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World War 1 at Sea - Contemporary Royal Navy Accounts

 

HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR - NAVAL OPERATIONS, Volume 5, April 1917 to November 1918 (Part 1 of 4) by Henry Newbolt

 

Published by Longmans Green, London 1931


HMS Vindictive, after the Zeebrugge Raid and before the attack on Ostend (Jon Richards, click to enlarge)

on to Naval Operations, Vol 5, Part 2 of 4

 

 To enjoy reading the text and following the maps at the same time, try opening the same page in two separate browser windows

 
 

 

 

A Modern Introduction

 

Up-to-date, well-researched naval histories have an important part to play in understanding past events, but I would like to suggest they are equalled by contemporary accounts written not long after the stories they describe, and often by those who took part.

 

Such near-contemporary accounts include the five volumes of NAVAL OPERATIONS, the first three by Sir Julian S Corbett and the last two by Henry Newbolt. They remain in print, but are still not widely known, and being out-of-copyright, can be found on the internet.

 

They are indispensable to any researcher or scholar of World War 1 who wants to start to understand the vastness of the war at sea and the role of the Royal Navy and its Allies.

 

The naval war, 1914-18 is almost considered peripheral to the war as a whole, especially compared with the Western Front, yet in my opinion, World War 1 was just as much a maritime struggle as that of World War 2. If it had been lost to either the German High Seas Fleet or the later U-boat campaign, Allied victory would have been very much in doubt. Hence the value of these volumes.

 

Later editions of these volumes were updated and corrected. These changes have not been taken into account: hence the need to move onto later histories. Also any transcription and proofing errors are mine, including the lack of accents on mainly French and German names, for which my apologies.

 

Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

 

 

HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR

 

BASED ON OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

 

BY DIRECTION OF THE HISTORICAL SECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF IMPERIAL DEFENCE

 

 

 

NAVAL OPERATIONS

 

Vol. V

 

BY

HENRY NEWBOLT

 

 

 

LONGMANS GREEN AND CO.

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON

1931

 

 

(only edition)

 

 

 

CONTENTS

Preface

 

I. The Submarine Campaign. April to August, 1917 ... 1

      {The Beginnings of the Convoy System ... 1

 1. {Objections to the Convoy System ... 11

      {Advantages of the Convoy System ... 14

 2. The Convoy System and American Naval Assistance ... 20

 3. The French Coal Trade ... 27

 4. The Dutch Patrol ... 29

 5. American Reinforcements ... 32

 6. The Flanders Bight, April‑May, 1917 ... 36

 7. The Submarine Campaign, May, 1917 ... 41

 8. The First Convoy, May, 1917 ... 43

 9. The Flanders Bight, May‑June, 1917 ... 45

 10. Convoy, June, 1917 ... 48

 11. The Submarine Campaign, June 1917 ... 54

 12. Operations in the Flanders Bight, July 1917 ... 58

 13. First German Doubts ... 61

 14. The Disorders in the German Fleet July and August 1917 ... 70

 

II. The Mediterranean. August 1917 to April 1918 ... 74

 

III. The Submarine Campaign in Home Waters and the Extension of the Convoy System ... 97

 1. August and September 1917 ... 97

 2. The Submarine Campaign ‑ The Disasters to the Q‑Ships, August 1917 ... 106

 3. The Organisation and Working of the Convoy System ... 112

 4. The Inter‑Allied Naval Conference, September 1917 ... 120

 5. The Convoy System, September ... 134

 6. The First Results of the Convoy System ... 136

 

IV. The Campaign in Home Waters, and the Extension of the Convoy System, October and November 1917 ... 143

      1. North Sea Operations, October 1917 ... 145

      2. The Scandinavian Convoy and the Convoy System, October 1917 ... 14 

      3. The Action in the Heligoland Bight, November 16-17, 1917 ... 164

 

(Part 2 of 4)

 

V. The End of the Year 1917 in Home Waters ... 178

      1. The Dover Barrage, November‑December 1917 ... 178

      2. The Second Attack on the Scandinavian Convoy, December 11‑12, 1917 ... 184

      3. The Submarine Campaign, December 1917 ... 194

 

VI. The Beginning of the Year 1918 in Home Waters ... 205

      1. The defence of the Straits of Dover, January and February 1918 ... 209

      2. The Raid on the Left Flank of the Allied Armies, March 20‑21 ... 223

      3. The Last German Fleet Sortie, April 22‑25, 1918 ... 280

 

VII. The Blocking of Zeebrugge, April 22-28, 1918 ... 241

      1. The Blocking of Ostend, May 10, 1918 ... 266

      2. The Submarine Campaign, May 1918 ... 277

 

VIII. The Mediterranean. April to September 1918 ... 285

 

IX. Russia ... 301

 

X. After Zeebrugge ‑ The Mining Operations in the North Sea and the U‑Boat Operations on the American Coast ... 334

 

XI. The End of Hostilities in the Mediterranean ... 351

 

XII. The Evacuation of Flanders and the Armistice ... 361

      The Enforcement of the Naval Armistice ... 377

 

 

APPENDICES

 

(Part 3 of 4)

 

Appendix A ‑ Convoy System

Statistical Tables illustrating the allocation and collection of Escort Forces ... 383

Appendix B ‑ Convoy System

Statistical Tables illustrating the Volume of Trade Convoyed ... 395

 

(Part 4 of 4)

 

Appendix C ‑ Submarine Warfare in the Mediterranean ... 409

Appendix D ‑ Naval Armistice ... 413

    Germany ... 413

    Turkey ... 418

Appendix E ‑ Submarine Warfare in Home Waters ... 424 

Appendix F ‑ Expansion of the Fleet ... 430

Appendix G ‑ Losses of British and Allied Warships and Auxiliaries ... 431 

Appendix H ‑ Losses of Enemy Warships and Auxiliaries ... 432

Appendix I ‑ Numbers Borne in H.M. Fleet on Specified Dates ... 433

Appendix J ‑ Number of Officers and Men that Served During the War ... 433

Appendix K ‑ Statement of Casualties ... 434

 

Index (not included – you can use Search)

 

 

PLANS AND DIAGRAMS IN VOLUME

 

 

 

MAPS AND DIAGRAMS IN SEPARATE CASE

(not included)

Map No.

1. The Submarine Campaign in the Channel and Western Approaches, May-December, 1917

2, The Submarine Campaign in the Mediterranean and Approaches, May-December, 1917

3. Operations off the Coast of Palestine, October-November, 1917

4. The Raid of the Goeben and Breslau, January 20, 1918

5. The Submarine Campaign in the Mediterranean and Approaches, January-September, 1918

6. Operations Against German Submarines, October, 1917

7. Plan of the Action in the Heligoland Bight, November 17,1917

8. German Raid on Scandinavian Convoy, October 16-18, 1917

9. The Laying of the Dover Barrage

10. Movements of German Fourth Half Flotilla, December 11-12, 1917

11. The Attack on the Norwegian Convoy, December 12, 1917

12. The Bombardment of Zeebrugge, May 12, 1917
13. The Atlantic Convoys

14. The Submarine Campaign in the Channel and Western Approaches, January-September, 1918

15. Dispositions in the Dover Straits, February 14-15, 1918

16. Raid on the Allied Flank, March 20-21, 1918

17. The Laying of the Northern Barrage

18. Plan of the Sortie of the High Seas Fleet, April 22-25, 1918

19. Defences on the Belgian Coast

20. Plan of Operations for Blocking Ostend and Zeebrugge, April 22, 1918

21. The Blocking Expedition Against Zeebrugge and Ostend. Cruising Formation of the Squadron

22. Survey of the Zeebrugge Blockships. Completed by the German Staff, May 18, 1918

23. The Blocking of Ostend, Position of Ships 1.50 a.m.

24, The Blocking of Ostend, Position of Ships 2.25 a.m.

25. Submarine Concentration Against the Convoy System. May 1918

26. Submarine Concentration Against the Convoy System. May 1918

27. Submarine Concentration Against the Convoy System. May 1918

28. Submarine Operations in the Eastern Atlantic. June 1917 to March 1918

29. The Otranto Barrage

30. Operations in North Russia

31. Submarine Operations off the American Coast. May to October 1918.

 

 

 

 

 

PREFACE

 

The present volume concludes the account of Naval Operations in the Great War, undertaken by direction of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The first thought of the historian, on vacating his office, must be to offer his sincere and lasting gratitude to his staff and to the other members of the Historical Section who have during the past seven years given him their invaluable help. And to save these words from any appearance of vagueness or conventionality something more must be added; for no reader can appreciate them if he has not some idea of the nature of the task under review, and of the consummate collaboration necessary to make its accomplishment in any degree possible.

 

The History was directed to be "based on official documents," and a short account of these is indispensable. The actual events of the war at sea are recorded in the telegrams received daily at the Admiralty, and in those sent out to the various theatres of war: a careful reading of these is the necessary first step in any historical study. They are a formidable mass to attack. By the beginning of 1917 about a thousand telegrams dealing with events in Home Waters alone were being sent and received by the Admiralty in every period of three days. That is to say, that for the events of a single year in a single field of action the historian and his staff must consult 120,000 telegrams and make careful notes upon them. They are the bones from which the skeleton of the campaign is to be reconstructed, and it is important that not one of them should be overlooked, mislaid or misinterpreted. The second source of original information lies in the papers received by the Admiralty and those sent by the Admiralty to other departments of State. The papers sent to the Admiralty comprise reports and letters of proceedings from officers in command of fleets, squadrons or shore establishments; these reports are circulated in the Admiralty and are minuted by the officers to whom they are referred; they may thus become the basis, or starting-point, of memoranda upon policy by high officials of the Admiralty staff. Every one of these documents must be scrutinised and compared with telegrams of the same date; and while much of their contents will prove immaterial, a considerable proportion will be found to be of the first importance: papers, for example, which record the views and decisions of the High Naval Command.

 

Thirdly, there are the records of the Committee of Imperial Defence. These records include the minutes of proceedings of the War Cabinet and the War Committee, and all papers and memoranda presented to them by departments of State. It would be superfluous to draw attention to the importance of these documents; they record the Government's most important decisions upon the higher direction of war. Fourthly, there are the records kept when Allied ministers met in conference; the records of the Supreme War Council and the records of the inter-allied Naval Council. When we pass from papers recording information and design to those relating to execution we come to another class of documents. Every operation carried out at sea is recorded in three ways. First, the officer in command issues his orders to the ships concerned, describing the operation as he conceives it: the actual progress of the action is then recorded in the logs of the ships engaged - the Signal Logs in particular should enable the historian to trace all the orders issued and received during the operation. Thirdly, there will be the reports sent in afterwards by the captains and squadron commanders; and the despatches: these become Admiralty papers and have already been enumerated above.

 

In addition, there are records, such as the battle orders to the Fleet and its various squadrons, which form a complete register of the origin and development of the tactical principles followed by our fleet commanders during the war. Finally, there are the local records kept by the commanding officers of every base and shore station. These documents are almost as numerous and bulky as the records kept at Whitehall. For example, a collection known as the "Grand Fleet Pack" contains 105,000 pages of typed and printed matter.

Of these local records some are duplicates of those kept at the Admiralty, but it is only by examining them as a whole that the daily succession of operations undertaken from any particular base can be seen in a true perspective.

 

The problem is now beginning to define itself. It appears plainly that the mass of documentary evidence to be handled in this modern history is far larger than that at the disposal of any writer who has undertaken such a work in the past. This point may be illustrated by a comparison of the sources used for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the documents on which a part of the Naval Operations was based. Gibbon and Sir Julian Corbett each took six years to produce their first two volumes. The authorities read by Gibbon were the work of fourteen classical writers and amounted to 10,500 pages of print. On the other hand, for the Dardanelles Campaign, which occupied only one-third of his two volumes, Sir Julian had to deal with twenty-three folio volumes of naval documents, containing 19,600 typed pages. This means that whereas the one had to study the considered and well-ordered work of his predecessors at a moderate and even leisurely rate, the other, the modern historian, had to analyse, compare, and digest a mass of raw material perhaps five times greater, while at the same time constructing the historical perspective - -the perspective of an inundation, and not, as in the older case, of a river flowing in the familiar well-mapped channel of Time.

 

It became clear, then, at an early stage of the war, that although the History must be the task of one writer, conceived and finally shaped by a single mind, it could not - if it were to be produced in the time allowed by the span of human life - be literally the work of one man. It must be the final outcome of many skilled contributions, and the method on which the contributors were to work must be one scientifically adapted to the nature of the material.

 

This method deserves explanation, for it could hardly be imagined. First comes the collecting and arranging of the original documents. The telegrams sent and received by the Admiralty were, it is true, already collected together in the departmental records, but this collection is not in a shape suitable for historical study. The telegrams have to be regrouped into geographical divisions, corresponding roughly to the several theatres, of the naval war. When this has been done, skilled assistants scrutinise the results, theatre by theatre, and make an abstract of those which are most important. This gives a provisional outline of facts, which must be elaborated. The elaboration is done mainly by means of the docketed papers, which have in the meantime been searched for in the Admiralty register, taken over to the Historical Section, and there rearranged into geographical divisions and special subjects, to correspond with the arrangement of the telegrams. The skilled assistants now compare the information obtained from these two sources: gaps and misfits are detected and a search is instituted for further papers. These may either have been retained by some branch of the Admiralty, or they may have had a special origin and never have been recorded in the Central Registry. The search for them needs special qualities and untiring energy.

 

When the outline has been tested and amended, and when the supplementary process of search is complete, the assistants are at last in a position to make out a provisional narrative of events, which is to follow the lines and divisions of the volume in hand, as determined by the historian. His work may best be described as architectural; but it has two difficulties which are not experienced by an architect. First, there is the necessity of designing, not once for all, but by a continual series of conceptions and adaptations: and secondly, there will be from time to time the necessity of investigating subjects which are not capable of simple chronological treatment. These special subjects generally relate to technical questions of policy, strategy or tactics,: they must be introduced in their natural place, but the main narrative must not be allowed to become disjointed or confusing. In the case of a war carried on in many simultaneous but widely separated campaigns, it may be imagined that the historian is here face to face with something like an impossibility.

 

From another quarter comes a difficulty almost equally formidable. It has for some time past been generally held, and especially among military authorities, that the writing of history should be, as nearly as possible, contemporary with the events which it records and judges. But the obvious advantage of living testimony is offset by serious disadvantages, Siborne's inquiry did not result in a final and coherent account of Waterloo. In the Trafalgar controversy, which broke out nearly forty years after the battle, and again in the year of the centenary, regrets were often expressed that no authoritative attempt had been made to settle the question at issue during the time when it was still possible to hear and examine the evidence of those who took part in the action. These regrets were needless - the documents were sufficient, and they proved more convincing, when properly examined, than the varying accounts of a number of eye-witnesses would in all probability have been. It was not realised that every officer present at any military operation has his own distinct point of view, both in the physical and the intellectual sense.

 

In the case of an action on a large scale there will always be some conflict of evidence, and in a long war period there will be time for changes in every mental record. The picture in the keeping of memory is liable not only to fade but to be secretly revised by the unconscious self: after five or ten years it may remain apparently uninjured, but it is no longer the contemporary picture, for it has been repainted year after year by touches imperceptible to the artist as well as to those before whom he places it. This retouching may be a real refreshing and deepening of memory by a process of systematic reflection and by comparison with authentic documents: it may therefore add greatly to the value of the evidence. But in other cases the result may be disconcerting to the historian. One thing is certain: history must not fail to take account of all the elements in the problem, among which is this fading and changing nature of memory.

 

Another is the increased difficulty of tracing policy and estimating responsibility, caused by the vast extent and complexity of modern warfare. It may be said without exaggeration that when the naval forces of a belligerent nation include more than three thousand ships, and the naval campaign is conducted simultaneously in five or more theatres of war, by methods still unfamiliar in practice, the duties of the supreme naval adviser to the Cabinet must in a long war become too exacting a task for the powers of a single individual. It was the good fortune of England and her Allies that these duties were in our time of danger entrusted to an officer of rare character and ability - the leader whom his subordinates were eager to follow, the commander who prepared for battle with infinite patience and foresight, the seaman who led the fleet at Jutland with decision, tenacity and skill. But even for the most devoted servant of his country there is a limit beyond which human nature cannot go. Not only is the physical strain, however gallantly borne, too severe and too continuous; the intellectual burden is so excessive as to clog and almost disable the finest human machinery.

 

The historian then must realise this new condition, that we reached in our last war the point where the individual is out of scale: no War Minister or First Lord of the past could ride in the whirlwinds or direct the storms of yesterday's campaign. The conflict was Titanic - it was not merely one between great military commanders, but literally one between whole nations and their national systems. This does not diminish the gratitude and admiration with which we recall the services of our supreme Commanders in the time of trial. They were able, devoted, and successful. But while the ability and devotion were their own, the success was partly theirs, partly the nation's - that is to say, it was achieved by means of our Constitution, the unique inherited system that enabled a Parliamentary Government to weather the military and diplomatic crisis, in which the autocratic system of our opponents broke down. The comparison forms one of the most interesting and far-reaching lessons of the war: it may be most readily studied by reading in immediate succession two chapters of the present history - first, chapter vii of Volume IV, recording the discussions and decisions which led our opponents to the adoption of unrestricted submarine war; and then the first chapter of Volume V, setting forth the cares and perplexities which delayed the general extension of the Convoy system by our own Admiralty. This comparison will show the groundlessness of our old misgiving, that Cabinet governments must be at a disadvantage when at war with a military autocracy.

 

It proves that when the civilian element in a Constitution is in war-time overborne by the military, and has no appeal except to a Sovereign who is himself the supreme military and naval authority, there will be less breadth of view in debate or discussion, and very much less certainty of wisdom in the policy decided upon: those whose profession is the application of sheer force will insist upon force as the infallible remedy, and will gain the support of the head of the State, who may be neither a great statesman nor a great commander. On the other hand, a Parliamentary Government will always be better equipped with thinking power, and more likely to prefer a policy consistent with the national welfare to one aiming at a merely military success. The advantage in our own hour of danger was greater still; for included among our reserves was the use of a power always latent but hitherto seldom or never brought effectively into action - the power of the civil Government, with which rests the ultimate control of all the national resources, to exercise influence not only in matters of policy and strategy, but even in the choice of technical measures at sea.

 

The historian's work, then, though made more difficult and at times delayed by the necessity for long conferences and correspondence, has been full of interest and not without hope of a useful result. If this has been attained in any degree, it is due to the collaboration which I have described: and I desire to offer my thanks not only to my immediate assistants - Lieut.-Commander A. C. Bell, Instructor-Captain O. T. Tuck and Miss Edith Keate - as well as to Lieut.-Colonel E. Y. Daniel and the entire Staff of the Naval Section, but also to Mr, C. Ernest Fayle and Captain A. C. Dewar, R.N., the head of the Historical Section of the Training and Staff Duties Division of the Admiralty. Lastly, I am much indebted to those distinguished officers who gave their time so unsparingly to the enlightenment of my views; and I have once more the pleasure to acknowledge with gratitude the full and courteous help of Admiral von Mantey and the German Admiralty.

 

Henry Newbolt.



 

 

CHAPTER I

 

THE SUBMARINE CAMPAIGN. APRIL TO AUGUST, 1917

 

 

1

The Beginnings of the Convoy System

 

The onset of the German submarine offensive advanced to its furthest point in April 1917, and continued to cause us serious loss until October, in which month it may be said to have reached the period of slack water; in the following March the replacement of shipping began to exceed the losses, and the danger was visibly past. This was all that the nation knew, and all that it needed to know, at the time; but we are now able to take some account of the difficulties which harassed our leaders, political and naval, and to trace for future guidance the course of their deliberations and the origins of those decisions which ended by turning back the tide of war. As we have seen, the position of the two antagonists was, at the moment of crisis, entirely different; for the Germans, it was only necessary to postulate the same weakness in our defence, the same efficiency in their U‑boat captains, and the same resulting total losses to ensure our exhaustion in the specified time. For us, the situation was less simple: our losses must, of course, be reduced or we could not survive; but the sure method of reduction had long been, and still remained, in doubt: no reliable system of hunting and destroying submarines had yet been developed; for saving tonnage, the Admiralty's choice seemed to lie between such expedients as controlled sailings and protected traffic lanes, on the one hand, and a comprehensive system of convoy on the other. This choice was one of great importance and involved the heaviest responsibility; for upon the issue hung, beyond doubt, as in a balance, the safety or the destruction of the Allied Powers.

 

Now that we can look back upon the whole course of the campaign, we can usefully study why it was that the choice should have been so long in doubt, and at the time there were certainly many, even among civilians, who were familiar with the idea of convoy, and inferred, from its success in former wars ....

 

Convoy, under the name of "wafting," was found necessary and effective as far back as the days of the Great Harry.

 

"And as for sending ships for the scouring of the narrow sea and wafting of the hoys that go to Calais, I pray God send you them in time; for it is too great a shame to lose the ships that be lost. And I trust ye win no more adventure neither the ordnance, artillery, victuals, nor men, till ye have wafters. Meseemeth that ye might man some of the Spaniards that be at Sandwich, and make them wafters till other may come to you." (Bishop Fox, Lord Privy Seal, to Wolsey, 1513.)

 

Shakespeare uses the word in the same sense.

 

.... that it was an obvious and infallible method whose value had been strangely overlooked. They could hardly be aware, as those in command were aware, of the many differences between a system used for the protection of merchant fleets which sailed perhaps twice a year, and could only be attacked on the surface, and a system for the protection, from under‑water attack, of a world‑wide and incessant flow of trade. But there was more than this difference to cause prolonged deliberation: the First Sea Lord and the Director of the Anti‑Submarine Division had each a reason of his own for deferring the moment of a decision which was all‑important.

 

One of the main difficulties with which the Admiralty had had to contend throughout the war was that the resources of the navy had been strained almost to breaking point in the endeavour to maintain overseas armies in so many theatres of war with an entirely inadequate number of small craft for the purpose. This applies particularly to destroyers, of which there had never been anything like a sufficient number. Admiral Jellicoe, therefore, was constantly held back by the reflection that the destroyer forces required for convoy work would have to be collected from commands both at home and abroad, from which applications for more destroyers, couched in most urgent terms, were constantly being received, and which in the First Sea Lord's own judgment were without doubt inadequately supplied. Admiral Duff's advice as Director of the Ailti‑Submarine Division supported Admiral Jellicoe's view, for he believed that unless the escorting ships bore a very large proportion to the number of ships in each convoy, the system would be an additional danger rather than a protection. He had also, as will appear presently, serious misgivings of a different kind, which were shared by other high officials. The War Cabinet on their part were also in an anxious position. It is true that in matters concerning active operations they were able to lean upon the advice of their highest naval and military commanders; but the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the war as a whole

 

Nov. 1916

CONVOY SYSTEM DISCUSSED

 

rested none the less upon themselves. Moreover, they would naturally feel their responsibility more as their own measure of experience increased; and they had by this time, in many conferences with their expert advisers, acquired some insight into the nature of the tactics by which their policy was being carried out. It was, therefore, only to be expected that they should, in a grave crisis, try their own powers in the surveying and re‑surveying of a problem for which no solution had yet been found and upon which the expert decision was more and more anxiously awaited. Having regard to the serious effect upon the maintenance of our war effort of the continued and increasing losses of merchant ships from submarine attack, it was unquestionably the War Cabinet's duty to satisfy themselves by any means within their power not only that the measures adopted for the protection of trade routes were being carried out with the utmost vigour and efficiency, but also that the system was the best possible and that no better method was being neglected. The situation thus became one not only of supreme moment but of permanent historical interest. It was to be dealt with under a system of long development, a vital part of the national defence; and since the success or failure of this system must affect the future of our constitution, a description of its working under the greatest strain ever put upon it should be a source of instruction and of consequence for our successors.

 

On October 30, 1916, Sir John Jellicoe, then Commander-in‑Chief of the Grand Fleet, had written a letter to the Prime Minister expressing anxiety with regard to the danger to the Allied cause from submarine attacks on merchant ships, which with notable prescience he anticipated would increase in the following spring. At Mr. Asquith's request Sir John Jellicoe had thereupon come to London, and attended a meeting of the War Committee on November 2. Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, the First Sea Lord, and Vice‑Admiral Sir H. F. Oliver, the Chief of the War Staff at the Admiralty, were also present. Among other subjects the question of a possible convoy system was discussed. Mr. Lloyd George opened by asking Sir John Jellicoe if he had any plan against the German submarines working outside. Sir John Jellicoe said that he had not. They had only armed merchant ships, and these could not act offensively because they did not see the submarines. He suggested having floating intelligence centres to direct the routes of shipping, if found needful. He did not approve of convoys, as they offered too big a target.

