1916 – The Unexpected Guests Come Calling

1916 – In the United States, the need for a more structured course of instruction in submarine operations was identified by the Secretary of the Navy and the Navy Department. The increase in number and complexity of submarines was the driving force behind this perceived need. An earlier submarine school for enlisted technicians was already in place from 2015, but

Special Training of American Naval Officers to Begin at New London


Secretary Daniels Suggestion—New Departure in the Navy.

Special training of American naval officers for submarine duty will be initiated by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels next month.

A school for the instruction of officers in both the theoretical and practical work of submarines will be opened by the Navy Department at New London. Conn. The first class will report for a six months’ course. Upon the termination of this course another class will be designated.

Secretary Daniels has followed the suggestion of Rear Admiral Grant-commander of the submarine flotilla, in initiating this new departure- Rear Admiral Henson, Chief of Naval Operations- and Rear Admiral Griffin, Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, heartily endorses the idea.

“When I became Secretary-” said Mr. Daniels, “there were twenty-three submarines completed—three in reserve and two out of commission—only eighteen being in active service, and to these eighteen boats there were only nineteen officers assigned, of whom thirteen wore ensigns.

“These ensigns had been less than three years out of the Naval Academy. The submarine flotilla was consequently organized with Admiral Grant at its head- and a number of experienced officers assigned to it for duty. Shortly after assuming command of the flotilla Admiral Grant felt that both officers and men should be specially trained before assuming submarine duty, and such a school was established on board the Columbia- his flagship.

“But to prepare officers in advance for the large number of submarines nearing completion, as well as for those that will he authorized in the current naval bill, it became apparent that larger facilities would be required, and the Department has therefore, approved his recommendation that the school be established at the New London submarine base.

“With the exception of the A- B and C boats (the first and smallest built by the Government) two officers are now assigned to each submarine. It is planned that officers when graduated from the submarine school shall be appointed to subordinate positions on the boats and be placed in commission only after they have proved their aptitude for submarine work.”

July 1, 2016 Washington Evening Star, June 23, 1916

United States Navy Opens Submarine School in New London Connecticut

 Unexpected Guests Come Calling

While the war in Europe was ramping up, the use of submarines in non-traditional roles was given its first real airing. The arrival of the German submarine Deutschland was a novelty not seen before.

BEYOND her million-dollar dye-stuffs cargo, the German super- submarine Deutschland brought into Hampton roads with her a Pandora’s box of diplomatic problems about which historians and publicists will be wrangling and writing long after peace comes in Europe and which is bid fair to keep the State Department busy throughout the period of the war.

These problems have not yet been presented in the form of concrete cases. Apparently the State Department is to have an easy task in the settlement of the only question raised by the initial appearance of the submarine liner in American waters – the question of whether she is to be classified as a merchant vessel or as a ship of war. The Treasury Department representatives in Baltimore having reported that the Deutschland could not be made available for warlike purposes or offensive operations without extensive structural alterations, the State Department is apparently saved the trouble of cracking that nut.


Now, ordinarily the United States would send a warship to escort the German vessel to the three-mile limit in order to make certain that the allies’ cruisers did not come within our waters and that our neutrality was protected. But this cannot be done with the Deutschland, for she will duck under the surface while still within American waters, and after that no one will know her course.

She may come up within the three mile limit or she may head straight for the open sea. How is the United States to make sure that she gets out of American waters before she is attacked? It has been reported as the most likely course for the vessel to submerge within the three-mile limit, proceed up or down the coast within territorial waters and then to come to the surface at some distant point still within American territorial waters for a last look around before making for mid-ocean.

