Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War/Chapter 15
Chapter 15 - Activity of the Fleet During the U-Boat CampaignEdit
BESIDES the direct support of the U-boats which operated from home bases, the Fleet supplied almost the whole personnel required to commission the new boats. It was particularly important for the U-boats to have technical men who were well trained in seamanship. The commanders had to be officers who had sufficient experience to navigate and handle the boats without assistance in the most difficult circumstances. That meant a big demand for officers of the watch, because they, by age and seniority, were best fitted for such service. The Fleet had to train men to take their places, so younger officers were promoted to be officers of the watch, and the training of midshipmen was accelerated. The substitutes for the latter were taken direct on board and received their training as naval cadets with the Fleet. This entailed a very extensive shifting of all ranks which was bound to have a deleterious effect upon the efficiency of the ships.
The project of a raid with the Fleet to the Hoofden in Maroh, 1917, to attack the convoy traffic between England and Holland, never materialised. The weather had been uninterruptedly bad up till March 11. By that time the clear nights were over, which were a necessary preliminary condition for the enterprise. The weather prospects grew worse, so that we could not rely on scouting from the air. A cruiser raid by night had also to be given up, because it was reported from Heligoland that the wind (E.S.E., force 7 - 9) threatened to become worse.
The second leading ship of the torpedo-boat fleet was sent with Flotillas VII and IX to the Baltic for training in mine-sweeping, as the mine-sweeping divisions did not suffice for the work of escorting the U-boats as well as that of clearing the routes of mines. I considered, too, that Fleet manoeuvres were necessary, so that the new commanders might become familiar with handling their ships in co-operation with the rest of the Fleet. I could leave the defence of the North Sea for the time being to the cruisers, as it seemed improbable that the enemy would make an attack on the Bight. Meanwhile, the battleship Baden had been made ready as Fleet-Flagship, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet had embarked in her. Flotillas III and IV could be spared from the North Sea, while the Fleet was at manoeuvres in the Baltic, and were sent to Flanders, where they could be put to better use, by carrying on the war in the Channel from Zeebrugge.
The number of mines laid in the North Sea by the enemy grew steadily greater. Almost daily we suffered losses among the mine-sweeping craft, while among the ships used to escort the U-boats in their passage through the mine-fields there had been so many losses that in March the Fleet had only four such vessels at its disposal. The Secretary of State for the Imperial Navy was asked to raise the number to twelve again, so that they might suffice for the needs of the Fleet by working in four groups of three.
While the battleships were at squadron practice in the Bight of Heligoland on March 5, the Kronprinz and the Grosser Kurfürst collided and suffered damage which in the case of both ships took several weeks to repair; before these were complete any considerable enterprise for the Fleet was not to be thought of.
While the Fleet was practising in the Baltic, on March 21, the cruiser Moewe reported her return in the Kattegat, and entered Kiel on the 22nd. During her cruise of four months she had sunk or captured twenty-seven ships, amounting to 123,444 tons gross registered tonnage. One of the prizes, the Yarrowdale, had been brought into Swinemunde on December 31, 1916, and had conveyed news of the success of the Moewe, from whom we had heard nothing since she left at the end of November, 1916. The safe return of the successful ship was greeted with great joy.
On March 29 the outpost boat Bismarck, leading ship of the special group commanded by Lieutenant Schlieder, ran on a mine and sank; only three of the crew could be saved. Their smart commander also lost his life. He had won great credit by driving submarines out of the Bight.
To illustrate the demands that the U-boat campaign made upon the Fleet, I quote below from the log of the High Sea Fleet, beginning with May 9, 1917:
"May 9, 1917. - Wind and weather in the German Bight, E. to N.N.E., force 3 - 4; weather fine and clear. Seaplane scouting in the Inner German Bight without result. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting Division IV protects the operations in the west. During mine-sweeping operations of the Ems outpost flotilla, the Mettelkamp strikes a mine north of Borkum and sinks.
