Blockades and Submarines – An Opinion From a Master Submariner in 1939 Reply

Simon Lake was by any measure a Master Submariner.

A prolific inventor, he held over two hundred patents at the time of his death in June of 1945 (just a few months short of the end of the war that was largely shaped by submarine warfare).

American Inventor and entrepreneur Simon Lake (1866-1945) was on of the most influential early submarine constructors and introduced many innovations still in use today. His Lake Torpedo Boat Company designed and/or built 33 submarines for the U.S. Navy between 1909 and 1922

Lake was a dreamer and had many ideas about peaceful uses for submarines. As a young man, he had read Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Lake and was intrigued by the prospects of undersea travel and exploration.

This article was written in October 1939 as the world was gearing up for a war that would touch every single corner. On the very day this article was published, the last of the Polish army resistance fell to the German onslaught and the lights were beginning to grow dim all across Europe. Orders were secretly issued at the Reichstag to prepare for the occupation of Belgium and France. The Navy’s of the world were about to be tested like never before.

Lake made many predictions in the press through his lifetime. This one was very curious considering the time and ongoing incidents. It is interesting to look through the prism of history and see what actually happened.

Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 10 Oct. 1939. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress

Submarine Believed Capable of Voiding Blockade

Future of Convoy System Is Made Dubious, Says Inventor

War under the sea! What has been proved about it so far? What will the future hold? This is discussed here by the man who, more than any other individual, gave the world the modern submarine. He invented the even keel submarine, and every submarine made today uses at least 25 of his patents.


NEW YORK. Oct. 10 (N.A.N.A.).— According to the British admiralty, German shipping has been swept from the seas in the first month of the war and England, as ever, rules the waves.

But Germany, according to my information, had 60 submarines before the war started, had parts for an unknown number more waiting to be assembled, and the shipyards and equipment to turn them out at the rate of 12 a month when needed.

With German shipping swept from the seas, it would seem that the blockade is on in force and the iron belt has been drawn tight around the Reich’s middle. , Supplies from nations that are in a position to and are willing to feed Germany overland are of an unknown quality.

But what if the submarine can smash a blockade by surface craft and can establish a blockade of its own? What if the submarine can become a cargo carrier and can run under any blockade that can be established by surface craft?

Depth Bomb Limited Weapon.

As was noted earlier, the depth bomb is a severely limited weapon, and the hydrophone—the only means by which a surface craft can possibly detect a submerged submarine and “aim” its depth bomb—works better for the undersea craft. In addition, no ship can be armored sufficiently to withstand a blow from underneath.

The submarine has other capabilities and potentialities which make the future of the convey system—on which Britain is relying so heavily—dubious.

The modem submarine is a vessel that can be built to almost any size desired. Just before the United States entered the last war against Germany, I was negotiating with the German government, for which I had done work before, for the construction of submarines that would carry 5,000 tons of cargo.

Our declaration of war, of course, ended the negotiations.

Reich Has Small U-Boats.

Germany’s fleet of submarines, according to the information I have, consists mainly of small U-boats.

I saw none there over 500 or 600 tons and longer than 150 feet, These craft carry six 21-inch torpedoes weighing about l ton each – each one capable of destroying a battleship—and make about 16 knots on the surface and 10 knots under water. This is slow, but the only time a submarine needs speed is when it is submerging.

Modern submarines can submerge, while traveling at 16 knots on the surface, to periscope depth (about 28 feet) in less than one minute. A submarine I built in the early 1920s did it in 56 seconds, and that time has since been bettered.

These submarines are built to operate chiefly in the North Sea and the English Channel. They have to stay close to their source of supplies. It is perfectly obvious that such submarines, operating in sufficient force, can block any harbor entrance or sea estuary that the controlling power desires.

Once the submarine became soundless and fired soundless, invisible torpedoes that sped through the water without leaving any streak, the only means of detecting it while submerged was through its periscope. The periscope left a wake if the submarine was traveling at periscope depth. But it is perfectly possible to build a periscope that will leave no wake. I know, because I have built one.

Periscope Unseen Now.

The periscope is a little arm about as large across as a silver dollar, camouflaged and hugging the surface of the sea. It is practically impossible to see, and yet there is just that bare possibility. However, science can now obviate even that.

I know—and, again, from my own research—that a submarine can be made that would be able to see a ship on the surface even while the submarine itself was submerged to a depth of 200 feet or more. Not only can it be made able to see the ship, but it can also fire on it from the bottom of the sea. Then, indeed, will ships be spurlos versenkt (sunk without trace). They will never know what hit them and will never be able to find out.

Against such submarines, all the convoy system does is offer more targets and greater opportunity for damage. Such submarines could not only smash or seriously cripple a blockade, but set up a blockade of their own. In the last war undersea mines and vast systems of heavy chain nets were used to keep submarines from harbor mouths, but submarines can be equipped readily with antennae that will feel out the mines. Once a submarine locates a mine, it can send a diver out to “capture” it and take it home for a souvenir.

Submarines can also be equipped to lift nets, or, if the nets are too heavily weighted, there is nothing to prevent them from feeling them out and sending a diver ahead to cut through them with a torch.

As a man who has devoted his life to the submarine, I can say that these are grim truths that I have been relating, and there is no cheer in them for me. I relish the defensive prowess of the submarine, and I shall always remember with joy what Admiral Sims told me in 1932, after the Japanese had gone up the river back of Shanghai and blown holes into the city with their ships.

“If the Chinese had had two of the submarines you built 20 years ago,” the admiral said, “the Japanese wouldn’t have come within 5O miles of that river.”

But the submarine has become a dark, almost invincibly deadly thing, striking with tremendous force from impenetrable cover. I envisaged— and still do—a gentler use for it.

Someday the submarine will make man richer. It will take food from the sea for him and oil and gold and coal and radium, all of which have been discovered in great masses at the bottom of the sea. Someday, when war will be no more.

sunk apr25 1943

Mister Mac

Fringes of the Fleet 2

Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves

When your country is an island, it is only natural that you would come to rely on the ocean for commerce with others. When that island is vulnerable to attacks form others, it is even more natural that the ocean would serve as a means for your defense. To achieve both, you need ships and men who sail on them. England is such an island and from the 16th century through the 20th century, she relied primarily on the Royal Navy to make sure that her freedom was protected. As the world careened out of control towards World War 1 in 1914, the Royal Navy was second to none in the world.

