The Terror of the Sea – Submarine Warfare October 1914
Up until the moment that German submarine U-9 approached the cruisers she would sink on September 22, 1914, all submarine attacks were either academic of limited in damage. That does not mean that the many brave deeds that came before were not noteworthy, but in one attack, the real future of submarines was set in place. This article contains the views of the Americans who were not yet in the war, the British who certainly were and the German submariners who changed history.
The Ogden standard. [volume] (Ogden City, Utah), 24 Oct. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058396/1914-10-24/ed-1/seq-15/
JULES VERNE’S FANCY OUTDONE IN FACT
The Modern Submarine Accomplishes More Than the Mythical Boat Which Traveled Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in a Novel.
The prophetic spirit of Jules Verne who wrote “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” several decades ago was criticized In these days as visionary In the extreme. The submarine was considered In the light of an Impossibility.
It was a toy to play with, but not a machine to fight with. In fact. It was a sufficient feat in itself for a boat to dive beneath the waves like a dolphin and return to the surface. To add fighting qualities to such a machine was asking too much, but all these things have been accomplished. All Jules Verne imagined has come true; yes, more than true, for the submarine in this present war is the terror of the sea.
Only the other day a report was brought of the sinking of three British cruisers, representing millions of dollars in money, by a single submarine, much less valuable.
Is war on the water to be revolutionized? Will the fighting fleets of the future fight their battles in the submarine depths far from the eye of man and away from the range of the movie machine?
War is changing rapidly from the glorious spectacular hand-to-hand fighting of the olden times with the non-combatants on the side lines, to a terrible machine conflict, with the men engaged in the battle nothing but mere cogs of the machine. The war lords of old clashed their fighting men as pawns, but the fighting lords of today class them as cogs. War is surely losing much of its glory, for what shall it profit a sailor if he must descend into the deep to fight and die there without any one seeing his heroism?
At the time of this writing it might be well to figure up the more important losses of ships so far in the war. While no great naval battles are figured in this report, yet the loss is enormous, representing a terrific waste of treasure. Before this article is published the loss will be increased enormously.
(There followed a comprehensive list of all ships lost to that point. The most significant loss was of three Cruisers of the C squadron)
GREAT LOSS OF LIFE IN SUBMARINE FIGHTING
The list does not show accurately the value of the submarine because many of the reports are Incomplete and the work of the submarine as a protective measure is incalculable. A warship does not dare enter a harbor where there is a possibility of the presence of submarines. The German navy, though Inferior in strength, easily held the English navy from attack for a long period by the dread of the submarines.
There is another point, which must be taken into consideration in the discussion of submarines. In straight hand to hand fighting above the sea level, the conquering battleships rescue the survivors, picking them from the water. The submarine does nothing of the kind. The London Globe, dealing with the sinking of the three cruisers by submarines, says:
“Our fleet is necessarily exposed to these dangers it has to wait upon the pleasure of the enemy. It dare not wait too far away, because the North Sea ls small and could be quickly traversed by hostile fleets. The risks must be run and we need not fear that our men will shrink before them. Nevertheless, death dealt by an unseen hand is the most detectable of all.
This disaster will rouse the British fleet to action as nothing else could have done, and the success of this submarine attack may yet prove the death knell of the German navy.”
A German submarine recently made a reconnoitering cruise to the Scottish coast, according to a letter written by a German sailor and published In the German newspapers. She was ten days absent from her base and went all along the English coast, at times underwater.
“It was the prettiest picture I ever saw,” the sailor wrote. “Up there like a lot of peaceful lambs lay the English squadron, without care, and as If there were no German sea wolves in armored clothing. For two hours we lay there under the water on the outposts. We could with certainty have succeeded in fetching under a big cruiser. But we must not; we were on patrol and our boat had further work to do.”
The English Government Press Bureau report of the sinking of the cruisers showed that 57 naval officers had been killed and 60 rescued. Twenty-one officers of the Aboukir were killed and 17 saved The Cressy lost 25 officers, only 11 being rescued.
Stories told by the survivors of the disaster have failed to clear up many of the conflicting points The announcement In Berlin that the three ships were sunk by one submarine is contradicted by the story told by Albert Dougherty, chief gunner of the Cressy, who was rescued and taken to Chatham Dougherty declares he saw five submarines and he shattered the conning tower of one of them.
In a dispatch from Chatham the correspondent of the Chronicle quotes Dougherty thus:
“Suddenly I heard a great crash, and looking In the direction of it, saw the Aboukir keeling over and going down rapidly “We came to the conclusion that she had been struck by a torpedo and kept a sharp lookout for these crafts, while steaming to assist the Aboukir. The Hogue also was closing in toward the sinking ship with the object of assisting the crew, who were dropping into the water, when we heard a second crash As the Hogue began to settle we knew that she also had been torpedoed.
“We drew near and at that moment someone shouted:
“‘Look out, sir, there is a submarine on your portbeam ‘”
“I saw her She was about 400 yards away She showed only a little above the water. I took careful aim at her. A 12-pound shot went over by about two yards. That gave me the range.