"Returned from long-distance trips: 'U 82,' 'U-B 22,' 'U-B 21,' and 'U 93.' 'U 93' proceeded to sea on April 13, and up to April 30 sank 27,400 tons. On April 30 had a struggle with a U-boat trap (iron-masted schooner), in the course of which the commander, Lieutenant-Commander Vohr von Spiegel, the helmsman, and one petty officer were hurled overboard, and three men were badly wounded. The boat, badly damaged, unable to dive properly, and deprived of its wireless, is brought into List by Lieutenant Ziegler. 'U 46' is escorted to the north. 'U 58' reports position among mines accomplished; two steamers sunk, three damaged, in 1 degree longitude west; a great deal of convoy traffic.
"May 10. - Scouting by our seapTanes without result. No airship observation. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting Division IV protects mine-sweeping operations in the west. H.M.S. Hindenburg commissioned.
" 'U-C 76' while shipping mines in Heligoland harbour badly damaged by mine explosion and sunk. Among the missing is the commander, Lieutenant-Commander Barten. Salvage-boat Oberelbe goes from the Ems to Heligoland to give assistance. 'U-C 77' back from long-distance expedition; 'U 46' has passed the danger zone; 'U 30' proceeded to the North via Terschelling.
"May 11. - Wind E., force 4 - 5. Seaplane scouting; nothing suspicious. No airship observation owing to easterly wind. Mine-sweeping according to plan. The half-flotilla occupied in sweeping mines from the route to the west, in following up a barrier of mines, has got north of its prescribed route. New mines are observed; and the leading boat of the 5th Half-Flotilla of mine-sweepers strikes a mine and sinks. Four men are missing. Among them the commander of the Half-Flotilla, Lieutenant-Commander Beste. As it has now been ascertained that the English have barred the approach from Horns Reef from N.W. by mines, the officer in command has received orders to lay mines which will bar the approach from north-east and from the west, so as to deprive the English of this meeting-point, which we can do without. A further barrier of mines north of Tyl Lightship is to bar the way to mining operations against Nordmannstief. At night a group of barrier-breakers goes along the U-boat route down the Dutch coast to the west, and another group to the north.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"'U 30' passed danger zone; 'U 58' back from long-distance trip; 'U 93' enters Wilhelmshaven towed by 'V 163.'
"May 12. - Wind E., force 6. Seaplane observation without result. Observation by airships impossible owing to weather conditions. Mine-sweeping only carried out to small extent owing to heavy sea. Scouting Division IV takes over protection of operations in the west. In the course of the morning, the two barrier-breaking groups return from night voyage. No incidents. A boat of the North Sea outpost flotilla reports an enemy submarine; set the torpedo-boat half-flotillas at my disposal to search; submarine 'kite' exploded; result doubtful.
"May 13. - Wind N.W., force 2. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting Division IV on patrol in the west. At night the officer commanding the division, with the auxiliary minelayer Senta, lays the barrier of mines at Horns Reef and north of the Tyl Lightship according to orders.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"'U33' leaves for long-distance trip in the west, and 'U-C41' for the Bell Rock.
"May 14. - Wind E. to N.N.E., force 3. For protective scouting 'L 22' goes up to the west; 'L 23' to the north. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting Division II goes for protection of operations in the west to the Osterems. Thunderstorm, 6 p.m. The Staff of the Fleet embarks in H.M.S. Baden. High Sea Fleet warships clear. Scouting Division II., with two torpedo-boat leaders, assemble in the course of the evening in Schillig Roads, for the intended manoeuvres in the Bight on May 15. No communication from 'L 22' since report that she had risen. Thunderstorms in the west. It is possible that she has taken in her wireless mast and can send no message. In the late afternoon thick fog over the whole Bight, consequently not possible to have search made by seaplanes or surface craft. Seaplane No. 859 noted an explosion and a cloud of smoke at 9.50 a.m.
"7.40 p.m. - The leader of the airships reports that according to telephonic information from Borkum this observation is very probably connected with the loss of 'L 22.' A telegram arriving at night from the Admiralty confirms this statement. The probability is that on account of the thunderstorm 'L 22'- had to remain below the level where the gas would completely fill the cells, and was shot down by British warships.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"11.40 P.M. - Orion, one of the 3rd Mine-Sweeping Flotilla, reports that 'U 59,' which was being convoyed out to sea, and the mine-sweeper Fulda, have struck a mine and sunk. Outpost boats of the List Division, the mine-sweepers of the flotilla, and the 17th Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla are sent out to meet the Orion. The boats receive orders at the same time to pick up 'U-C51' and 'U-C42,' which are west of Horns Reef on their return journey. 'U-C 44' and 'U-C 50' put out to sea to the west on a long-distance trip. 'U-C 51,' on return journey, reports position. Operations among mines completed; about 4,000 tons sunk; travels 5 knots only (nature of her damage not made out owing to defective wireless).