As the storm clouds gathered, the warring nations took stock of the weapons in their arsenal. On the naval side, huge dreadnaughts (the precursors to battleships), armored cruisers, destroyers and auxiliaries of every type filled the anchorages surrounding the tiny island nation. Guns as large as 15 inches bristled on the monster ships and threatened to send everything in front of them to the bottom of the ocean.


The Germans had spent much of their time leading up to the war trying to build a fleet that would allow them to join the big gun club. They also saw England as a natural threat to their desire for dominance and growth. Empires around the world were the goal and growing your empire required freedom of the seas to prosecute your goals and maintain the trade that would add money and power to the nation’s interests. The Germans had less effective weapons for their main guns but relied heavily on technology and innovation to overcome their perceived weakness. Their surface vessels had better optical and range finding capability and were easier to handle than Royal Navy fleets. But their secret weapon was their submarine fleet. Even with the exaggerations of the German Fleet Commanders, the technological differences in their submarine fleet made it a potent weapon that could interdict trade in all of the main sea lanes.

On both sides of the conflict, submarine technology advanced quickly leading up to the War and all through it. Diesel and electrical systems adapted and changed to meet the realities of the type of warfare that evolved. At the beginning of the war, the Germans followed the rule of “Prize Rules” which allowed the crews of their target ships to escape before the ships would be sunk by either torpedoes or gunfire. The later introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare destroyed any illusion of chivalry however and cast a dark shadow on submarine warfare in an age that had not quite adjusted to war on such a scale.

You fight the war with the weapons you have at hand.

The Royal Navy soon discovered that its assumptions about naval warfare were suitable for a war from the last century but limited in response to the new threats. If you really think about it, the first successful submarines had been developed in 1900 and it did not include the technology to help a submersible sustain itself for long ocean voyages. But the engineers on all continents were quick to develop the systems and weapons to build this new type of weapon. Improvements came one on top of another and all of this despite the prevailing attitude everywhere: submarines were just a fringe element of naval warfare. Gentlemen would fight in long lines of battle cruisers in the prescribed manner and the enemy would obligingly respond by doing the same.

In the first ten weeks of the war, the vaunted Royal fleet lost five cruisers to the German U boats. This despite the fact that the Germans only had 48 submarines total of which about 30 were functional after the war erupted in August of 1914. Admiral Tirpitz’s vision came quickly to bear fruit even as he sat in disgrace on the sidelines of the war.

The Fringes

The admiralty on the British side was completely invested in traditional naval warfare and weapons. For century’s larger and larger surface forces dominated naval thinking which meant that resources and support went to the surface fleet. The leadership and strategies were all built on the rock solid foundation of how to win a war and dominate the trade routes. Every officer in high command had waited his turn in line to reinforce the notions and concepts that would ensure that Britannia rules the waves forever.

The sad reality of modern warfare is that an enemy that can’t beat you on your own course will figure out technology to even the playing fields. The Germans have always managed to do the unexpected and they developed both the simple and the sublime to balance the scorecard. Mines laid from submarines were only one of those surprises and the combination of regular submarines and these special boats meant the Royal Navy would have to spend an inordinate amount of time protecting its fleets. The air ships that flew over London also created an entirely new threat that the 1914 fleet was woefully unprepared for.

U boat picture

The Zeppelin fleet and limited use of coastal air aero planes introduced a whole new element which would require a rethinking of the arms a ship would need to carry to protect itself. More importantly, the Zeppelins also increased the ability of their Navy to discover where ships were located and mine fields existed. This expansion of technology could not have been imagined no less planned for by traditionalists. While the bombing attacks on Britain were of limited value, their fear added to the concerns of the British public about the weapons of this horrible new war.

E1U3D00Z Zeppelin

The prejudice against alternative views hampered the British in two ways. First, the public’s view of the superiority of the battleships needed to be maintained so that the public would feel safe and secure. Reports from the front rapidly erased the illusions of a quick war. The death reports alone shook the nation to its core. Secondly, service in a professional fleet meant opportunity on the large vessels where glory and promotion reigned supreme.

It was against this background that another type of weapon was employed to gain support from both the public at large and the young men of the Navy who would be called to fill the ranks on both auxiliary ships and the fledgling submarine fleet. That weapon was propaganda from an unexpected source.

Changing Course


Rudyard Kipling was an author who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature just a few short years before the war.

His books and short stories had gained him a special place in literary circles that extended from commoner to royalty. I remember reading The Jungle Book and Gunga Din as a young man and of course have practically memorized his poem about Tommy Adkins. His work appealed to people of all backgrounds and it was only natural that he would be called upon to help and extend the words and feelings needed to motivate a people to war.


In 1916, he used his skills to pen a series of articles about the outliers of the fleet that he called the Fringes of the Fleet. These articles were about the auxiliary units that searched for the mines and hunted the dreaded U boats. They also covered the newest weapon of the Navy and the men who sailed them: submarines.

Kipling decided that the only way he could write about the tiny craft was to actually ride them and get to know the men involved. His writing is remarkable in that he captured the very essence of a submariner. What is remarkable is how little the genre has changed in the hundred years since the words were written.

From the chapter on submarines:

Kipling: “THE CHIEF business of the Trawler fleet is to attend to the traffic. The submarine in her sphere attends to the enemy. Like the destroyer, the submarine has created its own type of officer and man—with a language and traditions apart from the rest of the Service, and yet at heart unchangingly of the Service. Their business is to run monstrous risks from earth, air, and water, in what, to be of any use, must be the coldest of cold blood.

The commander’s is more a one-man job, as the crew’s is more team work, than any other employment afloat. That is why the relations between submarine officers and men are what they are. They play hourly for each other’s lives with Death the Umpire always at their elbow on tiptoe to give them “Out.””

My favorite part of the submarine stories comes from part 2.

