DECOY ships, disguised as cargo vessels and the like, and known as Q-
When it was suggested that decoys should be used against submarines, coasters or colliers had to be converted into cruisers of a special kind. Such a unit, externally, resembled thousands of other vessels normally seen crossing the North Sea any day of the week, or coming up the English and Irish Channels. She even flew the Red Ensign, and her crew wore no naval uniform, but were dressed in soft hats, caps and old clothes. The guns were kept hidden until the last second before the action, when up would go the White Ensign.
The officers and men serving in these unarmoured colliers, tramps, liners and cross-
Consider the lonely position of a Q-
The ideal, imperturbable, “mystery ship” master was always one who could see into his rival’s mind and forestall his rival’s next step. Then at the fateful second -
That was how the Q-
Let us go aboard one of these most ordinary-
THE ARMAMENT of a Q-
To mislead the U-
It was off the south and west coasts of Ireland that the principal area for Q-
Among the first to arrive was the 3,207-
The Farnborough had her first success only after six months of wearisome patrolling without so much as sighting a submarine. Campbell had told Admiral Bayly that he feared he would end the war without once firing a gun. To-
But less than another year of rolling about the ocean brought a great reward. It was now February 17, 1917, and the area once more off south-
“Should an officer-
THE DECOY. The innocent-
UNMASKED. The guns of the “mystery ship” would remain concealed behind bulwarks and false coverings until the last possible moment to ensure a direct hit on the submarine when she was at close quarters. The success of the engagement depended upon choosing the correct moment to clear for action. The picture below shows the gun uncovered and with the man on the right ready to insert a shell in the breech.
To obtain perfect understanding, this was read and signed by all of them. Every member of the Farnborough’s crew had been warned of what might be expected under this rule before sailing, and allowed the chance of quitting the ship. Of course they stayed -
Thus at 9.45 am, while jogging along doing seven knots, the Farnborough saw a torpedo coming; but, instead of avoiding the missile, the steamer altered helm and was struck abreast of No. 3 hold, which caused a violent explosion and a great hole. Two lifeboats and one dinghy were lowered, and the “panic party” in them rowed about, while Commander Campbell lay hidden on the bridge watching his opportunity. “Engine-
Campbell waited and watched. The seconds ticked by. The stricken ship could not last much longer. The temptation to do something was resisted. Now the submarine approached till she was only thirteen yards away. Looking down from his lonely bridge, the captain could see the U-
That was just where the British steamer wished her. Everything now happened. At point-
“Q 5 slowly sinking respectfully wishes you good-
“Q 5 SLOWLY SINKING RESPECTFULLY WISHES YOU GOOD-
But the end was not yet. A British destroyer had picked up the Farnborough’s signals and arrived before noon, taking off all except a dozen officers and men. Next came HMS Buttercup, who got the Farnborough in tow, and presently came HMS Laburnum. But the water was steadily gaining, and by two o’clock the following morning the Q-
For his “conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness and skill in command of one of his Majesty’s ships in action” Commander Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross; but, because no details were published, he was soon known as the “mystery V.C.” Nor did he long remain on shore. Having been given another collier, he brought with him his old gallant crew and went to sea in the 2,817-
THE PLIGHT of the American Q-
THE CAMOUFLAGED HULL of the Santee gave her the appearance of the ordinary war-
On June 7, 1917, this single-
Everything happened quickly and the drama began without prelude. It was 8 am when, out of the mist and from short range, a torpedo was seen rushing towards the Pargust’s starboard beam; a few seconds later it had torn a large hole in the hull near the waterline and blown the starboard lifeboat, into the air. The waves began to fill the boiler-
Away went the “panic party” in three boats. A periscope was then sighted some 400 yards away on the port side; presently it approached to within 50 yards of the starboard quarter, when the submarine partly rose to the surface. A man’s figure appeared on the conning-
DISGUISED OFFICERS of the Q-
IN ACTION. A photograph (right) of the British “mystery ship” Zylpha taken after she had been hit in an engagement with the enemy. Though the “mystery ships ” by no means always secured a victory, they proved so successful in 1915 that the Admiralty formed a special fleet of these decoys, whose main base was at Queenstown, Ireland.
