor moved by righteous
anger; a forty or fifty degree heel to starboard as the curling bow-wave
of the _Olympus_ thwacked resoundingly along her port side, and the
_Flyer_ drove on into the sleet-shot darkness to blow off accumulated
steam in rolling clouds, allow her fluttering pulse to become normal,
and resume the even tenor of her way.

Melton, A.B., whistling over and over the opening bars of the chorus of
"Do You Want Us to Lose the War?" started his metallically clanking jig
again, but presently, like a man with something on his mind, sidled over
and shoved his Balaklava-bordered face against the outside of the
closely-reefed hood of my "lammy" coat, and muttered thickly something
about being afraid he had got himself into trouble. When I had pulled
loose a snap and improved communications by unmuffling a lee ear, I
learned that it had just occurred to the good chap that he failed to
report to the bridge the battleship he had sighted "fifty yards to the
port beam," and he was wondering whether there would be a "strafe"
coming from the skipper about it.

"Fact is, sir," he said, speaking brokenly as the galloping gusts every
now and then forced a word back into his mouth, "that that rip-rarin'
stem, with the white foam flyin' off both sides of it, bearing down
right for where I was standin'--all that was so like what I saw the
night of Jutland in the _Firebrand_ that--that the turn it give me took
my mind right back and--and I wasn't thinkin' o' anything else till the
_'Lympus_ was gone by."

I assured him that, since the _Olympus_ had doubtless been sighted from
the bridge several winks before she had been visible from his
less-favourable vantage, they would probably have been too busy to
respond to his call at the voice-pipe even had he tried to report what
he saw.

"If I were you," I said, "I would forget all about that, and try to
explain how a cruiser that the _Firebrand_ was about to ram bow-to-bow"
(I had, of course, already heard something of that dare-devilish
exploit) "could have looked to you like the _Olympus_ ramping down on a
right-angling course and threatening to slice off the _Flyer's_ stern
with all her depth-charges. I quite understood that one ramming is a
good deal like another, as far as a big ship hitting a destroyer fair
and square is concerned, but----"

"'Twasn't that _first_ cru'ser 'tall, sir," Melton interrupted, nuzzling
into my "lammy" hood again to make himself heard. "Twas 'nother 'un,
sir--a wallopin' big un. The seas was stiff wi' cru'sers fer a minit,
sir, an' no sooner was we clear o' the first un than the second come
tearin' down on us, tryin' to cut us in two amidships. An' that last un
was a battl' cru'ser nigh as big as the _'Lympus_, all shot up in the
funnels and runnin' wild an' bloody-minded like a mad bull. We were
pretty nigh to bein' stopped dead, an' if she hadn't been slower'n cold
grease wi' her helm she'd ha' eat us right up."

There had been nothing of malice aforethought in my action in cornering
Melton on the searchlight platform that night, for, as it chanced, I
had failed to learn up to that moment that he had been in the famous
_Firebrand_ at Jutland. Nor, with the wind and sea getting up as fast as
the glass and the thermometer were going down, was the time or the place
quite what a man would have chosen for anything in the way of cosy
fireside reminiscence. But, both these facts notwithstanding, I felt
that, since I was leaving the _Flyer_ to go to another base directly she
arrived in harbour on the morrow, it would be criminal to neglect the
opportunity of hearing what was perhaps the most sportingly spectacular
of all the Jutland destroyer actions related by one who was actually in
it. I did not dare to distract Melton's attention from his lookout by
drawing him into talking while he was still on watch, but, when he was
relieved at ten o'clock, I waylaid him at the foot of the ladder with a
pot of steaming hot ship's cocoa (foraged from the galley by a
sympathetic ward-room steward) and both pockets of my "lammy" coat
filled with the remnants of a box of assorted Yankee "candy" looted from
the American submarine in which I had been on patrol the week before.

Melton rose to the lure instantly--or perhaps I should say "fell to the
bribe"--for the British bluejacket, if only he were given a chance to
develop, is quite as sweet of tooth as his brother Yank. Because I could
hardly take him to the captain's cabin, which I was occupying for the
moment, for a yarn, and because he, likewise, could not take me down to
the mess deck to disturb the off-watch sleepers with our chatter, there
was nothing to do but carry on as best we could in the friendly lee of
one of the funnels.

It was a night of infernal inkiness by now, and only clinging patches of
soft snow and their blanker blankness revealed the dimly guessable lines
of whaler and cowls and torpedo tubes and the loom of the loftier
bridge. The battleship line was masked completely by the double curtain
of the darkness and the snow, and only a tremulous greyness, barely
discernible in the intervals of the flurries of flakes where the
starboard bow-wave curled back from the _Olympus_, gave an intermittent
bearing to help in keeping station. Underfoot was the blackness of the
pit, not the faintest gleam reflecting from the waves washing over the
weather side to swirl half-knee high about our sea boots. Even overhead
all that was visible were fluttering patches of snow flakes dancing
through the haloes of pale rose radiance that crowned the tops of the
funnels. The wail of the wind in the wireless aerials, the crash of the
surging beam seas, the throb of the propellers, and the pussy-cat purr
of the spinning turbines--these were the fit accompaniment to which
Melton A.B. recited to me the epic of the _Firebrand_ at Jutland.

The cocoa I quaffed mug for mug with Melton, down to the last of the
sweet, sustaining "settlings" in the bottom of the pot; but the candy I
kept in reserve to draw on from time to time as it was needed to
lubricate his tongue and stoke the smouldering fires of his memory. I
started him off with a red-and-white "barber's pole" stick, which took
not a little fumbling with mittened hands to extract from its greased
tissue paper wrapper, and the seductive fragrance of crunched peppermint
mingled with the acrid fumes of burning petroleum as he leaned close and
began to tell how the ----th Flotilla, to which the _Firebrand_
belonged, screening the ----th B.S. of the Battle Fleet, came upon the
scene toward the end of the long summer afternoon. He had witnessed
Beatty's consummate manoeuvre of "crossing the T" of the enemy line
with the four that remained of his battered First Battle Cruiser
Squadron, and he had seen the main Battle Fleet baulked of its action
the lowering mists and the closing in of darkness; but it was not until
full night had clapped down its lid that the fun for the _Firebrand_
really began.

"It was just 'twixt daylight an' dark," he said, reaching me a steadying
hand in the darkness as the _Flyer_ teetered giddily down the back of a
receding sea, "that the flotilla dropped back to take stashun 'stern the
battl'ships we was screenin'. The _Killarney_ was leadin' an' after her
came the _Firebran'_, _Seagull_, _Wreath_, an' _Consort_, makin' up the
First Divishun. _Wreath_ an' _Consort_ sighted some Hun U-boats and
'stroyers while this move was on, an' plunk'd off a few shots at 'em.
Don't think wi' any fatal consequence. Then there come the rattle of
light gun fire from the south'ard, like from cru'sers or battleships
repellin' T.B.D.'s. Then it was all serene for mor'n an 'our, an' then
all hell opens up."

I suspected, from the sounds he made, that Melton had bitten into a
block of milk chocolate without removing its wrapping of foil and paper,
but presently his enunciation grew less explosive and more intelligible.

"It was Hun cru'sers drivin' down on us from the starboard quarter that
started the monkey-show," he said, "an' that bein' the nor'west it was
hardly where we'd reason to expect 'em from. It looks like we had 'em
clean cut off, wi' the 'hole Battl' Fleet steamin' 'tween 'em an' their
way back home, an' that they was tryin' to sneak through in the
darkness. The _Wreath_, at the end o' the line nearest 'em, spotted 'em
first, and she, 'cause she didn't want to give herself 'way wi'
flashin', reported what she'd seen by low-power W.T. to the rest o' the
flotilla. Course I--standin' watch aft--didn't know nothin' 'bout that
signal, so that the first I hears o' the Huns was when they all opened
up on the poor ol' _Killarney_, 'cause she was the leader. I s'pose, and
she started firin' back at their flashes.

"The leadin' Hun flashed his searchlight on the _Killarney_ as he opened
up, but shut off sharp when _Killarney_ came back at him. I could see
some o' the projes flittin' right down the light beam until it blinked
off, an' it was a flock of two or three of these that I kept my eye on
all the way till they bashed into the _Killarney's_ bridge and busted.
She was zigzaggin' a coupl' o' points on _Firebrand's_ starboard bow
just then, so my standin' aft didn't prevent my gettin' a good look at
what was happenin'. I could see the bodies o' four or five men flyin' up
wi' the wreckage o' the explosion, an' then, all in a minnit, she was
rollin' in flames from the funnels right for'ard. By the light o' it I
could see the crews o' the 'midships and after guns workin' 'em like
devils, an' twice anyhow, an' I think three times, I saw a bright, shiny
slug slip over the side, an' knew they were loosin' mouldies to try to
get their own back from the Hun.

"The sea was boilin' up red as blood where the light from the burnin'
_Killarney_ fell on the spouts the Huns' projes was throwin' up all
round her. She was the fairest mark ever a gun trained on, and p'raps
that was what tempted the Hun to keep pumpin' projes at her instead o'
givin' more attenshun to the rest of the divishun trailin' astern. That
was what gave _Firebran'_ her first chance o' alterin' the Hun navy list
that night.

"The second cru'ser in the Hun line was bearin' right abeam to starboard
by now, an' I could see by her gun-flashes she was of good size, wi'
four long funnels fillin' up all the deck 'tween her two masts. She was
firing fast in salvoes wi' all the guns that would bear on the burnin'
_Killarney_. I could just make out by the light from the _Killarney_,
which was growin' stronger every minnit, that the crew of our after
torpedo tube was gettin' busy, an' while I was watchin' 'em, over flops
the mouldie and starts to run. I knew it was aimed for one or t'other o'
the two leadin' Huns, but wasn't dead sure which till I saw the after
funnels an' mainmast o' the second toppl' over an' a big flash o' fire
take their place. Then it looked like there was exploshuns right off
fore an' aft, and then fires broke out all over her from stem to stern.
Next thing I knows, she takes a big list to starboard, an' over she
goes, wi' more exploshuns throwin' up spouts o' steam, as she rolls
under. The second mouldie--it got away right after the first--was never
needed to finish the job. The _Firebran'_ had evened up the score for
the _Killarney_, wi' a good margin over.

"The captain turned away to reload mouldies after that, an' just as we
swung out o' line I saw a salvo straddle the _Killarney_, and two or
three shells hit square 'tween her funnels an' after sup'rstruct'r'.
They must have gone off in her engine room, for there was more steam
than fire risin' from her as we turned an' left her astern, an' she
looked stopped dead. A Hun cru'ser was closin' the blazin' wreck o' her,
firm' hard; but, by Gawd, what d'you think I saw. The only patch on the
ol' _Killarney_ that was free o' the ragin' fires was her stern, an'
from there the steady flashes of her after gun showed it was bein'
worked as fast an' reg'lar as ever I seen it done at any night-firin'
practice. I looked to see her blow up every minnit, but she was still
spittin' wi' that littl' after gun when the sudden flashin' up of the
fightin' lights for'ard turned my attenshun nearer home.

"I could just make out a line of what looked like 'stroyers headin'
cross our bows, an' thought we'd stumbled into 'nother nest o' Huns till
they answered back wi' the signal o' the day, an' I knew it was one of
our own flotillas we'd been catchin' up to. That flashin' up o' lights
come near to doin' for us tho', for it showed us up to a big Hun
steamin' three or four miles off on the port beam, an' he claps a
searchlight on us an' chases it up wi' a sheaf o' shells. The only proj
that hit us bounced off wi'out doin' much hurt to the ship, but some
flyin' hunks o' it smashed the mouldie davit and knocked out most o' the
crews o' the after tubes, includin' the T.G.M.[C] That put a stop to
reloadin' operashuns wi' a mouldie in only one o' the tubes. By good
luck we managed to zigzag out o' the searchlight beam right after that,
an' was free to turn back an' try to start a divershun for the poor ol'
_Killarney_.

[Footnote C: Torpedo Gunner's Mate.]

"Her fires looked to be dyin' down when we first picked her up, but
right after that some more projes bust on her an' she started blazin'
harder than ever. I watched for the spittin' o' that littl' after gun,
but when it come it looked to spurt right out o' the heart o' a blazin'
furnace, showin' the fire was now burnin' from stem to stern. One more
salvo plastered over her, an' that one got no reply. The good ol'
'_Killy_' had shot her bolt, an' her finish looked a matter o' minnits.

"It was plain enough if anyone was still livin' they was goin' to need
pickin' up in a hurry, an' the captain put the _Firebran'_ at full speed
to close her an' stan' by to give a han'. Just then I saw a Hun
searchlight turned on and start feelin' its way up to where the
_Killarney_ was burning, wi' a cru'ser followin' up the small end o' the
beam, seemin' to be nosin' in to end the mis'ry. She did not bear right
for a mouldie, but we opened up wi' the foremost gun, an' I saw the
shells bustin' on her bridge and fo'c'sl' like rotten apples chucked
'against a wall. The light blinked off as the first proj hit home, but
there was no way to tell if it was shot away or no. It was the second
time that night that we'd done our bit to ease off the hell turned loose
on the _Killarney_. Likewise it was the last. From then on we had our
own partic'lar hell to wriggle out of, wi' no time left to play 'Venging
Nemisus' to our stricken sisters. Just a big bonfire sittin' on the sea
an' lickin' a hole in the night wi' its flames--that was the last I saw
of the ol' _Killarney_."

Melton paused for a moment as if engrossed in the memories conjured up
by his narrative, and I took advantage of the interval to hand him one
of those most loved lollipops of Yankee youngster-hood, a plump, hard
ball of toothsome saccharinity called--obviously from its resistant
resiliency--an "All-Day Sucker." When he spoke again I knew in an
instant that a sure instinct had led him to make the proper disposition
of the succulent dainty--that it was stowed snugly away in a bulging
cheek like a squirrel's nut, to melt away in its own good time.

"'Tween the glare of the burnin' _Killarney_," Melton went on after
thrashing his hands across his shoulders for a minute to warm them up,
"the gleam o' the Hun cru'ser's searchlight an' the flash o' our own
gun-fire, we must all have been more or less blinded in the _Firebrand_,
for we had run close to what may have been a part of the main en'my
battl' line wi'out nothin' bein' reported. Our firin' had give us away,
o' course, an' the nearest ships must have had their guns trained on us,
waitin' to be sure what we was. One o' 'em must have made up his mind we
was en'my even before we spotted 'em at all, for the first thing I saw
was the white o' the bow wave an' wake as she turned toward us, prob'ly
to ram. She'd have caught us just about midships if the bridge hadn't
sighted her an' done the only thing open to do--turned to meet her head
on.

"I don't remember that either she or us switched on recognition lights,
but the Hun opened with ev'rything that would bear just before we
slammed together. It must have been by the gun-flashes that I saw she
had three funnels, wi' what looked like some kind o' marks painted on
'em in red. I saw our second funnel give a jump and crumple up as a proj
hit it, an' then a spurt o' flame--from a big gun fired almost
point-blank--looked to shoot right on to the bridge. I thought that it
must have killed ev'ry man there an' carried away all the steering gear.
But no.

"The old _Firebrand_ wi' helm hard-a-port, went swingin' right on thro'
the point or two more that saved her life. I could feel by the way she
jumped an' gathered herself that last second that the ol' girl was still
under control. Then we struck wi' a horrible grind an' crash, an' I went
sprawlin' flat.

"If the Hun had hit us half a wink sooner, or if we had turned half a
point less, we'd have been swallowed alive and split up in small hunks.
As it was, we didn't have a lot the worst o' it, an' p'raps we more than
broke even. It was like a mastiff an' terrier runnin' into each other in
the dark, an' the terrier only gettin' run over an' the mastiff gettin'
a piece bit clean out o' his neck. It was our port bows that come
together, an' for only a sort o' glancin' blow. But it was the stem o'
the _Firebran'_ that was turned in sharpest, an' it was her that was
hittin' up--by a good ten knots--the most speed. She was left in a
terribl' mess, but most o' the damage was from her rammin' the Hun, not
from the Hun rammin' her. While as for what she did to the Hun, the best
proof o' it was the more'n twenty feet of her side-platin'--an upper
strake, wi' scuttl' holes in it an' pieces o' gutterway deck hangin' to
it--that we found in the wreck of our fo'c'sl'. If the hole that hunk of
steel left behind it didn't put that Hun out o' bus'ness as a fightin'
unit till she got back to port an' had a refit, I'll eat it."

I wasn't quite clear in my mind whether Melton meant to imply that he
would eat the hole in the Hun cruiser or the hunk of steel that came out
of it, but there _was_ no room for doubt that the violent crunch with
which he emphasised the assertion had put a period to the life of his
"All-Day Sucker," which was never intended to be treated like chewing
toffy. Dipping into the grab-bag of my "lammy" coat pocket for something
with which to replace it, therefore, I brought up a stick of chewing
gum, and he resumed his story in an atmosphere sweet with the ineffable
odour of spearmint and escaping steam.

"How much the Hun was shook up by that smash," Melton continued, "you
can reckon from this: We was almost dead stopped for some minnits, an'
all out o' control from the time of rammin' till they started connin'
her from the engine-room. There was one fire flickerin' in the wreckage
o' the forebridge, an' another somewhere 'midships, while there was also
a big glare throwin' up where the foremost funnel was shot away. We was
as soft an' easy a target as even a Hun could ask for; an' yet that one
was in too much of a funk wi' his own hurts to let off a singl' other
gun at us in all the time that he must have been flounderin' on at not
much more'n point-blank range. Mebbe he was knocked up even more'n we
thought. Nothin' else would account for him not havin' 'nother go at us.

"Just one wild bally mess--that was what the _Firebran'_ looked like
when I got to my feet again an' cast an eye for'ard. There was too much
smoke an' steam to see clear, an' it was mostly flickers o' red light
where the fires were startin', an' big, black shadows full o' wreckage.
As it looked to _me_ from aft--tho', o' course, the full effects wasn't
vis'bl' till daylight, the bridge an' searchlight platform an' mast was
shoved right back an' piled up on the foremost funnel. The whaler an'
dingy was carried away, an' my first thought, for I was sure she was
sinkin', was that we had no boats to put off in. I could see two or
three wounded crawlin' out o' the raffle, but I knew that the most to be
dished would be in the wreck o' the bridge. The queerest thing o' all
was the flashes o' green an' blue light flutterin' thro' the tangled
steel o' the wreckage. At first I thought I was sort o' seein' things;
but fin'lly I figgered it out as the juice from the busted 'lectric
wires short-circuitin'. It meant, I tol' myself, that the men under them
tons o' steel was bein' 'lectrocuted on top o' bein' crushed.

"It looked like any one o' three or four things would be enough to
finish the ol' _Firebran'_. I remember thinkin' that if she didn't blow
up, she was sure to burn up; an' that if, by chance, she missed doin'
one o' them, she was goin' to founder anyhow. She was already well down
by the head, an'--leastways, it looked so to me at the time--still
settlin' fast. An' I was just reflectin' that, even if she was lucky
enough not to burn up, or blow up, or founder, she was still too easy
pickin' for the Huns to miss doin' her in one way or 'nother, when,
thunderin' out o' the darkness an' headin' up to crumpl' underfoot what
was left o' the stopped an' helpless _Firebran'_, come a hulkin' big
battl' cru'ser, the one I was just tellin' you the _'Lympus_ set me
thinkin' on a while back.

"Starin' at our own fires must have blinded me a good bit, or I'd have
seen him sooner'n I did. He looked like he been gettin' no end o' a
hammerin', for his second funnel was gone, an' out of the hole it left a
big spurt o' flame an' smoke was rushin' that would have showed him up
for miles. There was a red hot fire ragin' under his fo'c'sl', too, an'
I saw the flames lashin' round thro' some jagged shell holes in his port
bow. Lucky for us, he was runnin' for his life, an' had no time to more
than try to run us down in passin'.

"It must have been just from habit I yelled down my voice-pipe, for I
knew they was no longer controllin' her from the bridge; but the roarin'
o' a fire an' the clank of bangin' metal was the only sounds that come
back. When I looked up again the Hun was right on top of us, an' I must
have just stood there--froze--like to-night wi' the _'Lympus_. By the
grace o' Gawd, he hadn't been abl' to alter course enough to do the
trick. His stem shot by wi' twenty feet or more clearance, an' it was
only the fat bulge of him that kissed us off in passin'. It was by the
glare o' his fires, not ours, which throwed no light abaft the
superstructure I was on, that I saw some of the hands was already
workin' to rig a jury steerin' gear aft. Then he was gone, an' much too
full o' his own troubles to turn back, or even send the one heavy proj
that would have cooked us for good an' all. A few minutes more, an' the
wreck o' the _Firebran'_ begun gatherin' way again, an' when I saw her
come round to her nor'westerly course an' push ahead wi'out settlin' any
deeper, I knew that the bulkheads were holdin' an' that--always
providin' we run into no more Huns--there was a fightin' chance o'
pullin' thro'.

"There was about a hundred jobs that needed doin' all at once, an'
'tween the loss o' dead an' wounded--only about half the reg'lar ship's
company was fit for work. The bulkheads had to be shored, for, wi' the
fo'c'sl' crumpled up like a concertina an' the deck an' side platin'
ripped off from the stem right back to the capstan engine, she was open
to the whole North Sea from the galley right for'ard. This made the
first an' second bulkheads o' no use, an' made the third bulkhead all
that stood 'tween us an' goin' to the bottom. Then there was the
fires--'bove deck an' 'tween decks--that had to be put out 'fore they
got to the magazines, an' the engines to be kept goin', an' the ship to
be navigated, an' the wounded to be looked to. An' on top o' all this,
the ship had to be got into some kind o' fightin' trim in case any more
Huns come pokin' her way. I won't be havin' to tell you it was one bally
awful job, carryin' on like that in the dark, an' wi' half the ship's
company knocked out.

"When I saw it was the first lieutenant that seemed to be directin'
things, I took it the captain was done for, an' that was what everyone
thought till, all o' a sudden, he come wrigglin' out o' the wreck o' the
bridge--all messed up an' covered wi' blood, but not much hurt
otherways--an' began carryin' on just as if it was 'Gen'ral Quarters.'
Some cove wi' the stump o' his hand tied up wi' First Aid dressin' was
sent up to relieve me on the lookout, an' I was put to fightin' fires
an' clearin' up the wreck 'bove decks. As there ain't much to burn on a
'stroyer if the cordite ain't started, we were not long gettin' the
fires in hand, even wi' havin'--cause the hoses an' the fire-mains was
knocked out--to dip up water in buckets throwed over the side. Wi' the
wreckage, the most we could do was to dig out the dead an' wounded an'
rig up for connin' ship from aft.

"It was a nasty job when we started in on the wreck o' the forebridge,
for the witch-lights o' the short-circuit were still dancin' a cancan in
the smashed an' twisted steel plates an' girders, an' it kept a cove
lookin' lively to keep from switchin' some of the blue-green lightnin'
into his own frame by way o' his ax or saw. No one that had been on any
part o' the bridge was wi'out some kind o' hurt, but the three dead was
a deal less than was to be expected. There was also three very bad
knocked up, an' on one o' them the surgeon--a young probasuner
R.N.V.R.--performed an operashun in the dark. It was a cove he was
'fraid to move wi'out tinkerin' up a bit, an' he pulled him thro' all
right in the end. One o' the crew of the foremost gun never turned up,
an' we figured he must have been lost overboard when she rammed.

"Pois'nous as it was workin' on deck, that wasn't a circumstance to what
it must have been carryin' on below. I didn't see nothin' o' that end o'
the show, thank Gawd, but every man as came out o' it alive said it was
just one livin' bloomin' hell, no less. There was a good number o' coves
who did things off han' that saved the ship from blowin' up, or burnin'
up, or sinkin', an' three o' the best o' 'em was a engine-room
artif'cer, a stoker P.O., and a stoker that was in the fore stokehold
when the bridge was pushed back an' carried away that funnel. They
ducked into their resp'rators, stuck to their posts a' kept the fans
goin' till the fumes was all cleared away. Nothin' else would have saved
the foremost boiler--an' wi' it the ship herself--blowin' up right then
an' there. Same way, gettin' on the jump in backin' up Number 3
bulkhead--the one that was holding back the whole North Sea--was all
that kept it from bulgin' in an' floodin' right back into the
stokeholds. It was the chief art'ficer engineer that took on that job,
an' it was him, too, that stopped up the gaps left by the knocking down
o' the first and second funnels.

"Even after it at last seemed like we was goin' to keep her from sinkin'
or blowin' up, things still looked so bad to the captain that he ditched
the box o' secret books for fear o' their fallin' into the hands o' the
Hun. As we'd have been more hindrance than help to the Fleet, he did not
try to rejoin the flotilla, but turned west an' headed for the coast o'
England on the chance of makin' the nearest base while she still hung
together. All night she went slap-bangin' along, wi' the engines shakin'
out a few more rev'lushuns just as fast as it seemed the bulkhead was
shored strong enough to stand the push o' the sea.

"Mornin' found her still goin', but what a sight she was! My first good
look at what was left o' her give me the same kind o' a shock I got the
first time I had a peep at my mug in a glass after havin' small-pox in
Singapore. She wasn't a ship at all, any more'n my face was a face. She
was just a mess, that's all, an' clinkin' an' clankin' an' wheezin' and
sneezin' an' yawin' all over the sea. An' the sea was empty all the way
roun', wi' no ship in sight to pass us a tow-line or pick us up if she
chucked in her hand an' went down.

"We had our hands so full keepin' her afloat an' under weigh, that it
wasn't till four in the afternoon--more'n sixteen hours after we rammed
the Hun cru'ser--that we found time to bury our dead. It was like
gettin' a turribl' load off your chest when we dropped 'em over in their
hammocks wi' a fire-bar stitched in alongside 'em to take 'em down.
Nothin' is so depressin' to a sailor as bein' shipmates wi' a mate that
ain't a mate no longer. Even the ol' _Firebran'_ 'peared to ride easier
an' more b'oyant after the buryin' was over, as if she knowed the worst
o' her sorrer was left behind.

"Luck took a turn against us again just after dark, for the wind shifted
six or seven points an' started blowin' strong from dead ahead. We had
to alter course some to ease off the bang o' the seas a bit, an' fin'ly
the speed had to be slowed even slower'n before to keep the bulkhead
from being driv' in. But she weathered it, by Gawd she did, an' next
mornin' the goin' was easier. We made the Tyne at noon. It was just a
heap o' ol' scrap-iron so far as the eye could see, that they let into
the Middle Dock the next day, but it was scrap-iron that had come all
the way from Jutland under its own steam, an' wi' no help from no one
save what was left o' the lads as once manned a 'stroyer called the
_Firebran'_.

"It hadn't taken long to reduce her from a 'stroyer to scrap-iron, an'
it didn't seem like it took much longer--time goes fast on home
leave--to turn that scrap-iron back into a 'stroyer again. The ol'
_Firebran's_ got many a good kick in her yet, so they say, an' I'd ask
for nothin' better'n to be finishin' the war in her."

I thanked Melton for his yarn, bade him good night, and was about to
start picking my way to my cabin to turn in, when I sensed rather than
saw that there was something further he wanted to say, perhaps some
final tribute to his officers and mates of the _Firebrand_, I thought.
There was a shuffling of sea-booted feet on the steel deck, a nervous
pulling off and on of woollen mittens, and it was out.

"I just wanted to say, sir," he said, "that I likes the Yankee Jackies
very much; 'specially their candy an' chewin' gum. I was just wonderin'
if that last stick you give me was all----"

I emptied both pockets before I renewed my thanks to Melton and bade him
a final good night. There are strange ingredients entering into the
composition of the cement that is binding Britain and America together,
and if there is any objection to chewing gum it certainly cannot be on
the ground that it lacks adhesiveness.



CHAPTER III

"BACK FROM THE JAWS"


I had gone to the _Nairobi_, not because the rather routine stunt her
flotilla was on promised any excitement, but rather because of the
notable part she had played in the Jutland action and the fact that I
had been assured that there was still in her an officer who was said to
have figured prominently in the splendid account she had given of
herself on that occasion. As luck would have it, however, this officer
had been appointed to another destroyer only a day or two previously, so
that no veteran of the great action remained in the ward room. A canvass
of the ship's company revealed that one of the stoker petty officers was
a Jutland survivor, but before I could run him to cover some kind of a
light cruiser affair had occurred down Heligoland Bight way which called
for destroyer work in that direction, and the next two days, with the
flotilla creasing up the brine at high speed and everyone at Action
Stations most of the time, were not favourable for the "intimate
reminiscence" I was bent on drawing out.

It was not until the flotilla, salt-frosted and low in fuel, was
lounging along in the leisurely dalliance of half-speed on the way back
to base that I cornered Stoker Petty Officer Prince in the angle between
the foremost torpedo tubes and the starboard rail, and engaged him in
serious discussion of the shamefulness of supplying worn-out films to
the Depôt Ship kinema. The second dog watch was only half gone, but in
the hour that elapsed before it was over there was no mention of
Jutland, or anything else connected with the war for that matter, though
the talk ran the full gamut from cabbages to kings. I mean this quite
literally, for he began by telling me of what his mother had raised in
her allotment at Ipswich, and was describing how, when he was on a
cruise in the _Clio_ ten years before the war, he had once shaken hands
with the King of Fiji, as eight bells went to call him on watch. It was
a happy inspiration which prompted me to volunteer to go down and stand
a part of his watch with him in the stokehold, for once on his own
"dung-hill," his restraint fell away from him and he spoke easily and
naturally of the things which had befallen him there and on the deck
above.

There is little in the small, neat compartment from which the oil fires
of a modern destroyer are fed and controlled to suggest the picture
which the name "stokehold" conjures up in the popular mind. There is no
coal, no grime, no sweating shovellers, no clanging doors. Under
ordinary conditions two leisurely moving men do all there is need of
doing, and with time to spare, and there are occasions at sea, in the
winter months, when the stokehold is a more comfortable refuge than the
chill fireless ward room. It was my remarking upon the grateful warmth
of the stokehold after the cold wet wind that was sweeping the deck,
which finally turned the current of Prince's reminiscence in the
direction I had been vainly endeavouring to deflect it for the last
hour.

"It's all comfy enough, sir, when she's loafing along at fifteen or
twenty knots," he said, slipping aside a "flap" and peering in at his
fires with the critical eye of a housewife surveying her oven of bread,
"but just tumble in some time when, while she already plugging away at
full speed, the engine-room rings up more steam. That's the time she's
just one little bit of hell down here, sir, with the white sizzle of the
fires turning the furnaces to a red that shows even with the lights on,
and the plates underfoot getting so hot that you have to keep dancing to
prevent the soles of your boots from catching fire. Why, long toward
morning of the night after Jutland----"

It didn't take much manoeuvring from that vantage to back him up to
the beginning for a fresh start of the story of what is unquestionably
one of the most remarkable, as it was one of the most successful, phases
of the Jutland destroyer action. The fact that, during the daylight
action between the battle cruisers, he had ample opportunity for
observation (through his being on deck standing by in the event of
emergency and without active duties to perform) makes him undoubtedly
one of the most valuable witnesses of the opening phase of this the
greatest of all naval battles. The story which I am setting down
connectedly, he told me in the comfortable intervals of his leisurely
fire-trimming, and, once he was warmed up to it, with little prompting
or questioning from myself. Much of it was punctuated with frequent
stabs and slashes with one of the short-handled pokers which perform for
the stoker of an oil-burner a service similar to that rendered his
brother of the coal-burner by his mighty "slice" of iron.

"Big as the difference is between being on deck and in the stokehold at
ordinary times," said Prince, turning round with glare-blinded eyes
closed to narrow slits after cracking off the accumulating carbon from
an oil-sprayer with his poker, "it is ten times more so when a fight is
on, and I'll always be jolly thankful that it was my luck not to be
caged up down here during the daylight part of the Jutland show. I had
my turn of it at night, and it was bad enough then, even though I knew
it was blacker'n the pit above; but, in daylight, with everything in
full view outside, I'm not sure I wouldn't have gone off my chuck if I'd
had to go 'squirrel-caging' on here with one eye on the fires and the
other on the Kilroy. But I didn't. It was my luck to be off watch when
the ball opened, so that my 'action station' was just loafing round the
deck and keeping a stock of leak-stopping gear--mushroom-spreaders and
wooden plugs--ready to use as soon as we got holed. Not having anything
to do with navigating the ship, or signalling, or serving the guns or
torpedo tubes--though I did get a bit of a chance with a mouldie as it
turned out--I not only had time to see, but also to let the sights 'sink
in' like. For that reason, when it was all over, I was probably able to
give a more connected yarn of what happened than anyone else in the
ship, not excepting the captain. They'll take a lot of forgetting, some
of the things I saw that day."

Prince went over and settled down at ease on the steel steps of the
ladder. "The worst grudge I had against Jutland--save for the way it
whiffed out the lives of some of my friends in some of the other
destroyers--" he continued with a grin, "was for making me miss my tea
that afternoon. We left base the night before, and about daybreak joined
up with the 'battlers,' which was our way of speaking of the First
Battle Cruiser Squadron, to which the flotilla was attached. It was a
fairly decent day, and we were able to make good weather of it with the
light wind and easy swell. I had stood the forenoon watch, had a bit of
a doss in my hammock in the early part of the afternoon one, and had
just gone down to tea before going on for the 'First Dog.' There had
been some buzz in the morning about the Huns being out; but that was so
old a story that no one paid much attention to it. I was just getting
my nose over the edge of a mug of tea when I heard the bos'un growling
'Hands exercise action stations,' and tumbled out on deck to go through
the motions of getting ready for a fight that would never come off, or
leastways that was how we felt about it. The 'battlers' were speeding up
a bit, but there was not even a smudge of smoke on the horizon to hint
of Huns. After rigging the fire-hoses and getting out my 'plugs,' I
stood by for 'what next,' but nothing happened. At the end of half an
hour the order 'Hands fall out' was passed, and, leaving everything
rigged, down we went to tea again. The mugs we had left were stone cold
by this time, and we were just raising a howl for a fresh lot when,
'Bing!' off goes the alarm bells, and up we rushes again, this time to
find signs of what we had been looking and hoping for. A good many hours
went by before we went below again, and all through the fight--when
things would ease off a bit now and then--I would hear the 'matlos'
grousing about missing their afternoon tea.

"The old _Nairobi_ was nosing along under the port bow of the _Lion_ as
I came up, and so close that we saw her guns--trained out abeam with a
high elevation, right above us. We seemed to be speeding up to take
station farther ahead. There was nothing at all in sight (from the deck,
at least; though probably there was a better look-see from the bridge)
in the direction the _Lion's_ guns were trained, and it was almost as if
a bomb had been dropped from the sky when a shell came plumping down
about half-way between our starboard quarter and her port bow. The fact
is, having heard no sound of gunfire, I was so surprised that I
foolishly asked someone if the _Lion_ hadn't blown out one of her
tompions testing a circuit. The spout of foam should have told me
better, but it goes to show what crazy things run through a man's mind
when he can only see effect without the cause. A few moments later I saw
unmistakable gun-flashes blinking along the skyline to south'ard and
knew that at last we were under the fire of the Huns. The next two or
three shots fell singly, and were plainly merely attempts to get the
range. Following the first 'short,' there were one or two 'over,' and
then a fair hit. This one, falling almost straight, struck the fo'c'sl'
of the _Lion_, penetrated the deck and came out on the starboard side. I
don't think it exploded, and we were just far enough ahead to see past
her bows to where it struck the water with a kind of spattery splash,
not at all like the clean spout thrown by a shell which goes straight
into the sea.

"Then there was a big spurt of flame from the _Lion_, and the screech of
shells reached my ears, even before the heavy crash of her four-gun
salvo. Watch as I would, I could not make out the distant fall of shot,
but the fluttering flashes of the Hun guns to the south'ard told where
the target was. Firing opened up all along the line of our battle
cruisers after that, and the racket from that and the fast falling enemy
shells increased till it was a steady unbroken roar. The Hun shells were
falling so straight that many of the 'overs' missed by only a few yards.
The hits, of which there were quite a number on the leading ships,
looked rather awful at the moment of exploding. There would be a wild
gush of flame that seemed to be eating up everything it touched, and
then, all of a sudden, it was gone, and only a few little fires would be
left flickering on the deck. The shells which struck against the sides
seemed to nip on into the sea almost before they began to explode.
Neither these, nor even those which struck the decks and turrets, seemed
to be doing much damage at this stage, and our own firing never
slackened in the least. I think none of the destroyers were hit up to
now, though there were a number of very near things from some of the
'overs.' Our turn was coming.

"This sort of a give-and-take fight had been going on for some time,
when there was a sudden increase of the enemy's fire. From the way the
fresh fall of shot came ranging up, it was very plain that new ships
were coming into action, while the fact that the splashes were higher
and heavier than those from the first salvoes seemed to make it likely
that some of the Hun battleships had now arrived at the party. As it
turned out, this was just what had happened, and, although we could not
see them from the low decks of the destroyers, the first B.C.S. was soon
under the fire of the whole Hun High Seas Fleet. It was to draw these on
into action with our approaching Battle Fleet that Beatty now turned
away to the north'ard.

"Right here was where the big moment of this part of the fight came. The
Huns must have scented the chance of catching our battle cruisers on the
'windy corner' as they turned, for suddenly their fire slackened on the
ships down the line and concentrated on the point where that line began
to bend. It must have been something like the barrage they make at the
Front, for at times the water thrown up by the bursting shell made a
solid wall which completely cut off my view of the ships beyond it. The
way it seemed to boil up and quiet down looked like there was some sort
of general control over the bunched fire, though that sort of thing
would be pretty hard to handle.

"The _Lion_ caught only a corner of the 'boil,' and left it on her
starboard quarter, but the shell or two that struck her started a fierce
fire burning 'midships, and I did not see the guns of that turret again
in action. The 'P.R.'--the _Princess Royal_--turned in a quiet interval
of the barrage, and seemed not to be hit, but the _Queen Mary_ steamed
right into it, and just seemed to dissolve in a big puff of smoke and
steam. I have no special memory of the noise or shock of the explosion,
but the pillar of smoke shot up as sudden and solid as a
'Jack-in-the-box.' It was black underneath, but always with a crown of
flame at the top, as though the gases were spouting up inside and taking
fire as they met the air. Some of my mates said they saw big pieces of
flying wreckage, such as plates from turrets and decks, but I only
remember smoke and flame. I never saw a bit of the 'Q.M.' again. When
the smoke cloud lifted she was gone completely, with nothing but a gap
in the line to mark the place where she had been. The thing looked so
impossible that the 'T.I.' (that was what we called the torpedo gunner's
mate, because he was also torpedo instructor), who was standing beside
me, kept saying over an over again, 'She's not gone up! She's not gone
up!'