 

Mr. Bonar Law then asked if they could not use a system of ships protected by a convoy of warships. Sir Henry Oliver replied that they did it in the Mediterranean, so did the French and the Italians; but it did not do to send more than one ship at a time under escort. The French tried more, and lost two or three of their ships.

 

Mr. Lloyd George then suggested a dozen ships being convoyed by three ships of war. Sir John Jellicoe said in reply that they would never be able to keep merchant ships sufficiently together to enable a few destroyers to screen them. It was different with warships, which they could keep in a locked‑up formation. Mr. Runciman added that, looking at the principle of convoy from the point of view of tonnage, it was most wasteful. There was no advantage in speed, as a convoy must move at a pace regulated by the slowest ship.

 

If such opinions were intended to be decisive, it was obviously useless to discuss the question further. It was, however, probable that the view put forward by Sir John Jellicoe on this occasion was more the Admiralty's than his own. He was at this time commanding the Grand Fleet and had not studied the question of the protection of ocean trade, a subject with which the Admiralty representatives present must have been much more conversant than he. As Commander‑in‑Chief he was not immediately responsible for the defence of trade in the approach routes and the Channel: he would hardly be inclined to overrule the conclusions of those who for two years past had studied the daily reports on attacks, chases and submarine engagements in the zones where the campaign against our trade was fiercest and most continuous. It was indeed clear that he did not feel himself called upon at this moment to give a definite and firm decision upon so complicated a question as that of trade defence. In the memorandum which he presented to the Government and the Admiralty, a few days before the Conference assembled, he had been careful to state that he did not wish, or intend, to make concrete proposals. The plan that he had in mind was purely administrative: to create a division, or department, of the Admiralty which should subject suggestions and all existing methods to a searching and scientific investigation.

 

The creation of this division and its proper constitution were, indeed, the principal questions under discussion in the purely naval conference which assembled at the Admiralty on the following day. (The Commander‑in‑Chief, Grand Fleet, the First, Second, Third and Fourth Sea Lords, the Chief of Staff, the Director of Operations, the Admiral in charge of Minesweeping, the Chairman of the Submarine Committee, Sir Arthur Wilson, Lieutenant‑Commander Burney and Lieutenant‑Commander Churchill attended.) The officers present did, however,

 

Jan. 1917

ADMIRALTY OPINION

 

make a brief survey of existing methods, and of any technical improvements in them which seemed possible at the moment. During this discussion, neither the possibility nor the advisability of introducing a convoy system was so much as touched upon, which shows that the Board of Admiralty did not, at that moment, consider it a feasible operation of war.

 

Again, when Sir John Jellicoe became First Sea Lord he was bound to give great weight and consideration to Admiralty opinion as he found it; and, since the November Conference, opinion had not changed at all. Indeed, it had hardened. The views of the Staff were set out in an official pamphlet issued in January 1917, in which it was stated, quite emphatically, that a convoy system was not a sound measure of trade defence: "Whenever possible, vessels should sail singly, escorted as considered necessary. The system of several ships sailing together in a convoy is not recommended in any area where submarine attack is a possibility. It is evident that the larger the number of ships forming the convoy, the greater is the chance of a submarine being enabled to attack successfully, the greater the difficulty of the escort in preventing such an attack. In the case of defensively armed merchant vessels, it is preferable that they should sail singly rather than that they should be formed into a convoy with several other vessels. A submarine could remain at a distance and fire her torpedo into the middle of a convoy with every chance of success. A defensively armed merchant vessel of good speed should rarely, if ever, be captured. If the submarine comes to the surface to overtake and attack with her gun, the merchant vessel's gun will nearly always make the submarine dive, in which case the preponderance of speed will allow of the merchant ship escaping."

 

The author or draughtsman of this pamphlet seems to have recorded the collective opinion of the Admiralty with some accuracy, for the minutes of those high officials who were more particularly concerned with the defence of trade are all expressive of the same, or nearly the same, view. The Director of the Trade Division had recently stated in a minute upon a paper circulated to him: "The question of convoy has frequently been gone into, but experience, so far, has not justified its existence outside the Mediterranean." The Director of the Operations Division suggested on the same papers that the question was one of expediency rather than of principle, and that if more destroyers were available they might usefully be employed on convoy duties in the Mediterranean. Admiral Duff, who was now the Director of the Anti‑Submarine Division which had been constituted at Sir John Jellicoe's suggestion, was, however, more impressed by the difficulties of enforcing such a system of trade defence than by its possible advantages. His view was that "differences of speed, loss of the safety afforded by zig‑zagging, and the inevitable tendency of merchant ships to straggle at night are some of the reasons against an organised system of convoy."

 

Although Admiral Jellicoe could not fail to be impressed by the misgivings of technical advisers with such high qualifications and experience as Admiral Webb and Admiral Duff, he was still clear and decided on one point: that if the existing system of trade defence needed reinforcing and supplementing, then this could only be done by instituting some kind of convoy system. One of his earliest minutes was a warning to the Staff that they might be obliged to place some of the Atlantic trade under convoy, in order to protect it against the Moewe. The Chief of the Staff in his answer showed what formidable obstacles would have to be overcome if a convoy system were to be instituted; but even after Admiral Jellicoe had read Admiral Oliver's catalogue of difficulties, he minuted the paper with the remark that the whole question must be borne in mind and brought up again later if needs be. That is, he still withheld judgment.

 

The practical difficulties were indeed formidable, and they must be enumerated in some detail if the subsequent course of events and the decisions eventually taken are to be rightly estimated. A convoy system was only practical and possible if sufficient escorts could be found for the groups of merchant ships which would be passing daily through the danger zone when such a system was instituted. Could those escorts be collected from the destroyer forces in Home waters? The position stood roughly thus. About eighty destroyers and leaders were stationed at Scapa for service with the Grand Fleet battle squadrons; about thirty more were based on Rosyth. At any given moment about twenty of these vessels were either detached for temporary duties with local commanders, or refitting and repairing. The total destroyer force upon which the Commander‑in‑Chief could depend in a sudden emergency was a force of between eighty‑five and ninety units. It was now useless to hope that the Harwich Force would be able to act as a reinforcement to the Grand Fleet. Its nominal strength was fifty destroyers, but those destroyers had ceased to be a concentrated force and had become a sort of pool for miscellaneous service in the Flanders Bight and the Dover Straits. Detachments to Dover and refits had reduced the effective striking force at Harwich to

 

Jan.‑Feb. 1917

PROVISION OF ESCORTS

 

about a dozen or fifteen destroyers and leaders. This small force was continuously employed on the Dutch trade. From this it was quite clear to Admiral Jellicoe that, if a convoy system was to be instituted, no escort forces could be taken from the Grand Fleet or from the Flanders Bight.

 

Even less could the Dover Patrol be tampered with; a long record of raids that had ended unsatisfactorily, and of losses to drifters and trawlers, showed the weakness of our defence. In any case the Admiral in charge at Dover was maintaining his defence of the Straits by means of heavy destroyer loans from Harwich. What destroyer forces remained? There was a local defence flotilla of ten destroyers at Scapa, just sufficient to patrol the submarine‑infested approaches to the fleet anchorage. Now that it was realised that any large German fleet movement would be preceded by heavy submarine concentration off the British bases, this local defence flotilla could hardly be detached. At the Humber there were about twenty destroyers, mainly of the "River" class; these also were, in Admiral Jellicoe's opinion, undetachable. At the Nore, Portsmouth and Devonport there were about sixty destroyers in all. More than half of these were too old and small for escort service in the outer approach routes. The only conclusion possible was, therefore, that if all available destroyers were collected for convoy duty, about twenty units could be used for service in the outer parts of the danger zone, and between twenty and thirty older destroyers of the "River" class might be used for escorting Channel convoys between the Lizard and the Isle of Wight.

 

It was obviously impossible to provide escorts for a universal convoy system with such a force. It might, however, have been used for escorting incoming ships on one ‑ possibly upon two ‑ of the North Atlantic routes. But if this were done, then every available destroyer would be absorbed in the duty; and the defence of ships on the remaining routes, and of all outgoing ships, would be left entirely to the drifters, trawlers and auxiliaries of the local patrols. Would losses be appreciably reduced by protecting one section of trade at the expense of another? In Admiral Jellicoe's opinion they would not; it would be useless, even dangerous, to introduce a convoy system until it could be made more comprehensive.

 

The provision of escorts was, however, only one of the difficulties. It must never be forgotten that the starting-point of a convoy system is a subjection of private enterprise to State control on a scale that the most enthusiastic and visionary socialist would hardly dare to advocate. That control is not exercised in the same manner as the State control of railways, which operates through committees of liaison, assembled in distant board‑rooms. It is an outward and visible control which affects the merchant seaman and his officers in their daily lives, which disturbs their most deep-seated and traditional habits. And above the masters and men, all the land staff of the great companies from clerk to manager come under the dominion of orders issued by the State and its officers. It was obvious that a measure of control so embracing and rigid could not be instituted by a mere decision in high places.

 

Long consultation between the naval and shipping authorities must precede it. But when, as a first preliminary, Admiral Jellicoe assembled a conference of experienced ship captains at the Admiralty, and after describing the dangers of the position to them, asked them to give him their views upon convoy, they presented him with a list of difficulties which no seaman could treat lightly. If convoys were instituted, the merchant captains and their officers would have to manoeuvre and keep station in regular formation. Those present stated unanimously that this would be quite impossible. Their best officers had long ago joined the naval forces; their ships were not fitted with the mechanical appliances necessary for making such nice adjustments in speed as were necessary for ships manoeuvring in formation. Connections between bridges and engine‑rooms were crude and primitive; even if they were improved, the engine‑room controls were not of a kind which would enable the engineer officers to change the ships' speed by a few revolutions. They would much prefer to sail alone, and were of opinion that, in any case, not more than two ships could usefully sail in company.

 

In addition to all this, ships sailing in convoys would be exposed to special risks against which provision would have to be made beforehand. First, and most important, the institution of a convoy system would involve loss of carrying power, in that vessels would complete fewer round voyages in the year. Some estimate of the delays, some preparation for reducing them had obviously to be made beforehand; and this estimate, these preparations, could only be made by long consultation with port authorities upon such highly technical matters as "turn round" loading and unloading. Again, whatever additional protection might be given by armed escorts, it was obvious that ships in convoy would be very much exposed to attack during and immediately after the act of dispersal. The danger might conceivably be overcome by heavy concentrations of patrol craft at the points of dispersal;

 

Jan.‑Feb. 1917

AMERICA'S ATTITUDE

 

but this would involve considerable administrative preparation and consultation with the local senior officers. Finally, it could not be doubted that the enemy would open an intensive mining campaign against what might be called the strategic points of a convoy system. The ports at which convoys collected, the points at which they dispersed, the coastal routes along which they would move, all would henceforward be mined with energy and determination.

 

But the dominant difficulty was one against which no provision could be made, for it was contingent upon the politics of a great neutral country. According to the strict and literal law of nations, a belligerent Power may assemble a convoy in a neutral port. But statesmen, who are not bound to treat these matters as mere questions of law, may refuse to allow their ports to be used for such a purpose ‑ on the ground that it will attract foreign combatants to their national waters. Even though they do not forbid it outright, they can raise such administrative difficulties that the work of collecting and routeing a convoy from a neutral harbour becomes almost impossible. The attitude which the American Government would adopt seemed doubtful. Even when they had broken off diplomatic relations with Germany, they were still neutral. The President on February 3 announced that he hoped to remain so. Their active or passive opposition might make the whole system unworkable.

 

The position at the end of January was, therefore, that certain influential members of the Admiralty Staff strongly doubted whether a convoy system would materially reduce merchant shipping losses; and that Admiral Jellicoe was withholding a final decision until the known difficulties and obstacles had been further examined, and until the American attitude became clearer.

 

But the time available for examining difficulties was rapidly running out. On February 1, 1917, in accordance with the German Emperor's command, the unrestricted U-boat campaign began.

 

The losses ‑ already alarming ‑ rose sharply in the first week of the new campaign; and Mr. Lloyd George saw at once that the country and the alliance would shortly be in danger. His duty was not doubtful. As Prime Minister of Great Britain he was responsible for the conduct of the war; he must, therefore, at once examine all the plans of the naval authorities and convince himself and his colleagues that the best method of thwarting the danger had been adopted. Mr. Lloyd George was not persuaded that the problem at issue was intrinsically different from any question of major strategy. He believed that it could be stripped of its load of supplementary questions ‑ which nobody but an expert can examine ‑ and that, when reduced to its essentials, it would be found to be a plain question which a man of knowledge and good judgment can resolve. On February 13, therefore, he conferred informally with Sir Edward Carson, Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Duff. The line of thought on which he wished to test naval opinion is set forth in a paper containing some suggestions for anti‑submarine warfare, which had been prepared for him by Sir Maurice Hankey two days before, and was now read to the members of the conference as a basis for discussion. The following paragraphs are here given at length, as the clearest and most authentic account of the reasoning which enabled the War Cabinet to sustain their constitutional part in the conduct of the war; not as technical experts, but as responsible leaders bringing in their powers at the decisive moment to carry forward and support their high executive officers.

 

"The situation created by the enemy's adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare threatens to become so serious that the Admiralty will surely not resent the suggestions of an outsider, who, though well placed as an onlooker, can lay no claim to be a practical expert in combating this form of attack. The ideas in this Memorandum, therefore, are put forward in no critical or aggressive spirit, but in the hope that some part of them at least may contribute towards the constructive anti‑submarine policy of the Admiralty.

 

"The general scheme submitted below entails ultimately an entire reorganisation of the Admiralty's present scheme of anti‑submarine warfare, although it might, in the first instance, be adopted experimentally on a smaller scale. It involves the substitution of a system of scientifically organised convoys, and the concentration on this service of the whole of the anti‑submarine craft allotted to the protection of our trade routes, excepting only those vessels devoted to the anti-submarine service of our main fleets. It further involves the concentration on to the convoy system of every means of anti‑submarine warfare ‑ the gun, the submarine, the net, the depth charge, the mortar, the hydrophone, and wireless telegraphy. It aims at the effective utilisation of the slower as well as of the faster anti‑submarine craft for the convoy system, and it contemplates ultimately the provision of special salvage and life‑saving craft and plant to accompany the convoys. The Memorandum also contains suggestions for investigations of a technical character for combating the submarine, which may or may not be entirely new.

 

Feb. 13, 1917

SIR MAURICE HANKEY'S PAPER

 

Objections to the Convoy System

 

"The objections to the convoy system have more than once been developed before the late War Committee and the present War Cabinet, and unquestionably the bulk of the best naval opinion has up to now been against it.

 

"It has been pointed out that the convoy provides an immense target for the enemy's attack. Unless one fast escort is provided for each ship the enemy merely selects a vessel that is unescorted and sinks it at sight. It would not be possible to provide fast craft to escort a mass of merchant ships. Moreover, the speeds of the ships vary, and the convoy must go rather slower than the speed of the slowest ship in order to leave a margin in hand for station‑keeping. Hence, the faster vessel loses the advantage she would otherwise obtain from her speed. Moreover, the merchant service is not trained to keep station, which is only achieved in the navy itself by dint of long practice and experience; hence, the ships in the convoy would constantly straggle, and there would be many collisions. An objection of a different order is that the sudden influx into our ports of a mass of shipping would lead to congestion. In the same order of ideas it is contended that the system involves so much loss of time and waste of effort that it cannot be contemplated.

 

"These are formidable objections. In the earlier part of the war the writer recognised them to be crucial. Circumstances, however, have changed, and the question arises for serious consideration whether some of the objections have not lost a good deal of force, while others are outweighed by the comparative failure of the present system, and whether means are not at hand for overcoming yet a third group of these objections.

 

"For example, the great curtailment in our trade which must be expected to follow the adoption of a drastic restriction of imports will render far less cogent the argument that our ports will become congested, and the organisation of the special battalions for alleviating congestion in our ports provides a mobile force to supplement the labour at any great port where a large convoy has arrived. The argument that time is wasted has also lost much of its force, as, under the existing system, the adoption of devious routes, and the frequent closing of our ports, have already involved very great delay. The adoption of the principle of nationalisation of shipping and shipping personnel will enable the Admiralty to enforce the necessary discipline on merchant skippers, and to 'dilute' the merchant service with officers to train them in keeping station. In this war far more complicated technical matters than station‑keeping have been taught on a gigantic scale to less responsive material than the merchant seamen, both in military and munitions matters. The objection based on speed can be surmounted partly by excluding the really fast vessels from the convoy system, and partly by a rough grouping of vessels of approximately equal speed. Moreover, this objection is compensated by the fact that the more valuable vessels and cargoes can be placed in the safer portion of the convoy surrounded and screened by less valuable ships. The difficulty of providing large enough escorts can probably only be surmounted by careful organisation; by reorganising the existing distribution of anti‑submarine craft; by grouping these vessels according to their speeds, sea‑going qualities, armament, etc.; and by devoting the greater part to escort duty, allotting them according to their suitability, to longdistance convoys, short sea‑voyage convoys, or coastal convoys.

 

The Objections to the Existing System

 

"Before describing in detail the new proposals for convoys, some remarks on the weaknesses of the existing system for the protection of mercantile traffic may be permissible. It is desired to emphasise that these are made in no critical or hostile spirit. They were probably the best possible measures under earlier conditions, and they are criticised from the standpoint of a new situation differing markedly from that which they were originally designed to meet.

 

"The writer has encountered some difficulty owing to the fact that he is not intimately acquainted with the existing system. As he understands it, the coastwise area surrounding these islands is divided into a number of sectors. To each sector there is allotted a certain number of destroyers, patrol vessels, 'Q' ships, and small craft for mine‑sweeping and anti‑submarine services, each sector being under the command of a special flag officer. As a rule, these small craft do not operate outside their own sector, though a redistribution of them is made from time to time by the Admiralty. The operations in these sectors are co‑ordinated by a special Department of the Admiralty, but there is no Inspector-General, and it would be difficult to appoint one without, to some extent, weakening the authority and responsibility and hampering the initiative of the Naval Commanders‑in‑Chief on the coast of Ireland, Devonport, Portsmouth, Dover, the Nore, and Rosyth, in whose commands the several sectors are situated. The writer is ignorant as to whether orders to the

 

Feb. 13, 1917

SIR MAURICE HANKEY'S PAPER

 

sectors are transmitted direct from the Admiralty or through the Naval Commander‑in‑Chief.

 

"Some corresponding arrangement is made by the French Admiralty along the French coast.

 

"Outside the coastal areas the protection of the trade routes is understood to be under the command of the Senior Naval Officers on the various stations. The special forces under their control for anti‑submarine work on the high seas are understood to be confined practically to the 'Q' sloops, which are, in fact, decoy vessels of an ingenious type, but they are few in number, and for their success depend mainly on meeting the submarine on the surface. In the narrow waters of the Mediterranean there are considerable numbers of destroyers (about to be reinforced by two Japanese flotillas) and other small craft.

 

"Even if the number of small anti‑submarine craft (understood to amount to 3000 or 4000 vessels) is so great that a certain degree of control can be exercised in coastal waters, it is clear that the deep‑sea routes accessible to the modern sea‑going submarine are so extensive that they can be only very thinly patrolled, and the protection afforded, except at a few obligatory points of passage, such as the St. George's Channel or the Straits of Gibraltar, is little more than nominal. Hence, the Admiralty has adopted the expedient of prescribing the routes to be followed by British and, in some instances, by neutral ships, and these routes, to which the patrols are confined, are frequently changed in order to puzzle the enemy.

 

"It is obvious that this system has many weaknesses. If the enemy has a properly organised system of reconnaissance he will soon rediscover the changed route, at the point where it emerges from the unavoidable points of convergence, or at the terminal of the trade route. Placing himself on the trade route he has merely to await his prey, possibly lying submerged and trusting to the hydrophone to give him warning of his victim's approach. If he confines himself to the use of the torpedo the risks he runs are infinitesimal. He attacks in most cases without having to fight at all. The only protection that the merchant vessel has is the gun (if she is so fortunate as to have one), her speed, and evasion by steering a zigzag course. In spite of these palliatives the attack of trade routes is a 'soft thing' for the submarine with a constant stream of isolated merchant ships, almost devoid of offensive power, to choose from.

 

"How under this system we are ever to avoid losses limited only by the number of the enemy's sea‑going submarines, and his output of torpedoes, it is difficult to see. The true strategical principal would, of course, be to intercept the enemy near his exits from his ports, and from the very first days of the war the writer has been an ardent and unceasing advocate of the development of an unrestricted policy of mines, which are 'the trench of the sea.' In the early part of the war, however, the Admiralty was utterly unsympathetic to submarine mining, with the result that, in the middle of the third year of the war, our provision for minelaying is absolutely inadequate to the needs of the situation.

 

The Advantages of the Convoy System

 

"Over the system described above the convoy system, if practicable, appears to offer certain very distinct advantages.

 

"The enemy can never know the day nor the hour when the convoy will come, nor the route which it will take. The most dangerous and contracted passages can be passed at night. Routes can be selected as far as possible in water so deep that submarine mines cannot be laid. The convoy can be preceded by minesweepers or by vessels fitted with paravanes. The most valuable ships can be placed in the safest part of the convoy. Neutrals, and other unarmed vessels, can be placed under the protection of armed vessels. The enemy submarines, instead of attacking a defenceless prey, will know that a fight is inevitable in which he may be worsted. All hope of successful surface attack would have to be dismissed at once.

 

"The adoption of the convoy system would appear to offer great opportunities for mutual support by the merchant vessels themselves, apart from the defence provided by their escorts. Instead of meeting one small gun on board one ship the enemy might be under fire from, say, ten guns, distributed among twenty ships. Each merchant ship might have depth charges, and explosive charges in addition might be towed between pairs of ships, to be exploded electrically. One or two ships with paravanes might save a line of a dozen ships from the mine danger. Special salvage ships (alluded to later) might accompany the convoy to salve those ships which were mined or torpedoed without sinking immediately, and in any event to save the crews.

 

"Perhaps the best commentary on the convoy system is that it is invariably adopted for our main fleet, and for our transports."

 

Such were the suggestions which Mr. Lloyd George, without committing himself to them, offered to the Admiralty

 

Feb.‑March 1917

THE FRENCH COAL TRADE

 

representatives at this informal meeting. But this able paper, which laid the great issues of the problem so clearly before the Prime Minister, did not bring him and his naval advisers any closer together. To the Admirals the paper read merely like an abstract statement of strategical principle. They were quite prepared to admit that the principles enunciated in Sir Maurice's paper were sound; they were considering not the principle itself but its practical consequences in the disposition of our naval forces. In any case the Prime Minister did not press them to give a considered reply; for soon after the meeting he was entirely occupied with questions arising out of the great offensive which General Nivelle was about to conduct.

 

For the next month the subject of convoy was not again brought up in the War Cabinet, and the First Sea Lord's reports on the submarine campaign, which he made at almost every meeting, were little but reports upon actions between single ships and enemy submarines. His reply to questions addressed to him by the War Cabinet during March was that the matter was being considered. The situation was, however, changing; it was during this month of March that the Admiralty became cognisant of certain new facts and figures which helped to clear away some of the doubts as to the efficacy of a convoy system, though they could do nothing to remove the heavy mass of obstacles and difficulties which was still embarrassing Admiral Jellicoe.

 

During February vessels engaged in the coal trade to Northern France had been organised into rough and tentative convoys (See post, p. 27.), called "controlled sailings." By the end of March, therefore, the Admiralty had before them six weeks' evidence of the results of the system. It was not as yet possible to say that this experiment justified the introduction of a regular system of ocean convoy; but the reduction of losses in a trade which had hitherto been particularly afflicted was decidedly impressive, and it contributed in a marked degree to decisions made later on. In the meantime the rising list of losses in the approach routes gave clear warning to all concerned that the present position could not be much longer maintained.