Kipling: “I WAS honoured by a glimpse into this veiled life in a boat which was merely practising between trips. Submarines are like cats. They never tell “who they were with last night,” and they sleep as much as they can, If you board a submarine off duty you generally see a perspective of fore-shortened fattish men laid all along. The men say that except at certain times it is rather an easy life, with relaxed regulations about smoking, calculated to make a man put on flesh. One requires well-padded nerves. Many of the men do not appear on deck throughout the whole trip. After all, why should they if they don’t want to? They know that they are responsible in their department for their comrades” lives as their comrades are responsible for theirs. What’s the use of flapping about? Better lay in some magazines and cigarettes.”

I had the feeling that Kipling could see into the future and watch a submarine crew in a more modern era.

If you have time for a really good read, here is a link to all of his stories. It is remarkable how little some things have changed and yet how far we have come in the years since the First World War.

I hope and pray that a new world war never comes to mankind again. I am sure that feeling is shared by many. But as I see nations all over the word continuing to build “defensive” fleets, I can’t help but feel we are marching once again to the next last Great War.

Mister Mac


Grand Theft Submarine – Stealing the U-111 11

Note: This article is a result of some research I have been doing in the past few days about an amazing submarine story related to the technological development of American submarines. The story was researched and developed using two reference books: United States Submarines, Naval Submarine League, published in 2002 and United States Submarines by Robert Hatfield Barnes in 1944. Its a little longer than what I normally post, but if you love submarine history and adventure, it might be a nice read for a very cold winters day.

Mister Mac

In the aftermath of World War 1, reparations were demanded by the victorious members of the Allied Powers. 176 submarines were surrendered to the Allies in accordance with the treaties and terms of the peace. Before the war, submarines had been scoffed at by most of the world’s Admiralties. British Admirals dismissed the little craft as being too slow to affect the outcome of any traditional naval battle. American thinking too was clouded by too many unreliable submarines leading up to the early days of the war coupled with contempt from the leaders who had cut their teeth on battleships and surface ships bristling with guns.


Even the mighty German fleet was crippled in the onset of hostilities by two major impacts.

In 1916, The Grand Fleet was unable to succeed in the surface engagements it had with the allies to an extent that the war at sea would swing their way. Plus, the vaunted German U boat fleet was exposed as a shadow of the fleet that had been promised. Grand Admiral Tirpitz and his Navy press bureau systematically had falsified the numbers of available submarines to the public. From German historical records:

 “[…] people think we have 60-200 submarines; in fact we have 15 ocean-going […] for the Atlantic […]” The German Government knew that he was systematically lying to the Army and the Government. In a hearing of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament (Bundesrat) in March 1916 Tirpitz saw himself pressed to present an exact number of submarines available: specifically 203.

“Tirpitz […] calculates boats which are momentarily under construction, even if it will take years to finish them. 203. But says nothing about the time of their completion.”

This virtual submarine fleet of 203 boats consisted in February 1916 of:

  • 27 submarines ordered, but not yet laid
  • 108 submarines on yard, to be finished within the next 12 months
  • 26 submarines in the Submarine School:
  • 15 outdated or unfit boats
  • 11 new boats in commissioning for active fleet service
  • 42 submarines in active fleet service:
  • 22 coastal submarines (750 – 2.000 sm range) and
  • 20 ocean-going submarines (7.000 – 11.000 sm range):
  • 15 stationed in North Sea bases, and
  • 5 stationed in Mediterranean Bases

There were 8 to 10 new U-boats expected to come from the yards each month from that time onwards, but even 12 months later, in February 1917, when finally the 3rd unrestricted submarine warfare had started, there were no more than 105 ocean-going submarines available, and a maximum of 124 ocean-going boats available was only reached in August of 1917.

The manipulation of the numbers was nothing new for the Grand Fleet that wanted to please the Kaiser at any cost. Submarine warfare was proving to be a major multiplier and in 1916 a rosy picture was needed to offset the stalemates occurring with the fleets on both sides. Sunken allied shipping was indeed a major weapon that was systematically shutting down the important sea lanes. But in the wors of one contemporary writer, this was one lie to many.

“This incident before the Bundesrat was taken as a pretext to force Grand Admiral Tirpitz, who had already fallen in eternal disgrace at the Kaiser, to resign a week later on 15 March 1916. Admiral von Capelle became his successor.” The last submarine of Tirpitz’s virtual submarine fleet from February 1916 to see service was U-92, which started its first patrol on 1 January 1918, 21 months after Tirpitz’s enforced resignation.

Despite the setback in 1916, the German shipbuilding industry rose to the occasion and provided many submarines to push the war effort.


One of the submarines that was built successfully was the U 111.

U l l l was laid down early in 1917 at Vegesack, Germany, by Bremer Vulcan under subcontract to the Germaniawerit in Kiel, launched on 5 September 1917; completed by Germaniawerft in Kiel, and commissioned in the Imperial German Navy on 30 December 1917, Kapitanleutnant Beyersdorff in command.

U 66-70 U boat

From Naval Historical Records:

“After completing her shakedown cruise on 17 March 1918, she was posted to the IV U-Flottille, Hochseeflotte (Fourth Submarine Flotilla, High Seas Fleet). She departed Heligoland, a fortified island and naval base located well inside the German Bight, on 25 March. After the outward voyage, which took her around the Orkney Islands, west of the Hebrides Islands, and south along the western coast of Ireland, she arrived in her patrol area near St. George’s Channel during the first week in April. On the 7th, she sighted her first target, the 2,346-ton British steamer SS Boscastle. The submarine made a surface torpedo attack and sank the ship with a single torpedo. Boscastle, however, proved to be her only victim during this first cruise. She operated in the vicinity of St. George’s Channel for another five days without encountering further shipping and then began the voyage home to Germany. After backtracking along the route she had taken on the outward voyage, U-lll returned to Germany at Emden on 24 April.

A month and three days later, the U-boat exited the Ems estuary to begin her second cruise to raid Allied merchantmen. From the Ems, she headed through the North Sea. On 28 May, her second day out, she came upon a small Danish steamer, the 393-ton SS Dronning Margrethe. Declining to waste a valuable torpedo on such small game, U-111 brought her deck guns to bear and sank the Dane with gunfire. From the North Sea, she followed substantially the same route as on her initial voyage, reaching St. George’s Channel early in June. After an unsuccessful patrol off the entrances to St. George’s and the English Channels, the U-boat retired from the area and again retraced her outward route. On 22 June just outside the Skaggerak, during the last leg of her homeward voyage, the submarine encountered a Norwegian sailing vessel laden with timber for English mines. Once again, she scorned the use of a torpedo in favor of her 4.1-inch and 3.4-inch deck guns and riddled the 272-ton SS Rana with gunfire. Leaving that ship sinking, U-111 headed south through the North Sea for Wilhelmshaven, where she arrived on 26 June.