"Perhaps it was no more than a coincidence, but it has always struck me
as being just a bit uncanny the way that barrage on the 'windy corner'
seemed to 'work by threes.' The 'Q.M.' was third in line, and up she
went after the _Lion_ and 'P.R.' had passed unhurt. Then the _Tiger_ and
_New Zealand_ weathered the turn safely, but the poor old
_Indefat_.--Number three again--got hers. She went up under a rain of
shells plumping down on her deck, just as the 'Q.M.' did, and I remember
specially watching the top of a turret go spinning up into the air, till
it almost disappeared, and then came slowly down again, till it was lost
in the rising smoke of the explosion.

"The fire of the Huns began to be divided more equally among the four
surviving battle cruisers now, and the _Nairobi_ was led a lively dance
dodging about among the 'overs.' It was the big fire raging amidships
that turned my eyes to the _Lion_ again. One of the guns of the
'midships turret had a sickly droop to it, but the other three turrets
were blazing away as merry as ever. We were close enough to see men on
the bridge with the naked eye, and it suddenly occurred to me that one
of the quietly moving figures there must be Admiral Beatty, who I knew
hated to be cooped up in a conning tower in action. I could not be sure
which he was, but everyone in sight looked no more concerned than if
they had been steaming out for target practice. I didn't have time to
think of it then, but every time since that I've felt surer and surer
that no man since the world began ever showed more real guts than Beatty
in that part of the Jutland show."

Prince stood up, and put a forty-five degree kink in his poker by
slamming it over the steel rail of the ladder to emphasise his words,
and then stopped talking for a minute or two while he worried it
straight with a hammer.

"It was just about this time," he resumed, squinting approvingly down
the straightened bar, "that the _Nectar_ hoisted the signal, 'Second
Division prepare for torpedo attack,' and a few minutes later I saw the
whole flotilla start streaming out, some ahead of the battle cruiser
line, and some through it, toward the Huns. I also have some memory of
seeing the ----th flotilla, smoking like young factory chimneys, coming
out astern of the line, but I had no chance to see what became of them.

"The range between us and the Huns had been decreasing for some time,
and the battle cruisers at the head of the line loomed up pretty big and
awful as we started to close them. I've never made quite sure yet
whether we were sent out to repel an attack of the Hun destroyers, or
whether they were sent out to repel our attack. Anyhow, there they were,
filtering out through their battle cruisers just as we had filtered
through ours. We met and turned them back something more than half-way
between the lines, but before we got to that point we had to pass, first
through the fire of the Hun heavies, and then through a still hotter
zone where their secondaries were slapping down a barrage that took some
fancy side-stepping to avoid coming to grief in. The _Onward_ was the
first of our division to fall by the wayside. She stopped a 'leven-inch
shell with her engine-room, and got stopped in turn herself. Luckily it
didn't explode, or she would have been blown out of the water then and
there. I saw her fall out of line and disappear in a cloud of steam, and
that was the last peep we had of her for many weeks. When she finally
rejoined the flotilla, we learned that she and another cripple--the
_Fencer_, I think it was--had limped back home together. I don't
remember just where the _Wanderer_ got hers, but I think it must have
been from the Hun's secondaries. Anyhow, the first thing I remember was
that she was gone, and that the _Nectar_ was leading the _Nairobi_--all
that was left of the division--on a course to cross the bows of the
enemy battle cruisers. The Hun destroyers, which had no chance with us
in a gun fight, had now turned tail and were heading back for the
shelter of their battle line. Several of them appeared on fire, but I
didn't see any sinking.

"I am not quite sure what orders were made to the flotilla at this time,
but I rather think that after the Hun attack had been stopped the signal
was hoisted to return to the battle cruisers. I think that is what the
other divisions did do, but for our division--or what remained of
it--things were looking too promising just then to turn our backs on. I
was standing by the foremost tubes at the time, and all of a sudden the
Hun line began to turn away, and I saw that the leading ship was being
heavily hit and that she was afire in two or three places. As she turned
she presented us a fine broadside target at about three thousand yards,
and the order came from the bridge to 'Stand by foremost tubes and fire
when sights come on.'

"The turning of the Hun battle cruiser line exposed us to the fire of a
number of his light cruisers which had been seeking shelter behind it,
and some smashing salvoes from these began to plump down all around us
just as we got ready to launch the torpedoes. Though there was not one
direct hit, we were 'straddled' a dozen times, and the foam spouts
tossed up by the shells exploding on striking the water made a wall of
smoke and spray that almost shut off a view of our target. Shell
fragments were slamming up against the funnels and tinkling on the
decks, and I believe two or three men were hit by them, though not much
hurt. It was this sudden savage shelling that spoiled the only chance we
had at the Hun big 'uns. Just as the sights were coming on to the
leading ship a salvo came down kerplump right abreast of the foremost
tubes, throwing a solid spout of green water all over them. I saw both
mouldies start to slide out, but only one struck the water and began to
run. A moment later I saw that the other, for some reason we never found
out, but probably because it had been knocked sideways by the rush of
water or perhaps a fragment of shell, was hanging by its tail to the lip
of the tube, with its war-head full of gun-cotton trailing in the sea.
It cleared itself when the next sea slapped it against the side, and
started diving and jumping about like a wounded porpoise, most likely
because its propellers had been knocked out. Luckily, our speed carried
us on before it had a chance to 'boomerang' back and blow up the old
_Nairobi_. We could not watch the first torpedo run on account of the
spouts from the falling shells, but though it started right to cross the
enemy's line, there was nothing to make us believe it scored a hit.

"Before there was time to grieve over losing our chance at the battle
cruisers the 'T.I.' called me to give him a hand with the 'midships'
tubes, as one of his men had been knocked out. 'There's a light cruiser
just going to bear for a shot,' he yelled from his seat between the
tubes as I ran round to the breech; 'jump up and tell me what speed
she's making. I can't see her fair from here.' The trouble was that the
awful speed the _Nairobi_ was going at settled her down so low that,
anywhere abaft the bridge, a man couldn't see over the bow wave from the
deck. But, standing on top of the tubes, I was high enough to get a good
look at the Hun, when he wasn't shut off by the spouts from the fall of
shot. He was a small three-funnelled light cruiser, and every gun he had
looked to be training on us. Another cruiser astern of him was also
firing on the _Nairobi_, while two or three others were concentrating on
the _Nectar_. She was getting it even hotter than we were, and all I
could see of her--when one of her zigzags brought her to one side or the
other so the bridge didn't cut her off from my view--was some masts and
funnels sliding along in the middle of a dancing patch of foam
fountains. Both _Nectar_ and _Nairobi_ were replying for all they were
worth with their foremost guns; the after ones were too low down to fire
at such close range with much effect. I saw one of our shells bursting
on the Huns, and why their shooting at us was so bad I have never quite
understood. The fact we were settled so deep aft from our speed was
plainly making a lot of shells ricochet over what would otherwise have
been hits, but, at the same time, the bows being so much higher out of
the water offered all the more target for'ard. It was more 'Joss' than
anything else, I suppose. Besides, the _Nectar_ was just on the edge of
getting hers anyhow.

"I saw all these things out of the corner of my eye like, for my mind
was centred on getting what the 'T.I.' wanted to know about his cruiser.
I knew just what this was to a 't,' for I'd taken many a turn of drill
at the tubes. 'Parallel courses, thousand yards range, speed about
twenty-five,' I shouted, jumping down again; 'and you'll have to slip
her right smart or you'll miss your chance.' Right then the seas
flattened down for a few seconds, and the 'T.I.', giving me an order of
how to train her, set his sights and pulled the cocking lever. A moment
later he fired, and the mouldie slipped out smooth and easy and started
running straight and true for a point the Hun was going to arrive at
about a minute later."

Prince had been poking away at a sprayer as he talked, with the
fluttering light-mote from the fire in the heart of the furnace playing
on one of his squinting eyes in a way that, with the other quenched in
shadow, gave his face a look of Cyclopean fierceness. "I jumped up on
the tubes again to follow our little tin fish on its swim," he resumed.
"There seemed to be a bit of a flap on the cruiser, for its next salvo
fell a long way short of us. One of the shells--a five-or
six-incher--did not explode, but bounced off the water and came
'skip-jacking' along straight for us. It kicked into the water twice
before it reached us, the second time right at the base of the wave that
was rolling up and hiding our sunken stern, and that seemed to give it
just enough of an up-flip to make it clear the _Nairobi's_ shivering
hull. It came so slow that I caught the glint of the copper band round
its base, and so low that the after superstructure blotted it off from
my sight as it passed over the stern. One of the after gun's crew told
me he could have reached up and patted it as it tumbled along over his
head. He said it was going so slow that he hardly felt any wind at all
from it. Perhaps that was because he had his own wind up, though, for it
was making a great buzz, and must have been carrying a big 'tail' of air
in its wake.

"I lost track of our mouldie when I ducked--no, I don't mind admitting
that's just what I did, though it missed me by a mile--and before I
could get my eye on its wake again it had gone home. I think they must
have spotted it coming on the cruiser, for I saw her begin to alter
course away just about the time I figured it was due to arrive. If they
were altering to avoid the mouldie, they turned the wrong way, for it
only brought right abreast the funnels what'd 'a' been a hit somewhere
about the bridge. I've got a picture in my mind of what happened that
I'm dead certain is as true as a photograph, and the spout of water
that went up must have been almost exactly amidships. If the hit had
been anywhere for'rard it would never have broken her back the way it
did, and she might have got away. The funny part of it was that it was
not the 'midships section of her, where the mouldie hit, that seemed to
be lifted by the explosion. That part of her seemed just to go to pieces
and begin to sink all at once, while the bow and stern halves started to
come up and close together like a jack-knife. She must have gone down
inside of a minute or two, but things were happening so fast I don't
think I was looking when she disappeared."

Prince, engrossed in his story, forgot that the end of his poker had a
sheet of flame playing upon it, and the heat which crept back from the
rosy-red tip gave his palm a sharp singe as he clutched the handle
preparatory to executing one of his sweeping gestures. From then on to
the end of his narrative he paused frequently to lick with his tongue
the blistered cuticle, the stoker's sovereign remedy for a slight burn.
"I was just starting to give the 'T.I.' an account of what I had had a
lot better chance to see than he had," he went on thickly, still
touching the blisters gingerly with an extended tongue-tip, "when I
heard him growl, 'Stand by! here's another one. What speed d'you think
she's making?' I was still standing up on top of the tubes, and--to get
a better view--right in front of the 'T.I.', with my waist on just
about the level of his face. As I turned my head to look at the second
Hun he straddled us fair with a full salvo. Most of it went over, but
one proj struck right alongside and just about flooded us out. But there
was something heavier than water that it sent aboard. I felt a sharp
sting across my stomach, as if someone had given me a cut with a whip.
As I put my hand down to it the whole front of my overall dropped away
where a fragment of shell casing had shot across it. A few threads--I
found out later--had been started on my singlet, but my hide was not
even scratched. I heard the 'T.I.' give a yell, and when I looked round
saw his face covered with blood, and a flap of skin from his forehead
hanging down over one eye like a skye terrier's ear. The piece of proj
had caught him a nasty side-swipe, though without hurting anything but
his looks in the least. And it wasn't that he was yelling about, either,
but at me for not giving him the course and speed of the second cruiser.
He had the flap of skin tied up out of his eye--using a strip of my
overall because neither of us could find a handkerchief--by the time I
was back at the handle. I saw the blood dribbling over his sights, but
he seemed to be seeing through them all right, for he was telling me how
to train when I felt the helm begin to grind as it was thrown hard over
to make a sudden alteration of course. She heeled fifteen or twenty
degrees as she turned six points to starboard, and the boil of her wake
flooded across her stern three or four feet deep. The sudden heel threw
me off my feet, and I pulled up just in time to see us rushing by, and
just missing by a few yards, a stopped destroyer that was nothing but
spurts of fire flashing under a rolling cloud of steam and smoke.

"She seemed to be afire all over, and about ready to blow up; yet, from
the quick flashes of some of the spurts of fire, I knew they came from a
hard-pumped gun that some stout-hearted lads were working to the last.
There was nothing in the look of that spouting volcano of smoke and
steam that would help a man to tell whether it was a battleship or a
trawler, but I knew that it could be only the _Nectar_, our Division
leader. We never saw her nor anyone in her again. She must have gone
down within a few minutes, and anyone that survived fell into the hands
of the enemy. She led us a fine dance while it lasted, and the only pity
was that she couldn't trip it to the end.

"That left the old _Nairobi_ as the last of the Division, and I haven't
any recollection of any of the rest of the flotilla being in sight by
then. Not that I had any time to look for them, though. Our sudden
change of course to keep from ramming the _Nectar_ spoiled our chance at
the second Hun cruiser, but we were left no time to mourn that any more
than the finish of the _Nectar_. Hardly had we left the wreck of her
astern than a full salvo of large shells--I think they must have come
from one of the battle cruisers, for they were much heavier than
anything the light cruisers were firing--struck only thirty or forty
yards short of us. The shells were bunched together like a salvo of
air-bombs kicked loose all at once. The wall of water they threw up shut
everything on that side off from sight for a few seconds, and when the
spouts settled down there was a Hun destroyer inside of a mile away. I
jumped up to give her course and speed to the 'T.I.', but before I had
time more than to see that she had two funnels and many tubes the
bursting projes from our foremost and midships guns began knocking her
to pieces so fast that I soon saw there was no use of wasting a mouldie
on the job.

"I saw the captain waving encouragement from the bridge to the crew of
the midships guns, and, when the noise died down for a moment, I heard
him shout, 'You've got her! Give it to her!' Just then another salvo was
plastered a-straddle of us, and I saw a fragment of shell knock the
sight-setter of the midships gun out of his seat. He looked a little
dazed as he climbed back, but his eye must have been as good as ever,
for I saw his next shot make a hit square on a whaler they were lowering
from the sinking Hun and blow it to bits. A minute or two more, and the
destroyer itself blew up and disappeared under a column of steam and
smoke.

"That," continued Prince, beginning to prod anew his neglected sprayers,
"just about concluded our day's work. As there was no longer any
prospect of getting in mouldie-range of any of the big Huns, and as none
of the little Huns were in sight to fight with gun-fire, it must have
occurred to the captain that it was time he was rejoining the flotilla.
There was only some dark blurs on the north'ard skyline to steer for at
first, and the Huns did all they knew to keep us from getting there,
too. For a while we were doing nothing but playing 'hide-and-seek' among
the salvoes they tried to stop us with, and I have heard since that the
way the captain used his helm to avoid being hit at this stage of the
show was rated as about the cleverest work of the kind in the whole
battle.

"It was the Fifth B.S.--the _Queen Elizabeth_ class--that we caught up
to first, and a grand sight it was, the four of them standing up and
giving battle to about the whole of the High Sea Fleet. They were taking
a heavy pounding without turning a hair, so far as a man could see, and
even when the _Warspite_ had her steering gear knocked out and went
steaming in circles it didn't seem to upset the other three very much.
We sighted our own Battle Fleet about six, and rejoined the flotilla in
good time to be back with the battle cruisers when Beatty took them
round the head of the Hun line and only failed to cut off their retreat
through night coming on.

"Compared with what the next six or eight hours held for some of our
destroyers--or even with what we had just been through ourselves--the
night for us was fairly quiet. We were in action once or twice, and I
saw several ships--mostly enemy, but one or two of our own--go up in
flame and smoke before I went on watch down here at midnight. But
through it all the devil's own luck which had been with us from the
first held good. Although we were through the very hottest of the day
action, and not the least of the night, the old _Nairobi_ did not
receive one direct hit from an enemy shell. She accounted for at least
two Hun ships, saw the other three destroyers of her division sunk or
put out of action, and returned to base with almost empty oil tanks and
perhaps the largest mileage to her credit of any craft in the Jutland
battle--all without a serious casualty or more than a few scratches to
her paint. On top of it all, on the way back to harbour, by the queerest
fluke you ever heard of, she rammed and exploded the air-chamber of a
mouldie that had been fired by a Hun U-boat at the destroyer next in
line ahead of her. As the Yanks say, 'Can you beat it?'"



CHAPTER IV

HUNTING


"If it's destroyer work you want, there are five of them getting under
weigh at four o'clock," said the "Senior Officer Present," looking at
his watch. "You'll have just about time to pick up your luggage and
connect if you want to go. I can't tell you what they're going to
do--they won't know that themselves till they get to sea, and their
orders may be changed from hour to hour, and things may happen to send
them to the Channel, France, or to several other places, on and off the
chart, before they put in here again. But there'll be work to do--plenty
of it. That's the best part of this corner of the North Atlantic in
which our Allies have done the American destroyers the honour of setting
them on the U-boats. Whatever else you may suffer from, it won't be from
ennui." It was luck indeed, on two hours' notice, to have the chance of
getting out in just the way I had planned, where I had been quite
prepared to stand-by for twice as many days, and I fell in with the
arrangement at once.

Captain X---- ran his eye down a board where the names of a number of
destroyers were displayed against certain data indicating their
whereabouts and disposition. "_Zop_, _Zap_, _Zip_, _Zim_, _Zam_," he read
musingly. "_Zip_--yes, I don't think I can do better than send you on
the _Zip_. Her skipper is as keen as he is able, and the _Zip_ herself
has the reputation of having something of a nose for U-boats on her own
account. I'll advise him you're coming. Pick up your sea togs and put
off to her as soon as you can. Good luck." The American naval officer,
like the British, never says "Good-bye" if it can possibly be avoided.

They were already preparing to unmoor as I clambered over the side of
the _Zip_, and by the time I had shifted to sea-boots and oilskins in
the captain's cabin--which, unoccupied by himself during that strenuous
interval, was to be mine at sea--she was swinging in the stream and
nosing out into the creaming wakes of the two of her dazzle-painted
sisters who were preceding her down the bay.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are several things that strike one as different on going to an
American warship after a spell in a British ship of the same class, but
the one which surges to meet you and goes to your head like wine is the
all-pervading spirit of vibrant, sparkling, unquenchable youthfulness.
Everything you see and hear seems to radiate it--every throb of the
engines, every beat of the screws--and at first you may almost get the
impression that it comes from the ship herself. But when you start to
trace it down, you find it bubbles from a single fount, the men, or
rather the boys--the lounging, laughing, devil-may-care boys. Theirs the
alchemy to transform every one and everything that comes near them into
the golden seeming of themselves.

This youthfulness of the American destroyers is in the crew rather than
the officers, for the latter--especially the captain and executive--will
average, if anything, a shade older than their "opposite numbers" in a
British destroyer. There is a certain minimum of highly specialised work
in navigating and fighting a destroyer which must be in the hands of
officers and men who can have only attained the requisite training in
long years of technical study and practical experience. Given these, and
the remainder of the ship's company--provided only that they have
digestive organs that will continue to function when tilted through a
dozen different slants and angles in as many seconds--can be trained to
perfection in an astonishingly short time. Here it is that America has
scored, for there is no doubt that the youngsters that have rushed to
enrol themselves for her destroyer service are better educated and
quicker in mind and body than those available for any other navy in the
war. It is the incomparable adaptability these advantages have conspired
to give him that has made the Yankee destroyer rating a combination of
keenness and efficiency that leaves little, if anything, to be desired
on either score.

Here is the way a British naval officer who is familiar with the work of
the American destroyer flotilla expressed himself in this connection:
"The ship's company of any one of these American destroyers," he said,
"will average a good five years younger than that of a British
destroyer. Off hand, one would say that this would tell against them,
but, as a matter of fact, quite the contrary is the case.

"Given that the command and the technical operations are in the hands of
highly trained and fairly serious-minded officers, you can't have too
much slapbang, hell-for-leather, devil-take-the-consequences spirit in
the ship's company. And where will you find that save in the
youngsters--tireless, fearless, careless boys. They've found that out in
the air services, and we're finding it out in the destroyers. And right
there--in these quick-headed, quick-footed super-boys of theirs--is
where the Yankee destroyers have the best of us. It is they--working
under consummately clever officers--that enabled the American destroyer
flotilla to reach in a stride a working efficiency which we had been
straining up to for three years."

       *       *       *       *       *

The green hills astern had turned grey and dissolved in mist and
darkness before the captain was able to announce what work was afoot for
us. The _Zim_ and _Zam_, it appeared, were to be detached on some
mission of their own, while the _Zop_, _Zap_, and _Zip_, after
"hunting" submarines for some time, were to proceed to a certain port,
pick up the _Lymptania_, and escort her through the danger zone on her
westward voyage. The captain was grinning as he finished reading the
order. "I can't give you any definite assurance," he said, "that the
hunt part of the stunt is going to scare up any U-boats, although the
prospects this week are more promising than for some time; but"--he
turned his level gaze to the westward, where the in-rolling Atlantic
swells were blotting with undulant humps the fading primrose of the
narrow strip of after-glow--"if this wind and sea keep the same force
and direction for three or four days more, I'll promise you all the
excitement your heart can desire when we take on our escort duties. The
last time we took out the old _Lymptania_--well, I've got marks on me
yet from the corners I got banged up against, and as for the poor little
_Zip_--but she's had a refit since and most of the scars have been
removed. As you will have ample chance to see for yourself, there isn't
a lot of _dolce far niente_ in any of this life we lead in connection
with our little game here, but if there is one phase of our activities
that is farther removed from 'peace, perfect peace' than any other, it
is trying to screen an ex-Atlantic greyhound that is boring at umpty-ump
knots into a head wind and sea. Strafing U-boats is a Sunday-school
picnic in comparison at any time; but it will be worse this week because
they have just put down a couple of big liners, and the skipper of the
_Lymptania_, knowing they will be laying for him, will force her like he
was trying to get his company the trans-Atlantic mail subsidy. For us to
cut zigzags around that kind of a thing--but you'll be able to judge for
yourself. I only hope we can catch you a U-boat or two by way of
preliminary, so as to lead up to the climax by slow degrees."

Things were fairly comfy that night--that is, as comfort goes in a
destroyer. There was a good stiff wind and a good deal more than a lop
of sea running; but as both were coming on the quarter and we were
plodding along at no great speed, the _Zip_ made very passable weather
of it. The bridge, save for occasional showers of light spray where a
sea slapped over the side, was quite dry, and even on the long run of
low deck amidships there were several havens of refuge where the men off
watch could foregather to smoke and yarn without fear of more than an
occasional spurt of brine. A dry deck does not chance every day that a
destroyer is on business bent at sea, and when it does, like sunshine in
Scotland, is a thing to luxuriate in.

As the twilight deepened and melted into the light of a moon that was
but a day or two from the full--"bad luck for the _Lymptania_ convoy,
that moon," the captain had said as he noted how it was waxing on his
chart--I came down from the bridge and worked along from group to group
of the sailor men where, lounging and laughing, they sheltered in the
lee of funnel and boat and superstructure. The first one I pushed into
was centred round a discussion, or rather an argument, between two boys,
the one from Kansas and the other from Oklahoma, as to which had raised
the best and biggest corn in the course of some sort of growing
competitions they had once taken part in. Several others standing about
also appeared to have come from one or other of those fine
naval-recruiting States of the Middle West, and seemed to know not a
little about intensive maize culture themselves. I was just ingratiating
myself with this party by nodding assent and voicing an emphatic "Sure!"
to one's query of "Some corn that, mister, hey?" when I discovered a
cosmopolitan group (two Filipino stewards, the coloured cook, and three
or four bluejackets in sleeveless grey sweaters) collaborating in the
arduous task of teaching a very sad-faced white mongrel to sit up on his
haunches and beg. Or rather it was an elaboration of that classic trick.
On drawing nearer I perceived that the lugubrious-visaged canine already
had mastered begging for food, and that now they were endeavouring to
teach him to beg for mercy. At the order "Kamerad!" instead of sitting
with down-drooping paws, he was being instructed to raise the latter
above his head and give tongue to a wail of entreaty. He was a brighter
pup than his looks would have indicated, and had already become letter
perfect in the wail. "Kamerading" properly with uplifted paws, however,
was rather too much for his balance, at least while teetering on the
edge of a condensed milk case which was itself sliding about the deck of
a careening destroyer. The dog had been christened "Ole Oleson," one of
the sailors told me, both because he was "some kind of a Swede" and
because, like his famous namesake, he had tried to come aboard in "two
jumps" the day they found him perched on a bit of wreckage of the
Norwegian barque to which he had belonged, and which had been sunk by a
U-boat an hour previously. The men seemed to be very fond of him, and I
overheard the one who picked him up off the box to make a place for me
to sit on, whisper into his cocked ear that they were going to try to
catch a Hun in the next day or two for him to sharpen his teeth on.

       *       *       *       *       *

These boys told me a number of stories in connection with the survivors
they had rescued, or failed to rescue, from ships sunk by U-boats. Most
of them were the usual accounts of firing on open boats in an attempt to
sink without a trace, but there was one piquant recital which revealed
the always diverting Hun sense of humour at a new slant. This was
displayed, as it chanced, on the occasion of the sinking of "Ole's"
ship, the Norwegian barque. After this unlucky craft had been put down
by shell-fire and bombs, the U-boat ran alongside the whaler containing
the captain and mate, and they were ordered aboard to be interrogated.
Under the pretence of preventing any attempt to escape on the part of
the remainder of those in this boat, the Germans made them clamber up
and stand on the narrow steel run-way which serves as the upper deck of
a submarine. No sooner were they here, however, than the Hun humorist on
the bridge began slowly submerging. When the water was lapping round the
necks of the unfortunate Norwegians, and just threatening to engulf
them, the nose of the U-boat was slanted up again, this finely finessed
operation being repeated during all of the time that the captain and
mate were being pumped below by the commander of the submarine. No great
harm--save that one of the sailors, losing his nerve when the U-boat
started down the first time, dived over, struck his head on one of the
bow-rudders and was drowned--was done by this little pleasantry, but it
is so illuminative of what the Hun is in his lightsome moods that I have
thought it worth setting down.

[Illustration: "KAMERADING" WITH UPLIFTED PAWS]

[Illustration: HELPING THE COOK TO PEEL POTATOES]

The American is more violent in his feelings than the Briton, and much
more inclined to say what he thinks; and I found these boys--to use the
expressive phrase of one of them--"mad clean through" at the Hun pirate
and all he stands for. America--with more time to do that sort of
thing--has undoubtedly gone farther than any other country in the war in
trying to give her soldiers and sailors a proper idea of the beast
they have been sent out to slay. These lessons seem to have sunk home
with all of them, and when it has been supplemented--as in the case of
the sailors in the destroyers--by the first-hand teachings of the Huns
themselves, it generally leaves a man in something like the proper state
of mind for the task in hand. Not that I really think any of the
Americans, when they have the chance, as happens every now and then,
will carry out all the little plans they claim to be maturing,
but--well, if I was an exponent of the U-boat branch of German kultur,
and my _unterseeboot_ was depth-charged by a British and an American
destroyer, and I came sputtering up to the surface midway between them,
I don't think I would strike out for the lifebuoy trailing over the
quarter of the one flying the Stars and Stripes. I may be wrong, but
somehow I have the feeling that the Briton--be he soldier, sailor, or
civilian--hasn't quite the same capacity as the Yank for keeping up the
temperature of his passion, for feeling "mad clean through."

Joining another group bunched in the lee of a tier of meat-safes, I
chanced upon a debate which threw an illuminative beam on the feelings
of what might once have been classified as hyphenated Americans. At
first the whole six or eight of them, in all harmony and unanimity, had
been engaged in cursing Sinn Feiners, with whom it appeared they had
been having considerable contact--physical and otherwise--in the course
of the last few months. Then one of the more rabid of them on this
particular subject--he and one of his mates had been waylaid and beaten
by a dozen hulking young Irishmen who resented the attentions the
Yankees were receiving from the local girls--threw a bone of dissension
into the ring by declaring that a Sinn Feiner was as bad as a Hun and
ought to be treated the same way.

The most of them could hardly bring themselves to agree to this, but in
the rather mixed argument which followed it transpired that the lad who
had led the attack on Sinn Fein was named Morarity and had been born in
Cork, and that the one who maintained that nothing on two legs, not even
a Sinn Feiner, was as "ornery as a Hun," was named Steinholz, and had
been born in St. Louis of German parents.

The wherefore of this they explained to me severally presently, when it
turned out that their views--as regards their duties as Americans--were
precisely similar. Like all good Yankees, they said, they had it in for
both the Hun and the Sinn Feiner; but, because each of them had a _name_
to live down, he felt it incumbent on himself to out-strafe his mates in
the direction from which that name came. It was a bit naïve, that
confession, but at the same time highly instructive; and I wouldn't care
to be the Hun or Sinn Feiner that either of those ex-hyphenates had a
fair chance at.

A very domestic little party I found cuddled up aft among the
depth-charges. One lad--he had been a freshman at Cornell, I learned
later, and would not wait to train for a commission, so keen had he been
to get into the war--was just back from a week's leave in London, and
was telling about it with much circumstance. There were many things that
had interested and amused him, but the great experience had been three
days spent as a guest in an English home at Wimbledon. The head of the
family, it appeared, was some kind of a City man, and, encountering the
doubtless aimlessly wandering Yank at Waterloo, had forthwith carried
him home. Everything had bristled with interest for the young visitor,
from the marmalade at breakfast and the port at dinner to croquet on the
lawn and a punt on the Thames at Richmond. But the best of it all had
been that he had brought a standing invitation from the same family to
any of his mates who might be coming up to London while the war was on.
During the refit, which was supposed to be imminent, two of these, who
had plumped for the great London adventure, had screwed up their courage
to following up the invitation to the hospitable home in question. Out
of his broader experience, their worldly mate was tipping them off
against possible breakers. This is the only one I remember: "You'll
find," he said, gesturing with an admonitory finger that could just be
dimly guessed against the phosphorescence of the tossing wake, "that
they don't seem to have any great grudge 'gainst us for licking them and
going on our own in '76; but go easy on rubbing it in just the same,
'cause you're a guest in the house. Best forget the Revolution while
you're over here. That scrap was more'n a hundred years ago, and we've
got another on now. Half the people you meet here never heard of it,
anyhow, and when you mention it to them they think you refer to another
Revolution in France which came off about the same time."

It was at about this juncture that a change of course brought seas which
had been quartering a couple of points forward of the beam, and in a
jiffy the swift spurts of brine had searched out the last dry corner of
the deck and sent scurrying to shelter every man who had not a watch to
stand. Three times I was completely drenched in groping forward from the
after-superstructure to the ward-room, under the bridge, so that I was a
good deal inclined to take it as a joke--and a rather ill-timed one at
that--when an ensign about to turn in on one of the transoms muttered
something about being thankful that we were going to have _one_ quiet
night when a man could snatch a wink of sleep. I asked him if he
referred to the night we expected to be in port waiting for the
_Lymptania_, but the fact that he had already dozed off proved that he
really had not been trying to be funny at my expense. Indeed, it was a
fairly quiet night, as nights go in destroyers; but, even so, I needed
a good high sideboard to keep from rolling out of the captain's bunk,
and then two sofa pillows and my overcoat to keep from pulping my
shoulder against the sideboard.

We were still sliding easily along at the same comfortable umpteen knots
in the morning, but with the breaking of the new day a subtle change had
come over the spirit of the ship. It was just such a change as one might
observe in a hunter as he passes from a plain, where there is little
cover, to a wood where every tree and bush may hide potential quarry.
And that, indeed, was precisely the way it was with us. The night before
we were "on our way"; this morning we were ploughing waters where
U-boats were _known_ to be operating. It was only a couple of days
previously that the good old _Carpathia_ had been put down, and not many
hours had passed since then but what brought word, by one or another of
the almost countless ways that have been devised to trace them, of an
enemy submarine working in those waters. We were ready enough the night
before, ready for anything that might have turned up; but this morning
we were more than that.

There was a new tenseness now, and a feeling in the air like that which
follows the click-click after a trigger is set to "hair." It was as
though everyone, everything, even the good little _Zip_ herself, was
crouched for a spring.

There was an amusing little incident I chanced to see which illustrates
the keenness of the spirit animating the men even in the moments of
waiting. A favourable course had left the deck unswept by water for an
hour, and a half-dozen boys, off watch, but too restless to turn in,
were trying to kill time by helping the cook peel potatoes. It was one
of these whom I saw stand up, take several swift strides forward across
the reeling deck, draw a rag from the pocket of his "jeans," and then,
with great care and deliberation, begin to polish a patch of steel plate
that was exposed in the angle of two strips of coco-matting. "Wha' cher
holystoning deck yetawhile fer, Pete?" one of his mates shouted.
"Can'cher wait till we gets back to port? We may have to foul your
pretty work with greasy Huns any minnit." Unperturbed, Pete went right
on rubbing, testing the footing every now and then with the sole of his
boot. Only when the job, whatever it was, was done to suit his
fastidious taste did he return to his seat on the reversed water-bucket
and start peeling potatoes again. Not till a full dozen or more neatly
skinned Murphies had passed under his knife did he vouchsafe to reply to
the half-curious, half-pitying looks and remarks his mates had continued
to direct at him. Then his explanation was as crushing as complete.

"It don't look much as if you guys wants to get a Hun," he observed
finally, running a critical eye over them. "Oh, you do, do you? My
mistake. Well, then, don't try to be funny with another guy that's
doing his best to effect that same good end. Now looka here. From where
I sits to my gun-station is just six steps. Six for me, I mean; it'd be
more for most of you 'shorties.' Now I just figures that step number
four lands my foot square in the dribble of oil on that patch where
there ain't no matting; so what was more natural than for me to go and
swab it up. Last time the gong binged I hit half a preserved peach, and
sprained a wrist and ankle so bad that I woulda been dead slow on the
gun if we'd had to fire it. Keeping my eye peeled for another piece of
peach, I pipes that gob of oil, and so goes and gets rid of it. It's
painful having to explain a simple thing like that to you bone-heads,
but, now that you got it, p'raps you'll ease off on your beefing, and
peel spuds. _That_ don't take no brains."

Two or three times in the course of the morning the look-out's shout of
"Sail!" bearing this way or that, brought those in sound of it to their
feet in the expectation that it would be followed by the welcome
clanging of the alarm bell; and once or twice the wireless picked up the
S.O.S.--they do not send it out that way now, but these letters are
still the common term in use to describe the call of a ship in
distress--of a steamer that had been torpedoed. But the sails turned out
to be friends in every case, while both of the ships reported sinking
were too far away for us to be of any use to them. Early in the
afternoon a suspiciously cruising craft, which proved presently to be a
friend, got a high-explosive shell under her nose as a consequence of
her deliberation in revealing that fact. The smartness with which the
men tumbled to quarters, and the almost uncanny speed with which the
forecastle gun was served, boded well for developments in case the real
thing turned up.

"Do you always fire a blank across their bows when you don't quite like
the look of 'em?" I asked the captain innocently, as he gazed dejectedly
through his glass at certain unmistakable evidences proving that he had
been cheated of his quarry. "Blank!" indignation and half the look that
sits on the face of a terrier who discovers that he has cornered his own
family's "Tabby" instead of the neighbour's "Tom"; "blank!--did you ever
see a blank 'X-point-X' that threw up a spout as high as a masthead, and
all black with smoke? That was the worst punisher we have in our
lockers; and, what's more, it was meant to be a hit. And the next one
would have been," he added. "You can't afford to waste any time where
five or ten seconds may make all the difference between bagging and
losing a Hun."

"But how about bagging something that isn't a Hun?" I protested. "I told
you, I think, that I had arranged to go out next week on patrol in one
of the American submarines; but after what I've just seen----"

"The burden of proof is up to the craft under suspicion," cut in the
captain, "and they ought to have no trouble in supplying it if they have
their wits about them." Then, with a grin, "But if you're really going
out on submarine patrol next week, why--I'll promise to look twice
before turning loose one of those--those 'blanks.'" How he kept his word
is another story.

It was about an hour or two later that the wireless winged word that
seemed at last to herald the real thing. It was the S.O.S. of a steamer,
and conveyed merely the information that she had just been torpedoed,
with her latitude and longitude. The position given was only thirty or
forty miles to the northward, and though the name in the message--it was
_Namoura_ or something similar--could not be found on any of our
shipping lists, the _Zop_, as senior ship, promptly ordered course
altered and full speed made in the hope of arriving on the scene in time
to be of some use. With every minute likely to be of crucial importance,
it was not an occasion to waste time by waiting or asking for orders. A
swift exchange of signals between ships, a hurried order or two down a
voice-pipe, an advancing of the handle of the engine-room telegraph, a
throwing over of the wheel, and we had spun in the welter of our tossing
wake and were off on a mission that might prove one of either mercy or
destruction, or, quite conceivably, both. The formation in which we had
been cruising when the signal was received gave the _Zip_ something
like a mile lead at the get-away, and this--though one of the others was
a newer and slightly faster ship--she held gallantly to the end of the
race. By a lucky chance, though there was a snoring wind and a lumpy sea
running, the course brought both abaft the beam and permitted us to run
nearly "all out" without imposing a serious strain on the ship. The
difference between running before and bucking into seas of this kind I
was to learn in a day or two. For the moment, conditions were all that
could be asked to favour our getting with all dispatch into whatever
game there was to be played.

Many a so-called express train has travelled slower than any one of
those three destroyers was ploughing its way through solid green water.
For a few seconds after "Full speed!" had been rung down to their
engine-rooms, swift-spinning smoke rings had shot up from their funnels
and gone reeling off down to leeward; then, with perfect synchronisation
of draught and oil, the duskiness above the mouths of the stumpy stacks
had cleared, and only the mirage on the horizon astern betrayed the
up-spouting jets of hot gases. Only the vibrant throb of the speeding
engines--so pervading that it seemed to pulse like heart-beats through
the very steel itself--gave hint of the mightiness of the effort that
speed was costing. With that throb stilled--and the mounting wake
quenched--the progress of that thousand tons or so of steam-driven
steel would have seemed scarcely less effortless than that of an
aeroplane.

An order from the Commander-in-Chief--which was picked up presently--to
go to the assistance of the torpedoed ship and to "hunt submarine" had
been anticipated; but the real name of the steamer--finally transmitted
correctly--brought to me at least a distinct shock. It was H.M.S.
_Marmora_, and the _Marmora_, the former P. & O. Australian liner, was
an old friend. To anyone who loves the sea a ship, no matter of what
kind, has a personality. But in the case of a ship in which he has
sailed--lived in, worked and played in, been happy in, perhaps gone
through certain dangers in--has more than a personality, it has a place
in his heart. Many and many a morning since the first U-boat campaign
was started I had read--and never without a lump rising in my throat--of
the passing of just such a friend, of the going out of the world of
something--almost of "some one"--which I had always looked forward to
seeing again. _Afric_, _Arabic_, _Aragon_, I knew their names well
enough to compile the list alphabetically. It would have run to some
score in length, and from every name would have led a long train of
treasured memories. But the blow had never come quite this way before,
never fallen quite so near at home. An especially dear friend had just
been stricken less than a degree of latitude away; but the poignancy of
that realisation was tempered by the thought that I was in a ship
rushing to her assistance, a ship that could be as swift to succour as
to avenge.