UC 29 had left Brunsbuttel on May 25 with a cargo of mines, which at this period were being laid to entrap warships and mercantile shipping off the south-
Luckily, the Pargust’s timber kept the Q-
Thus we come to the great finale. The Pargust had been so knocked about that it would be weeks before Devon-
The time was 10.58 am, and the place about 130 miles west of Ushant. Many British steamers were then armed defensively with a small (and generally quite inadequate) gun against U-
Salzwedel, an officer of great experience, had once commanded UB 10, in which he had sunk steamers off Boulogne. This UB 10 was the boat which had the thrilling experience of fouling the nets across Dover Straits in 1915. Eight hours were spent trying to get clear, and several of our net-
TORPEDOED. A dramatic photograph taken on board the Q-
Salzwedel’s shells began to fall close indeed, whereupon Campbell made a cloud of steam to suggest boilers penetrated, and stopped engines. The Dunraven was turned broadside on and the usual “abandon ship” party went away in full sight of the Germans. To make this bit of acting more realistic, an intentional bungling was made in lowering one of the boats. But still closer motored Salzwedel, and things began to look serious when a shell entered the Dunraven’s poop, exploding a depth-
Bonner had recovered himself and crawled with his men into the gun-
The inevitable came at 12.58 pm. Just as the enemy passed close to the stern, off went two depth-
Fifty Exciting Minutes
What next? A torpedo would follow. Campbell knew it too well, and ordered the ship’s doctor to remove all wounded. The hoses were turned on to the blazing poop, and a distant warship (in answer to his previous signal) had replied. Nevertheless, the Dunraven’s captain had wirelessed back, “Keep away for the present”. He still meant to conquer. But Salzwedel, fully aware that this was one of the lifted “trap-
To bluff the German commander and make him think the final party were quitting, Campbell sent away more of his crew in boats and a raft. Fifty exciting minutes were endured from 1.40 pm, as the British commanding officer on his isolated bridge watched the scrutinizing periscope circling around, while Bonner and his wounded men below were lying in pain with heroic quiet as the cordite boxes exploded every few minutes. The conditions became scarcely bearable for the bravest when, at 2.30 pm, the submarine broke surface directly astern (where none of the Dunraven’s guns could bear) and at short range pumped shell after shell into the ship, sending splinters of steel among the sufferers. The physical and moral courage of these disciplined British sailors cannot be expressed in mere words; yet they continued quite cheery and longed only for a victory.
COMPLETE CONCEALMENT. On board the Q-
Unable to use his guns, Campbell decided to try his torpedoes, and at 2.55 pm fired one which just missed the submarine's periscope. Salzwedel had not seen this, but he saw the second seven minutes later which passed just astern of his periscope. Another German torpedo would most certainly be the response, so after all these hours of wild contest it was time to call it a draw. The Dunraven wirelessed for urgent, assistance, and soon from below the horizon came three warships -
A nasty sea was now running, Christopher took the stricken ship in tow, but the task seemed hopeless. The poop had been completely gutted, all depth-
There were many other notable “mystery ship” episodes performed before the war ended.
This chapter has told the story of the disguised steamer, pretending to be a harmless tramp or collier. The work of these “mystery ships” in the war of 1914-
But there were other “mystery ships” still frailer and more helpless in appearance. These were the disguised sailing ships, whether schooners or fishing smacks. The schooners successfully performed tasks analogous to those of the disguised steamers. The smacks, employed as decoys to counteract submarine attacks on the British fishing fleet, likewise gave an excellent account of themselves.
But “mystery ships” were not confined to the British and Allied Navies. One of the most spectacular achievements of the war was the cruise of the German commerce-
This and other sailing “mystery ships” will receive their due share of attention as this work proceeds.
READY FOR ACTION. The forward hatch of HMS Suffolk Coast uncovered, showing the gun and its crew. Early Q-
“Troopships & Trooping” on this website.