U 111’s third and final combat cruise proved to be the least successful of all. She departed Wilhelmshaven on 25 August, transited the Kiel Canal, and headed north through the Baltic Sea around Denmark to debouch into the North Sea by way of the Skaggerak. Thence, she rounded the Orkneys and the Hebrides and headed south along the west coast of Ireland. The U-boat then transited St. George’s Channel and entered the Irish Sea. Stormy weather and heavy seas plagued her throughout the cruise, and she appears to have encountered no Allied shipping. She followed the same route back to Germany and concluded her last patrol at Emden on 30 September.

Apparently, U-l l l remained in port at Emden through the cessation of hostilities on 11 November. Nine days after the armistice, she was surrendered to the Allies and interned at Harwich, England.

It was while she lay in British Hands that the theft took place

Captain Thomas C. Hart was the US Navy’s first Director of Submarines and he saw the value in obtaining a sampling of the 176 interned submarines for learning and future submarine development. Despite the issues under Tirpitz in relations to the number of actual submarines the Germans had in 1916, their engineers had built some very sturdy machines with many innovations. If some could be obtained and studied, it would advance the cause of American submarining in the future. There was some sensitivity on the parts of many nations including our allies. The Europeans had borne the brunt of the fighting and were not all that interested in seeing advances in wartime technologies. There is even some evidence that the British who still ruled the seas were beginning to fully understand the threat of a submarine in an open ocean and were not overly excited about that evil spreading to potential future opponents.



Hart came up with a plan to soften the transfer.

First, there would be a limited number of boats obtained. Second, they were to be used as post war fund raising ships that would help American to pay its war debts through bond selling trips up and down the coast during the Victory Loan Drive. Finally, he promised that the ships would be destroyed within a few years and not absorbed into the American fleet. Hart knew however that his submariners would be anxious to study why the German submarines were so successful and his ulterior motive was to spend the limited time reverse engineering the systems and equipment on board the enemy vessels that had sunk so much allied shipping.

Based on these agreements, the Allies authorized six boats-U 117, U-140, UB-148, UB-88 UC-97, and U-164—to the United States on condition that they be destroyed within a year of the transfer. In March 1919, 12 officers and 120 enlisted men arrived in England to ferry the six submarines back to the United States. The U-164 was one of the latest boats to be built so it was considered to be a treasure chest of technology and potential improvements for the Americans. The six officers assigned to bring the boats back were Lieutenant Commanders Aquilla G Dibrell, Harold T. Smith, Holbrook Gibson, Joseph L. Neilson, Charles A. Lockwood Jr, and Freeland A. Daubin.

Two of the submarines had participated in attacks along the eastern seaboard of the United States. After crossing the Atlantic, the U 117 and the U 140 had participated in the sinking of no less than 91 vessels totaling 167,000 gross tons, of which 45 were of American registry (about 65,000 gross tons). All of them represented the finest of German Technological developments in submarining that had been earned through the long years of wartime operations.

U 164

Twelve officers and 120 enlisted men arrived in England in March 1919 to bring the selected boats to America. All of the boats except for the 164 boat were prepared for the journey and left with the tender ship Bushnell. Lieutenant Commander Daubin arrived on the 164 to find that it had been gutted. Upon inspection, de discovered that his boat had been used for spare parts and souvenirs by the British, French, Italians and the Japanese naval personnel that had arrived before him. He was quoted as saying: “Had a depth charge been dropped down her hatch, it couldn’t have done greater damage.”

Estimates were that even if the parts could be found, it would take three to four more months to make the ship ready for the trans-Atlantic journey. That additional time would not allow her to arrive in time for the Victory Bond Drive that was scheduled to commence. Plus, the gains from studying the equipment on this boat had been nullified by the pilfering hands of the men before him. One can only wonder if the Japanese (who had entered the war very late in order to gain the spoils of it) gained insights that would benefit their very effective submarine force in years to come.

Daubin was undaunted by the task at hand however and asked permission to see another German submarine that was still in good shape and ready for operations. He felt that seeing an active boat would help him to understand the task ahead. This is how he came to the brow of the U 111 and his act of larceny came to be.

U 111

Grand Theft Submarine

The British Officer of the Deck also happened to be the Commanding Officer of the 111 boat. He had received this assignment probably at the end of the war but because of the way the Admiralty was operating, he was not receiving command pay. This unfortunate circumstance existed because the rules stated that you must be in command of a registered vessel in regular commission. The U-111 was certainly not in commission in the British Fleet so he was losing money every day he remained aboard.

Not knowing the Daubin had already been assigned another boat and being very anxious to be relived of this burden, his first words were: Are you going to take the 111?”

From the book “United States Submarines” (Robert Hatfield Barnes (1944)

With the British officer evidencing so much eagerness and offering this tip top submarine, the American’s heart began to beat faster. But if he inwardly yearned for this craft his outward demeanor was casualness itself. Taking a long gamble, he calmly said, “Yes, and I’ve come to inspect her.”

After realizing his luck, he also realized he had better make sure he was not arrested for piracy. He rushed to London and consulted with Admiral Sims who gave him his agreement and permission to consult with the Admiralty. Under the circumstances, it was only fair and right that the Americans should be able to have an operating submarines and fortunately all involved agreed with the swap of the two submarines.

From the Naval Historical Records:

Since she had been substituted for U-184 at the very last minute, U 111 did not put to sea on 3 April with the rest of the Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force. She remained in Harwich for an additional four days while her crew conducted a crash familiarization course and completed last-minute repairs Finally, on 7 April, she steamed out of Harwich and stood down the English Channel. Rather than follow the route taken by the other U-boats via the Azores and Bermuda, U-111’S commanding officer sought to make up the time he had lost by heading directly across the Atlantic via a great circle route. Fog, gales, and heavy seas harassed the U boat all the way across the ocean. On one occasion, she came near sinking when she began filling with water because of an open sea-cock. However, one of her crewmen crawled under her engines and into the slimy dark water to find and close the offending apparatus. In spite of adversity, U-111 made her passage successfully and moored in New York on 19 April, in plenty of time to carry out her tasks in the Victory Bond campaign.