 

On April 3 a Conference assembled at Longhope; its terms of reference were strictly defined. (See Vol. IV, p. 383.) The officers present were to consider how the heavy losses recently suffered by ships engaged in the Scandinavian trade could be reduced. They reported unanimously that the Scandinavian trade ought to be placed in convoy. The local senior officers, to whom the report was submitted, were not by any means so unanimous. Only one of them openly challenged the recommendations, but several of the most experienced officers read them with considerable misgivings. The opinion that the escort would have to be numerically equal, or nearly so, to the vessels escorted was still strongly held; for Admiral Pears, at Invergordon, recommended that not more than four or five merchant ships should be escorted at a time.

 

Admiral Hamilton, the Commander‑in‑Chief at Rosyth, supported the recommendations, but added that the arrangements could not be kept secret, and that sooner or later the enemy would raid the convoy in strength. Admiral Stuart Nicholson, at Grimsby, however, stated that he could not endorse the Conference's recommendations. "Personally," he wrote, "I am in favour of individual escort by single trawler of the more valuable ships, the rest proceeding independently, and destroyers being used to patrol the trade route." Admiral Stuart Nicholson repeated Admiral Hamilton's warning about raids in almost identical language. Admiral Beatty expressed no disagreement with the Conference's findings in his covering letter, and he drew attention to the importance of the question under discussion.

 

Whilst these officers were drafting their endorsements or reservations to the findings of the Longhope Conference, the American President had assembled Congress, and had declared war against Germany (April 6). In eloquent and impressive words he proclaimed that the United States would wage war by land and by sea with all the energy of which they were capable, and with all the means in their power.

 

The papers on the Conference at Longhope reached the Admiralty on April 11, and were at once examined by all the officers concerned. The subject‑matter of the papers was relevant only to the proposal under review: the advisability of placing trade under convoy between Great Britain and Scandinavia. Admiral Duff was prepared to accept the recommendations of the Longhope Conference for the time being on account of certain peculiarities in the Scandinavian trade; for he wrote, in one part of his minute: "It is realised that in at any rate two respects the convoy system is particularly applicable to the Scandinavian trade; one is the shortness of the night during the summer months, and the other, the vessels using this route being very much of the same speed." Admiral Jellicoe endorsed the findings of the Conference and gave orders that the "system was to be tried, and a report sent fortnightly on its working." In the meantime our losses continued: they were too heavy to be endured

 

April 1917

FURTHER DISCUSSION

 

in silence. We have already noted (See Vol. IV, p. 379.) that on April 23, when the War Cabinet had before them Admiral Jellicoe's exhaustive survey of the measures in force for combating submarine attack, the convoy system was still under consideration at the Admiralty, and therefore was not submitted to the Cabinet as a possible remedy. The Prime Minister did, however, raise the question on that occasion and quoted the views of Admirals Beatty and Sims. Admiral Jellicoe replied that the matter was under consideration; one of the chief obstacles to adopting such a scheme was the shortage of torpedo boat destroyers. There was some prospect of American destroyers being sent to assist us, and six had already been ordered to leave for this country. A much larger number would, however, be necessary before any scheme of convoy could be introduced. The trial of the convoy system by the Commander‑in‑Chief, Grand Fleet, had not been altogether successful. (He was referring to the Scandinavian convoy. See Vol. 1V., pp. 382‑4.) Two vessels in separate convoys had already been torpedoed and sunk.

 

Some members of the War Cabinet seem to have felt, and Lord Curzon pointed out, that without a more general survey than had hitherto been presented to them they could not be in a position to grasp and review the situation. The War Cabinet therefore asked for further figures as to the Admiralty's estimate of future losses, the present and prospective food situation, and the absolute minimum of imports essential to the Allied armies; and they adjourned the discussion until later in the afternoon.

 

On resuming, attention was particularly directed to the following points: (i) the increasingly heavy losses of merchant ships, (ii) the necessity for the provision of patrol vessels, (iii) the failure of our mining policy, (iv) the necessity of building up a reserve of food, (v) a proposal from the First Sea Lord for the building of mammoth unsinkable ships to ensure our obtaining supplies during the latter part of 1918. (The original proposal had been made by the Director of Naval Construction. It was placed before the War Cabinet by the First Sea Lord.) From this it seems clear that ocean convoy was still not one of the remedial measures suggested: though it was, as the First Sea Lord has stated, still under consideration, and he has added later that on April 23 it was "very nearly" put forward, "as it was obviously close to a settlement."

 

For the final reconsideration of the problem the Admiralty were now provided with fresh light upon one of the most important of their data ‑ the difficulty of providing the destroyers required. It was clear that a system of ocean convoy must involve the employment of considerable forces in escort work; and in the danger zone at any rate real security could only be guaranteed by destroyers. Yet at no time during 1916 had the destroyer force available for all purposes been more than barely adequate to the demands upon it. How then was it possible to meet a demand largely increased by the necessities of a system of convoy?

 

This question had for some time past been exercising the ability and industry of the Anti‑Submarine Division, where certain officers had taken in hand the verification of some of the facts from which the discouraging conclusion had seemed to be inevitably deduced. After long investigation and consultation with the Ministry of Shipping they succeeded in revising the table of relevant facts with striking result. They proved, in effect, that the supposed impossibility of providing sufficient escort was deduced from a miscalculation of the number of voyages requiring protection in the ocean trades. The mistake had arisen in this way.

 

With a view to discouraging the enemy, the figures showing the number of arrivals and departures of ships in the weekly statement published by the Admiralty had been made to include the repeated calls of all coasters and short sea traders of 300 tons and upwards; and by this method the figures had been swollen to about 2500 voyages a week each way. But inasmuch as the average number of voyages made weekly by British ocean‑going ships (1600 tons gross and upwards) had in time of peace been under 200 each way (Salter, Allied Shipping Control, p. 123.), a careful investigator well acquainted with shipping was bound to find that the published return had no real significance as regards the essential trades. The Ministry of Shipping had produced figures showing the actual arrivals and departures in the ocean trades to be between 120 and 140 each week. This revision of the figures, carried out mainly by Commander R. G. Henderson, was now in Admiral Duff's hands, and no doubt assisted in some degree towards the approaching settlement.

 

The position with regard to destroyers was this. Seventy or more would be required as escorts if a really comprehensive convoy system were introduced. There were at the moment, some 279 destroyers in Home waters, and of these, between twenty and thirty could be immediately employed in convoy duties. If it were decided to institute a system, destroyer assets would therefore be about forty units short of destroyer liabilities. But it was agreed by everybody that the Atlantic

 

April 1917

CONVOYS RECOMMENDED

 

trade could only be grouped into convoys and placed under escort by degrees, and that some months would go by before a complete and embracing convoy system could be instituted. How the deficit could be made good was still uncertain. There was, however, a promise of American assistance, and the British shipyards would probably deliver about fifteen new boats by the end of July. All that could be said, therefore, was that the immediate call could just be met, and that if every available unit were allocated ruthlessly to the convoy organisation, as it developed and expanded, then it was just conceivable that the necessary number would be collected. If, however, the provisional estimate of the destroyers required proved to be too low, the future was dark indeed.

 

The time was now come, in the opinion of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, when a closer examination of all possible methods was necessary, even if it involved a critical survey of the naval administration itself. On April 25 the War Cabinet once more discussed the situation and decided that the Prime Minister should visit the Admiralty, to investigate all the means at present used in anti‑submarine warfare, on the ground that recent inquiries had made it clear that there was not sufficient co‑ordination in the present efforts to deal with the campaign.

 

But before he arrived, the decision, which both he and his Cabinet colleagues so ardently desired, had been taken. On April 26 Admiral Duff sent a paper to Admiral Jellicoe with the following minute:

 

"It seems to me evident that the time has arrived when we must be ready to introduce a comprehensive scheme of convoy at any moment.

 

"The sudden and large increases of our daily losses in merchant ships, together with the experience we have gained of the unexpected immunity from successful submarine attack in the case of the French coal trade, afford sufficient reason for believing that we can accept the many disadvantages of large convoys with the certainty of a great reduction in our present losses.

 

"Further, the United States having come into the war eliminates some of the apparently insuperable difficulties to a comprehensive scheme of convoy.

 

"The number of vessels roughly estimated in the attached paper as the minimum necessary for escort work is large, but the necessity of further safeguarding our food supply is becoming vital.

 

"The attached paper is merely an outline proposal giving certain figures to enable a decision to be given as to whether the scheme is to be proceeded with and worked out in detail.

 

"The work will be heavy, and if approved, I suggest the appointment of a Captain for the special purpose, in the first place to work out the scheme and afterwards to superintend its practical application."

 

The paper attached to this minute contained a detailed examination of the volume of trade to be escorted and of the cruisers and destroyers necessary for the purpose. The First Sea Lord approved the minute on the following day.

 

Seen in retrospect, Admiral Jellicoe's decision stands out clearly, even dramatically, as one of the most important of the war. The choice involved perhaps the heaviest responsibility ever faced by a naval chief; for it was the choice not merely of an alternative method of defence, but of a decisive tactical manoeuvre in the greatest battle in history ‑ the four-year battle for the use of sea transport, in which our whole mercantile fleet and all that depended on it was at stake. When once the decision was taken, the work, as we shall see, was put in hand with the greatest energy and ability. The splendid organisation for convoy work, which resulted from the labours of Admiral Duff, Paymaster‑Captain Manisty, and others, has earned tribute from our late enemy, as well as admiration from our own people.

 

 

2

The Convoy System and American Naval Assistance

 

The decision of the Admiralty was very welcome to the War Cabinet. On April 30 the Prime Minister visited the Admiralty in pursuance of the decision of the War Cabinet a week before. He found that the Admiralty's reconsideration of the convoy proposal had had a decisive result, and he drew up the following minute of the discussion in which their new attitude was communicated to him.

 

"I was gratified to learn from Admiral Duff that he had completely altered his view in regard to the adoption of a system of convoy, and I gather that the First Sea Lord shares his views, at any rate to the extent of an experiment. Admiral Duff is not enamoured with the system, but a number of circumstances have combined to bring him to the view, which I believe most of my colleagues share, that, at any rate, an experiment in this direction should be made. One of these reasons is that now that the United States of America have entered the war, he thinks it should be possible to find escorts which were formerly impracticable. Another is that experience has shown that he cannot rely on merchant ships to find salvation from the submarine by zigzagging and

 

April 1917

ADMIRAL JELLICOE'S PAPER

 

dousing their lights, and he therefore estimates these factors as a means of protection to a single ship lower than he formerly did. Moreover, as the result of an investigation in concert with a representative of the shipping controller, he finds that the number of ships for which convoy will have to be supplied is more manageable than he had thought. Further, the losses which he last reported to me on the subject were not, in his opinion, sufficient to justify the adoption of this experiment, which, he warned me, might involve a great disaster. Now, however, he calculates that he could afford to lose three ships out of every convoy without being worse off than at present, and he therefore thinks the experiment justifiable.

 

"I much regret that some time must elapse before convoy can be in full working order, and I consider that the Admiralty ought to press on with the matter as rapidly as possible.

 

"As the views of the Admiralty are now in complete accord with the views of the War Cabinet on this question, and as convoys have just come into operation on some routes and are being organised on others, further comment is unnecessary ..."

 

Although Admiral Jellicoe had decided to adopt a policy which proved itself, when established and developed, to be the long‑sought answer to the submarine menace, he was far from being satisfied that the War Cabinet and the Admiralty were now in complete accord on this question. A comprehensive convoy system could not be established by the mere signing of an order: the result was still a matter of expectation rather than of certainty: the enemy's attack was already organised and effective; even if all went well there must be an interval of continuing loss. The danger of the position had been deeply engraved upon his mind, and he felt as strongly as ever the necessity of impressing it with corresponding force upon the Prime Minister, whose attitude seemed to brush aside his profound anxiety with a ready optimism.

 

With this intention he had already prepared a memorandum which expressed his feeling in words of rare bluntness and of the utmost gravity. It is a document of great historical importance, and must be given here in full, because it is the only statement we possess, written with complete knowledge and the highest responsibility, of the one mortal danger which has ever threatened this country in war.

 

First Sea Lord to First Lord

 

"I feel it my duty to place before you my considered opinion that the time has arrived when it is necessary to bring home more fully to the Government the very serious nature of the naval position with which we are now confronted.

 

"I fear that the War Cabinet is not as yet fully impressed with the gravity of the situation. This may be due, in part at any rate, to want of sufficient emphasis in what I have said and written to its members, and on this assumption I must now invoke your aid, and that of the Board itself if necessary, to add force to my arguments and representations.

 

"As you may be aware, the only result of my efforts so far has been the appointment of Committees to investigate various features of the problem, such as the rate at which we can build ships to replace losses, the extent to which our shipping can be reduced without starving the country, etc., and I must point out with all the force at my command that this kind of administrative action does nothing to grapple with the vital difficulties of the situation.

 

"To begin with, all such estimates depend upon a forecast of our probable losses in mercantile shipping, and such forecasts are utterly useless. It is out of my own or anyone else's power to furnish figures with any approach to accuracy.

 

"The losses which we shall suffer depend upon such factors as the number of enemy submarines which are working, the skill with which they are disposed on our various trade routes, the number of torpedoes which they can carry, and the facilities possessed by the enemy for replacing those expended, the skill of the personnel, the sagacity of the officers of our own merchant ships, our luck in hitting off routes clear of submarines, our ability to intercept vessels which are on dangerous routes and to divert them when the danger becomes apparent, weather conditions, the number of vessels which we are able to maintain on patrol, the rate at which we can arm our merchant ships with guns and howitzers, the rate at which we can fit them with mine protection, the rate at which we can replace our mine‑sweepers, the perfection of our minefields, and the rapidity with which the new pattern mine can be manufactured.

 

"Nearly the whole of these factors are problematical, and no sort of accurate estimate can be given; some depend largely on the industry of the workmen of this country and on how far we may enjoy freedom from strikes. All estimates of deliveries of any of the new devices under manufacture have been falsified owing to labour difficulties, and, generally speaking, it is quite impossible to foresee the date at which we may hope to increase the rate of destruction of the enemy submarines.

 

"All these inquiries and all this Committee work ‑ though

 

April 1917

ADMIRAL JELLICOE'S PAPER

 

valuable for certain purposes ‑ falls very far short of the courageous and drastic action that should be applied by H.M. Government.

 

"For instance, I have urged time after time the absolute necessity that exists for reducing the number of lines of communication which the Navy is called upon to safeguard and for increasing the protection of those lines of communication which remain. So far the only result of my efforts has been increased calls upon the Navy without any sort of reduction of liabilities and with no appreciable increase of our resources. During the last three months, for example, we have been asked to import large numbers of native labourers from all parts of the world and, by the recent actions of the enemy, we are also called upon to escort all our hospital ships except those in far‑distant waters.

 

"The real fact of the matter is this. We are carrying on the war at the present time as if we had the absolute command of the sea, whereas we have not such command or anything approaching it. It is quite true that we are masters of the situation so far as surface ships are concerned, but it must be realised ‑ and realised at once ‑ that this will be quite useless if the enemy's submarines paralyse, as they do now, our lines of communication.

 

"History has shown from time to time the fatal results of basing naval and military strategy on an insecure line of communications. Disaster is certain to follow, and our present policy is heading straight for disaster. It is useless and dangerous in the highest degree to ignore that fact.

 

"I must, therefore, advise that the Government should so shape its policy as to recognise that we have neither the undisputed command of the sea nor even a reasonable measure of that command. If we do not recognise this it is my firm conviction that we shall lose the war by the starvation of our people and the paralysing of our Allies by failing to supply them with coal and other essentials.

 

"The policy of the war must, of course, be decided by the Government. It is merely my duty to advise whether the Navy is in a position to give effect to that policy, and I have no desire to trespass beyond my proper functions. I feel, however, that, as I am addressing this serious memorandum to you in the hope that through you its contents may have some influence on the War Cabinet, I ought to indicate several very important matters which, in my judgment, demand immediate attention.

 

"I feel certain that the Navy will indubitably fail in the near future to satisfy the demands made upon it by the present policy of H.M. Government unless‑

 

"(a) We at once withdraw the whole of our force from Salonica, as this is the quarter which taxes our resources most heavily and, from the military point of view, gives no promise of a successful offensive. Apart from all questions of securing shipping and releasing H.M. ships from escort work in the Salonica area for use elsewhere, it is a fact on which I am bound to insist with great emphasis that the Navy will be unable to meet the demands recently put forward for the removal of sick and wounded from this area.

 

"(b) We realise that we cannot continue to bring reinforcements of troops into this country unless they are convoyed in ships carrying other essentials from the Colonies, such as food, etc., as we cannot afford to provide the necessary escorting ships.

 

"(c) The policy of importing labour is at once abandoned for the same reason.

 

"(d) The import of everything that is not essential to the life of the country is ruthlessly and immediately stopped.

 

"If the Government will deal at once with these proposals a certain quantity of tonnage will be released, and, as it becomes available, should be devoted entirely to the import of food‑stuffs until we have placed this country in a position to withstand the siege to which it is about to be subjected.

 

"The release of the transporting, escorting and convoying vessels now devoted to the purposes named above will also assist in providing protection for convoys of ships bringing into this country essentials in the way of food and munitions, but, even with all this, we shall be very hard put to it unless the United States help to the utmost of their ability.

 

"When with this help supplies have been received and the country is in a position to withstand a siege, then we can reconsider the whole position. Without some such relief as I have indicated ‑ and that given immediately ‑ the Navy will fail in its responsibilities to the country and the country itself will suffer starvation.

 

"(Signed) J. R. JELLICOE.

27th April, 1917."

 

It is clear that the writer of this ultimatum was far from believing that the great problem of the war had been solved, and that relief would inevitably and speedily follow. The word convoy was used, but only in the sense in which it had been used from the beginning of the war: there is no reference to the new and comprehensive system which had just been decided upon, or to the results which might eventually be

 

April‑May, 1917

SALONICA

 

expected from it. The whole intention of the writer is to call for a prolonged and desperate effort of endurance in the immediate future. What is urged is a palliative which may avert an imminent catastrophe. The situation is not one which can be dealt with by setting up committees: the first principles of strategy must be recalled and acted on. Insecure communications mean disaster: if our lines of communications are not reduced and strengthened at once, the country, which has hitherto known only an unsuccessful blockade, will have to face a siege ‑ that is, a successful blockade: starvation. The Navy has been called upon to do that for which its resources are inadequate: without some such relief it will fail in its task.

 

This document was signed by the First Sea Lord on April 27, and sent to the First Lord that he might lay it before the War Cabinet. It was only on May 1 that the First Lord transmitted it to the Prime Minister, and by that time it had already been indirectly answered. During the Prime Minister's visit to the Admiralty on April 30, Admiral Jellicoe had delivered himself verbally on the main point ‑ the necessity for withdrawing from the Balkans ‑ and the Prime Minister in his minute records his intention of asking his colleagues to sanction this step. On the following day he announced to the War Cabinet that he had arranged for the First Sea Lord to accompany him to an Anglo‑French conference in Paris; and there on May 4 Admiral Jellicoe once more urged the withdrawal of our forces from Salonica as the course most necessary for salvation. The Prime Minister had feared that the proposal would be unfavourably received; but the prestige and grave sincerity of the British Admiral were as effective with our Allies as they had been at home. Withdrawal was agreed upon: by a fortunate turn of events it proved afterwards to be unnecessary, but the proposal and the manner in which it was put forward are interesting as evidence of the relative values assigned by Admiral Jellicoe to the resources at his disposal in the supreme crisis.

 

The ships which he hoped to recover from the Salonica service for use in the importation of a national food reserve were about 150 in number, with an aggregate of some 400,000 tons. Of these he was disappointed, for the importance of the Salonica force increased steadily towards a decisive conclusion. But a compensating gain of exactly 400,000 tons of shipping came in from another quarter. Within a few days of the reception by the First Lord of Admiral Jellicoe's stark and sombre warning, a civilian Minister, Sir Leo Chiozza Money, laid a memorandum before the Prime Minister containing a suggestion which was eventually turned to good effect. In his paper, which was long and highly technical, he analysed the existing methods of distribution of American food‑stuffs and minerals, and came to the conclusion that the Entente Powers could draw all their necessary supplies of food, minerals and fuel from Canada and the United States alone, if the United States Government would agree to give demands from the Allies absolute priority over demands from all other countries. This policy, if adopted without delay and carried through vigorously, would release shipping ordinarily employed upon longer routes, and so increase the total annual carrying power of the British merchant service.

 

The estimate showed, in fact, that if twenty‑four million tons out of the thirty million tons of necessary imports could be brought over from the United States, then 1200 vessels would suffice to carry them. When the memorandum was written there were 1750 British merchant vessels employed in commercial traffic; so that even if no neutral vessels could be brought into the British service ‑ which was most improbable ‑ there would still be 550 merchant ships in reserve to fill up the gaps created by the German submarines. Apart from this, the concentration of vital shipping upon one known route would very much simplify the defence problem. "We are tempted to imagine that some heaven‑sent genius will show the Admiralty how to destroy the submarine. The fact is that it is from a scientific point of view an inherently difficult problem, unlikely to be solved in this war. The Admiralty must no longer be given an impossible task. It is merely foolish to scatter targets about the high seas and expect the Admiralty to protect them. The essence of my proposal is to deprive the enemy of a large part of his field of action and so to use our ships as to give the Admiralty a fair chance of saving them."

 

Although the policy which the Government was thus urged to adopt was one which promised to lessen the danger in which the country stood, its author seems to have misunderstood the probable effect of his plan upon the naval side of the question. Ships from America approach the British Islands in the Fastnet‑Land's End‑Ushant triangle where they were being destroyed in such numbers, or in the approach to Tory Island, where the destruction was also severe in proportion. To concentrate ships upon the North Atlantic route would increase the number of ships compelled to pass through what had proved to be the zone of greatest danger to them. If Sir Leo Chiozza Money's plan had stood alone, therefore, it might easily have made the western approaches to the British

 

April‑May 1917

CONCENTRATION OF SHIPPING

 

Islands a more profitable area than ever to the German submarine commanders; but it so happened that the plan fell in with the recent Admiralty decision to place merchantmen under armed escort. The convoy system could only be put into operation gradually; but its authors had always intended that the North Atlantic trade should be the first to receive protection. Actually, therefore, Sir Leo's concentration project would draw shipping away from the unprotected to the protected routes, and would effectually restrict the target of the German submarines, though not in the manner that he supposed.

 

In point of fact, the Ministry of Shipping had, for months past, been concentrating as many ships as they could upon the North American route; but, as the Minister pointed out, the rigorous, exclusive concentration that Sir Leo was urging could only be carried out with American co‑operation, and this could only be obtained by the Government.

 

Sir Leo Chiozza Money's paper, and the Shipping Controller's comment upon it, must be regarded as the starting-point of a plan which deeply affected the strategical position during the remaining months of the year. In Great Britain effect was almost immediately given to the scheme, and as soon as it was communicated to them, the American Government gave it their most energetic co‑operation. Their rigorous system of embargoes upon all goods not intended for the Entente Powers automatically drew surplus American exports into British and Allied ships; as the scheme expanded, so the system of convoy expanded also; and the final consequence of these two measures was to ensure a supply of vital imports, and to give them adequate protection.

 

3

The French Coal Trade

 

We have seen that in his memorandum advising the adoption of a convoy system, Admiral Duff referred to the French coal trade as one of the instances which had influenced his decision. He was here referring to an experiment with a somewhat elementary form of convoy which had given very satisfactory results. The coal trade between Britain and France had been very severely attacked during the last part of the year 1916, and at the instance of the French authorities a system of controlled sailing had been put in force on February 7. The traffic was distributed over three routes. The first‑route "A" ‑ ran between Mount's Bay and Brest; the second and third, "B" and "C," between Weymouth and Cherbourg and Weymouth and le Havre. Crossings took place every twenty‑four hours; the vessels engaged in the trade were either sent across in groups steaming in rough formation and proceeding according to special route instructions, or were escorted by armed trawlers of the Auxiliary Patrol. The forces allotted to escort duty were not large; eleven armed trawlers protected the crossings between Mount's Bay and Brest; fifteen sufficed for the Havre and Cherbourg. routes. That the results were satisfactory can be seen from the following figures:‑

 

 

Route A.

Mount's Bay to Brest

Route B.

