Shipping Wonders of the World

 © Shipping Wonders of the World 2012-17  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  info@shippingwondersoftheworld.com

Epics of the Submarines

Stories of men who have not only had amazing escapes from death, but who have also performed feats of unforgettable gallantry


Epics of the submarines































DURING the fourteen years immediately preceding the war of 1914 -18 a small section of the Royal Navy had been quietly experimenting and learning the capabilities, no less than the limitations, of submarines. These early vessels, measuring 63 ft 4-in long and 11 ft 9-in beam, and fitted with 14-in torpedoes (as compared with the modern 21-in), were certainly little death traps. It was never known what they would do, what strange tricks they might play, or what would result from a certain set of circumstances; but submarine service was entirely voluntary and attracted young officers with a bent for mechanical things and a zeal for promotion. These early adventurers were not wholly disappointed; some of our most distinguished admirals to-day began to make their mark in those dangerous little submarines at a time when every trip outside the harbour was a voyage of discovery, and when every dive below the surface was a risk to human lives.


An instance is provided by the episode of H.M. Submarine A4, in October, 1905. The A class of submarine, although superior to the initial “letterless” type, displacing 180 tons, measuring 100 feet long, 11½ feet wide, drawing 11½ feet, and able to do eleven knots on the surface with the twelve-cylinder engines, had only a single propeller and one short periscope. One of these vessels, submerged, running on her electricity, could make seven knots for a short period.


Before this date there had been some exciting incidents, even in the calmest water. One boat, while under trial in Tilbury Dock, with the Admiralty Director of Naval Construction on board, settled herself down on the bottom so firmly that for a time her crew was gravely endangered. A second refused to answer her diving rudders and nearly drowned her crew. A third gave an obstinate display by sticking to tenacious clay. A fourth developed terrifying leaks due to pressure. In the course of some exercises, A1 was accidentally run down by a steamer and sunk.


Thus, when A4 motored out of Portsmouth Harbour towards Spithead, and had only just rounded the corner to Stokes Bay, she might or might not be courting death. No one could prophesy. She intended to make experiments relative to the transmission of sounds, and with her went H.M. Torpedo Boat No. 26. The idea was for the torpedo boat to lower a bell over the side, while A4’s hull lay just under the sea, but with a brass-tube ventilator rising above the surface. Through this ventilator emerged a long boat-hook showing a red flag. As the torpedo boat steamed around at varying distances ringing her bell, this red flag was to be kept moving up and down. The submarine’s hull had to be kept just covered, but it was not necessary to dive. With the exception of this one ventilator, all apertures had been closed. Every man and both officers went to their respective stations, and all was in readiness for the sound experiments when, suddenly, something happened.


Down and down dropped the submarine, and the depth dials told the terrible truth. In those days the safety limit was 100 feet. During the war a German submarine (U 58) involuntarily submerged to 278 feet and came up. The Italian submarine Ferraris once dived to 350 feet. Thirty years ago such achievements would have been constructionally impossible. The coxswains in A4 watched the dial-hand revolving ominously to 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 feet. The boat had become uncontrollable, and then she fell to 90 feet. They were only 10 feet short of the worst.


To trim for diving, a submarine first fills her ballast tanks with water by means of valves and so forfeits her buoyancy; then her propeller and hydroplanes control her in much the same manner as an airship is directed. Conversely, the submarine is lightened by the use of compressed air bottles to empty the tanks of water. When it was discovered, therefore, that gallons of seawater were pouring into A4’s inner hull from the top, it became obvious that a serious accident had happened. The available flasks of compressed air were let loose to blow out the ballast tanks.


Unfortunately the task seemed beyond human or mechanical power. Two of the tanks would not empty as fast as they should have done, and water still poured in, transforming the steel shell into a lake. Matters went from bad to worse when A4 took an ugly inclination by the bows of forty degrees. Every loose article kept washing up and down in confusion. Then all the electric lights went out.