I must confess to a queerly mixed state of mind that next half-hour.
Consumed as I was with interest in our terribly purposeful progress
leading up to the entrance into that grim drama approaching its
climacteric act just beyond the sky-line, there were also vivid
flare-backs of memory to the days of my friendship with the _Marmora_,
arresting flashlights of the swift refreshing morning dive into the
canvas pool on her forecastle, of lounging chairs ranged in long rows
'twixt snowy decks and awnings, of a phosphorescent bow-wave curling
back and blotting the reflections of stars in a tropical sea. There was
a picture of the clean sweet lines of her as--buff, black, and
beautiful--she lay at the north end of the horseshoe of the Circular
Quay at Sydney, with a rakish Messageries liner moored astern of her and
a bluff Norddeutscher Lloyd packet ahead. It was her maiden voyage, and
Australia, which had never seen so swift and luxurious a liner before,
was receiving her like a newly arrived _prima donna_. I took passage in
her back as far as Colombo. That fortnight's voyage had been diverting
in a number of ways, I recalled, but most of all, perhaps, as a
consequence of the throwing together of a large party of Wesleyan
missionaries from Fiji and the members of a London musical comedy
company returning from its Australian "triumphs." I was just beginning
to chuckle inwardly at the recollection of what one of the missionary
ladies had said to a buxom chorus-girl who tripped out to the fancy
dress cricket-match in her pink tights and a ballet skirt, when the
ting-a-ling of a bell brought the captain to the radio-room voice-pipe.
"Message just received," I heard him repeat. "All right. Send it up." He
slapped down the voice-pipe cover, and a messenger had handed him the
signal before he had paced twice across the bridge.

"_Marmora_ just sunk," he read; "survivors picked up by P.B.'s _X_ and
_Y_."

The sinking made no immediate change in our plans. There was still a
chance we might be of use with the survivors, and also the matter of the
U-boat to be looked after. With no abatement of speed, all three
destroyers drove on. The navigating officer reckoned that in another
fifteen minutes we should be sighting the rescuing craft, and probably
wreckage; but when twice that time still left a clear horizon ahead, it
began to appear as though there had been a mistake of some kind. And so
there had, but it was a lucky mistake for us. It was some time later
before they figured just how it had chanced, but what had happened was
this. The _Marmora's_ last despairing call--doubtless sent out by a
breaking-down radio--gave her position as some ten or twelve miles out
from what it really was. The consequence was that, heading somewhat wide
of the sinking ship, to which, however, on account of the presence of
the patrol boats, which had evidently been close enough to come to her
immediate assistance, we could have been of small use, we had steered
directly for the one point where it was most desirable we should make
our appearance at that psychological moment: for the point, in short, at
which the coolly calculative skipper of the U-boat responsible for the
outrage, after running submerged for an hour or more and doubtless
figuring he had come sufficiently far from the madding crowd that would
throng the immediate vicinity of the wreckage to be at peace, had come
up to smoke his evening pipe and cogitate upon the Freedom of the Seas.

It was just as it began to become apparent that we were badly adrift as
regards the point where the _Marmora_ had gone down that a whine from
the lookout's voice-pipe reported to the bridge that it had sighted a
"sail--port, ten."

"What is it?" asked back the captain.

"Looks like subm'rine," came the reply; and with one quick movement the
captain had started the alarm-bell sounding "General quarters!" in every
part of the ship. With every man knowing precisely what he had to do,
and how to do it, there was incredible speed without confusion. Tumbling
to their stations like hounds on a hot scent, they yet managed to avoid
getting in each other's way, even in the narrow passages and on the
ladders. The loom of the conning-tower was plain to the naked eye, now
that one knew where to look for it, but only for a few minutes. Even as
a swiftly passed shell was thrown into the open breech of the forecastle
gun, came the look-out's whine through the voice-pipe, "She's going
down, sir; she's gone!" The breech of the gun spun shut, but the eye of
the sightsetter groped along an empty horizon.

"Never mind," muttered the captain grimly. "Couldn't have croaked him
with one shot anyhow. Got something better'n shells for him. Now for
it," and his hand went back to pull the wire of a gong which gave
certain orders to the men standing-by with the depth-charges. That, a
word down the engine-room voice-pipe, and a fraction of a point's
alteration in the course--and there was only one thing left to be done.
The time for that had not quite arrived.

Because a destroyer's engine-room telegraph-hand points to "Full speed!"
it does not necessarily mean that there are not ways of forcing more
revolutions from the engines, of driving her still faster through the
water should the need arise. Such a need now confronted the _Zip_, and,
like the thoroughbred she was, her response was instant and generous.
The pulsing throb of her quickened till it was almost a hum; the
quivering insistency of it struck straight to the marrow of the bones,
drummed in the depths of one's innermost being. If there is anything to
stir the blood of a man like a destroyer beginning to see red and go
Berserk, I have yet to encounter it.

There must have been something like three miles to go from the point
where the U-boat had been sighted to the point where the inevitable
patch of grease would mark the place where it had submerged, and rather
less than twice that many minutes had elapsed when the cry of "Oil
slick--starboard bow!" came almost simultaneously from the look-outs in
the foretop and on the bridge. Over went the helm a spoke or two, and
the executive officer, in his hand a thin piece of board with a table of
figures pasted on it, moved up beside the captain. Straight down the
wobbly track of iridescent film drove the _Zip_, and when a certain
length of it had been put astern, the captain turned and drew a lever to
him with a sharp pull.

Three, four seconds passed, and then, simultaneously with a heavy
knocking thud, a round patch of water a hundred yards or so astern
quivered and fizzed up sharply like the surface of a glass of
whisky-and-soda after the siphon has ceased to play on it. Following
that by a second or two, a smooth rounded geyser of foam boiled up a
dozen feet or so, and then gradually subsided. That one, plainly, was a
deep-set charge, whose force was expended far beneath the surface. A
second one threw a geyser twice as high as the first, and a third, which
fizzed and spouted almost simultaneously, blotted out a great patch of
sternward sky with its smoke-shot eruption.

Presently the _Zop_ "struck oil," and then the _Zap_. Soon the muffled
booms of their rapidly scuttled depth-charges began to drum, while
astern of them the foam-spouts nicked the sky-line like a stubby picket
fence.

Perhaps the lad whom I later overheard describing that bombardment by
saying that "'tween the three of us, we was scattering 'cans' like rice
at a wedding" was guilty of some exaggeration; but it is a fact that
they were spilling over very fast and, there is little doubt, with
telling effect. The savageness of the bolts of wrath released by the
exploding charges was strikingly disclosed when two of them chanced to
be dropped at nearly the same time by destroyers a mile or more apart,
when the under-sea "jolts" would meet half-way and form weird evanescent
"rips" of dancing froth strongly suggestive of chain-lightning. The way
in which even the most distant of the detonations made a destroyer "bump
the bumps," quite as though it was striking a series of solid
obstructions, gave some hints of the bolts that were descending upon the
lurking pirate.

At the end of a minute or two a quick order from the captain sent the
wheel spinning over, and, with raucous grinding of helm, round we swung
through sixteen points to head back in reverse over the path of
destruction we had just traversed. Just as the steel runners of a
racing skater throw ice when he makes a sudden turn, so the screws of a
speeding destroyer hurl water. The stern sank deep into the
propeller-scooped void, so that the high-tossed side-slipping wake
buried it beneath a frothing flood. Through several long seconds I saw
the water boiling above the waists of the men at the depth-charges,
without appearing to disturb them in the least; then the wheel was spun
back 'midships--and a spoke or two beyond to meet and steady her--the
bow wave resumed its curled symmetry and the wake began trailing off
astern again.

It was into a peaceful sea, indolently rolling, sunset tinged and
slightly sleeked with a thin streak of oil, that we had raced five
minutes before; it was a troubled sea, charge-churned and wave-slashed,
that we now nosed back into to see what good our coming had wrought. The
grey-blue-black of the long oil wake had been scattered into broken
patches by the explosions. Most of these were pale, sickly, and highly
anæmic in colour, and of scant promise; but for one, where fresh oil
rising spread rainbow-bright upon the surface, the _Zip_ headed full
tilt. The explosion here appeared to have been an unusually heavy one,
for the sea was dotted with the white bellies of stunned fish, most of
them floating high out of the water, with trickles of blood running from
their upturned mouths and distended gills. A six or eight-foot shark,
wriggling drunkenly along the surface with a broken back, was hailed
with a howl of delight by the men, who claimed to see in the fact that
the unlucky monster could not submerge his telltale dorsal, a sign that
their Fritz might be in the same difficulty.

Another "can" or two was let go as we dashed through that iridescent
"fount of promise"; and when we turned back to it again the wounded
shark had ceased to wriggle and now floated inertly among his hapless
brothers. But of Fritz--save for a glad new gush of oil--no sign.
Prisoners or wreckage are rated as the only indubitable evidence of the
destruction of a U-boat, and neither of these were we able to woo to the
surface in that busy hour which elapsed before the descending pall of
darkness put a period to our well-meant efforts. During that time not
the most delicate instrument devised by science for that purpose
revealed any indication of life or movement in the depths below. As the
water at this point was far too deep to allow a submarine to descend and
lie on the bottom without being crushed, this fact appeared morally
conclusive. It was this I had in mind when I tried to draw the captain
out on the subject. "Of course there's no doubt we bagged him?" I
hazarded, in a quiet interval when we were watchfully waiting for
something to turn up, or rather come up. He smiled a rather tired smile.
"Oh, very likely we have," he replied. "But, unluckily, there's nothing
we can lay our hands on to carry away and prove it. In case this
particular Fritz doesn't come to life and sink another ship in the
course of the next few days, there is just a chance that we may be
credited with a 'Possible.' They never err on the optimistic side in
sizing up a little brush of this kind, and perhaps it's just as well.
Anyhow, a game like this is worth playing on its own account, whether
you come in with a scalp at your belt every time or not."

It was just as darkness was slowing down our anti-U-boat operations,
that a signal came through stating that there were believed to be
several survivors still alive among the wreckage of the _Marmora_, and
ordering us to proceed to the scene of her sinking with all dispatch.
The moon was rising as we began to nose among the pathetic litter of
scraps that was all that remained afloat of what, five or six hours
previously, had been a swift and beautiful auxiliary cruiser.

There was enough light for us to be reasonably sure, at the end of an
hour's search, that our mission was in vain; that there remained no
living man to pick up. There was something strangely familiar, though,
in the lines of a cutter which, in spite of a smashed gunwale, was still
afloat, and I was just thinking of how grateful a lee, in the monsoon,
the windward side of the old _Marmora's_ lifeboats had furnished for a
deck-chair or two, when the captain, advancing the handle of the
engine-room telegraph, turned to me with: "We're off to rendezvous with
the _Lymptania_ now; I think we can promise you some real excitement in
the course of the next day or two."



CHAPTER V

THE CONVOY GAME


The fantastic pile of multi-coloured slabs blotting out a broken patch
of sky above the seaward end of the estuary, if it had been on land,
might have been anything from a row of hangars, viewed in slant
perspective, to the scaffolding of a scenic railway, or a "Goblin's
Castle" in Luna Park. But there in the middle of the channel, the
mountainous bulk could only be one thing, the _Lymptania_, the ship
which our division of American destroyers had been ordered to escort on
that part of its westbound voyage in which there was reckoned to be
danger of submarine attack. Distorted by the camouflage, the tumbled
mass of jumbled colours continued to loom in jagged indefinitiveness as
we closed it from astern, and it was only when we had come up well
abreast of it that the parts settled down into "ship-shapeliness," and
the silhouette of perhaps the most famous of the world's great steamers
sharpened against the sunlit afternoon clouds.

The change which had been wrought in the appearance of the _Lymptania_
since last I had seen her was almost beyond belief. Then she had been a
hospital ship, with everything about her, from snowy whiteness to red
crosses in paint and coloured lights, calculated to establish her
character, to give her the protection of conspicuousness. Now she sought
protection in quite the opposite way. Every trick of scientific
camouflage had been employed to render her inconspicuous; while, if that
failed, there were the destroyers. The protection of these big liners is
a considerable undertaking, but it has its redeeming features. As U-boat
bait they are unrivalled, and the number of German submarines which have
been sent to the bottom as a direct consequence of attempting to sink
one of them will make a long and interesting list when the time comes to
publish it.

There was something almost awesome in the emptiness of the great ship,
in the lifelessness of the decks, in the miles of blinded ports. The
heads of a few sailors "snugging down" on the forecastle, a knot of
officers at the end of the bridge, and two stewardesses in white
uniforms leaning over the rail of one of the upper decks--that was all
there was visible of human life on a ship which a few days before had
been packed to the funnels with its thousands of American soldiers. A
lanky destroyer gunner lounging by a ladder, described her exactly when
he said to one of his mates: "Gee, but ain't she the lonesome one!"

The captain of the _Zip_ turned his glasses back to cover the little
group of officers on the liner's bridge. "There's the skipper," he said
presently. "I only hope he's well ahead of the game on the sleeps, for I
wouldn't mind betting that he won't be leaving that bridge for a cup of
coffee for some time. It's going to be an anxious interval for him--very
anxious. It's quite beyond calculation, the value to the Allies at this
moment of a ship of the size and speed of the _Lymptania_, and her
skipper must know from what has happened the last week, that the Huns
are all out to bag her this time, and he can hardly be able to extract
any too much comfort out of the fact that it's about a hundred to one
that we'll bag the Fritz that tries it--either before or after the
event. Yes, it will be an anxious time for him--but," a grimly wry smile
coming to his face as he turned his eyes to the opening seaward horizon,
"even so, it'll be nothing to the time we're in for in the _Zip_ and all
the rest of the escort. _He'll_ be able to sleep if he happens to take a
notion to; _we_ won't, at least, not during the time we've got _her_ to
shepherd. Again, he's only got the _chance_ of being hit by a torpedo to
worry about; we've got the _certainty_ of being hit by head-seas that
have as much kick in them to a driven destroyer as a tin-fish full of
gun-cotton. Unless the weather gets either a good deal better or a shade
worse, we're sure up against the real thing this time.

"The fact is," continued the captain, taking up the slack in the hood of
his weather-proof jacket as a slight alteration of course brought a new
slant of wind; "the fact is, I'd much rather see it get worse than
better. If it would only kick up enough sea so that there was no chance
of a submarine operating in it, she could drive right along on her own
without any need of destroyers. But so long as we've this weather
there's a possibility of a torpedo running in, we've got to hang on to
the last shiver, and there are two or three things which are going to
make 'hanging on' this particular trip just a few degrees worse than
anything we've stacked up against before. This is about the way things
stand: The _Lymptania's_ best protection is her speed; but while she is
just about the fastest of the big ships, she is also just about the
biggest of the fast ships. This means that the size of the target she
presents goes a long way toward offsetting the advantage of her speed;
so that the presence of destroyers--in any kind of weather a submarine
can work in--is very desirable, and may be vital.

"Now the escorting of any steamer that makes over twenty knots an hour
is a lively piece of business, no matter what the weather, for
destroyers, to screen most effectively, should zigzag a good deal more
sharply than their convoy, and that, of course, calls for several knots
more speed. This can be managed all right in fair weather, or even in
rough, where there is only a following or a beam sea; but where the seas
come banging down from more than a point or two for'ard of the beam it
is quite a different matter. In that event, the speed of the whole
procession depends entirely on how much the destroyers can stand without
being reduced to scrap-iron. Naturally, the ship under escort endeavours
to make her speed conform to the best the destroyers can do under the
circumstances; but since an extra knot or two an hour might well make
all the difference in avoiding a submarine attack, the tendency always
is to keep the escorting craft extended to just about their limit of
endurance.

"Just how the mean will be struck between what a fast steamer thinks its
escorting destroyers _ought_ to stand, and what the destroyers really
_can_ stand, depends upon several things. Perhaps the principal factor
is the state of mind of the skipper of the steamer, and that, in turn,
is influenced by the value of his ship--both actual and potential--and
the danger of submarine attack at that particular time in the waters
under traverse. When the destroyers set out to escort a very fast and
valuable ship, steering into heavy head seas in waters where there are
known to be a number of U-boats operating, they've got the whole
combination working against them, and the result is--just what you're
slated to see this trip. Best take a good look at the _Zip_ while you've
got a chance; she may be quite a bit altered by the time we get back to
port again. And you might take a squint at the _Flossie_ over there,
too. She's our latest and swiftest, the Fotilla's pride. But this is
her first experience of taking out an ex-ocean greyhound, and if, in a
burst of fresh enthusiasm, she chances to tap any of these several extra
knots of speed she is supposed to have--well, the _Flossie's_ sky-line
in that case will be modified more than those of all the rest of her
older and wiser sisters put together."

Those were prophetic words.

"The one thing that makes it certain that we'll be put to the limit
to-night," resumed the captain, after he had rung up more speed on our
coming out into opener water, "is the news in this morning's official
announcement of the sinking of the _Justicia_. We seem just to have
struck the peak of the midsummer U-boat campaign. It was scarcely a week
ago that they got the _Carpathian_. Then, a few days later, came the
_Marmora_ (you won't forget for a while the strafe we had at the U-boat
which put her down), and now it's the _Justicia_, the biggest ship
they've sunk in a year or so. That's the thing that must be worrying the
skipper of the _Lymptania_, for it shows they're after the great
troop-carriers. The way they stuck to the _Justicia_ proves they're not
yet beyond taking some risk if the stake is high enough. Now and then
some Fritz is found desperate enough to commit hari-kari by coming up
close (if the chance offers) and making sure of getting his torpedo
home. He gets what's coming to him, of course, but there is also a fair
chance of his getting the ship he is after; and a fast liner for a
U-boat is a poor exchange--from our standpoint. Naturally, these things
all make the skipper of the _Lymptania_ anxious to minimise his risks by
hitting up just as hot a pace as he can, and that, with her size and her
power, will be just about full speed. I can't tell you to a knot how
fast that is, but I can tell you this: if you were on the bridge of a
destroyer going at that speed when it hit a good heavy head-sea, the
only thing that would tell you it wasn't a brick wall she had collided
with would be the sort of moist feeling about the pile-driver that
knocked you over the side. So it looks like the rub is going to come in
getting the _Lymptania_ to content herself with a speed at which--well,
at which you can detect some slight difference between a head-sea and a
brick wall from the bridge of the destroyer doing the butting. Whatever
that proves to be, you'll have such a chance as you may never get again
to see what stuff your Uncle Sam's destroyers are made of."

We made screening formation as soon as we were well clear of the
barraged waters of the estuary, though the sea we had to traverse before
entering the open Atlantic was considered practically empty of menace.
The _Lymptania_, making astonishingly little smoke for a coal-burner,
worked up to somewhere near her top speed in a very short time; but,
with the light-running seas well abaft the beam, the destroyers cut
their zigzags round and about her with many knots in reserve. The big
liner, with much experience to her credit, knew precisely what to do and
how to do it, and the whole machine of the convoy worked as though
pulled by a single string. Her very movements themselves seemed to give
the various units of the escort their cues, for, though she steered a
course so devious and irregular that no submarine could have possibly
told how to head in order to waylay her, she was never "uncovered."
Ahead and abreast of her, going their own way individually, but still
conforming their general movements to hers, the destroyers wove their
practically impenetrable screen.

Whatever there was ahead, it was ideal destroyer weather for the moment,
and all hands came swarming out on the dry sun-warmed deck to make the
most of it while it lasted. An importunate whine from a nest of arms and
legs sprawling abreast the midships torpedo-tubes attracted my attention
for a moment as I sauntered aft to see what was afoot, and presently the
rattle of dice on the deck and an imploring "Come on, you Seven!" told
me they were "shooting Craps," with, I shortly discovered, bars of milk
chocolate and sticks of chewing-gum for stakes. Several others were
playing "High, Low, Jack," and here and there--using elbows and knees to
keep the bellying pages from blowing away--were little knots clustered
about the latest Sunday Supplement from New York.

But quite the best thing of all was two brown-armed youngsters going
through a proper battery warming-up with a real baseball. I had seen
enthusiasts on two or three of the American units with the Grand Fleet
playing catch right up to the moment "General Quarters" was sounded for
target practice; but that was on the broad decks of battleships, with
some chance of saving a ball that chanced to be muffed. But here the
pitcher had to wind-up with a sort of a corkscrew stoop to keep from
hitting his hand against a stay, while the catcher braced himself with
one foot against a depth-charge and the other against the mounting of
the after-gun. There were four or five things that the ball had to clear
by less than a foot in its flight from one to the other, but the only
ones of these I recall now are a searchlight diaphragm and a gong which
sounded from the bridge a standby signal to the men at the
depth-charges. I actually saw that skilfully directed spheroid make two
complete round-trips, from the pitcher to the catcher and back, before
it struck the gong a resonant bing! caromed against the side of an
out-slung boat and disappeared into the froth of the wake.

The pitcher and catcher were in a hot argument as to whether that was
the twenty-sixth or the twenty-seventh ball they had lost overboard
since the first of the month, but they fell quiet and turned sympathetic
ears to my description of a net I had seen rigged on one of the
American battleships to prevent that very trouble.

"Nifty enough," was the pitcher's comment when I had finished describing
how the net was drawn taut right under the stern to prevent all leakage.
"Only thing is, the captain might rule it off on the score that it'd
catch the 'cans' we was trying to drop on Fritz as well as the 'wild
pitches.' Might do for harbour use, though. Lost balls is a considerable
drain even there."

It was just before dinner-time that the lengthening life of the seas
gave warning that we were coming out into the Atlantic. The force of
them was still abaft the beam, however, and their principal effect was
to add a few degrees of roll, with an occasional deluge dashing in
admonitory flood across the decks. But it was enough to make the Ward
Room untenable, so that dinner had to be wolfed propped up on the
transoms, one nicely balanced dish at a time. There would be about an
hour more of this comparative comfort, the captain said, before we
reached a position where the full force of the seas would be felt, but
things would not really "begin to drop" till the _Lymptania_ altered
course and headed westerly. "If you have any writing, reading, sleeping,
or anything except just existing to do," he warned, as he kept his soup
from overflowing by an undulant gesture of the hand which poised it,
"better do it now. It's your last chance."

The forty winks I managed to snatch as a result of following up the
sleeping part of that recommendation stood me in good stead in the times
ahead. It took no little composing to doze off even as it was, and it
was the sharp bang my head got from the siderail of my bunk that put a
period to the nap I did get. The rolling had increased enormously, and
though it was apparent we were not yet bucking into it, the swishing of
the water on the forecastle overhead indicated that there had been
enough alteration of course to bring the seas--on one leg of the zigzags
at least--well forward of the beam. I climbed out, pulled on my
weather-proof suit and sea-boots, and clambered up to the bridge.

There were still a couple of hours to go before dark, and in the
diffused light of a bright bank of sunset clouds the gay dazzle colours
of all the ships showed up brilliantly as they ploughed the
whitecap-plumed surface of a sea which now stretched unbrokenly to the
westward horizon. There was a world of power behind the belligerent bulk
of swells which had been gathering force under the urge of a
west-nor'-west wind that had chased them all the way from Labrador, and
the destroyers, teetering quarteringly along their foam-crested tops,
were rolling drunkenly and yawing viciously ahead of jagged wakes.

Still driving on at express speed, however, they continued to maintain
perfect formation on the swiftly steaming _Lymptania_. The latter,
apparently as steady as though "chocked up" in a dry-dock, drove
serenely on in great swinging zigzags.

The captain came up from the chart-room and took a long look around.
"It's just about as I expected," he said, shaking his head dubiously.
"It isn't so rough but what a submarine might stage an attack if her
skipper had the nerve; and it's a darn sight too rough for destroyers to
screen the _Lymptania_ with her holding to anything like full speed.
It's all up now to _what_ speed she will try to hold us to."

"But what's the matter with this?" I protested. "We're still hitting the
high places for speed, and, while I wouldn't call this exactly
comfortable, we still seem to be making pretty good weather of it."

The captain smiled indulgently. "You're right," he said, "as far as you
go. We are indeed hitting the high places, but--the high places haven't
started hitting us yet. Wait just about five or ten minutes," he added,
turning his glasses to where the great liner, silhouetted for the moment
against the sunset clouds, ploughed along on our port beam, "and you'll
see the difference. Ah!" this as he steadied his glasses on where the
boiling wake of the _Lymptania_, beginning to bend away in a sharp curve
indicating a considerable alteration of course. "There she goes now.
Hold tight!"

With his hand on the engine-room telegraph, the captain gave the men at
the wheel a course to conform to that of the _Lymptania_. Quick as a
cat on her helm, the _Zip_ swung swiftly through eight points and
plunged ahead. This brought on her bows seas that had been rolling up
abeam, and we were up against the real thing at last.

The first sea, which she caught while she was still turning, the _Zip_
contented herself with slicing off the truculently-tossing top of before
crunching it underfoot. It was a smartly-executed performance, and
seemed to promise encouragingly as to the way she might be expected to
dispose of the next ones. The second in line, however, which she met
head-on and essayed the same tactics with, dampened her ardour--and just
about everything and everybody else below the foretop--by detaching a
few tons of its bumptious bulk and raking her fore-and-aft with its
rumbling green-white flood. The bridge was above the main weight of that
blow, but 'midships and aft I saw men bracing themselves against a
knee-deep stream. One bareheaded and bare-armed man, who had evidently
been surprised in making his way from one hatch to another, I saw rolled
fifteen or twenty feet and slammed up against the torpedo-tube which
prevented his going overboard. He limped out of sight, rubbing his
shoulder, and probably never knew how lucky he was in being caught by
_that_ wave instead of one which came along a minute later.

The slams which she received from the next two or three seas left the
_Zip_ in a somewhat chastened mood, and rather less sanguine respecting
her ability to go on pulling off that little stunt of surmounting waves
by biting them in the neck and then trampling their bodies under foot.
She was beginning to realise that she had a body of her own, and that
there was something else around that could bite--yes, and kick, and
gouge, and punch below the belt, and do all the other low-down tricks of
the underhand fighter.

Languid and uncertain of movement, like a dazed prize-fighter, she was
just steadying herself from the jolt a bustling brute of a comber had
dealt her in passing, when the skyline ahead was blotted out by the
imminent green-black loom of a running wall of water which, from its
height and steepness, might well have been kicked up by a Valparaiso
"Norther" or a South Sea hurricane.

It may have been the chastened state of mind the last sea had left her
in which was responsible for _Zip's_ deciding to take this one "lying
down"; or again, it may be that she was acting, in reverse, after the
example set by the rabbit who, because he couldn't go under the hill,
went over it. At any rate, after one shuddering look at the mountainous
menace tottering above her bows, she made up her mind that she was
better off under the sea than on the surface, and deliberately dived. Of
course, it was the Parthian kick the last sea had given her stern that
was really responsible for her bows starting to go down at the very
instant those of every other ship that one had had experience of would
have been beginning to point skyward, but to all intents and purposes
she looked, from the bridge, to be submerging of her own free and
considered decision. The principal thing which differentiated it from
the ordinary dive of a submarine was the fact that it was made at a
sharper angle and at about four times the speed.

There was something almost uncanny in the quietness with which that
plunge began; though, on the latter score, there was nothing to complain
of by about half a second later. I have seen at one time or another
almost every conceivable kind of craft, from a Fijian war canoe to the
latest battlecruiser, trying to buck head seas, and invariably the wave
that swept it had the decency to announce its coming by a warning knock
on the bows. This time there was nothing of the kind. The retreating sea
had lifted her stern so high that the forecastle was under water even
before the coming one had begun to topple over on to it. The consequence
was that there was no preliminary bang to herald the onrush of the
latter.

The base of the mountainous roller simply flooded up over the diving
forecastle and crashed with unbroken force against the bridge. We had
collided with the "brick wall" right enough, and for the next few
seconds at least the result was primal chaos.

I have a vivid but detached recollection of two or three things in the
instant that the blow impended. One is of the helmsman, crouching low,
with legs wide apart, locking his arms through the slender steel spokes
of the wheel the better to steady her in the coming smash. Another is of
the captain, with hunched shoulders and set jaw, throwing over the
telegraph to stop the engines. But the clearest picture of all is of the
submarine lookout on the port side--a black-eyed, black-haired boy with
a profile that might have been copied from an old Roman coin--who was
leaning out and grinning sardonically into the very teeth of the
descending hydraulic ram. It was his savagely-flung anatomy, I believe,
though I never made sure, which bumped me in the region of the solar
plexus a moment later and broke my slipping hold on the buckling
stanchion to which I was trying to cling.

There was nothing whatever suggestive of water--soft, fluent, trickling
water--in the first shattering impact of that mighty blow. It was as
solid as a collision between ship and ship; indeed, the recollection I
have of a railway wreck I was once in on a line in the Argentine Pampas
is of a shock less shattering. It is difficult to record events in their
proper sequence, partly because they were all happening at once, and
partly because the self-centred frame of mind I was in at the moment was
not favourable for detached observation. The noise and the jar of the
crash were stupendous, yet neither of these has left so vivid a mental
impression as the uncanny writhing of the two-inches-thick steel
stanchion to which I was endeavouring to hold, and the nerve-racking
sound of rending metal. I have no recollection of hearing the clink of
broken glass, nor of being struck by pieces of it; yet all the panes of
heavy plate which screened the forward end of the bridge--of a
thickness, one had supposed, to withstand anything likely to assail
them--were swept away as though they had been no more than the
rice-paper squares of a Japanese window.

[Illustration: WHERE THE GREAT LINER PLOWED ALONG]

[Illustration: WE HAD COLLIDED WITH THE "BRICK WALL"]

[Illustration: NOW SHE WAS BACK AT BASE]

The rush of water, of course, followed instantly upon the crash, yet, so
vivid are my impressions of the things intimately connected with the
blow itself that it seems as though there was an appreciable interval
between the fall of that and the time when the enveloping cataclysm
transformed the universe into a green-white stream of brine. From ahead,
above and from both sides the flood poured, to meet and mingle in a
whirling maelstrom in the middle of the bridge. There was nothing of
blown spindrift to it; it was green and solid and flowed with a heave
and a hurl that made no more of slamming a man to the deck than of
tossing a life-buoy. I went the whole length of the bridge when I lost
my grip on the port stanchion, brought up against the after-rail, and
then went down into a tangle of signal flags. I remember distinctly,
though, that the walls of water rushing by completely blotted out sea
and sky to port and starboard, and that there was all the darkness of
late twilight in the cavern of the engulfed bridge. Then the great sea
tumbled aft along the main deck, and it grew light again.

The captain and the helmsman had both kept their feet, and the latter,
dripping from head to heel, was just throwing over the engine-room
telegraph as I shook off my mantle of coloured bunting and crawled back
to my moorings at the stanchion. Immediately afterwards I saw him jump
on to the after-rail and make some sort of negative signal to a couple
of half-drowned boys who, waist-deep in swirling water, were pawing
desperately among the depth-charges. Then he came over and joined me for
a few moments.

"Some sea, that," he said, slipping down his hood and throwing back the
brine-dripping hair from his forehead. "It's happened before, but never
like that. Lord only knows what it's done to her. S'pose we'll begin to
hear of that in a minute." He pointed to a string of porcelain
insulators dangling at the end of twisted bits of wire in front of one
of the paneless windows. "That's the remains of our auxiliary radio," he
said, grinning; "and look at the fo'c'sle. Swept clean, pretty near.
Thank heaven, the gun's left. But, do you remember that heavy iron bar
the muzzle rested on? Gone! It was probably that, with some of the
shells in the rack, that made all that rat-a-tat. But what of it? Look
how she rides 'em now that she's eased down a bit. Only trouble is,
she's got to go it again. Look how we've dropped back." And he gave the
engine-room, by voice-pipe, a new "standard" speed, and threw the
telegraph over to "Full."

The pulsing throb began anew, and under the urge of speeding propellers
the _Zip_, steering in narrowed zig-zags quickly regained her station.
All of the destroyers, and the _Lymptania_ as well, had eased down
slightly, and the reduced speed meant also a reduction of the danger of
another of those deep-sea dives, something no craft but a submarine is
built to stand the strain of. But even as it was we were driving right
up to the limit of endurance all the time, and the sea that did not come
rolling up green right over the bows was the exception rather than the
rule. From the forecastle right away aft there was never more than a few
seconds at a time when the main deck was free of rollicking cascades of
boiling brine, and there were moments when only the funnels and the
after superstructure, rearing up like isolated rocks on a storm-beaten
coast, were visible above the swirling flood. There were times when the
men standing-by at the guns and torpedo-tubes seemed almost to be
engulfed; yet none of them was swept away, and they even--from the way
they kept joking each other in the lulls--appeared to be getting a good
deal of sport out of the thing.

The barometer was falling, and both wind and waves gained steadily in
force as the afternoon lengthened and merged into a twilight that was
itself already melting before the rising moon. Clouds were few and
scattering, and it was plain there were to be no hours dark enough to
offer any protection from submarine attack. Looming as large as ever,
the big liner offered scarcely a better target on the side she was
illuminated by the moonlight than on the one from which she was
silhouetted against it. From either side a fifth of a mile of steel
would "take a lot of missing," and her captain, sensibly enough, would
not ease his engines by a revolution more than was necessary to keep
within his destroyer screen. It was plainly up to the destroyers to
stick it to the limit, and that is just what they did. As I heard one of
the men put it, it was the "bruisiest" bit of escort-work they had ever
been--or probably ever will be--called upon to face, but every one of
those Yankee destroyers stayed with it to the finish.

Now it would be the _Zop_ that would emerge from under a mountainous sea
and come drifting back without steerage weigh, rolling drunkenly in the
trough, and now it would be the _Zap_. And now this or that result of a
"hydraulic ramming" would disable one of the others temporarily. But,
game to the last flake of brine-frosted camouflage, back they came to it
again, and again, and yet again. Sunrise of the next day found them
plugging on in station, and in station they remained until the
_Lymptania_, beyond the zone of all possible submarine danger, made a
general signal of "Thank you," and headed off to the westward on her
own.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of the dim grey dawn of the morning after the night before, battered
and buckled, but still unbroken, the wearily waggling line of the
_Lymptania's_ late escort trailed back into harbour. The mussed-up
silhouette of every one of them bore mute testimony to the way she had
been put "through the mill," and, in most cases, the things that met the
eye were not the worst. The _Zop_ needed every yard of the channel as
she zig-zagged up it under a jury steering-gear, and the _Zap_, like a
man dazed from a blow, would have sudden "mental hiati" in which she
would straggle carelessly out of line with an inconsequential
going-to-pick-flowers-by-the-roadside sort of air. The _Zim's_
idiosyncrasies had more of an epileptic suddenness about them, and her
hectic coughing plainly indicated some kind of "lung trouble." Our
little _Zip_ presented a very brave front to the outer world, but I
heard hollow clankings punctuating the erstwhile even hum of the
engines, while the drip, drip, drip and the drop, drop, drop through the
crinkled sheet-steel sheathing of my cabin told that the deck-plates of
the forecastle fitted a good deal less snugly than before they had
played anvil to the lusty head-sea hammer.

But the _Flossie_, the "latest, the swiftest, the flotilla's pride"--the
wounds of all the rest of us put together were as nothing to those of
the _Flossie_. In trying to maintain her pride of place at the head of
the escort, she _had_, for a brief space, unleashed those extra knots of
speed the captain had spoken of, and all that, and even more than, he
had prophesied had come to pass. It was just such a swaggerer of a sea
as that first one that _Zip_ had dived into which did the trick, only,
as the _Flossie_ was going faster, the impact was somewhat more severe.
She was a mile or more distant from us when it happened, and, watching
from the bridge of the _Zip_, we simply saw her dissolve into a
sky-tossed spout of foam. When she reappeared she was floating, beam-on,
to the seas, and, for the moment, an apparently helpless hulk.

The captain's instant diagnosis of a couple of muffled detonations which
followed was entirely correct.

"That sea must have 'jack-knifed' the _Flossie_ so sharply," he said,
"that the recoil took up the slack in the wires, releasing two 'cans'
she seems to have had set and ready. It's about the same thing as just
happened to us, except that the tautened wire only rang the stand-by
bell, the signal for the men to set the depth-charges. First thing I did
after we came to the surface was to negative that supposed order. That
was what I was doing when I waved to those boys who were clawing at the
'cans,' with their heads under water. Lucky they weren't carried away."

It was a chastened _Flossie_ which had gone floundering back to station
a few minutes later, but somehow or other she had managed to carry on,
and now she was back at Base. I won't "give comfort to the enemy" by
trying to describe her appearance, but some hint of it may be gleaned
from the laconic comment of one of the _Zip's_ signalmen, as the
"Flotilla's Pride" was warping in to moor alongside the mother ship.

"Gee whiz!" he ejaculated. "See the old _Vindictive_ limpin' home from
Zeebruggy! S'pose they'll fill her up with concrete now an' block a
channel."

The captain grinned as he overheard the remark where he waited by the
starboard rail for the last of the mooring lines to be made fast. "It's
not quite so bad as that," he said. "If need be, they'll have her, and
all the rest of us, right as trivets in three or four days, and quite
ready to take the sea again when our turn comes. It's all in the convoy
game, anyhow, and not such bad fun after all, 'specially when it's
behind you, and you've got a bath, and a change, and a lunch at the
Club, and an afternoon of tennis in immediate prospect. Come along."



CHAPTER VI

YANK BOAT _versus_ U-BOAT


It was the turn of the tide and the turn of the day on the "quiet waters
of the River Lee." Pale blue columns of smoke rose above the verdant
boskiness which masked the squat brown cabins where the peat fires
smouldered, and along the straggling stone wall which crowned the ridge
the swaying heads of home-returning cows showed intermittently against
the glowing western sky. The peacefulness of it was almost palpable. You
seemed to breathe it, and could all but reach out with the hand and
touch it.

It permeated even to the long lines of lean destroyers in the stream,
and it was the subtly suggestive influence of it which had deflected
homeward the minds of the motley-clad sailors who were lounging at ease
about the stern of the first of a "cluster" of three of these--like a
sheaf of bright multi-coloured arrows the trim craft looked, with the
level rays of the setting sun striking across them where they lay moored
alongside each other--and set tongues wagging of the little things
which, magnified by distance, loom large in the imaginations of men in
exile.

They were deep in the "old home town" stuff when I sauntered
inconsequently aft on the off-chance of picking up a yarn or two, but as
there appeared to be no one present from my part of the country, no
immediate opportunity to break in presented itself. Equally an outsider
was I when the flow of discussion turned to woollen sweaters and socks
and mufflers, and the golden trails of romance leading back from the
names and messages sewed or knitted into them.

No fair unknowns had ever sent _me_ any of these soft comforts, and
after I had heard a lusty youngster from Virginia tell how a "sweater
address" he had written what he described as a "lettah that was good and
plenty w'am, b'lieve me," replied that she was "jest goin' twelve
years," and that her mother didn't think she ought to be thinking of
marriage just yet--after that I didn't feel quite so bad over not having
had a chance to open one of these "woolly" correspondences. There was
some solace, too, in hearing a pink-cheeked young ex-bank clerk tell how
the "abdominal bandage" (they name them, as a rule, after the garment
that starts the correspondence), with whom he had exchanged something
like a dozen letters of cumulative passion, brought the affair to a
sudden and violent end by some indirect and inadvertent admission which
showed that she remembered when Grant was President.