"May 15.- Wind N.N.W., force 2-3. 'L 16' and 'L 37' go up for aerial observation. Thick fog forces them to return. Slight visibility at times only. The tactical manoeuvres in the Bight are therefore postponed to the 16th; the First Leader of the Torpedo-Boats reports that some of the 1st Torpedo-Boat Flotilla, with auxiliary engines, have broken down, and that the rest are not fit for use outside the Bight. Consequently the 1st Torpedo-Boat Flotilla is instantly dispatched to Kiel for repairs. The officer in command had sent 'U 59' to take note of the place of the accident; the List Division of the North Sea Outpost Flotilla, a pump steamer, and a tug, to assist the Orion; and a torpedo half-flotilla to control the U-boat route out to sea. The reports of the boats sent to assist do not give a definite idea of the degree of danger to be apprehended from enemy mines in the north. While trying to get into communication with 'U 59' by tapping, the outpost boat Heinrich Rathjen strikes a mine and sinks; missing, one petty officer and three men. Officer in command receives orders for the time being to stop the work of breaking through the belt of mines in the west, and to clear or test the U-boat route out to sea in the north, with all craft at his disposal. In view of the interruption of the work of breaking through in the west, any considerable enterprise of the Fleet must be postponed. I therefore decide, in order to make use of the time immediately after the evolutions, to send Squadron III, and, on the return of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla II, Torpedo-Boat Flotilla V to the Baltic for manoeuvres. Both are badly in need of training.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"'U-C 42' and 'U-C51' return from long-distance trips. 'U-C41,' which put to sea on May 11 for the west coast, had to break off expedition owing to engine trouble.
"May 16. - Wind N.E. to N.N.W., force 3 - 6. Seaplane observation without result. Airship observation impossible owing to fresh north-east wind. Tactical manoeuvres by the High Sea Fleet in the Bight of Heligoland. On completion, sent Squadron III to the Baltic. In the absence of Squadron III, Squadrons I and IV to take outpost duty in turn. H.M.S. Kaiser sent to Kiel harbour for repairs. The officer in command of the Scouting Divisions to discover the cause that led to the loss of 'U 59' has ordered mine-sweeping flotilla to test and clear Squares 132, 117, 133, 116. One torpedo-boat half-flotilla is to sweep Squares 134 - 84. The auxiliary mine-sweeper flotilla is to mark the spot of 'U 59's' accident and try to get into communication with 'U 59' by tapping. In the course of these operations, 'M 14' strikes a mine, and in the attempt to save 'M 14,' Torpedo-boat No. 78 does likewise. Both boats sink. The attempts to get into communication with 'U 59' must consequently be abandoned.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"In the night, 'S 27' of the Ems Outpost Flotilla strikes a mine and sinks while convoying 'U 86' on a long-distance trip to the west. 'U 86' thereupon returns with the rest of the convoy to Borkum Roads. Wireless reports received: 'U 62' left on April 21, position; in April 10,000 tons sunk; in May, 13,000; on April 30 captured commander of U-boat trap 'Q 12.' 'U-C 55' left April 28 for west coast, position. 'U 40' left May 5. Mine-sweeping operations completed, two explosions heard, nothing sunk. 'U 21' left April 19, position; 13,500 tons sunk 'U-C 49' left May 2, position; mines laid, 3,365 tons sunk.
