Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spoleto Diary Part II

World War  I in the Adriatic Sea Part II
Photo of crew of Subchaser 346

Most Americans think of World War I as a battle of soldiers in trenches across France, but in the Adriatic Sea battle was raging also.  The “Otranto Barrage” was a sea barrier set up by the allies to prevent German and Austro-Hungarian submarines from leaving the Adriatic and entering the Mediterranean Sea.
            An earlier blog, Part I, posted on May 29, 2012, described the personal adventures of some young Americans in this strange, far-off and little-known part of World War I. I got curious and started looking for more on this part of the Great War.  Sources are cited below.

The Barrage

                How to sink a submarine.  On the barrage it was first thought that the only thing necessary for sinking a submarine was just to hear him on the tubes and run over where he was and drop a bomb. Although the first couple of barrages brought in reports of possible sinkings, there was much luck attached to it. The Sub Chaser 78 one night was lying to and a submarine was heard directly beneath her, although no sounds had been heard previous to this. The chaser immediately got under way and laid a pattern with eight bombs, when quantities of oil came to the surface, and since no more sound could be heard on the tubes, she was granted a possible sinking. Unit A followed a submarine for three hours, running at stated intervals, stopping to listen and get the bearing, which was plotted in the same manner as taught in the New London school, but each time when it was thought they were almost in attacking position, the submarine would zigzag and the chase would continue.
            Getting the attention of the British.  Before going on the barrage we had been told by a British officer who was giving us information as to their ways and methods, to always answer recognition signals immediately. "Of course," he said, "these trawlers and ML’s (Motor Launches)  cannot hit you even though they do shoot two or three times, but on the whole, you know, it is better to answer recognition signals fast." It was either on the first or second barrage that the Sub Chaser 94 saw a ship loom up in the darkness. Now previous to our arrival at Corfu there had been a surface raid by the Austrians, so no one thought of running a chance of allowing an enemy cruiser to be discovered lying within gunshot of him when daylight came. This ship might be either a friend or enemy, therefore the 94 flashed a recognition demand which wasn't answered immediately, so she followed this with a shot from her three-inch gun. The first shell entered the boiler room of the ship, which turned out to be an English ship. After this incident it was very noticeable that the British did not treat the American recognition demands in the easy-going manner that they answered their own ML’s and trawlers.
            Mysterious sounds in the water. When the chasers had been on the barrage a couple of weeks they had learned to distinguish all types of ships heard. There was one sound, however, that was continually reported and could not be accounted for. It was a tapping sound. Many units had chased this sound with no result. One morning Unit B picked this up and signal was sent to the rest of the barrage by wireless that we were in contact with a submarine, and requesting that all ships stop. To our imagination this tapping sounded as though there was trouble in a submerged submarine that necessitated hammering. We pursued this for five or ten miles in a general northwesterly direction. When we got near the Albanian coast the chasers had gotten somewhat out of position, the center boat falling behind. We stopped our engines to get another bearing, and the tapping came from almost the center of the triangle we then formed. Signal to bomb was immediately hoisted, but before this order could be executed a black object broke the surface, running along directly for the SC 215. It resembled a torpedo nearly expended and the SC 129 fired at it, but we imagined the shot landed over the horizon. At any rate, the torpedo was safe, and then a large black tail appeared just behind this dreaded object, and we recognized the big blackfish so prevalent in these southern waters. Twice that same day this tapping resulted in our finding blackfish, so the tapping question was finally settled and the blame put on these underwater creatures.
            Shipboard routine aboard the Chasers.  It was the custom when at sea for the officers to stand six-hour watches. The deck force stood four on, and four off, but the radio and machinist department and listeners were fortunate enough to be able to run four on and eight off. When on a chase, general quarters were sounded, and every man on the boat had to be at his station. If the chase promised to be a long one, the cook was relieved subject to call. The chases often lasted hours making it necessary for the cook to return to the galley. Should a chase commence after one watch had been on for three and a half hours and continue until time for that watch to come on again, it was obviously unfair, and the executive officer had the problem of straightening out the difficulty. One hour was usually consumed for each meal. Between chases, regular watch system and meals, so little time was left for sleep that we were all thankful we did not have added the British tea time. When off duty, there was very little recreation at sea except cards and similar games. As the arrow used for signaling was painted red on one end and white on the other much amusement was had