These are but a few of the problems likely to be raised by the introduction of this new craft, the super-submarine merchant liner. The submarine warship did enough in the way of wrenching and twisting existing laws. For a time it looked as though that problem would get the better of the United States, occupying the precarious seat of the world’s chief neutral power. Thus far at least the United States has succeeded in saving itself by clinging to the policy that until new laws are accepted by all the nations the old laws must stand. Sometimes it has been a hard task to stretch these old laws to cover the new situations, and Secretary of State Lansing, in his formal communications to the powers, has frankly admitted that in some situations he thought this practice did not fully meet the ends of Justice.

For that reason he urged upon the belligerent powers the adoption of a modus vivendi or operating agreement that would serve as law for the period of the war. When that was rejected the United States was obliged to insist that they get along the best way they could with the law they had.

But now the submarine merchant ship promises to raise even more questions, and also to upset, in some respects, the difficult and not altogether satisfactory adjustment of existing laws that was made to fit the advent of the submarine cruiser.

Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 16 July 1916.


This was an earlier post on the visit by the Deutschland that goes into a lot more depth on the visit..



But in October of 1916, another German submarine made a second and more ominous unexpected port call.

This one was decidedly different in nature and response.


Leaves Message for German Ambassador and Then Quits American Waters.


Pays Official Visits and Slips Out While Allies Warships Receive Warning.

GERMAN U-BOAT SAILS AWAY IN THREE HOURS The German armed submarine U-53 steamed into Newport yesterday afternoon, and the first person to greet the commander, Capt. Hans Hose, was a press correspondent to whom he delivered a letter from the German foreign office for Ambassador von Bernstorff.

Capt. Rose then made official calls on the two American admirals in port, and his calls were returned promptly.

Immediately after receiving the return calls he sailed beyond the three-mile limit.

The U-53 had enough provisions aboard to last three months

Capt. Rose declared the sole purpose of his trip across the ocean was to deliver the letter.

The submarine was in American waters a little over three hours, but before she got away the warships of the allies had been warned of her presence.

NEWPORT. R. I., October 7. Seventeen days from Wilhelmshaven, the German submarine U-53 dropped imperial anchor in Newport harbor today.

Almost before the officers of the American fleet of warships through which the stranger had nosed her way had recovered from their astonishment, the undersea fighter had delivered a message for the German ambassador and, weighing anchor, turned Brenton’s reef lightship and disappeared beneath the waves just inside the three-mile limit.

As she came and went she flew the black and white colors of the German navy, a gun was mounted on the forward deck and another aft, while eight torpedoes plainly visible under the forward deck, gave mute assurance that the warship was ready for a fight at the drop of the hat.

Makes New World Record.

Lieut.-Capt. Hans Rose, who hung up a new world’s record in bringing an armed submarine in battle array across the Atlantic, said that he had called at Newport simply to mail a letter to Count von Bernstorff. He required neither provisions nor fuel and would be on his way, he said, long before the twenty-four hours during which a belligerent ship may remain within a neutral harbor had expired.

The submarine was in American waters a little more than three hours assuming that she continued to sea after submerging. Within that time the German commander paid official visits to Rear Admiral Austin M Knight, commandant of the second naval district, and Rear Admiral Cleaves, commander of the destroyer Force of the Atlantic fleet, who was or board the flagship, the scout cruiser Birmingham. Both American officers returned the brief call promptly.

While these formalities were being exchanged wireless messages were carrying to the ships of the British and French patrol fleet off the coast and warning that a hostile submarine had slipped through their cordon ant might be expected in the open sea soon. At the forts and the naval station, the feat of Capt. Hans Rose which had taken every one by surprise was the one subject of conversation tonight, and there was much speculation as to her mission and whether it was confined to the postage of a letter to the German embassy.

Anxious About Bremen.

There were rumors, without apparent basis, that the German merchant submarine Bremen, long overdue, might be expected in the wake of the warship. Some naval officers expressed the opinion that the fighter had escorted the Bremen across the ocean, and others that she was searching for the merchant ship. The first question asked by Capt. Rose when a motor boat earn alongside was, “Have you heard from Bremen?”