Weymouth to Cherbourg

Route C.

Weymouth to le Havre

Total.

Month.

1917

No. of ships convoyed.

No. of ships lost.

No. of ships convoyed.

No. of ships lost.

No. of ships convoyed.

No. of ships lost.

No. of ships convoyed.

No. of ships lost.

March .

364

Nil

121

Nil

715

3

1,200

3

April .

401

2

148

Nil

834

Nil

1,383

2

May .

454

3

242

Nil

737

1

1,433

4

 

These figures were certainly striking; to Admiral Duff they were a clear suggestion that Atlantic trade would be better protected if it sailed in convoys. But the suggestion did not yet amount to a proof. There were great technical differences between the controlled sailings of the French coal trade and the system of trade defence that had just been ordered. It could be arranged that the freighters in the coal trade to France should do most of the cross‑Channel passage at night. It would be quite impossible for the ocean convoys to have any equivalent security, for they would be at least two days and nights in the danger area. Still, the exceptional immunity that the French coal trade had enjoyed since it had been placed under this modified system of convoy was certainly remarkable. During the quarter ending April 1917 rather fewer than thirty armed trawlers had given protection to over 4000 cross‑Channel voyages. On the Penzance-Brest route, which could not be traversed in a single night, three trawlers were generally allotted to convoys which might number twenty vessels. This entirely disposed of the objection that escorts to be effective would have to outnumber the convoy. Figures and statistics dealt quite as decisively with the argument that convoys would prove exceptionally vulnerable. During the months of March and April German submarines had delivered nearly two hundred attacks in the Channel area, only about twenty of which had been directed

 

June‑July 1916

THE DUTCH PATROL

 

against the controlled groups in the French coal trade. Nor was this difficulty merely the effect of darkness: a considerable number of the attacks upon isolated ships had been made at night. This successful experiment therefore suggested one of two conclusions, both highly favourable‑either that the German submarine commanders were chary of attacking merchantmen sailing in groups, and under escort, or that such groups were difficult to find. Moreover, it appeared that these conclusions were not conditioned by the strength of the escort or the looseness of the formation in which the convoy sailed.

 

 

4

The Dutch Patrol

 

Of all the traffic routes, that between the Thames and Holland had the distinction of being the easiest to attack. Not only could it be raided from the Bight in an operation of a few hours' duration, but also on the flank of the route lay Zeebrugge with its flotilla of submarines and new destroyers. Yet it was not till the end of June 1916 that on this specially vulnerable line any notable loss occurred. On the 23rd of that month Zeebrugge destroyers captured the British packet Brussels, which had made many passages unscathed, and which was then commanded by Captain Fryatt. Another packet of the same line was to leave the Hook of Holland three days later, and a special patrol of the 9th Flotilla from Harwich was sent out to safeguard her passage. The patrol was not an escort; it was to keep out of sight of the packet, lest she should mistake our destroyers for the enemy, but it was to steam parallel with her so as to be at hand in case of attack. No attack developed; the packet's voyage to England passed without incident. From this date onward the Harwich Force was called upon to provide whenever possible a strong patrol off the Dutch coast, with the idea of surprising any German destroyers which might come out of Zeebrugge to attack the traffic with Holland.

 

On July 5 (1916), a day on which no patrol happened to be out, another British steamer on the Dutch route was captured and its crew taken prisoners to Zeebrugge. Two vessels were due to leave Holland next day, one a railway packet and the other a steamer of the Dutch Batavier line. The provision of direct escort for the British ship presented no difficulties, and five Harwich destroyers sailed to meet her. But to give the Batavier a similar escort would confer on her the status of a protected convoy, and would deprive her of such precarious immunity from destruction without warning as neutrals were supposed to enjoy in the submarine campaign of that period. The difficulty was surmounted by the despatch of five Harwich destroyers to meet her at the Maas light vessel and unostentatiously to keep in sight of her during her passage. As it happened she sailed earlier than the appointed time and was not met till she had completed half her voyage; but the case is of special interest, since she was the first Dutch vessel to receive escort, discreet though it was, from British naval forces.

 

In pursuance of an agreement made with the Dutch agricultural interests, a large amount of food which had formerly been sent to Germany was allocated to England, and the number of passages of ships employed to transport this food was proportionately increased. To baffle submarines the vessels crossed at night. It was naturally anticipated that ships carrying away from Holland food which had been diverted from Germany would be a special target, probably for destroyer attack, and the Harwich Force was ordered to patrol whenever the ships made the passage. Late on July 19 the Admiralty learned that German destroyers were off the Hook of Holland. Commodore Tyrwhitt was at sea with the patrol on the Dutch coast; he was warned of the enemy's presence, but since no meeting took place it is probable that the German destroyers had gone home by the time he received the Admiralty's message. Three days later, when he was out again on this patrol, he met and engaged a few enemy destroyers, driving them off and securing the safe arrival of all the merchant vessels on passage.

 

This special protection of British ships on the Dutch passage steadily and rapidly grew into a definite routine known familiarly as the Beef Trip. Before the end of July 1916 the arrangements took the form of a convoy with escort. (The orders of July 31 describe the group of steamers as a "convoy.") On July 26, five British vessels left the Hook of Holland in company, with orders to follow a certain route, eight other ships proceeding from the Downs at the same time along the same route reversed; the eastbound convoy was escorted to Dutch waters and the westbound brought back from there, each convoy having a direct escort of one light cruiser and four destroyers, while a similar force patrolled at the Schouwen to tackle any destroyers which might come out from Zeebrugge. Thenceforward British steamers to and from Holland passed only in convoys. These were arranged at intervals of two or three days and consisted of four to nine ships, the westbound convoy leaving Holland at the same time as the

 

July‑Oct. 1916

THE DUTCH PATROL

 

eastbound passed the North Hinder light vessel; and the escort of these frequent convoys was one of the principal activities of the Harwich Force.

 

The convoys crossed at night, a measure intended to give the maximum amount of difficulty to any attacking force. These night crossings had their disadvantages, however ‑ the ships in the convoys were apt to straggle from their differences of speed. One particularly slow vessel, the Orient, was frequently the subject of adverse comment by the commanding officers of the escorts, who pointed out that she either had to be permitted to act as a drag on the other ships or else had to be furnished with an individual escort, thus robbing the whole convoy of part of its protection. In spite of the firm conviction of the escort officers that the Orient was bound to be torpedoed before long, it was not she that became the first loss after this convoy system had been inaugurated. The Colchester was another Great Eastern Railway steamer similar to the Brussels, whose capture had led to the routine convoying of the traffic with Holland. On September 21 she was one of an eastbound convoy of four ships which had orders to pass seven miles to the northward of the North Hinder at 10.0 p.m. There the escorting destroyers would wait to pick them up and escort them to Dutch territorial waters. The night was very dark but of unusual clearness. At the appointed time the waiting destroyers saw only two steamers eastbound. They refrained from making signals in order not to attract the enemy's attention; but since the well‑known Colchester had not arrived, two of the destroyers remained at the rendezvous to wait for her and the other ship. Neither appeared: in fact, the last had not sailed. But of the Colchester's fate nothing was known till the 23rd, when Wolff's Bureau reported that she had been taken into Zeebrugge during the night of September 21‑22.

 

The loss of the Colchester led to a radical change in the convoy routine. A new set of orders was issued by Commodore Tyrwhitt on October 5. The principle of direct escort was abandoned. The passage was made entirely in daylight. Eastbound traffic passed the North Hinder at 10.0 a.m. and westbound ships left the Hook of Holland at 7.0 a.m. The whole of their route was divided into eight sections, and during the passage of the merchant vessels each of the eight sections was occupied by a destroyer zigzagging at fifteen knots. Thus the method of "convoy" was superseded by the method of "patrolled routes." But this lasted only a month. In November (1916) the system of directly escorting a convoy was reinstated, with the slight modification that the four escorting destroyers were to spread themselves so that the leading destroyer should be on the beam of the leading merchant vessel and the last destroyer on the beam of the last ship.

 

The security resulting from this routine convoy system had the effect of increasing the size of the groups escorted twice a week. The convoys of November 27 consisted of eight eastbound and eleven westbound ships. To the relief of the escort officers the slow old Orient was no longer on this trade; there were other ships nearly as slow, but they made the passage time after time without being attacked. From the inauguration of convoys to Holland in July 1916 to the outbreak of "unrestricted " warfare in February 1917, the only loss recorded was that of the Colchester.

 

5

American Reinforcements

 

We have seen that the prospect of American naval assistance and harbour facilities had influenced the Admiralty in their recent decision. Admiral Jellicoe had referred to it in the memorandum which he laid before the War Cabinet on April 23 (1917), and Admiral Duff had mentioned it as one of the reasons for his proposal of a system of convoy on April 26. Arrangements had not at that date gone very far, but the few decisions taken gave hope that American co‑operation would be free and ungrudging. The Admiralty were therefore justified in reckoning upon it when making new plans for the conduct of the naval campaign.

 

As far back as March 28 the Admiralty had cabled to the British Naval Attachˇ in Washington, to tell him that he might henceforward communicate the Admiralty's views to the authorities in the Navy Department, whenever his advice was asked for. In particular, he was informed that the Admiralty were prepared to base a force of destroyers on the south‑west coast of Ireland, to operate against enemy submarines and protect trade.

 

At about the same time that the British Naval Attachˇ received these instructions, the American Government itself moved in the matter. In the latter part of March 1917, Admiral Sims, who was then serving as President of the Naval War College at Newport, was summoned to Washington, told that war with Germany was imminent, and ordered to proceed to London as rapidly and secretly as he could. His orders were to "study the naval situation and learn how we

 

April 1917

ADMIRAL SIMS' VISIT

 

could best and most quickly co‑operate in the naval war." He reached England on April 9, and interviewed Admiral Jellicoe on the following day. America had declared war on April 6 and there was no longer any reason for reserve or secrecy.

 

Admiral Jellicoe seems to have described the position to Admiral Sims in the same way that he described it later on in his memorandum to the War Cabinet: the losses in our merchant fleet were so serious that they could not be borne, and the first and most urgent need was for destroyer reinforcements in the Queenstown command. In addition, the Admiralty desired the American navy to strengthen our hold on the outer routes by establishing a flying squadron in the Atlantic to hunt for raiders, by keeping squadrons off the south‑east coast of America, the Gulf of Mexico, and the west coast of America as far as Panama; and by maintaining another squadron in China to look after Allied interests in the Far East. In the matter of the blockade, the American Government was asked to institute special examination of neutral vessels loading in the United States.

 

The actual facts of the submarine campaign were a revelation to Admiral Sims; he had never imagined for an instant that the situation of the Allies was so critical, and he lost no time in cabling two very serious reports to the Navy Department. He accepted the Admiralty's view without demur; the submarine campaign was the deciding factor of the war, and the decisive theatre of the campaign was the "focus of all lines of communication in the Eastern Atlantic." He therefore urged that the Navy Department should immediately send as many destroyers and anti‑submarine craft as could possibly be spared. The destroyers were to be based on Queenstown and have an advanced base at Berehaven; the anti‑submarine craft were to set up an inshore patrol. In order to overcome any possible opposition or reluctance on the part of the Navy Department, Admiral Sims added a detailed criticism of the suggested alternatives which were then being discussed in London and (presumably) in Washington.

 

With regard to convoy he unreservedly accepted the Admiralty's view that it was impossible ‑ the High Naval Command had not at that date changed their opinion ‑ and that the project of sealing up the entrances to the German rivers was equally impracticable. Finally, remembering, probably, how much the popular clamour for protection of the American coasts had tied the hands of the naval authorities during the Spanish war, Admiral Sims refuted the notion that the German submarine campaign was likely to spread into the Western Atlantic. "The evidence is conclusive that, regardless of any enemy diversions such as raids on our coasts or elsewhere, the critical area, in which the war's decision will be made, is in the Eastern Atlantic. .... The known number of enemy submarines, and their rate of construction, allowing liberal factors for errors of information, render it inevitable that the main submarine effort must continue to be concentrated in the above critical area. .... From consideration of the above, and all other essential information available, it is apparent that the enemy could not disperse his main submarine campaign into other quarters of the globe without diminishing results in this and all areas. .... "

 

Meanwhile conferences had been taking place in the United States. On April 10, Admirals M. E. Browning and Grasset, the Allied Commanders‑in‑Chief of the North American and West Indies Station, met the American naval authorities at Hampton Roads. After a preliminary discussion they went on to Washington, and a conference was held in the Navy Department buildings, with Mr. J. Daniels, the Secretary to the Navy, acting as Chairman. In his opening remarks Mr. Daniels said that the American navy wished to co‑operate with the Allies "to the utmost of its power," and both he and the American Admirals made good their promise. On April 13, Admiral Browning cabled to London that the Americans had practically undertaken to carry out all the suggestions made to them. A squadron was to be kept in constant readiness to act against raiders. An East Coast of America Squadron would be equipped and sent out as soon as possible; the United States navy would look after the west coast of North America from the Canadian to the Columbian boundary, and would supervise and patrol the Gulf of Mexico; also, the United States China Squadron would remain in the Pacific.

 

On April 24 Mr. Balfour arrived in America with a Mission, composed of Lord Cunliffe, who was commissioned to deal in questions of finance, Mr. Layton, the representative of the Ministry of Munitions, Mr. Anderson, the Chairman of the Wheat Commission, General G. T. M. Bridges, and Admiral Sir D. R. S. de Chair. The members of the Mission were made the guests of the American nation, and received the same assurances of whole‑hearted, unstinted assistance that had been given to the naval Commander‑in‑Chief. All the United States Government asked for was a candid explanation of the problems involved in mobilising the national resources. They were ready to act drastically on all matters relating to the

 

April‑May 1917

AMERICAN REINFORCEMENTS

 

blockade of Germany. Their representative undertook to set up an Exports Control Committee, with a Licensing Bureau subordinate to it, and they undertook to be guided by the British War Trade Intelligence Department in all matters relating to evidence against consignees and rations for neutral States, but not themselves to publish or issue a statutory black list.

 

The Americans acted very promptly on the immediate question of destroyer reinforcements. On May 4 the 8th Division, composed of six destroyers, arrived at Queenstown; they were followed, on the 17th, by the 9th Division; and on the 24th by the 6th:

 

8th Division: Wadsworth, Conyngham, Porter, Wainwright, MacDougall, Davis.

9th Division: Rowan, Cassin, Ericsson, Tucker, Winslow, Jacob Jones.

6th Division: Cushing, Sampson, Benham, Nicholson, Cummings, O'Brien.

 

The Queenstown command thus received an important reinforcement of eighteen destroyers, two months after America had declared war.

 

These reinforcements made it possible to redistribute the naval forces in the Irish area. The northern approach route, which closes the Irish coast near Tory Island, had been only weakly protected since the submarine campaign began; and the Admiralty were anxious to strengthen the defence.

 

On May 4, therefore, all "E" class submarines in the Queenstown command were ordered north to Lough Swilly, to operate along the parallel of 55 degrees N. between the meridians of 11 degrees and 13 degrees W.; and on what was known as the exit route between the 10th and 12th meridians. Later, this submarine patrol was reinforced by four destroyers from Queenstown. Also, the Admiralty appointed Rear‑Admiral F. S. Miller to take charge of the northern division of the Irish Command (May 18), which was created to relieve the growing pressure of work upon Queenstown.

 

These measures were supplemented by another which affected the anti‑submarine campaign in the Channel. The air patrols of the coastal routes were now recognised to be an exceedingly important item in our system of defence. On the French side there were air stations at Dunkirk (10 seaplanes, 5 pursuit planes), Boulogne (5 seaplanes), Havre (5 seaplanes), Cherbourg (4 seaplanes), Brest (13 seaplanes), each with a definite patrol zone allotted to it; and on the British side at Newhaven (12 machines), at Bembridge (12 machines), at Calshot (4 machines) and at Portland (12 machines).

 

The need for co‑ordinating the work of these two organisations was obvious; and, at the instance of Commander Laborde ‑ the head of the French Naval Aviation Service ‑ a conference assembled at the Admiralty on May 11. The limits of the British and French patrol zones were settled, and a common code of visual and wireless signals was drawn up, in order that submarines when located in one zone should not be lost sight of, but should be followed up by the aerial and surface forces of any zone into which they might subsequently enter.

 

 

6

The Flanders Bight, April‑May, 1917

 

We have already seen that naval officers clung tenaciously to the idea of checking the submarine campaign by a direct attack upon the Flanders coast. There could be no question at all that the idea was excellent, whether it was possible of execution was another matter. The defences of the Flanders coastline were exceptionally strong. A heavy battery (the Kaiser Wilhelm II) had been erected at Knocke to the eastward of the Bruges canal; one and a half miles to the west of Ostend was the Tirpitz battery; and two more were under construction. (The Kaiser Wilhelm II mounted four 12‑inch guns, range 41,000 yards; the Tirpitz mounted four 11‑inch guns, range 35,000 yards.)

 

 

Between these batteries the coast was defended by a large number of mobile and semi‑mobile guns, trenches and machine‑gun nests. Admiral Bacon did not think that these formidable obstacles made a landing impossible, and he had drawn up a detailed plan for putting three brigades ashore at Middelkirke, behind the German right flank. The plan had been approved by the military authorities, but it was not to be put into operation until the army had advanced to a certain predetermined line. This project, which was little more than a flanking movement from the sea against limited objectives, did not affect the bigger question of attacking the two bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge. To all appearances they were invulnerable: even if the shore defences could be temporarily mastered and a landing effected, the ultimate fate of in expedition which could not join hands with the armies in Flanders could hardly be in doubt. The Germans would mass enough forces to drive the landing forces from the strip of coast that they had seized and mow them down on the Flanders beaches from their gun positions in the dunes. There was, none the less, one weak point in this powerful system of defence, a weak spot which could not be strengthened or protected. Zeebrugge is, as its name implies, the harbour of Bruges ‑ in the Walloon nomenclature

 

May 1917

ADMIRAL BACON'S PLAN

 

the matter is put more clearly, the place is called Bruges-port‑de‑rner; but it is a seaport by artifice, not by nature. Continuous traffic can only be maintained between Bruges and its harbour by means of the locks at Zeebrugge. "With these destroyed," wrote Admiral Bacon, " the canal would be made tidal and communication with Bruges practically stopped." As there could be little doubt that two 15‑inch shells from the monitors would wreck the lock gates, if they hit them, the consequences of a successful bombardment would be far‑reaching. The difficulties were, however, very great. Owing to the presence of the Kaiser Wilhelm battery, with its effective range of twenty sea miles, the bombardment would have to be carried out by indirect fire; the problem resolved itself into that of hitting an invisible target ninety feet long and thirty feet wide from a distance of about thirteen miles. Every difficulty inherent in bombarding the land from the sea would thus be magnified in this particular operation. The direction of the target could only be found by a rough experiment, subject to every kind of error; the results of the bombardment would have to be communicated by aeroplanes hovering above hostile territory and engaged with the enemy's air forces; the bombarding ships being well within the range of the Kaiser Wilhelm battery, might be overwhelmed by the enemy's fire before our gunfire could be corrected by the fine adjustments necessary for hitting so small a target.

 

Admiral Bacon had calculated the chances of a successful issue with scientific detachment. "Theoretically," he wrote in a general memorandum, "with a gun laid accurately for range and direction, one round in every sixty‑three should hit a gate. Hence, at least 126 rounds are required to make a hit probable on each of two gates. As, however, the laying will not be so exact as with a shore gun, at least twice this number, or 252 rounds, will be required." The three monitors capable of bombarding at long range: the Erebus, Terror and Marshall Soult, could each fire one round per minute. The bombardment would therefore have to last at least eighty‑four minutes for the 252 rounds to be fired. Admiral Bacon had also to consider whether he could legitimately incur the risk of loss involved in this protracted operation, carried out within range of the Kaiser Wilhelm battery. This was not reducible to an arithmetical calculation; but his analysis of the chances of success led him to believe that if the enemy could be taken by surprise, and the bombardment opened before they had time to range and lay their guns, and if the bombarding ships could be well hidden by smoke screens, then there was a good chance that the enemy would be unable to find the range during the eighty‑five minutes allotted to the operation. The question could not, however, be settled beforehand. "Undoubtedly to break up the lock gates would be worth the loss of a monitor," wrote Admiral Bacon, "but the loss of three monitors, with the gates left intact, would mean that totally unjustifiable risks had been run. No indication, therefore, of my probable decision on this point can be given in advance."

 

The greatest obstacle to a successful issue was, however, that the operation could only be carried out under conditions of wind and weather which did not occur except at rare and irregular intervals. If the bombardment was to come as a surprise the bombarding monitors would all have to be in their firing positions before daybreak; morning mists hanging over the target would wreck the operation; the tide would have to be running along the coast so that the anchored vessels would keep their broadsides towards the target. If the clouds were low, aeroplane spotting would be impossible, and the wind would have to be in the first or fourth quadrants in order to keep the smoke screen constantly between the ships and the shore. A shift of wind to the south‑east or south‑west would simply blow the screen across the bombarding vessels. The necessary conditions, if once obtained, could hardly be expected to hold for any length of time; so that there was little chance that an operation nearly successful on one day could be renewed on the next. Admiral Bacon allotted forty‑one ships and launches to the operation:

 

3

15‑inch monitors: Terror (flag); Marshall Soult and Erebus.

1

12‑inch monitor: Sir John Moore.

2

"M" monitors: Nos. 24 and 26.

2

destroyer leaders: Botha and Faulknor.

8

destroyers (6th Flotilla): Lochinvar, Landrail, Lydiard, Mentor, Moorsom, Morris, Mermaid, Racehorse.

6

paddle minesweepers.

19

motor launches.

Commodore Tyrwhitt detached 2 flotilla cruisers (Lightfoot and Nimrod) and 12 destroyers to assist and cover the operation.

 

Three times Admiral Bacon assembled his bombarding squadron in the Downs and started for Zeebrugge, and on each occasion a change in the weather compelled him to turn back. On the evening of May 11 he had again collected his squadron in the Downs anchorage and had issued orders for the operation to be carried out on the following morning, but the ships began to leave between eleven and twelve, when it was still pitch dark, and there was as little certainty as ever before that the bombardment would take place. The first

 

May 1917

BOMBARDMENT OF ZEEBRUGGE

 

part of the plan was a piece of preparatory work upon which the success of the whole operation depended. It was to lay a buoy in the bombarding position, and then to discover the true bearing of this buoy from the base of the mole. In time of peace there would have been no difficulty here: the problem would have been solved by astronomic and geodesic observations; but as neither astronomy nor geodesy can be practised off an enemy's coast, within range of an enemy's batteries, the true bearing had to be obtained by a very hazardous experiment. The duty was entrusted to Commander J. S. G. Fraser; at eleven o'clock he got under way in the Lochinvar, with the Lydiard accompanying him, and, after steaming for three and a half hours, laid the first buoy, from the Lydiard, about fifteen miles to the north‑westward of the head of the mole. This buoy was intended to guide the squadron to its bombarding position, and Commander Fraser stayed by it until he saw the fleet approaching. He then steamed on to the position of the bombarding mark, which he laid at about twenty minutes to four. After a further wait he turned towards Zeebrugge and started his difficult and risky experiment.

 

His method of obtaining the true bearing, upon which the whole bombardment depended for its success, was to steam right up to the mole on a steady course and at a regular speed, to note down carefully how the mole bore when it was sighted, and from the observations thus obtained to work out how the bombarding ships bore from their target. He started at four o'clock; it was by then full daylight, but the weather was so misty that he could only see a mile ahead; as a consequence he knew that he would have to steam almost to the muzzles of the German guns before he could get his bearing. As he steamed in, he heard the German anti-aircraft gunners open fire upon the aeroplanes which had been sent up from St. Pol to spot the fall of the shot. The mist was still thick, and a few minutes later he realised that the Lochinvar was in very shoal water; shortly afterwards he saw "the loom of the mole" quite close ahead, and turned the ship under her screws. The anti‑aircraft guns were then heavily engaged. The Lochinvar was back at the buoy at a quarter to five, and Commander Fraser at once signalled the bearing and distance which he had risked so much to obtain.