U 111 on the surface

At New York, swarms of tourists, reporters, and photographers roamed throughout the submarine.

SubU111b SubU111a U 111 in New London

Navy technicians and civilian shipbuilders also came to try to learn everything they could about German submarine construction in the brief time before U-l l l departed New York for visits to various ports on the Victory bond circuit.

For the bond drive, the coasts of the United States and the country’s major waterways were divided into five different regions, one for each of the captured U-boats except U-140. U-111 visited ports along the New England coast and received visitors in conjunction with the sales campaign. The submarine completed her assigned itinerary late in the summer of 1919. Following that, she and UB-148 were subjected to an extensive series of performance tests before being laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. During the summer of 1921, she returned to sea for another series of tests, this time as a target for gunnery and aerial bombardment tests. As a result of those experiments, her battered hulk went to the bottom of the ocean sometime in July 1921.


The lessons learned from those six submarines enabled the US Navy to continue to make advances in the art and science of submarining. Many innovations would show up in the Fleet Boats that enable the submarine force to have such a significant outcome in World War 2.

Lieutenant Commander Daubin, the skipper who “captured” the U 111 from the British later went on to be the Commander for Submarines in the Atlantic in World War 2.

Mister Mac

Freeland Daubin, RADM

April 3, 2018

Some additional items have surfaced about the U 111 since this was first published and I felt it worth including as a postscript.

The articles speak a lot about the mood in the country at the end of the First World War.

The Bridgeport times and Evening Farmer. (Bridgeport, Conn.), 11 June 1919

“The surrender of their deadly instruments, such as the submarine, that scorpion of death which sent women and children to their death, was perhaps the most bitter pill of all and when these instruments of warfare are seen at our docks with the American Flag proudly waving over the German Flag it is wormwood and gall to the Hun’s souls. These submarines are being made recruiting stations for our Navy and a large number of young men after going through the deadly boats have at once enlisted in order that the sea may be kept free from German Submarines forever. At present there is one of the largest type at a dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was surrendered to the British in the terms of the armistice and interred in Harwich England for a time. It is the U111, and because of its large cruising radius is thought to have been one of the submarines that did such deadly work on the American coast in 1918 and for this reason Great Britain gladly permitted it to be shown in this country with the American Flag waving above its periscope. Another spent some time in Baltimore and Annapolis and served as a recruiting office while still others were anchored in Boston and places further south. All these are the latest type and show the large amount of time and money which have been spent on their building and which in the mind of the hated and cruel Von Tirpitz were to win a war for Germany.”

The Great Submarine Race of 1919

Norwich Bulletin. (Norwich, Conn.), 09 Sept. 1919

“One of the U.S. Submarines which has its headquarters at the submarine base on the Thames, the S-3 has just come through a series of tests which have demonstrated that the American built submarine far exceeds the vaunted German boats in speed cruising radius, habitability and seaworthiness. “The test was made against the German U 111, one of the latest type of German boats and one of those brought to this country after the armistice was signed.

            While details of the comparative tests cannot be learned officially, sufficient information is available to contradict the much-advertised superiority of the German submarine. According to an announcement made by Acting Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, the maximum surface speed of the U 111 in the recent trial was 13.8 knots, while the S3 made 14.7 knots. The submerged speed of the U 111 was 7.8 knots while the S3 made 12.4, a remarkable difference in favor of the American craft. The radius of the two boats is also in favor of the S3, despite all the furor that was created by the advent of the U-boats on the American cost during the war. The U111 can cruise 8500 miles at 8 knots, while the S3 can cover 10,000 miles at 11 knots. The submerged cruising radius shows an equal preponderance in favor of the S3.

            Both boats can carry 12 torpedoes. U 111 mounts two 4-inch guns, one forward and one aft, while the S3 mounts one 4-inch forward, this practice of one gun on a submarine being standard practice in the United States Navy.

            The U 111, commanded by Lieut. Commander Garnet Hulings, U.S.N, was “tuned” at the submarine base. When reported ready, a special trial board was designed to conduct the tests, following the established practice in carrying out contract trials for submarines built for the United States Navy. The U 111 was built at the Germania Yard, Kiel Germany, and completed in 1918, while the S3, designed by the navy department, was built at Portsmouth navy yard and commissioned in 1918. Both these boats belong to the 800 ton class, the U111 having a surface displacement of 880 tons and the S3 a surface displacement of 834.

Garnet Hulings graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1912. He retired as a U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander.

PQ 17 July 4th 1942… 2132… “Scatter” 4

The summer of 1942 was not just a horrible time for merchant shipping long the east coast of the United States, it was also one of significant losses in the Atlantic

U-boats were coming out in larger and larger numbers and even the convoy systems were being tested to the limits with the existing escorts. Russia had finally entered the war on the side of the Allies and was facing tremendous pressure on the home front from rapidly advancing German armies. Stalin knew that his survival now rested with supplies from the allied forces and he demanded that they provide him with the tools and weapons to defend the Motherland.

convoy_pq17_alcoaranger convoy_pq17_bishopsdale

PQ 17 was one of the first joint convoys that combined units of the British fleet with American fighting ships and escorts. On June 27th, the assembled ships left for the Soviet Union and because of a number of factors, suffered a special type of hell for the next ten days. In the words of Admiral Dan Gallery, the man who orchestrated the later capture of the U-505 submarine, this incident was a “shameful page in naval history”.

Some of the factors which contributed to the disaster were the weather and light conditions. At that time of year, the light stays bright much longer. On my first trip to Sweden during the month of late June I had been told to expect a different type of evening but as I lay in bed at 2330 that first night, I was amazed at how much light still remained. This light would make it  much harder for the ill-fated convoy to escape the marauding planes from the Luftwaffe.


The second major influence was the number of U-boats that were on patrol in the area. German U-boats were strategically placed to support all of the raids of the convoy through the Arctic and their damage was both effective and efficient in carving away the number of ships that were in the convoy.