But when the talk drifted, as it always does in the end, to baseball
and baseballers, I knew that there was going to be an opening for me
presently, and stood by to take advantage of it. A three-year absentee
from the bleachers, I was not sufficiently up on last season's pennant
race "dope" to do more than make frequent sapient observations on this
or that big-leaguer's stickwork or fielding as he was mentioned; but
when they began to discuss, or rather to wrangle over, for discuss is
far too polite a term, the theory of the game and to grow red in the
face over such esoterics (or "inside stuff," to put it in "Fanese") as
how and when a "squeeze" ought to be pulled off, I showed them the
bulbous first joint of the little finger of my right hand--which there
is no other way of acquiring than by the repeated telescopings of many
seasons on the diamond--and was welcomed at last on equal terms. A seat
was offered me on a depth-charge, across the business end of which an
empty sack had been thrown to prevent a repetition of what came near
happening the time a stoker, who was proving that Hans Wagner could
never again be a popular idol now that we were at war with the Huns,
punctuated his argument by hammering with a monkey-wrench on the firing
mechanism.

They were not as impressed as they should have been when I told them
that I learned the game under the tutelage of the mighty Bill Lange
(this, of course, because the incomparable "Big Bill" was at his zenith
long before their time); but they were duly respectful when I said I
had played three years' Varsity baseball, and became quite deferential
when I assured them I had also survived a season of bush-league in the
North-West. There was some kind of electrician rating in the crowd who
had been a bush-league twirler before his "wing went glass," as he put
it, and he, it soon transpired, had played in one place or another with
a number of my old team mates of the Montana League. Deep in
reminiscence of those good old days, I quite forgot my subtle scheme of
using baseball as a stalking-horse for destroyer yarns, when the arrival
of some callers from a British sloop lying a mile or two farther down
the harbour recalled it to me. They had been in the _Moonflower_, the
man next me said, when she put a U-boat out of business not long before,
and one of them--he had some sort of decoration for his part in the
show--spun a cracking good yarn about it if you got him started. This
latter I managed to do by asking him how it chanced that the
_Moonflower_ was allowed to sport a star on her funnel. The story he
told, the while he rolled cigarettes and worked his jaws on Yankee
chewing-gum, revealed rather too much that may be used in some future
surprise party to make it possible to publish just yet, but it had the
desired effect of turning the current of reminiscence U-boatward. That
was what I wanted, for, now that men from several other destroyers had
come aboard and sauntered aft to join the party, the opportunity for
finding out at firsthand just what the American sailors thought of the
anti-submarine game at the end of a year and a half of it was too good
to be missed.

There was a considerable variety of opinions expressed in that last hour
of the second dog-watch on the intricate inside stuff of the anti-U-boat
game, just as there had been about baseball, but there was one point on
which they were practically agreed: that Fritz, especially during the
last six months, was not giving them a proper run for their money. This
is the way one of them, a bronzed seaman gunner, with the long
gorilla-like arms of a Sam Langford, and gnarled knots of protuberant
muscles at the angles of his jaws, epitomized it: "We sees Fritzie, or
we don't. Mostly we don't, for he ducks under when he pipes our smoke.
If he's stalkin' a convoy there's jest a chance of him givin' us time
for a rangin' shot at him on the surface. Then we waltzes over to his
grease and scatters a bunch of 'cans' round his restin'-place. An' if
the luck's with us, we gets him; an' if the luck's with him, we don't.
If we crack open his shell, down he goes; if we jest start him leakin',
up he comes. Only dif'rence is that, in one case, it's all hands down,
and in t'other, all hands up--'Kamerad!' In both cases, no fight, no run
for our money. Now when we first come over, an' 'fore we'd put the fear
o' God into Fritzie's heart, he wasn't above takin' a chance at a
come-back now an' again. _Then_ there was occas'nal moments of
ple'surabl' excitement, like the time when"--and he went on to tell of
how an enterprising U-boat commander slipped a slug into the _Courser_
abreast her after superstructure, and "beat it" off before that stricken
destroyer had a chance to retaliate. Only the fact that, by a miracle,
the torpedo failed to detonate her depth-charges saved the _Courser_
from destruction, and even as it was, rare seamanship had been required
to take her back to port. And he also told of the unlucky _John
Hawkins_, which a U-boat had actually put down, and the grim situation
which confronted the sailors when they found themselves sinking in a
ship which carried a number of depth-charges set on the "ready." But all
that, he said, with the air of an old man speaking of his departed
youth, was before they had begun to learn Fritzie's little ways, and
before Fritz, perhaps as a consequence, had begun to lose his nerve.
Now, far from being willing to put up a fight with a destroyer, it was
only "once in a blue moon that he's got the guts to put up a scrap even
to save his own hide."

A slender fair-haired lad, with a quick observant eye which revealed him
as a signalman even before one looked at his sleeve, cut in sharply at
this juncture.

"Then there must have been a blue moon shedding its light over these
waters last month," he said decisively. "I quite agree with you that
Fritz hasn't got the nerve--or it may be because he's got too much
sense--to take a chance at a destroyer any more. But in the matter of
putting up a fight for his life--yes, even for giving a real run for the
money--well, all I can say is that if you'd been out on the _Sherill_
about three weeks ago, you wouldn't be making that complaint about one
particular Fritz at least. If going eighteen hours, with two or three
destroyers and a sloop or two doing everything they know how to crack in
his shell all the time, without chucking his hand in, and very likely
getting clear in the end--if that isn't putting up a fight for life and
giving a run for the money, I don't know what is."

I had heard this astonishing "battle of wakes and wits," as someone had
christened it, referred to on several occasions, but had never had the
chance to hear any of the details from one who had had anything like the
opportunities always open to a signalman to follow what is going on.
"Most of the bunch have heard all they want to hear of it already," the
lad replied with a laugh when I asked him to tell me the story; "and,
besides, a more or less long-winded yarn of the kind I suppose you want
would tire 'em to tears anyway. If you really want to hear something of
it, come over to the _Sherill_ (that's her stern there, just beyond the
_Flossie_) any time after eight bells. I go on watch then, but it's a
'stand easy' in port, and there'll be time for all the yarning you
want."

I closed with that offer at once, and eight bells had not long gone
before I had picked my precarious way over to the _Sherill_, and climbed
the ladders to her snug little bridge. My man was there already, whiling
away the time by rewriting an old college football song (he had been in
his freshman year at Michigan when America came into the war) to fit
destroyer work in the North Atlantic. I found him stuck at the end of
the second line of the first verse, because the only rhymes he could
think of for flotilla were Manila and camarilla, neither of which seemed
sufficiently opposite to be of use, and he was rather glad of an excuse
for putting the job by to await later inspiration.

I gave him a "lead" for the U-boat yarn he had lured me there to hear,
and he launched into it at once. This is the story the young signalman
of U.S.S. _Sherill_ told me, the while the red squares of the cottagers'
windows blinked blandly along the bank in the lengthening twilight and
the purple shadows of the western hills piled deeper and duskier upon
the "quiet waters of the River Lee."

       *       *       *       *       *

"We were out on convoy," he said, speaking the first words slowly
between the teeth which held the string of the tobacco sack from which
the gently manipulated paper in his hand had been filled. "It was some
kind of a slow convoy--probably a collier or an oiler or two--and there
were only two of us on the job--the _McSmall_ and the _Sherill_. It was
just the usual ding-dong sort of a drudge up to about four in the
afternoon of the first day out, when the _McSmall_ made a signal that
she had sighted a submarine on the starboard bow of the convoy, distant
about five miles, and immediately stood off to the west to see if
anything like a strafe could be started. She was more than hull-down on
the horizon when I saw, by the way the angle of her funnels was
changing, that she was manoeuvring to shake loose a few 'cans' into
the oil-slick she had run into, but I remember distinctly that I felt
the jolt of the under-water explosions stronger than from many we had
kicked loose from the _Sherill_, and which had detonated only a hundred
yards or so off. It's just a little trick the depth-charge has. The
force of it seems to shoot out in streaks, just like an explosion in the
air, and you may feel it strong at a distance and much less at fairly
close range. So far as we ever learned, this opening salvo did not find
its target.

"Meanwhile the _Sherill_ was escorting to the best of her ability alone.
Or at least we thought we were alone. About half an hour after the
_McSmall_ had laid those first 'cans,' however, one of the
quartermasters reported sighting a periscope on the port quarter of the
convoy, about five hundred yards distant, and headed away. We signalled
its presence to the convoy, turned eight points to port, and drove at
full speed for the point where the wake of the moving finger had pinched
out.

"We had received a report that morning to the effect that two submarines
were operating in these waters, and there is just the chance, therefore,
that this was a joint attack. Everything considered, however, we have
been inclined to believe that the Fritz we were now starting to make the
acquaintance of was the same one which the _McSmall_ was still
assiduously hunting some miles off to the westward. It was a mighty
smart piece of 'Pussy-wants-a-corner' work, shifting his position like
that under the circumstances; but it was quite possible if the Fritz
only had the guts for it, and that I think you'll have to admit this
particular one had.

"It's seconds that count in a destroyer attack on a U-boat, and the
captain hadn't lost a tick in jumping into this one. The dissolving 'V'
which the ducked-in periscope had left behind it was still visible in
the smooth water when the _Sherill's_ forefoot slashed into it, and it
was only a few hundred yards beyond that a slow undulant upcoiling of
currents marked, faintly but unmistakably, the under-water progress of
the game we were after. There was no oil-slick, understand, because an
uninjured submarine only leaves that behind--except through
carelessness--when it dives after a spell on the surface running under
engines. Then the exhausts cough up a lot of grease and oil, and a layer
of this, sticking to the stern, leaves a trail that rises for some
little time after submergence, and which almost any kind of a dub who
has been told what to look for can follow.

"The spotting of the surface wake of a deep-down submarine, and the
holding of it after it almost disappears with the slowing down of the
screws that make it, is quite another thing. _That_ takes a man with
more than a keen eye--it takes instinct, mixed with a lot of common
sense. It's a common thing to say of a successful look-out that he has a
'quick nose for submarines.' The expression is used more or less
figuratively, of course; and yet the nose--the sense smell--is by no
means a negligible factor in detecting the presence, and even the
bearing, of a hunted U-boat. I will tell you shortly how it figured in
this particular instance.

"That wake was swirling up so strong when we struck it that it was plain
the submarine was still only on the way down, and it was no surprise
when, a few seconds later, the distinct form of it was visible, close
aboard under the starboard side of the bridge.

"I don't mean that it was distinct in the sense that you could see
details such as the bow or stern rudders, or even the conning-tower, but
only that a moving cigar-shaped blob of darker green could be plainly
made out. The for'ard end was rather more sharply defined than the
after, probably because the swirl from the propellers made uneven
refraction about the tail. It was doubtless a good deal deeper than it
looked, and the fact that it could be seen at all must have been almost
entirely due to the fact that the absence of wind left the surface quite
unrippled.

"The appearance of the submarine abreast the bridge was our cue to get
busy, and I won't need to tell you that we went to it good and plenty.
We were primed for just that kind of an emergency, and we slapped down a
barrage in a way that looked more like chucking coppers for kids to
scramble after than the really scientific planting of high explosives
that it was. For a minute or two the little old _Sherill_, dancing down
the up-tossed peaks of the explosions, jolted along like the canoe you
are dragging over a 'corduroyed' portage. Then the going grew smooth
again, and under a hard-over right rudder we turned back rejoicing to
gather in the sheaves. Yes, it looked quite as simple as harvesting on
the old home farm, and it didn't seem that there could be anything left
to do but to go back and pick up with the rake what the mower had
brought low. And so it would have been on an ordinary occasion, which,
unluckily, this was not. From the first to last, indeed, it was quite
the contrary.

"The whole map of that little opening brush was spread out before us as
we came back, and almost as clearly, for the moment, as though modelled
in coloured clay. The _Sherill's_ wake, though it had obliterated that
of the submarine, coincided with the tell-tale swirl of the latter we
had followed, while the round patches of spreading foam made the
dizzily dancing buoys temporarily superfluous as markers of the spots
where the depth-charges had exploded. Like every other story that is
writ in water, this one was rapidly dissolving; but, from all that we
needed to learn from it, the record was as complete as a bronze relief.

"That there was to be another chapter to the story became evident before
we had doubled back half the length of that part of the wake we had
sprinkled with 'cans.' At about the point where two-thirds of that sheaf
of depth-charges had been expended a clearly defined wake of oil and
bubbles turned sharply off to the left. The presence of that little
trail cleared up several important points right then and there without
following it any farther, though I will hardly need to tell you that we
didn't drop anchor to hold a court of inquiry over it. The vital thing
it told us was that--strange as it seemed--our under-water bombardment
had not sent the U-boat to the bottom, nor even injured it sufficiently
to compel it to come to the surface. But that it was injured, and
probably fairly badly, was proved by the wake of oil and bubbles. Don't
ever let any one delude you with that yarn about the way Fritz sends up
oil and bubbles to baffle pursuit. There may be circumstances under
which he could work that particular brand of foxiness with profit, but
if there is one place where you could be sure he would _not_ try
anything of that kind on, it is when a destroyer has got his nose on his
trail, with her eye and ears a-cock for just that kind of little
first-aid to 'can-dropping.' For a submarine voluntarily to release air
or oil when a destroyer is ramping round overhead would be just about
like a burglar scattering a trail of confetti to baffle the pursuit of
the police. Fritz is as full of ways that are dark and of tricks that
are vain as Ah Sin, but--with the hounds at his heels--nothing so
foolish as that oil and bubble stunt of popular fiction.

"The first few of the 'cans' had evidently burst near enough to this
Fritz to buckle his shell and release the oil and air, but his sharp
right-angled turn to the left had taken him quite clear of the last of
the charges, which had only been thrown away. Wounded and winged as he
appeared to be, the next thing in order was to polish him off. Slowing
down slightly, the captain steadied the _Sherill_ on the wake.

"As we passed the point where this was rising, the rate at which it was
extended gave the approximate speed of the U-boat, and the fact that
this was not above three knots seemed only another indication that all
was not well with him. Holding on past the 'bubble fount,' we passed
over the point below which the U-boat must have been moving, but now he
was so much more deeply submerged than before that no hint of his
outline was visible on either side. We knew he was there, however, and
when we hit the proper place shook loose another shower of 'cans' over
him.

"There is nothing deeply mysterious about the calculations in dropping
depth-charges, for in no sense of the term can it be called an
instrument of precision. Indeed, it is of the bludgeon rather than the
rapier type. If you have a wake to guide, you approximate his speed and
course from that, guess at his depth, set the charge at the
corresponding depth from which you judge its explosion will do most
good, and then, allowing for your own speed and course, release it at a
point which you reckon the target will have reached by the time the
charge gets down on a level with it. It is something like bomb-dropping
from an aeroplane, only rather less accurate, because you don't see your
target as a rule.

"This is more than compensated for, however, by the greater
vulnerability of its target and the fact that the force of an
under-water explosion is felt over a wider area than that of an
air-bomb. That's about all there is to it. Success in 'can-dropping'
depends about half on the skill and judgment of the man directing it,
and about half on luck. Or perhaps I should say that fifty-fifty was
about the way it stood when we started in at the game. Naturally, as we
have accumulated experience, skill and judgment begin to count for more
and luck for less, though we are a long way from reaching the point
where the latter is eliminated entirely.

"Again we circled back to pick up the pieces, and again we found only a
wake of oil and bubbles angling sharply off from where the 'cans' had
been dropped. It was encouraging to note that both oil and bubbles were
rising faster than before, but there was surprise and disappointment in
the fact that they were now streaming along at a rate which indicated
Fritz was hitting an under-water speed of six or seven knots.

"By now it was plain what his method was, however. This was to steady on
his course till his hydrophones, which all U-boats are fitted with, of
course, told him we were bearing down on him, and then to start making
'woggly' zigzags. The captain was doing some deep thinking as we headed
in for the next attack, and I noticed him following his stopwatch with
more than usual care as he jiggled off the 'cans.'

"One of the detonations had a different kick from the others, and I was
just speculating if it had been a hit, when up comes Fritz, rolling like
a harpooned whale.

"We were just turning sharp under left rudder and, not wanting to take
any chances, the captain gave orders for all guns fearing to open fire.
No. 1 and No. 2 of the port battery got off about five rounds apiece,
and when the splashes from the exploding shells had subsided Fritz had
gone. It looked like a hundred to one that we had finished him--until we
ran into another of those darn wakes of oil and bubbles reeling off at
a good five or six knots.

"Again we 'canned' him, and again the thickening trail of grease gave
promise that, if nothing else, we were at least bleeding him hard,
perhaps to death. As there was no doubt that he was still a going
concern, however, the captain decided on a change of tactics, to try
attrition, so to speak, instead of direct assault.

"There is, of course, a limit to the number of 'cans' a destroyer can
carry, and those which still remained he wanted to husband against a
better chance to use them with effect. The several remaining hours of
daylight would be enough, if the U-boat could be kept running at maximum
speed, to exhaust its batteries in and force it to come to the surface
for lack of power to keep going submerged. A submarine, you understand,
unless it can lie on the bottom, which was impossible here on account of
the depth, must keep under weigh to maintain its bouyancy, so it follows
that the exhaustion of its batteries leaves no alternative but coming
up. That was what we were now driving at with this one.

"About this time, hearing the radio of the _Cushman_ close aboard, the
captain sent a signal requesting her help in clearing up the job in
hand. She hove in sight presently, accompanied by the _Fanny_, which was
out with her on some special stunt of their own. They had an hour to
spare for us, and in that time we played just about the merriest little
game of hide-and-seek that any of our destroyers have had with a Fritz
since the Yanks came over.

"He wasn't left time to sit and think for a single minute. Now a
destroyer would come charging up his wake from astern and shy a 'can' at
his tail; now one would ambush him from ahead and try and have one
waiting where his nose was going to be.

"It was a good deal like when three or four of us kids used to spear
catfish in a muddy pool. We were always grazing one, but never quite
getting it. And, believe me, the wake of one of those catfish didn't
have anything on the wake of that Fritz for sinuosity.

"He was zigzagging constantly, and just after charges had been dropped
on him he twice broached surface. It was only for a few seconds though,
and never long enough to offer a target for even a ranging shot. Once we
tried to ram, but he turned as he submerged, and the forefoot cut into
nothing more solid than his propeller swirl.

[Illustration: A LIMIT TO THE NUMBER OF "CANS" A DESTROYER CAN CARRY]

"After the _Cushman_ and _Fanny_ left us to resume their own job the
_Sherill_ took up the chase again on her own account. There were still
about three hours to go till dark, and two of these we spent in keeping
our quarry on the jump by every trick we knew. Then we stood away, and
gave him a chance to come up and start charging on the surface. When it
finally became evident that he was not going to take advantage of our
consideration on this score, we closed in again, picked up his wake,
sent down another 'can' or two to tell him what we thought of him.

"The last of these must have been near to a hit, for it brought up oil
bubbles three feet in diameter, with smaller bubbles of air inside of
them. The oil-slick left behind by his wake was so heavy that, even in
the failing light, it was visible for several miles. He was now making
about five knots. We followed that broad slick of oil for some time
after darkness had fallen, and it was not till a little before midnight
that we lost it.

"There wasn't much hope of regaining touch before daybreak, but on the
off-chance the captain started circling in a way that would cover a lot
of sea, and yet not take us too far from the centre of interest.

"It was a little after one in the morning that one of the
look-outs--perhaps 'sniff-outs' would be a better term under the
circumstances--reported an oil smell to windward. The captain promptly
ordered her headed up into the wind, with sniffers stationed to port and
starboard, fore and aft. Every man on watch was sniffing away on his
own, of course, and you can bet it would have been a funny sight if
there had only been enough light for us to see one another in. Nosing--I
can use the term literally this time--slowly along, turning now to port,
now to starboard, as the oil smell was strongest from this side or that,
within ten minutes we picked up a slick which, even in the darkness, it
was evident was trending to south'ard. For an hour and a half we
zigzagged up along that wake, keeping touch by smell until just before
three o'clock, when the new well-risen moon showed it up distinctly to
the eye. No," answering my frivolous interruption, "I don't recall
noticing at the time that it was a _blue_ moon.

"Ten minutes later we came up to where the wake turned to
south-westward, and had a brief glimpse of Fritz trying to evade
detection by running down the moon-path. He was plainly near the end of
his juice, and taking every chance that offered to charge on the
surface. He ducked under before there was time for a shot, but, knowing
that he could hardly stay there for long, we continued following down
his wake.

"It was broad daylight when, at half-past four, we sighted him again,
running awash about five hundred yards ahead and slightly on the
starboard bow. Ordering the bow gun to open fire, the captain put the
_Sherill_ at full speed and headed in to ram. The shots fell very close,
but no hit was observed.

"He turned sharply to port, preparing to dive. We tried to follow with
full left rudder, but missed by twenty feet. His conning-tower and two
periscopes showed not over thirty feet from the port side as we swept
by. It was too close for a torpedo, nor was there a fair chance for a
depth-charge. The port battery was opening on him as he submerged.

"The strengthening breeze began kicking up the surface about this time,
making it difficult to follow the wake. It was six o'clock before we
circled into it again, to find that Fritz was now trying to blind
pursuit by steering his course so that the wake led away straight toward
the low morning sun. It was probably by accident rather than design that
his now reversed course also laid his wake across some of the zigzags of
his old oil-slick. At any rate, between that and the sun, we got off the
scent again, and did not get in touch till an hour later, when a thin
blue-white vapour to the eastward revealed the blow-off of his exhaust
where he had resumed charging on the surface.

"He was a good five miles away, but we turned loose at him with the bow
gun and started closing at full speed. At almost the same time, the
British sloop _Moonflower_--the same one we were talking about this
evening--stood in from eastward, also firing at the enemy, who was about
midway between us.

"Fritz disappeared under the foam-spouts thrown up by the fall of shot,
and, although two more destroyers joined in the hunt, which was
continued all that day and on to nightfall, no further trace of him was
discovered. Even if he did not sink at once, the chances are all against
his being in shape ever to get back to base. But just the same," he
concluded, with a wistful smile, "it would have been comforting to have
had something more tangible than the memory of an oil smell and
thirty-six hours without sleep as souvenirs of that little brush."

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been dark for an hour where the waters of the River Lee were
streaming seaward with the ebbing tide, but the tree-tops along the
crest of the eastward hills were silvering in the first rays of the
rising moon. The signalman was looking at it when I bade him good night
and started down the ladder to the main deck.

"I hope it isn't a blue one," he said with a grin; "we're expecting to
go out again tomorrow."



CHAPTER VII

ADRIATIC PATROL


Boring into a North Sea blizzard in a destroyer off the coast of Norway
is not exactly the kind of thing that one would think would turn a man's
thoughts to sunny climes, with scented breezes blowing over flowery
fields, and cobalt skies arching over sapphire waters, and all that sort
of thing; but the human mind moves in a mysterious way, and that is just
what Lieutenant K---- started talking about the night we were
shepherding the northbound convoy together, after it had been
temporarily scattered by what had proved to be an abortive German light
cruiser raid.

Sea-booted, mufflered and goggled, and ponderous where his half-inflated
"Gieve" bulged beneath his ample duffle-coat, he leaned over the
starboard rail of the bridge for a space to get the clear view ahead
that the frost-layer on the wind-screen denied him from anywhere
inboard. Then, just ducking a sea that rolled in tumultuously fluent
ebony over the forecastle gun and smothered the bridge in flying spray,
he nipped across and threw a half-Nelson around a convenient stanchion
before the pitch, as she dived down the back of the retreating wave,
threw him against the port rail.

"Got 'em all in line again," he said, pushing his face close to mine.
"That's something to be thankful for, anyhow. Didn't expect to round up
half of 'em before we had to stand away to pick up the southbound. Piece
of uncommon good luck. Now we can stand easy for a spell."

I was about to observe that "stand easy" didn't seem to me quite the
appropriate term to apply to the act of keeping one's balance on a craft
which was blending thirty-degree rolls with forty-degree pitches to form
a corkscrew-like motion of an eccentricity comparable to nothing else in
the gamut of human experience, when he continued with: "Not much like
what I was enjoying a month ago, this," indicating the encompassing
darkness with a rotary roll of his head. "I was in a destroyer at an
Italian base then--Brindisi--with the smell of dust and donkeys and
wine-shops in the air, and straight-backed, black-haired, black-eyed
girls, with rings in their ears and baskets of fruit--soft red and
yellow and blue fruit--on their heads. Now it's"--and she put her nose
deep into a wave that dealt her a sledge-hammer blow and sent spray
flying half-way to the foretop in a solid stream--"this, just this. Grey
by day, black by night, and slap-bang all the time. No light, no colour,
no atmosphere, no----"

"I quite understand," I cut in. "No straight-backed girls with rings in
their ears and fruit-baskets on their heads. Of course, there's more
light and colour down there than here; but wasn't there also a bit of
slap-bang to it now and then?"

"Ay, there was a bit," he replied. "There was the time----" He started
to tell me the already time-worn yarn of the Yarmouth trawler skipper
and the Grimsby trawler skipper, each of whom, enamoured of the same
Taranto maid, wooed her while the other was absent on patrol; of how one
of them, looking through his glass as he stood in toward the entrance on
one of his return trips, saw his rival walking on the beach with arm
round the waist of the artful minx in question, and her red-and-yellow
kerchief-bound head resting on his shoulder; of how the one on the
trawler, consumed by a jealousy fairly Latin in its intensity, swung
round his six-pounder, discharged it at the faithless pair, and--so
crookedly did the rage-blind eyes see through the sights--hit a
fisherman's hut half a mile away from his target!

I had heard the story in Taranto a year previously, and knew it to be
somewhat apocryphal at best. "I didn't mean that kind of 'slap-bang,'" I
said. "I was under the impression that the destroyers had some rather
lively work down there on one or two occasions."

"There were several brushes which might have been called lively while
they lasted," he admitted. "I was in one of them myself just before I
was transferred north."

"You don't mean the recent attack on the drifter patrol--the one where
two British destroyers stood the brunt of the attack of four Austrian
destroyers and a light cruiser or two?" I asked. "I have always wanted
to hear about that. I've heard Italian naval men say some very
flattering things of the way the British carried on."

"That's the one," he replied. "I was in the _Flop_--the one that got
rather the worst banging up."

"You've just got time for the yarn before your watch is over," I said,
settling myself into the nearest thing to a listening attitude that one
can assume on the bridge of a destroyer bucking a north-east gale. "Fire
away."

I didn't much expect he would "come through," for I had failed in so
many attempts to draw a good yarn by a frontal attack of this kind that
I had little faith in it as compared with more subtle methods. Perhaps
it was because rough methods were suited to the rough night; or it may
have been only because K----'s mind (his non-working mind, I mean; not
that closed compartment of sense and instinct with which he was
directing his ship) had drifted back to the Adriatic, and he was glad of
the chance to talk about it; at any rate, in the hour that had still to
go before eight bells went for midnight, to the accompaniment of the
banging of the seas on the bows and the obbligato of the spray beating
on the glass and canvas of the screens, he told me the story I asked
for.

"I don't need to tell you," he said, after giving the man at the wheel
the course for the next zigzag, "that the Adriatic is full of various
and sundry little traps and contrivances calculated to interfere as much
as possible with the even tenor of the way of the Austrian U-boats
which, basing at Pola and Trieste, sally forth in an endeavour to
penetrate the Straits of Otranto and attack the commerce of the
Mediterranean. You doubtless also know that this work is very largely in
British hands. This is no reflection whatever on our Italian ally. Italy
simply did not have the material and the trained men for the task in
hand, and since Britain had both, it was naturally up to us to step in
and take it over. This was done over two years ago; but, like the
anti-submarine work everywhere, it is only now just beginning to round
into shape to effect its ends. The winter of his discontent for the
U-boat in these waters is closing in fast.

"You will understand, too, that these various anti-U-boats contrivances
take a lot of looking after to prevent their interference with, or even
their complete destruction, by enemy surface craft. All the good
harbours are on the east coast of the Adriatic, and that sea is so
narrow that swift Austrian destroyers can raid all the way across it at
many points, and still have time to get back to their bases the same
night. With our own bases--the only practicable ones available--at the
extreme southern end of the Adriatic, our greatest difficulty, perhaps,
has been in guarding against these swift tip-and-run night-raids by the
enemy's speedy surface craft. I don't know whether the fact that we seem
to have about put an end to their operations of this kind is a greater
tribute to our enterprise or the Austrians' lack of it. The brush in
question occurred as a consequence of the latest of the Austrian
attempts to interfere with the measures which, he knows only too well,
will ultimately reduce his U-boats to comparative impotence.

"I was Number Two in the _Flop_, which, with the _Flip_, was patrolling
a certain billet well over toward the Austrian coast of the Adriatic. We
had turned at about eleven o'clock, and were heading back on a westerly
course, when the captain sighted a number of vessels just abaft the
starboard beam. Being almost in the track of the low-hanging moon, they
were sharply silhouetted; but the queer atmospheric conditions played
such pranks with their outlines that, for a time, he was deceived as to
their real character. The warm, coastal airs, blowing to sea for a few
hours after nightfall, have a tendency to produce mirage effects
scarcely less striking than those one sees on the desert along the Suez
Canal. It was the distortion of the mirage that was responsible for the
fact that the captain mistook two Austrian light cruisers for small
Italian transports (such as we frequently encountered on the run between
Brindisi and Valona or Santi Quaranti), and that he reported what
shortly turned out to be enemy destroyers as drifters.

"The captain had just made a shaded lamp signal to the _Flip_, calling
attention to the ships and their supposed character, when the white,
black-curling bow-wave of the two leaders caught his eye and made him
suspect they were warships. The alarm bell clanging for 'Action
Stations' was the first intimation I had that anything was afoot. In the
Adriatic, as everywhere else, everyone in a destroyer turns in 'all
standing'; so it was only a few seconds until I was out of my bunk and
up to my station on the bridge. It was not many minutes later before I
found myself in command of the ship.

"It was now clear that the force sighted consisted of two enemy light
cruisers and four destroyers, the latter disposed two on each quarter of
the rear cruiser. They were closing on us at high speed at a constant
bearing of a point or two abaft the beam. It was up to the _Flip_, as
senior ship, to decide whether to fight or to run away on the off-chance
of living to fight another day, something which was hardly likely to
happen in the event we closed in a real death grapple. The disparity
between our strength and that of the enemy would have entirely justified
us in doing our utmost to avoid a decisive fight, had it been that the
cards on the table were the only ones in the game. But this was hardly
the case. Out of sight, but still not so many miles distant, was another
subdivision of our destroyers, while overwhelming forces would
ultimately be hurrying up to our aid in case the enemy could be delayed
long enough. To close in immediate action was plainly the thing, and the
_Flip_ was turning in to challenge even as she made us a signal
indicating that this was her decision. A moment more, and we were
turning into line astern of her.

"Out of the moon-track now, the outlines of the enemy ships were
indistinct and shadowy, and it was from the dull blur of opacity above
the slightly phosphorescent glow of the 'bone' in the teeth of the
leading cruiser that the opening shot was fired. It lighted her up
brilliantly for the fraction of a second, and the ghostly geyser from
the bursting shell showed up distinctly a few hundred yards ahead of the
_Flip_. Both the sharpened image of the cruiser in the light of the
gun-fire and the time of flight of the shell helped us with the range,
and the fall of shot from the _Flip's_ opener looked like a very near
thing. We followed it with one from our fo'c'sl' gun, which was a bit
short, and the next, if not a hit, was only slightly over. At this
juncture, all six of the enemy ships came into action with every gun
they could bring to bear, and the _Flip_ and the _Flop_ did the same.
For the next few minutes things happened so fast that I can't be sure of
getting them in anywhere near their actual sequence.

"We began hitting repeatedly, and with good effect, after the first few
shots, and the _Flip_ also appeared to be throwing some telling ones
home. The enemy were hitting the both of us about the same time,
however, and, of course, with many times the weight of metal we were
getting to him. At this juncture the skipper of the _Flip_, evidently
figuring that the Austrians, now that they were fully engaged and had a
good chance of polishing us off, would not break off the fight, turned
southward with the idea of drawing them toward the other forces which we
knew would be rushing up in response to the signal we had sent out the
instant the character of the strange ships was evident.

"The _Flip_, like a big squid, began smoke-screening heavily as she
turned, the _Flop_ following suit. The sooty oil fumes poured out in
clouds thick enough to walk on, but unluckily, neither our course nor
the state of the atmosphere was quite favourable for making it go where
it would have served us best. Possibly it was because the _Flip_ was
making a better screen than the _Flop_, or possibly it was because they
were concentrating on the 'windy corner' just as we were rounding it. At
any rate, trying to observe through our rather patchy smoke the effect
of what appeared to be a couple of extremely well-placed shots of ours
on the leading cruiser, I suddenly became aware that all four of the
destroyers and the second cruiser were directing all of their fire upon
the poor little _Flop_. I don't recall exactly whether I twigged this
before we began to feel the effects of it or not, but I am rather under
the impression that I seemed to sense it from the brighter brightness--a
gun firing directly at you makes a more brilliant flash than the same
gun laid on a target ahead or astern of you--of the flame-spurts even
before I was aware of the sudden increase of the fall of shot.

"They had us ranged to a yard by this time, of course, and the captain
turned away a couple of points in an endeavour to throw them off. I
recall distinctly that it was just as the grind of the ported helm began
to throb up to the bridge that a full salvo--probably from one of the
cruisers--came crashing into us. My first impression was that we were
blown up completely, for of the two shells which had struck for'ard, one
had brought down the mast and the other had scored a clean hit on the
forebridge. There was also a hit or two aft, but the immediate effects
of these were not evident in the chaos caused by the others. This was
absolutely beyond description.

"The actual shock to a ship of being struck by a shell of even large
calibre is nothing to compare with that from almost any one of these
seas that are crashing over us now. But it is the noise of the
explosion, the rending of metal, and the bang of flying fragments and
falling gear that makes a heavy shelling so staggering, to mind if not
to body. Of course everyone on the forebridge was knocked flat by the
explosion of the shell which hit it, and the worst of it was that the
most of us didn't get up again. The sub and the middy who were acting as
Control Officers were blown off their platform and so badly knocked up
that they were unable to carry on. One signalman and one voice-pipe man
were killed outright.

"The rest of us were only shaken up or no more than slightly wounded by
this particular shell, but the one which brought down the mast added not
a little both to casualties and material damage. The radio aerials came
down with the mast, of course, and it was some of the wreckage from one
or the other that fell on the captain, wounding him severely in both
arms. Dazed and shaken, he still gamely stuck to the wreck of the
bridge, but the active command now fell to me.

"This damage, serious as it was, was by no means the extent of that
inflicted by this unlucky salvo. A third shell, as I shortly learned,
had passed through the fore shell-room and into the fore magazine. In
which it exploded I could not quite make sure, but both were set on
fire. This fire got to some of the cordite before it was possible to get
it away, and the ensuing explosion killed or wounded most of the supply
parties and the crews of the twelve-pounders. It was brave beyond all
words, the fight those men made to save the ship down in that
unspeakable hell-hole, and it was due wholly to their courage and
devotion that the explosion was no worse than it was. This trouble,
luckily, was hardly more than local, but a number of good lives was the
price of keeping it so.

"There was one other consequence of that salvo, and though it sounds
funny to tell about it now, it might well have made all the difference
in the world to us. In the bad smashing-up of the bridge of any ship by
shell-fire the means of communication with the rest of her--the
voice-pipes, telephones, telegraphs, etc.--are among the first things to
be knocked out. This means, if there are no alternatives left, that
directions have to be relayed around by shouting from one to another
until the order reaches the man to carry it out. This would be an
awkward enough expedient for a ship that is not under fire and fighting
for time and her life. What it is with the enemy's shell exploding about
you, and with your own guns firing, I will leave you to imagine. Well,
we had all this going on, and besides that a fire raging below that
always had the possibilities of disaster in it until it was
extinguished. Also, we were already short-handed from our losses in
killed and wounded. There wasn't anyone to spare to relay orders about
in any case. But what capped the climax was this: When the mast was shot
down, some of the raffle of rigging or radio fouled the wires leading
back to both of the sirens, turning a full pressure of steam into them
and starting them blowing continuously. It was almost as though the poor
maimed and mangled _Flop_ were wailing aloud in her agony.

"I didn't think of it that way at the time, though, for I had my hands
full wailing loud enough myself to make even the man at the wheel
understand what I wanted him to do. Luckily, the engine-room telegraph,
though somewhat cranky, was still in action, and orders to other parts
of the ship we managed to convey by flash-lamp or messenger. It was ten
minutes or more before they contrived to hush the sirens--it was cutting
off their steam that did it, I believe--and by then a new and even more
serious trouble had developed through the jamming of the helm. It was
hard over to starboard at that, so that the _Flop_ simply began turning
round and round like a kitten chasing its tail. This involuntary
manoeuvre had one favourable effect in that it seemed to throw the
Austrian gunnery off for a bit, though one shell which penetrated and
exploded in the after tiller-flat shortly after she began cutting capers
did not make it any easier to coax the jammed helm into doing its bit
again.

"Our 'ring-around-the-roses' course had resulted in our coming much
nearer to the enemy, who, seeing a chance to finish us off, was trying
to close the range at high speed. Our rotary course brought them on a
continually shifting bearing, and it was while they were coming up on
our port bow at a distance of less than a mile that it suddenly became
evident that the cruisers were about to present us the finest and
easiest kind of a torpedo target. The captain, who, in spite of his
wounds, was still trying to stick the show through, saw the opening as
soon as I did, and, because there was no one else free to attempt the
trick, tackled it himself. But it was a case of the spirit being willing
and the flesh weak. With every ounce of nerve in him he tried to make
his almost useless hands work the forebridge firing-gear. The chance
passed while he still fumbled frantically but vainly to release the one
little messenger--a mouldie--that would have been enough to square
accounts, and with some to spare. It was the hardest thing of all--not
being able to take advantage of that opening.

"It was twenty minutes before the helm was of any use at all, and the
Austrians had only their lack of nerve to thank for not putting us down
while they had a chance. It must have been because they were afraid of
some kind of a trap, for there were a half-dozen ways in which a force
of their strength could have disposed of a ship as helpless and
knocked-out generally as was the _Flop_. The _Flip_ had also been hard
hit, and when I had a chance for a good look at her again it appeared
that her mast, like ours, was trailing over the side. She was still
firing, however, and it was she rather than the enemy that was trying to
close. We were quite cut off from wireless communication, as all
attempts to disentangle the aerials from the wreckage of the mast had
been unsuccessful; but it was evident that help was coming to us, and
that the Austrians had in some way got wind of it. At any rate, our
immediate responsibilities were over. We had prevented the enemy from
reaching his objective, and possibly delayed him long enough for some of
our other ships to have a chance at harrying his retreat. It was now up
to us to limp to port on whatever legs we had left.