When he was told that there was no news of the missing craft his face became grave but he made no comment. To the naval men generally the most interesting fact disclosed by Capt. was that he had been at sea seventeen days and had provisions for three months, abundant fuel and needed no repairs. Not so much as a bottle of water was taken aboard and the ship was spic and span.

The U-53 was first sighted from land at 1:15 o’clock this afternoon as she was entering the inner harbor escorted by the United States submarine D-2. The American had been outside for maneuvers since morning and was returning when she came up with the German. The D-2 drawing near the stranger and making out her type sent a wireless message to the shore headquarters of Admiral Knight who relayed the word of the appearance of the U-53 to Washington. The American submarine preceded the visitor into the harbor.

The first report had it that it was the Bremen which was coming in. A newspaperman who had waited for weeks for the merchant submarine climbed to the tower of the United States Engineers’ office and with the aid of powerful glasses made out two guns on the submarine.

Delivers dispatch to correspondent

A few minutes later he was in a motor boat and rewarded by being taken aboard. The U-53 had made her way through the fleet of thirty seven United States warships, including destroyers and submarines, to an anchorage 200 yards to the westward of the torpedo station. Capt. Rose stood on the quarterdeck as the correspondent came aboard and after inquiring about the Bremen, said that he had come in to mail a letter to Count von Bernstorff, and asked for the newspaperman’s credentials.

The latter exhibited an Associated Press badge and was intrusted with the correspondence for the ambassador. “Please forward this letter to Count Bernstorff,” said the captain, “and report my arrival. They will be glad to hear it.”

The correspondence, contained in a single envelope, was mailed at the local post office at 3 o’clock and should have started for Washington about an hour later. It should be at the German embassy early tomorrow morning.

Has Provisions for Three Months.

Commander Rose appears to be about thirty-eight years of age. He is of more than medium height, with dark hair and blue eyes. He wears a pointed beard and his mustache is cropped short. About him as he talked to the newspaper man were grouped four officers and the crew of thirty-three members. The officers were in the blue uniforms of the German navy and looked as if their clothes had been brushed and pressed for the occasion. The crew wore black oilskins.

Lieut. Capt. Rose wore a fatigue uniform with side arms. On his breast were an iron cross and other decorations. He declined to talk about his adventuresome trip across the Atlantic, except to answer a few harmless questions in a casual way.

“We left Wilhelmshaven seventeen days ago,” he said. “We encountered heavy seas until we were off Newfoundland. The voyage, however, was generally uneventful. Some days it was rough and some days it was smooth.

“We have water and provisions enough for three months to come. I will leave tonight,” he added.

“Where to?” “Ah!” replied the German commander, and he smiled.

Asked whether he had sighted any foreign warships off shore, Capt. Rose asked: “Are there any?”

Visitors Allowed Aboard Vessel.

At this moment Harbormaster Thomas Shea came alongside in a motor boat to make an official examination of the stranger. He was told that there was no illness aboard, but in accordance with the official regulations Shea notified Assistant Surgeon Edward R. Marshall of the United States public health department, who was at Providence, of the presence in the harbor of a foreign ship. However, before Marshall could reach Newport the submarine had departed.

Soon after she had anchored a fleet of pleasure boats surrounded the U-53 and several persons, including a number of women, were allowed to come aboard. They were permitted to roam at will about the deck. Several of the crew spoke English fluently and they gave every attention to the visitors, No attempt was made to prevent an examination of the boat’s construction. The U-53 is a monster submarine. Her length is sixty-five meters, or more than 200 feet, with corresponding beam. She appeared larger in every way than any of the submarines of the type that now are operating in Narragansett Bay. Her conning tower and her periscope rose much higher than those of the American vessels.