The third concern at that point in the war was that the Germans had superiority in the air. The flying squadrons of the Luftwaffe were placed well along the lines of the convoy’s run and there were no escorting carriers available of any number to counter the relentless air attacks.The air forces also could be used to direct submarine attacks and control how the survivors would be chopped to pieces.

The major threat in the eyes of the Admiralty though was the presence in Norwegian waters of the German battleships Tirpitz, Lutzow & Admiral Scheer and cruiser Hipper. Up to the night of the fourth of July, air raids and submarine attacks had already taken a toll. Faulty intelligence sealed the fate of the doomed convoy. First Sea Lord Pound received word that the major German ships may have sailed and were on their way to destroy the remaining convoy and her escorts. Escorts and warship were still in very short supply this early in the war and the fateful orders were passed at 21:36 for the convoy to “Scatter” and make their way as best they could to the Russian ports.

convoy_pq17_poppy  convoy_pq17_leamington

The German surface forces never arrived. It was too late for the hapless merchant ships that were left to fend for themselves. The Allied merchant ships became easy targets for the U-boats and aircraft. During the course of the day on the fifth of July, torpedo bombers sink 5 merchant ships and British rescue ship Zaafaran while several others are damaged. U-88 and U-703 each sink 2 while U-334 and U-456 sink 1 each, including several vessels damaged or stopped by the bombers.

In all 26 of the 39 merchant ships were lost to the slaughter.

Thousands of vehicles and hundreds of tanks and planes were lost not to mention the poor crewmen who manned the ships. The British high command recognized that it could not sustain that loss rate and support Operation Torch in North Africa so they suspend further convoys for a time. Stalin was furious and even accused his Allies of making up the entire affair in order to let him fail in the face of the German onslaught.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the event  "one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war." A later  inquiry assigned no blame to anyone, since orders were issued by the First Sea Lord. American Admiral King distrusted the British in the early days of the war and diverted the next convoy to the Pacific where the Americans controlled the escort ships directly. It would take many months for trust to be rebuilt between the Allies and even then it was trust with strings attached.

An interesting viewpoint for the battle can be found here:

From the Diary of Engine Room Artificer Jack Bowman

Saturday, July 4th. | FATAL DAY German planes still making swoops at us, and shadowing. At 1800 suddenly the sky is black with bombers and the attack is on. It was a small hell let loose. As far as is known, all these were carrying tinfish. One of the merchant ships, it must have been an oiler, sank within five seconds. Soon the sea was covered with boats and rafts and bodies. As far as I know, three ships were sunk and some abandoned, but later were boarded again (note 3). All this time neither cruisers, battleships, or aircraft from the carrier came to our assistance. I suppose they were looking for the German fleet. Later on the Admiralty signaled all destroyers to leave the convoy and try to engage the Germans. The convoy was to split up, every man for himself. We seemed to be in a very hopeless situation. Soon ships seemed to be racing in every direction. Our captain decided to go north. Two or three followed us.”

Sunday, July 5th. By this morning we could get no further because of icefields. We are 15 degrees off the North Pole. What a sight! Icebergs as big as Orrest Head (note 5), all a lovely bluey-green, covered with arctic birds. I think we have covered about 200 miles trying to get round these icefields. At 1600 another Admiralty signal. Two German battlewagons and eight destroyers were likely to intercept that night, or early morning. Imagine our feelings. By this time we were beginning to lose hope. Remember that we had never had our clothes off for a week, and nerves were becoming taut. I never lost hope myself, but felt very sorry for one of my stokers whose nerve has gone. I was prepared, if given the chance, to sell my life very dearly. My only regrets were those I loved at home. A fog set in and we must have lost the fleet.”

Seventy years ago the radio waves were filled with the cso0unds of desperate merchantmen calling out over their band. "Am being bombed by a large number of planes", "On fire in the ice", "Abandoning ship", "Six U-boats approaching on the surface.”


As the crews drowned in the icy waters or burned on ships that had been left helpless to a pursuing enemy, I wonder what their last thoughts would have been. I can’t help but think some of them wondered “Why”? before the sunk below the waves.

As I look at our defensive situation today, I am more and more worried about that question as well.

Politicians with other priorities in the past forty years have already allowed our merchant fleet to be dissolved. Our shipbuilding industry has been crippled by outsourcing on a scale that is too massive to understand by most. As newer threats emerge, our fleet is designed to fight a completely different war. Would we be able to manage safe passage for the ships that provide us with the oil and other vital resources that keep our country moving forward? Or will we find ourselves on some night in July ordering the hapless unarmed ships carrying those supplies to “Scatter”

I hope we never have to find out. I hear the Iranians are planning a nuclear submarine.

Mister Mac

The Summer of ‘42 2

Many of the World War 2 stories being profiled right now are being followed because of the 70th anniversary of those events. The realization that the loss of so many of the participants due to age has finally settled in for many of us. My Dad has been gone for nearly twenty years but since that time more and more of his contemporaries have joined him in that great reward of rest.

Love your son Butch

I woke up feeling nostalgic this morning as  I walked past the project paperwork on the table in the sun room. Dozens of old pictures, old letters and his collection of artifacts from that era are waiting for me to finish bringing them back into order. I did it years ago and self published a book called “Love, your son Butch” based on his letters and his life. I am going to take another crack at it soon since I have grown a bit as a writer and learned a lot about better ways to capture the story.


I was also nostalgia thinking about the early seventies when the movie “Summer of 42” came out. This intense little movie about some boys (and girls) coming of age debuted just as I was too. 1971 was a year before I enlisted and the movie could not have come at a better time. The story was set as a Nantucket Island vacation. The people still had a certain innocence in a time that had been touched by the war but not yet engulfed. Boys were still boys and their race to become men was an ever present force in their lives.



The country was probably like that in the real summer of 1942.

Even with Pearl Harbor and the after effects of that attack still settling in, I am sure many folks from that age were trying to hold on to some kind of normalcy. While many were mobilizing and industry was cranking up to feed an increasingly hungry war effort, there were still events in life that went on.