"We were still a long way from being out of action even now, but with
the fires continuing to burn fiercely in the fore magazine and
shell-room, with the helm threatening to jam every time course was
altered, and with a considerable mixture of water beginning to make its
presence felt in the oil, there was no telling what complications might
set in at any moment. As one of the Italian bases in Albania was rather
nearer than any port on the other side of the Adriatic, it was for that
we set our still erratic course.

"Our troubles were not yet over, however. Just as the moon came down and
sat on the sea preliminary to setting, squarely against the round yellow
background it formed I saw the silhouette of the conning-tower of a
U-boat. At almost the same instant the helm jammed again. Then it worked
free for a few seconds, but only to jam presently, just as before. This
continued during two or three minutes, and just as it was wangled right
and we began to steady again I saw the wake of a torpedo pass across our
bows. Half a minute later another one missed us in the same way, and by
about the same distance. I have always thought that nothing but that
providential jamming of the helm just then saved us from intercepting
both of those mouldies.

"The fires in the fore shell-room and magazine were eventually got under
control by flooding, and we were fairly cushy when we dropped anchor at
base a little before daybreak."

K---- lurched over to the starboard rail and counted the dark blurs that
represented the units of the straggling convoy. He was wiping snow and
spray from his face as he slid back on the roll to our stanchion.

"Fine place, Southern Albania," he muttered. "Plenty of heat and dust
and sunshine and----"

I never did hear what the rest of those Albanian attractions were. At
that juncture dusky figures emerging from the deeper gloom of the ladder
heralded the appearance of the middle watch, and for those relieved,
including myself, the world held just one thing--a long, narrow bunk,
with a high side rail to prevent the occupant from rolling out. You go
at your sleep on a destroyer as a dog dives at a bone, for you never
know how long it may be before you get another chance.



CHAPTER VIII

PATROL


The Senior Naval Officer (or the S.N.O., as they clip it down to) at
X---- had prepared me for finding an interesting human exhibit in the
sharp-nosed, stub-sterned little craft snuggled up to the breast of its
mothership for a drink of petrol, or whatever other life-giving essence
she lived and laboured on, but hardly for the highly diversified
assortment that was to reveal itself to me during those memorable days
we were to rub shoulders and soak up blown brine and grog together as
they threaded the gusty sea lanes of her winter North Sea patrol.

"I am sending you out on M.L.[D] ----," the S.N.O. had said as he gazed
down with an affectionate smile at the object of his remarks, "for
several reasons, but principally on account of the men that are in her.
You'll find them a living, breathing object-lesson in the adaptability
of the supposedly stodgy and inflexible Anglo-Saxon race. Her skipper,
to use one of his own favourite expressions, is a live wire--always
seems to be able to spark when there's trouble in the wind. He came from
somewhere in Western Canada, I believe. Seems to have tried farming
there for a spell, and I think he said something once about running his
own agricultural tractor. At any rate, in some way or another, he has
picked up more practical knowledge of petrol engines than many of our
so-called experts.

[Footnote D: Motor launch.]

"The fact is," continued the S.N.O. as we turned back towards his office
at the end of the quay, "the fact is that D----, though he never saw
salt water before he crossed the Atlantic to do his bit in the War, and
though he never has got and never will get, I'm afraid, his sea-legs, is
in many respects the most useful M.L. Officer I have ever had to do
with, and that's saying a good deal, let me assure you.

"He's always sick as a dog from the time he puts to sea to the time he
returns to port. The only thing that is liable to be more sick is the
Hun submarine he once gets his nose on. I've heard him say in a joking
way, two or three times, that he always could scent a Hun as far as he
could a skunk--I think that's what he calls it; and from some of the
things he's done I must confess I'm more than half inclined to believe
him. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement, however, is that of taking
eight or ten men, just as green as he was himself regarding the sea, and
making of them a crew that will handle that cranky little lump of a
craft pretty nearly as smartly as old trawler-men would on the nautical
side, and at the same time having a fund of resource always on tap that
is positively uncanny--almost Yankee, in fact," he added with a smile.
"Indeed, I believe D---- speaks of having knocked about the States a bit,
which may account for some of the 'wooden-nutmeg' tricks he has played
on the U-boats. Try to get him to tell you some of them. You'll hardly
be allowed to write much of them for a while yet--certainly not until
they have become obsolete through the introduction of new devices; but
you'll find it good material some day."

       *       *       *       *       *

M.L. ---- looked more diminutive than ever as I was rowed out to her
anchorage in the chill grey mists of the following morning; but a raw
cold, which had been striking through to the marrow of my bones,
dissolved, as by magic, before the friendly warmth of the welcome
which awaited me, when I had clambered up the sawn-off Jacob's Ladder
and over the wobbly wire rail. A slender but lithely active chap in a
greasy overall and jumper, to give it the Yankee name, gave me a
finger-crushing grip with his right hand, while with his left he deftly
caught and saved from immersion my kit-bag, which had fallen short in
the toss that had been given it from below. Just for an instant the
absence of visible insignia of rank made me think that he was a petty
officer of engineers, or something of the kind; then the magnetism of
his personality flowed to me through the medium of his hand-clasp, and I
knew I was looking into the eyes of a man who would not be likely to
figure for long as anything less than "Number One" on any kind of job he
ever undertook.

"You're just in time for a 'square,'" he said heartily, leading the
way to the tiny hatch and preceding me down the ladder. "You'll be
needing it, too, after that pull with nothing more than that sloppy
dish-wash kaffy-o-lay that you get at the hotel at this hour of the
morning on your stomach. Don't try to bluff me that you had anything
more. I know by sad experience. Now _I'll_ give you something that'll
stick to your ribs. What do you say to some Boston baked beans and a
'stack o' hots'? Guess I know what a 'Murican likes. Sorry my maple
syrup's gone, but here's some dope I synthesised out of melted sugar
and m'lasses--treacle, they call it over here."

Reaching the lower deck, we edged along to a transom at the end of a
table which all but filled the tiny dining-cabin.

"Shake hands with Mac," said the skipper by way of introducing me to a
tall and extremely good-looking youth in a Cardigan jacket, duffel
trousers, and sea-boots, who rose with a smile of welcome as we dropped
down beside him. "Mac's a Canuck, like myself," he went on, after asking
me if I liked my eggs "straight up" or "turned over," and passing the
order on to a diminutive Cockney with a comedian's face, who came
tripping in almost as though wafted on the "smell o' cooking" which
preceded him through the opened galley door.

"Mac learned his sailoring on his dad's yacht on Lake Ontario, and I
learned mine driving a 'deep-seagoing' side-wheel tractor on a ranch in
Alberta. Only time I was ever afloat before I became a 'Capt'in in the
King's Navee' was on a raft on the old Missouri, in Dakota; and that
isn't really being afloat, you know, for 'bout one half the water of
that limpid stream is mud and the other half catfish. A great pair of
old salts, we two--hey, Mac?

"And the rest of the crew's no more 'saline' than its 'orfficers.'
That's the way they say it, ain't it, Mac? Little 'Arry, the
galley-slave, was a knock-about artist in the London music-halls before
he 'eard the sea a-callin', and now he doesn't 'eed nothin' else, do
you, Harry? And you'll hear the sea a-callin' that nice big breakfast of
yours just as soon as we get outside the Heads, won't you, Harry? And
then you won't 'eed nothin' else for quite a while. And so'll Mac hear
the sea a-calling his breakfast, and so'll I, and so'll all the rest of
us--every mother's son. It's a fine lot of Jack Tars we are, the whole
bunch of us. Did I tell you that one of my quartermasters is an
ex-piano-tuner, and that the other was a Salvation Army captain before
he entered the Senior Service for the duration? And my Chief--that's him
you hear alternating between tinkering and swearing at the engines on
the other side of that bulkhead you're leaning against--owned a
motor-boat of his own before the War, and appears to have divided his
waking hours between racing that and his stable of motor-cars? You can
tell he was a gentleman once by the fluency of his cussing. He's the
only man I've met over here that could give yours truly any kind of a
run in dispensing the pungent persiflage; but I had the advantage of
driving mules as a kid.

"But cussing, though it helps with a lot of things, doesn't make a
sailor, and the Chief's no more of a Jack Tar than me or Mac or Harry.
Fact is, that the only man aboard who ever made his living out of the
sea before the war is a fisherman from the Hebrides; and even the
glossary in the back of my Bobbie Burns won't translate his lingo. Two
or three times, when the sea has been kicking up a bit, he has managed
to tell us that no self-respecting God-fearing sailor would be oot in
such weather. Possibly he's been right; but, as none of us are sailors,
we don't feel called on to pay much attention to his ravings. Our duty
is to harass any Huns that encroach on our beat; and the fact that we've
had a modicum of success in that line proves you don't have to be a
sailor to qualify for the job. Which don't mean, though," he concluded
with a smile of sad resignation as he rose and reached for his
oil-skins, "that I don't hope and pray that I'll develop the legs and
stomach of a sailor before the war's over."

When breakfast was eaten, forward and aft, all hands were piped on deck,
and in less than ten minutes M.L. ---- was under way and threading the
winding channels of a cliff-begirt Firth to the mist-masked waters of
the North Sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I picked my way forward to the little glassed-in cabin, which served
the double purpose of navigating-bridge and wheel-house, I told myself
that I was sure of two things--first, that the skipper, by birth,
breeding, residence, and probably citizenship, was an American of
Americans, and, second, that the chances were he would not admit that
fact unless I "surprised him with the goods." An Englishman will often
mistake a Canadian for an American but a Yankee himself will rarely make
that error. I was sure of my man on a dozen counts, and resolved to lay
in figurative ambush for him.

I all but had him within the hour. We were clear of the Heads, and the
skipper, having turned over to Mac, was trying to forget that imperious
call o' the sea he had chaffed 'Arry about by showing me round. He had
explained the way a depth-charge was released, and was just beginning to
elaborate on the functions of an old-fashioned lance-bomb.

"Now this fellow," he said, balancing the ungainly contrivance and
giving it a gingerly twirl about his head, "is a good deal like the
sixteen-pound hammer which I used to throw at college."

Knowing that the hammer-throw was not a Canadian event, I promptly cut
in with "What college?" "Minnesota," he answered readily enough;
adding, as I began to grin: "A good many Canadians go across there for
the agricultural courses." I resolved to await a more favourable
opportunity before bringing my "charge" point-blank. It came that
afternoon, when I stood beside him on the bridge as he bucked her
through ten miles of slashing head-sea, which had to be traversed to
gain the shelter of a land-locked bay beyond a jutting point, where we
were to lie up for the night. He was telling me U-boat-chasing yarns in
the patchy intervals between the demands of _mal de mer_ and navigation,
and one of them ended something like this: "Old Fritz--just as we
intended he should--caught the reflection of the flame through his
upturned periscope and, thinking his shells had set us afire, rose
gleefully to gloat over his Hunnish handiwork. Bing! I let him have it
just like that."

The motion with which he flung the lemon he had been sucking as an
antidote for sea-sickness could not have been in the least suggestive of
what really happened; but that straight-from-the-shoulder,
elbow-flirting, right-off-the-ends-of-the-fingers action was so like
another motion with which I had long been familiar, that, with a meaning
side-squint, I observed promptly:

"So you add baseball to your other accomplishments, do you? Did a bit of
pitching, if I don't miss my guess? How long have you played?"

"Since I was a kid," he admitted with a grin that sat queerly on the
waxy saffron of his sea-sick face. "Yes, I even 'tossed the pill' at
college--that is, until a shoulder I knocked out trying to slide home
one day spoiled my wing."

I knew I had him the instant that first admission left his lips. "Since
the kids weren't playing sand-lot baseball in Canada twenty years ago,"
I said, ducking low to let the spray from a sea which had just broken
inboard blow over, "you might just as well 'fess up and tell me which
neck of the Mississippi Valley you hail from. Just as one Yankee to
another," I pressed, as his piercing eye turned on me a look that seemed
to bore right through and run up and down my spine; "even as one Middle
Westerner to another, for I was born in Wisconsin myself."

For an instant his lips hardened into a straight line, and the flexed
jaw-muscles stood out in white lumps on either side; then his mouth
softened into a broadening grin, and a moment later he burst into a
ringing laugh.

"Sure thing, old man, since you put it on 'sectional' grounds, and since
we're going to be shipmates for a week, and"--fetching me a thumping
wallop on the back--"since we both wear the same uniform, anyhow, curly
stripe and all, I'll make a clean breast of it. I was born in
Kansas--got a farm there, near a little burg called Stockton,
to-day--and was never out of the Middle West in my life till I crossed
over into Canada to enlist in the first year of the war. I felt I had to
get into the show somehow, and the little old U.S.A. was hanging fire so
in the matter of coming in that I just couldn't wait. I'll tell you the
whole story when we're moored for the night."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have never been able to recall my yarn with D---- that evening without
a hearty guffaw. A rising barometer had cleared the grey smother of mist
from the sea, but a shift of the wind from south-east to north-east
exposed us to a blast which, chilled at its fount in the frozen fjords
of Norway, knocked the bottom out of the thermometer and filled the air
with needle-like shafts of congealed moisture that seemed to have been
chipped from the glassy steel dome of the now cloudless sky. There was a
filigree of frost masking the wheel-house windows before the early
winter night clapped down its lid, and the men who went forward to pass
a line through the ring of the mooring-buoy pawed the icy deck with
their stiff-soled sea-boots without making much more horizontal progress
than a squirrel treading its wheel.

It would have been bracing enough if there had been a cheery open fire,
or at least a glowing little sheet-iron stove, to thaw and dry out at,
as there is on most patrol craft, and even on many trawlers. But in the
particular type to which M.L. ---- belonged (the units of which are said
to have been built in fulfilment of a rush order given one winter on
the assumption that the War would be over before the next) there was no
refinements and few comforts. Heating is not included among the latter:
the only stove in the boat being in the galley, where the drying of wet
togs in restricted quarters is responsible for a queer but strangely
familiar taste to the pea-soup and Irish stew which you never quite
account for until you discover the line of grease on the corner of the
tail of your oilskin or the toe of your sea-boot.

The diminutive electric heaters are true to the first part of their name
rather than the last: that is to say, while they are undeniably
electric, it is equally certain that they do not heat. There _is_ a
certain amount of warmth in them, as I discovered the time I scorched my
blankets by taking one to bed with me; but that is of use only when you
can confine it and apply locally, which is rarely practicable in a small
craft at sea, even when you have the time for it.

It will be readily understood, therefore, why on a M.L., at sea in
really wintry weather, the only alternative to sitting up and being
slowly but surely chilled to the marrow is to doff wet togs as soon as
you come off watch, don dry ones, bolt your dinner, and turn in. This is
just what we had to do on M.L. ---- that night; for, besides the really
intense cold, a sea which came through the sky-light of the little
dining-cabin early in the afternoon had drenched cushions and curtains,
with enough left over to form an inch or two of swashing swirl upon the
deck. Poor 'Arry, with the effects of the "call o' the sea" still
showing in his hollow eyes and pasty cheeks, was not in shape to do much
either in the way of "slicking up" or "snugging down"; while the extent
of his culinary effort was limited to a kedgeree of half-boiled rice and
pale canned salmon, and a platter of eggs fried "straight up," according
to D----'s order, with the yolks glaring fish-eyedly at you from a
smooth, waxy expanse of congealed grease. D----, who was still somewhat
"introspective" himself, turned down the "straightups" straightaway,
bent a look that was more grieved than angry on the forlorn 'Arry, and
then, rising shiveringly, started edging along over the sodden divan
toward his cabin door.

"As principal medical officer of this ship," he said through chattering
teeth, "I prescribe the only treatment ever found to be efficacious in
such circumstances as the present--bunk, blankets, and hot toddy."

There were two bunks in D----'s narrow cabin, and it was not until we
had turned into these--he in the lower, I in the upper--that the
mounting glow of soul and body thawed the reserve which had again
threatened to grip him in the matter of where he came from, and set his
tongue wagging of his life on the old home farm, and from that to a
sketchy but vivid recital of things that he had done, and hoped still
to do, as the skipper of a British patrol boat. It is the vision that
the memory of that recital conjures up: D----, with a Balaclava helmet
pulled low over his ears, gesticulating excitedly up to where I, the
unblanketed portion of my anatomy shrouded to the eyes in a wool
duffel-coat, leaned out over the edge of the bunk above--that I can
never dwell on without laughing outright.

The story of the way in which it happened that D---- came over to get
into the game in the first place did not differ greatly from those I
have heard from a score or more of young Americans who, partly inspired
by a sense of duty and partly lured by the promise of adventure, sought
service in the British Army or Navy by passing themselves off as
Canadians. He had intended to enlist in the Army at first; but when he
found that six months or more might elapse before he would be sent to
the other side, he crossed at his own expense on the chance of avoiding
the delay. At the end of a disappointing month spent in trying to enlist
in some unit that had a reasonable expectation of going into active
service at once, the intervention of an old college friend--an able
young chemical engineer occupying a prominent post in Munitions--secured
him a sub-lieutenant's commission in the R.N.V.R. Although, as he
naïvely put it, the sea was no friend of his, it appears that the M.L.
game had proved congenial from the outset: so much so, indeed, that
something like three years of service found him with two decorations and
innumerable mentions to his credit, to say nothing of the reputation of
being one of the most resourceful, energetic and generally useful men in
a service in which all of those qualities are taken more or less as a
matter of course. He had gone in as a Canadian for fear that he might be
turned down as a Yankee, and then, to use his own words: "By the time
the U.S.A. began to take a hand, I had told so many darn lies about
hunting and fishing and farming in Alberta and British Columbia that I
concluded it would be less trouble to go on telling them than to start
in denying them. The boundary between Canada and the U.S.A. is more or
less of an imaginary line, anyhow, and so is that between the average
Yankee and Canuck. I reckon I've made it just as hot for the Hun as the
latter as I would have as the former, and that's really the only thing
that counts at this stage of the game." It was this last observation, I
believe, which started D---- talking of his work.

"Generally speaking," he said, reaching up the match with which he had
just lighted a cigarette to rekindle the tobacco in my expiring pipe,
"the rôle of the M.L. is very much more defensive than it is offensive.
It is supposed to police certain waters, watch for U-boats, report them
when sighted, and then carry on as best it can till a destroyer, or
sloop, or some craft with a real punch in it, comes up and takes over.
Well, my idea from the first has been to make that 'defensive' just as
'offensive' as possible, and it's really astonishing how obnoxious some
of us have been able to make ourselves to the Hun. Off-hand, since, with
his heavier guns, the average Hun is more than a match for us even on
the surface, there wouldn't seem much that we could do against him
beyond running and telling one of our big brothers. The perfecting of
the depth-charge gave us one very formidable weapon, however, and that
of the lance-bomb another, though the days when Fritz was tame and
gullible enough to allow himself to be enticed sufficiently near to
permit the use of the latter are long gone by. The most satisfying job I
ever did, though, was pulled off with a lance-bomb; and, since there is
not one chance in a thousand of our ever getting away with the same kind
of stunt again, there ought to be no kick on my telling you just how it
happened.

"You see," he went on, pulling a big furry-backed mitten on the hand
most exposed to the cold in gesticulation, and tucking the fingers of
the other inside the neck of the Balaclava for warmth, "Fritz is an
animal of more or less fixed habits, and so the best way to hunt him,
like any other animal, is to begin by making a study of his little ways.
I specialised on this for some months, confining myself almost entirely
to what he did in attacking, or when being attacked by, M.L.s, and
ignoring his tactics with sloops, trawlers, and other light craft. It
wasn't long before I discovered that his almost invariable
practice--when it was a matter of only himself and a M.L.--was to get
the latter's range as quickly as possible, endeavour to knock it out, or
at least set it afire, by a few hurried shots, and then to submerge and
make an approach under water for the purpose of making a closer
inspection of the damage inflicted. In this way the danger of a hit from
the M.L.'s gun was reduced to a minimum--an important consideration, as
a holing by even a light shell might well make it impossible to submerge
again. And a U-boat incapable of seeking safety in the depths is, in any
part of the North Sea where it would have been likely to meet a M.L.,
just as good as done for.

"I also found that when explosions had taken place in the M.L., or when
it was heavily afire by the time the U-boat drew near, it was the
practice of the latter to come boldly up and finish the good work at
leisure, with the addition of any of the inimitable little
Hunnisms--such as firing on the boats, or ramming them, or running at
full speed back and forth among the wreckage so as to give the screws a
good chance to chop up the swimming survivors--of which _Unterseeboot_
skippers were even then becoming past masters.

[Illustration: A DEPTH CHARGE]

[Illustration: DISABLED DESTROYER IN TOW]

"In short," here D---- paused for a moment while he lifted the little
electric heater and lighted a fresh cigarette on one of the glowing
bars, "in short, I studied the vermin in just the same way I did the
gophers and prairie-dogs when I started to exterminate them on my Kansas
farm. I found out when they were most likely to come up, when to stay
down; what things attracted them, and what repelled. Then I went after
them. Of course, there was no chance for the clean sweep I made of the
gophers and prairie-dogs, but we've still managed to keep our own little
section of the beat pretty clear.

"Having satisfied myself regarding the Hun's penchant for stealing up,
submerged, to gloat over the dying agonies of his victim, it seemed to
me that the obvious thing to do was to lead him on with an imitation
death-agony, and then have a proper surprise waiting for him when he
came up to gloat. The first thing I started working on was how to 'burn
up' and 'blow up' with sufficient realism to deceive the skipper of a
submerged U-boat, and still be in shape to spring an effective surprise
if he could be tempted into laying himself open to it.

"My first plan proved too primitive by far. I reckoned that the
'blowing-up' touch might be provided by dropping a depth-charge, and
that of 'burning up' by playing my searchlight on the surface of the
water on the side the approach was to be expected from. Neither was good
enough. The 'can' might have been set to explode on the surface, but
that could not be affected without running the chance of blowing in my
own stern. But the bing of a depth-charge detonating well under the
water is quite unmistakable, and the first U-boat I tried to lure with
one made off forthwith, plainly under the impression that it was the
object of an active attack. As for the searchlight, I saw that it
wouldn't do the first time I went down and took a peep at a trial of it
through the periscope of one of our own submarines. The beam did cast a
patch of brightness discernible through the upturned 'eye' at a depth of
from sixty to eighty feet, but it was neither red enough nor fluttery
enough to suggest anything like a burning ship. I set to work to devise
something more life-like, without ever waiting for a chance to draw a
Fritz with it.

"First and last, I tried a goodly variety of 'fire' experiments," D----
continued, snuggling down for a moment with both arms under the
blankets, "and I don't mind admitting that I'd like to have a few of
'em, smoke and all, flaming up all over this refrigerator right now. The
thing I finally decided to try consisted of nothing more than a light,
shallow tank of ordinary kerosene--paraffin oil, I believe they call it
here--made fast to a small, roughly built raft. The _modus operandi_ was
as simple as the contrivance itself. As soon as a U-boat was sighted,
the raft was to be launched on the _opposite_ side, and kept about
thirty feet out by means of a light boom. The next move was to be up to
Fritz, and it was fairly certain he would do one of two things--submerge
and make off, or remain on the surface and begin to shell us. In the
latter case we were to start firing in reply, of course; but that was
only incidental to the main plan. This was to wait until we were hit,
or, preferably, until he fired an 'over,' the fall of which, on account
of his low platform, he could not spot accurately, and then to fire the
tank of kerosene. A line to a trigger, rigged to explode a
percussion-cap, made it possible to do this from the rail. As the
flames, besides giving off a lot of smoke, would themselves leap high
enough to be seen from the other side, it was reasonable to suppose that
Fritz would be deluded into thinking we were burning up, and make his
approach a good deal more carelessly than otherwise. If he persisted in
closing us on the surface, there would be nothing to it but to make what
fight we could with our fo'c'sl' gun, and try to make it so hot for him
that he would have to go down before his heavier shells had done for us.
But if, following his usual procedure, he made his approach submerged,
then there were two or three other little optical and aural illusions
prepared for his benefit. I will tell you of these in describing how we
actually used them."

D---- lay quiet for a minute, the wrinkles of a baleful grin of
reminiscence showing on both sides of the aperture of the Balaclava.
"The first chance we had to try the thing out it nearly did us in," he
chuckled presently. "No, Fritz had nothing to do with it. _He_, luckily
for us, submerged and beat it off after firing three or four
shots--probably through mistaking the smoke of a couple of trawlers just
under the horizon for that of destroyers. It was all due to bad luck and
bad judgment--principally the latter, I'm afraid. It was bad luck to the
extent that the U-boat was sighted down to leeward, so that there was no
alternative but to put over my 'fire-raft' on the windward side. The bad
judgment came in through my underestimating the force of the wind and
the fierceness with which the kerosene would burn when fanned by it.
Scarcely had it been touched off before there was a veritable
_Flammen-werfer_ playing against thirty or forty feet of the windward
side, and in a way which made it impossible for a man to venture there
to cast off the wire cables which moored the raft. As this class of
M.L.s have wooden hulls, you will readily see that this was no joke.

"The splash of the beam seas proved an efficacious antidote, so far as
the hull was concerned, however; but how some other highly inflammable
material I was carrying 'midships escaped being fired in the minute or
more that I was swinging her through sixteen points to bring the raft to
the leeward of her---- Well, I can only chalk that up to the credit of
the special Providence that is supposed to intervene especially to save
drunks and fools. You can bet your life I never let myself be tempted
into making that break again, though it involved a trying exercise of
self-restraint when it chanced that the very next Fritz I sighted also
bore down the wind.

"The two or three U-boats which were sighted in the course of the next
five or six weeks ducked under without firing a shot, and I was
beginning to think that perhaps they had somehow got wind of my little
plan and were taking no chances in playing up to it. Then, one fine
clear morning, up bobs a Fritz about six thousand yards to windward, and
begins going through his part of the show almost as though he was one of
our own submarines with which I had been rehearsing. His firing at us
was about as bad as mine at him; but he finally lobbed one over that was
close enough, so I knew he couldn't tell whether it was a hit or not,
and on that I touched off the fire-raft, which was soon spouting up a
fine pillar of flame and smoke. To discourage his approach on the
surface, I kept up a brisk firing to give him the impression that we
were going to live up to British Navy traditions by going down fighting,
and to convince him that it would be much safer to close under water.
This came off quite according to plan, and presently I saw the loom of
his conning-tower dissolve and disappear behind the spout of one of our
shells, which looked to have been a very close thing.

"I stood on at a speed of five or six knots, but on a course which I
reckoned he would anticipate and allow for. When I figured that he was
not over a mile away, I dropped a float over the stern with a time-bomb
attached to it, the detonation of which in this way I had found by
experiment to furnish a much more life-like imitation of an internal
explosion in a ship--when heard in hydrophones, I mean--than that of a
depth-charge. The periscope which was shortly poked cautiously up for a
tentative 'look-see' could not, I am pretty nearly dead certain, have
revealed anything to belie the impression I had laid myself out to
convey--that M.L. ---- was an explosion-riven, burning, and even
already, probably a sinking ship. Besides the gay gush of flames from
the fire-raft, which must have appeared to be roaring amidships, lurid
tongues of fire were also spouting out of the forrard and after hatches,
and from several of the ports; while a thirty-degree list to starboard
might well have indicated that she was about to heel over and go down. I
had looked at her that way from a periscope myself, while I was studying
the effect of some 'stage property' flares in comparison with ordinary
gasoline 'blow-torches,' and knew how much she looked like the real
thing even when you knew she wasn't. The list? Oh, that was a very
simple matter. This class of M.L.s is never on an even keel for long,
anyhow, and the installation of a couple of tanks made it possible to
pump water back and forth and give her any heel we wanted. We put her
almost on her beam ends when we were experimenting on the thing, and
without upsetting things much outside of the galley, which we had
neglected to warn of what devilry was afoot.

"If we didn't look helpless and harmless enough for any Fritz to run
right up alongside and 'gloat over,' I'll eat my hat; and that was what
I was counting on this fellow doing. Indeed, I'll always think that was
just what he _did_ intend to do eventually; only it was the way he went
about doing it that was near to upsetting the apple-cart. It seemed
reasonable to suppose that he would come up and do his gloating on the
side he approached from, and so that was the side I had prepared to
receive him on. The heavy list she was under to starboard would have
made it possible to bring the gun to bear on him until he was almost
under the rail, and then there would be a chance for a lance-bomb. If he
came up on the other side by any chance, I had figured that the game
would be all up; for there was the fire-raft to give it away, while the
list would be on the wrong slant to give the gun a show. Well, whether
it was accident or intent, that is just what he did--broached abeam to
port, about half a cable's length off the sizzling tank of flaming
kerosene.

"That next minute or two" (D---- sat up in bed in the excitement of the
memory of that stirring interval, and I felt one of his gesticulating
fists come with a thump against the bottom of my mattress) "called for
some of the quickest thinking and acting I was ever responsible for
pulling off. If he stayed up, it flashed to my mind, there was just the
chance I might ram him; while if he ducked down, there would probably be
a good opening for a depth-charge. I rang up full speed at the same time
I was shouting orders to cast off the fire-raft, and to bash in one end
of the starboard 'tilting-tank' with an axe. We had considered the
possibility of this emergency arising, as much as we hoped it wouldn't,
so that no time was lost in meeting it. The fire-raft, boom and all, was
cast off clean, and quickly left astern. In scarcely less time was the
tank emptied, though the sudden flood from it--it was on the upper deck,
understand--came very near to carrying overboard the man who broached
it. With motors, of course, we were running all out in 'two jerks,' and
she was doing several knots over twenty when, with helm
hard-a-starboard, she began rounding on the startled Fritz.

"There was no doubt about the fact that he _was_ startled, let me tell
you. And, when you think of it, it must have been a trifle disconcerting
to see the blown-up and burning boat he had come up to gloat over, and
perhaps loot before she went down, suddenly settle back on an even keel
and come charging down on him at twenty-five knots. The 'moony' fat
phizes that showed above the rail of the bridge were pop-eyed with
surprise--yes--and indecision, too, for there were several valuable
seconds lost in deciding whether to come on up--she had risen to the
surface with only an 'awash' trim--and make a fight with her gun, or to
dive.

"I don't think it would have made a great deal of difference in his own
fate which he did, but you can bet it made a lot of difference to me. I
don't mind telling you that I was never gladder about anything in my
life--at least anything since the rain that came at the end of a
three-months' drought to save my corn-crop a few years back--than when
those moon-faces went into eclipse and I saw him begin to submerge.
Although it had never formed a part of any plan I had ever worked out, I
give you my word that I fully intended to ram him, and that would have
meant--well, about the same thing as one airplane charging into another.
I should almost certainly have finished him, while at the same
operation--but I don't need to tell you that a match-box like this was
never made for bull-at-a-gate tactics. I've never heard of one of this
class of M.L.s getting home with a good square butt at a U-boat, and I'm
very happy to say that it didn't happen on this occasion. I don't think
that we even so much as grazed his 'jump-string'; but the whole length
of him was in plain sight sloping away from his surface swirl, and it
was easy as picking ripe pippins to plant an 'ash-can' just where it was
needed. The only aggravating thing about it was that, although oil came
boiling up in floods for three days, there was never a Hun, nor even an
unmistakable fragment of U-boat wreckage, picked up as a souvenir.
There was never any doubt about the sinking, however, for the trawlers
located the wreck on the bottom with a sweep, and gave it a few more
'cans' for luck.

"But the best evidence in my own mind," concluded D----, pulling the
blankets up higher over his shoulders as he settled back into the bunk,
"is the fact that, six weeks later, the identical stunt I had tried this
time actually lured another Fritz up to eat out of my hand almost
exactly as I had been planning for. Now, if that first one had really
survived and been able to return to base, it is certain that its skipper
would have told what he saw, and that there would have been a general
order (such as came out some months later when they finally did twig the
game) warning all U-boats against coming up to gloat at close range over
burning M.L.s. The fact that this second one was such easy picking
proves beyond a doubt that the other never got back."

"That last was the one you 'threw the hammer' at, wasn't it?" I asked,
leaning far out to make my words carry down to D----'s now
blanket-muffled ears.

"Yes," came the wool-dulled answer. "Tell you some other night. Gotta
get warm now. Toddy can's empty. Make a tent of the blankets with your
knees, and take the electric heater to bed in it, if you can't stop
shivering any other way. Good night."



CHAPTER IX

"Q"


At three miles, as seen from the bridge of the battleship, the small
craft which was steering a course that would bring her across our bows
in the course of the next few minutes was absolutely nondescript,
completely defying classification. A mile closer, however, it appeared
to be as plain as day that she was some ancient fishing boat, but
bluffer of bow and broader of beam than the oldest of trawlers or
drifters in the service. It was only when she was right ahead, and but
six or eight cables' lengths distant, that a vagrant sun-patch came
dancing along the leaden waters beyond her to form a scintillant
background against which she stood out as what she was--the
sweetest-lined little steam yacht that ever split a wave. The
fishing-boat effect had been obtained by a simple arrangement of colours
which effectually clipped the clippiness from her clipper bows and
equally effectually discounted the graceful overhang of her counter.

In plain words, they had blocked in the lines of a bluff, squatty tug on
her hull with some kind of paint that was very easy to see, and covered
the rest of her with a paint that was very hard to see. A few changes
in rig, and the alteration was complete.

"Quite the cleverest and simplest bit of camouflage I ever saw," said
the captain, lowering his binoculars. "It's only the fact that we're
looking down on her from a considerable height against that bright sheet
of water that gives a chance to follow her real lines at all. From the
deck--and even more so from the bridge of a submarine, or through its
periscope--it would be a lot easier to tell what she _isn't_ than what
she _is_. As a matter of fact, I can't say that I know what she is even
now. It is evident that she _was_ a yacht, and no end of a beauty at
that. But now, in that guise--probably some sort of patrol or
anti-U-boat worker, for a guess, perhaps a 'Q.'"

The officer of the watch turned aside for a moment from the gyro across
which he had been sighting. "I think she must be the '----,' sir," he
said. "Some American millionaire had her in the Mediterranean, and,
wanting to do his bit, brought her up to Portsmouth and turned her over
to the Admiralty to do what they wanted with her so long as it would
help to lick the Hun. She's been mixed up in several kinds of stunts,
and is supposed to have a U-boat or two to her credit. Her present
skipper's a Yank who came to her from a M.L. They say he's no end of a
character, but right as rain on his job and with a natural nose for
trouble. One of his hobbies is making his ship look what she isn't,
and, in order to see her as she would appear to a U-boat, he goes out
and studies her through the periscope of one of our own submarines. When
one of these isn't handy, he sometimes goes out in a whaler and studies
her through a stubby periscope poked over its gunwale. He got blown
right out to sea one night when he was making some experiment from a
whaler in 'moonlight visibility,' and didn't get back till the next
morning. It had no effect on his enthusiasm, though, for he was out on
the same stunt the next night. No question about his nerve, nor his
luck, nor his skill, for that matter. Smart seamanship probably has as
much to do with the fact that he has never been torpedoed as has his
fancy camouflage."

I made up my mind at once that here was a man worth meeting and hearing
the story of, but as the only base he seemed to have was not easy to
reach, and as his ship was reported at sea on the only occasions I was
free to go there, some weeks went by before I was able to carry out my
plan of paying him a visit. Then, one morning, a nondescript craft,
which might have been anything from a wood-pile to a Chinese junk half a
mile away, came nosing inconsequentially through the lines of the Grand
Fleet and moored alongside the very battleship in which I happened to be
at that time.

"K---- has come in with the '----' to 'swing compasses,'" the
navigating officer announced to the ward-room. "He's a 'converted
side-wheel river ferry-boat' this morning, or something of the kind; and
he's going to get blown to sea in a 'sudden gale,' or something of the
kind; and he says that, if anyone doesn't believe it, to come aboard and
he'll give 'em something to stimulate their 'stolid British
imaginations.'"

As certain lockers of the "----" had not been entirely looted of their
age-mellowed treasure when the yacht was dismantled for sterner service
than lounging about limpid Mediterranean harbours, the doubters were,
naturally, many; but it is pleasant to be able to record that those who
came to scoff remained--to tea. Indeed, it was not until after tea that
I had a chance for a half-hour's yarn alone with K---- in the
"banquet-hall-deserted" splendour of the stripped saloon. It was then
that he told me how it was he chanced to "come across and get into the
game."

He used the latter expression several times, I remember, and to no one
that I can recall having met, either on land or sea, was the grim work
he was doing more of a "game" than to this brave, resourceful,
devil-may-care Middle Westerner.

"I had had a fair bit of experience in yachting and boating during the
last six or eight years before the outbreak of the war," he said,
settling back at ease in one of the two remaining lounging-chairs, "and
most of it has stood me in good stead at one time or another since I
have been on the job over here. I sailed a single sticker on Lake
Michigan for a number of seasons, and I used to run down from my home in
Lake Forest to business in Chicago in my own motor-boat on and off
during the summer. It was what I knew of the latter which got me on a
'M.L.' without any preliminary hanging about when I first came over
early in the war. What I knew about sailing has been all to the good
almost every day I have been at sea, from the time I lured on a U-boat
by ringing up my 'M.L.' as a disabled fishing-smack to the time when I
had to bring this poor little old girl into port under canvas after I
had knocked out her propellers with one of her own depth-charges." It
was a fantastically amusing tale, that last. "It was the culmination of
my experiments in scientific camouflage," said K----, with a baleful
smile. "Up to that time any contrivances to deceive the Hun were getting
more and more intricate right along; since then they have tended more
and more toward extreme simplicity. It was this way, you see, that I
happened to work up to that depth-charge crescendo. From the first I had
been striving to give the U-boat mixed impressions of me, especially on
the score of which way I was going. This, as I soon found out from
studying the thing in the proper way, is much easier to do in the case
of a man whose observation is limited to a few feet above the water than
in the case of one who has a more lofty coign of vantage to con from.
That is to say, it's much easier to convey false impressions, especially
regarding your direction, to a man with his eye to a periscope than to
one in the foretop of a battleship, to take the two extremes. Trying now
one thing and now another as I had more experience, I found that where
at first every shot fired at me was directed ahead with a more or less
approximate allowance for the ship's progress in that direction, after a
while they began to go oftener and oftener astern, indicating they were
confused as to my rate of change. It was just as I was about to put the
crowning touch on my efforts in 'mixing direction' that the trouble
occurred. As the experiments with this particular contrivance never went
any further, there will hardly be any harm in my telling you what it was
and how it worked.

"I had already, with the aid of a couple of slanting fins, attached
something after the fashion of bilge-keels, only just below the
water-line on either quarter, worked up a fairly satisfactory 'bow wave'
aft, and I was endeavouring to supplement this by a scheme for making it
appear as though the sky was moving past her funnel in the direction it
wasn't. You see, I was working on the same principle which deceives you
when you think the standing train you are in is in motion when you see
the one on the next track start up.

