« PreviousContinue »
Law forbade us from remain- existed no more, so far as
ing for more than forty-eight hours in the neutral waters of Madeira or the Canary Islands; a facility that could only be taken advantage of in order to coal and provision sufficiently to enable the ship to reach "the nearest port," or in case of distress.
But for any of our ships to have included "night time" in their stay would have been little short of madness. There is no real "port" in any of these islands; the anchorages are all completely open roadsteads, past which which trampsteamers continually stream in both directions, either plodding out to South America or hammering home against the N.E. trade-wind. The islands lie right in the trade-route, and, on passing, vessels are accustomed to "make their numbers" and get their orders. Nothing, therefore, would have been easier than for a "raider," disguised as one of these tramps, to carry torpedoes and men who knew how to fire them, and, passing by at night, to have "let rip" at the long broadside of any of our cruisers (had one been there) lying comfortable, but helpless, under the shore. While we were coaling we had always a steamboat patrolling up and down outside the roadstead. She was fitted with "wireless " for communication with the ship, and a surprise attack would have been difficult, though not entirely impossible.
As a matter of fact, not long afterwards, even the legal restriction of "neutral waters"
Madeira, Azores, and the Cape de Verde Islands were oonoerned; for, in March 1916, Portugal entered the Alliance in regular fashion, through Germany having declared war against the Republic, and these cobweb barriers then became entirely swept away.
At the start of our "holdingup" career, we still maintained the more or less polite seamanners of peace time if always de haut en bas; but as the war progressed, we gradually got ruder and ruder, until, at the latter end, flag signals were almost entirely given up in favour of the immediate and quite unmistakable message of a shot across the bows. This, intended by the authorities to be used only as a last resort, was easily first in effectiveness and in economy of time, coal, and temper all round. Perhaps the Prussians are right, occasionally, after all, with their doetrine of the rattled sabre!
When the disguising of commerce raiders as merchant vessels-a possibility which had already lent piquaney to many a "boarding" expedition-became at last a reality, methods of extreme caution had to be adopted. Even at four miles' distance there was an excellent chance of being torpedoed by an apparently harmless tramp; and, keeping at that respectable range (as then became the careful fashion), messages could be delivered only "at the cannon's mouth." Away in those desolate seas, hundreds of miles from dooks for repairs-and
often, even from the Islands the merchant vessel, anxious
(if beaching the ship became necessary) to have caught a Tartar would indeed have been serious.
So, by degrees, and in proportion as our "Intelligence" got more frequent and reliable, we gave up boarding, on chance, every stranger we saw (except certain pet Soandinavians), and seized upon those only concerning which we had dependable reports. That kept us quite sufficiently busy: there were always persons travelling to Europe from South America, and elsewhere, who were "wanted"; and the Boarding Officer often had a long and difficult job, searching "manifests" and passenger - lists; parading passengers and crew; also in searching cabins for documents and holds for contraband cargo. It was not without its alleviations.
On one occasion, we had definite information that five Germans were returning from Angola by a small Portuguese steamer. (This was in the days before Portugal "oame in.")
The vessel was intercepted, and boarded. After a delay of about half an hour, the Boarding Officer reported by signal that he could find only four, out of the five, "wanted" men. We were absolutely assured that five were there, so a further search was ordered. This was carried out; again without result. The Boarding Officer accordingly was ordered to return with the four. One Hun, more or less, was not worth more of our time-still less the time of
to proceed on her way. Watching the proceedings through our glasses, however, we missed the cheerful alacrity of return, usual on the receipt of the signal to "Allow steamer to proceed"; and five minutes went by before our boarding: boat shoved off, and began to pull back to us with the "prisoners of war." On his return, the Boarding Officer reported that, just as he was stepping down the ladder into the boat, where his four eaptives had already preceded him, one of the steamer's passengers, a Dane, who during the search had discovered that the Boarding Officer could speak his language, came forward, and, while apparently merely saying goodbye, told him hurriedly in Danish of another spot in the ship in which to look for Number Five. Two of our men were immediately called up out of the boat, and directed to the fore-part of the upper deck, where, under the shelter of a diminutive forecastle,
there stood a large dog-kennel. Twe tarry pairs of hands, on being thrust in at the entrance thereof, seized two recalcitrant Hun legs, and drew forth their owner-as it were, a winkle from its shell-the fifth and last of our unwilling guests!
On every succeeding day, until at last they were safely deposited in the Hunitarium at Gibraltar, our prisoners of war, as they marched in file past the saloon entrance on their way to dinner, looked in at us through the doorless orifice, as we sat at our meal; and, on sighting the
Captain, each in turn bowed wind, as already she had & most embarrassing thumped for many days, on her northward journey from "the Plate," a fat Greek steamer, carrying between 4000 and 5000 tons of Indian corn.
The capturing of contraband cargo had to be dealt with by quite different, and less satisfactory, methods from that with contraband passengers, who could summarily be removed and "jugged."
We boarded her, and the captain, a Greek, speaking perfect English, and holding 8 British sailing - master's certificate, kindly volunteered the information that his cargo had been put on board by a German firm in the Argentine, to the order of a German officer, who had been sent out specially to buy grain for man and beast engaged in the war. Further, this officer had besought the captain, with large sums of money (but unavailingly), to allow him to take passage in the ship as supercargo, in order to keep the precious corn on the straight road. (For there was no corn in Egypt.)