Along the east coast, the lights of the cities were still bright at night. Admiral King refused to follow the advice of the British about convoys, arming merchant ships and darkening the seacoasts. Some suspected it was more about his pride than about good sense in fighting a total war. The unfortunate effect of that was to make the merchant shipping that much more vulnerable to German U-boats.

The shipping in and around the US had still not realized that the German reach was now within sight of their homeland. The “lake” we call the Caribbean was open game for the unprepared cargo ships of the allies.

On June 11, 1942 alone, seven merchant ships were lost to U-boat attacks (over sixty thousand tons of materials and a large number of merchant crewmen). These ships were representative of the huge losses the Americans and Allies had rung up since the US entered the war. A typical attack was one like the attack on the “American” pictured below.


From the U Boat web site:

“At 18.01 hours on 11 Jun, 1942, the unescorted and unarmed American (Master Robert M. Pierce) was attacked with two torpedoes from U-504 off Honduras as she prepared to alter her zigzag course. The first torpedo struck the after peak tank on the starboard side, about five feet below the waterline, demolishing the after part of the ship, the rudder and the propeller. The second torpedo struck the starboard side at the mainmast in the #4 hold. Eleven minutes later a third torpedo hit the fire room on the starboard side and caused the boiler to explode. The radio antenna crashed on the deck and water crippled the generators, preventing the radio operator from sending distress signals. The American sank in 25 minutes, listing to starboard and then capsizing. The crew of eight officers and 30 men immediately lowered the #1 and #3 lifeboats and abandoned ship. Some men, trapped by the first explosion, finally reached the deck and launched the #4 lifeboat. Six hours later all survivors were picked up by the British steam merchant Kent about 20 miles west of the sinking and were landed at Cristobal on 14 June. One of the survivors died on the Kent.”

The U504 would account for a total of 85,299 tons in its seven patrol history. She was sunk with all hands a year later in the North Atlantic near the coast of Spain by four British antisubmarine ships.

June of 1942 was the high-watermark of submarine warfare in the Atlantic and Caribbean.

The country learned some hard lessons about being prepared and fighting an “all in” kind of war. From June forward, the U-boats found themselves more and more on the receiving end of attacks and eventually the use of new weapons and convoys made their journeys less and less successful.

We learned a lot of lessons during the summer of 42

Just as the characters in the movie came of age, so did the country. As the heroes of that time (both merchant and Navy men) pass into their final rest, I wonder if the country will remember those lessons in time for the next war. Looking at the composition of the fleet and examining the potential threats that are out there, I think we haven’t learned much.

Mister Mac

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare 4



In August of 1914, events on land in Europe came to a head and the first global conflict began

As hellish as the existence of the war on terra firma, a new type of warfare was changing the way tacticians and leaders would see the war at sea for generations to come. The small boats used by the Germans were more likely to engage the enemy on the surface than underwater. While the boats were submersibles, they were designed to be at their best on the surface.

Boat Pictures

In the same month that the land war started, a fleet of ten U-Boats set sail to engage the Royal Navy.

This would mark the first submarine war patrol as the small vessels entered the North Sea in search of the enemy. It was an ignoble beginning for submarine warfare. The Grand Fleet was far superior to the German fleet and the intent was for the boats to try and level the playing field. While the German’s learned a lot of lessons, they were not successful in this engagement. Only one attack was launched (the torpedo missed the HMS Monarch) and the Germans lost two submarines.

WW1 German Subs

The imbalance in fleets would come back to haunt the Germans throughout the course of the war and lead to a decision that would give President Wilson no choice but to enter on the side of the British and French. What complicated the matter for the Germans was that when the Kaiser and his Generals started the war, they only had a few months worth of raw war materials on hand. They were so confident of a swift victory, they felt that this would not be an issue. The task was simply to take the materials needed from the captive territories. It was a miscalculation that eventually starved their war machine and their people.

At the start of the war, the Imperial fleet had many restrictions on Submarine warfare

As the war proceeded, most of these rules fell by the wayside. Desperation on the part of both sides led to desperate tactics.

imagesCA15AZFF  imagesCA4TX3DX

Truthfully, they were no worse and no more cruel than the land war where millions were cut down in their prime (both civilians and combatants). But the open range nature of unrestricted submarine warfare struck a spark in the American spirit and pushed the US closer and closer to war. By 1917, the sinking of so many non-combatant ships in this new warfare spelled doom for the Germans. An outraged and angry American public demanded justice and mobilization began in earnest.

Propaganda poster

Considering the technology of the time, the U-boats were remarkably successful. Their form of warfare was principle in creating massive shortages in the British and French empires. Lessons learned during the first world war were to be used by their colleagues in the second world war with much more effectiveness. But they changes the face of war forever.

A great treasure

If you have some time, it is worth the trip to the Imperial War Museum’s film library to see a remarkable film about German submarine warfare in World War 1. Der magische Gurtel (The Enchanted Circle) was a propaganda film made by the Germans and restored and digitalized. It is a fascinating look at submarines from the eyes of the Germans and despite its propaganda design, it is a classical piece of submarine film that should not be missed.

From the Imperial War Museum Web Site:

“31 March 1917. The opposing sides were starting to make serious efforts to secure media attention. U-35, a star performer in the German navy, leaves the submarine base at Cattaro (modern Kotor, in Montenegro) for a mission in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. The presence of a camera on board ensures that the commander’s destructive exploits are immortalised.

In the next 36 days, U-35 sinks 23 enemy and neutral ships – 10 of the sinkings are captured on film. As in the stereotype picture of submarine attacks, torpedoes fired from underwater without warning are sometimes used, but more often the enemy ship is subdued in a gunnery duel fought on the surface, or halted by a warning shot across the bows. Its sailors are allowed to take to the boats (though the captain might be taken into captivity), before the ship is sunk by demolition charge, torpedo or further shell-fire.

Between actions, everyday life on the submarine carries on. It is actions of this kind that are recorded in the film. While providing authentic views of the First World War ‘Handelskrieg’ (war on trade) in the Mediterranean, this is nonetheless a rather idealised vision of submarine warfare, serving the needs of German propaganda.”