"As the U-boat skipper's 'look-see' is often limited to a hurried sort
of a peep, I figured that if I could contrive to keep a rather
conspicuous imitation sky of canvas running past the masts and funnels
in the same direction she was going, only faster, it might create the
illusion--in the distorted 'worm's eye' vision of the man at the
periscope--that she was going in the opposite direction. I studied some
make-shift rigs from water-level through a periscope, and made up my
mind the scheme was worth trying."

K---- relighted his cigar and resumed with a sad smile.

"I still think the idea was good," he said, "but it took too complicated
an installation to carry it out, especially on a small craft with a low
freeboard. There were gearings and transmissions and rollers, and
heavens knows what not, needed to make the endless strip of canvas 'sky'
run smoothly, and there were also many wires and ropes. It was one or
the other of the latter which was responsible for the disaster, for
while the thing was still in the 'advanced experimental' stage a U-boat
popped up close by one day--probably a bold attempt on its skipper's
part to see if he really saw what he thought he had seen--and I spun the
'----' around on her tail (one of the nice things about her is that she
will turn in a smaller circle than most destroyers) and tried, first
choice, to ram him, and, second choice, to drop a depth-charge down the
hole he had ducked into. I was too late to ram by a few seconds, and
there must have been a good fathom or two of clearance between my keel
and the conning-tower I had driven for. The bridge and the two
periscopes he had 'turtle-necked' in showed clean and sharp in the clear
water as I leaned over the port side of the bridge--the easiest chance a
man ever had for kicking off a 'can' just where it ought to go. As I
turned to the depth-charge release I already had visions of him falling
apart like a cracked egg, with bobbing bubbles and howling Huns coming
up to the surface together. It was only a couple of days before that I
had picked up several British fishermen--all that were left alive after
a U-boat skipper had vented his morning hate by shelling the boat in
which they were leaving their sinking trawler--and I was still mad
enough to want to ram Heligoland if a chance had offered. I felt a kind
of savage joy in the chance to put that tin of T.N.T. where it would
wipe out a bit of the score I had been checking up against the Hun, and
I seemed to see a sort of a Hand of Fate in the fist I was reaching up
to the handle of the release. It couldn't miss, I told myself,
and--well, it didn't.

"The explosion 'jolted' at the proper interval all right, but not in the
proper place, nor in the proper way. I was watching for the up-boil
squarely in the middle of the right-angling propeller swirl of the
submarine, but that was receding, smooth and unbroken, when the crash
came. The fact is, I never did see the spout from that charge--for the
very good reason that it was tossed up almost under the '----'s'
counter, where it knocked off the blades of both propellers and all but
blew in her stern. The depth-charge had fouled a trailing wire from some
of my 'stage scenery sky' and been dragged along to detonate close
astern. I saw her taffrail shiver and kick upwards, and the shock was
strong enough to upset my balance even on the bridge. That last was the
first thing that made me sure something had slipped up, for, ordinarily,
the jolt from a properly set 'can' is no more than that from a sharp
bump against the side of a quay. I mean the jolt as felt on the bridge,
of course; below, and especially in the engine-room or stokehold, it is
a good deal more severe. It was the shattering jar of this one that told
me it had gone wrong, and then, when she began to lose way and refuse to
answer her helm--the rudder had been knocked out, too, but not enough so
that it couldn't be tinkered up to serve temporarily--I knew it was
something serious.

"It was a good deal of a relief to find that, badly buckled as some of
the plates were, she wasn't making any more water aft than the pumps
could easily take care of. That was the first thing I looked after, and
the next was the U-boat; or rather, we were looking out for both at the
same time. If there was one thing more than another that helped to
reconcile me to the double disappointment of missing my crack at the
Hun and knocking my own ship out, it was the fact which soon became
apparent, that Fritz never knew about the latter. If he _had_ known the
shape I was in, he could have finished me off a dozen times over during
the hour or more the '----' was lying helpless, and before the first
armed trawler showed up in answer to my S.O.S. Just why he didn't, I
could never make quite sure, but the chances are it was one or both of
two things. It is quite possible that the biff from the
depth-charge--which must still have been almost as near to him as it was
to me when it exploded--may have done the submarine really serious
injury, perhaps even sinking it. We never found any evidence, however,
that this had been the case. Whether he was damaged or not, there is no
doubt that his close call gave him a bad scare. There could have been
nothing in the explosion to tell him that it did any harm to his enemy,
and, since he did not have his periscope up, there was no way he could
see what had happened. Doubtless expecting another 'can' any moment, and
knowing well that it would be only a matter of an hour or two until
there would be a lot more craft joining in the chase, it is probable
that he followed the tactics which you can always count on a U-boat
following when it knows a hunt is on--that is, to submerge deeply and
lose no time in making itself just as scarce as possible in the
neighbourhood where the hue-and-cry has started. That's the only way I
can account for the fact that this particular pirate didn't have a
revenge after his own Hunnish heart. We were about evenly matched for
guns probably, and doubtless I would have had rather better than an even
break on that score, because a surface craft can stand more holing than
a submarine. But there was nothing to prevent his taking a sneaking
sight through his periscope from a safe distance and then slipping a
mouldie at us, which, helpless as we were for a while, there would have
been no way of avoiding. A moving ship of almost any class, provided it
has a gun to make him keep his distance, has a good fighting chance of
saving herself from being torpedoed by the proper use of her helm; a
disabled ship, though she has all the guns in the world, has no show if
the Fritz really thinks she's worth wasting two or three torpedoes on.
If he has his nerve, and any luck at all, he ought to finish the job
with one.

"So I think you'll have to admit," said K---- with a whimsical smile,
"that, under the circumstances and considering what might have happened,
I felt that I had no legitimate kick coming in having to take her home
under sail. Fact is, I considered myself in luck to have a ship to take
home at all. The rudder, luckily, though a good deal bent and twisted,
had not been blown away. It took a lot of nursing to turn it, and, when
we finally got her off under mainsail, forestaysail and jib, the
eccentricities it developed took a lot of getting used to. Although it
was quite fortuitous on our part, the course we steered during the
thirty hours we put in returning to base was the most complex and
baffling lot of zigzagging I ever had anything to do with. If a U-boat
skipper lying in wait for us could have told what she was going to do
next, I can only say that he would have known a lot more than I did.

"At the end of an hour or two a couple of trawlers hove in sight and
closed us to be of what help they could in screening. They made a very
brave show of it until we got under weigh, and then they were led just
about the wooziest dance you ever heard tell of. By a lucky chance, for
me, not for the trawlers, there was a spanking breeze on the port
quarter (for the mean course to base, I mean); and it wasn't long before
the little old girl, even under the comparatively light spread of sail
on her, was slipping away at close to nine miles an hour. That won't
surprise you if you noticed the lines of her. I've turned back in her
log and found where she's run for thirty-six hours at fourteen miles,
even with the drag of her screws, which always knock a knot or two off
the sailing speed of a yacht with auxiliary power.

"Well, that nine miles an hour was a good bit better than those trawlers
could do under forced draught, and after falling astern for a while,
they started to catch up by shortening their courses by cutting my
zigzags. That was where the fun came in. It would have been easy enough
if I had been zigzagging according to Hoyle. But where I didn't know
myself just what she was going to do next, how was I going to signal it
to them, will you tell me? About every other time that they tried to
anticipate my course they guessed wrong, and were worse off than before
as a consequence. They must have been a very thankful pair when one of
the two destroyers which finally came up took them off to hunt the
submarine. The other destroyer stood by to escort me in. Her skipper
offered me a tow, but I was anxious to save face as much as possible by
returning on my own, and so declined. In case of an attack it would have
been better to have him screening than towing anyhow. In the end, when
we got in to where the sea room was restricted, I was glad to take a
hawser from a tug they sent to meet me to keep from putting her on the
mud.

"You may well believe that effectually put an end to my experiments with
'movable sky,' and other similar mechanical complexities," K----
continued with a laugh. "Indeed, from that time on I have been inclining
more and more to simpler things, rig outs that are sufficiently free
from wheels within wheels to leave the mind clear for the real work in
hand, which, after all, is putting down the Hun, not merely deceiving
him as to what you are. You see how simple a setting our present one is;
yet it is very complete in its way, and I have reasonable hopes of
success with it. No, I can hardly tell you just what I am driving at
with it, or just how I am going to go about it. In a month or two, when
its possibilities have been exhausted and it has become a wash-out
perhaps I shall be a bit freer to talk about it.

"Come and spend a day or two with me at the end of about six weeks, when
my present round of stunting will probably be over, and I'll tell you
all the 'Q' yarns that the law allows. The Hun is dead wise to the game
on principle, so there can't be any point in keeping mum any longer on
stunts that he's twigged a year or so ago, and which you'd have about as
much chance of taking him in with as you'd have in trying to sell a gold
brick on Broadway."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three months went by before I was able to take advantage of K----'s
invitation to pay him a visit at what he had called his "business
headquarters," and as I had naturally expected that she would have
played many and diverse parts in the interim, it was with some surprise
that I found the "----" still "dressed" as she had been when I last saw
her.

"We've never quite been able to pull it off," K---- explained, "and the
waiting, and the not-quites and the might-have-beens have given me no
end of a dose of that kind of hope deferred which maketh the heart sick.
But we've at least been lucky enough not to queer the game by showing
our hand, so that there's still as good a chance as ever to make good
with it under favourable circumstances. For that reason, the less we say
about it for the present the better. That's in regard to this particular
stunt, I mean. As for the rest of the 'Q' stuff that we've brought off,
or tried to bring off, during the last three years--I'm at your service
to-night after dinner. The Germans have been publishing accounts of some
of the stunts, under the title of 'British Atrocities,' for some months
now, but as there are slight variations from the truth here and there,
you may still be interested in getting some of the details a bit nearer
the original fount.

"They claimed, for instance, that when one of their 'heroic' U-boats ran
alongside an armed British patrol boat, which had surrendered to it, to
transfer a boarding-party, an officer of the M.L. rushed on deck and
threw down on the deck of the submarine what the skipper of the latter
took to be a packet of secret books, and that this 'packet,' exploding,
eventually resulted in the sinking of the guileless German craft. Now,
about the only thing which is correct about that account is the
statement that a U-boat was sunk. It wasn't an armed M.L. that
surrendered to Herr Ober-Lootenant--armed M.L.'s don't do that sort of
thing, take my word for it--but an unarmed, or practically unarmed,
pleasure yacht, which had apparently become disabled and blown to sea.
And the trusting U-boat did not come alongside to put aboard a prize
crew to navigate its captive to a German port as they'd try to make you
believe, but only to sink it with bombs placed in the hold, so as to
save shells or a torpedo. And it wasn't a packet of secret books that
put the pirate down, but a 'baby,' and _my_ baby at that. No, I don't
mean that I threw a real child of mine to Moloch--I haven't any to
throw--but only that the idea of this literal _enfant terrible_, with a
percussion cap on the top of his head and a can of T.N.T. for a body,
originated under my hat.

"It's not surprising that the Huns didn't get the thing straight at
first, though I believe one of their later versions does have a child in
the cast, for none of the Germans present have yet returned to tell just
what happened. About half of them never will see their beloved
'Vodderland' again, and I don't mind telling you that I'm not wearing
any crepe on my sleeve on that account, either. Do you know"--K----'s
face flushed red and his brow contracted in the anger the thought
aroused--"that those ---- pirates were going right ahead to sink what
they thought was nothing but a pleasure yacht, with a number of women
and children in it, although it was plain as day to them that the one
boat carried would founder under a quarter of our number? That's your
Hun every time, and it was just that insensate lust of his to murder
anything helpless that I reckoned on in baiting my trap. I felt dead
certain---- But I'll tell you the whole yarn this evening."

Several bits of salvage from the "----'s" pleasure-yacht days figured in
the little feast K---- had spread that evening, and I remember
particularly that the Angostura was from a bottle Commodore P---- had
himself secured at the time when that incomparable bitter was distilled
in a little ramshackle pile-built factory at Ciudad Bolivar, on the
upper Orinoco. And the coffee that same genial _bon vivant_ had had
blended and sealed in glass by an old Arab merchant at Aden, while the
Benedictine had cost him a climb on foot through an infernally hot
August afternoon to an ancient monastery inland of Naples. It was
between sips of Benedictine--from a priceless little Morning
Glory-shaped curl of Phoenician glass, picked up in Antioch one winter
by the owner, and overlooked in the "stripping" operations--that K----
told me the story of the first of what he called his "Q-rious"
operations.

"There was a story attached to just about every little package of food
and drink P---- left in the yacht," said K----, unrolling the gold foil
from a cigar whose band bore the name of a Piñar del Rio factory which
is famed as accepting no order save from its small but highly select
list of private customers in various parts of the world; "and in the
several letters he has written begging me to make free with them he has
told me most of the yarns. The consequence was that, while the good
things lasted--they're most of them finished now--I was getting in the
way of enjoying eating and drinking them, telling where they came from
and how they were come by, just about as much as good old P---- himself
must have done. In fact, I think that their possible loss was about my
worst worry when I tried my first 'Q' stunt on.

"The success of any kind of stunt for harrying the U-boat is very
largely a matter of psychology, and this is especially so in the 'Q'
department. The main point of it is to make the enemy think you are more
harmless than you really are. There is nothing new in the idea, for it
is precisely the same stunt the old pirate of the Caribbean was on when
he concealed his gun-ports with strips of canvas and approached his
victims as a peaceful merchantman. As a matter of fact, I think it was
the Hun himself who started the game in this war, for I'm almost dead
sure that we had tried nothing of the kind on--in a systematic way, at
any rate--up to the time one of his U-boats rigged up a mast and sails
and lured on victims by posing as a fisherman in distress.

"Obviously, it's a game you can't use any kind of craft that is plainly
a warship in, and the burning question always is as to how far you will
sacrifice punishing power to harmlessness of appearance. A light gun or
two is about as far as you can go in the way of shooting-irons, and
even these are very difficult to conceal on a small boat. Likewise a
torpedo tube. I tried that first stunt of mine without either, and
that's where the psychology came in.

"Most of the 'Q-boats' they were figuring on at that time were of the
slower freighter type, with a rather powerful gun mounted for'ard and
concealed as well as possible by something rigged up to look like deck
cargo.

"That was, however, all well and good as far as it went, I figured, but,
from such study of the Hun's little ways as I had been able to make, I
had my doubts as to whether an old cargo boat would prove tempting
enough bait to put a Fritz in the proper mental state for a real
'rise'--one in which he'd deliver himself up to you bound and gagged, so
to speak. _That_ was the kind of a thing I wanted to make a bid for,
and, by cracky, I pulled it off.

"From all I could pick up, from the inside and outside, about the ships
that had already been torpedoed, I came to the conclusion that the Hun
would go to a lot more trouble, and take a deal bigger chance, to put
down a vessel with a number of passengers than he would with a
freighter. And even that early in the War a U-boat had exposed itself to
being rammed by a destroyer, when it could have avoided the attack
entirely by foregoing the pleasure of a Parthian shot at a lifeboat
which was already half-swamped in the heavy seas. _That_ was the little
trait of the Hun's that I reckoned on playing up to when I began to
figure on taking the '----' out U-boat strafing without any gun larger
than a Maxim aboard her. I'd have been glad enough of a good
four-incher, understand, if there had been any way in the world it could
have been concealed. But there wasn't, and rather than miss getting into
the game at all, I was quite content to tackle it with such weapons as
were available. That was where my 'che-ild' came in.

"On the score of weapons available, there were only two--the lance-bomb
and the depth-charge. For the kind of game I had in mind, it was to the
former that I pinned my faith. It was powerful enough to do all the
damage needful to the shell of a submarine if only a chance to get home
with it could be contrived. 'Getting it home' has always been the great
difficulty with the lance-bomb, and up to that time the only chap to
have any luck with it was the skipper of a M.L.--another Yank, by the
way, who came over and got into the game in the same way, and about the
same time, that I did. He had been the champion sixteen-pound
hammer-thrower in some Middle Western college only a year or two before,
and, by taking a double turn on his heeling deck, managed to chuck the
bomb (which is on the end of a wooden handle, much like the old throwing
hammer) about three times as far as anyone ever dreamed of, and cracked
in the nose of a lurking U-boat with it.

"Unluckily, I was not a hammer-thrower, and so had to try to bring about
an easier shot. It was with this purpose in view that I submitted a
proposal to reconvert the '----' temporarily to the outward seeming of a
pleasure yacht; to make her appear so tempting a bait that the Hun's
lust for _schrecklichkeit_, or whatever they call it, would lure him
close enough to give me a chance at him. They were rather inclined to
scoff at the plan at first, principally on the ground that the enemy,
knowing that there was no pleasure yachting going on in the North Sea,
would instantly be suspicious of a craft of that character. I pointed
out that there was still a bit of yachting going on in the Norfolk
Broads, which the Hun, with his comprehensive knowledge of the East
Coast, might well know of, and that there would be nothing strange in a
craft from there being blown to sea in a spell of nor'west weather. Of
course, the '----' isn't a Broads type by a long way, but I didn't
expect the Hun to linger over fine distinctions any more than the trout
coming up for a fly does. The sequel fully proved that I was right.

"It was largely because the stunt I had in mind promised to cost little
more than a new coat of paint and a few rehearsals, which could easily
be carried on in the course of our ordinary patrol duties, that I
finally received somewhat grudging authorisation to go ahead with it. It
was not till the whole show was over that I learned from the laughing
admission of the officer who helped secure that authorization, that the
fact that the output of real M.L.'s was becoming large enough so that
they were about independent of the use of yachts and other pleasure
craft for patrol work, also had a good deal to do with the granting of
it.

"I already had several well-trained machine-gunners in the crew, so that
about the only addition I had to make to the ship's company was a
half-dozen boys to masquerade as ladies. As they were not meant to stand
inspection at close range, nothing elaborate in the way of costume or
makeup was necessary. They wore middy jackets, with short duck skirts,
which gave them plenty of liberty of action. Most of them (as there was
nothing much below the waist going to show anyway) simply rolled up
their sailor breeches and went barelegged, and one who went in for white
stockings and tennis shoes was considered rather a swanker. Their
millinery was somewhat variegated, the only thing in common to the
motley units of head-gear being conspicuousness. There was a much
beribboned broad-brimmed straw, a droopy Panama, a green and a purple
motor veil, and a very chic yachting effect in a converted cap of a
lieutenant of Marines with a red band round it. Less in keeping, if more
striking, was a Gainsborough, with magenta ostrich plumes, a remnant
from some 'ship' theatricals.

"Hair wasn't a very important item, but they all seemed to take so much
pleasure in 'coiffeuring' that I took good care not to discourage their
efforts in that direction. The spirit that you enter that kind of a game
in makes all the difference in the world in its success, and these
lads--and, indeed, the whole lot of us--were like children playing
house. All of them were blondes--even a boy born in Durban, who had more
than a touch of the 'tar brush,' and one--a roly-poly young Scot, who
had made himself a pair of tawny braids from rope ravellings--looked
like a cross between 'Brunnhilde' and 'The Viking's Daughter.'

"It was only during rehearsals, of course, that these lads were 'ladies
of leisure.' The rest of the time I kept them on brass polishing and
deck-scrubbing, with the result that the little old '----' regained,
outwardly at least, much of her pristine ship-shapiness. The 'gentlemen
friends' of the 'ladies' were even more of a 'make-ship' product than
the latter.

"Indeed, they were really costumes rather than individuals. I don't mean
that we used dummies, but only that there were eight or ten flannel
jackets and boater hats laid ready, and these were to be worn more or
less indiscriminately by any of the regular crew not on watch. Their
rôle was simply to loll on the quarterdeck with the 'ladies' while the
U-boat was sizing us up, then to join for a few minutes in the 'panic'
following the hoped-for attack, and finally to beat it to their action
stations.

"That a 'baby' was by far the most effective disguise for the first
lance-bomb we hoped to chuck home was obvious at the outset. Both of
them had heads, their general shapes (when dressed) were not dissimilar,
while the 'long clothes' of the infant was found to have a real
steadying effect on the missile, on the same principle that 'streamers'
act to bring an air-bomb down nose-first. Of course, a child in arms,
like this one was to be, wasn't just the kind of thing one would take
pleasure yachting; but I knew the Huns took their nurslings to beer
gardens, and thought that that might make them think that the
Englanders--who were incomprehensible folk anyhow--might take this
strange way of accustoming their young to the waves which they sang so
loudly of ruling.

"The decisive consideration, however, was the fact a baby was the only
thing except a jewel-case that a panicky woman in fear of being
torpedoed would stick to. As you can't get a lance-bomb in a jewel-case,
it was plainly 'baby' or nothing.

"In the end, because I was afraid that none of the feminine make-ups was
quite good enough not to awaken suspicion at close range--I decided that
the heaving over of the 'baby' should be done by a 'gentleman' instead
of by a 'lady.' As one of the seamen put it, it was only 'nateral that
the nipper's daddy 'ud be lookin' arter 'im in time of danger,' and I
had read of sailors being entrusted with children on sinking ships. The
man I picked for the job--the 'father of the che-ild,' as he soon came
to be called--was not the one who had proved the best in distance
throwing in the trials, but rather one on whose cold-blooded nerve I
knew I could count in any extremity.

"He was a Seaman Gunner, named R----, and was lost a year ago when a
rather desperate 'Q' stunt he had volunteered for miscarried. He had
just the touch of the histrionic desirable for the intimate little
affair in question, and the way he played his part fully justified my
selecting him."

K---- leaned back in his chair and blew smoke rings for a minute before
resuming his story. "There are some kind of stunts, like this one I've
been trying to bring off for the last two or three months," he said,
"that always seem to hang fire; and there are others where, from first
to last, everything comes up to the scratch on time, just like a film
drama. That first one I'm telling you about was like that,
everybody--even to the U-boat--coming on to its cue. Indeed, when I
think of it now, the whole show seems more like a big movie than
anything else.

"By the time we were letter perfect in our parts, there came two or
three days of just the kind of a storm I wanted to make a good excuse
for a dinky little pleasure boat being out in the middle of the North
Sea. I took care, of course, to be 'blown' to the last position at
which an enemy submarine had been reported.

"Then, where a destroyer or a M.L. might have cruised round for a month
without sighting anything but fog and the smoke of some of our own ships
on the horizon, we picked up a Fritz running brazenly on the surface the
first morning. That was first blood for my harmless appearance right
there, for he must have seen us some time previously of course, and had
we looked in the least warlike, would have submerged before even our
lookout spotted his conning-tower.

"As it was, he simply began closing us at full speed, firing as he came.
It was rotten shooting at first, as shooting from the very poor platform
a submarine affords usually is, but, at about three thousand yards, he
put a shell through the fo'c'sl', luckily above the water-line. The next
minute or two was the most anxious time I had, for, if he made up his
mind to do it that way, there was nothing to prevent his sticking off
there and putting us down with shell-fire.

"Perhaps if the two or three shots which followed had been hits, that is
what he would have done. It was probably his disgust at the fact that
they were all 'overs' that determined him to close in and finish the job
with bombs. Possibly, also, the fact that I appeared to be starting to
abandon ship at this juncture convinced him finally that the yacht had
no fight in her, and it may well be that the temptation to loot had
something to do with his decision. I could never make quite sure on
those points, for Herr Skipper never confided what was in his mind to
the one officer who survived him. At any rate, he came nosing
nonchalantly in and did just what I had been praying for the last month
he would do--poked right up alongside. The heavy sea that had been
running for the last two or three days had gone down during the night,
so that he was able to stand in pretty close without running much danger
of bumping.

"The extent of my abandoning ship had been to follow the old sea rule of
saving the women and children first. Or rather, we put the women off in
our only boat; the baby, I won't need to tell you, was somehow
'overlooked.' The boat was lowered in full view of the Hun, who was
about fifteen hundred yards distant at the moment, and there was a
little unrehearsed incident in connection with it that must have done
its part in convincing him that what he was witnessing was a genuine
piece of 'abandon.' One of the girls--it was the blonde 'Brunnhilde,' I
believe--not wanting to miss any of the fun, started to hang back and
tried to bluff them into letting her stay by swearing that she'd rather
face the Hun than desert her child. As a matter of fact, the
'Gainsborough' had more claim on the kid than 'Brunnhilde,' for she--I
mean he--had cadged its clothes from a sweetheart who worked in a
draper's shop. If I had been there personally, I'm afraid
'Brunnhilde's' little bluff would have won through, for a man whose wits
are keen enough to spring a joke at a crisis has always made an especial
appeal to me. To the bo'sun, however, orders were orders, and his answer
to the recalcitrant blonde's insubordination was to rush her to the rail
by the slack of her middy jacket, and to help her over it with the toe
of his boot.

"The 'K----'s' low freeboard made the drop a short one, and, luckily,
'Brunnhilde' missed the gun'nel' of the whaler and landed gently in the
water, from where she was dragged by the ready hands of her sisters a
few moments later. They do say, though, that she turned a complete
flip-flop in the air, and that there was a display of--well, if a Goerz
prism binocular won't reveal the difference between a pair of blue
sailor's breeches and French lingerie at under a mile, all I can say is
that we've much overrated German optical glass. As I learned later,
however, the Huns, observing only the fall and missing the revealing
details, merely concluded that the Englanders were jumping overboard in
panic, and dismissed their last lingering doubts and suspicions.

"The girls were already instructed that they were to lie low and keep
their peroxide curls out of sight as long as they were within a mile or
so of the submarine, so as not to tempt the latter to follow them up for
a look-see at closer range. The boat had orders to pull astern for a
while, and then, if the Hun was observed to come alongside the '----' as
hoped, to turn eight or ten points to port and head up in the direction
from which he had appeared. The reason for this manoeuvre, which was
carried out precisely as planned, you will understand in a moment.

"On came Fritz, coolly contemptuous, and on went the show, like the
unrolling of a movie scenario. For a while I was fearful that he might
order back my boat to use in boarding me with, but as soon as he was
close enough to be sure that I had no gun he must have decided so much
trouble was superfluous. He had only one gun, it was evident--the
gunners kept sweeping it back and forth to cover from about the bridge
to the engine-room as they drew nearer--and presently I saw men, armed
with short rifles, coming up through both fore and after hatches. Far
from exhibiting any signs of belligerency, I still kept three or four of
my 'flannelled fools' mildly panicking. Or, rather, I _ordered_ them to
panic mildly. As a matter of fact, they did it rather violently--a good
deal more like movie rough stuff than the real thing.

"Little difference it made to Fritz, though, who seemed to take it quite
as a matter of course that the British yachtsman should show his terror
like a Wild West film drama heroine. On he stood, and when he came
within hailing distance, a burly ruffian on the bridge--doubtless the
skipper--shouted something in guttural German-English which I never
quite made out, but which was probably some kind of warning or other. I
don't think I saw any of my crew exactly 'Kamerading', but I needn't
tell you that every man in sight was doing his best to register
'troubled passivity', or something like that. I had anticipated that I
might not be in a position to signal his cue to R----, and so had
arranged that he should keep watch from a cabin port, and to use his own
judgment about the time of his 'entrance.' I was afraid to have him on
deck all the time for fear the 'che-ild' might be subjected to too
careful a scrutiny. R---- was just in flannels, understand, so there was
nothing suspicious in his own appearance. He did both his play-acting
and his real acting to perfection, neither overdoing nor underdoing one
or the other.

"The U-boat was close alongside, rapidly easing down under reversed
propellers, before R---- appeared, just as natural an anguished father
with a child as you could possibly ask for. Two or three of the Huns
covered him with their carbines as he dashed out of the port door of the
saloon--that one just behind you--but lowered the muzzles again when
they saw it was apparently only a half-distracted parent trying to
signal for the boat to come back for him and his babe. I have no doubt
that there were some very sarcastic remarks passed on that U-boat at
this juncture about the courage of the English male. _If_ there were,
the next act of the coolest and bravest boy I ever knew literally
forced the words down their throats.

"The whaler which, following its instructions, had been pulling easterly
for some minutes, now bore about four points on the port quarter, so
that R----, in his apparent endeavour to call its attention to the
deserted babe, could not have seemed to have been doing anything
suspicious when he swung the bundle above his head and rushed to the
rail almost opposite the U-boat's conning-tower. That rotary upward and
backward swing was absolutely necessary for getting distance with, and
without it there was no way that forty or fifty pound infant could have
been hurled the fifteen feet or more which still intervened. As it was,
it landed, fair and square, in the angle formed by the after end of the
conning-tower and the deck. At the same instant our machine-guns opened
up through several of the port scuttles, which had been specially
enlarged and masked with that end in view, and in a few seconds there
was not an unwounded Hun in sight. The gunners had been the first ones
sprayed, with the result that they were copped before firing a shot.
Their torpedoes, or course, were too close, and not bearing properly
enough to launch.

"Immediately following the explosion of the bomb and the opening of the
machine-gun fire a strange thing happened. I saw the U-boat's
bow-rudders begin to slant, saw her begin to gather way, heard the hum
of motors as the rattle of the Maxims (their work completed) died out,
and--down she went, and with three hatches open, and a ragged hole abaft
the conning-tower where the 'baby' had exploded in its final tantrum. I
could never get any sure explanation of this from any of the survivors
we fished up out of the water, but everything points to the probability
that the skipper--perhaps inadvertently, as the up-kick of the bomb blew
him overboard--pulled the diving klaxon, and the officer in the central
control room, not knowing just how things stood above, proceeded to
submerge as usual. Doubtless the men who should have been standing by to
close the hatches in such an emergency had been caught by the
machine-gun fire. With every man below tied down with his duties in
connection with submerging her, it is quite conceivable that nothing
could be done, once she was below the surface, to stop the inrush of
water, and that she was quickly beyond all hope of bringing up again. I
didn't have a fair chance to size up the hole ripped open by the bomb,
but rather think that also was large enough to have admitted a good deal
of water.

"It was rather disappointing in a way, having her go down like that, for
as things had turned out, it was a hundred to one we should otherwise
have captured her almost unharmed. There was a good deal of solace,
however, in the fact that none of the Huns were getting back to tell
what happened to them, so that this identical stunt was left open for
use again. As a matter of fact, variations of it were used a number of
times, by one kind of craft or another, before an unlucky slip-up--the
one which finished poor R----, by the way--gave the game away and
started us veering off on other tacks. I have had a number of successes
since that time," concluded K----, pouring me a glass of the yacht's
1835 Cognac as a night cap, "but never a one which was quite so much
like taking candy from a child as that 'opener.'"



CHAPTER X

THE _WHACK_ AND THE _SMACK_


There was always a strange and distinctive fascination to me in standing
on the bridge of one ship and watching other ships--and especially lines
of ships--push up and sharpen to shape above the edge of the sea.

This feeling, strong enough in ordinary times--when it was but a
peaceful merchantman one watched from and but peaceful merchantmen that
one saw--is intensified manifold when it is a warship's bridge one
paces, and only the silhouettes of ships of war that notch the far
horizon. Battleship, battle cruiser, light cruiser, destroyer, sloop,
trawler, and all the other kinds and classes of patrol craft--each has
its own distinctive smudge of smoke, its own peculiar way of revealing
its identity by a blurred foretop, funnel, or superstructure long before
its hull has lifted its amorphous mass above the sky-line.

And now to the sky-line riddles one was given to read, and to be
thrilled by as the puzzle revealed itself, had been added the great
troop convoy from America, my first sight of one of which was just
unfolding. H.M.S. _Buzz_, in which I chanced to be out at the time, was
not one of the escorting destroyers, and it was only by accident that
the course she was steering to join up with a couple of other ships of
her flotilla on some kind of "hunting" stunt took her across that of the
convoy, and passed it in inspiring panoramic review before our eyes.
From dusky blurs of smoke trailing low along the horizon, ship after
ship--from ex-floating palaces with famous names to angular craft of
strange design which were evidently the latest word in standardised
construction--they rose out of the sea (as our quartering course brought
us nearer) until a wide angle of our seaward view was blocked by an
almost solid wall of steadily steaming steel.

There was a lot to stir the imagination in that sight--aye, fairly to
grip you by the throat as a dawning sense of what it portended sank
home. In the abstract it was the living, breathing symbol of the
relentless progress of America's mighty effort, a tangible sign of the
fact that her aid to the Allies would not arrive too late. What it stood
for concretely is best expressed in the words of the young R.N.R.
sub-lieutenant who was officer of the watch at the time.

"It looks to me," he said, with a pleased smile, as he lowered his glass
after a long scrutiny of the advancing lines of ships, "as though
there'd be jolly near forty thousand new Yanks to be catered for in
Liverpool by to-morrow evening."

"Yes," I said somewhat dubiously, my mind suddenly assailed by a
misgiving awakened by the thousands of yards of torpedo target presented
by the sides of those placidly ploughing ships, "that is, assuming that
they get there safely. But they're only just entering the danger zone
now, and there's a lot of water got to stream under their keels before
they berth in the Mersey.

"I don't know anything about convoys, or the ways of protecting them;
but all the same, it looks to me as though that bunch of troopers would
offer a mark like the map of Ireland to a U-boat, and a lot more
vulnerable one."

Young P---- laughed as he bent, squint-eyed, to take a bearing on a
destroyer zigzagging jauntily with high-flung wake in the van of the
approaching fleet.

"That's what everyone--even an old sailor--says the first time he sights
one of the big transatlantic convoys," he said; "and if there are any
skippers new to the job in that lot there, that's just what _they're_
saying. It's all through failure to appreciate--indeed, no one who has
not seen the ins and outs of it would be in a position to
appreciate--the effectiveness of the whole anti-submarine scheme, and,
especially, what almost complete protection thoroughly up-to-the-minute
screening--with adequate destroyers and other light craft--really
affords. As a matter of fact, every soldier in that convoy is probably a
good deal safer now--and right on in through this so-called danger zone
to harbour--than he was marching down Broadway to the pier--at least, if
Broadway is like it was when I used to put in to New York as a kid in
the _Baltic_."

"But will you tell me," I protested, "how a U-boat, firing two or three
torpedoes from, say, just about where we are now, could possibly miss a
mark like that?"

"Well, it would take a bit of missing from hereabouts, I admit," was the
reply; "only, if there is any Fritz still in the game with the nerve to
try it, he would also be missing himself."

"What would happen to him?" I asked.

"One or all of two or three things might happen,----" P---- answered,
after ordering a point or two alteration in course to give safe berth to
the nearing destroyer.

"He might get his hide holed by gunfire, he might get split open by a
depth-charge, he might get rammed, and he might get several other
things. With all the luck in his favour, he might even get a transport.
But there's one thing I can assure you he wouldn't get--and that's back
to his base. There may be two or three bearings from which one of these
big convoys appears to present a mark as wide and unbroken as the map of
Ireland; but there's nothing in heaven or earth to save the Fritz who
hasn't learned by the sad example of no small number of his mates that
it is quick suicide for him to slip a mouldie down one of them."

"You mean that he doesn't try it? that he's afraid to take the chance?"
I asked somewhat incredulously, for I had somehow come to regard Fritz,
though a pirate, as a dashing and daring one when the stake was high
enough.

"Except under very favourable circumstances, yes," was the reply; "and
now that, with the coming of the American destroyers and patrol boats,
we are able to do the thing the way we want to, what Fritz might reckon
as 'very favourable circumstances' are becoming increasingly fewer and
farther between. Now a few months ago, when we were just getting the
convoy system under weigh, and when there was a shortage of every kind
of screening craft, things were different. Fritz's _moral_ was better
then than it is now, and we didn't have the means of shaking it that we
have piled up since. At our first convoys, straggling and little
schooled in looking after themselves, he used to take a chance as often
as not, if he happened to sight them; but even then he rarely got back
to tell what happened to him. There was the one that tried to celebrate
the advent of 'Peace-on-Earth-Good-Will-to-Men' last Christmas Day by
sinking the _Amperi_, which was one of a convoy the _Whack_ (in which I
was Number Two at the time) was helping to escort. Well, I couldn't say
much for his 'Good-Will-toward-Men,' but he certainly found a short cut
to 'Peace-on-Earth,' or at least the bottom of the sea.

"Now that chap took a real sporting chance, and got his reward for
it--both ways. I mean to say, that he sunk the ship he went after all
right--which was his reward one way; and that we then sunk him--which
was his reward the other way. There was a funny coincidence in
connection with that little episode which might amuse you. We were----"

He paused for a moment while he spelled out for himself the "Visual"
which one of the escorting destroyers was flashing to the convoy leader,
but presently, with a smile of pleased reminiscence, took up the thread
of his yarn. This is the story that young Sub-Lieutenant P----, R.N.R.,
told me the while we leaned on the lee rail of the bridge and watched
the passing of those miles-long lines of packed troopers as, silently
sure of purpose, superbly contemptuous of danger, they steamed steadily
on to deliver their cargoes of human freight one step further towards
the fulfilment of its destiny.

"It was Christmas Day, as I told you," he said, bracing comfortable
against the roll, "and a cold, blustering, windy day it was. Several
days previously we had picked up a small slow convoy off a West African
port, and were escorting it to a port on the West Coast of England. The
escort consisted only of the _Whack_ and the _Smack_, the skipper of the
latter, as the senior officer, being in command. None of the ships--they
were mostly slow freighters--had had much convoy experience to speak of
at the time, and we were having our hands full all the way keeping them
in any kind of formation. They seemed to be getting worse rather than
better in this respect as we got into the waters where U-boat attacks
might be expected, but this may have been largely due to the weather,
which was--well, about the usual mid-winter brand in those latitudes. In
fact, we were just becoming hopeful that the rising wind and sea, both
were about 'Force 6,' might make it impossible for submarines to operate
during the day or so that still must elapse before reaching port, when
trouble began.

"All the morning the _Plato_, which had been a bad straggler throughout,
had been falling astern, and finally the _Smack_ ordered _Whack_ back to
prod her on and do what could be done in the way of screening her. She
still continued to lose distance, however, so that, at noon, we were
nearly out of sight of the main convoy, of which little more than smoke
and topmasts could be seen on the northern horizon.

"At that hour the _Smack_, doubtless because he had received some report
of the presence of U-boats in his vicinity, ordered us to rejoin the
convoy. We left an armed trawler to do what it could for the loitering
_Plato_, and started off at the best rate the weather would allow to
make up the distance lost. It was at this juncture that the amusing
little coincidence I mentioned a while ago occurred.