“I fired again and hit the top. Then the submarine went down.
“The men standing by shouted:
” “She’s hit, sir.’ and then they let out a great cheer as the submarine sank, and While she was going down two German sailors floated up from her, both swimming hard.
“Our captain was on the bridge, and in these critical moments he spoke some words of advice to the crew.” ‘Keep cool, my lads; keep cool,’ he said in a steady voice. That was the last I saw of Captain Johnson.
“The Germans were discharging torpedoes at us while the water was thick with drowning men. Although I personally observed five submarines, and although the guns pegged at them, only one was hit as far as I know.
“Our ship sunk about 7:45. And when I dropped into the sea, clinging to a bit of wood, there were men all around me. Their spirit was splendid. We shouted cheery messages to one another.
“I was afloat in the sea four hours and then the destroyers hove in sight. Numbers of men were near me.”
Fighting by submarines is much like an Indian ambuscade. The submarines are invisible except for a small view piece or sometimes a conning tower. A pipe for a look out with the rays of light reflected by mirrors shows the location of the fleet about to be attacked.
That enables the crew of the submarine to see, though under water.
The fog of war
Were there five submarines? Not according to official records. In fact, one U Boat made all three hits.
At dawn on September 22nd U-9 surfaced to find the storm over, the sea calm but for a slow swell. Smoke was seen on the horizon and the U-9’s engines were immediately shut down to get rid of their exhaust plume. A quick appraisal led Weddigen to order diving but he continues to observe through his periscope. Three vessels were approaching – the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue – and Weddingen steered on his electric motors towards the central vessel, Aboukir.
Undetected, U-9 came within 600 yards of Aboukir’s port bow before firing a torpedo. As this was still running Weddigen took his craft down to 50 feet, then heard “a dull thud, followed by a shrill-toned crash”. Cheering erupted on U-9.
The single torpedo was to prove enough to destroy Aboukir. Hit amidships on the port side, the engine and boiler rooms were flooded and the ship listed to port. Assuming that he had hit a mine – even after the loss of the Pathfinder the submarine threat was still underestimated – Captain Drummond ordered Cressy and Hogue to come closer so that Aboukir’s wounded could be transferred. Even had a mine indeed been responsible the order would have been an unwise one, but with the U-9’s presence still unsuspected it was to prove fatal.
Attempts to counter Aboukir’s list by counter flooding proved unsuccessful and when it was obvious that she was going to roll over “abandon ship” was ordered. Only one boat got away, the others either wrecked by the explosion or impossible to launch. Twenty-five minutes after the torpedo strike Aboukir capsized, remained on the surface, bottom-up, for a few minutes with a few wretches clinging to her, then disappeared.
U-9, still unsuspected, observed the disaster through the periscope. Hogue and Cressy were now creeping towards Aboukir’s survivors and lowering boats. Weddingen ordered the empty torpedo tube reloaded and identified Hogue as his next victim. She was now stationary and Weddigen fired both bow tubes at her. This action altered U-9’s balance and her bow broke surface, drawing fire from Hogue. Weddingen managed to get his craft under again and as he did heard two explosions.
The Hogue’s end was almost identical to her sister’s and the “abandon ship” order meant leaping into the water as her boats were already busy with saving Aboukir’s survivors. Now only the Cressy remained and she was transmitting distress signals by wireless.
U-9’s batteries were almost depleted but Weddigen was determined to continue his attack. Through his periscope he could see the surface strewn it wreckage, bodies, swimmers and overcrowded boats. Cressy was stationary and her boats had been lowered. U-9’s periscope was spotted and the cruiser opened fire, the surged forward in an unsuccessful attempt to ram. Then, unaccountably, she stopped again. Weddigen still had three torpedoes left, two aft, one forward. He manoeuvred to bring U-9’s stern tubes to bear and fired both at a range of a thousand yards. One torpedo struck the Cressy but the second missed. Hit on the starboard side, the cruiser heeled over, then began to right herself. Some ten minutes later Weddigen fired his last torpedo from its bow tube. Now hit on the port side the already stricken Cressy rolled over and remained on the surface, bottom up, for a further twenty minutes. Then she too sunk, her crew’s plight all the worse since the boats she had sent off were already crowded with Aboukir’s and Hogue’s survivors.
Two Dutch trawlers had approached initially but bore away in fear of mines. (Note that the Netherlands was neutral throughout World War 1). About a half hour after Cressy went down a small Dutch steamer, the Flora, approached and managed to pluck 286 men from the water. A second Dutch ship, the Titan, rescued 147 more. Two British trawlers arrived and joined in the rescue effort and eight British destroyers arrived from Harwich two hours later. In all 837 men were saved from the three cruisers but 1459 had been lost.
The U-9, having spotted British destroyers, but managing to escape detection, signalled news of her success when she reached the Ems Estuary. On September 24th U-9 entered the main German naval base at Wilhelmshaven to the cheers of the entire fleet. The crew were immediately national heroes and Weddigen was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, as well as other decorations. Every member of the crew received the Iron Cross, Second Class.