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THE VICTORY AT SEA

Rear Admiral William Sowden Sims.jpg

Rear Admiral William Sowden Sims
U.S. Navy

THE

VICTORY AT SEA

BY REAR-ADMIRAL WILLIAM SOWDEN SIMS

U.S. NAVY

COMMANDER OF THE AMERICAN NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS DURING THE GREAT WAR

IN COLLABORATION WITH

BURTON J. HENDRICK

WITH PORTRAIT AND PLANS

LONDON

JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.

1920

First Edition . . . November 1920

Reprinted ...... December 1920

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Printed by Hazett, Watson & Viney, Ld, London and Aylesbury, England.

TO

THE GALLANT OFFICERS AND MEN

WHOM I HAD THE HONOUR TO COMMAND

DURING THE GREAT WAR

IN

GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF

A LOYAL DEVOTION TO THE CAUSE

THAT GREATLY LIGHTENED THE

RESPONSIBILITY

BORNE BY

"THE OLD MAN"

PREFACE

This is not in any sense a history of the operations of our naval forces in Europe during the Great War, much less a history of the naval operations as a whole. That would require not only many volumes, but prolonged and careful research by competent historians. When such a work is completed, our people will realize for the first time the admirable initiative with which the gallant personnel of our navy responded to the requirements of an unprecedented naval situation.

But in the meantime this story has been written in response to a demand for some account of the very generally misunderstood submarine campaign and, particularly, of the means by which it was defeated. The interest of the public in such a story is due to the fact that during the war the sea forces were compelled to take all possible precautions to keep the enemy from learning anything about the various devices and means used to oppose or destroy the underwater craft. This necessity for the utmost secrecy was owing to the peculiar nature of the sea warfare. When the armies first made use of airplane bombs, or poison gas, or tanks, or mobile railroad batteries, the existence of these weapons and the manner of their use were necessarily at once revealed to the enemy, and the press was permitted to publish full accounts of them and, to a certain extent, of their effect and the means used to oppose them. Moreover, all general movements of the contending armies that resulted in engagements were known with fair accuracy on both sides within a short time after they occurred and were promptly reported to an anxious public.

But this situation bore almost no resemblance to the struggle between the U-boats and the anti-submarine forces of the Allies. Barring a few naval actions between surface vessels, such as the battles of Jutland and of the Falkland Islands, the naval war was, for the most part, a succession of contests between single vessels or small groups of vessels. The enemy submarines sought to win the war by sinking the merchant shipping upon which depended the essential supplies of the allied populations and armies; and it was the effort of the Allies to prevent this, and to destroy submarines when possible, that constituted the vitally important naval activities of the war. By means of strategical and tactical dispositions, and various weapons and devices, now no longer secret, such as the depth charge, the mystery ship, hydrophones, mine-fields, explosive mine nets, special hunting submarines, and so forth, it was frequently possible either to destroy submarines with their entire crews, or to capture the few men who escaped when their boats were sunk, and thus keep from the German Admiralty all knowledge of the means by which their U-boats had met their fate. Thus the mystery ships, or decoy ships, as the Germans called them, destroyed a number of submarines before the enemy knew that such dangerous vessels existed. And even after they had acquired this knowledge, the mystery ships used various devices that enabled them to continue their successes until some unsuccessfully attacked submarine carried word of the new danger back to her home port.

Under such unprecedented conditions of warfare, it is apparent that the Allied navies could not safely tell the public just what they were doing or how they were doing it. All articles written for the press had to be carefully censored, and all of these interesting matters ruthlessly suppressed ; but now that the ban has been removed, it is desirable to give the relatives and friends of the fine chaps who did the good work sufficient information to enable them to understand the difficulty of the problem that was presented to the anti-submarine forces of the Allies, the manner in which it was solved, and the various means invented and employed.

The subject is of course largely technical, but an effort has been made to present the story in such form that the layman can readily understand it. As it is difficult, if not quite impossible, for a naval officer to determine just which of the details that are a part of his daily life, and what incidents of sea experience would interest his civilian friends, the story has been written in collaboration with Mr. Burton J. Hendrick, to whom I am greatly indebted for invaluable assistance ; and who, being an experienced hand at this writing business, deserves all the credit the reader may be disposed to accord him for both the form and such graces of descriptive style as he may be able to detect. While opinions may differ to a certain extent as to the influence exerted upon the campaign by the various forms of tactics, the means and weapons employed, and the general strategy adopted, I have given what I believe to be a consensus of the best informed opinion upon these matters; and I have taken advantage of all of the information now available to insure accuracy in the account of the conditions that confronted the European naval forces, and in the description of the various operations that have been selected as typical examples of this very extraordinary warfare.

It is probably unnecessary to add that this book is published with the full approval of the Navy Department. My correspondence on this subject with the Secretary will be found in the Appendix.

W. S. S.

CONTENTS

  1. CHAPTERPAGE
  2. I.
    When Germany Was Winning the War.
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  3. II.
    The Return of the "Mayflower"
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    40
  4. III.
    The Adoption of the Convoy
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    78
  5. IV.
    American Destroyers in Action
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    99
  6. V.
    Decoying Submarines to Destruction
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    141
  7. VI.
    American College Boys and Subchasers
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    168
  8. VII.
    The London Flagship
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    204
  9. VIII.
    Submarine Against Submarine
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    224
  10. IX.
    The American Mine Barrage in the North Sea
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    244
  11. X.
    German Submarines Visit the American Coast
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    266
  12. XI
    Fighting Submarines from the Air
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    275
  13. XII.
    The Navy Fighting on the Land
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    289
  14. XIII.
    Transporting Two Million American Soldiers to France
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    294
  15. Appendix
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    316
  16. Index
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    347