 

Meanwhile Admiral Bacon had reached his bombarding position. Near the buoy laid by Commander Fraser were the Erebus, the Terror and the Marshall Soult. To the north-north‑west of them was the Sir John Moore, which was to be used as a back‑aiming mark. Well to windward and towards the shore was the line of the motor boats anchored on a line of bearing, ready to loose the smoke screen. The destroyers and flotilla leaders and older monitors were stationed round the bombarding ships in a rough rectangle. The Lightfoot, with a group of Harwich destroyers, detached on the previous evening, was cruising near the Thornton Banks, ready to act as a covering force if the enemy's destroyers attempted to interfere with the operation: the Nimrod and four destroyers were zigzagging round the fleet as a submarine screen. The paddle minesweepers with their sweeps out were dragging between the firing monitors and the Sir John Moore.

 

Owing to the haze the squadron could not open fire at the scheduled time, and this threw out the air force arrangements. The Royal Naval Air Force headquarters at Dunkirk allocated two spotting machines for Zeebrugge, and covered them with an escort of nine Sopwith planes. In addition to this, six fighting machines from No. 10 Squadron were sent to fly over the fleet and protect it against interference by hostile bombers; and a force of seven machines, taken from No. 4 Squadron, was ordered to patrol the coast and fight all enemy machines which interfered with the spotters. The two spotting machines left the ground at two o'clock; but one of them was compelled to land in Holland owing to engine trouble: the second machine reached Zeebrugge before 3 a.m. and was obliged to wait for nearly two hours before firing began. The spotting of the fall of shot upon which so much depended was thus carried out by one machine with a failing supply of petrol.

 

The firing began shortly before five, a few minutes after Commander Fraser reported the bearing and distance of Zeebrugge mole. The first shells fell very short, and as a considerable number of shells did not burst, spotting corrections were not received for every shot; but the bombardment became very accurate after five o'clock; the Marshall Soult's twelfth round was reported as a hit, the Erebus was declared to have found the target with her twenty‑sixth round. The results of the Terror's shooting were rather more difficult to ascertain, as she was most hampered by the partial breakdown of the spotting arrangements, owing to the failure of the shells. Of the 250 shells sent down, only forty‑five were reported. More than that, the spotting machine was so short of petrol that she had to go back at half‑past five; and during the last half‑hour the shells had to be kept on the target by estimated corrections.

 

For the first hour the enemy only interfered with the

 

May 1917

BOMBARDMENT OF ZEEBRUGGE

 

operation by endeavouring to jam the wireless reports of the spotting machine and by keeping up a steady fire from the anti‑aircraft artillery; but towards six o'clock his opposition began to stiffen. The seven machines of No. 4 Squadron left the ground at about five o'clock, and reached Zeebrugge about three‑quarters of an hour later. They were at once engaged by a German squadron of more than twice their number, and a long engagement took place in the air over the scene of the bombardment. The aeroplanes of No. 4 Squadron were reinforced by some of the escort machines; but throughout the enemy overweighted and outnumbered them. The British formation was split up at the beginning of the action; but in spite of the disadvantages under which they fought, our airmen got the upper hand in the struggle. Five enemy machines were shot down, three of which fell into the sea, and it was largely due to this successful action in the air that the squadron completed its bombardment unmolested.

 

At six o'clock Admiral Bacon ordered the ships to weigh and the firing ceased. The Knocke battery was just opening fire, and he returned to harbour under the impression that the lock gates were damaged and that the operation had been successful. He was nearly, but not quite right. Photographs taken from the air, a week later, showed that at least fifteen shells had fallen on the western side of the lock within a few yards of the gates; on the eastern side the shot had been more scattered; but four shells had only missed the target by the same tantalisingly narrow margin. The pump house and its engine escaped by a sort of miracle. The basin to the north of the locks had been hit and the dockyard had been considerably damaged; but after as before the bombardment, Zeebrugge was a base from which the destroyers and submarines could operate with telling effect. The operation had not succeeded; but the details of its execution remain as a permanent record of how the difficulties of coastal bombardment may be faced and overcome. (See Map 12.)

 

 

7

The Submarine Campaign, May, 1917

(See Map 1.)

 

During the month of May the results of the war against shipping showed that the German submarines had not been able to sustain the tremendous effort of the previous month. It was estimated that in April, 50 U, UB‑ and UC‑boats had been at work, and that the total number of days spent on cruise had been 660; in May these figures had fallen to 40 and 585. The number of UB‑ and UC‑boats had been the same as in April (about 24); but the number of operating U‑boats had fallen from 25 to 16. As the large type of submarine was particularly allotted to the south‑western approaches and the Atlantic the losses on the outer routes had been slightly less severe ‑ they had fallen from 191 vessels to 156. In the Channel the sinkings had not varied (56 vessels sunk in April, 59 in May). The relaxation was thus only slight and the figures were almost as alarming as they had been in April.

 

During May, 352,569 tons of British shipping were sunk, and the total destruction amounted to 596,629 tons. The Germans had, moreover, contrived to operate successfully against the Spanish ore trade off the north coast of Spain. On the first of the month, a UB‑boat appeared off the Cantabrian coast near Santander, where she sank the Portuguese steamer Barreiro. She then steamed west, and sank five ships off Ribadeira on the 3rd and 4th. Two days later she was off Gijon, where she sank two more, and on the 7th she was off Bilbao. The attack was renewed by a UC‑boat, which sank four vessels between Bilbao and Coruna between the 25th and 28th. This attempt to interfere with the Spanish ore trade was an extremely serious matter. Spanish freighters had practically abandoned the trade when unrestricted submarine war began; and the Spanish Government had stipulated that all vessels arriving at a Spanish port to load ore must bring with them coal to the proportion of 33 per cent. of the ore they intended to carry. (See Fayle, Seaborne Trade, Vol. III., p. 51.) The German submarines were thus attacking a vital traffic which was already working under great difficulties; if the German naval staff had been able to keep submarines off the Spanish coast for longer periods, there can be but little doubt that the ore trade would practically have ceased.

 

The statistics of the losses in ocean traffic suggested that ocean convoy ‑ the measure to which we were striving to give effect ‑ was likely to affect the existing position considerably. As has already been shown, the defensive system then in force mainly applied to outgoing traffic; incoming vessels were only given general instructions, because there was no means of closely controlling the routes and movements of ships which had left their ports of departure a week or ten days before their arrival in the approaches to the British Isles. The list of sinkings showed that the Admiralty system of control had certainly kept the losses in outgoing vessels within limits, and that if it had been possible to take the same measure with regard to the import trade, the defence would

 

May 1917

THE FIRST OCEAN CONVOY

 

have been much less ineffective than it still was. The figures were these:

 

ATTACKS ON VESSELS IN THE NORTHERN ATLANTIC AND THE CHANNEL

 

1917

Vessels attacked whilst approaching Great Britain, France or Scandinavia from foreign ports in the N. and S. Atlantic.

Vessels attacked whilst proceeding from Great Britain, France or Scandinavia to foreign ports in the N. and S. Atlantic.

Vessels attacked whilst plying in local British trade or trade between Great Britain and France.

Fishing vessels attacked.

Attacks on vessels with an unascertained destination.

March

69

32

60

62

26

April

110

30

32

9

36

May

100

20

38

20

28

 

It will be seen at a glance that the import trade was now five times as vulnerable as the export trade, and that the ratio was rising. Obviously, therefore, armed escort was the only method of protecting that part of our ocean traffic which could not be brought within our existing system of defence.

 

 

8

The First Convoy, May, 1917

 

Meanwhile the first experimental test of the new Admiralty policy had been carried out successfully. On April 28 the Admiralty had telegraphed to the Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar, informing him that it was proposed to start convoys for British and Allied vessels from that port, and that the first convoy should sail in about ten days' time. He was further informed that such convoys should not exceed twenty vessels, and should not include ships of more than eleven knots speed, as the sea speed of the convoy was not expected to exceed seven knots. He was to be prepared to fit each ship of the convoy with portable telephone from fore‑bridge to engine‑room, and fog buoy casks for station‑keeping. On May 4 a further telegram was sent, instructing him to begin assembling vessels for convoy on May 7.

 

Meanwhile, Captain H. C. Lockyer received orders to go out to Gibraltar and take charge of the first convoy. On May 2 he sailed from Devonport with the special service ships Mavis (Acting Commander A. St. V. Keyes) and Rule (Lieutenant R. Langton‑Jones), which were to act as ocean escorts. He arrived at Gibraltar on May 7, and by May 10 a convoy of sixteen steamers had been organised. On that day a conference was held with the masters and chief engineers of the merchant ships, at which the arrangements for stationkeeping, etc., were explained, and in the evening the convoy sailed. It was organised in three columns, the port column, in accordance with the instructions taken out by Captain Lockyer, comprising the steamers (five in number) bound for west coast ports. Three armed yachts from Gibraltar acted as additional escort through the danger zone as far as 11 degrees west. The route followed was selected by the S.N.O. Gibraltar from one of two set out in the Admiralty instructions. Each merchant ship was provided with a signal rating R.N.V.R., for the purpose of taking in and repeating signals. Captain Lockyer, as Commodore of the convoy, led the centre column in the s.s. Clan Gordon. No enemy submarine was encountered, and the station‑keeping and attention to signals proved on the whole satisfactory. The chief trouble was the inability of the lower‑powered ships to maintain their nominal speed at sea. Although the actual speed of the convoy averaged only 6 1/2 knots, one seven‑knot vessel had to be allowed, on two occasions, to proceed independently, and cut off a corner of the route, in order to arrive at the destroyer rendezvous in time.

 

The escort of six destroyers from Devonport should have been met at 8 a.m. on May 18; but owing to the convoy being twenty miles west of the rendezvous, they were not actually met until 4 p.m. on that day. When south of the Scillies the west coast column was detached, under escort of two destroyers, and dispersed off the Smalls on May 20. The east coast columns put into Plymouth on May 20, and sailed again the same evening. Off Portland the escort was relieved by twenty‑four drifters from Poole, and the convoy proceeded up Channel in three divisions, each escorted by eight drifters. They arrived in the Downs on May 22, and from thence sailed to their respective destinations.

 

The success of this initial experiment was extremely encouraging, and went far to allay misgivings as to station-keeping. Further, the opinion of the masters, as expressed to the Convoy Committee, was that sailing in convoy greatly relieved the strain in the danger zone, by freeing them from the risk of capture, if not of sinking, and from all anxiety as to courses and the procedure to be adopted in view of war warnings.

 

Meanwhile, news came in that the authorities in the United States viewed the new Admiralty policy with deep misgiving. In their opinion, transmitted by cable to the Admiralty, defensively armed vessels were safer than vessels under

 

June 1917

BOMBARDMENT OF OSTEND

 

convoy; and early in May, when the Navy Department at Washington was asked to assemble a convoy of from sixteen to twenty Allied vessels, and to send them across to England under the escort of a group of American destroyers which were then about to leave, they answered that they considered the ships to be escorted were too numerous, and that they ought only to sail in groups of four. The proposal was, therefore, not pressed, the destroyers sailed by themselves, and the merchant ships crossed singly without escort.

 

 

9

The Flanders Bight, May‑June, 1917

 

Admiral Bacon had intended to follow up his bombardment of Zeebrugge by a bombardment of Ostend dockyard on May 26; but the weather prevented him. A second attempt on the following day (May 27) had to be abandoned, and it was not until June 4 that conditions were favourable. A bombarding squadron of two monitors, two flotilla leaders, six destroyers, two P‑boats and twelve motor launches left Dover at 10 p.m. on June 4, and made for the outer Ratel Bank.'

 

(Erebus, Terror (monitors), Botha, Faulknor (Flotilla leaders), Lochinvar, Lance, Manly, Mentor, Moorsom, Miranda (destroyers); P‑boats Nos. 11 and 50; motor launches Nos. 532, 279, 239, 252, 105, 282, 103, 282, 110, 280, 283, 276.)

 

At nine o'clock on the same evening Commodore Tyrwhitt, with four light cruisers, a flotilla leader and eight destroyers, left Harwich to cover the bombardment from the Thornton Bank;

 

(Centaur (broad pendant), Concord, Canterbury, Conquest (Light Cruisers), Lightfoot (Flotilla leader), Surprise, Truculent, Starfish, Recruit, Taurus, Sharpshooter, Satyr, Torrent (destroyers).)

 

he was followed half an hour later by the Undaunted, with three more light cruisers, and eight destroyers;

 

(Undaunted, Cleopatra, Aurora, Penelope (Light Cruisers), Thruster, Redoubt, Skilful, Phoebe, Sybille, Retriever, Radiant, Springbok (destroyers).)

 

this second detachment had orders to watch against enemy interference from the neighbourhood of the Schouwen Bank.

 

The preliminaries to the bombardment were similar to those for the operation against Zeebrugge. The firing buoy was to be laid by Commander Fraser, and its bearing and distance from the target was to be obtained by the same dangerous experiment. The ships not actually engaged in the bombardment were to be disposed round the firing monitors in a rough rectangle as before. The only difference was that the bombarding squadron was not quite so numerous as it was at Zeebrugge, and that the covering force sent out from Harwich was considerably stronger.

 

The force passed through a gap in the barrage near No. 11 A buoy, and steered for the northern end of the outer Ratel Bank. Just before one o'clock, Commander Fraser was sent forward in the Lochinvar, with the Lance in company. As he was approaching the Ratel Bank he sighted a group of German destroyers to the eastward, and at once reported their presence (1.42 a.m.). Admiral Bacon decided not to reinforce him: he could only do so by depriving the bombarding squadron of its destroyers, when just off a German submarine base, and a reinforcement would, moreover, announce the presence of larger forces. Commander Fraser endeavoured twice to pass the German destroyers and steam into Ostend; but they were too numerous and he was compelled to turn back. Admiral Bacon was thus compelled to take up his bombarding position by dead reckoning. He was still some way to the westward with the bombarding squadron; and at about a quarter past two he intercepted a signal from Commodore Tyrwhitt ordering his destroyers to steer south‑west. Some time after half‑past two, as his squadron was approaching the firing point, he heard gunfire to the northward and realised that Commodore Tyrwhitt was engaged.

 

 

Plan - The Bombardment of Ostend, June 5, 1917

 

After reaching his station near the Thornton Bank at a quarter‑past two, the Commodore started his patrol on a south‑westerly course. Just after half‑past two, when he was about half‑way between the Bligh and Thornton Banks, he sighted two destroyers ahead. They were steering to the westward, and he took them at first to be part of Admiral Bacon's forces; but almost upon being sighted they opened fire, and at once came under a crushing concentration from the British light cruisers and destroyers. For a few minutes the Germans continued on their westerly course; but as they began to feel the effects of our fire they turned and made for Zeebrugge: one of the boats, S.20, was by then badly damaged and lagging behind. Commodore Tyrwhitt now ordered Commander Hodgson to pursue them with his division (Taurus, Sharpshooter, Satyr, Torrent), and resumed his patrol with the light cruisers and the remaining division. The Undaunted with the light cruisers on the Schouwen Bank sighted the firing but kept their station. The pursuing division sank the crippled destroyer and followed hard upon the other, but at three o'clock Commodore Tyrwhitt recalled them, as he had sighted more German destroyers to the southward

 

June 1917

BOMBARDMENT OF OSTEND

 

and feared that Commander Hodgson might press in too close to the shore batteries. A few minutes later Admiral Bacon opened his bombardment of Ostend.

 

On receiving a signal from Commodore Tyrwhitt at a quarter to three, Admiral Bacon sent away the Mentor and Miranda to cut off the enemy's retreat into Zeebrugge: he anchored the squadron at about three, and the motor launches started the smoke screen. As daylight came up the shore was just visible and Admiral Bacon was able to correct his assumed position by a bearing of Ostend Cathedral. The bombardment began at twenty minutes past three and continued until four o'clock.

 

The enemy's batteries seem to have been better managed than at Zeebrugge; they replied to the bombardment only a few minutes after it began and kept up a steady and accurate fire upon the Erebus and Terror until they weighed. Fortunately the enemy's shells did no damage. At 4.20 the squadron was reformed for its return to Dover; Commodore Tyrwhitt, who had by then closed to about five miles, covered it from the northward.

 

The bombardment of Ostend differed from that of Zeebrugge in two particulars. Though the chance of doing irreparable or serious damage was slighter, the target was bigger; also, as Ostend was just visible from the sea, there was more chance of making accurate shooting. One hundred and fifteen shells were sent down, and of these about twenty exploded in or near the dockyard: the reports from our intelligence officers asserted that the workshops had not been much damaged, but that a lighter and a UC‑boat had been sunk, and that three destroyers of the flotilla, which were lying alongside the quays, were damaged. Our intelligence reports also stated that the bombardment had caused very great anxiety, and had made the German Command doubt, very seriously, whether Ostend was suitable as a destroyer base at all. This was probably an exaggeration; but there can be little doubt that if Admiral Bacon had been able to repeat these operations at short intervals, the increasing material damage would very much have hampered and obstructed German operations from the Flanders bases. Unfortunately, the extraordinary difficulties of the operation made successive repetitions of it impossible. Admiral Bacon was anxious to follow up his first experiments and arranged for a series of further operations. They were constantly postponed because one or more of the conditions necessary to a successful bombardment was lacking; and when, months later, the bombardments were renewed, the Germans had had plenty of time to make good the damage they had suffered and to strengthen their defences.

 

 

10

Convoy, June, 1917

 

Shortly after the Admiralty had decided to make the first experiments in convoying ocean traffic, a committee was appointed to study the whole question, and on June 6 they presented their report. It contained detailed proposals for the organisation of the necessary staff at the Admiralty and at the convoy assembly ports at home and abroad; for the equipment of merchant vessels, not already so provided, with the necessary signal apparatus and with voice pipes between bridge and engine‑room, to facilitate manoeuvring; and for the instructions to be given to the escorts, the commodore of each convoy, and the masters of the merchant ships. The actual programme of convoys suggested by the committee comprised eight homeward and eight outward convoys in every eight days. (The committee consisted of Captain H. W. Longden, Fleet‑Paymaster Manisty, Commander J. S. Wilde, Lieutenant G. E. Burton and Mr. Norman Leslie. It was upon their recommendations that the whole administrative mechanism of the convoy system was eventually assembled.)

 

For the homeward convoys the ports of assembly were to be New York, Hampton Roads, Dakar and Gibraltar. At New York, vessels from that port, Boston and Portland were to be collected, and these were to be joined at a sea rendezvous by steamers in the Canadian trade, originally assembled at Sydney, Cape Breton, in summer, or at Halifax in winter. Hampton Roads was to serve as the assembly port for all vessels homeward bound from Panama, the Gulf and Caribbean, as well as from United States Atlantic ports south of New York. Dakar would serve the whole trade of the South Atlantic ‑ vessels from South America, South and West Africa, and ships homeward bound from Australia and the East. From Gibraltar the Mediterranean trade would come home in convoy.

 

From each of these ports two convoys were to come home every eight days. Those from New York, Hampton Roads and Gibraltar were to be composed alternatively of vessels bound for ports on the west coast of the United Kingdom and those bound to the east and south coasts or to the northern French ports. The Dakar convoy, owing to the very miscellaneous character of the trade it served, was

 

June 1917

OCEAN CONVOYS

 

to be a "mixed" convoy containing ships bound for either coast.

 

In all convoys Allied ships, and approved neutral vessels in Allied employment, were to be included, provided they fell within the speed limit of less than 12 and above 8 1/4 knots. Ships of twelve knots and upwards were left to take their chance in independent sailings, as the risk to such vessels was smaller, and the delays caused by including them would be very great. On the other hand, it was felt that lame ducks of less than about 8 1/4 knots speed could not be included in the ocean convoys without undue delay to other ships. An exception, however, was made in respect of the Gibraltar convoy, to which a minimum speed of only 7 knots was assigned, owing to the large number of old, slow vessels in the coal and ore traffic. The average size of each convoy was expected to be about twenty ships.

 

All North and South Atlantic convoys were to be escorted by a cruiser, or a heavily armed merchantman, from the port of assembly to a rendezvous outside the submarine danger zone. Here they were to be met by an escort of destroyers or other suitable vessels, who would bring them to a point of dispersal, whence the passage of the ships to their final port of destination would be protected by coastal escorts. For the Gibraltar convoy ocean escort would be provided by special service vessels, and "destroyer escort" would be necessary at both ends of the passage. (The term "destroyer escort" was applied, both in the Report and in the subsequent actual organisation, to all danger zone escorts composed of destroyers, sloops, P‑boats and similar craft.)

 

For the outward traffic four convoys were proposed, each sailing twice during the eight‑day cycle. One would take out the North Atlantic trade from Liverpool and the Clyde; another the trade of the Bristol Channel to North and South Atlantic ports. A third convoy, with a southern port of assembly, would comprise all east coast ships bound for the Atlantic. Finally, a convoy for Gibraltar and the Mediterranean would sail every four days either from a southern or a western port.

 

As regards escort arrangements, the Gibraltar convoy was to be escorted the whole way by special service vessels, and both taken out and met by a "destroyer escort." The other convoys were to be taken clear of the submarine danger zone by a "destroyer escort," and accompanied for some distance further by a cruiser or "armed escort ship," being subsequently dispersed to their respective ports.

 

This programme certainly involved a heavy strain upon the fleet. The committee proceeded upon the assumption that six vessels would be required for the "destroyer escort" of each outward and homeward convoy. To provide this, they considered that fourteen flotillas of six vessels each would be required, two based on Gibraltar, and three each on Lough Swilly, Queenstown, Portland and Plymouth, giving a total of 84 destroyers or similar craft, in addition to 52 cruisers or "armed escort ships" for ocean escort.

 

On the same day on which the Convoy Committee presented their report, the experimental convoy from Hampton Roads was duly met by the destroyer escort at the appointed rendezvous. This convoy, consisting of twelve merchant ships, under ocean escort of H.M.S. Roxburgh (Captain F. A. Whitehead, R.N.), had sailed on May 24 in three columns, Commander G. L. Massey, of the Roxburgh, acting as Commodore. (The technical term for the officer second in command of a convoy, who would take command in case the C.O. should be disabled or unavailable.) The speed was nine knots; but this proved to be too much for two of the slower steamers, and as they were unarmed, Captain Whitehead ordered them to proceed to Halifax for guns. With the remaining ten vessels in company, the Roxburgh sailed for the destroyer rendezvous, exercising the ships in zigzagging as opportunity offered.

 

On the afternoon of June 4, the front was increased to five ships, by bringing up the rear ships of the wing columns, and on crossing the 20th meridian on June 5, at 11.55 p.m., the convoy began to zigzag as a whole. On the evening of the following day the danger zone escort was met, comprising eight destroyers from Devonport, and at 6 p.m. the Roxburgh shaped course for Plymouth, escorted by two of the destroyers, leaving the other six to bring on the convoy: aircraft and trawlers were also used for protection in the danger zone. All went well, and the west coast portion of the convoy was successfully dispersed off the Smalls on the night of June 8, the east coast portion being brought on to St. Helens. Although both fog and heavy weather were encountered on the passage, Captain Whitehead was able to report that "The convoy were attentive to signals, kept good station, and zigzagged in a satisfactory manner."

 

The complete success of the two experimental convoys decided the Admiralty to proceed with the scheme proposed by the Convoy Committee so far as the forces available for escort would permit. On June 8 the First Sea Lord, reporting to the Cabinet the voyages and arrival of the experimental

 

June 1917

FIRST OCEAN CONVOYS

 

convoys, stated that the convoy organisation was now nearly complete , and that the Admiralty hoped to start weekly convoys of oilers and provision ships in the immediate future. On the 14th he formally approved the report of the committee, the proposals of which were to be put into execution as the necessary forces became available. (The committee had recommended that incoming and outgoing traffic should be convoyed: for the time being only incoming essels were escorted. (See ante, p. 48.)) It was also decided that, pending the introduction of a comprehensive scheme of ocean convoy, the protected sailings from Hampton Roads, so auspiciously begun, should continue for the purpose of giving protection to the oilers from North America.