by the crews betting upon which color would be upward at the stop of an impartial spin. Often on moonlit nights the phonograph was brought on deck and records tried out. On hot days a few at a time were allowed to swim over side, but owing to the prevalence of sharks and the necessity of being ready for immediate action, the swimmers stayed within a few feet of the ship. When off duty another popular occupation was the scrubbing of clothes, which dried very quickly in the hot sun. In early August the temperature on deck was found to be 140°F. It was so hot below that it became the custom to wet down the decks at sunset. When in port many of the crew slept on deck under awnings, but at sea they had to go below as sleeping on deck would interfere with immediate gun action, and this could not be allowed. When in harbor three chasers were tied up to one buoy, causing a great deal of maneuvering on hot days to keep from being made the inside boat where any breeze was less felt.
            Excitement with the Italian Navy.  There was much complaint on this barrage because the British did not observe listening periods. Neither the trawlers nor destroyers would stop their engines for five minutes, and it interfered so much with our listening that we were finally moved to a parallel of latitude south of Corfu Island. As twelve chasers were not able to cover this whole line, the result was that the submarines came down on the surface and ran around our end. Unit A had a thrilling chase of four hours after a submarine with sails. When they began to get within gunfire, the craft submerged with sails all set and was lost track of. At night this location was a most precarious one for our little boats, because convoys from the Italian coast came down to the east and passed along the line. The chasers very much resembled submarines, and although the Italians knew we were there, they were taking no chances that objects that appeared to be American might really be Austrian. If they did not fire on us we had just as much excitement in keeping from being run down by their destroyer escort, which travels around them in circles at a speed of over thirty knots. Complaints arose again here, because of our inability to hold a line of such length, and finally the British moved us back to the parallel between Fano Island and Cape Maria de Leuca on the Italian coast. The left of the line was supported by British ML’s. Twelve chasers were in the center, a little over a mile apart, and on the right were British trawlers. This was the most satisfactory line we had ever had. Naturally we found fault, however, as it is not "navy" to do otherwise. In the first place, and since it was a line that was determined by latitude longitude positions, the chasers and the ML’s each did their separate navigating. The ML’s, according to the chasers, were out of position always, being either ten miles north or south; and according to the ML’s the chasers were just as far off theirs. The trawlers never attempted to stay in position, and admitting it there was no complaint. Then again, a submarine that came down near that position of the line where the American and British met, was pretty safe, for the ML’s got under way when the Americans were trying to listen with their devices, effectually drowning all submarine sound, and the chasers, being faster and larger than the ML’s, would not give up the hunt to the smaller craft. However, the saving grace of this situation was that the ML’s, though supposed to be on a line with the chasers, were generally ten miles north or south of them, so that whoever got contact first had a pretty good chance, until they came to the other's position.
            A prescribed amount of navigation had to be turned in to the mother ship after each barrage. This was checked up and showed whether or not the officers were competent to navigate their vessels on independent assignments.
            Paperwork—Not Even in Wartime Does it Stop! The paper work on these boats was extensive. A cable was sent after each barrage to Admiral Sims in London, which comprised everything relative to the enemy that had occurred during the four days. Each chaser would submit a report generally in writing to the unit leader who would forward a unit report to the squadron commander. A listening log which included every sound heard on the tubes, a telephone log of every word sent or received, engine room reports of daily gasoline and oil consumption, number of revolutions and time of running, battery specific gravities and breakdowns, number of rounds of all ammunition expended and how, number of depth bombs on board and expended, number of hours at sea and miles run, then the diagram of the chases participated in, and detailed report of submarines heard or seen, had to be submitted early in the morning after reaching the base. Requests for repairs, supplies, water, and provisions must be sent to the mother ship as soon as possible as we had only three full days in port.
            Another unknown sound in the water. An incident that bothered the chasers a great deal occurred about three weeks after the barrage had been started. A sort of squeaking sound that could not be identified was heard on the C tube. As the way to learn was to investigate all sounds until they could be attributed to some ship or sea creature, an H. V. (signal for all barrage to stop) was sent out and a chase of this noise was begun. It was followed as long as the barrage kept in motion, but when all boats had obeyed this signal, it mysteriously disappeared. Later on in the day another unit took up the chase of this squeaking, and for a time it was considered the hoodoo of the detachment. In one chase, however, this sound came from close aboard, and as soon as the stop signal had been countermanded, commenced again. All bearings pointed directly toward a certain British trawler, and as this trawler proceeded on its way, it followed her. On investigation of the trawler, it was found that she had a damaged screw, every revolution of which caused vibrations in the water recognized on the C tube as squeaking. Thus another unknown sound was eliminated.