Trapped as if at the bottom of a deep, dark well, officers and men had their own thoughts. To all of them death seemed a certainty; many of them called to mind the fate of A1; others recollected that A8 had foundered with all hands not far from Plymouth Sound, having dived unexpectedly with her conning-tower open. One of A4’s two officers has said that during this ordeal he pictured the Portsmouth evening papers having a large headline, “Another Submarine Disaster”.


But, whatever their thoughts, everybody, from the captain to the youngest seaman, was calmly performing his duty in the face of imminent death. The cause of the trouble was the open ventilator, a pipe four inches in diameter. Leading Seaman Baker, one of the hydroplane coxswains, tried to screw on the stopper and arrest the inrush; but the flood made this impossible. Then he stuffed his cap into the pipe, and also other men’s caps. When that method had little effect he pulled off his own jersey, and this had some good result.


But the situation was serious. As the loose water swished round their legs and the men slipped and slithered, they felt the hull hitting the sea-bed. Then the water got into the accumulators, generating the asphyxiating chlorine gas that might end all things. It was a race against fate, and the sound of released air hissing into the tanks indicated the final efforts to survive.


Something happened. The hull made a movement and it developed a different trim. The boat took life again. She seemed to be lifting; the blowers were getting more powerful; the tanks were emptying. A4 was now rising as rapidly as the ballast could be ejected; yet too much optimism seemed scarcely justifiable.


Then, at the conclusion of three and a half apprehensive minutes, A4 rose once more to the surface. The conning-tower was opened and the deadly clouds of chlorine fumes poured out. First the captain ordered all hands out into the air, but, after they had obeyed and had been counted, he realized that two were missing. He went down into the darkness and chlorine to discover these two men still at their stations, cool and unperturbed. They had not heard the command to quit. The captain then followed them on deck and joined the others, who had never expected to see daylight again.


THE MAIN ARMAMENT of the submarine is her torpedoesIt so happened that H.M.S. Hazard came steaming along. Her captain (Commander B. W. Johnson) saw that, with A4 still down by the head and everyone on deck, something abnormal had occurred. He took the submarine in tow, and the survivors were put aboard the tender Nettle. This had been a narrow escape indeed. While A4 was being taken into harbour three internal explosions occurred, and when waiting for the dock-gates to open she began to settle down again, until she finally sank.





THE MAIN ARMAMENT of the submarine is her torpedoes. Early submarines used in the war of 1914-18 were fitted with 14-in torpedoes, but to-day the standard is 21-in. This picture shows the inner ends of four torpedo tubes - any one of which is capable of destroying a ship, as was several times proved during the war of 1914-18.





The cause of the trouble was that the wash of a passing steamer had sent a deluge down the ventilator. One of the petty officers, however, testified that on an earlier occasion A4 had submerged accidentally. Luckily these sound-trials had taken place in Stokes Bay rather than in the English Channel, where scarcer shipping and rough seas would have spelt tragedy. That no lives were lost is attributable to the splendid discipline of the men, to the captain (then Lieut. Martin E. Nasmith) and to Sub-Lieut. Godfrey Herbert. The former became famous ten years later when he won a V.C. at the Dardanelles; at the time of writing Admiral Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith is Second Sea Lord of the Admiralty. Commander Herbert likewise had a brilliant war record. One of our ablest submarine officers, he became also the pioneer of Q-ship operations.


It was this Lieut. Herbert who, in 1911, took the three British submarines C36, C37, and C38 on an unprecedented voyage of 10,000 miles from Portsmouth to Hong Kong. In spite of the weather, the cramped space, the lack of exercise, and the heat, the voyage was safely accomplished with little sickness. There were occasions when those aboard the escorting cruiser (who were having a fairly bad time in a gale) saw these three boats disappear under the waves as if never to return to sight.