"May 17. - Wind E. to E.N.E., force 3 - 6. No airship observation. Seaplane scouting without result. Reports hitherto received about the mines laid by the enemy south of Horns Reef do not yet give a clear idea of the condition of affairs. It seems as if new enemy mines were lying south of the Senta barrier, direction east to west. Consequently, all efforts must be made to clear up the situation and keep this important waterway clear. It is once again apparent how short we are of mine-seekers and sweepers. We shall therefore once again approach the Admiralty and demand that the 'M-boats' (new mine-sweepers) that have been allocated to the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic, should be handed over to the High Sea Fleet. As a substitute, we will offer boats of the North Sea Outpost Flotilla or trawlers of the Auxiliary Mine-sweeping Flotilla. To make the position of the lightship at List more reliable and easier from the point of view of navigation, a buoy will be placed to mark the position which will be occupied at night by an outpost boat. Further, to help the U-boats on their outward voyage, a number of outpost boats are to cruise continually west of the position of the lightship. During the night two groups of barrier-breakers go out, one to the north and one from the Ems to the west.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"'U-C 49' and 'U-C 41' back from long-distance trip; 'U 86' leaves under convoy for Flamborough Head; via Bruges comes a wireless report that 'U-C 75' has sunk 3,500 tons and the English warship Lavender. Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla XVII puts to sea to meet the damaged 'U-C 40' and to bring her home through the subsidiary waterway of Nordmannstief."
And so it went on from day to day. Owing to the pressure of the demands made upon them during the war, the organisation of the mine-sweepers was developed in the following manner:
At the beginning of the war three mine-sweeping divisions existed and were stationed at Cuxhaven. Of these, Divisions I and III took up their activities in the North Sea and Division II in the Baltic. Each division consisted of a leading boat, eight sweepers and two - increased to four later - buoy-boats. (The buoy-boats marked the channels swept by the mine-sweepers for the groups of larger ships that followed.) The boats were without exception small, old torpedo-boats, of the class 'V 30' and '80.' Their speed was 17 - 18 knots with a draught of 2.7 m., their armament one 5 cm. gun. In command of the flotillas were Commanders Bobsien and Wolfsoin; later the North Sea Auxiliary Mine-sweeper Flotilla under Commander Walter Krah was added. It consisted of trawlers and small torpedo-boats.
At the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916 the small old torpedo-boats were gradually replaced by the "A"-boats and "U"-boats which had been built during the war. The "A"-boats had a speed of 23 - 25 knots, a draught of 1.9 to 2 m., a displacement of 210 to 345 tons and an armament of two 8.8 cm. guns. The "M"-boats had a speed of 16 knots, draught 2 to 2.2 m., displacement 450 to 520 tons, armament three 8.8 cm. or two 10.5 cm. guns.
On September 1, 1916, the Mine-sweeper Divisions I and III were divided into the 1st and 2nd, and 5th and 6th Half-Flotillas respectively. On October 6, 1916, what had hitherto been Mine-sweeper Division II was divided into the 3rd and 4th Mine-sweeper Half-Flotillas. These Half-Flotillas were still grouped under their original Flotillas.
In May, 1917, Mine-sweeper Flotillas I and III were both augmented by a third half-flotilla, consisting of "M"-boats.
In June, 1917, Mine-sweeper Division II with the parent ship Ammon and ten motor-boats left the Baltic and joined the North Sea warships. These motor-boats ("F"-boats) have a speed of 11 knots, draught 1 m., length 17.5 m., displacement 19 tons, and an armament of one machine gun. Later on, in January, 1918, the Mine-sweeper Divisions III and IV formed the 3rd Mine-sweeper Flotilla. Mine-sweeper Flotilla II was also augmented by a third Half-Flotilla - No. 9. The Auxiliary Mine-sweeper Flotilla of the North Sea was denominated from the beginning of 1918 onwards Mine-sweeper Flotilla IV, and the trawlers of which it originally consisted were for the most part replaced by new mine-boats. All the mine-seekers and mine-sweeper groups were then placed under the command of one officer, and Captain Nerger, well known as the commander of the auxiliary cruiser Wolf, was appointed to this post after his return from his cruise. Further formations were: Mine-sweeper Division II, consisting of the parent ship Ammon and twelve boats, and the Mine-sweeper Flotilla VI, one leading boat and two half-flotillas, consisting of an "M"-boat as parent ship, six boats, eleven "U-Z"-boats (small, fast motor-boats) and three large motor-boats. The " F-M "-boats (shallow draught "M"-boats) had a speed of 14 knots, draught 1.3 m., displacement 170 tons, length 40 cm., and an armament of one 8.8 cm. gun. The "U-Z"-boats when towing their apparatus had a speed of 18 knots, draught 1.5 m., displacement 20 tons, length 26 - 30 m., and an armament of one 5 cm. quick-firing gun.