Under the new regulations forced on us at the outbreak of war, we would have been justified in copying the German method in sinking contraband cargoes and the ships that carried them; but (in our old-fashioned way) we scorned this method, and preferred the sending in of such ships to a British port, under a prize crew, for adjudication according to law. We were too trusting, and we should have done our country a better service in destroying such cargoes offhand. We did not then knew that it was possible to override the ancient and sacred international regulations, and that those up. holders of law and of the "lawful occasion"-the Prize Court, and the admirals-could be blown aside, so that the blockade of Germany could be penetrated. Let us hope that this undermining of naval authority was not based on treachery, and was inspired only by cowardice. "We were afraid of Neutral opinion!"an admission more remark- be placed in the hands of able for its candour than its courage.
One evening, when we were patrolling southward of Las Palmas, there came thumping along against the N.-E. trade
VOL. CCVII.-NO. MCCLI.
The cargo was consigned to a bank in Zurich (which is about twenty miles from Germany), and was to be landed at Genoa, at that time
neutral port. Her papers supported these statements: there was no doubt, anyway, about the nationality of the firm consigning the corn, and very little as to its real destination. A prize officer and prize orew were put on board the steamer, and she was ordered in to Gibraltar, to
the marshal of the prize court, with all the necessary affidavits made out and signed. A few days later, we followed our prize into Gibraltar to reembark the prize crew. On
arrival, we learnt that, upon us at anchor in the Bay. This reporting home the fact of the vessel's arrival for placing in the prize court, orders had been received that the steamer was "to proceed on her voyage"; and a few hours later we endured the chagrin of seeing her steam away, eastward to Genoa, politely dip ping her colours as she passed
The war had not been going on for more than a few minutes before we cruiser-people realised that "wireless" would be our greatest friend and assist ant if employed only for taking in messages, but might easily become our deadliest foe and danger if we ourselves made signals by its means. As likely as not, the enemy might be listening somewhere within the radius of disturbed ether, into which our dots and dashes were splashing, as pebbles inte a pool, showing him that we were in his neighbourhood, while the "strength" of the signals would give him a fair idea of his actual distance from their source. Vague as this information of a ship's whereabouts may seem, it is not difficult to combine it with other contributory facts and then to translate the whole into real "Intelligence." It needs only a little experience to become expert in this; but, for all that, it was some considerable time before the oceangoing world of Watsons became fully instructed Sherlock Holmeses in correctly reading the indications.
conscientiousnessrendering unto the Kaiser the things that were the lawful prize of His Majesty's shipswas no doubt thoroughly appreciated by the Hun horse artillery, to whom the contents of the vessel were specially dedicated. "Deutschland über alles!"
Every British merchant vessel, accordingly, was warned against making even the slightest "wireless "sound, and in order to supplement the warning, as well as to fix responsibility, there was fitted in the captain's cabin of each ship a switch on the aerial, looked in a box, by which the ships operaters (all of them inveterate talkers) were absolutely prevented from sending out any unauthorised message. Until this was done nothing could stop the usual "Good morning, old man, have you anything for us?" with which the Atlantic ether, in the early days of the war, was continually being burdened. Every steamer carried its cheery and chatty "old man," quite capable of giving away not only himself, but others, including us oruisers.
As for ourselves, we became dumb as fishes, but listened unceasingly, with wireless ears "hauled out to a bowline," if such a simile of the oldest Old Navy may suitably be applied to the affairs of the Newest New.
No one would believe the
quantity of useful information call-signs, which are changed that reached us through this at frequent intervals.) means, nor realise the numbers Reply: "That is the secret of perfect damn fools that (in call-sign of the Hampshire, spite of all warnings and pre--which was exactly what the cautions) then were going Emden wanted to know! This about. They gave away every- was very kind of the "shore"; thing that any enemy ship and so was an announcement might like to know-we heard on another night, made simithem. Fortunate indeed it was larly urbi et orbi, and in plain for them that so few Germans English, detailing the dates, were there to catch and sink the ports they sailed from, and them. Discretion was learnt even the names of the cruisers later on, but only when far proceeding in pursuit of the too many eggs had been broken Emden! No wonder that none in the making of omelettes of of them caught her; and that experience. the poor Hampshire travelled about 17,000 miles on that hot ohase, day after day, night after tropical night, in a pursuit thus rendered entirely vain! She hadn't a dog's chance in such circumstances.
It is not possible to vouch for the absolute truth of the following "wireless" incidents, as they came from a German source; but there was no particular reason for inventing them gratuitously, nor were they in themselves impossible in the opening days of the war. The Emden was at the time pursuing her wicked and wily way through the Indian Ocean, being herself pursued (as she knew) by H.M.S. Hampshire. There are several powerful radio-stations ashore at Madras, Penang, Rangoon, and elsewhere in those latitudes, and one night the Emden intercepted the following conversation, en clair, between two of them.
"What ship is called up by the letters XYZ?" (Every ship fitted with wireless has a group of three letters, as above, allotted to it, and known as a "call-sign," by which it is "called up." Her own name is never used, even during peace, and in war-time naval vessels are given special secret
The Germans, little appreciating how we listened for them, laboured under a serious disability, through their shipsboth naval and merchantbeing fitted exclusively with the Telefunken apparatus.
At the beginning of the war, no other nation's ships possessed this wireless "set." The "note" made by it has a quite peculiar and unmistakable sound, and when heard it told us, without any doubt, that the enemy was at hand. "Ware rats!" it said. The rest of the nomad population of the Atlantio, as well as the radiostations on shore, had "notes all of about the same tone, and (except by their superior clearness) our ships' Naval sets could not easily be distinguished from other ship installations. Armed merchant