Three years later the war of 1914-18 had begun. A submarine under Lieut.-Commander Herbert with two others was sent from Harwich to Heligoland Bight. Herbert was now in command of D5. On August 21, 1914, the two German light-cruisers Rostock and Strassburg, accompanied by the Sixth Torpedo Boat Flotilla, set out towards the Dogger Bank, supported by the Hamburg and three U-boats. The aim of-this expedition was to clear the North Sea of any British fishing trawlers, so that a few nights later two minelayers (Albatross and Nautilus) might lay minefields off the Tyne and Humber respectively. This exploit was intended to have disastrous effects on British shipping.


The Rostock was a four-funnelled cruiser of 4,900 tons, carrying a dozen 4·1-inch guns, and was built the previous year (1913). There could be no confusing her with a British cruiser, for she looked distinctively German. It is easy therefore to imagine Lieut.-Commander Herbert’s joy on August 21 when he saw the Rostock outward-bound. So far no British submarine had torpedoed one of the enemy, but now there would be a wonderful chance of winning first honours. So he dived, got into position, and waited with all things in readiness for her approach. Certainly this summer sea with its glassy surface was too calm - no enviable condition for a submarine, who must keep using her periscope without cover of waves. And, of course, so smart a ship as the Rostock, bound

out on a risky trip, would assuredly be keeping an alert look out. Moreover, she was screened by three destroyers on either bow, whose sharp stems would be deadly.


A FAMOUS SUBMARINE, C 37None the less, Herbert had the chance of his life - an opportunity such as every submarine captain dreams of. Looking through his periscope, he saw the image of the Rostock nicely framed, some 600 yards off. He fired one torpedo, and then another. Rising to the surface, he expected to see a four-funnelled ship heeling over and sinking. But the Rostock had passed on without having been struck. She had sighted the two missiles, and now the three destroyers were hunting D5. In spite of all Herbert’s skill, he could not elude their attentions until the cloak of darkness enabled him to escape death a second time, and at last he reached Harwich. Soon after arrival there, an interview occurred with his chief. Commodore (now Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Roger) Keyes.


“Why the devil didn’t you sink the cruiser?” demanded the latter.


But Herbert could not find an answer; nor was it discovered until long afterwards. The solution was simple:





A FAMOUS SUBMARINE, C 37. This submarine with two others, C 36 and C 38, travelled in 1911 from Portsmouth to Hong Kong, a distance of 10,000 miles. The flotilla was commanded by Lieut. Herbert, and despite bad weather, cramped space, lack of exercise and the heat of these early vessels, the voyage was accomplished without a casualty. A cruiser acted as escort.





When a British Naval Commission visited Germany after the war, it was learnt that the Rostock’s people had been amazed that two torpedoes should suddenly have been sighted coming from nowhere, that they had failed to hit, and that any submarine captain should have had the audacious skill to attack in such calm conditions. These torpedoes had been directed with perfect accuracy, yet they had passed below the 17 feet draught of the cruiser. This was not Herbert’s fault, but because the wartime heads of British torpedoes were 40 lb heavier than the practice-heads with which British submarines had been wont to exercise. If this departmental error had not been made, the Rostock’s expedition would probably have been cancelled. Certainly eight, innocent fishing trawlers from Boston (Lincs.) would not have been sunk, and the two perilous minefields would never have been laid.


It cannot be denied that the Germans had in their submarine service some exceedingly able and daring commanding officers, though the standard of efficiency fell off during the later stages of the war, when less experienced captains sought to achieve that which their predecessors had found difficulty in accomplishing. Few U-boat officers have published their reminiscences, and many of the stories that have appeared are disappointing.