            Listening for Submarines.  Listening devices are peculiar affairs that have not yet been anywhere near perfected. One night the SC 215 was laying to and a destroyer was seen under way under the lee of Fano Island about five miles distant. The listener was called on deck and showed this destroyer. He went back to the magazine and reported that she could not be heard on the tubes. When the destroyer, however, was clear of the island she could be distinctly heard and her bearings given for some time. Another incident of this sort occurred when the HMS Adamant and three British submarines came down the barrage from windward; they could not be seen until they were within six hundred yards, but as they passed to leeward their bearings and the number of ships could be made out for half an hour. This peculiarity of the tubes is inexplicable. Official reports attributed it to aeration of the water – light and heavy spots.  [These early “sonarmen” had a lot to learn about characteristics of sound in water.]
            Who’s the enemy?  While on the barrage the surface craft gave us as much bother as submarines. About two o'clock one morning B Unit heard a sound that might have been a submarine on the surface or a destroyer. The only distinguishing mark of a submarine sound is an all-metallic one. Chase was immediately taken up and a destroyer sighted. It was thought that there were other ships in company with her, and a recognition signal demand was flashed. No answer was given, however, and the Sub Chaser 215 fired three shots. By this time they had come within near enough distance to recognize her as an Allied convoy, or perhaps neutral. From former experience with one of this sort, when asked why she did not answer the recognition signal she replied that being an Allied ship was enough without all this "other red tape," therefore it was thought unnecessary to question further. This chase had no more than been completed when a similar sound was picked up. It was now about three-thirty in the morning, and this last ship was going along the Albanian coast standing to the northward. When the first streaks of daylight came the chasers were pretty much in formation. It was not long, however, before the center engine of the 128 ran a hot bearing and she dropped a mile astern. The bearing was cooled and she was just catching up to the 215 and 129 when an exhaust manifold was broken on the SC 129 necessitating her laying to for some time. There had been great rivalry between the 128 and 129 since they had been practically the only boats with a regular navy crew. As the SC 128 passed the SC 129, little sympathy was shown for her, as demonstrated by the yells and hurrahs that went up. So the SC 215, still leading, and the SC 128 now about five hundred yards astern continued the chase. The system was to run for twenty-five minutes, get a bearing of the quarry, and follow that line of bearing. At four-thirty we met a bank of mist and it was so thick we could not see fifty yards from the ship. General quarters was held going through this bank but speed was not slackened, and when the chasers finally emerged they were exactly parallel, the 128 on the 215's port beam. Here a real race began. The 215 had been recognized as the fastest ship of the fleet, and the 128 was just going to show her a stern to be followed. Everybody was in high glee. They ran down to the engine room hatch simulating hand-shakes as congratulations to the work of the engine room force. The black gang, however, had no time for anything of this sort. They were pushing the engines to the utmost, and running double watches out of enthusiasm. Every five minutes one of them would stick his head out of the hatch for air, his eyes streaming from the intense gas below. In the chart house the wheel was given to the best steersman that no distance should be lost by undue rudder movement. One energetic engineer even went so far as to walk away up in the bow to dump oil receptacles that the ship might slide along the faster thereby. Every five minutes reports were sent down to the engine room encouraging them, for here was a chance for the SC 128 to show up this flagship which had such an enviable reputation. However, since our course tended to port, the SC 215 had to run a longer distance, being on the outside; yet she kept on the beam all the time, and we tried to fool ourselves into thinking we were keeping up with her. When the course finally straightened out, however, she began to draw away, and it was with a sigh of relief that we gave the order to abandon the chase. We were now off Brindisi, Italy, and had sent a wireless for destroyer help. These came smoking out of the harbor, and probably taking us for submarines, came right at us. It was daylight now, so that when they were within gunshot they recognized the American flag, and we were saved the inconvenience of dodging their bullets.
American Subchasers in Fiume, Hungary in the Adriatic, 1918