 

Four such convoys actually sailed during June, with an average of about fifteen vessels in each; and their safe arrival combined with the success of the experimental convoys on the Gibraltar route, supplied a fairly conclusive answer to all who had doubted the success of the system on tactical grounds. The experience gained showed that a convoy had intrinsically great powers of evasion, in that it was almost impossible for a submarine commander to place himself right upon its track, at the right time of day, and in a good position for attacking it, when its course and time of arrival were completely unknown to him. (See Map 13.) The great successes of the submarine commanders had hitherto been due to the immensity of their target: they had only to post themselves outside the patrolled routes somewhere between the Fastnets and Scillies, and they were practically certain to sight merchantmen if they waited for them. Some areas were better than others, but as the whole zone was traversed by merchant traffic it was in the German sense productive. The passage of these convoys through the danger area showed that, if the system could be developed and extended, it would alter the whole aspect of submarine warfare. The German submarine commanders would no longer be able to go to a fruitful area and there lie in wait: henceforward they would be compelled to seek out and attack groups of ships of whose movements they knew nothing ‑ a very much more difficult task, and one which in many cases would be quite impossible.

 

The torpedoing of the Wabasha in one of the early convoys was an isolated incident; the facts as known went far to contradict the theory that a convoy if attacked would be exceptionally vulnerable. All the other ships in the same column had escaped, and the submarine had been quite unable to renew its attack.

 

Meanwhile the Admiralty had come to several very important decisions. On June 15 it was ruled that the Hampton Roads convoys should be run at regular four‑day intervals, for the east and west coasts alternately, as recommended by the committee, but that all requisitioned oilers, whatever their destination, should be sent on by the first convoy they could catch. A week later, on June 22, the Commander‑in‑Chief, North America, was informed that the convoy system was to be extended to Canadian ports. The Convoy Committee's suggestion for ships from the St Lawrence to meet a New York convoy at sea was considered too risky because of the prevalence of fog, and a separate Canadian convoy was arranged from Sydney, Cape Breton, to sail every eight days, for the east and the west coast alternately. Captain James Turnbull, R.N.R., was sent out as Port Convoy officer, and pending his arrival the preparatory organisation was established and the convoys despatched by Captain Pasco, the senior officer at the port, the first convoy (HS.1) sailing on July 10 under escort of H.M.S. Highflyer. In the meantime the first regular four-day convoy (HH.6) had left Hampton Roads on July 2. This was the last "mixed" convoy from that port, the regular alternations of east and west coast sailings beginning on July 6 with HH.7, which was composed of west coast vessels and was brought in north‑about by destroyers from Buncrana.

 

Ocean escort had now to be provided for eight Hampton Roads and four Sydney convoys every thirty‑two days. The ships available for this purpose were drawn mainly from the North American and 10th Cruiser Squadrons. The responsibilities of the former had, of course, been considerably lightened by the entry of the United States into the war and the seizure of the German steamers in American harbours. The work of the 10th Cruiser Squadron had also been greatly reduced by the diminution in contraband traffic consequent on the intervention of the United States and on the series of agreements negotiated with the northern neutrals, so that it was now possible to withdraw several vessels from the northern patrol. The North American and West Indies Squadron had been joined during June by the Highflyer from Cruiser Force "D," and the Cumberland, which had been paid off for refitting. During July it was reinforced by the Drake, previously on detached service; the Donegal (from the 9th Cruiser Squadron) and the Orama, from the South‑East Coast of America station. This brought up the total strength to thirteen cruising ships, of which, by the end of the month,

 

June‑July 1917

PROVISION OF ESCORTS

 

seven were actually employed in convoy service.

 

(North American and West Indies Squadron. Ships marked "C" on convoy service:

 

Battleship Caesar

Cruisers Leviathan, Carnarvon, Berwick (C), Roxburgh (C), Devonshire, Antrim (C), Drake (C), Donegal, Cumberland (C)

Light cruisers Isis (C), Highflyer (C)

A.M.C. Calgarian, Orama.)

 

They were supplemented by four armed merchant cruisers detached from the 10th Cruiser Squadron,

 

(Virginian, Almanzora, Kildonan Castle, Victorian. Victorian's first convoy sailed August 2.)

 

and by the employment of "Commissioned Escort Ships," of which four were actually in service on July 31 and a fifth preparing to sail.

 

(Carrigan Head, Cambrian III (later renamed Bostonian), Knight Templar, Sachem, Discoverer.)

 

These were merchant steamers with three or four 6‑inch guns, so arranged as to give a broadside of three, and had been collected and equipped by the Admiralty, at the suggestion of the Anti-Submarine Division, during the period between the first adoption of the convoy system in principle and the date of applying it in practice. They carried cargo in the ordinary way; but in each was accommodated a retired flag officer, and, when in company with the convoy, they wore his flag and flew the White Ensign.

 

Destroyer escort for the convoys brought in south‑about was provided by the destroyers of the 2nd and 4th Flotillas at Devonport. For the west coast convoys, coming in north-about, escort was provided from Buncrana. No regular flotilla was yet based on that port; but during June four destroyers were detached from the 14th Flotilla for this work, and in July four more were similarly detached from the 15th Flotilla. (Both the 14th and 15th were Grand Fleet Flotillas.) To supplement the destroyers, sloops were also used for the Buncrana escorts.

 

Meanwhile arrangements were being worked out for the proposed New York convoy. So early as July 4, Captain Keppel Wade, RN, was instructed to confer with Commodore Wells at Hampton Roads, with a view to starting a convoy from New York, and on July 14, the first of the series (HN.1) sailed from that port. By this time sufficient United States destroyers had arrived at Queenstown to enable them, supplemented when necessary by sloops, to undertake the duty of bringing in an HN convoy every eight days, and ocean escort was also provided by the American Navy, U.S.S. Albany being the first on this service. The earlier sailings of this convoy were "mixed," but from August 14 (HN.5) they were alternatively for the east and west coast, in order to synchronise with the outward convoys that had by then been established.

 

Thus, by the middle of July, four homeward convoys were sailing every eight days, two from Hampton Roads and one each from New York and Sydney. No convoy arrangements, however, had yet been made for the South Atlantic and Mediterranean trade, or for the outward traffic, and owing to the shortage of escort craft the Admiralty were not sanguine as to any wide extension of the system in the near future.

 

 

11

The Submarine Campaign, June, 1917

(See Map 1.)

 

On June 13 the Commander‑in‑Chief under instructions from the Admiralty issued an order for what was perhaps the widest and most elaborate operation that had as yet been undertaken against the German submarines. The tracks which the larger U‑boats followed were, by then, known with tolerable accuracy, and the object of the operation was to station British destroyers and submarines along the incoming route from the eastern approaches to the Pentland Firth, to the west of Stornoway. The forces employed were distributed over zones, into which the whole area of operations was divided. The operation was particularly designed to catch the incoming submarines. The first zone, to the west and north‑west of Stornoway, was to be occupied by eight destroyers from the 12th Flotilla; to the north‑east of this the second zone was watched by two or three submarines; the third zone by five or six destroyers of the 14th Flotilla. These three zones covered the home‑coming track as far as the Shetlands. In the North Sea and the Pentland Firth, the probable route was divided into nine zones. The northernmost was occupied by two submarines, the one immediately abutting on it by eight destroyers of the 15th Flotilla; and the next one, in a south‑easterly direction, by two submarines.

 

 

Plan - Dispositions for the Anti-Submarine Operations, June 15-24, 1917

 

Three more zones running in an east‑north‑easterly direction covered the southern side of the 15th Flotilla's zone, and were occupied by six submarines of the 11th Flotilla. The Fair Island channel was to be occupied by eight or nine destroyers, mostly taken from the 11th Flotilla, and by two submarines.

 

June 1917

ADMIRAL SIMS IN COMMAND

 

A leader from each of the destroyer flotillas was detailed to direct the operations of his destroyers from Stornoway (12th Flotilla), Swarbacks Minn (14th), Lerwick (15th) and Scapa (11th), and to arrange that one of the two divisions on patrol should be relieved at regular intervals.

 

On June 15 all the forces detailed for the operation were on their stations, and for nine days the dispositions were maintained. The results achieved only gave additional proof of the extraordinary difficulty of intercepting submarines, even when their routes were known. The outcome was that submarines were sighted sixty‑one times by our forces on patrol, and attacked on twelve occasions. None of the attacks caused loss or damage, or affected submarine activities in the approach routes further south; for whilst the operation was in progress about six U‑boats left the Fastnet area, and four relieving boats were located in it. The Commander‑in‑Chief Grand Fleet thought that the operation had justified itself in that it had "harried" all German submarines moving through the zones watched by our submarines and flotillas, and had saved the Lerwick-Bergen convoy from serious loss during the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, when submarines were frequently sighted in the zone to the east of Lerwick. The flotilla commodore considered that the operation, though disappointing, might be repeated with a fair hope that it would yield better results if the zones to be watched were made smaller and more forces were allotted to each. The Admiralty, whilst admitting that the operation was disappointing in its results, agreed that it ought to be repeated as soon as possible in order to give it a fair trial. Many weeks went by before the experiment could be renewed; and meanwhile the officers in the western approach areas were struggling against an attack which, though it varied in intensity, suffered no serious check.

 

On June 18, Admiral Bayly left Ireland for a week's leave, and the Admiralty agreed that, during his absence, Admiral Sims should take command of the British and American naval forces. At the time, Queenstown was by far the most important of the local commands. Admiral Sims had under his orders, twenty‑four American

 

(The 5th American Destroyer Division, Drayton, Jenkins, Patterson, Paulding, Trippe, Warrington, arrived in Queenstown on June 1.

 

and five British destroyers, the first sloop flotilla of seventeen units, a sweeping flotilla of eight sweepers and four torpedo boats, and ten Q‑ships. Considerable as these forces were, they were insufficient to check the sinkings anywhere except in the coastal area. On June 18 the actual position was roughly as follows: nine vessels were resting and refitting in harbour;

 

(At Queenstown: Adventure, Bluebell, Crocus, Heather and Laburnum.

At Newport, Monmouthshire: Parthian and Peyton.

At Plymouth: Laggan.

At Buncrana: Anchusa.)

 

the four torpedo boats were employed every day in sweeping the approaches to Queenstown; the sweepers were divided between Berehaven and the salient points of the coastal route. Eight or nine vessels of all classes were spread along the coastal route between the Skelligs and the entrance to Queenstown: they kept it under constant patrol and escorted all incoming ships along the coast. The outer routes were, however, very insufficiently guarded. Three Q‑ships were in harbour refitting, the remaining seven were cruising as best they could over the enormous area of water in which they had to operate. It was enclosed roughly by latitude 48 degrees 30' and 53 degrees N., and ran between the mouth of the Channel and longitude 17 degrees W. Its total surface was at least 110,000 square miles.

 

One of the first requests made of Admiral Sims, after he had assumed command, was that he should detach destroyers to meet three troop convoy groups on June 23 and 25. (These were the first detachments of American troops sent to Europe.) Admiral Sims knew that the authorities at Washington were very doubtful about the Admiralty's new policy; and he seized the opportunity of urging them to raise no further objections to the convoy system. He admitted, at once, that the call for destroyer escorts would reduce his forces so low that neither the inshore nor the approach patrol would be able to do its work, and he would shortly be unable to give any protection at all to the merchant traffic in his area. The only remedy was that the American Government should send across all possible destroyers and anti‑submarine craft without delay, and so put every class of traffic, ocean and coastal, under convoy. The success of the convoys so far brought in," he wrote, shows that the system will defeat the submarines if applied generally, and in time. The present campaign is not succeeding." This was a clear and unequivocal admission that the existing system of defence needed supplementing.

 

Although the American admiral was right in his main contention, he seems to have under‑rated the amount of protection he was able to give to the inshore traffic of his command. Sinkings in the immediate approaches to the Fastnet were considerably reduced during the month of June. During the first fortnight, five vessels were sunk

 

June 1917

BRITISH SHIPPING LOSSES

 

within sixty miles of the coast, and only two during the second half. The coastal route along the south of Ireland also benefited by the arrival of the recent reinforcements. For the first half of June only three ships were lost between the Tuskar and Cape Clear. There was certainly a sharp renewal of activity in the second fortnight in the Dungarvan‑Smalls-Tuskar triangle, but the zone was considerably more secure than it had been two months before, and the rising figure of unsuccessful attacks along the coastal route showed that this area at least was somewhat better defended. But the improvement was only local; for the German submarine commanders made good their set‑back in this section of the approach area by a marked success in another.

 

One of the most important of the Atlantic routes for outgoing ships ran due west from Land's End as far as the 12th meridian; and it was crossed on longitude 10 degrees W. by two other outgoing routes, used by vessels bound for the South Atlantic ports. As these routes were not followed closely like lanes, but were used with some freedom, there was always a considerable amount of traffic between the Melville and Shamrock Knolls and the 10th meridian. The German U‑boat commanders may have discovered this by chance or by deliberate investigation; they certainly used their knowledge with good effect. On about the 8th of the month U.70 was located in the area; she was relieved after five days by U.82; and for the last part of the month, two and sometimes three submarines held the area. As their theatre of operations was well out in the Atlantic, 120 miles from Land's End or Ushant, they were never disturbed by our patrolling forces, and, during the month, twenty‑nine British and foreign ships were sunk in this zone alone. The only consoling point was that the sinkings in the Channel had fallen sharply. The number of UB‑ and UC‑boats operating in the Channel was approximately the same as it had been in the previous month, and the number of unsuccessful attacks was not increased (twenty‑six in May, twenty‑seven in June). None the less the tonnage sunk in the Channel fell from 100,833 tons (May) to 82,000 (June). This was undoubtedly a positive achievement; but our offensive measures against the German submarines showed no improvement. Four submarines were sunk during the month; one by a chance collision with a steamship, another "from unknown causes," the third by a trawler, and the fourth in an encounter with the Q‑ship Pargust.

 

During June the month's destruction of British tonnage had risen above the figures of the previous month, and the total June losses, British, Allied and neutral, amounted to nearly 700,000. The total British losses since the outbreak of unrestricted warfare now amounted to nearly 2,000,000 tons, and the ocean‑going tonnage under repair, mostly as the result of war casualties, had gone up from 130,000 tons on January 81 to 454,000 at the end of June. The convoy system had not yet had time to reduce the sinkings to a figure which was bearable; and the threat to our overseas supplies continued to overshadow every other problem of war.

 

 

12

Operations in the Flanders Bight, July, 1917

 

In April, when the German submarine commanders were sinking over 25,000 tons of shipping every day, the Admiralty received news that German mercantile shipping was showing signs of life after three years of complete inactivity. A small coasting trade had begun between the Bight and Rotterdam: the movement was no more than a little trickle from the huge stream which our naval forces had dammed up for so long; but it was disquieting to know that the dam was leaking. Control of the ocean highways, though generally described in terms of naval strength, operates through the rough guess‑work of the shipping world. If shipowners, agents, marine insurance companies and exporters decide that the risk of capture is too great to be taken, a nation's merchant fleet ceases to move, and its enemy's command of the sea is absolute. This rough calculation of risk is not made upon precise strategical data; it is the rapid estimate of ordinary business men. Their conclusions are, generally, as good a summary of the position at sea as can be obtained. At moments of extreme crisis they may over‑estimate the risks of capture. In August 1914 both British and German ship-owners did so; but as a rule their judgment is sound and accurate; and this movement of German shipping between the Bight and the Hook might mean to the whole shipping world of enemy and neutral Europe that the net of British sea power had been strained to breaking point. Week by week the German Admiralty had scattered news over the whole world of how British shipping was being destroyed. Neutrals had waited for denials, but none had ever come; the British Government had spoken of exaggerations, but they had never faced the facts with a detailed answer. Ministers had been driven, indeed, to publish shipping returns of entries and sailings which misrepresented the real position; and when the

 

June 1917

GERMAN SHIPPING MOVEMENTS

 

question had been raised, the decision had always been that the disguise must be kept up: the truth might cause a panic. The German authorities knew quite well that our shipping returns were being doctored, and they had made good use of their knowledge. Herr Helfferich and his colleagues were confident and were spreading their confidence to others; their shouts of approaching victory had raised a round of answering cheers from the shipping offices and the Chambers of Commerce at Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Emden; and after three years German shipping had begun to move in the North Sea.

 

It was a matter of importance to cut down this growing confidence. If the feeling spread to the merchantmen which had lain at anchor in neutral harbours since the war began, the Admiralty would be faced with a general movement of enemy shipping in every ocean of the world, at a time when our cruiser forces were being rapidly absorbed into the convoy organisation.

 

The new traffic movement was taking place in the Flanders Bight, and Commodore Tyrwhitt was directed to prepare plans for stopping it. Thinking that it would be unwise to keep a large intercepting force off the Dutch coast, he first attempted to stop the traffic by means of submarines. Four submarines of the "E" class were stationed along the coast of Holland between Egmond and Katwijk, and a force of destroyers was held in support well out of sight of land, about twenty miles due west of Ymuiden. The four submarine commanders were to stop all suspicious vessels and divert them to the position held by the destroyers, where they would be detained and captured. The first attempt was made on June 21 and was unsuccessful; one Dutch steamer, the Boetan, was stopped by E.47 and then released. Nothing else was sighted, either by the submarines or the destroyers; but shortly after our forces had returned to harbour, the Admiralty received news from Holland that four German steamers had left Rotterdam on June 23, under the escort of a torpedo boat, and that others would follow. Commodore Tyrwhitt again ordered out four submarines and two divisions of destroyers. They reached their stations at four o'clock in the morning of the 25th, too late to intercept the vessels, which had sailed from Rotterdam on the 23rd, but in time for the ships which were reported as about to follow on their heels. None, however, was sighted: our destroyers and submarines held their stations all day, and returned after night had fallen with blank entries in the boarding books.

 

After this second failure Commodore Tyrwhitt decided to alter his plans. It seemed to him almost certain that the enemy knew he was attempting to stop the traffic and that they would, in consequence, be exceptionally cautious. The enemy's most natural plan would be to arrange that their ships should sail from Rotterdam on the nights when the Dutch traffic to England was being escorted across the Flanders Bight by the Harwich destroyers. They would probably assume that on these occasions the bulk of the British forces would be employed elsewhere.

 

The Commodore laid his plans accordingly. His flotilla was now at full strength, and he arranged that a considerable force should be assembled and ready to act on those very nights when the enemy thought him most occupied. He had intended, at first, to divide his force into three divisions, and to allot a certain sector of the Dutch coast to each; but during the afternoon of July 15 he received news that German ships were leaving Rotterdam during the night; and being thus certain that he would be able to pick them up without dividing and dispersing his ships, he kept his force concentrated. He sailed at a quarter‑past eight in the evening of July 15 with eight light cruisers, two flotilla leaders and fifteen destroyers, and at dawn on the 16th was fifteen miles to the westward of the Texel. He held this position until a quarter‑past four, and then turned to the southward; as he did so he ordered the Undaunted and seven destroyers to take station three miles on his port beam to prevent the enemy merchantmen from passing between his force and the shore. A quarter of an hour later six merchantmen were sighted ahead: they were steaming together, in formation; two were ahead, the remaining four were grouped together astern. The Undaunted and her destroyers were at once ordered to chase and capture them, and as the German ships were unable to escape or resist, the business was over in a few minutes. Two steamers succeeded in running ashore but were completely disabled by gunfire, and by seven o'clock the remainder were on their way to Harwich under escort.

 

This rapid blow was just what was needed. The German merchants who lost their ships and cargoes could not know that in order to make his stroke as impressive as possible Commodore Tyrwhitt had deliberately collected a force which was many times more numerous and powerful than the military objects of the operation demanded. All they could tell was that a powerful light squadron had appeared off the Texel with apparently no duty but that of intercepting coasting vessels, when it had been suggested to them by their own people that every available British destroyer was being sucked into the maelstrom of submarine warfare. The effect was

 

April 1917

AUSTRIAN DIFFICULTIES

 

decisive: two German vessels left Rotterdam during the week following the operation; after that movements practically ceased and the trade disappeared.

 

13

First German Doubts

 

Although our counter‑measures against the submarine campaign were still quite indecisive, and although no one could say for certain whether our new plan of war would continue as well as it had begun, the struggle at sea between February and June had produced one positive result, of greater importance in its way than the sinking of U‑boats. It had shaken the confidence with which the German military leaders had started the campaign. Holtzendorff's figures had persuaded them that unrestricted submarine warfare would bring Great Britain to final ruin in six months; they had proclaimed their belief to the whole German nation, and invited them to share it. Four months had now gone by, the estimated sinkings had been exceeded and yet Great Britain's resistance showed no signs of weakening. The German leaders could doubtless master their own disappointment; but they had to face the disappointment of the nation and its parliamentary representatives.

 

The Austrian Government was apparently the first to suggest doubts as to the result of the campaign. During March and April the Government at Berlin had been pressed by the Austrian Ballplatz to open peace negotiations. On April 14 the new Emperor Karl sent a letter of solemn warning to the Emperor William at Berlin. "We are now fighting against a new and more dangerous enemy than the Entente: social revolution. It is an enemy which finds the strongest possible ally in hunger." To this letter Count Czernin attached a memorandum which was sombre to the last degree. The Dual Monarchy must have peace before the summer was out, it could never stand another winter campaign. Revolution was brewing, the monarchy was in danger, and he had no doubt that Germany was in an equally bad condition. Admiral von Holtzendorff had most solemnly assured the Austrian Government that Great Britain would be unable to withstand six months of unrestricted U‑boat warfare. The Austrian authorities had doubted, they had opposed a decision which they could not prevent, and now, after two and a half months of submarine warfare, they could see the unsoundness of Holtzendorff's calculations. "All the information we receive about England combines to prove that a collapse of our most powerful and dangerous adversary is simply out of the question. Submarine war would damage but not ruin her; would it not, then, be better to abandon the idea that the campaign would be an instrument of final, decisive victory, and to make a serious effort to begin peace negotiations?"

 

Bethmann‑Hollweg did not feel at liberty to admit Count Czernin's arguments, and answered that he "looked forward to a final decision from the U‑boat warfare with the greatest confidence "; but when he discussed the question, a few weeks later, with Marshall von Hindenburg, no reason of State obliged him to disguise his real thoughts, and he uttered them candidly. By then the military leaders had realised that the submarine campaign would not bring Great Britain to her knees in the next month, as they had solemnly promised, and they wished to be saved from the awkward situation in which they had placed themselves. The wish was natural, but the method of giving effect to it was a doubtful one. Instead of calling a general council, and there admitting that their forecast of Great Britain's collapse and surrender had proved inaccurate, instead of consulting with the political leaders upon the best method of allaying the disappointment which would be widely felt in the nation and the parliament, the military leaders turned fiercely upon the Chancellor.

 

On June 19 Hindenburg, who was probably here the tool of others, wrote a long letter to Bethmann‑Hollweg, which contains the first admission of doubt. "I notice from newspaper and magazine articles of every kind that the hope of ending the war in the autumn is widely spread amongst the population at home. I see a grave danger in hopes which are thus linked with a particular date. I therefore consider it necessary to control these hopes and inform the Press of the true position." The true position, as Hindenburg now saw it, was that submarine warfare would certainly make Great Britain sue for peace, because the loss of freight would make it impossible for her to carry on her overseas trade after the war was over. This was not a candid admission of error; but it was an admission none the less. Great Britain's danger in June 1917 is not stated in the same terms as in February. She was then said to be moving towards an overwhelming disaster, and to have six months in which to live: she has now to consider whether her post‑war position will not be unexpectedly disturbing if she goes on fighting.

 

At the end of June, then, both the civil and military leaders of the German Government had virtually admitted

 

June 1917

ERZBERGER'S CALCULATIONS

 

that the submarine campaign was not giving the results which had been hoped for: the time was, however, approaching when an explanation would be demanded of them.

 

Herr Erzberger, a leading member of the Centre party, had never been fully persuaded by the arguments of Holtzendorff and his colleagues; but throughout the spring months he was satisfied that the military leaders at any rate were genuinely confident that the submarine campaign would end the war in July or August. Among influential Germans who had no connection with the Government he was one of the first to grasp that Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Holtzendorff were beginning to doubt their own calculations of victory. In the middle of June a conversation with Colonel Bauer, a member of Ludendorff's staff, showed him that the High Command were preparing for another winter's campaign. A few days later his growing suspicions were strengthened by an industrial magnate, who seems to have told Erzberger that he had received army orders for a period covering the following winter. Thoroughly suspicious, and anxious that the Admiralty staff should not impose upon the nation and the Reichstag, Erzberger now determined that the real facts of the submarine campaign should be openly discussed.