At the time the Armistice was concluded the following boats were available for the mine-sweeping service in the North Sea:
17 torpedo-boats, 27 "U"-boats, 71 "M"-boats, 4 "F-M"-boats, 23 trawlers, 58 motor-boats, and 22 "U-Z"-boats, 4 parent ships and a repair ship, whereas at the beginning of the war there were only 33 small, old torpedo-boats available.
At the beginning of the war we had three forms of mines, with a charge of from 70 to 150 kilos, capable of use at a depth of from 90 to 115 m. The newest of these existing types of mines could ultimately be used at depths of 345 m. During the war the following types of mine were added: 1. A defence mine against submarines, with a charge of 20 kilos and effective to a depth of 95 m.; 2. A mine in the form of a torpedo that could be shot out of a U-boat travelling under water, with a charge of 95 kilos, effective to a depth of 200 m.; 3. A mine to be laid by U-C-boats with a charge of 120 to 200 kilos, effective to a depth of 365 m. The U-C-boats could carry 12 to 18 mines; 4. A mine for the first big minelayers which, however, was not made after the construction of the U-C-boats.
Mine-sweeping tackle was improved to such an extent that the area swept increased from 45 to 300 m.; the depth to 30 m.; and the speed of sweeping, when the new boats were used, to 15 knots.
As a defence against mines - in the first place for the mine-sweepers, and later destined for all classes of ships - special apparatus was invented. This was attached to the bows and was intended to cut the mine-cables before the boat struck the mine. It was found of great use.
For defence against submarines a depth charge was made which could be thrown from a boat on to submerged submarines. The charge weighed about 50 kilos; it was detonated under water by an adjustable time fuse.
In addition to this there was a submarine "kite" with an explosive charge of 12 kilos. It was towed by boats on a cable which served at the same time to indicate the direction of the current. It was electrically exploded as soon as the "kite," while being towed, struck a submarine.
To keep off submarines nets of various kinds were made, which were moored to buoys to bar the submarine's path, and lighter nets, provided with gas buoys, which indicated the path of the boat and the spot where it had broken through if a submarine ran against the net.
The convoy service for U-boats demanded large numbers of light craft; about 100 torpedo-boats and smaller steamboats were used for this purpose. They were divided into two convoy flotillas:
1. Commanded by Commander Faulborn, consisted of three half-flotillas, each comprising two groups of five torpedo-boats.
2. Commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Hoppensledt, consisted of six half-flotillas, each of ten to twelve steamboats.
The mine-sweepers and convoying craft deserve great credit for making it possible for the U-boats to carry out their campaign. They suffered many losses which would otherwise have been inflicted on the U-boats. That, however, did not prevent them from performing their dangerous service year in and year out with the greatest trustworthiness in spite of the inclemency of the weather. The officers and men of this service surpassed all others in the Navy in their intrepidity and skill as seamen.
The most successful part of the activities of the Fleet fell to the lot of the U-boats; the battleships, together with the cruisers and torpedo-boats, and especially the mine-sweepers, assisted in overcoming the enemy's defence. Their efforts were primarily directed against the belt of mines which England had laid in the North Sea to prevent our boats from getting out. The accompanying plan shows how the Bight was made to bristle with mines.
It was impossible, in view of its great extent, to clear the whole area. We barely had sufficient ships to ascertain where mines were laid. Our efforts were confined to getting two or more paths through the mines, and keeping them clear; one to the west, following the coast, one in the middle between Terschelling and Horns Reef, one to the north along the Danish coast. This last had the advantage of making it easier for the U-boats to find their way home on their return, as they could feel their way to the coast of Jutland while they were still outside the area sown with English mines, and seek the route that had been cleared, which led along the coast into the Bight. The route off the Dutch coast was the shortest for those boats which chose the Channel passage to get to their station west of the British Isles. It certainly was the shortest route, but also the most dangerous, because of the strong defence in the Channel, and the various obstacles there in the shape of nets and mines. These cleared paths had to be so wide that the boats could find them even in bad weather, when they were unable to determine their position with accuracy; and also they had to be wide enough to allow freedom of movement to the auxiliary boats which accompanied the mine-sweepers; for the mine-sweeping operations were in all probability observed by the English submarines, and if the cruisers in the auxiliary groups had only been able to move slowly up and down in the narrow area they would have presented an easy and welcome target. Consequently we tried to keep a large basin free of mines, situated to the rear of about the middle of the belt, so that it lay in a central position for all the routes. Even this did not guarantee absolute safety, so the boats were always accompanied by an escort capable of clearing away any mines which might after all be encountered.