            Going to Gallipoli.  It became the custom for two units of chasers to go over to Gallipoli for practice with an Italian submarine. Units B and G went over in the early part of September, relieving Units A and K. After a very stormy trip across the straits, we rounded the breakwater of Gallipoli and were met by cheers from those we were relieving. They had had very little food, no ice, and most important of all, no mail. We had all of these on board for them. Gallipoli was the first town in which the enlisted men had been allowed liberty. Here we found a traveling show of some musical comedy type that we thought far surpassed anything of that class in the United States. The acting was good and the music and singing typically Italian. Of course they could not dance, and none of us knew what the lines were. We enjoyed it, however, going two or three nights to the same show. Maybe pretty chorus girls had something to do with it.
            Practicing killing Submarines with the Italians.  In the morning practice was held in the harbor with the Italian submarine, Nautilus. The first few days, the submarine's actions were restricted; she could vary from her course only so many degrees, and the chasing and plotting and sham attacks (papers were thrown over in place of actual depth bombs) were all very successful. However, in the latter part of the training, when the submarine was allowed to go at her own discretion, the chasers learned what a small chance they really had. Were it not for the fact that the submarine had to come to the surface every twenty minutes, her crew would have been back for lunch long before us. On the fifth day out the chase had been unsuccessful; only one chaser at a time was able to hear her; this gave no fix and that bearing alone determined our advance. For two successive listening periods the SC 215 had been the only ship which had gotten any contact. According to her plotting, the submarine was within attacking distance and the signal, a cross, was hoisted for the wing boats to close in within one hundred yards for bombing. This was done, but the cross was not hauled down as signal to drop bombs, but one more listening period was tried to get a three-bearing fix. As the 128 reversed two engines to hold her position abeam the 215, although she still had headway on, a thump was heard under the magazine, and the engine room reported something foul of the starboard propeller. With a great hissing noise of compressed air, which shot a volume of water eight feet in the air, the submarine came to the surface directly astern of us. She had lost her periscope and conning tower and her gas fens were badly damaged. She had come up under the SC 128 and the noise she was making made us all think the collision had been fatal to her. Then it occurred to us that perhaps this collision had been fatal to us, and we lost interest as to whether the submarine and its crew were going to the bottom or not. A hasty examination was made below deck but no injury could be found from the inside. Then a man was sent over the side and it was found that the blades of the starboard propeller had been either bent or torn off. Nothing more could be found out there at sea. The Lieutenant, who was in command of this training and aboard the 215, immediately had a Wherry put over, and tried to appease the angry captain of the submarine, but this accident took all interest in the game out of the Italians, and they turned about and started for home, the SC 128 following in a dejected manner like an unwelcome visitor to a feast. When a Board of Investigation was held, it was found that slight damage had been done the chaser outside of the broken propeller, and that the watches of the submarine and of the Lieutenant did not agree by one minute. Thus an attack had been allowed to be carried on, according to the American watch, at nineteen minutes after the hour, when the submarine was supposed to come up at twenty minutes after the hour. This unfortunate happening stopped all practice of the chasers for three weeks, a course of training that was most valuable to us at that time.
            On returning to our base a new propeller was easily fitted on the shaft by the chaser running her nose up on the beach and divers going over the side, and standing on the bottom, to do their work.
            During our early stay at Corfu we had been bothered by fires, owing to the inexperience of some of the engine room force. The 244 had a fire one morning owing to a backfire in her auxiliary. Fires are very serious in these gasoline ships, especially in the engine room, which is separated by a single bulkhead from six depth bombs of three hundred and fifty pounds of TNT each, and by another single bulkhead from gasoline tanks of twenty-four hundred gallons. There is so much oil and gas around that when a fire occurs the best thing to do is to leave the engine room, stuff up all ports and all but one ventilator, then pour down available chemicals through this one opening. It is a good theory, but it is very trying to stand on the topside and wait to see if the extinguisher is going to take effect. The next morning fire was started in the gasoline floating on the water alongside the same boat, and this was popularly attributed to that boat also. At ten o'clock the day after, the commanding officer of the unit to which the S. C. No. 244 belonged sent three men to that ship armed with extinguishers and fire axes to report to the officer on duty for his "daily fire." The men were sent back to their vessel with a message to the sender to go to the farthermost regions opposite in direction to that in which the air men work.
  and United States submarine chasers in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and the ...
 By Hilary Ranald Chambers