Officers Have Snug Quarters

Through the periscope the visitors could see plainly many familiar points in Newport. The vessel was equipped with wireless, the outfit being built particularly strong. The receiving room for the wireless was just below the cunning lower. The armament consisted of two guns, fore and aft, and four torpedo tubes. Handy to the tubes which were forward were eight torpedoes. Going down the companionway by means of a long iron ladder the visitors were admitted to the plainly but comfortably furnished quarters of the officers. On the walls were paintings of Emperor William and noted men of the German army and navy, past and present.

The quarters for the crew were with bunks that closed up against equipped the vessel’s side. Aft of the sleeping quarters were the officers’ mess room and the galley in which all cooking was done with electricity. As she rode at anchor the submarine flew the Imperial navy flag at her stern and the naval jack at the bow.

Captain Goes Ashore Alone.

Soon after the U-53 dropped anchor a motor boat came alongside, having been dispatched from the naval station to bring Commander Rose ashore. The German officer came up to the city unaccompanied and first called upon Rear Admiral Knight. He remained only a few minutes.

Later, Admiral Knight said that his caller had not told him where he was going, hut merely that he would put to sea tonight. He added that Commander Rose had not indicated the object of his visit to this country and that they had only exchanged felicitations. From the War College the German commander went to the flagship, and after a brief stay with Rear Admiral Gleaves, returned to his ship. A few minutes later the American admirals visited the U-53 and were shown over her. The commander told his visitors that it was his first visit to America.

Soon after Admiral Knight and Admiral Gleaves had left the submarine weighed anchor and turned her prow toward the open sea. The pleasure boats that had hung about her started in pursuit, but they were soon outdistanced by the submarine, which started away at a speed of eighteen knots. She sailed at 5:17 o’clock, lighted from stem to stern, and traveling awash.

With her light-gray trimmings just showing above the water she made an obvious effort to shake off ‘her curious pursuers. At 7 o’clock she had approached the limit of the three mile neutral zone off Brenton reef. Here her wireless was dismantled, the lights went out and five minutes later, she gently settled below the surface.

No Warships in Sight.

All afternoon shore observers kept a sharp watch for the appearance of warships of the entente allies, which are supposed to be scouting along the coast, but up to darkness none had appeared.

Speculation as to the mission of the U-53 took several directions tonight. Some thought they saw a connection between the arrival of the ship bearing a message for Count Bernstorff, deemed sufficiently important to justify such a perilous trip, with rumors that peace negotiations have been opened between Berlin and Washington.

Other naval men believed that the submarine would attack the patrol ships of the entente allies while several professed the conclusion that the warship was either escorting the Bremen or searching for her.

Col. Ernest Voight, a prominent of this city, who German-American was one of those who went aboard the talked with the submarine commander. Later, Col. Voight said it was apparent that the vessel had been on the surface some time, as her upper structure was well dried out and everything on deck was polished, as for visitors’ day. Col. Voight said that Commander Hose had told him little about the trip except that he had run submerged for three days. He did not make known why this was necessary. No warships were sighted from the time he left Wilhelmshaven until he met the D-2. The records showed, Voight said, that the vessel had submerged to a depth of 200 feet. The commander told him that his ship could make eighteen knots on the surface and twelve knots submerged. “When do you expect to reach home? Voight asked. The German commander smiled, thought a second and replied “We may never reach home.”

Carries Small Irish Flag

When the submarine steamed out of the harbor she carried with her a small silk flag, an emblem of the proposed Irish republic. This was presented by James S. O’Brien, a local Irish leader, who visited the ship and talked with Lieut. Wacker, the second in command. In accepting the flag Lieut. Wacker said, according to Mr. O’Brien: “When we sink the first British ship we will hoist this in honor of Ireland.”

Lieut. George C. Fuller, commander of the D-2, said he was maneuvering outside the harbor when the helmsman reported another submarine. When the German came within hailing distance the D-2 offered to convoy her into the harbor and the offer was accepted. As they came in the sailors of the U-53 lined the rail, as did the bluejackets of the American fleet, but no salutes were exchanged. Commander Rose subsequently expressed his thanks for the escort.