I used to wonder what it would be like if my generation had ever been ordered to conduct unrestricted warfare. Of course the consequences would have been much more dramatic and devastating. Like some I suppose, I used to think about what the world would be like if we were directed to let hell lose on the face of the earth. It left a mark on me then and even now, I have dreams every once in a while about trying to find a home port after the “last” war.


It can be frightening living under the threat of a country that has nuclear weapons and has expressed to anyone that will listen how much they hate you. The idea of someone who is capable of supporting terrorism on a smaller scale obtaining the ultimate weapon of terror brings back memories of those days. What if a rogue Soviet Commander had decided to make an impact on the world’s politics by launching a few birds? Once the missile has left the silo, it is hard to call it back. (or so I’ve heard)



Does anyone honestly think that there are no rogue Islamo-fascist terrorists that would take great joy in seeing a smoking cloud over Israel or any America City?

Well, back to the bunker.

Mister Mac



Mutiny? Not in my Navy… 2

To the best of my memory (and a search on Google) there has never been a mutiny on board a US Navy submarine. If there ever has been one, I am sure that one of my faithful fact checking readers will be reaching out to me. That’s cool. I hope I am not wrong since it is a really unique thing to be able to say about a force you have been a proud member of. I know there were quite a few folks that were disturbed when Crimson Tide came out for that reason but I never took the movie seriously for SOOOO many reasons. Not the least of which was Gene Hackman’s little pooch in his stateroom.

If you think about it, the absence of a mutiny in our sub forces is as much a statement about our character as anything else. First, you are putting your hands into the lives of a few people every time you dive below the waves. Everybody has to trust that no one in charge of any of the water tight integrity issues has taken any shortcuts. Even the most mundane rig for dive items must be accounted for and verified. An example of that is what happened one night before we got underway right after the shipyard period for new construction was finished on the San Francisco (SSN 711).

SSN 711

The DCA and I were completing our rig for dive procedures which included the verification of the Emergency Blow system. We had hand checked every valve forward and were finishing up in shaft alley. It had been a really long day and it was close to midnight. The last check that we had was the stowage of the valve hand wheels in their proper place in the overhead. The DCA was a very thorough guy and wanted to make sure they were rigged so that they would not fall out of the overhead at the wrong time. As he checked the last one, he slipped a bit and lost his footing. The reason he slipped was because the valve was supposed to be pinned in place but was a defective pin. That valve hand wheel escaped from its holder, through his fingers and directly onto the top of my foot about 10 feet below the Lieutenant.

valve wheel

At 32 feet per second squared, it did not have much time to reach full velocity at ten feet. The weight was enough though to have a serious impact on my right foot (right behind the place where the steel toe stopped. I am kind of a pain wimp so the blinding and searing feeling I had right at that moment reduced me to a sobbing mess. Now in my defense, we had been working twenty hour days in preparation for the dive and I was a little burned out but frankly, I fell backwards pretty quickly and only remember being strapped in the stretcher and dragged thru the engine room.


When we got to the after escape trunk, it was a little crowded. Someone had made the decision back in shaft alley to remove my foot ware. I had my arms strapped in the stretcher which was actually a good thing since Tisdale was guiding the stretcher and used my now naked foot to clean off any dirt that may have been on the sides of the chamber going up. It kind of made it hurt worse. I got a fast ride to the Naval Hospital and my wife broke a few laws getting down to be by my side. Despite my best efforts (and Tisdale’s help) nothing was actually broken. I returned to the ship and made the dive.

We trust each other to do the right thing. If not, we die. So it really is a mark of pride that we have made so many thousands of dives in all kinds of conditions and wars (Hot and Cold) without a single mutiny.

Other Navies have not been so successful in achieving 100%

The end of World War 1 in late 1918 found the German Navy in a very peculiar position. On land, the German Army had been stretched to its limits and the arrival of the Americans changed the balance of power immensely. The German Navy was still a credible force in many ways and even in the later part of the war, submarines were still able to have some influence. In my research about Mutinies, this story was particularly interesting. From

“In November 1918, SM U 135 (Kptlt. Johannes Spieß) was given what can only be called the most peculiar U-boat mission of all times: actions against ships of its own navy. Together with the 4th Torpedo boat Half-Flotilla, SM U 135 ended a mutiny aboard two German battleships (SMS Thüringen and SMS Helgoland) with the threat of torpedoing the ships. But mutiny was still spreading amongst German ships and even the ace of aces, Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere, returning from his first and last patrol with the new U-cruiser SM U 139, where he was very nearly killed by his last victim *, was forced to hand over his command to the mutineers.


The strange mission of SM U 135, however, was the last U-boat action of the war. From late November 1918 until April 1919, according to armistice conditions, the 176 operational U-boats ** were handed over to Britain and interned in Harwich, partly under abasing conditions for the Germans: The White Ensign had to be hoisted on top of the Kaiser’s Ensign as if the boats were taken as prizes by the Royal Navy and the British sailors looted the boats, stealing all loose equipment they could lay hands on. The U-boats, all in all representing a value of about 207 million Gold Mark, rusted in port until they were dispersed among the allies ***, used for tests and later scrapped. Many nations, among them the USA and Japan, took advantage of the high technological standard of the German boats and built new classes of submarines after their German models – although the copies were never as good and as successful as the originals. In the Treaty of Versailles, which by the whole of Germany was regarded as extremely unjust, the defeated, diminished and humiliated German Empire was prohibited to build or possess U-boats in its minute fleet, which was reduced to a shadow of its former self.”

I am not sure how I would feel if I was a German U Boat commander. On the one hand, you have been trained all of your life to follow orders. But at that point in the war, the Kaiser had proven himself to be a man with limited understanding of the consequences of his actions. The mutineers at that time were “infected” with the disease of communism and saw a justifiable reason to overthrow a government that had so foolishly plunged a nation into war and now disastrous defeat.

I am sure it can’t have been easy. Their guys were some of the bravest and some of the best submariners in the world. So here is the question:

At what point does patriotism and loyalty towards a cause that has proven itself so vile that you feel the need to react?

Does the Constitution still need to be followed? If the leader of the country does not follow the same rules he wishes others to follow, how long is it before people say enough? Where will we find men and women brave enough to say enough?

Just a question. Is it November yet?

Mister Mac

With the way things are going right now, I really wish we had another escape trunk to get out of when the boat starts going down.