In July, 1917, the English had extended the area which they had announced to be mined, to the north up to the latitude of Hanstholm (north-west coast of Jutland), in the west as far as four degrees longitude east, in the south to 53 degrees latitude north. By this means the path which had to be kept clear by the boats of the High Sea Fleet was lengthened at the narrowest point by 20 to 25 sea miles.
Up to the end of June, 1917, despite months and months of work, the mine-sweepers at our disposal had not succeeded in breaking through the old danger zone. The demands which, in consequence, were made upon the U-boat convoys - which had to take the U-boats through the mined area into free water - naturally impeded the actual mine-sweeping. In case of need, recourse might be had to the torpedo-boat flotillas, but, after all, they represented material as valuable as that which they were to protect; and in particular the new boats had too much draught to pass through the mine-sown areas except at great risk. (The lighter the draught the less the danger for the mine-sweepers, in the construction of which this point was particularly considered). The new boats constructed in the last months hardly made good the losses, and the number fixed by the commanders of the Fleet as the minimum required had not been attained. These clear routes were not needed for the U-boats alone, but also for communication between Rotterdam and the Elbe and Ems respectively. In the middle of July, 15 to 20 steamers lay at Rotterdam waiting for the word that they might safely cross. It was the Fleet's duty to guarantee that the waterway along the coast was free and to convoy the ships with outpost craft to safety.
In spite of all the difficulties we managed to prevent anything from stopping the U-boats from going out. There were altogether very few days when for safety's sake we had to avoid the direct route into the North Sea and take the roundabout way through the North Baltic Canal and the Kattegat. The small loss of time was of no importance compared with the increased safety; that was thereby gained. As the boats could replenish their fuel supply in Kiel, they were able to stay in their field of operation for comparatively a long time. But it was not unknown to the English that our boats used this way to get out, especially later when the U-cruiser flotilla had been formed at Kiel; these boats mostly took the route through the Kattegat for their outward and return voyages. That forced 1 the Fleet to extend its mine-sweeping to the Kattegat, and to take counter measures when the English mines were laid from Skagen across to the Swedish coast.
It is obvious on what a large scale English mine-laying was carried on, when it is considered that they set about mining the whole of the North Sea between the Shetland Islands and Norway. As we learnt afterwards it was chiefly American mines that were to be used and American craft to do the work. If they had really succeeded in sowing mines sufficiently thickly in that area the Fleet would have found it an exceedingly difficult task to clear the necessary gaps there. However, the great depth of the water in this part of the North Sea made it possible for U-boats to avoid the barrier by travelling at a sufficient depth below the surface. So far as we could ascertain, we suffered no losses in U-boats from these mines.
The boats, when going out, and before their return, reported their position, so that the commanders of the Fleet and the officers in command of the U-boats knew for certain that the first difficulties had been overcome, and that the boat was making for her actual field of operation; or, as the case might be, was on the homeward voyage after accomplishing her work. Thus it was possible to establish with great accuracy in what period of time boats that were missing must have met with misfortune.
The Fleet considered it its most important task to place all its strength at the disposal of the U-boats on their outgoings and incomings, so as to protect them from the dangers of this part of their voyage. Plenty more awaited them which they would have to cope with alone, once they were in their particular sphere of activity. This was essentially the point of view of the mine-sweepers; they suffered ever greater losses, yet did all that was possible to take upon themselves the main dangers that threatened the U-boats.