We offer these glimpses into the lives of earlier Americans:

Journal Cover

Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Wed. the 6th of January to Sat. the 12th of March, 1808 Perez Morton,  Speaker of the House. Boston, MA: Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Activities of the House in session in the Statehouse in Boston. Jan. 8, 1808: Speech of Gov. James Sullivan discusses Commonwealth militia, convulsions in Europe that result in embargoes, and threat of seizure of our ships; regulations for inspection of pickled fish; negotiations with the Penobscot Indians. Report on bill for creation of a Supreme Judicial Court for the Commonwealth, Jan. 16, 1808; Much discussion of activities in the District of Maine, (which later became a State);  Petition by distressed seamen, with discussion as to how it was fraudulently prepared. Discussion on sale of New Hampshire lottery tickets in Massachusetts. Resolution supporting Government of the United States with regard to action opposing violation of neutrality, and outrageous attack on the American frigate Chesapeake. Message from Governor about coastal defense of the Commonwealth. Much discussion on the memorial of Micajah Coffin, a member of the House from Nantucket. Discussion on different degrees of homicide, report by House committee. An act for regulating of the Indian Mulatto and Negro proprietors and inhabitants of the plantation called Mashpee. Bill to cede a piece of land in Kittery to the United States for the purpose of fortification.  324 pp. 15 x 26 cm. Paper on board, spine poor, cover stained, front cover detached, text block very good, (2 x 3 cm piece torn from corner of pp. 151-2.) Some pages unopened. Overall, poor. (5227) $70.00. History.

Lynn, MA;  Proceedings in Lynn, Massachusetts, June 17, 1879 Being the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement, embracing the Oration, by Cyrus M. Tracy by Newhall, James R.1880 Lynn, MA: Lynn City Council. This is an account of the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement of Lynn, MA.  This "Third Plantation" of Massachusetts was settled on about June 17, 1629. The day of the Celebration opened bright and beautiful, with a parade of the "Antiques and Horribles", which “pursued their vagrant march, with rather rasping attire, through the principal streets... To a certain class, and that by no means a small one, this afforded great attraction." A list of the notables and organizations in the procession is provided. Exercises at Music Hall began after the procession terminated, soon after mid-day.  The Lynn Choral Union sang the National Hymn, "To Thee, O Country". Cyrus M. Tracy, Historian, delivered an oration which detailed the history of Lynn.  Next came a banquet of roast turkey, chicken, beef and pig, and boiled salmon with peas, many cakes, puddings and ice creams and sherbets. No intoxicating liquors were provided.  Part Second of this volume relates the history of Lynn, and provides brief accounts of the Mayors of Lynn, together with facsimiles of their signatures.  It repeats this for Lynn's Town Clerks, then lists the current Aldermen and Common Council members.  Book concludes with a Chronological Table and an Index. Also inserted in book are five newspaper clippings relating to history of Lynn, from about 1956. . 224 pp. 15 x 23 cm. Leather on board with gilt trim, leather on spine worn and bottom 5 cm. is torn, inside back hinge is cracked. Marbled endpapers. Owner's name sticker on inside front pastedown: "Paul T. Curtin".  Fair. (1868) $85.00. History