The visit of the submarine aroused as much interest among the cottagers as it did at the naval station. Word of her arrival spread rapidly and soon a fleet of power boats, most of them armed with cameras, was making for her. Great was the disappointment that the visit was so soon ended, as hundreds were on their way from Narragansett pier to see the craft when she sailed. Mrs. Livingston Beeckman, wife of the governor, was among the many to express at not having an opportunity disappointment to go aboard.

Evening star. (Washington, D.C.), 08 Oct. 1916.


U-53 commenced military operations the next morning two miles off the Lightship Nantucket.

The American steamer Kansan was stopped by a shot across the bow at 0535, and then released when examination of her papers revealed no contraband cargo. A large passenger liner was allowed to pass at 06:00 because Rose felt unable to provide for the safety of a large number of passengers. The 4,321-ton British steamer Strathdene was stopped at 06:53 and torpedoed at 07:43 after the crew had abandoned ship. The 4,224-ton Norwegian steamer Christian Knutsen with a cargo of diesel oil for London was stopped at 08:03 and torpedoed at 0953 after the crew had abandoned ship. The 3,847-ton steamer West Point was stopped at 1130 and sunk by explosive charges after the crew had abandoned ship.

Seventeen American destroyers were dispatched from Newport to search for survivors in response to the Nantucket lightship’s reports of sinking’s. The destroyers arrived about 1700 as U-53 stopped the Dutch steamer Blommersdyk bound for England with contraband cargo. The 3,449-ton British passenger liner Stephano was stopped and the gathering American destroyers took off its crew and passengers. Rose used his last torpedoes to sink Blommersdyk at 19:50 and Stephano at 22:30. Rose set a homeward course via the Gulf Stream and evaded three British destroyers sent from Canada to intercept him.

Political Ramifications from Trip

LONDON, Oct. 13. — Lord Robert Cecil in a statement to THE NEW YORK TIMES correspondent tonight characterized the German submarine outbreak in American waters as illegal. This is the first statement by any British official since the torpedoing and the first intimation coming from an official source that the British Government regards the latest submarine activity of the Germans as a violation of international law.

There was a great deal of anger amongst the Allied powers after the visit of U-53 to the American port and the subsequent sinking of Allied shipping. While all of the sinkings were done according to Prize court laws and nobody was killed during them, the attacks instilled fear in the British because of the reach of the German U-boats, and the United States because these attacks occurred so close to American shores.

The British were further outraged that most of the attacks occurred while the submarine was surrounded by American destroyers. After a soothing speech by Sir Edward Grey, these complaints were calmed when he pointed out that the American ships had no legal right to interfere with these attacks and had done all they could to rescue the sailors in the water.

German newspapers celebrated the trip as a great demonstration of the reach of the German Navy and Captain Rose was praised for his actions.

13 patrols


87 merchant ships sunk (224,314 GRT)

1 warship sunk (1,050 tons)

10 merchant ships damaged (46,339 GRT)

U-53 was surrendered to the Allies at Harwich on 1 December 1918 in accordance with the requirements of the Armistice with Germany. She was sold by the British Admiralty to George Cohen on 3 March 1919 for £2,400 (excluding her engines), and was broken up at Swansea.

And what about the missing Bremen?

Bremen departed Bremerhaven in September 1916 for Norfolk, Virginia, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Karl Schwartzkopf, and reportedly carrying financial credits for Simon Lake to begin building cargo submarines for Germany. She did not complete this voyage and her fate is a mystery.

The American navy had to be embarrassed that the German was able to make his way all the way into our territory and I am sure many officers had to answer to the leadership after that brief visit. But one message was very clear. America was no longer safe behind the barriers of her two oceans. As the months continued to roll by in 1916 into 1917, this would become painfully obvious. America was going to have the war brought to is front door and submarines would do the knocking.

Mister Mac

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