On the other hand, there were some U-boat captains whom we can respect for their brilliance, even if they were sharp thorns in our side. In particular there is much we can learn from the career of Lieut.-Commander Hersing, of U 21, who first taught conservative minds that the pre-war claims of submarine potentialities were justified. At the end of August, 1914, U 21

left home for a North Sea cruise, and on September 2 she reached the Firth of Forth. I well remember some months later being on that station and hearing the rumour that an enemy submarine had penetrated even to the Forth Bridge. No one seemed to credit it as a fact, or to believe that a U-boat would endanger herself at night in the strong tide that rushes past the supports. All the same, it was curious that the evidence strongly suggested a visit had been made but repulsed. This was long before the efficient Forth boom defence came into being, and with little further penetration Hersing might have sunk H.M.S. Invincible. To have torpedoed a British battle-cruiser in harbour would have had a great moral effect.


A German Raider


That night the batteries did fire on what they took to be a periscope, and the Invincible sent picket-boats to hunt the stranger. To-day we know that on this night of September 2 Hersing crept up to the bridge about 10.30 p.m., but deemed it prudent to withdraw. Three days later, off May Island, ten miles south-east, he encountered H.M.S. Pathfinder, Captain F. Martin-Leake,

flotilla-leader of the Forth Destroyer Patrol. It was 4.30 p.m., and U 21 fired a torpedo, which caused the Pathfinder to sink in less than five minutes, with the loss of most of her company.


Such is the fortune of war that Captain Martin-Leake was picked up, though wounded, and did splendid service until the end of hostilities. He lived to have his revenge, being in command of the armoured cruiser, Achilles when that ship, with the Dundee, fought and sank the armed German raider Leopard, disguised as the Norwegian steamer Rena. But, after the war, by a curious twist of fate, he succumbed to an accident on a quiet country road.


It was Hersing, who, that same autumn, broke all records by forcing the Dover Strait and going so far west as Le Havre, where he sank shipping by the use of his gun. In the following January he created another record by penetrating right down the English Channel, and thence north into the Irish Sea. There he spread some consternation by sinking merchant steamers off the Mersey. For this he received exceptional congratulations in Germany on having accomplished a feat that had been deemed impossible. Indeed, this cruise, which so clearly demonstrated a U-boat’s deadliness, was immediately followed by the German submarine blockade against British shipping.


The submarine E 11 cruising along the surfaceThe captain of U 21 was unquestionably a brilliant submarine pioneer, a marked man who could always be relied upon to carry out the most difficult task. As such we can afford to admire him. His next adventures were more remarkable, and still more historic.





RENOWNED FOR ALL TIME. E 11 cruising along the surface. This submarine, under Commander Martin E. Nasmith twice in 1915 threaded its way through the heavily-mined Dardanelles and entered the Sea of Marmara. Running a gauntlet past hostile destroyers, forts, and land batteries, E11 sank a large number of enemy vessels, including the Turkish battleship Kheiredin Barbarossa, bombarded a railway station and shelled troops on the Gallipoli road. Her commander was awarded the Victoria Cross.





It will be recollected that the spring of 1915 saw the British occupied with the Dardanelles campaign, and by March both Germany and the Turks were apprehensive lest their enemies should get through the Straits to Constantinople. “If the Dardanelles fall,” wrote Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, “then the whole of the Balkans will be let loose upon us”, and “the world war has been decided against us”. The Turks asked Germany for a submarine to operate against the Anglo-French Fleet, and the request eventually was granted. No better commander could be sent than Hersing in U 21.


But this necessitated some hard thinking and scheming. How could a submarine go all the way from Germany to the Austrian base at Cattaro, up the Adriatic, without refuelling? It was true that five years before the Swedish submarine Hvalen, which had been built in Italy, had cruised thence across the Mediterranean, up the Atlantic, and the North Sea. But that had been in peace time, and she had called at several ports. So, also, the three British C-class submarines that had journeyed 10,000 miles to Hong Kong had called for replenishment at Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden and Colombo. Hersing was obliged to go round the north of Scotland - the Dover Strait now being considered too risky - outside Ireland, down the Bay of Biscay and through the Otranto Straits, making 4,000 miles in all. Moreover, he was to encounter much bad weather, to say nothing of British patrols.