Massachusetts Magazine, The, A quarterly Magazine Devoted to History, Genealogy and Biography. July, 1908. Waters, Rev. Thomas Franklin, Editor. 1908 Salem, MA: The Massachusetts Magazine. "The Idylls of Franklin County" by Rev. Thomas F. Waters. Attack on Deerfield Sept. 1, 1675. Attack of Feb. 29, 1704 on Deerfield settlers by French and Indians.  Cover features photo of George Sheldon, who wrote history of Deerfield. Tipped-in photographs of Memorial Building in Deerfield,  George Sheldon's Home, also Paul Revere's Home in Boston. "Hon. John N. Cole" by John N. McClintock, with photo. "Hon. Louis A. Frothingham" by John N. McClintock, with photo. "Robert Luce" by John N. McClintock, with photo. "Colonel William Prescott's Regiment" by Frank A. Gardner, M.D. "The Old Royall House" at Medford, by Helen Tilden Wild, with tipped in photo. "Personal Diary of Ashley Bowen of Marblehead"  extract of diary kept on voyage from Boston to Halifax. April 1759. ad for New Ocean House, Swampscott. Ad for American Sewage Disposal Co., John N. McClintock, President. Ad for Thomas B. Mosher books. 80 pp. + adv. 18 x 24 cm. Paper periodical, cover lightly soiled, edges frayed, spine chipped, fair. (7333)  $23.00. History/Biography

Outlook, The, April 16, 1910 by Roosevelt, Theodore 1910 New York, NY: The Outlook Company. "Mr. Roosevelt at Khartum" four pages of photos of Teddy Roosevelt's visit to the Sudan. Speech, "Peace and Justice in the Sudan" includes these words: "I wish I could make every member of a Christian church feel that  just in so far as he spends his time in quarreling with other Christians of other churches he is helping to discredit Christianity in the eyes of the world....Not only does what I am about to say apply to the behavior of Christians toward one another, but of all Christians toward their non-Christian brethren, toward their fellow-citizens of another creed.... I want to see each Christian cultivate the manly virtues."    "After the Verdict" by Isabel C. Barrows: world outside of Russia drew a long breath when the message came that Nikolai Tchaikovsky was acquitted. "The Outlook" and Mrs. Barrows had a long involvement in this trial.  "Hadje Mohmed of Luna Park" by Albert Edwards.  Negro Suffrage in Maryland-- another attempt to deprive the negro of suffrage. A Socialist Victory in Milwaukee--Emil Seidel elected mayor. 45 pp. + adv. 17.5 x 25 cm. Periodical, cover has small chips in edges. (7790) $23.00. History        

Providence, RI: Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, Settlement of Providence 1636-1886   June 23 and 24, 1886 1887 Providence, RI: Providence City Council.  What a grand celebration it was!  Mayor Thomas A. Doyle, Rhode Island Gov. Elisha H. Rhodes and many other dignitaries were there, as bands blared, and military units and policemen, firemen, and school children marched; tradesmen drove decorated wagons with their wares displayed, in two separate parades.  There were speeches on Roger Williams and the history of Providence (all contained in this book), and much music, composed especially for this event, also contained in this handsome book.  236 pp. 23.5 x 29.5 cm. Dark brown cloth on board with gilt decoration, edges slightly frayed. Frontispiece engraving and tissue guard are loose, but this is nonetheless a handsome copy. Very good. (1835) $58.00. History/Providence

Railroad Jubilee; an Account of the Celebration commemorative of the opening of Railroad Communication between Boston and Canada, September 17-19, 1851 publ. 1852, Boston, MA: City of Boston, Massachusetts. Report of grand tour to the Two Canadas by delegation from Boston, wined and dined at every stop, with free rail travel by the railroads. First, to Lord Elgin in Toronto, and then to Montreal and Quebec; Then the Jubilee in Boston, a huge parade through the city, speeches by Lord Elgin and other dignitaries; comments on Boston, reports of Railway companies. Railroad. Rail. Sea Transportation. 288 pp. 14 x 24 cm. Leather on board with gilt lettering and City seal front and back, five-ribbed spine. Gilt-edged pages. Text mentions map of Boston harbor and rail termini, but there is none present. Edges scuffed and worn. Very good. (4111) $50.00. History.

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