In August, 1918, H.M. the Emperor announced his intention to visit the Fleet. Shortly before his visit there had been signs of insubordination among the crews of some of the ships of Squadron IV. ('Prinzregent Luitpold' and 'Friedrich der Grosse'); this bore the character of mutiny, but thanks to suitable measures taken by the officers it was nipped in the bud before it had assumed considerable dimensions or had injured the efficiency of the ships. Inquiry into the matter, however, revealed that behind these comparatively unimportant outbreaks there lay a movement which must be taken very seriously, and which had as its aim the forcible paralyzing of the Fleet as soon as the political wire-pullers deemed the moment ripe. The judicial inquiry established the fact that there was a connection between the members of the Independent Social Democratic Party and the leaders of the movement in the Fleet. Their first aim was to get a sufficient number of the crews to allow their names to be put on lists which were to prove at the forthcoming. Congress at Stockholm that the crews at the front had grown weary of fighting and were ready to join in the political movement. This movement aimed at bringing the war to an end in all countries by overthrowing the existing forms of government. Very cleverly had the leaders sown discontent on certain ships; they had made the most of supposed abuses, especially in the rationing, and had not even shrunk from influencing their comrades by threats of forcible measures. The whole network of the plot was laid bare and those who had stirred up the trouble were punished. In certain cases the court-martial pronounced sentence of death, which was carried out so far as the most guilty parties were concerned. Most of those implicated had not realised the consequences of joining the organisation; to many it had not even been explained. Compared with the total numbers of the crews, those who had joined the movement were very few.
The great danger which lay in this unrest, stirred up in the Fleet by conscienceless agitators, could not be overlooked. Conditions on the big ships in particular unfortunately provided fruitful soil for such activities, as the crews were all the time in close communication with their homes and could, therefore, not be kept immune from the prevailing depression. These men performed the same service on the big ships all the year round, and they lacked the refreshing stimulus of meeting the enemy in battle. On the other hand, they had a daily supply of newspapers and pamphlets which teemed with war weariness and the condemnation of our war leaders. Thus it was unhappily possible to influence their views and make them forgetful of their duty.
The Secretary of State for the Navy arrived in Wilhelmshaven on August 17, the day before the Emperor embarked. I made earnest representations to him that it was the duty of the Government to protect the Fleet from this Socialistic organisation, as otherwise the efforts of the officers to shield the men from these disastrous influences would be of no avail. Admiral von Capelle was very doubtful whether it was possible, with the sentiments then prevailing in the Reichstag, to call the leaders of a party to account for their political agitation which, so far as it was subversive of order, was carried on with the greatest circumspection. But he quite admitted the gravity of the situation and promised to see that the necessary protective measures were taken by the Imperial Government. He spoke to His Majesty to that effect the next day, after I had reported these incidents in the Fleet to him. Unfortunately at the discussions in the Reichstag, which followed shortly afterwards, it appeared that the Government was not sufficiently firm to take radical measures and secure the consent of the majority of the people's representatives to them.
The Fleet had to depend entirely on its own efforts to shield the crews from the devastating influences which were brought to bear upon them. The best distraction certainly was active warfare. The crews had never refused to obey the call of this necessity; courage and the joy of battle still prevailed in their old, original form. They were so deeply rooted in the character of the German people that they could not cease at the first onslaught from without.
The influence of enemy propaganda was turned to account by the Independent Social Democratic Party to achieve its own ends. It could be counteracted to some extent but not entirely removed, and its disastrous effects were apparent later. There is a widespread view that the crews had justifiable grounds for complaint in the differentiation in treatment between the officers and men; this is totally unfounded. Service on board makes at least the same demands on the officers, and indeed much greater demands, than on the majority of the members of the crew. On watch and on every other form of service, the proportionate number of officers is employed with every group of men, and they have no alleviations as compared with the crew; on the contrary, they are much more exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and far greater demands are made upon their vigilance when at sea. Even in the unpleasant process of coaling, all the officers cooperate, and there is no difference then between them and the men in respect of their "get-up" and their unavoidable condition of dirt. This practice, introduced in time of peace to attain the greatest possible efficiency in coaling, was of necessity continued during the war, when the unpleasant work of filling the coal bunkers had to be undertaken much oftener.
His Majesty embarked in the flagship Baden, and took his first trip to sea during the war. On this occasion, he visited the Island of Heligoland to inspect the fortifications and harbour works there. He landed again at Cuxhaven, where he spoke to the crews of the mine-sweeper flotillas, and was able to confer decorations upon some of the leaders and crews who had had a brush with enemy destroyers a few days before, in which they so successfully warded off the attack that we did not have to record the loss of a single boat.