 

His first move was to send a long critical paper to the Admiralty, and to ask them for a reply. His argument, which was supported by accurate and laboriously collected figures, may be summed up as follows. The consequences of the submarine campaign could not be assessed merely from the destruction of British and Allied shipping. The reduction in the total carrying power of all the maritime States of the world would in the end be the deciding factor. When the total world tonnage had fallen to such a figure that the proportion of the total usually employed in the trade of the Entente countries was below their minimum requirements, then, and not before, Germany's enemies would be completely defeated. Was this end in sight, as the Naval Staff had repeatedly asserted? Erzberger's own calculations were not reassuring. In 1914 there were 49,089,552 tons of shipping in the world; between 1914 and 1917, 8,561,285 tons would have been built and launched; and on a very sanguine estimate, 19,450,000 tons destroyed by submarines, mines and ordinary casualties of the sea. At the end of 1917 the world's carrying power would therefore be 38,200,837 tons; (i.e., 49,089,552 + 8,561,285 ‑ 19,450,000 tons. The figures represent gross tonnage, and include sailing ships.) practically 78 per cent. of the 1914 total. This loss of tonnage would certainly bring about a wide readjustment in the distribution of shipping throughout the world; but the Entente Powers would still have about 30 million tons in their service. The Admiralty sent Erzberger a brief, perfunctory reply, and he decided to bring the matter before the Reichstag, which was due to meet on July 8. After consultation with various party leaders, he determined to make his criticism of the submarine campaign part of a larger issue and raise the question of peace by agreement.

 

Some Germans have held that Emberger's attack upon the Admiralty and the Government of his day is a great political landmark in German history. Others have described it as a fatal stimulus to the forces of blind disruptive criticism and have attributed to it Germany's defeat in the field and the fall of the German monarchical system. Erzberger himself could never have been responsible for such a chain of calamities: they were the natural outcome of Germany's conduct of the submarine war; but the action he took at this critical time is, none the less, of great historical importance.

 

The Reichstag assembled on July 8; its first meetings were in committee, and were only reported in brief and carefully censored summaries. But laconic as those summaries were, they sufficed to warn the German people that serious discussions had begun. On several successive days Erzberger attacked the Government in a series of closely reasoned speeches. They had committed themselves, he said, to three statements: first, the political state of Europe was so troubled that a winter campaign was probable; secondly, the High Command was confident that the military front would not be broken; thirdly, victory was certain if unrestricted submarine war were continued. The first two statements were old, the third was of more recent date, and had just been revised in a most important particular. When first made, the nation had been told, in the clearest possible terms, that the unrestricted submarine campaign would end the war before harvest. From this statement the date had now been withdrawn, and the official declaration was simply that the submarines would end the war. When, and how?

 

Erzberger again went through the arguments and figures which the naval staff had practically refused to discuss with him; and he invited the Reichstag to believe that even the present rate of tonnage destruction would not end the war in any calculable time. The nation had now to decide outright whether they would any longer allow themselves to be influenced by prophecies and forecasts which had been utterly disproved, and by undertakings which had never been carried out; whether they would still continue to strive for victory on the strength of assurances which should never have been

 

July 1917

ERZBERGER'S CALCULATIONS

 

given them, or whether they would openly proclaim to the world that they were ready to discuss a peace without annexations or indemnities. The national representatives were now being asked to vote an enormous credit of 50 milliards for war expenses; the only inducement offered was, "hold out ‑ a better peace will be obtained in the spring." But unfortunately there was not the slightest evidence that this was so: the enemy's war industries were increasing their output ‑ a certain proof that the submarine campaign had failed: Germany was suffering progressively from lack of food, lack of fuel, lack of materials. No confidence could be placed in men who had so completely miscalculated the enemy's power of resistance. Even at the end of another year neutral and enemy tonnage would be sufficient to supply the Entente countries, where people were living with a degree of comfort that Germans had not enjoyed these eighteen months. The Reichstag must therefore adopt a peace policy of its own and force it upon the Government. Three times in 1870 Bismarck had attempted to open negotiations with the French: had he ever been accused of weakness, or of wavering, or of encouraging his enemies? Unless responsibility for continuing the war were to be laid for ever at Germany's door, her war aims must be placed before her enemies and before the whole world in a clear, acceptable form; and the Reichstag should itself take the lead in presenting them.

 

The effect produced by Erzberger's speech, and the further course of this momentous debate, are best described in the Chancellor's own words.

 

"The social democrats pressed forward the formula, 'No annexations or indemnities.' Their speakers painted the internal and external situation in the darkest colours. We were at the end: revolution was threatening. The submarines had not done what the Naval High Command had promised, and ought to be abandoned. Independent speakers went further, and said that revolution was at the door. The altered attitude of the middle‑class parties was extraordinary. Overcome by the prevailing depression they opposed these views weakly, and without conviction, and, mainly for reasons of parliamentary tactics, abandoned the defence of the Government. The Secretaries of State, Doctor Helfferich and Admiral von Capelle, could not break down the general suggestion [of failure] with their statistical material."

 

The Chancellor was right; Erzberger's speeches on the submarine campaign were a rallying summons to every party leader who had ever criticised the Chancellor and the High Command and to every party that was distrustful of the Government. Those who had always desired to advocate peace openly at last found their opportunity. If the submarine campaign was indecisive, why should the German Government delay further? After conferences between the Centre and Left, the party leaders placed a resolution upon the agenda of the committee, and Erzberger asked that a vote should be taken upon it. The resolution ran as follows:

 

"The Reichstag declares:

 

"On the eve of the fourth year of war the declaration made in the speech from the Throne ‑ We are making no war of conquest ‑ holds good for the German people just as it did on August 4, 1914. Germany took up arms for the defence of her freedom and independence, and for the integrity of her territories.

 

"The Reichstag is striving for a peace of understanding, for a durable pacification of peoples. Forced annexation of provinces, and political, economic and financial oppression are incompatible with a peace of the kind.

 

"The Reichstag repudiates all plans which aim at the economic division and the exasperation of nations after the war. The freedom of the seas must be assured. Economic peace alone can lay the basis for the peaceful intercourse of peoples.

 

"The Reichstag will actively press forward the creation of international organisations [for the enforcement] of law.

 

"Until the enemy Governments accept such a peace, Germany and her confederates will be threatened with annexations and acts of oppression, and the German people will stand together, as a man, will endure and fight on without wavering until they and their Allies have secured the right to life and development.

 

"The united German people is inconquerable. The Reichstag declares itself to be at one with the men who are defending the Fatherland in this heroic struggle. They are assured of the undying gratitude of the German people."

 

The Reichstag motion thoroughly roused the generals: Stein, the War Minister, had been present during Erzberger's first speeches and had watched their effect upon an audience which heard, for the first time, that the submarine campaign was not succeeding; he was quick to see that if the Government gave countenance to the resolution they would be admitting the arguments that had supported it. He accordingly wired at once to Headquarters, to ask that the Emperor should be told, by the High Command, that "it would be the greatest misfortune if the Chancellor gave any support to such a declaration." Hindenburg answered immediately

 

July 1917

LUDENDORFF INTERVENES

 

in a telegram which contained the significant admission: "I have the heaviest misgivings with regard to such a declaration, as it can only increase the unrest which already exists in the army and be taken as a sign of internal weakness." Ludendorff's alarm drove him to disregard the most elementary principles of military duty: on July 12 he telegraphed to the Emperor that he would resign his post unless Bethmann‑Hollweg were removed from the Chancellorship. The generals then made a resolute attempt to influence the parliamentary leaders. On July 13, Hindenburg and Ludendorff invited them to a conference, and lectured them. The old Marshall said a few words of welcome, after which General Ludendorff described the military situation in the well-known fashion: things were far better than they had been during the previous year, and the submarines would make it impossible for the Americans to transport their armies to Europe. But a peace resolution would animate Germany's enemies, who were already looking for signs of weakness, and would depress her army and her Allies.

 

Arguments like these were thrown away upon such a man as Erzberger, who had armed himself with a formidable mass of statistics; and upon Scheidemann, the social democrat, who knew how terribly the German masses were suffering. The latter answered on behalf of the Centre and Left, that hunger was spreading, and that the country would have a revolution if peace were not made in the autumn. "The thought of another winter's campaign is terribly hard to bear. We must make it known that we are waging a defensive war, that we give our last drop of blood for our houses and our farmyards, but that pan‑German war aims are not ours. Strategical frontiers are of no use to us .... we must not protract the war by a desire for conquests and indemnities. If we speak openly in this fashion, we shall help towards the breakdown of our enemies." Erzberger then pressed Ludendorff with questions on the submarine war; he answered evasively, and in words which were quite inconsistent with his previous attitude. "Calculations about the submarine war cannot be based upon world tonnage. Even now everything is in favour of the war industries of our enemies. Submarine warfare cannot be measured by statistics, but by positive results ‑ Salonica; wheat which cannot be brought over from Australia; shortage of timber in England; lack of coal in France and Italy; less munitions, and of a lower quality." Hindenburg, it seems, said practically nothing during this tirade, but he begged the deputies to put "a little more pepper" into their peace resolution.

 

Meanwhile Ludendorff's ultimatum demanding the Chancellor's resignation had been discussed by the Emperor and Bethmann‑Hollweg at Bellevue. It angered the Kaiser that he should be spoken to in such a manner, and, for a moment, he was inclined to assert his authority. But Bethmann-Hollweg persuaded him to take a more diplomatic course: it was quite impossible to force or accept the resignation of two army leaders in whom the nation had unbounded confidence; but a change of Chancellors would do no harm. On July 14 Bethmann‑Hollweg formally resigned his office, from the same sense of public duty that had animated him throughout his career. A few days later it was announced that Herr Michaelis, an Under‑Secretary in the Ministry of Food, was appointed in his place. Not much is known of the new Chancellor; he only held office for a short time, and, after resigning, took no further part in public life.

 

Erzberger speaks of him as a man of strong character, more sympathetic to the aims of the military party than his predecessor; so that, possibly, he was Ludendorff's nominee. His principal achievement, and it was no light one, was to get the peace resolution passed in such a way that it did not cause an open rupture between the Reichstag and the Government. This he did, partly by a verbal quibble, and partly by lobbying the parliamentary leaders. The resolution against annexations and indemnities was duly passed on July 19; the Chancellor accepted it in principle, but added the phrase "as I understand them" to the words about conquests and damages. Exactly a fortnight had gone by since the resolution had first been placed on the order of the day, and during the interval it would seem as though its authors had lost heart. At all events, the obvious reservation from the Chancellor did not lead to any further conflict, and the crisis passed.

 

None the less, far‑sighted men realised that, sooner or later, the Reichstag would have to take its stand against the Government, possibly even against the Crown. On the day after the end of the crisis, the Emperor summoned the Reichstag leaders to a conference in which he went out of his way to renew their anxiety. They soon realised, from his way of talking, that he had been completely misinformed about the meaning and purpose of their resolution. He seemed hardly to have read the text of it. He congratulated them on advocating a "peace of adjustment" (which they had never done), and said that it fell in entirely with his own views. Adjustment, as he understood it, meant that Germany should receive gold, raw materials, wool, oil and coal from abroad and "move it from one of her pockets into another." After

 

July 1917

THE EMPEROR'S OPINIONS

 

that the Emperor described the political situation. England and America had come to an agreement in order to deal with Japan when the war was over, which Japan had countered by an agreement with Russia: the present war would probably not end with England's overthrow; but, when it was over, an alliance between Germany and France would pave the way to a "second Punic War" of the European continent against Great Britain. This was an extraordinary way of talking to men who had just passed a peace resolution; but when he spoke of internal affairs the Emperor was even more unguarded.

 

As a special warning to the deputies of the Left, he told them that the soldiers of the Guard Division, led by his own son Fritz, had thrown the "republican dust round the Russians' ears": and added, " There is no democracy where the Guards appear." Finally, submarine war was so successful that his officers could no longer find ships to sink. When Erzberger tried to answer this wild talk with quotations from his statistics, the Emperor turned his back on him and continued. The Rumanians were to be punished by the diversion of the entire course of the Danube, from Trojan's gates to Czernawoda, so that the international commission would be sitting on the bed of a dried‑up stream. Erzberger speaks thus of the whole proceeding. "This conversation between the Emperor and the deputies was not only as unfortunate as it could be: it was the turning of the first sod for the grave of the old Regime. Grey‑headed deputies, who up to then had not wished for a parliamentary system, openly said, on that night, that the existing form of government must bring disaster on the country."

 

The generals and admirals had thus in their turn tided over the crisis. They had escaped the worst that threatened them in that they had not been compelled to answer a charge of deceiving the German people about the results of the submarine campaign, and they had got rid of a Chancellor whose critical faculties had always galled and exasperated them. But their victory had been gained at great cost. Their clamour for strong government and unity of purpose had increased existing divisions, mistrusts and rivalries; and, worse than that, their political or semi‑political manoeuvres had weakened the structure of imperial power which alone protected their extraordinary privileges, influence and immunity from criticism.

 

 

14

The Disorders in the German Fleet. July and August 1917

 

Although the new Chancellor had so far come through by adroit management and dubious backing, he could not stop the reverberations of Erzberger's resolution, which sounded all over Germany, and penetrated to the mess‑tables of the High Seas Fleet. There they gave a sudden stimulus to ugly feelings that had long been rising. For months past the German seamen had felt that they were unjustly treated in the matter of food, and that, even if there were a national shortage, it was not right that there should be such an immense difference between the daily quantities of food allowed to the officers on the one hand and the men on the other. The grievance seems to have been well founded. If the statements of prisoners captured later are even approximately true, there can be no doubt that the German sailor's daily ration was now utterly insufficient, and it is not surprising that men fed on such poor and monotonous diet fell into a tired, nervous state in which grievances are apt to grow into a bitter sense of injustice and a desire for vengeance.

 

In addition to their grievances on the question of rations, the German seamen appear to have felt that their officers were treating them with undeserved harshness. It is not easy to understand why this feeling became so general; for there are no grounds for supposing that the ordinary German officer treated his men more harshly and discourteously in the summer of 1917 than he had done for many years past. The professional code of the German services has always been understood to insist on rigour as the first element of discipline. Authority must be obeyed and exerted at all times without any regard to the feelings of those concerned; and, in particular, courtesy and consideration towards inferiors are not qualities that an officer can admit into his practice, without weakening the military virtues which it must be his first consideration to cultivate. Such a theoretical inhumanity is in time of peace a barbarism to be borne only by a people which has not yet experienced a humane social life: in war it may be tolerated while success lasts, but in a long fight, and still more in a losing fight, it is likely to prove fatal. The officers of the High Seas Fleet were now to realise in the supreme hour of their country's danger that they had with them neither the trust nor the affection of their men.

 

On July 19 the crew of the Prinzregent Luitpold became

 

July‑Aug. 1917

A SINISTER RUMOUR

 

openly disobedient, and their conduct shows how little confidence they had in the justice or consideration of their commanders. Without attempting to petition for the redress of grievances, and without formulating any specific complaints, nearly half of the crew refused all duty and remained in their messes. They informed their officers that they had gone on hunger strike. Captain Hornhardt settled the disturbance, for the time being, by raising the bread ration to 100 grammes; but the trouble had only begun. On the following day, one hundred and forty men left the Pillau without leave; but this act of disobedience, gross and flagrant as it was, was carried out with great restraint. The men thought that leave had been wrongfully and harshly refused them, and so walked over the side. But when the period of leave which they considered was due to them had expired, they returned on board in a regular, orderly way, and continued to do their duty.

 

A few days later a sinister rumour put the whole fleet into wild excitement: Captain Thorbecke of the Koenig Albert died suddenly and mysteriously; everybody believed that he had been killed by his own men. One story said that he had been thrown overboard, another that he was coming back to his ship one night and that, as he stepped from his launch on to the gangway, he was stabbed in the back. The truth behind these ugly stories was that Captain Thorbecke fell overboard accidentally and was drowned. The actual circumstances in which the accident occurred were apparently difficult to ascertain.

 

Nothing is better calculated to inflame angry men than a story of vengeance against an oppressor. A few days later, when the legend of Captain Thorbecke's murder had spread to every mess‑table in the fleet, the discontent amongst the men again boiled over. On August 1 fresh disorders broke out in the Prinzregent Luitpold, and this time they were extremely serious. The ship was lying alongside the wharf at the time, and during the morning about fifty men marched over the side without leave. On their return eleven were arrested and the remaining forty allowed to go free; and this gave an additional stimulus to the discontent. Early on the following morning, four hundred men left the ship, and held a mass meeting in one of the suburbs, to protest against the punishment of their mates. The authorities were now seriously alarmed; the military were called in, a large number of men were placed under arrest, and a hundred of them were summarily and severely punished. But the disorders continued all next day, till in the evening the ship was taken out into Schillig Roads and completely isolated from the rest of the fleet.

 

Still the outbreak was not quelled. A certain number of ratings from other ships had been arrested with the main body on the previous day, and on August 4 the infection spread to the Kaiserin and the Friedrich der Grosse. At dinner‑time the men of the Kaiserin refused to send to the galley to get their food, and the watch below said flatly that they did not intend to relieve the watch on deck. The officers of the ship tried to open a parley, and went below to induce the men to state their complaints. The crew only complained specifically about the quality of the soup; but their criticism was so violent, their language so unsuitable to a conversation between officers and men, that the parley was broken off. Later in the afternoon the officers again went down to the mess‑deck and promised that the diet should be improved. No attempt was made to persuade or force the crew to resume work, and, that night, the officers posted detachments of the men who had remained loyal outside their cabins. In the Friedrich der Grosse there were serious disturbances all day; the men refused duty and held a "free speech" meeting under the eyes of their officers.

 

On the following morning the men were showing a rather better temper; and in the evening the Kaiserin, Koenig Albert and Kaiser were sent to Schillig Roads. From here they went on to Brunsbuttel, and, when they arrived, the officers made a genuine and sensible attempt to conciliate their men. Leave was given freely, games and concerts were organised, and better food was served out. The state of discipline in the Prinzregent Luitpold was apparently still so serious that it was not safe to allow her crew to mix with the crews of the other vessels.

 

This attempt at conciliation succeeded. The discontent did, it is true, break out again, some days later, in the Westfalen and the Rheinland; but the naval authorities managed to keep it under control, and by the end of the month the German fleet had again returned to its orderly disciplined habits.

 

Meanwhile, however, the high authorities had been making discoveries which seriously alarmed them. The officers of the battleships persuaded a certain number of men to gain the confidence of the mutineers, and, later, to inform against them. It was largely upon the intelligence supplied by these agents that the authorities identified the moving spirits among the disobedient seamen, and collected evidence for the courts‑martial which followed the outburst, From these

 

Aug. 1917

POLITICS IN THE GERMAN FLEET

 

secret informers, and from the investigations carried out by the lawyers employed to prosecute the ringleaders, the high authorities discovered, to their dismay, that the recent disorders were the symptoms of a serious and deep‑seated malady. A handful of stokers, of whom the most intelligent and active were a man named Reichpietsch and another named Kurbis, had formed a regular political organisation for spreading peace propaganda on the lower decks of the battle fleet. They had kept nominal lists of all those men who agreed with them; they had been in touch with Herr Dittmann, one of the deputies of the Independent Socialist party, and had made elaborate arrangements for distributing the political literature of the party among their comrades. The rallying‑cry of the movement was "peace without annexations or indemnities" ‑ a simplified form of the Reichstag resolution which a few weeks before had provoked such strenuous opposition from the admirals and the generals. Holtzendorff's bitterest enemies had thus gained an entry into the battle line of the German navy.

 

It would, of course, be the merest exaggeration to treat the disorders in the Prinzregent Luitpold and the other battleships as though they were solely the outcome of the Reichstag resolution; trouble had been brewing in the fleet for many months before Erzberger spoke. Still less would it be fair to say ‑ as an ingenious German controversialist has done ‑ that the irresponsible speeches of the admirals were the animating cause of the seamen's disobedience. Nevertheless, it is quite impossible to dissociate this breakdown in the most rigorously disciplined fleet in the world from the promises which the admirals had so freely scattered before the German nation some months before. Beneath the shouting of the seamen who broke ashore, the jeering and whistling of the men who refused to receive their rations, the wild talk of the stokers who held free speech meetings in the Friedrich der Grosse, there is evident a deeper and more estranging resentment, the bitter anger of brave men, who had at last realised the true nature of the policy for which they and their people were now called upon to endure starvation.

 

 


 

 

CHAPTER II

 

THE MEDITERRANEAN. AUGUST 1917 TO APRIL 1918

 

WHEN Vice‑Admiral Sir S. A. Gough‑Calthorpe took up his appointment in the Mediterranean in August 1917, the outlook was dark and sombre. The German submarine commanders were not, it is true, sinking as much shipping as they had done in April; but the statistics of the campaign justified the most gloomy forebodings. No German submarine had been sunk since May, and the daily sinkings varied almost in direct proportion to the number of U‑boats on cruise. The complex of defensive measures, which had been devised by the staffs of three navies, never seemed to reduce the average daily destruction of each operating submarine. It is true that shipping was relatively safe in certain parts of the Mediterranean. German submarine commanders rarely visited the route along the eastern coast of Spain; and the Italians had organised a defensive system along their western coast‑line which gave all shipping inside it considerable immunity from attack. But these were strips or ribbons of water in a great inland sea, traversed both laterally and longitudinally by the commerce of many nations; and even though Spain's neutrality, and the Italian coast defence, deprived the enemy of opportunities for destroying shipping in two small zones, his opportunities for depredations elsewhere were so good that he hardly felt the restriction.

 

Admiral Calthorpe's plans for improving matters seemed, moreover, to be beset with difficulties. He, personally, believed that our losses could only be substantially reduced by concentrating an offensive force at whatever point German submarines were most likely to be found, and harrying them with every means at his disposal. No zone was more suitable than the Straits of Otranto, through which so large a proportion of the German submarines were compelled to pass, twice every cruise. But the hopes of prosecuting a concentrated offensive in this narrow channel were small. The operation could only be undertaken if the Italian and

 

Sept. 1917

THE STRATEGICAL PROBLEM

 

French Admiralties were prepared to make unsparing use of their destroyers and small craft, and although the French authorities might be persuaded to make a generous allocation of destroyers to an offensive force in the Otranto Straits, it was practically certain that the Italian High Command would not agree to change their established policy. They had, on several occasions, refused to maintain a permanent destroyer patrol to guard the mobile barrage of drift nets and trawlers which we had stationed in the Straits. More than that, they had practically withdrawn the barrage forces. (From June to July 24 the barrage forces had only been at sea for one day; they had not been to sea at all between July 24 and August 19.)

 

Fortunately, however, opinions were not divided about the major strategy of the campaign which Admiral Calthorpe was to conduct, and this was perhaps the only alleviation to his difficulties. The Conference of Allied naval authorities held in London during the first week in September decided, unanimously, that commercial traffic in the Mediterranean should be placed in convoy, as far as possible. Before Admiral Calthorpe left London, his staff made a careful analysis of shipping and traffic statistics in the Mediterranean. They decided that escort must be provided along nine routes, and estimated that the total number of escorting units required would be about 300. (Traffic was to run in convoys between (i) Gibraltar and Genoa, (ii) Gibraltar and Bizerta, (iii) Bizerta and Port Said, (iv) Marseilles and Bizerta, (v) Marseilles and Algiers, (vi) Malta and Suda Bay, (vii) Naples and Bizerta, (viii) Malta and Taranto, (ix) Oran and Gibraltar. The convoy base at Suda Bay was to be transferred to Milo.)

 

When this decision was reached, convoys were running only between Malta and Egypt and between Gibraltar and Oran. To give effect to the findings of the Conference was therefore a task of the first magnitude. An important preliminary step had certainly been taken. The traffic of the nations which do the carrying trade in the Mediterranean could only be controlled by an inter‑Allied Committee, on which all the Allies were represented. This Committee had already been created; (It was styled officially the Commission de Malte.) Admiral Calthorpe was the Chairman; his colleagues were Admirals Fergusson, Ratyˇ, Salazar and Sato. The Committee was an inter‑Allied executive, the only body which by its constitution and authority could undertake a great reorganisation of the existing arrangements for controlling and routeing commercial traffic in the Mediterranean. In addition to this, the forces available for the defence of trade had to be redistributed from one end of the Mediterranean to the other; and the responsibility for particular convoys divided between the French, British and Italian commands.