"A patrol-boat, of course, does not carry a padre, any more than it does
a number of the other comforts and luxuries provided in cruisers and
battleships, and for that reason we hadn't been able to do very much in
the way of a Christmas service. Several of the ship's company were
somewhat religiously inclined, however, and these, in lieu of anything
better, had asked for and received permission to hold a bit of a song
service, in case there was opportunity for it, during the day. As the
morning had been a rather full one, no suitable interval offered until
their rather poor apology for a Christmas dinner was out of the way, and
we were headed back to join the convoy. Then they went to it with a
will, and for the next hour or more fragments of Yuletide songs came
drifting back to my cabin to mingle with a number of other things
conspiring to disturb the forty winks I was trying to snatch while the
going was good. After a while, it appears, having run through their
repertoire of Christmas songs, they started in on Easter ones, 'Bein'
that they was mo' or less on the same subject,' as one of them explained
to me later. They had just boomed the last line of a chorus which
concluded with 'We shall seek our risen Lord,' when a signal was
received stating that a periscope had been sighted by some ship of the
convoy, and, sure enough, off they had to go to seek--well, I wouldn't
take the Hun quite so near his own valuation of himself to put it as the
song does, but all the same that quick new kick of the screws told me as
plain as any words, even before I read the signal, that the old _Whack_
was jumping away to seek _something_ that had risen.

"The convoy was dead ahead of us at a distance of about seven miles when
I reached the bridge, and, the visibility being unusually good for that
time of year, I could see all of the ships distinctly, as they steamed
in two columns of three abreast. I was even able to recognise the
_Amperi_ in the centre of the leading line. We were just comforting each
other with the assurance that it was getting too rough for a U-boat to
run a torpedo with any chance of finding its mark, when a huge spout of
water jumped skyward right in the middle of the convoy. When it
subsided, the _Amperi_, with a heavy list to port, could be seen heading
westward, evidently with her engines and steering gear disabled, while
the rest of the convoy, smoke rolling from their funnels, were
'starring' on northerly courses.

"The alarm was rung, and as the men rushed to action stations a signal
was made to the _Smack_ asking what was wrong. She replied, '_Amperi_
torpedoed; join me with all dispatch.' This, of course, we had already
started to do, though the wind and sea were knocking a good many knots
off our best speed. It was evident enough that the _Amperi_ had
received a death-blow, so that we were not surprised to find them
abandoning ship as we began to close her.

"Rotten as the weather was for it, this was being conducted most coolly
and skilfully, and three boats had already left her before we came
driving down to her assistance. _Smack_ had signalled us to pick up
survivors, and we had stood in, at reduced speed, to 250 yards of the
now heavily heeling ship, with the intention of proceeding on down, to
the leeward of her to the aid of two of her boats, when we sighted three
or four feet of periscope sticking out of the water, one point on the
starboard bow and at a distance of about a couple of hundred yards. To
see anything at all in rough water like that, you understand, a
periscope has to be poked well above the slap of the waves, and that
about equalizes the greater difficulty there is in picking up the
'feather' when it's choppy.

"I was at my action station with the 12-pounder batteries at this
juncture, but as it looked like a better chance for the depth-charges
than the guns, no order to open fire was given just yet. The captain
ordered the helm to be steadied, and rang up 'Full speed ahead' to the
engine-room. We passed the periscope ten yards on the port side, and
when the stern was just coming abreast it, two charges were released
together. As they were both set for the same depth it is probable that
the one staggeringly powerful explosion we felt was caused by their
detonating simultaneously. The shock was as solid as though we had
struck a rock, and I could feel a distinct lift to the ship before the
impact of it. There was something so substantially satisfying about that
muffled jar that it seemed only in the natural course of things that it
effected what it was intended to. The bow of the U-boat broke surface
almost immediately, the fact that it showed before the conning-tower
proving at once that she was hard hit and heavily down by the stern.
Indeed, the deck of her from the conning-tower aft was fated never again
to feel the rush of sea air.

"She was now less than a hundred yards right astern of us, and heading,
in a wobbly sort of way, like a half-stunned porpoise floundering away
from the 'boil' of a depth-charge, on just about the course the _Whack_
had been on when she kicked loose her 'cans.'

[Illustration: THE LOOK-OUT ON A DESTROYER AND PART OF HIS VIEW]

"The skipper put the helm hard-a-starboard, with the idea of turning to
ram, at the same time ordering me to open fire with the port
twelve-pounder. That was what I had been waiting for. The gun-crew was
down to three--through the others having been detailed for boat work in
connection with picking up the survivors from the _Amperi_--but that
didn't bother a good deal in a short and sweet practice like this one.
The ship was bobbing like a cork from the seas, in addition to her heavy
heel from the short turn and the vibration from the grind of the helm.
But neither did any of these little things matter materially, for
we'd always made a point of carrying out our target practice under the
worst conditions.

"The first round, fired at three hundred yards, was an 'over' by a
narrow margin, but the second, at two hundred yards, was a clean hit on
the conning-tower, carrying away the periscope and the stays supporting
it. The explosion of this shell appeared to split the whole
superstructure of the conning-tower, from the bridge to the deck. I did
not see anyone on the bridge at this moment, and if there had been he
must certainly have been killed. The fact that the submarine seemed to
have been blown to the surface by the force of our exploding
depth-charges rather than to have come up voluntarily, may account for
the fact that no head was poked above the bridge rail as she emerged. If
she had come up deliberately it would have been the duty of the skipper
and a signalman to pop out on to the bridge at once to be ready for
eventualities. Evidently they had no chance to do so on this occasion,
and as a consequence spun out their thread o' life by anywhere from
twenty to thirty seconds--whatever that was worth to them.

"My third shot plumped into her abaft the conning-tower, and the
explosion which followed it had a good deal more behind it than the
charge of a twelve-pounder shell. Before I had a chance to see what had
blown up, however, we had rammed her, and whatever damage that shot had
caused dissolved in the chaos of what proved the real _coup de grâce_.
That ramming was undoubtedly one of the prettiest little jobs of its
kind, one of the most neatly finessed, ever brought off.

"Since running over the submarine and dropping the depth-charges the
captain had turned the _Whack_ through thirty-two points, a complete
circle. This brought her back to a course just at right angles to the
beam of the now helpless enemy, toward which she was driven to the limit
of the last kick of the engines. Just before the moment of impact the
screws were stopped dead, so as to sink the bow and reduce the chance of
riding over the U-boat and rolling it under her stem, as has
occasionally happened, instead of cutting it straight in two. The jar,
when it came, was terrific, throwing from his feet every man not holding
to something; yet there was that in the clean, sweet crunch of it that
told me that it had accomplished all the heart could desire, even before
the next second furnished graphic ocular evidence of it.

"The sharp, fine bows of the _Whack_ drove home well abaft the
conning-tower, and--though the staggering jar told of the resistance
met--for all the eye could see, cut through like a knife in soft butter.
Indeed, the amazing cleanness of the cut has always seemed to me the
most remarkable feature of the whole show. The bow end of the U-boat,
with the conning-tower, was the section which was cut off on my
side--port--and the even cross-section of it that gaped up at me was
very little different from that I once saw when one of our own
submarines was being sawed through amidships in connection with some
repairs. Even the plating did not appear to be bent or buckled. The
impression that ring of shining clean-cloven steel left on my mind was
of a cut as true and even as could have been done in dock with an
acetylene flame. This was largely imagination, of course; and yet how
photographic my mind-picture is you may judge from the fact that I have
distinct recollection of seeing the thin circle of red lead where it
showed all the way round beneath the grey of the outer paint.

"The heavily tilted main deck of the interior of this section of the
U-boat did not appear to be flooded at this juncture, though any water
that had been shipped, of course, would have been in the now submerged
bows. I have a jumbled recollection of wheels and levers and
switchboards, fittings of brass and steel, and what I took to be three
torpedoes--one on the port side, and two, one above the other, on the
starboard. The most arresting thing of all, however, was the figure of a
solitary man, the only one, strange to say, that anybody reports having
seen. He was scrambling upward toward the opening, and I have never been
quite sure whether he was 'Kamerad-ing' with his uplifted hands, or
whether they were raised preparatory to the dive it is quite probable he
intended to make into the sea.

"Whichever the attitude was, it had no chance to serve its purpose. The
stern section of the U-boat--the one most heavily damaged by the
depth-charges--was seen to sink abreast the starboard 12-pounder battery
by the crew of that gun, but the forward part--the one with the
conning-tower, which I had seen into the interior of--buoyed up by the
water-tight compartments in the bows, continued to float. Observing
this, the Captain ordered the helm put a-starboard, and as we turned,
the 4-inch gun and my 12-pounder opened up together. My very first
round, fired over the port quarter, hit and exploded fairly inside the
gaping end of the section, right where I had last seen the man with
upraised hands. That, and the two or three smashing hits by the 4-inch
gun, finished the job. A whirlpool in the sea marked the rush of water
into the severed end, and this section--for all the world as though it
had been a complete submarine--tossed its bows, with their
elephant-ear-like rudders, skyward, and planed off on an easy angle
toward the bottom. Its disappearance was complete. There were no
survivors, and practically no floating wreckage. Only a spreading film
of oil and a tangle of torn wakes slowly dissolving in the wash of the
driving seas marked the scene of the action. It had lasted something
over ten minutes.

"The _Whack_ suffered considerable damage from the impact with the
submarine, though not enough to give us serious worry, even in so heavy
a sea. The stem was bent over to port, like a broken nose, and the
buckling plates caused her to make quite a bit of water. We had no
trouble coping with this, however, and made port, with the survivors of
the _Amperi_ aboard, without difficulty. There we soon had the--well,
not unmixedly unpleasant--news that the _Whack's_ wounds were of a
nature somewhat comparable to what the Tommy in France calls a
'Blighty.' Without having any real permanent harm done her, she was
still enough banged up to need a special refit, the period of which, of
course, the most of us would be able to spend at home on leave. Yes,
indeed," he concluded, grinning pleasedly, "that was a ripping piece of
ramming in more ways than one."

P---- went over and bent above the shivering "Gyro," for a moment, took
a long look through his glasses at the last of the now receding convoy,
and then came back and rejoined me by the rail.

"There was one little thing I neglected to tell you about," he said
presently, "and that was the part the _Smack_ played in that show.
Although the _Whack_ got all the _kudos_ for the sinking, there is a
decided possibility that a bit of a stunt the _Smack_ brought off before
ever we came up may have been largely if not entirely responsible for us
getting the chance we did.

"_Smack_, you see, was near at hand when the _Amperi_ was torpedoed, and
the instant her Captain saw the spout of water shoot up in the air, he
altered course and drove at full speed for the point he reckoned the
submarine would be most likely to be encountered. He reports that he had
the good fortune to hit it, while it was still submerged, and that the
shock was severe enough to throw men off their balance. Shortly after
that a periscope appeared, and it was this that gave the _Whack_ her
chance to drop her depth-charges.

"Now, not unnaturally, the Captain of the _Smack_ had good reason to
believe that his striking the U-boat, even if he only grazed her, had
something to do with her reappearance on the surface at a moment when
she must have known a strenuous hunt for her was in progress. Unluckily,
for his claim, however, the bows of the _Smack_, when she came to be
docked, did not show sufficient evidences of having been in heavy
collision to warrant the conclusion that the U-boat had been enough
damaged to have gone to the surface from that cause alone. Under the
circumstances, therefore, there wasn't anything else to do but give the
credit for bringing her up to _Whack's_ depth-charges, while of course,
the fact that it was also the _Whack_ that rammed her was obvious
enough. The consequence was, as I said, that _we_ got all the _kudos_."

He gazed for a few moments at the back-curling bow-wave, before
resuming. "Yes, _we_ got all the _kudos_," he said slowly; "but, all the
same, I've never been able to figure why Fritz didn't douse his
periscope and try to dive deeper when he saw the _Whack_ rounding toward
him, if it wasn't because there was something pretty radically wrong
with him already. I can't help thinking that the old _Smack_ had a lot
to do with starting that Fritz on his downward path, even if it was the
_Whack_ that gave him the final shove."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was very characteristic, that last little explanation of P----'s. If
there is one thing more than another that has impressed me in hearing
these young British destroyer officers tell the "little games they have
played with Fritz," it is the fine sporting spirit in which they
invariably insist in sharing the credit of an achievement with every
other officer, and man, and ship that has in any way figured in the
action. It was the fault of the Hun that we could no longer treat the
enemy as we would an opponent in sport; but that only makes it all the
more inspiring to see the fellow-players still keeping alive the old
spirit among themselves.



CHAPTER XI

BOMBED!


It was generally admitted by flying-men, even before the failure of the
attempts to destroy the _Goeben_ while ashore in the Dardanelles early
in '18, that the air-bomb was a most uncertain and ineffective weapon
against a large ship of any class, but especially so against a warship
with deck armour.

The principal reason for this is that the blunt-nosed air-bomb, no
matter from how high it may be dropped, has neither the velocity nor the
structure to penetrate the enclosed spaces of a ship where its explosive
charge would find something to exert itself against.

This is why an 18-pounder shell, penetrating to a casemate or
engine-room, for instance, may easily do more damage to a warship than
an air-bomb of ten times that weight expending its force more or less
harmlessly upon an upper deck.

Merchant ships, with their inflammable and comparatively flimsy upper
works, are more vulnerable to air-bombs than are warships, but even of
these very few indeed have been completely destroyed as a consequence
of aerial attack. Some of the gamest fights of the war on the sea have
been those of merchant skippers who, in the days before their ships had
guns of any description to keep aircraft at a distance, brought their
vessels through by the exercise of the boundless resource which
characterises their kind, usually by sheer skill in manoeuvring. A
very remarkable instance of this character I heard of a few days ago
from a Royal Naval Reserve officer who figured in it.

"I was in a British ship temporarily in the Holland-South American
service at the time," he said, "and we were outward bound from Rotterdam
after discharging a cargo of wheat from Montevideo. It was before the
Huns had raised any objection to ships bound for Dutch ports using the
direct route by the English Channel, and also before the U-boats had
begun to sink neutrals on that run. Except for the comparatively slight
risk of encountering a floating mine, we reckoned we were just about as
safe in the North Sea as in the South Atlantic. Of course, we carried no
gun of any kind--no heavy gun, I mean. We _did_ have a rifle or two, as
I will tell you of presently.

"Why the attack was made we never had any definite explanation. In fact,
the Germans themselves probably never knew, for they tumbled over
themselves to assure the Holland Government that there was some
misunderstanding, and that they would undertake that nothing of the
kind should occur again.

"My personal opinion has always been that it was a sheer case of running
amuck on the part of the Hun aviator responsible for the outrage; for,
as I have said, we were empty of cargo, our marks were unmistakable, and
we were steering a course several points off the one usually followed by
the Dutch boats to England. Anyway, he paid the full penalty for his
descent to barbarism.

"It was a clear afternoon, with a light wind and lighter sea, and we
were steaming comfortably along at about nine knots, heading for the
Straits of Dover, when the look-out at the mast-head reported a squadron
of 'planes approaching from the south.

"Presently we sighted them from the bridge--five seaplanes, three or
four points off our starboard bow. There had been reports of noonday
raids on Calais for several days, and I surmised that those were Hun
machines returning from some such stunt.

"Holding to an even course, the squadron passed over a mile or more to
the starboard of us, and it was already some distance astern when I saw
one of the machines--I think it was the one leading the 'V'--detach
itself from the others and head swiftly back in our direction. There was
nothing out of the way in this action at a time when every ship was held
in more or less suspicion by both belligerents, and it seemed to me so
right and proper that the chap should come and have a look at us, in
case he had some doubts, that I did not even think it necessary to call
the 'Old Man' to the bridge, or even send him word of what I took to be
no more than a passing incident.

"Descending swiftly as he approached, the Hun passed over the ship
diagonally--from port quarter to starboard bow--at a height of six or
eight hundred feet.

"'That'll end it,' I thought. 'Our marks, and the fact that we're in
ballast, ought to satisfy him.'

"But no. Back he came. This time he was a hundred feet or so lower, and
flying on a line directly down our course, passing over us from bow to
stern. Again he swung round and repeated the manoeuvre in reverse,
this time at a height of not more than four hundred feet. He had done
this five or six times before it occurred to me that he was taking
practice sights for bombing; but not even then, when I saw him with his
eye glued to his dropping-instrument, did it occur to me that he was
doing anything more than trying his sights. It was at the next 'run' or
two that the thing began to get on my nerves, and I called up the
skipper on the voice-pipe and told him I did not quite like the look of
the circus.

"The Old Man was in the middle of his afternoon siesta, but he tumbled
out and came puffing up to the bridge at the double. He was no more
inclined to take the thing seriously than I was, but, on the
off-chance--which your careful skipper is always thinking of in the back
of his brain-box--he rang up 'More steam' on the engine-room telegraph,
and ordered the quartermaster to start zig-zagging, a stunt we had
already practised a bit in the event of a submarine attack.

"'If he's just trying his eye,' said the Old Man, 'it'll give him all
the better practice to follow us; while, it he's up to mischief, it may
fuss him a bit.'

"The Hun had just whirled about three or four cables' length ahead of
us, when the smoke rolling up from the funnel and the swinging bow must
have told him that we were trying to give him a bit more of a run for
his money. Circling on a wider turn, he came charging straight down the
line of our new course, flying at what I should say was between two and
three times the height of our masts. We were looking at the machine at
an angle of about forty-five degrees--so that he must have been about as
far ahead of us as he was high, say, a hundred yards--when I saw a small
dark object detach itself from under the fuselage and begin to come
directly towards us, almost as though shot from a gun.

"It was the only bomb I ever saw fall while I was in a sufficiently
detached state of mind to mark what it looked like. 'Fall' hardly
conveys a true picture of the way the thing seemed to approach, for the
swift machine, speeding at perhaps a hundred miles an hour, must have
imparted, at the instant of releasing, a good deal of lateral velocity.

"At first it was coming almost head on to the way I was looking at it,
and, greatly foreshortened, it had so much the appearance of a round
sand-bag that it is not surprising that the skipper took it for some
kind of practice dummy. 'Probably a dud,' I remember him saying; 'but
don't let it hit you. Stand by to duck!'

"My next recollection is of the thing beginning to wobble a bit,
probably as the nose began to tilt downward; but still it seemed to be
coming straight toward us rather than simply falling. I seem to recall
that the seaplane passed overhead an appreciable space before the bomb,
but I must have heard it rather than seen it, for I never took my eye
off the speeding missile.

"The latter seemed at the least from fifty to a hundred feet above my
head as it hurtled over the starboard end of the bridge, and I saw it
with startling distinctness silhouetted against a cloud that was bright
with the light of the sun it had just obscured. It was still wobbling,
but apparently tending to steady under the combined influence of the
downward pull of the heavy head and the backward drag of the winged
tail. It appeared to be revolving.

"I have since thought, however, that I may have got the latter
impression from a 'spinner' that is often attached to this type of bomb
to unwind, with the resistance of the air, and expose the detonator.

"Down it came until it whanged against some of the standing rigging of
the foremast--seeming to deflect inboard and downward slightly as a
consequence--missed the mainmast by a few feet, and struck squarely
against the side of the deckhouse on the poop.

"The scene immediately after the explosion of the bomb is photographed
indelibly on my memory; the events which followed are more of a jumble.
The detonation was a good deal less sharp than I had expected, and so
was the shock from it. The latter was not nearly so heavy as that from
many a wave that had crashed over her bows, but, coming from aft rather
than for'ard, the jolt had a distinctly different feel, and by a man
'tween decks would hardly have been mistaken for that from a sea.

"It was the flash of the explosion--a huge spurt of hot, red flame--that
was the really astonishing thing. It seemed to embrace the whole
afterpart of the ship, and everything one of the forked tongues of fire
was projected against burst into flame itself.

"The ramshackle deckhouse, which had been reduced to kindling wood by
the explosion, roared like a furnace in the middle of the poop. Even the
deck itself was blazing. I had once been near an incendiary bomb in a
London air raid, and knew that nothing else could have produced so
sudden and so fierce a fire.

"But I also knew that the first burst of flame is the worst in such a
case, and that most of the fire came from the inflammable stuff in the
bomb itself.

"As I had always heard that sand was better than water in putting out a
fire of this kind, and knowing we carried several barrels of it for
scrubbing the decks, I ordered it to be brought up and thrown on the
flames, but stood by on the bridge myself in case the skipper, who was
bawling down the engine-room voice-pipe for more steam, needed me for
anything else.

"Luckily the sand was close at hand, and they were scattering it from
buckets over the blazing deck within a minute or two. Except for the
débris of the deckhouse, the fire was put out almost as quickly as it
was started, and, between sand and water, even that was being rapidly
got under control, when suddenly the Hun, whom I had almost forgotten in
the rush of undoing his dirty work, flashed into sight again.

"The skipper had our ship zigzagging so short and sharp by this time
that her wake looked like the teeth of a big, crazy saw, and this the
Hun was unable to follow closely enough to get a fore-and-aft sight down
her as he had done the first time.

"Coming up astern, he kicked out a bomb just before he was over her port
quarter, but it only shot across her diagonally, and struck the water on
her starboard side, about a hundred feet away. It went off with, if
anything, a sharper crack than the one which had struck the poop, and
the foam geyser the explosion shot up flashed a bloody red for the
instant the water took to chill the glow of the molten thermit.

"Vanishing even more quickly was a ragged red star which fluttered for a
moment beneath the surface of the water itself as the flame stabs shot
out in all directions from the central core of the explosion.

"No water was thrown aboard us, and, near as I was to the explosion on
the bridge, the rush of air could hardly be felt. Something that came
tinkling down after striking the side of the charthouse, however--I
picked it up when the show was over--turned out to be a thin fragment of
the steel casing of the bomb.

"A similar fragment, twisted into a peculiar shape, struck the chest of
a man leaning over the rail in the waist of the ship, inflicting a
slight flesh wound the exact shape of a ragged capital 'C.'

"That any kind of a living man could really be trying to destroy a mere
merchant ship in cold blood seemed to me so monstrous, so utterly
impossible, that, until the second bomb was dropped, I was almost ready
to believe that the first had been launched by accident. From then on
we knew it was a fight for life.

"The Hun took a broader swerve in bringing his machine round for the
next charge, and, ten times quicker on his helm than we were,
anticipated our next shift of course, and came darting down on an almost
straight fore-and-aft line again. The sudden cloud of our foreblown
smoke--there was a following wind on the 'leg' they had put her on at
the moment--which engulfed him at the instant his third bomb was
released was the one thing in the world that could have made him miss so
easy a 'sitter.' The quick 'side-flip' the sharply-banked 'plane gave to
the dropped missile threw it wide by twice the distance the second had
missed us. Though the detonation rang sharp and clear, and though a
vicious spout of foam shot up, I could note no effect of the thing
whatever on the ship. Whether that was his last bomb or not we could
never be quite sure. At any rate, it was the last he tried to drop upon
us, or upon any other ship for that matter.

"Just why he returned to the attack with his machine-gun we could only
guess. It may have been, as is probable, that he was at the end of the
small supply of bombs left from the raid he was doubtless returning
from.

"Again, however, it is just possible that the fact that the fire was
being got under control on the poop impelled him to adopt an attack
calculated to drive the plucky chaps who were fighting it to cover.

"Anyhow, flying just high enough to clear the tops of the masts, he came
swooping back, and it was upon the men trying to put out the fire--now
confined to the wreckage--of the deckhouse--that he seemed to
concentrate his attack. Two or three of these I saw fall under the rain
of bullets, and among them was our freight clerk, who had also been
knocked down by the explosion of the first bomb, but who, being hardly
stunned by the shock, was soon on his feet again and leading the
fire-fighters.

"He was a good deal of a character, this freight clerk. Although well
educated, he had led a free and easy existence in various parts of the
world. For a year previous to the war he had been a cowboy, and some
queer trait in his character made him still cling to the _poncho_, or
shoulder blanket, and baggy trousers, which are the main features of the
Argentine cow-puncher's rigout. It was the Wild West rig that made me
notice him when he was knocked down by the bomb and later by the
machine-gun fire.

"He was scarcely more hurt the second time than the first, but the
bullet which had grooved the outer covering of his brain-box seemed also
to have put a new idea inside it. I saw him pull himself together in a
dazed sort of way after the seaplane had passed, and then shake off the
hand of a man who tried to help him, and dash off down the ladder,
tumbling to cover, I thought.

"It must have been a minute or two later that I saw him, legs wide apart
to keep his balance, pumping back at the Hun (who had swung close again
in the interim) with a rifle--a weapon which I later learned was an old
Winchester, which had been rusting on the wall of the freight clerk's
cabin. He appeared to have had the worst of the exchange, for when I
looked again he was sitting, with one leg crumpled crookedly under him,
propped up against a bitt.

"He looked still full of fight, though, and seemed to be replenishing
the magazine of the rifle from his bandoliers.

"The skipper sent me below to stir things up a bit in the engine-room at
this juncture, and I did not see my cowboy friend until he had fought
two or three more unequal rounds and was squaring away, groggy, but
still unbeaten, for what proved the final one.

"I don't know whether he ever got credit for it or not, but the Old
Man's plan of action at this juncture must pretty nearly have marked a
mile-post in merchant ship defence against aerial attack. We had been
instructed in, and had practised the zigzag before this, but that was
about the limit of our resources in this line. 'Squid' tactics--smoke
screening--had hardly been more than thought of for anything but
destroyers. Yet the wily old skipper, literally on a moment's notice,
brought off a stunt that could not have been improved upon if it had
been the result of a year's thought and experience.

"The instant the Hun 'stumbled' when he struck the cloud of smoke that
was pouring ahead of us, the skipper's ready mind began evolving a plan
still further to besmudge the atmosphere. Today, with special
instructions and special stuff ready to hand, a merchant captain, if he
needed it, would simply tell the chief engineer to 'make smoke screen.'

"On this occasion the Old Man meant the same thing when I heard him
yelling down the engine-room voice-pipe to 'Smoke up like hell!'

"About all the chief could do under the circumstances was to stoke
faster and cut down the draught. This he did to the best of his ability,
but the screen did not bear much resemblance to one of those almost
solid streams of soot a modern destroyer can turn out by spraying oil
freely and shutting off the air.

"Such as it was, however, the Old Man made the most of, and by steaming
down the wind accomplished the double purpose of cutting down the
draught fanning the fire on the poop and keeping a maximum of smoke
floating above the ship.

"The smudge bothered the Hun, but by no means put an end to his
machine-gun practice. Except for the freight clerk, who was still
pumping back at the seaplane every time it swooped over, every one on
the poop had been killed, wounded, or driven to cover, and, with no one
to fight it, the fire was beginning to gain new headway.

"'Not good 'nuf by a mile,' I heard the Old Man muttering to himself as
he eyed the quickly thinning trail of smoke from the funnels. 'Must do
better'n that or 'taint no good.' Then I saw his bronzed old face light
up.

"'X----!' he shouted, beckoning me to his side, 'duck below, clean out
all the stuff in the paint lockers and chuck it in the furnaces,
'specially the oils and turps. Jump lively!'

"This was the job I went on when I said I saw the cowboy crumpled up
against a bitt, but still full of fight.

"Linseed oil, turpentine, and some tins of fine lubricants--I had them
all turned out of the fore-peak and carried, rolled, dragged, or tossed
down to the stokehold.

"Most of the stuff was in kegs or cans small enough to go through a
furnace door, and these we threw in without broaching them. The Old Man
called me up twice--the first time to say that there was no increase in
smoke, and wanting to know why I was so slow; and the second time to say
that he had just got a bullet through his shoulder, and ordering me to
come up and take over, as he was beginning to feel groggy.

"There was an ominous crackling and sputtering in the furnaces as I
sprang for the ladder, and before my foot was on the lowermost rung, one
of the doors jumped violently up on its top-swing hinges from the kick
of an exploding tin or keg of oil. As it fell back with a clang the
swish of sudden flame smote my ears, and then a regular salvo of muffled
detonations. The last picture I had of the boiler-room was of the
stokers trying to confine the infernos they had created by wedging shut
the doors with their scoops.

"The whole ship was a-shiver with the roaring conflagration in her
furnaces as I reached the upper deck, and, above a tufty, white frizzle
of escaping steam, rolled a greasy jet of smoke that looked thick enough
for a man to dance a hornpipe on it without sinking above his ankles. I
found the Old Man, with a dazed sort of look in his eyes, and his jaw
set like grim death, hanging on to the binnacle when I gained the
bridge, and all he had the strength to say, before slithering down in a
heap, was, 'Damn good smoke! Carry on--zigzag down wind! Think blighter
has finished. Look to--fire.'

"The fact that the Hun was now circling the ship at considerable
distance had evidently made the skipper believe that he had come to the
end of his cartridges, and in this I am inclined to think the Old Man
was right.

"Which fire, however, he referred to I was not quite sure about, but, in
my own mind, I was rather more concerned about the one I had started
with the ship's paint than the one the Hun's incendiary bomb had set
going. Indeed, the 'fire brigade,' which had taken advantage of the lull
to get a hose playing on the conflagration on the poop, was rapidly
reducing the latter to a black mass of steaming embers. The cowboy was
still snuggled up against the bitt, which he used to rest his right
elbow on in the occasional shots he was lobbing over at the now
distantly circling enemy. When I learned later what a crack shot the
chap really was, I cannot say that I blamed the Hun for his discretion.

"What tempted him to make that fatal final swoop we never knew. It may
have been sheer bravado, or he may have been trying to frighten off the
fire-fighters again. Anyhow, back he came, allowing plenty of leeway to
miss my smoke screen, and only high enough to clear the masts by forty
or fifty feet.

"The cowboy saw him coming, and I can picture him yet as he lay there
waiting, with his cheek against the stock of that old Winchester, and
following the nearing 'plane through its sights. With the rare good
sense of your real hunter, he didn't run any risk of frightening off his
quarry with any premature shots. He just laid doggo, and held his fire.

"If the Hun had been content to sit tight and keep his head out of
sight, the chances are nothing would have happened to him; but the
temptation to have a closer look at his handiwork and to jeer at his
'beaten enemy' was too much for him. Banking as sharply as his big
'plane would stand, he leaned out head and shoulders above the wrecked
poop, gave a jaunty wave of the hand, and opened his mouth to shout what
was probably some sort of Hunnish pleasantry.

"The crack of the old Winchester reached my ears above the roar of the
seaplane's engine, and the next thing I was clearly conscious of was the
machine's swerving--sidewise and downward--and plunging straight into
the trailing column of black smoke. The tip of its left wing fouled the
main truck, but it still kept enough balance and headway to carry past
and clear of the ship.

"It then slammed down into the water two or three hundred feet off our
starboard bow, and it only took a point or two of alteration to bring it
under our forefoot.

"The old ship struck the mark so fair that she cut the wreckage into two
parts, and I saw fragments of wings and fuselage boiling up on both
sides of our wake astern. I gave the order in hot blood, but I would do
the same thing again if I had a week to think it over in, just as I
would go out of my way to kill a poisonous snake.

"Of course we never knew definitely who was responsible for polishing
off the Hun. For a while I thought it probable that the cowboy had only
wounded him, and that his swerve into the smoke had been responsible for
the dive into the sea, where the ship put the finishing touches on the
job. But from the day that the cowboy showed me that he could hit
tossed-up shillings with a target-rifle four times out of five I have
been inclined to believe his assertion that he 'plunked the bloomin'
blighter straight through the nut,' and that I and my smoke had nothing
to do with it.

"Neither the skipper nor the cowboy were much hurt, and as for the ship,
she probably suffered, in the long run, more from the loss of her paint
and oil supply than from the Hun's bomb and the fire it started."



CHAPTER XII

AGAINST ODDS


The news from all the Fronts had been discouraging for several days, and
it only needed that staggering announcement of the destruction of
practically a whole convoy and its escort, in the North Sea, to cap the
climax of gloom. This is what I had read in the fog-hastened autumn
twilight, by the feeble glow of a paint-masked street lamp, in the Stop
Press column of the evening paper a Strand newsboy had shoved into my
hand.

     "Two very fast and heavily-armed German raiders attacked a convoy
     in the North Sea, about midway between the Shetland Islands and the
     Norwegian coast, on October 17th. Two British destroyers--H.M.
     ships _Mary Rose_ (Lieutenant-Commander Charles L. Fox) and
     _Strongbow_ (Lieutenant-Commander Edward Brooke)--which formed the
     anti-submarine escort, at once engaged the enemy vessels, and
     fought until sunk after a short and unequal engagement. Their
     gallant action held the German raiders sufficiently long to enable
     three of the merchant vessels to effect their escape. It is
     regretted, however, that five Norwegian, one Danish, and three
     Swedish vessels--all unarmed--were thereafter sunk by gunfire
     without examination or warning of any kind and regardless of the
     lives of their crew or passengers.... Anxious to make good their
     escape before British forces could intercept them, no effort was
     made to rescue the crews of the sunk British destroyers or the
     doomed merchant ships, but British patrol craft which arrived
     shortly afterward rescued some thirty Norwegians and others of whom
     details are not yet known.... The enemy raiders succeeded in
     evading the British watching squadrons on the long dark nights,
     both in their hurried outward dash and homeward flight.

     "It is regretted that all the eighty-eight officers and men of
     H.M.S. _Mary Rose_ and forty-seven officers and men of H.M.S.
     _Strongbow_ were lost. All the next-of-kin have been informed."

A few days later a second Admiralty report announced that ten survivors
of the _Mary Rose_ had reached Norway in an open boat, and also gave a
few further particulars of the action in which she had been lost. From
this it appeared that she had been many miles ahead of the main convoy
when the latter was attacked, and that, possessed of the speed, with
many knots to spare, to have avoided an action in which the odds were a
thousand to one against her, she had yet deliberately steamed back and
thrown down the gage of battle to the heavily armed German cruisers.
Just why her captain chose the course he did was not, and never will be,
fully explained. He went down with his ship, and to none of those who
survived had he disclosed what was in his mind. It was certainly not
"war," the critics said, but they also agreed that it was "magnificent"
enough to furnish the one ray of brightness striking athwart the sombre
gloom of the whole disheartening tragedy. "He held on unflinchingly,"
concluded an all-too-brief story of the action issued to the public
through the Admiralty, some time later, "and he died, leaving to the
annals of his service an episode not less glorious than that in which
Sir Richard Grenville perished."

From the time I read these Admiralty announcements I had the feeling
that some, if not all, of those ten survivors of the _Mary Rose_ would
surely be able to offer more of an explanation of why her captain took
her into battle against such hopeless odds than any that had yet been
suggested to the public, and in the months which followed I made what
endeavour I could to locate and have a talk with one of them. It was not
long before the ten were scattered in as many different ships, however,
and though I had the names and official numbers of two or three, almost
a year went by before I chanced upon the first of them. Indeed, it was
but a day or two previous to the first anniversary of the loss of the
_Mary Rose_ and _Strongbow_ and the destruction of the Norwegian convoy
that, in the course of a visit to a Submarine Depot Ship at one of the
East Coast bases, I sauntered forward one evening and fell into
conversation with a sturdily built, steady-eyed young seaman--some kind
of torpedo rating, evidently, by the red worsted "mouldie" on his
sleeve--who had just clambered up to the forecastle from the deck of a
hulking "L" moored alongside.

"How do you like submarin-ing?" I had asked him, by way of getting
acquainted.

"Not so bad, sir," he replied with a smile, "though it's a bit stuffy
and rather slow after destroyers. With them there's something doing all
the time. I was in one of the 'M' class before I volunteered for
submarines. P'raps you've heard of her--the _Mary Rose_, sunk a year
this month, in----"

"Wait a moment," I cut in, as the ribbon he was wearing caught my eye;
"you're one of the men I've been looking for for a number of months. Ten
to one you're Able Seaman Bailey, who received the D.S.M. for his part
in the action, and who is specially mentioned in the Admiralty story"
(refreshing my memory from a note-book) "for having, 'despite severe
shrapnel wounds in the leg, persisted in taking his turn at an oar' of
the Norwegian lifeboat which picked up the _Mary Rose_ survivors, and
for his 'invincible light-heartedness throughout.'"

A flush spread under his "submarine pallor" at that broadside, but he
admitted, with an embarrassed grin, that his name was Bailey, and that
his decoration was awarded for something or other in connection with
the last fight of the _Mary Rose_, though for just what he had never
quite been able to figure out. In the hour we leaned over the forecastle
rail and watched the North Sea fog-bank roll up the estuary with the
incoming tide, this is the account he gave me of the things which he
himself saw of what is perhaps the most gallantly tragic of all the
naval actions of the war.

       *       *       *       *       *

"They hadn't got convoying at that time down to the system it is carried
on under now," he began, by way of explanation, "and the only fighting
ships with this one were the _Mary Rose_ and _Strongbow_. The _Mary_ was
of the same class as the 'M ...' over there, very large and fast and
well armed for a destroyer, but never, of course, built for anything
like a give-and-take fight with any kind of a cruiser.

"There was also an armed trawler somewhere about, but it had no chance
to do anything but pick up survivors. We were an anti-submarine escort,
nothing more, and were not intended to stand off surface raiders. Of
course provision was made against these, too, but--well, when you
consider the size of the North Sea and the length and blackness of the
winter nights, the only wonder is that the Huns can't buck up their
nerve to trying for a convoy twice a week instead of twice a year.

"We had escorted the north-bound convoy across to Bergen, and, on the
afternoon of the 16th of October, had picked up the south-bound and
headed back for one of the home ports. Escorting even a squadron of
warships which know how to keep station is no picnic for destroyers, but
with merchantmen it is a dozen times worse. It is bad enough even now,
but a year ago, before these little packets had had much experience, it
was enough to drive a man crazy. Between the faster ships trying to push
on, and the slower ones falling astern, and breakdowns, and the chance
of trickery, it was one continual round of worry from the time we left
Base to our return.

"This time was no exception to the rule, even before the big smash. One
of the Swedes--there were Norwegian and Danish as well as Swedish ships
in the convoy, but we called them all 'Swedes,' probably because it was
shorter and easier to say than Scandinavian--well, one of the Swedes
shifted cargo along about dark of the 16th, with the result that the
slower ships, and this included most of the convoy, lagged back, while
several of the faster ones kept on.

"I don't know whether this was done by order, or whether it just
happened. Anyhow, the _Strongbow_ remained behind with the slower
section, while the _Mary Rose_ pushed on as an escort for the faster. It
was the first lot--the main convoy--that the raiders attacked first, but
just what happened I did not see, for we had drawn a long way ahead of
them in the course of the night.

"When I came up to stand my watch as anti-submarine lookout, on the
after searchlight platform, at four in the morning of the 17th, I
remember that it was cloudy and thick overhead, but with very fair
visibility on the water. We were steaming along comfortably with two
boilers, which gave us a big margin of speed over everything needed to
cut our zigzags round the comparatively slow packets we were escorting.
The sea was rough but almost dead astern, so that it made little
trouble--for the moment, that is. We had enough of it a little later.

"Along toward six o'clock the visibility began to extend as it grew
lighter, but there was no sign of the main convoy when, at exactly
five-fifty, I sighted flashes of light fluttering along the northern
horizon. Although my ears caught no sound but the throb of the engines
and the churning of the screws, I had no doubt they were from gun-fire,
and reported them at once by voice-pipe to the Officer of the Watch--it
was Gunner T., if I remember right--on the bridge. The captain was
called, and must have concluded the same, for he at once ordered her put
about and sounded 'Action Stations.' That took me to the foremost
torpedo tubes, where my station was on the seat between the tubes, with
the voice-pipe gear fitted to my ears. Most of what followed I saw from
there.

"In some of the published accounts of the action it was stated that the
captain of the _Mary Rose_ thought that the flashes he saw were from
the gun of a submarine shelling the convoy, so that when he turned back
it was with the expectation of meeting a U-boat rather than powerful
raiding cruisers. I don't know anything definite on this score, of
course, as I only heard the captain speak once or twice (and then to
give orders) before he went down with his ship, but I don't think it
could possibly have been true. There is a sort of fluttering ripple to
the flash of a salvo that you can't possibly mistake for that of the
discharge of a single gun, and the flashes which we continued to see for
some time were plainly those of salvo answering salvo. The flashes from
the mingled salvoes of the heavy guns of the Hun raiders could not have
been confused with those from the few light guns of the _Strongbow_ any
more than these could have been taken to come from the single gun of a
U-boat. Everything pointed to just what we learned had taken place--a
cruiser raid on the convoy. There was nothing in the flashes to suggest
a submarine was firing, and I can't see how the captain could have had
any such impression. It was enough for him--yes, and for all of us--to
know that our consort was in trouble, and I shall always think that he
turned back to help the _Strongbow_ with the full knowledge that he
would have to face hopeless odds. He was a proper gentleman, was Captain
Fox, and so there was nothing else that he _could_ have done; and,
what's more, there's nothing else that we men in the _Mary Rose_--or
any other British sailors, for that matter--would have had him do. It
would have been against all the traditions of the Navy to have done
anything else but stick by a consort to the last."

Able Seaman Bailey smote resoundingly the hollow palm of his left hand
with the fist of his right as he spoke those last words, and then, in a
quieter voice, took up the thread of the story again.

"That turn through sixteen points brought the seas, which we had been
running before all night, right ahead, and all in a minute she was being
swept fore-and-aft by every second or third of them. Anxious as the
captain was to drive her full speed (which would have been a pretty
terrific gait, let me tell you, for the 'Ms' are very fast), it was no
use.

"Plates and rivets simply wouldn't stand the strain of the green water
that anything like full speed would have bored her into, and she was
finally slowed down to about twenty knots as the best she could do
without flooding the decks and making it impossible to serve the guns
and torpedo tubes. As she was good for a lot more than this with two
boilers, I doubt very much if the third was ever 'flashed up.'

"The first I saw of the ships which turned out to be the enemy was some
masts and funnels to the north'ard and about a couple of points on the
starboard bow. They were making very little smoke, probably because
they were oil-burners. As we were steering on practically opposite
courses, we closed each other very quickly, and they must have been
about four miles off when the captain, evidently becoming suspicious of
their appearance, challenged. As there was no reply, fire was opened
immediately afterward by the foremost gun, the course at the same time
being altered a point or two to starboard, so that the other two guns
would bear. The rest of our firing was, I think, by salvoes, or rather,
it was until all but the after gun were knocked out by the Hun's shells.

"Our first shots, fired at about 7,000 yards, were short; but as the
salvoes which followed began to fall closer to their targets, I saw the
Huns alter to a course more or less parallel to ours, but plainly
veering away so as to open out the range. This gave me the first
silhouette view I had, and I did not need a glass to recognize them at
once as German, the three straight funnels and the 'swan' bows being
quite unmistakable. Some of our shots fell close, but I saw nothing I
could be certain of calling a hit.

"However, I knew that it was not the guns the captain was counting on,
but that he was trying to close to a range and bearing that might offer
a chance to get home with a torpedo.

"Why the Huns did not open fire before they did I have never quite been
able to figure out, unless it was that they hoped to avoid an action and
so be free to pursue and sink the leading ships of the convoy--the
faster ones the _Mary Rose_ had been escorting--without interference. If
that is so, Captain Fox's sacrifice was not in vain, for all of these
ships escaped destruction and reached port in safety. Even as it was,
they had no stomach for an action at any range close enough to give us
any chance to damage them either with gun-fire or torpedoes. Their
plan--proper enough in its way, I suppose--was simply to pound us to
pieces with the shells of their powerful long-range guns, and not to
close to finish us off until all our guns and torpedo tubes were out of
action. As one good salvo from either of them was more than enough to do
the job, there wasn't much hope of our getting in close enough to do
them serious harm. It was a bold bid the captain made for it, though.

"The course we were now on brought the seas more abeam than ahead, so
that we had been able to shake out several more knots of speed, and this
the captain tried to use to shorten the range. We were actually closing
them at a good rate (though I wouldn't go so far as to say they were
putting on all their speed to avoid it), when the Huns began firing
their ranging shots. By this time we had reached a position from which
there was a very fair bearing to launch a mouldie, and we were busy
getting one ready to slip while the fall of shot came bounding nearer
and nearer to us. I remember, in a vague sort of way, that the first
salvo was short by a long way, that the second was much nearer, and
that the third, closely bunched and exploding loudly on striking the
sea, threw up smoke-stained spouts which fell back into each other to
form a wall of water which completely blotted out the enemy for a second
or two. Then we turned loose the torpedo, and at almost the same instant
two or three shells from a 'straddling' salvo hit fair and square and
just about lifted the poor little _Mary_ out of the water.

"All in a second the ship seemed to disappear in clouds of smoke and
escaping steam, and it is only natural that my recollections of the
order in which things happened after that are a good deal confused.

"I seem to have some memory of receiving from the bridge the order to
fire that torpedo, but if that was so, it was the last order I did
receive from there, for the explosion of one of the shells carried the
voice-pipe away (though I did not twig it at the time), and from then on
it was mostly the sizzle of spurting steam that came to my ears.

"There are two reasons why I know that first salvo hit us _after_ the
torpedo was launched, though there could not have been more than a
fraction of a second between one and the other. The first is that one of
the shells carried away the lip of the tube before penetrating the deck
and cutting a steam-pipe. If the mouldie had been in the tube it could
not have missed being exploded; or, if by a miracle that had not
happened, the tube was so much buckled that it could not have been
operated. The second reason was that fragments from that shell, besides
wounding me in the leg, even killed or blew overboard the rest of the
crew, so that there would have been no one to get a mouldie away even if
the tubes had been in working order. I remember distinctly seeing the
torpedo hit the water, but I have no recollection of seeing it steady to
depth and begin to run. As that is the main thing you always watch for,
I can only account for the fact I did not see it by supposing that first
hit came before the torpedo began to run.

"The shock of the explosion did not knock me off my seat, and a wound
from a jagged piece of shell casing, though it was serious enough to put
me out of commission for five months, felt only like a sharp prick on my
leg. My pal, Able Seaman French, collapsed in a limp heap under the
tubes, and though I saw no blood or signs of a wound, and though I never
saw a man killed before, I knew he was done for. I don't know to this
day where he was hit. The man whose station was at the breech-blocks I
never saw again, living or dead, so I think he must have caught the
unbroken force of the explosion and been blown back right over the
starboard side.

"This shell, in bursting the main steam-pipe, probably had the most to
do with bringing us to stop, though another (I think of the same salvo)
exploded in Number Three boiler-room and started a big fire, probably
from the oil. The clouds of black smoke and steam rising 'midships made
it impossible to see what was going on there. I saw some of the crew of
the 'midships gun struggling in the water, and took it that they must
have been blown there.

"That gun was out of action, anyway, and, because I did not hear it
firing, I assumed that the foremost one had also gone wrong. The after
gun was firing for all it was worth, though, and continued to do so
right up to the end.

"That one salvo pretty well finished the _Mary Rose_ as a fighting ship,
and as soon as the Huns saw the shape we were in, they began to close,
firing as they came. But even then they were careful to choose a
direction of approach on which the after gun could not be brought to
bear. With the foremost tubes out of action, and no crew to serve them
in any case, there was nothing for me to do but sit tight and wait for
orders. So I just chucked my head-gear, which was no longer of use with
the voice-pipes gone, and settled back in my seat to watch the show and
wait till I was wanted. There was really nothing to stay there for, but
it was my 'Action Station,' and I knew it was the place I would be
looked for if I was needed. On the score of cover, one place is as good
an another--in a destroyer, anyhow.

"It must have been the fact that the after gun was the only one still
in action that brought the captain back from the bridge. There was
really nothing to keep him on the bridge, anyway. He seemed to be making
a sort of general round, trying to see what shape things were in and
bucking everybody up. He was as cool and cheery as if it was an ordinary
target practice, with no Hun cruisers closing in to blow us out of the
water. I saw him clapping some of the after gun's crew on the back, and
when he came along to the foremost tubes, not noticing probably that I
was the only one left there, he sung out: 'Stick it, lads; we're not
done yet.' Those were his exact words. I remember grinning to myself at
being called 'lads.'

"But we _were_ done, even then. The Huns were inside of a mile by now,
and firing for the water-line, evidently trying to put us down just as
quickly as they could.

"All their misses were 'shorts.' I don't remember a single 'over.' They
were still taking no unnecessary chances. As soon as they were close
enough to see that our torpedo tubes were probably jammed to port, they
altered course and crossed our bows and steamed past the other side,
where there was no chance of our slipping over a mouldie at them.

"We were already settling rapidly, with a heavy list to port, and as
soon as the captain saw she was finished, he gave the order: 'Abandon
ship. Every man for himself!' Those were the last words I heard him
speak. He went below just after that to see about ditching the secret
books, I believe, and when I saw him again it was just before she sank,
and he was pacing the quarterdeck and talking quietly with the First
Lieutenant.

"As our only boat had been smashed to kindling-wood, there was nothing
to it but to take to the Carley Floats, and the first thing I did after
hearing the order to abandon ship was to see to cutting one of these
loose. On account of our oilskins and life-preservers, neither myself
nor any of the three or four lads from the after gun's crew that ran to
the float with me could get at our clasp-knives. Luckily, one of the
Ward Room stewards came to the rescue with three silver-plated
butter-knives from the pantry, and with these we finally managed to
worry our way through the lashings. Then we pitched the little webbed
'dough-nut' (as the Carley Floats are called) over the settling stern
and jumped after it. Four or five minutes later, after heeling slowly to
port through fifty or sixty degrees, she gave a sudden lurch and went
down, turning completely over as she sank, so that her bottom showed for
a few seconds. The captain, who could have followed us just as well as
not, seemed to make no effort to save himself, and must have gone down
with her. I can't help believing that was the way he wanted it to
happen.

"We had clambered into the float as fast as we could, and I think some
one must have said something about the danger of being caught over an
exploding depth-charge, for we were paddling (all of these floats have
short-handled paddles lashed to their webbing) away from the ship as
fast as we could when she went down. Someone remembered that one of the
'ash cans' had been set on the 'ready' when we went to 'Action
Stations,' and no one recalled seeing it thrown back to 'safe' before we
went overboard. It was an anxious moment, waiting after she ducked under
the sea, for we had not been able to paddle more than a hundred yards,
and the detonation of a depth-charge had been known to paralyse men
swimming in the water at twice that distance. Luckily, this particular
charge must have been set for a considerable depth, and it is also
possible that the hull of the ship absorbed or deflected some of its
force. At any rate, the shock of it, when it came, though it knocked us
violently against each other and left a tingling sensation on the skin
of all the submerged part of one's body, did not do anyone serious
injury.

[Illustration: SHE CAME BOWLING ALONG UNDER SAIL]

"When we came to count noses, there turned out to be eight of us on the
float--two sub-lieutenants, the captain's steward, myself, and the
remnants of the crew of the after gun. A few minutes later we sighted a
couple of men who looked to be struggling in the water, but turned out
to be supporting themselves on a fragment of 'dough-nut,' which had
broken loose when the ship sank. That, strange to say, was the only
bit of wreckage that came to the surface. We took these men aboard, and
the ten of us weighted the overloaded float so that is submerged till
the water reached our armpits. We were a good deal better off than it
would seem, though, for the most of us were heavily dressed, and the
animal heat of a man keeps him warm for a long time under oilskins and
wool. The only ones that suffered much were a couple of lads who didn't
have any more sense than to ditch most of their togs before they went
over the side. They said it was so as not to be hampered in swimming--as
if they expected to do the 'Australian crawl' to Norway or the
Shetlands! These two _did_ begin to get a bit down-hearted and 'shivery'
when the cold struck into the marrow of their bones, and it was with the
idea of bucking them up a peg or two that we started singing. No, I
don't just remember all that we did warble, except, I'm glad to say,
that 'Tipperary' wasn't on the programme, and that this did include two
or three hymns. You're quite right. There's nothing very warming to a
chilled man in hymns, and I'm not trying to account for why we sang
them. The fact remains that we _did_, just the same, and that we all,
including the chaps in their underclothes, lived to sing again.

"There was a bit of a disappointment when an armed trawler, which was
evidently searching for survivors, passed within a mile without sighting
us or hearing our shouts, but with the life-boat of one of the sunk
Norwegian steamers we had better luck. She came bowling along under sail
about ten o'clock in the morning, and, on sighting the black silk
handkerchief we hoisted at the end of a paddle-blade, eased off her
sheet and stood over to pick us up. As there were only six men in her,
we were not badly off for room, while the store of biscuit and potted
stuff--to say nothing of smokes--they had managed to throw aboard before
their ship sunk was more than enough for the two days that it took us to
row and sail to Bergen."



CHAPTER XIII

ROUNDING UP FRITZ


There are only two or three conditions under which a destroyer can hope
to surprise a U-boat on the surface, and none of these is approximated
at the end of a clear North Sea summer afternoon with the stalking craft
trying to approach from a direction which silhouettes its leanly
purposeful profile against the golden glimmer of the sunset clouds. This
particular capsule of Kultur, rising with typical Hunnish effrontery for
his evening constitutional in an especially well-watched area while it
was yet broad daylight, still had the advantage of visibility
sufficiently on his side to make the thing a good deal less risky than
it looked. The skipper, doubtless coolly puffing his pipe as he lounged
over the rail of the bridge and filled his lungs with fresh air, must
have seen the masts and funnels of the speeding _Flash_ for a good half
hour before the latter's look-out sang out that he had picked up the
conning-tower of what looked to be a U-boat two points off the starboard
bow; so that all that was needed was the change of course which followed
that report to give Fritz fair warning that it was time to hide his
head for a while. Indeed, he must have been going down even as he was
sighted, for it was the matter of but a very few seconds more before the
_Flash_ found herself tearing at upwards of a thousand yards a minute
into an empty sea.

Under the circumstances, it is probable we gave that Fritz a fairly good
run for his money in showering the spot where he had disappeared with
what depth-charges we could spare, and then, like a fox-terrier after a
rat, standing by and "watching the hole." Unluckily, we had used a good
part of our stock of "cans" the day before, when a rather more promising
opportunity for attack had offered itself, while as for "watching the
hole," this particular patch of the North Sea chanced to be one in which
that way of playing the game was fraught with special difficulties
because it was sufficiently shallow for a submarine to lie doggo on the
bottom without danger of having its shell crushed in by the pressure of
the water. This defeated the uncannily sure way of tracking the U-boat
down by "listening," and demanded another form of special treatment,
which we were not, however, at the moment prepared to administer.

Slim as the chance was, the captain was reluctant to leave while any
hope remained, and it was only a signal ordering the _Flash_ to join in
some other work that had turned up (a destroyer is subject to as many
kinds of summons as a country doctor) that took him off in the end.
Mooring a buoy to mark the spot for "future reference," the captain saw
her headed off on the course she was to hold till daybreak, and then
took me down to the Chart House for a bowl of ship's cocoa before
turning in. It was some question I asked about the practice of placing
buoys over possible U-boat graveyards, to make it easy to resume
investigations if desired, that started him on a train of anti-submarine
reminiscence that led back to one of the smartest achievements of its
kind in the whole course of the sea war.

"There are times," he said, leaning back on the narrow couch that served
as his "sea-bed," and bracing with outstretched legs against the
twisting roll, "that a Fritz will do things that would lead a
superficial observer to think that he had a sense of humour. Of course,
we know that he hasn't anything of the kind (any more than he has
honour, sportsmanship, decency, or any other of the attributes of a
normal civilised human being). But the illusion is there just the same,
especially when he tries on such little stunts as the one he incubated a
couple of months ago in connection with a buoy I dropped to mark the
spot where there was a chance that my depth-charges might have sent him
to the bottom.

"It was just about such an 'indeterminate' sort of a strafe as the one
we've just had--no chance for gun-fire, not much to go by for planting
depth-charges, and, in the end, nothing definite to indicate that any
good has been done. So, in case it was decided that my report was of a
nature to justify further looking into, I left a securely moored buoy to
furnish a guide as to where to begin, quite as we have to-night. Well,
it chanced that the S.N.O. at Base reckoned that there was just enough
of a hope to warrant following up. Indeed, you may be sure there isn't
much that isn't followed up these days, now that we've got our whole
comprehensive plan into operation and adequate craft to support it with.
So he sent out quite a little fleet of us--craft fitted to do all the
various little odds and ends of things that help to make sure one way or
the other what has really happened to Fritz. Luckily, _Flash_ was able
to return with them. If she had not--if someone who had not seen the lay
of things after the strafe the night before had not been along to 'draw
comparisons'--Fritz's little joke might have turned out a good deal more
pointed than it did.

"We picked up the buoy without any difficulty, as the day was fine and
the sea fairly smooth--just the weather one wanted for that kind of
work. While we were still a mile or more distant, the lookout reported a
broad patch of oil spreading out from the buoy for several hundred yards
on all sides. This became visible from the bridge presently, and at
almost the same time my glass showed fragments of what appeared to be
wreckage floating both in and beyond the 'sleek' of oil. Now if there
had been any evidence whatever of either oil or wreckage the night
before I should not have failed to hail this morning's exhibit with a
glad whoop and nose right in to investigate. But as, when I gave up the
fight, I had dropped that buoy into an extremely clean patch of
water--even after the stirring my depth-charges had given it--the
plenitude of flotsam did not fail to arouse a certain amount of
suspicion.

"Ordering the sloops and trawlers to stand-off-and-on at a safe
distance, I went with the _Flash_ to have a look at a number of
fragments that were floating a couple of cables' lengths away from the
buoy. A piece of box--evidently a preserved fruit or condensed milk
case--with German letters stencilled across one end was undoubtedly of
enemy origin, as was also a biscuit tin with patches of its gaudy paper
still adhering to it. I did not like the careful way the cover of the
latter had been put on, however, and, besides, tins and cases are quite
the sort of thing any submarine throws over just as fast as it is
through with them. It was some real wreckage I was looking for, and this
it presently appeared that I had found when the bow wave threw aside a
deeply floating fragment of what--even before we picked it up--I
recognised as newly split teak. Closer inspection revealed the fact that
it was newly split all right, but also the fact that an axe or hatchet
had had a good deal to do with the splitting. What had probably been a
part of a bunk or locker had apparently been prised off with a bar and
then chopped up into jagged strips. Attempts to obliterate the marks of
bar and axe by pounding them against some rough metal surface had been
too hasty and crude to effect their purpose.

"'That settles it,' I said to myself. 'Fritz is trying to play a little
joke on us by making us think he is lying blown-up on the bottom, while,
in fact, he is probably lying off somewhere waiting to slip a slug into
one of the most likely looking of the salvage ships. Now that we've
twigged the game, however, we'll have to do what we can to defeat it.'
As senior officer, I ordered the three destroyers present to start
screening in widening circles, while--on the off-chance that there
really was a wreck on the bottom--a pair of trawlers were sent to drag
about the bottom under the messy patch with an 'explosive sweep.'

"My diagnosis was quite correct as far as it went, but it did not go
quite far enough; still--by the special intervention of the sweet little
cherubim who sits up aloft to keep watch o'er the life of poor Jack--my
plan of operation was quite as sound as if I had all the facts of the
case spread out before me. Had the U-boat really been lurking round
waiting for a pot at some of the ships trying to save his supposed
remains--something that we never gathered any definite evidence on--our
screening tactics would probably have prevented his success; while the
trawlers, with their sweep, furnished the best antidote for the little
surprise party that he already _had_ prepared for us.

"Scarcely had the trawlers entered the oily area than the jar of a heavy
under-sea explosion jolted against the bottom of the _Flash_, which, a
thousand yards distant, was just beginning to work up to full speed.
Almost immediately three or four other explosions followed, coming so
close together as to make one rippling detonation of tremendous
violence. An instant later I saw several columns of grimy foam shoot
skyward, two or three of them so close together that they seemed to
'boil' into each other as they spilled and spread in falling. Although
neither of the trawlers appeared to be immediately over any of the
explosions, both of them received terrific shocks. One of them I
distinctly saw rear up till it seemed almost to be balanced on its
rudder-post as a round hump of green water drove under it, while the
scuppers of the other spurted white as they cleared the flood that a
spreading foam geyser had thrown upon the deck. It seemed impossible
that either of them could survive such shocks as I knew they must have
received, and I fully expected to see nothing better than two foundering
wrecks emerge from the smother which hovered above the scene of the
explosions. Imagine my surprise, then, when two junk-like profiles (they
were both of the marvellously sea-worthy 'Iceland trawler' type) came
bobbing serenely into sight again, and I noted with my glass that
neither appeared to have suffered serious damage. On the score of lives,
a tom-cat has nothing the best of a trawler. If it had been otherwise
our whole fleet of them--and they, with the drifters, form the main
strands of the finer meshes of our anti-U-boat net--would have been
wiped out many times over.

"At the instant the jar of the first explosion made itself felt, the
thought flashed through my mind that there actually was a U-boat lying
on the bottom, and that the explosive charge on the sweep had been
detonated against its hull. The 'bunched' explosions immediately
following also lent themselves to this theory, and it was not till the
distinct columns of blown water began rising in the air that I surmised
the real cause of them--mines, probably laid so close together that the
explosion of the first had set off the others. This fact we were shortly
able to establish beyond a doubt.

"What had happened, as nearly as we could reconstruct it, was this: The
U-boat had been a mine-layer, probably interrupted on its way to lay its
eggs off one of our main fleet bases. The chances are that it had been
sufficiently injured by my depth-charges to make it more of a risk than
its skipper cared to take to proceed farther from his base; quite
likely, indeed, he had to put back at once. Then the chance of preparing
a little surprise party for the ship responsible for his trouble must
have occurred to him, and the result was that a snug little nest of
mines was laid all the way around the marking buoy. Having more mines
than he needed to barrage the buoy, he had scuttled several of those
remaining after the first job was completed, and these had been the ones
set off by the explosive charge on the trawlers' sweep. The spreading of
wreckage as bait around the trap was probably an afterthought, for it
was so hurriedly done that it really defeated the end it was intended to
accomplish. I am inclined to think, in fact, that, if the mines had laid
round the buoy, with no spread of oil or wreckage left to decoy us into
them, they might have had a victim or two to their credit. They were
laid shallow enough to have bumped both sloops and destroyers, and the
exploding of a mine against the bows of one or the other of these may
well have been the first warning we had of Fritz's little joke. As it
was, that part of the show was so crudely done that it gave away that
something was wrong.

"Yes, I have always thought of that as 'Fritz's little joke,'" continued
the captain, bracing himself at a new angle to meet a rollicking
cork-screw action that was working into the ship's wallowings. "It was
just the sort of a plant I would like to have left for Fritz, if our
rôles had been reversed, and for a while I felt rather more kindly
toward all Fritzes on account of having knocked up against it. That
feeling persisted until three or four months later, when the fortunes of
war--in the shape of a luckily-planted depth-charge--paved the way for
an opportunity for me to tell the story to a certain Hun _Unterseeboot_
officer during the hour or two he was my guest on the way to base. He
spoke English fairly, and understood it well; so that I was able to run
through the yarn just about as I have told it to you. He gave vent to
his approval in guttural 'Ya's' and grunts of satisfaction until I ended
by asking him if he didn't think it was a jolly clever little joke. And
what do you think he said to that?

"'Choke,' he boomed explosively; 'choke, vy, mein frent, dot vos not ein
choke ad all. He vos dryin to zink your destroy'r. Dot ist no choke.'"

The captain stretched himself with a whimsical smile. "How unpleasant it
would be to be shipmates with a chap like that who couldn't see the
funny side of being blown up," he observed presently.

"Just as unpleasant," I replied, "as it is pleasant to be shipmates with
a man who _could_."

After thus rising to the occasion, I was emboldened to ask the captain
to tell me a little more about that "luckily-planted depth-charge" he
had referred to so casually, and its train of consequences.

"Here is the result," he said with a smile, handing me several small
kodak prints from his pocketbook. "What little yarn there is to tell
I'll rattle off for you with pleasure after I've been up to the bridge
for a bit of a 'look-see.' Seems as if she is banging into it harder
than she ought for this course and speed."

The light went out as the automatic switch cut off the current with the
opening of the door, and when it flashed on again, as the door was
slammed shut, I found myself alone, with the prints lying in the middle
of the chart of the North Sea. Two of these showed a thin sliver of a
submarine that might have been of almost any type. A third, however,
showed an unmistakable U-boat, heeling slightly, and with a whaler
alongside, evidently in the act of taking off some of the men crowded
upon the narrow forward deck. And in the background of this print was
lying a long slender four-funneled destroyer that I recognised at once
as either the _Flash_ or another of the same class. On the back of this
print was written "Quarter view of U.C.--at 14.10. _Flash's_ whaler
transferring prisoners; _Splash's_ whaler's crew clearing decks of
wounded."

A fourth print, similar to the third but much covered with arrows and
writing, appeared to be a kind of key to the latter. An angling sort of
bar, which appeared as a black line above the bows in the photograph,
was labelled "Nut Cutter," and several other characteristic U-boat
devices were similarly indicated. These all established points of great
technical value, doubtless, but a keener human interest attached to the
legends penciled at the feather ends of arrows pointing to two figures
on the deck of the submarine, just abaft the conning-tower. Opposite the
one that appeared to be leaning over a light rail, with one arm extended
as though he was in the act of giving a command, was written, "Deceased
captain of submarine." Against the other, a sprawling inert heap huddled
up against the conning-tower, appeared, "Man with both legs shot off
(alive)."

There was a lot of history crowded into that scrawled-over print, and I
was still gazing at it with awed fascination when the opening door
winked off the light, and then closed again to reveal the captain,
dripping with the blown brine of the wave that the _Flash_ had put her
nose into at the moment he was coming down the ladder.

"Rather more of a sea than I expected to-night," he said as he pulled
his duffel-coat over his head and sat down to kick off his sea-boots;
"so I've slowed her down a few knots and we'll jog along easy till
daylight." Then, as he recognised the photo in my hand, "Rather a grim
story that little kodak tells, isn't it? You'll find just about all of
the yarn you were asking for down there in black and white."

"Not quite," I replied hastily, recognising from long experience the
forerunning signs of a modest man trying to side-step going into details
respecting some episode in which he happens to have played a leading
part. "Not quite. It chances that I've heard something of the bagging of
U.C.--from Admiral ---- not long after it occurred, and he said it was
one of the cleverest bits of work of the kind that anyone has pulled
off. I didn't connect you and the _Flash_ with it, though. But now that
you're caught with the goods, the chance to hear several of the details
the Admiral had failed to learn is too good to miss. How did you manage
to slip up on her in the first place, and did you wing her skipper at
the outset, and----?"

Evidently figuring it would be best not to let me pile up too big a lead
of questions for him to answer, the captain sat down resignedly and took
up the thread of the story at somewhere near the beginning.

"How did we manage to slip up on her?" he repeated. "Well, principally,
I should say, because she was 'preoccupied.' I told you last night that
I used to get away for a bit of tiger shooting while I was on Eastern
stations, and you mentioned that you'd had a go at it yourself now and
then. So we both have probably picked up a smattering of the ways of
tigers. Now I've always maintained that the fact that I had given a bit
of study to the ways of man-eaters was a big help to me in understanding
the ways of Huns. A hungry tiger, on the prowl for something to devour,
is about the hardest brute in the world to stalk successfully; while, on
the other hand, one that has made its kill and is sating its bloody
lust upon it is just about the easiest. It's just the same with a
U-boat. The one best chance we have of surprising one on the surface is
while it is in the act of sinking a merchantman by bombs or shell-fire,
or just after the victim has been torpedoed and the pirate is
standing-by to fire on the boats and pick up any officers it may think
worth while to take prisoner. That was what was responsible for the luck
that befell me in the instance in question. The U.C.--a day or two
previously to the one on which she was slated to meet her finish, had
sunk the British merchantman _Hilda Bronson_, and carried off as
prisoners the captain and mate. These men, after we rescued them, were
able to give us some account of how their hosts spent the morning of the
day on which they encountered the _Flash_. Their general practice, of
course, was to submerge in the daytime and run on the surface, charging
batteries, during the night. Emboldened by two or three recent successes
in sinking small merchantmen by gun-fire and bombs, they appeared to
have become very contemptuous of our anti-submarine measures, and
declared that they were just as safe on the surface in the daytime as at
night. Bearing out the probability that these words were by no means
spoken in jest, is the fact that they did not dive at daybreak, but
continued to cruise on the surface on the look out for unarmed ships
which could be safely sunk without risking the loss of a torpedo or
damage to themselves by gun-fire. This class of ships--fortunately,
there are few of them left save under neutral flags--was the U-boat's
favourite prey.

"About eight o'clock their search was rewarded. The two British sailors
heard a number of shots, and presently understood the U-boat skipper to
declare that he had just put down a small Norwegian steamer with
shell-fire. As they were still full up with the stores looted from the
_Hilda Bronson_, no attempt was made to take off anything from the
sinking Norwegian. All morning the pirate continued cruising on the
surface, diving only once. Great attention was given to surroundings,
stops being made about once an hour to heave the lead. In this they
displayed good sense beyond a doubt, for it is worth a lot to a
submarine to know whether it can dive straight on to the bottom without
encountering a pressure strong enough to crush it in.

"About noon another helpless victim--this time a British merchant
steamer--was sighted, and the imprisoned sailors counted nine shots
before tremendous consternation and confusion spread through the
submarine as fire was opened on her by some ship coming up from the same
direction as the merchantman bore, and she dived with all possible
dispatch. This was where the _Flash_ began to take a hand in the game.

"Now the fact that this particular Fritz ought easily to have sighted us
at twice the distance at which we opened with our foremost 12-pounder
bears out exactly what I said about the traits the Hun and the tiger
have in common. They are both 'foul-feeders,' and begin to see so red,
once the blood-lust of prospective satiation is upon them, that they are
half blinded to everything else. If this fellow hadn't been so absorbed
in doing that little steamer to death he need never have let us get
within a range that would have permitted more than a swift shot or two
at his disappearing conning-tower. It was his sheer 'blood-drunkenness'
that gave us our chance.

"It was a day of very low visibility--not over a mile and a half, or two
miles at the outside--and I was out on a bit of an escort stunt of small
importance. The first intimation I had that anything out of the usual
run was afoot came in the form of sharp gun-fire on my starboard beam.
It sounded fairly close at hand, and though no ship was visible, there
was just a hint of luminosity in the mist-curtain to indicate the
direction of the gun-flashes. The helm was immediately put hard-a-port
and the telegraphs at Full Speed, and off went the _Flash_ to
investigate. Scarcely had I turned than a wireless signal was brought to
me on the bridge repeating the calls of assistance of a steamer that was
being shelled by an enemy submarine. That little 'flying start' of mine,
which involved leaving the ship I was escorting and jumping out without
waiting for orders, gave me the minute or so to the good which probably
made all the difference between success and failure. But that is quite
characteristic of destroyer work; more than in any other class of ship,
you are called on to decide for yourself, to jump out on your own.

"The first thing I saw was the dim blur of a small merchantman taking
shape in the mist, and as the image sharpened, the splash of falling
projectiles became visible. She was throwing out a cloud of smoke and
zigzagging in a panicky sort of way in an endeavour to avoid the shells
which were exploding nearer and nearer at every shot. As she caught
sight of the _Flash_ she altered course and headed straight up for us,
and, busy as my mind was at the moment, I could not help thinking how
like her action was to that of an Aberdeen pup I used to own when he saw
me coming to extricate him from his daily scrap with a neighbour's fox
terrier.

"It was just at the moment that the merchantman turned up to get under
our wing that the sharpening gun-flashes began revealing the
conning-tower of a submarine. We had gone to Action Stations at once, of
course, and I am practically certain that the opening shot of the
fo'c'sl' gun was the first warning Fritz had that his little kultur
course was about to be interrupted. Under the circumstances, the fact
that he effected his disappearing act in from thirty to forty seconds
indicates very smart handling; too smart, indeed, to give us a fair
chance to get in a hit with a shell, although the gunners made a very
keen bid for it. Their turn came a few moments later, however.

"Once Fritz had passed from sight there was only one thing to do, the
thing we _tried_ to do to-night--depth-charge him. And there really was
no difference in what we did on the one occasion and what we did on the
other--nothing, I mean to say, except the result. Estimating his course
from the point of submergence, I steered directly over where I judged he
would be and let go one of those very useful type '----' charges.
Well,"--the captain smiled in a deprecatory sort of way--"the
depth-charge isn't exactly what you'd call a 'weapon of precision,' and
so it follows that when you hit what you are after with one it must be
largely a matter of luck. Judgment? Oh, yes, a certain amount of it, but
I'd rather have luck than judgment any day. At any rate, this was my
lucky day. Within fifteen seconds from the moment I felt the jolt of the
detonating charge Fritz's conning-tower was breaking surface on my
starboard beam. Helm had been put hard-a-port as the charge was dropped,
so that all the starboard guns were bearing on the conning-tower the
instant it bobbed up. This was right on the outer rim of the 'boil' of
the explosion--just where it would be expected--and, of course, it
presented an easy target. To say it was riddled would be putting it
mildly. One shot alone from the foremost six-pounder would have made it
out of the question for it to dive again, even had other complications
which had already set in left it in shape to face submergence.

"A second or two more, and the whole length of our bag was showing,
riding fairly level fore-and-aft, but with a slight list to starboard.
We had now turned, and from our position on the submarine's port quarter
could plainly see the crew come bobbing out of the hatch on to the deck.
Each of them had his hands lifted in the approved 'Kamerad' fashion, and
took good care to keep them there as long as they noticed any active
movement around the business ends of our guns. As a matter of fact, as
there had been no colours flying to strike, those lifted hands were the
only tangible tokens of surrender we received. As we had her at our
mercy, however, they looked conclusive enough for me, and I sent a boat
away as quickly as it could be lowered and manned.

"It was not until this boat returned that I learned of the two British
merchant marine officers who had been aboard her through it all. The
Huns had crowded them out in their stampede for the hatches, so that
they had been the very last to reach the deck. Mr. X----, who was in
charge of the whaler, compensated as fully as he could for this by
taking them off first. The experiences they had been through had been
just about as terrible as men could ever be called upon to face; and
yet, when they clambered aboard _Flash_, they were smiling, clear of
head and eye, and altogether quite unshaken. You've certainly got to
take off your hat to these merchant marine chaps; they've fought half
the battle for the Navy.

"The story they had to tell of what they had seen and heard during their
enforced cruise in the U-boat was an interesting one, but on the final
act--largely because the curtain had been rung down so quickly--there
was little they could add to what had passed before my own eye. The
shock from the depth-charge--which appears to have detonated just about
right to have the maximum effect--was terrific. The whole submarine
seemed to have been forced sideways through the water by the jolt, and
just as all the lights went out one of them said that he saw the
starboard side of the compartment he was in--it was what would
correspond to the Ward Room, I believe, a space more or less reserved
for the officers--bending inward before the pressure. Instantly the
spurt of water was heard flooding in both fore and aft, and that alone
was sufficient to make it imperative for her to rise at once. As it was
only a minute or two since she submerged, everyone was at station for
bringing her to the surface again, so that not a second was lost in
spite of the inevitable confusion following the sudden dive and the
explosion of the depth-charge.

"There had been a mad lot of rushes for the ladders and hatches, but the
skipper, it appears, got up first, through the conning-tower to the
bridge, as the official leader of the 'Kamerad Parade.' He was just in
time to connect with the first shell from our foremost six-pounder, and
that, or one of the succeeding projectiles which were fired before it
was evident they were trying to surrender, accounted for several others
in the van of the opening rush. The officer in charge of the whaler
reported seeing several dead bodies lying on the deck and floating in
the water, among these being that of the captain, which was taken back
to Base and given a naval funeral. There were also two or three wounded.
Of unwounded there were fifteen men and two officers, out of something
like twenty-four in the original crew. One of the officers claimed to be
a relation of Prince Henry of Prussia, but why he didn't claim the
Kaiser himself, who is full brother to Prince Henry, I could never quite
make out. As this was the same officer I told you of as not being able
to see a joke, I didn't think it worth while to try to follow the
ramifications of his family tree any farther. The engineer asserted that
he had already been in eight warships which had been destroyed, these
including a battleship and two or three cruisers and motor launches. I
did the best I could to comfort him by telling him that, in case the
_Flash_ wasn't put down by a U-boat in the three or four hours which
would elapse before we made Base, he need have no further worries on the
sinking score for some time to come. Just the same," he concluded, with
a shake of the head, "I was glad to see that chap safely over the side.
No sailor likes to be shipmates with a 'Jonah,' especially in times like
these.

"By the time we had finished transferring the prisoners the _Splash_ had
joined us, and her captain, being my senior, took charge of the rest of
the show. On my reporting that I had several severely wounded Huns
aboard, he ordered me to return to Base with them.

"I think that's about all there is to the yarn," said the captain,
rising and starting to pull on his sea-togs preparatory to going up for
another "look-see" before turning in. Then something flashed to his mind
as an afterthought, and he relaxed for a moment, red of face and
breathless, from a struggle with a refractory boot.

"There was one thing I shall always be glad about in connection with
that little affair," he said thoughtfully, a really serious look in his
eyes for almost the first time since I had seen him directing the
dropping of the depth-charges early in the evening; "and that is that I
didn't know in advance that those two British merchant marine officers
were imprisoned in the U.C. '----' with the Huns when we came driving
down to drop a 'can' on her. My duty would have been quite clear, of
course, and, as you doubtless know, some of our chaps have faced harder
alternatives than that without flinching or deviating an iota from the
one thing that it was up to them to do; but, just the same, I'm not
half certain that the instinct, or whatever you want to call it, which
seemed to jog my elbow at the psychological moment that charge had to be
let go to do its best work--I'm not at all sure that instinct would have
served me so well had I known that success might have to be purchased by
sending two of my own countrymen--yes, more than that, two sailors like
myself--to eternity with the pirates who held them as hostages. Yes, it
was a mercy that I didn't have that on my mind at the moment when I
needed all the wits and nerve I had to get that 'can' off in the right
place."

Visibly embarrassed at having allowed his feelings to betray him--a
British naval officer--into a display of something almost akin to
emotion, the captain stamped noisily into the stuck sea-boot and
disappeared, behind a slammed door, into the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

1. Numerous inconsistencies in capitalization, hyphenation and spelling
have been retained as in the original publication.

2. The four brief footnotes have been moved to the end of the
relevant paragraph.

3. The sole occurrence of bold text has been marked with = =.

4. oe-Diphthongs have been changed to a simple "oe".





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