Otto Hersing’s chief difficulty would never have existed in the sailing-ship age, but oil fuel he must have. The German Admiralty, therefore, arranged with its embassy in Madrid that the S.S. Marsala should meet him off the Spanish coast, with all the

necessary stores. On April 25 U 21 left Wilhelmshaven with fifty-six tons of oil fuel for her diesels, and she made a safe voyage round Scotland and Ireland, down the west coast of France, and past Cape Finisterre. She was then met by the Marsala, and they retired into Corcubion Bay, in north-west Spain. Having already consumed thirty-one of his fifty-six tons, Hersing now received twelve tons more of oil fuel plus two tons of lubricating oil, and started for the south.


Hersing had used the cover of a May night and a lonely neutral bay without the Allies’ knowledge, and now, with the worst portion of his journey accomplished he was able to resume with confidence; but his troubles were not yet over.


A Perilous Dilemma


In spite of all Teutonic care, the Marsala had brought him the wrong kind of fuel oil; it had not the right specific gravity for diesels. Hersing’s mechanics tried mixing it with the original supply, but that did not prove satisfactory.


What was he to do? He had only twenty-five tons of suitable fuel left. Should he try going back home - a failure? But that was unthinkable, and scarcely practicable, because the voyage would require still another six tons. Should he go on to the Adriatic? A

rough calculation indicated that he might, or more probably might not, last out until Cattaro. Being a wise and brave man, he banished all thoughts of interning U 21 in Spain, and decided to take a big risk. If he could do the journey at slow speed on the surface, and not be driven under water by Mediterranean patrols, then there was just a possibility of his winning through. So he went on.


The German submarine was sighted north of Lisbon by the S.S. Teiresias, who wondered at her nationality. Later on U 21 passed Gibraltar, but on May 6 she was chased by H.M. Torpedo Boat No. 92, and made to dive. She received some damage to her periscope, though she fired a torpedo at her pursuer. Hersing’s anxiety was increased by sighting a second torpedo boat, a steamer off Cartagena, and a French destroyer, and so he had to dive again. Finally, on May 13, he arrived at Cattaro, with scarcely half a ton of fuel left. His nineteen days’ pioneer voyage had been performed with the narrowest of margins. Thus ended the first phase of his thrilling experience.


The U 21 now had to go up to Pola for repairs, which were quickly effected. On May 20 she started off again, came up the Aegean, and reached the Dardanelles approaches. She tried to attack the Russian cruiser Askold, but failed. On May 24, at 10.30 a.m., she just missed torpedoing H.M.S. Vengeance. At 12.30 p.m. she torpedoed and sank H.M.S. Triumph, although the Triumph was lying with her anti-torpedo nets out. It was an amazing sight when this 11,800-tons battleship turned over, but the loss of life (between fifty and sixty) might have been more except for the fine weather and the presence of rescuing vessels. A little later, on the morning of May 27, Hersing selected another of the Dardanelles bombarding battleships. This time it was H.M.S. Majestic (15,000 tons), and just before 7 a.m. he torpedoed her also. She listed over and turned bottom uppermost within five minutes. Then she sank.


The painful sensation created in Britain through Hersing’s brilliant achievement is still remembered. He sank two more ships of lesser value, but the net result of his initial venture was to place our bombarding vessels so much on the defensive that the Turks were correspondingly aided. Hersing had demonstrated the immense possibilities of one submarine working independently, and had proved the uselessness of steel nets. Thenceforth no battleship could be regarded as safe unless anchored in harbour behind boom-defences or else zig-zagging at high speed. No wonder, then, that on his arrival at Constantinople the Turks welcomed him as their deliverer, and the German Emperor awarded him the equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It was certainly well earned.


In August, 1914, the British Mediterranean Fleet stationed at Malta had the three old-fashioned submarines, B9, B10 and B11. These were sent up the Aegean, but the days flew past, and no chance of distinguishing themselves seemed likely. On November 3 of that year Admiral Carden’s squadron had bombarded the Dardanelles outer forts, but then followed a lull. Meanwhile the Goeben and the Breslau were inside and had been in action against the Russians in the Black Sea. Could nothing be done against the Turks’ floating strength located somewhere near the Narrows?


Sinking a Turkish Warship


The young officers serving in these three obsolescent submarines were all keen to try and force a passage, but the problem was this. While the first part of the journey could be made on the surface, the submarine must then dive and make her progress unseen past powerful land defences. This submergence was complicated by having to meet a strong downward current (in places running at five knots), and by the known existence of mines laid athwart the route in five lines. Thus, apart from human courage, it was also a question of electricity, on which any submarine must rely for propulsion when below surface.


Now these early B-boats were of limited electric endurance, though B11 (Lieutenant Norman D. Holbrook, R.N.) had newer batteries and she might therefore have enough electricity to navigate unseen. The whole venture was bound to be extremely hazardous. Complete information of the obstacles was not possessed by Admiral Carden, and no one could say how the eddies would affect this steel fish. The chances of her returning from this pioneer trip were scarcely more than slender. If she showed herself on the water when once the defences had been reached, she would be fired on at once; if she crept along with periscope down, she would be groping blindly and might easily run ashore. In either event a few shells would speedily end her existence.


On the other hand, she might be fortunate in making a safe passage, arrive where she hoped, raise her periscope, and find some suitable target. There might even be the Goeben lying at anchor. Who could say?


On December 13, 1914, Lieutenant Holbrook was under way on the surface, hugging the European shore of the Dardanelles, and not diving until it became necessary; for B11 would need all the electricity possible. The trip began well. Holbrook proceeded below the five explosive lines, approached near the Narrows, raised his periscope, and sighted the two-funnelled Messudieh. She was a 9,120-tons battleship, mounting two 9·2-in and twelve 6-in guns. This battery was of great value, since it protected the minefield against any possibility of British minesweepers approaching.


H.M. SUBMARINE E 14 at the Dardanelles































H.M. SUBMARINE E 14 at the Dardanelles. This vessel was commanded by Lieut.-Commander E. C. Boyle. This officer was one of the intrepid leaders who harassed the Turkish shipping in the vicinity of the Dardanelles during 1915.




It was shortly before 10 a.m. when Holbrook got within 800 yards, steadied his submarine in the current, and fired his torpedo. He submerged more deeply, waited, heard the explosion, raised his periscope again and saw the Messudieh sinking by the stern. Within ten minutes she had disappeared; but her final effort was to send a shower of shells splashing round the periscope’s locality. Having thus made history, and achieved something that had been considered impossible, B11 turned to come home. Unfortunately, the current drove her ashore, whereupon all the Turkish land guns that could bear opened fire. Almost miraculously she bumped off, hit the bottom more than once, dodged the mines, and somehow was never hit. True, her periscope lens became fogged, and she steered “blind” for some time; but at length she saw her way clear ahead, got past all defences, and went hurrying along with the fair current.


Having performed an unprecedented feat and proved what could be done by enterprise and pluck in even a B-boat, B11 gained the Dardanelles entrance soon after 2 p.m. and came to the surface. For this daring exploit Lieutenant Holbrook was awarded the Victoria Cross, his second-in-command, Lieutenant S. T. Winn, was given the D.S.C., and everyone else in the boat received either the D.S.C. or D.S.M. Later on the enemy salvaged most of Messudieh’s guns; but down at Chanak they preserved as a unique souvenir a piece of Holbrook’s torpedo that had been the cause of so serious a disaster.


We began this chapter with Lieutenant Martin E. Nasmith in the submarine A4. Ten years passed, and he was now in command of a much bigger and far more efficient submarine, E11. This quiet, cool officer brought his craft out to the Dardanelles in the spring of 1915, and by his intrepidity set a standard that it would be almost impossible to excel, though his tasks differed from the opportunities that awaited Hersing. Lieut.-Commander Nasmith was not - as we have just seen - the first British captain to take his boat through the perilous minefields of the Dardanelles; but the enemy’s defences became more formidable after each submarine’s attempt, and the tricky current was always a menace to a vessel navigating below the surface.


Through a Minefield


Running the gauntlet exactly describes each voyage through the Narrows, guarded not merely by underwater entanglements, but also by powerful forts on either shore. The British Army on the Gallipoli Peninsula was being hard pressed by the Turks, whose reinforcements and supplies were brought chiefly by water along the Sea of Marmara. If British submarines could reach that sea and stop this traffic, then invaluable assistance would be given to the army. So at 3 a.m. on May 19 we find E11 entering the Dardanelles Straits for another of those dangerous journeys which her “owner” had undertaken in such different regions as the Solent, the Baltic and the North Sea. Diving to 80 feet, she passed safely underneath the mines; but she was attacked in the Narrows by enemy destroyers who sighted her periscope.


Nasmith, however, reached the Sea of Marmara, and a few days later made his presence felt to some purpose. At the eastern end he torpedoed a Turkish gunboat, stopped a steamer full of Turkish troops, compelled her abandonment, and caused her to be blown up. Another steamer, also bound for the Narrows at Chanak, was so disturbed that she ran into Rodosto on the northern Marmara shore, where she lay alongside the pier. A torpedo from E11 settled her fate. Next came a paddle-steamer bringing bales of barbed wire for the Turkish defences, but she likewise took fright and ran herself ashore.


Then on his seventh day out Nasmith had the temerity to enter Constantinople at high noon, where he torpedoed a transport lying alongside the arsenal. The moral effect of such an incident within the enemy’s capital need not be stressed. Next day, near Marmara Island, E11 sighted the Turkish battleship Kheiredm Barbarossa, which had made herself troublesome by firing at long range across the peninsula at the British Fleet. This battleship had to be dealt with, and a torpedo might do it perfectly.


The obsolescent submarine B 11































BRAVING ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH, Lieutenant Norman D. Holbrook in 1914 took the obsolescent submarine B 11 - seen above - into the Dardanelles and sank the 9,120-tons battleship Messudieh. The submarine, although she was attacked, and was forced to traverse a minefield, eventually returned successfully to her base. For this exploit Holbrook was awarded the Victoria Cross, and everybody else in the vessel was awarded either a D.S.C. or D.S.M.




This was easier said than done. Nasmith tried, but could not get in his attack, and one of the escorting enemy destroyers nearly succeeded in ramming E11. Perhaps time would bring another chance? On May 26 a large cargo steamer, although escorted, was now torpedoed, and five days later in Panderma Roads, a large transport received similar treatment, though some tugs managed to tow her ashore. On June 2 some good work was done in sending an ammunition ship to the bottom. To complete this eventful voyage, Nasmith once more braved the Narrows, dodged the forts and mines, and emerged from the Dardanelles, having seriously hindered the enemy from receiving troops as well as munitions. Besides striking terror and confusion into the Turks, he had sunk one gunboat, two ammunition ships and two storeships, and had driven a transport and paddle steamer ashore.


All this may sound matter of fact, but it is necessary to imagine the discomforts on board for days and nights, the trying heat, the perpetual suspense, the continuous vigilance, the effect on nerves of the whirring of motors, and the everlasting possibility of some mechanical accident rendering the submarine a mere steel coffin. Such a disaster nearly happened; for, while on her way back below Chanak, E11 fouled a large mine. The wonder is that she was not blown to destruction; but she forged ahead towing mine, sinker and mooring-cable outside the Straits, when the obstacle was removed by going full speed astern. No wonder that Lieut.-Commander Nasmith received a welcome of cheers on reaching his base; there came also promotion to Commander, and the award of the Victoria Cross.


A still more wonderful trip began in the early hours of August 5. Now fitted with a twelve-pounder gun on her deck, E11 set out again for the Sea of Marmara. After the previous affairs, the Turks were not to be taken unawares. As a preliminary, while motoring up against the current on the surface, E11 was greeted with shells and searchlight beams. Then she dived, but bumped a mine. She dived deeper still, to 110 feet, to avoid a treacherous net; but the net had been deepened to 220 feet. The submarine hit it. Here was a most serious obstacle, yet by sheer determination, weight and power, E11 burst her way through, so that off Ak Bashi she began another memorable chapter when she sighted and torpedoed a transport.


Next day brought a fresh difficulty, for an aeroplane spotted E11 and dropped bombs, though without result. Cruising about the Sea of Marmara, this submarine met Lieut.-Commander Boyle in the E14, and thereafter began such adventures as seem almost too fantastic for pure history.


After sighting Turkish troops on the march, shelling them, and torpedoing a gunboat, Nasmith once more found himself in the presence of the battleship Barbarossa. Again the battleship was being escorted by destroyers, but on this day - August 8 - her fate had to be decided. Her 11-in shells must never again be fired. A well-directed torpedo came from E11’s tube, and the battleship sank.


Life and Death Contrast


So the days went on with variations. Once Nasmith shelled some more troops marching along the Gallipoli road; this time the enemy replied with field-guns. Presently E11 occupied herself burning a dozen small sailing-craft, torpedoing a large steamer off Constantinople, one of the few remaining on the Sea of Marmara, and bombarding Mudania railway station. She was doing all she could to prevent the Turkish Army from being replenished.


The most picturesque and exciting incident had still to follow. In the north-eastern end of the Sea of Marmara lies the Gulf of Ismid, where the Berlin-Baghdad railway ran parallel with the shore. Commander Nasmith now approached the railway, with a view to cutting this line, fie arrived abreast of the viaduct, and with his gun shelled the bridge, but the enemy replied and the submarine withdrew. Lieut. Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, second-in-command, pluckily volunteered to swim ashore with a charge of gun-cotton and blow up the viaduct.


AN EARLY TYPE OF SUBMARINEHaving made a raft, on which were placed a 16-lb tin of gun-cotton, an electric torch, his revolver and bayonet for self-defence, Lieut. D’Oyly-Hughes left the submarine and swam shorewards pushing the raft ahead of him. It was 2 a.m. on August 21.





AN EARLY TYPE OF SUBMARINE. The first vessels had one propeller and little reserve of power. Every dive below the surface risked the lives of the crew. The safety limit of diving for vessels at the beginning of the war of 1914-18 was about 100 feet.





At a small culvert he laid his charge and fired it. He wasted no time in sprinting away down the line. Hearing the violent explosion, he knew that his mission had been fulfilled. Next came, also, the sound of Turkish pickets pursuing him. The young naval officer fired his revolver; the pickets replied with their rifles. A first-class race now began and continued for a mile - a life and death contest. At last, turning off, D’Oyly-Hughes rushed to the beach, plunged into the sea, blew his whistle as the prearranged signal, waited, whistled again, and having seen nothing of the submarine swam back to the shore. What could have happened to the E11?


Had she been trapped? D’Oyly-Hughes landed, rested, threw aside his weapons and his electric torch. Day was now dawning, and the pickets would soon discover him. Again he took to the water, the pickets shouted at him and fired. He was now feeling a sense of disappointment and was very tired. His eyes saw in the half light three strange boats approaching. Was the enemy hemming him in from land and sea?


No, this was not the first time that the upperworks of a submarine had been taken for three vague objects. It was E11 coming round a point of and. D’Oyly-Hughes swam towards her. He was hauled aboard almost exhausted. Thus was his escape made perfect at the end of a most gallant episode, and the submarine once more returned to her base.



[From part 10 and part 11, published 14 & 21 April 1936]



You can read more on submarines in “Beneath the Surface” on this website.