 

Until Admiral Calthorpe had completed his preparations for introducing the Mediterranean convoy system, he was obviously unable to proceed with his plan of organising a continuous attack against submarines in the Straits of Otranto; and, indeed, for many weeks after he had taken up his new appointment, his time was almost entirely employed in devising a redistribution of the patrol and destroyer forces within the limits of his command. He gave some slight reinforcement to the patrol forces outside the Straits, in the hope of reducing sinkings in the western approaches to Gibraltar; but that, for the time being, was all that he was able to do.

 

Meanwhile the Admiralty had decided to run convoys, at intervals of ten days, between England and Port Said. These convoys were not to be part of the general system for which Admiral Calthorpe was making preparations; the Convoy Section at Whitehall was responsible for them. But it was stipulated that whilst these convoys were inside the danger zone off Gibraltar, all available local forces were to reinforce the escort. Rear‑Admiral J. A. Fergusson (Appointed British Admiral of Patrols, Mediterranean, September 3, 1917.), whom the British Commander‑in‑Chief had recently instructed to control the convoy organisation, urged that the arrivals of these "through" convoys ‑ that was the name given to them ‑ should be made to synchronise with the departures of the home‑bound Gibraltar convoys, in order that the local escorts should be employed as economically as possible. Even with this economy, however, it was largely owing to the American reinforcements at Gibraltar that the local command was able to meet the calls being made upon it. There were now at Gibraltar, the light cruisers Birmingham and Chester; the gunboats Sacramento, Nashville, Machias, Castine; the revenue cutters Ossipee, Seneca, Manning, Yamacraw and Marietta; the yachts Yankton and Nahma. The Admiralty agreed to Admiral Fergusson's proposal, and on October 3 the first of these convoys left England. (It suffered a loss of two ships, out of a total of eleven, sunk off Alexandria. This was discouraging but misleading. For the percentage of losses in the through Mediterranean convoys see post, p. 94.)

 

The provision of local escort for these through convoys, though highly necessary, could only have the effect of depleting still further the forces which Admiral Calthorpe desired to assemble for his projected offensive. It was, therefore,

 

Oct. 1917

THE MOBILE BARRAGE

 

a great relief to him when a much‑needed reinforcement enabled him to keep the mobile barrage, in the Straits of Otranto, at sea. Early in October, six Australian destroyers arrived in the Mediterranean; they were at once allocated to Brindisi, and on the eleventh of the month the drifters and auxiliaries returned to their old duties in the Straits.

 

But the restoration of the mobile barrage was, for the moment, no more than an act of vigilance, or a preparation for more comprehensive measures. Sinkings continued without intermission, the number of ships destroyed rose when the number of operating submarines rose, and fell when, for some reason or another, fewer U‑boats could put to sea. Nor were the enemy's numbers reduced by our offensive: the German submarine commanders continued to enjoy an immunity from danger which was distressing evidence that the attack had still the better of the defence. (See Appendix C ‑ Submarine Warfare in the Mediterranean, Sept. 1917 to Sept. 1918, and Map 2.)

 

And now, during the last days of the month, the course of events on land threatened to increase the difficulties of the campaign at sea, by creating a new and pressing demand for reinforcements in the northern Adriatic. On October 24, the Austrian armies attacked the Italian positions in the Julian Alps; one of the Italian armies opposed to them was completely defeated and fell back in great disorder. The Italians were in full retreat towards the Piave when the month came to an end; and their High Command was extremely anxious lest the Austrians should attempt to turn their right flank from the sea, by armies landing under the support of the Pola Fleet. It was absolutely beyond our power to supply the destroyer reinforcements which the Italians demanded, although we agreed, without demur, that the Queen's 12‑inch guns should be dismounted and used as heavy artillery on the land front.

 

In another theatre the naval forces were better able to meet the calls which the military authorities made upon them. At this juncture General Allenby was completing his preparations for an attack upon the Turkish armies opposed to him. The Turkish forces occupied a line which ran for about thirty miles south‑eastward of Gaza; the British lay between Deir el Belah and Ramli. General Allenby's plan was to storm Beersheba, on the eastern flank of the Turkish position, and to follow up with successive attacks upon the Turkish centre, and upon Gaza. He particularly desired that the naval forces available should make feint landings to the north of Gaza when he launched his first assault upon Beersheba; for he hoped that they might thus hold troops which could otherwise be sent eastward, to the right flank of the Turkish armies. The British naval forces had co‑operated in the unsuccessful assaults upon the Gaza position, in the spring of the year; and Rear‑Admiral Thomas Jackson, the Senior Naval Officer, Egypt, whom General Allenby consulted, was ready to begin the operation on October 30, the day before the assault on Beersheba began.

 

Just behind Gaza there is a ridge of low hills which restricts the view from the sea, and leaves little visible but a narrow strip of the maritime plain. But about eight miles north of the town, the River Hesi has cut a small cleft through the hills, and from a ship off the river mouth the railway station of Deir Sineid, and the road bridge over the river can be seen. The land meets the sky along the jagged outline of the Judean mountains. (See Map 3.)

 

At 10.30 a.m., October 30, two small monitors, M.31 and M.32, opened fire on trenches and wire north‑west of Gaza, (M.31, Commander Cecil J. Crocker; M.32, Lieutenant‑Commander R. Hunt. Both monitors carried two 6‑inch guns; their displacement was 355 tons, and their maximum speed 10 knots.) and on a beach position called Sheikh Hassan. A quarter of an hour later the Grafton, carrying Admiral Jackson's flag, began searching with her guns for an observation tower known to be due north of Gaza concealed among trees.

 

Still further north, off the mouth of the Hesi, the large monitor Raglan (Raglan, Commander Viscount Broome, 6150 tons; 6 to 7 knots speed; main armament two 14‑inch, one 6‑inch guns.) took up position for bombarding Deir Sineid railway station. She was joined there by the seaplane carrier City of Oxford, guarded by the destroyers Comet and Staunch. The Raglan had a seaplane on board, stowed above the 14‑inch gun; this was hoisted out to spot the fall of her shot, and before noon the observer reported a series of explosions at the railway station, presumably the destruction of an ammunition dump. The target was then shifted to the railway bridge, and there also some hits were seen. The enemy's resistance was limited to a few rounds fired at a couple of trawlers which were sweeping a passage towards the shore for the Raglan, and some machine gunfire from an aeroplane which was driven off by our high‑angle guns. In the afternoon firing the Raglan used a seaplane from the City of Oxford. At nightfall the seaplane carrier retired to seaward; but the Raglan remained to fire a few shots up the valley to keep the Turks on the alert.

 

Oct.‑Nov. 1917

COASTAL OPERATIONS

 

During the attack on Beersheba on October 31, which was successful, the diversion on the Gaza flank was continued. The Raglan was relieved in the afternoon by the French auxiliary vessel Maroc, which fired a few rounds up the Hesi valley while the monitor returned to Deir el Belah to attend to her guns and replenish her ammunition. In the twilight before sunrise the Grafton fired on the trenches north‑west of Gaza; but when the sun rose over the Judean hills the horizontal glare obscured the targets and firing had to cease until four hours later wire entanglements could again be clearly seen. The enemy now had the range of the Grafton and forced her to take up a new position, which she held till darkness fell and she retired to sea. Three small monitors bombarded from the southern position.

 

So far, the enemy had made no great efforts to deal with the bombardment from the sea; but during the day it was reported from the direction‑finding stations at Alexandria and Port Said that two submarines were on the Palestine coast. Nothing was seen of either submarine though the patrol vessels kept a specially sharp look‑out.

 

The simulated landing took place on November 1, when the attack on Gaza began on shore. The bombarding station off the Hesi was taken by the French coast defence vessel Requin. She anchored just within range of the Turkish guns and was twice hit; one shell exploded on the mess deck and caused considerable loss of life. At Deir el Belah a party of the Egyptian Labour Corps were marched down to the beach within full view of the Turks on the heights above Gaza, and there embarked in a fleet of small craft specially brought up from Port Said. As the light waned the party in the boats moved off northward as if to be landed north of Gaza; but as soon as it was dark they returned to Deir el Belah and quietly went ashore again, though, to keep up the illusion, a procession of small vessels showing lights occasionally steamed northward past Gaza. The Grafton and two little river gunboats cruised off the Hesi to prevent any Turkish reserves from crossing it.

 

That night Sheikh Hassan was captured. The naval bombardment was henceforward directed only against targets north of Deir Sineid, since it was impossible to distinguish British from Turkish troops from the firing ships. During November 2 the Grafton, Raglan, Maroc and Requin kept Hesi station continuously under fire. The old French battleship expended all her ammunition, and sailed at 11.0 p.m.; as she steamed off she was loudly cheered by the rest of the little squadron.

 

The weather, which had so far been calm, now began to change and the wind rose. The motor launches and river gunboats, which had been assisting the operations as auxiliaries, had to be sent to Port Said for shelter. They were absent only a day; when on November 4 the wind died down, they came back and the river gunboats opened fire on the observation tower, which was still standing. One of the gunboats, Aphis, was nearly hit by a shell when 12,000 yards from the shore, the longest range over the water obtained by the Turkish guns.

 

The firing from the sea was maintained for the next two days; the two French destroyers, Fauconneau and Hache, relieved the Comet and Staunch for a time, and the monitors M.15 and M.29 joined in. The Requin returned to her station, whereupon the Grafton went back to Port Said for coal and ammunition; and Admiral Jackson shifted his flag to the Enterprise. Before dawn on November 7 the army ashore signalled that the Turks were evacuating Gaza and asked for a bombardment of all railways and roads they might be using in their retreat. As soon, therefore, as there was enough light three monitors and the two river gunboats fired up the Resi valley at the retreating Turks, over the heads of the British infantry, who were tramping along the sandy shore. At noon our line was so well advanced that it was clear Deir Sineid would soon fall. Our naval force moved northward: M.15 to a spot from which Julis station could be shelled, the Requin and French destroyers to Askalon. So thorough was the success, and Gaza so unmistakably ours, that on the 9th the troops crossed the Hesi valley and passed for the moment beyond the reach of assistance from the sea. General Allenby hoped to attack Jaffa on the 13th, and as he would then require a naval demonstration, all the ships withdrew to Deir El Belah for a rest.

 

It is impossible to say how far these naval bombardments assisted General Allenby's brilliant operations, nor do we know whether the Turks were deceived by the simulated landing behind Gaza. But co‑operation with the land armies was certainly costly. Soon after the operations began, Lieutenant Hans Wendlandt, who was then cruising in the southern Aegean in UC.38, received orders from Nauen to go to the coast of Palestine, and operate against British transports between Askalon and Jaffa. He did not at once obey, but reached the coast off Gaza on November 10. After keeping periscope watch all that day and most of the next, he discovered that a mass of ships were anchored off Deir el Belah, and that their anchorage was protected by a net which ran parallel to the shore and was distant two miles from it. The gaps between the ends of the net and the shore were patrolled by

 

Nov. 1917

CONVOYS

 

trawlers and drifters. At about sunset on November 11, Hans Wendlandt took his submarine through the gap, and torpedoed the Staunch and monitor M.15. In addition to the torpedoed ships, three French destroyers, the Comet and the Enterprise were lying at the anchorage, and a group of transports were off the mouth of the Hesi. Admiral Jackson, who was in the Enterprise at the time, sent the trawlers and French destroyers to protect the transports, and withdrew the remainder of the squadron to Port Said. After the disaster the naval forces continued to protect the lines of supply which ran from Egypt to anchorages on the army's left flank, but active naval participation in the campaign ceased.

 

By this time, Admiral Calthorpe had completed his preparations for introducing a general convoy system on the lines laid down by the Allied Conference in September, and towards the end of November he reported on the first results of the new system of defence.

 

(The American forces at Gibraltar had by now been increased by five small destroyers of 240 tons, the Chauncey, Bainbridge, Barry, Dale and Decatur; by the revenue cutter Tampa and the gunboat Paducah. These forces were mainly employed as convoy escorts.)

 

Convoys under British escort were running between Gibraltar and Oran, Bizerta and Alexandria, Alexandria and Port Said, Bizerta and Milo. The French authorities were solely responsible for the traffic between Marseilles and Algiers and Marseilles and Bizerta. The convoys between Milo and Salonica, and Milo and Alexandria were under a joint Franco‑British control. For the time being, no convoys were being run between Gibraltar and Genoa, as the Italians preferred that ships bound to their ports should follow the Spanish coastal route. Ships were also running free between Naples and Bizerta, because the Italians preferred that ships should hug the western coast of Italy and the northern coast of Sicily, and keep within the area protected by their coastal defences.

 

Admiral Calthorpe freely admitted that the Italian local defences and control of traffic had been prepared with the most meticulous care and worked with great precision. He none the less regretted that such a system had ever been instituted; it absorbed the services of 11,000 men and of a large number of auxiliaries which he would have liked to see allocated to the striking force that he was still collecting. But he had to admit that shipping within the Italian coastal zone was relatively immune from attack, and that he ordered ships which could not be escorted to use it freely. Admiral Calthorpe was, moreover, very sceptical about the efficiency of the convoy system as a measure of defence, and doubted whether it would reduce losses materially; "the system of the protection of merchant shipping by sailing them in convoys," he wrote, "is, at the best, a deterrent and not a reliable safeguard . .... this applies particularly to the Mediterranean . ....where the comparatively restricted areas through which shipping must pass to reach their destinations are all in favour of the enemy. Hence it appears that the measure of protection afforded by this system is bound to become less as the enemy gains in skill and experience, and that the true solution is to be found in an increased and unceasing offensive, which should, in time, enable us to dispense altogether with the need for these methods of defence."

 

These were the Commander‑in‑Chief's personal views: the statistics of convoy losses did not altogether support them. Sinkings in the through homeward convoys had certainly been severe during the month and had raised the total percentage of loss; but even with this addition the statistics were in favour of the system. Three hundred and eighty‑one vessels had been run in convoy during the month, and only nine of them had been lost. These figures proved that the system gave a real chance of escaping danger. The number of unescorted ships was, moreover, still very high; about forty per cent of the total traffic had been placed under escort during the month. The system was therefore still capable of great expansion, and, if made more embracing, would, presumably, raise the number of ships which escaped attack. This was the logical inference of the figures then available. The task before the naval authorities was not, however, confined to making the system more embracing. Admiral Calthorpe's staff estimated that the defence of shipping would not have mastered the attack until losses in convoy were reduced to below one per cent of the ships escorted. To increase the efficiency of the system itself, quite independently of its comprehensiveness, was the pressing and urgent problem.

 

Meanwhile the first experiments in constructing a permanent barrage across the Straits of Otranto had been carried out, and were very discouraging. Two and a half miles of a barrage laid early in the month were inspected on November 27; the obstruction was found to have broken into three parts; the nets beneath it were hopelessly entangled and knotted. Some of this destruction may have been done by U.47, which ran into the net whilst it was in position, and returned to Cattaro to report its existence. This, however, was not known at the time, and the conclusion that the authorities formed, that the net had been broken up by winds and tides, was substantially correct. The material

 

Nov. 1917

SUBMARINES UNCHECKED

 

was removed, and the attempt to place a fixed obstacle across the Straits of Otranto was not renewed for many weeks.

 

The prospect during the last months of the year was still bleak and cheerless. The only relief to it was, perhaps, that the Italian armies brought the Austrians to a standstill on the Piave during November, and that the menace of a sortie by the Austrian fleet came to nothing. Indeed the Italians reasserted their naval domination of the northern Adriatic by an act of extraordinary daring. During the night of December 9, Lieutenant Rizzo penetrated into Trieste in a picket boat and torpedoed the old battleship Wien.

 

This seemed to restore the old position in the Adriatic. But, although the Allied naval authorities could not know it, they were really exchanging one danger for another. The new German Commander‑in‑Chief at Constantinople, Vice‑Admiral von Rebeur‑Paschwitz, had now decided to attack our naval forces and transports with the Goeben and Breslau. (See Admiral Hermann Lorey, Der Krieg zur See: Die Mittelmeer Division, p. 330.) Enver Pasha had approved the project and the German ships were only held back by lack of coal. This, however, was a threat of which we were still unconscious. The visible and obvious menace of the submarine campaign was under no disguise; indeed it was less a menace than a pressing danger. Sixty‑four merchantmen, representing a total tonnage of 176,767, were sunk or damaged during the last month of the year; and the counter‑attack upon the U‑boats was still quite ineffective. On December 14, UC.38, which had operated off the coast of Palestine a month before, was sunk by the destroyers escorting the French cruiser Ch‰teaurenault; but, as the French cruiser was torpedoed and sunk before UC.38 was destroyed, as this was the only submarine sunk since May 24, and as only two submarines were destroyed in the Mediterranean during the course of the year, the incident was not encouraging. It served only to indicate that if a German submarine commander took exceptional risks, his U‑boat might be destroyed at exceptional cost. (See Map 2.)

 

One of the few reassuring facts of the position was that the troop transports, which were, in a sense, the military communications of the Mediterranean, were being moved with considerably less risk. The Japanese destroyers generally acted as escorts to the troopships. No more fitting duty could have been assigned to them. It stirred their military pride to be made the guardians of the Allied troops at sea; and they considered it a point of honour to meet every call that was made upon them. (The British naval staff estimated that the Japanese destroyers spent 72 per cent. of their total time at sea, the British destroyers 60 per cent., and the French and Italian about 45 per cent.) It had always been realised, however, that if the enemy ever decided to attack the purely military communications of the Mediterranean, he would probably do so with surface craft rather than by a special concentration of U‑boats. And as it so happened he was nearly ready to do so. The Breslau had already filled her bunkers, the Goeben's coal supplies were being taken on board as fast as the crew could manage; the destroyers Muavenet, Basra, Numune and Samsun were ready for sea.

 

It had, of course, been realised for long that the Goeben and Breslau might make a sortie into the Aegean; but Admiral S. R. Fremantle had always been confident that the enemy would not be able to conceal his intention. (Admiral Fremantle was appointed Commander of the British Agean Squadron, August 13, 1917.) The minefields at the entrance were a formidable obstacle, and it seemed almost certain that the enemy would not attempt to leave the Dardanelles until they had located those which lay across their track. This could only be done by sweeping operations, which, to be effective, would have to be carried out for ten miles beyond Sedd el Bahr.

 

As it seemed inconceivable that the enemy could ever carry out such a big sweeping operation undetected, the orders which Admiral Fremantle had issued to his scattered forces were all based on the assumption that a fairly long warning would be given. None the less, whether the warning were long or short, it was taken for granted that the forces in any one particular zone would be more or less helpless if the Goeben raided the patrol area allotted to them. The monitors, light cruisers, and sloops which were spread over the Aegean would all be defenceless against the Goeben's guns; and all that Admiral Fremantle felt able to do was to warn them in his general orders that, if the Goeben ever did break out, they ought to lead her "in a direction in which support may be obtained " rather than "attack her regardless of consequences." This very sensible caution was, however, somewhat weakened by the wording of the general signal which was to be made if the Goeben were known to be out. The signal ran: "Take all necessary action to engage the enemy," and this was an order which British naval officers could only interpret in one way.

 

The orders were, however, drafted upon a further general assumption about the enemy's intentions. Admiral Fremantle

 

Jan. 1918

THE GERMAN PLAN

 

was persuaded that, if the Goeben left the Dardanelles, it would probably be to join the Austrians in the Adriatic. In all probability, therefore, she would attack and destroy only those forces which came within range of her guns as she steamed out of the Aegean at high speed. A prolonged attack upon our patrol forces did not seem likely. Indeed Admiral Fremantle spoke of a naval attack against the British bases as a "desperate venture, which could only end in the eventual destruction of the enemy, and is conceivable only as a last resort which might be decided upon in the event of Turkey deciding upon a separate peace."

 

It is therefore somewhat remarkable that the enemy should have preferred this project to all others. The operation orders issued to the squadron did not, it is true, make provision for prolonged attack against the British bases; for in them it was only stated that all patrol craft found off the Dardanelles were to be destroyed. None the less a submarine was stationed off Mudros, and if the first part of the enterprise went well, the German Admiral intended to press on to Lemnos and bombard Mudros harbour by indirect fire from the eastward. (Hermann Lorey, op. cit., p. 332.) The plan which he and his staff thought most feasible was therefore but little different from the plan which Admiral Fremantle regarded as almost too risky to be practicable. But the duty of combating the Germans on their desperate enterprise did not fall upon Admiral Fremantle. Early in the new year he left the Aegean for England, (Admiral Fremantle was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff by the new Board.) and was succeeded by Rear‑Admiral A. Hayes-Sadler. The new Rear‑Admiral hoisted his flag in the Lord Nelson on January 12, and four days later sailed in her to Salonica to discuss questions of interest with General Milne. By now the German plans were well advanced and almost ready for execution; there were, however, no signs of exceptional movement or preparation, so that our air forces on patrol had nothing to report during the days preceding the sortie.

 

The enemy had, indeed, concealed his intention with wonderful skill; but the concealment had hampered his preparations and made them insufficient. He had felt it impossible in the circumstances to make a proper reconnaissance of the minefields between Gallipoli and Imbros; and such knowledge as he possessed was very inadequate and misleading. All that the enemy knew for certain was that no mines would be found along a route which ran for about five miles due west of Sedd el Bahr, and that the minefield laid across the entrance in 1916 had probably been washed away. (Hermann Lorey, cp. cit., p. 332.) This had been ascertained by the minesweeping officers, and though true in itself, was a dangerous and misleading piece of knowledge. It was sufficiently accurate and circumstantial to make the enemy over‑confident, and insufficient to give him the least intimation of the dangers that lay ahead of him. Beyond the old 1916 minefield, a great complex of fields had been laid along a rough curve which began to the north‑west of Mavro, and covered the open sheet of water that separates Imbros from Gallipoli. These minefields lay right across the Goeben's track, and were practically unavoidable. The German staff did not know that they existed.

 

A few hours before the German ships sailed, however, a disquieting document was handed in to the German staff. It was a chart captured from a British patrol vessel which had gone ashore a month previously in the Gulf of Saros. The chart had been kept at General Liman von Sanders's headquarters, and when he heard that the Goeben and the Breslau were about to sail he ordered it to be sent on to Admiral von Rebeur‑Paschwitz. The naval staff examined it, and found that it was marked with pencil lines which seemed to indicate minefields. One of these lines was drawn from Cape Teke south‑eastward right across the outgoing track of the squadron; the other began at a point four miles north‑westward of Mavro, and curved north‑eastwards into the Gallipoli shore. There was a gap between the two. The captured chart therefore showed that the British minefields were far more numerous, and covered a larger area than the Germans imagined; and if this chart had been critically examined on the assumption that trawler skippers do not correct their charts like German navigators, it would have been taken for granted that the pencilled lines were no more than rough indications, or warnings of impending danger. Some officers on the German staff seem to have regarded the matter in this light and to have advised another examination of the mined area. This, however, was considered inadvisable, as it was thought that new sweeping operations would in all probability compromise the secrecy of the entire project. None the less, additional precautions were taken. The line on the captured chart which marked the inner minefield was disregarded, as the last sweeper's report proved that this field was no longer dangerous. The remaining indications were treated as though they were accurate and scientific data; the Goeben's courses were so

 

Jan. 1917

BRITISH MINEFIELDS

 

calculated that she would steam through the gap between the two lines, and so reach her bombarding position off Kusu Bay in safety.

 

DISPOSITION OF THE AEGEAN SQUADRON, 20TH JANUARY, 1918

 

Agean Squadron

Southern Aegean, 1st Detached Squadron

Dardanelles, 2nd Detached Squadron

 

Salonica, 3rd Detached Squadron

Smyrna Area, 4th Detached Squadron

Central Aegean, 5th Detached Squadron

Bulgarian Coast, 6th Detached Squadron

Mudros

Suda Bay

Kusu Bay, Pyrgos

Salonica

Kalloni, Vathi, Laki

Syra, Trebuki

Stavros

Battleship:

Agamemnon

Light cruisers:

Lowestoft

Foresight

Skirmisher

Monitor:

M.18 (under repair)

Sloop:

Heliotrope

Auxiliary Sweeper:

Gazelle (under repair)

Destroyers:

Arno

Wear (under repair)

Kennet (in dock)

Ribble (raising steam for Malta)

Lyra (en route from home, relief for Attack)

Light Cruiser:

Pelorus

Cruiser:

Endymion (refitting Malta).

Monitors: