The sailing vessels that were used as trap-
“DOWN SCREENS! OPEN FIRE.” Not until the decoy sailing ship Prize (Q 21) had been shelled by the German submarine U 93 for twenty minutes did an opportunity occur for Lieut. W. E. L. Sanders to run up the White Ensign, expose the two 12-
UNTIL the war of 1914-
Our story opens in July 1916, when the brigantine Helgoland was lying in Liverpool. British owned, this 310-
their antidote the decoys, were receiving considerable attention. Since the sailing coasters were still at work along the English Channel and off the Irish coast, it was suggested that they should be experimentally armed as “trap-
The Helgoland was selected and armed with four 12-
On September 6, 1916, the Helgoland sailed from Falmouth (Cornwall) on her first warship cruise, bound for Milford (Pembrokeshire). Her departure took place after dark, to preserve secrecy. She had not long to wait. On the following day, when ten miles south of the Lizard (Cornwall), she sighted a submarine. Within five minutes the submarine began shelling the Helgoland at 2,000 yards range, the gunnery being so excellent that the first German shell fell only ten yards short.
In normal times the Helgoland would have carried only a small crew. To avoid suspicion, therefore, in the circumstances, it was essential that the greater part of her personnel should remain hidden. Under Sub-
ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL Q-
The enemy wasted no time in getting on to the target, for her second and third shots struck the Helgoland’s foretopsail-
Half an hour later a larger submarine appeared. This was not unusual, since U-
Lieut. Blair attacked again, but the enemy received such a surprise that she made a quick smoke-
From this disappointing and indecisive brief cruise it was obvious that the Helgoland needed an auxiliary motor; otherwise light airs and flat calms would make manoeuvring impossible. Her next encounter happened on October 24, about twenty miles southwest of the Lizard. This time there was a breeze from the south-
UNDER MANY NAMES the Mary B. Mitchell had an adventurous and successful career. Known variously as the Mitchell, Mary Y. Jose, Maria Therese and by other names, she nearly came to disaster by storm in January 1917. With five concealed guns she left Falmouth as the neutral Mary Y. Jase of Vigo, Spain. The storm carried away her foremast and mainmast, but eventually she was taken in tow off Ushant by the Norwegian steamship Sardinia.
The screens were dropped and the starboard guns fired. Their second and third shots seemed to reach the enemy amidships. For she stopped to fire only one round and then dived. But, as had happened on September 7, a second submarine now appeared. The newcomer, painted a lighter colour though without a sail, was seen two miles away, making for the Bagdale, whose crew had taken to the boats and abandoned ship. It was now 6.50 a.m. Westmore went about on the other tack and made towards the enemy in an endeavour to save the steamer.
The time was critical, but the range was as much as 4,000 yards. The Helgoland opened fire. She did not hit the submarine, but frightened her, causing her to dive out of sight. Certainly the German presently came to the surface, but did not remain there. She made off in a south-
Some months later the Helgoland had another adventure, but the location was off the Irish coast — eight miles north of Tory Island, Co. Donegal. A submarine attacked her by gun at 7.25 a.m., and after half an hour hit the brigantine’s after gun-
Submarine Under Sail
The date of this engagement was June 9, 1917. Two days later the Helgoland had returned to the region of the Scillies, where once more a submarine was found under sail. In some ways the Helgoland never had the luck she deserved, for July 11 was another calm and hazy summer day. She was drifting with the tide, when enemy shells flew over the fore-
The Helgoland survived the war and I came across her quite by accident at anchor in a lonely Cornish creek. No one was on board and she seemed somewhat unkempt. Though she had long since yielded up her armament and had resumed trading, freights were bad, she lay idle, and a strike was holding things up. What seemed so pathetic was that this heroine of many duels should be completely ignored; even the local seafarers had to be reminded of her identity.
Few people fully realize the manifold difficulties of life aboard these mystery sailing ships. More lively in a sea-
There was, moreover, always the possibility that, despite all the rehearsals, some unfortunate mishap might spoil the whole make-
A GERMAN SUBMARINE AT GIBRALTAR before being surrendered to Italy after the war of 1914-
The Glen’s captain anxiously watched his boat row away, and was waiting to open fire, when a German officer appeared in the conning-
This incident may be compared with one that happened a few weeks earlier. At 6 p.m. on May 17,1917, the Glen was thirty-
An Unwelcome Eyewitness
The submarine, having ceased fire and partly submerged, with periscope and a portion of her conning-
This was a victorious occasion for the decoy’s captain, Lieut. R. J. Turnbull, R.N.R., whose quick-
It is possible this may have been a third enemy; at any rate she was decidedly bigger than UB 39, and it is probable that the second submarine had wirelessed to the third submarine, telling her to head off this “trap-
MOORED OFF GIBRALTAR, after the Armistice, the German submarine UC94. The decoy auxiliary schooner Glen (alias Sidney) encountered a UC-
The scene was of great strategic importance, because it was in the track of the liners bound for Southampton and London, and because the smaller steamers, with army supplies destined for Cherbourg, would reasonably be expected here. But the small schooner had upset the German ambush at this strategic point. At 8 p.m. the big submarine gave up fighting the Glen, and made off to the westward, looking out for easier prey.
On this May 17 the sailing vessel Florence Louisa (115 tons) was sunk eight miles south of the Needles (I.W.), and the next day the steamship Dromore (268 tons) was sunk six miles south of Guernsey. On May 20 two more sailing vessels, the Dana (182 tons) and the Mientji (120 tons), were similarly destroyed twenty-
On June 25, when again sailing between the Isle of Wight and the French coast, the Glen was shelled by another submarine which remained so cautious as to approach no nearer than 4,000 yards. This time the spot was a little closer to the English shore —fourteen miles south of St. Catherine’s Point (I.W.). The tactics of the rivals were much the same as before, yet the end might have been different. For the U-
Schooner of Many Aliases
There was no lack of thrills in these sailing decoys, but the excitements were not confined to fighting other craft. Whether in war or in peace, the sailor always has the treacherous sea for his foe, and the Mary B. Mitchell (alias Mitchell, Mary Y. Jose, Marie Therese, and other names) had an awkward experience during January 1917. She was a three-
Commanded by Lieut. John Lawrie, R.N.R., a first-
So Lawrie kept the sea, and next day the gale blew without mercy. Shortly after 9.30 p.m. the night became more terrible and the foremast (with its yards) crashed down, carrying away also the mainmast, and leaving only the mizenmast standing.
The Mary B. Mitchell was in a bad way, but by no means finished. They close-
MOTOR LAUNCH 161, under the command of Lieut. Hannah, R.N.V.R., towed the Prize into Kinsale Harbour, Co. Cork, on May 2, 1917, after she had drifted for two days with her engines put out of action by the submarine U 93. This photograph shows ML 161 on her trials at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she was built. Her decks are covered with snow.
Under this rig the schooner ran towards the south-
Alone once more, a sad speck in that waste of wind-
There now occurred one of those miracles of the sea which belong to real life and would not be credited in fiction. The schooner did not founder and did not hit a rock; but she discovered a friend. At 9.30 p.m., twelve hours after she had signalled the large cargo steamer, the Mary B. Mitchell spoke the Norwegian ship Sardinia. This steamer stood by till 7 a.m. on January 10 and then tried getting her in tow.
The Sardinia lowered into the seas a buoy attached to a line, to which in turn was bent a thick tow-
Towed Into Brest
Apart from any other considerations, this was a business affair. It was a true salvage job that legally entitled captain, crew and owners of the Sardinia to a handsome monetary reward. The schooner’s name would have to be given, and how could her double character be concealed from the foreigner? Particulars of the ship would be demanded, and must be supplied; yet the surrender of a Q-
Lawrie was again aided by coincidence. The towing had proceeded until 11.15 a.m., and they were near Les Pierres Light, when a French torpedo-
When asked the name of his ship, Lawrie answered: “the Mary B. Mitchell of Beaumaris. Bound from Falmouth to the Bristol Channel with general cargo”.
The information sufficed. Admiralty lawyers could do the rest at a suitable date. No secret had been forfeited. The torpedo-
The finest of all these schooner stories must now be told. Two exceedingly able rival commanding officers and two most efficient vessels contended with each other towards an amazing finale. Never were duellists more evenly matched, nor did a true-
THE BRIGANTINE DECOY-
In the month of July 1914, I was sailing my yacht from the Solent to Falmouth and stayed two or three nights in Weymouth. In Weymouth Bay were anchored most of that immense mass of warships which shortly afterwards were to be known as the Grand Fleet.
A few days later I entered Falmouth and let go anchor. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another. For suddenly the country was at war, and several strange incidents made this singularly clear. First of all arrived two big Hamburg-
All yachting had come to a stop, and we were forbidden to leave port. Scarcely had the declaration of war been made than we saw anchored next to us a typical foreign-
112 ft. 6 in. long. The Royal Navy had just captured her at the western end of the English Channel, and brought her in as the first prize made during the war.
During August all pleasure yachts began to lay up, and their owners began to command naval patrol craft. Changes took place everywhere. We found ourselves being sent north, south, east and west. I went to serve in an area off the Irish Coast which became the principal zone for U-
In November 1916 the Admiralty took the Else over and fitted her out after the manner of the Helgoland and the Mary B. Mitchell. She was given two concealed 12-
On April 26, 1917, the Prize set out from Milford (Pembrokeshire) for the south-
ONE OF THE LARGE U-
On the morning of April 30 Spiegel saw U 21 sinking a Swedish sailing vessel, so that when U 93, at 8.45 that same evening, sighted the topsail schooner Prize heading to the northwest, doing not more than 2 knots with a light N.N.E. breeze, this seemed to be a gift from heaven. Visibility remained excellent, and for once the Atlantic was calm. Spiegel altered course towards the stranger, whose destruction need not waste much time; everyone who could be spared from below was invited on deck to watch how quickly a schooner could be destroyed.
Spiegel opened fire at range of three miles. Sanders luffed the Prize into the wind, launched his boat, and sent the “panic party” to row about. They consisted of Trawler Skipper Brewer and six men, who conveyed the impression that the coaster had now been abandoned. Sanders and Skipper Meade, however, were hidden amidships within the steel companion-
Spiegel’s two guns were on to their target. He came closer; two shells penetrated the schooner’s hull and burst inside, thus putting the Prize’s motor out of action, wounding the mechanic, destroying the wireless room and wounding the operator. So fierce was the attack that cabins and mess-
Spiegel was gaining confidence every minute, but he wished to make absolutely certain. He therefore approached nearer still, but from dead astern where (he knew) no schooner’s gun could bear. He fouled and carried away, by this manoeuvre, the Prize's log-
Spiegel realized his error of judgment and fired two more shots, wounding one of the schooner’s men. The German captain then tried to ram the Prize, found he was outside the turning circle, altered helm and tried to escape; but to Sanders there remained just one simple duty — to keep on firing till the enemy sank. One shell now struck the submarine’s 4·1-
Spiegel was not merely a sportsman, but a gentleman. He gave his word of honour not to escape, and lent his men to help Sanders keep the ship afloat. The navigating warrant officer dressed the wounds of the Prize’s injured men, and the stoker petty officer helped the schooner’s mechanics to start the engine. At last through the darkness this listing Q-
Nearly two more anxious days were spent, and everybody expected that one of the other submarines would come along to finish the job. But on May 2, the Prize was taken in tow by Lieut. Hannah, R.N.V.R., In H.M. Motor Launch 161, off the Old Head of Kinsale, and brought into Kinsale Harbour (Co. Cork). Thence a drifter towed the schooner, with her prisoners, to Milford.
Spiegel had no doubt that U 93 had been lost. But, she got back to Germany under Sub-
THE BOW AND FIGUREHEAD of the schooner Sidney, built in 1897. She became the auxiliary decoy ship Glen during the war of 1914-
The Prize’s tragic end shows how dangerously the decoy sailing ships lived. On August 15, 1917, disguised as a Swede, she sailed out into the Atlantic from the north of Ireland, and just after 4 p.m. encountered UB 48. The submarine torpedoed and sank her at 1.30 a.m the next day.
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