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were wonderful; I cannot help but pay testimony to the skill with which he met altering conditions. If Fritz succeeded in hoisting us into the air, and the C.O. survived, he would be tried by court-martial for losing his ship, and would be subjected to a severe cross-examination concerning the action he had taken; and if any arm-chair oritie, viewing the action as a whole, with no real knowledge of what happened from minute te minute, condemned eertain movements, the C.O. would pay heavily in reputation. He was a man of sensitive disposition, and extremely eager to show the Regular Navy that the R.N.R. could keep its end up with the best of the professionals; but he told me later that his main thought was that he held the responsibility of the crew's lives on his shoulders: on his actions depended their continued existence. Added to this fear was also the net unnatural fear of his own death, and the suffering that would be caused to his relatives.
Without coming to the surface, at a range of something like a thousand yards, the U-boat discharged a torpedo full at Brig X. Having orawled to the C.O.'s side, with a desire of companionship in that great loneliness which besets a man when death is stalking near, I was able to note the passage of this new element in the game. There was the usual bubbling line moving relentlessly towards Brig X, and it appeared as though nothing could possibly save the fabric from being
hoisted bodily into the air. A "mouldy" that was capable of blowing a forty-by-thirty hole in a steel ship's side, when that steel was backed up by many tons of solid oarge, promised to leave but little remaining of the "Q" boat. And there was nothing to be done to avoid the impending disaster. Το leap overbeard gave the show away at once; to start up the engines in an effort te run clear was an equal disclosure, as the exhaust, leading out through one of the quarterpipes, would emit blinding clouds of smoke such as no ordinary Italian coasting brig ever produced since the days of ships. Fortunately, although it seemed longer in the happening than it really was, not much time was allowed for speculation, though there was quite enough for lively apprehension. I do not know of any helplessness that is quite so complete as that of waiting for a torpedo to strike a small ship. To know that you are the definite target of the missile, that if it strikes it will destroy the ship and fling possibly yourself and eertainly your well-liked shipmates inte mangled fragments, is a disconcerting idea: and to know, further, that nothing you can do can possibly avert destruction, is productive of a forlornness impossible to deseribe in words.
As it happened, the torpedo went clean under the brig and missed her, thanks to her shallow draught. In their zeal to make a finish of us the enemy had neglected to alter the depth-setting: it had been ad
justed to make sure of finishing a ship of twenty feet draught or more, and this neglect was our salvation, although I swear that we felt the horrible thing sorape along our keel. What would have happened had we been fairly struck I do not pretend to estimate. Lieutenant Sanders, V.C., R.N.R., after being blown overboard by the explosion of a German torpede which obtained a direct hit on his "Q" boat, swam back to the sinking hulk and fought his gun to the end, sinking the submarine and escaping with his own life; but whether Brig X would have remained sufficiently in the shape of a ship to enable a gun to be fired from her, is a matter that can only be conjectured. Personally, I think she would have been blown into two halves, and both halves would have sunk out of hand, and such survivors as might have been would presumably have been picked up by the U-boat and given the customary treatment meted out to "Q" beat orews-summary execution. However, the matter did not go so far, and what execution there was had the Germans as victims.
The U-boat did not attempt another torpedo after the failure of the first; as a rigorous account of expenditure was kept in such craft, and as any commander who logged the expenditure of two torpedoes without scoring a hit was liable not only to censure but actual degradation, it seemed
though our enemy was not disposed to take further risks.
But he still failed to come within our reach-he was exactly what the C.O. called him, quoting the Man from the East, "a downy bird."
He came still nearer, remaining submerged, and then within an incredibly short distance thrust up his periscope to a great height so that he could overlook our decks, and made a comprehensive observation. And it was unquestionably due to our skilful camouflage that he did not discover our identity and try a second "mouldy." Even so, as that periscope remained above the bulwarks, like a malevolent eye, we who cuddled as closely as human beings ever did cuddle against the bulwark planking, noticed a dozen glaringly obvious matters that ought to have given the show away without question. There was the great asbestos-lagged exhaust from the oil-engines running along the deek beside the after gun-house-fortunately it was painted exactly the same colour as the deck; and there was the chase of the after 12-pounder lying across the planking, with only a fragment of canvas casually flung over it and not nearly concealing it. The binnacle hood of a standard compass-service trawler type-protruded from an up-ended cask beside the mainmast; but it may be that the mooring ropes ooiled on either side, on top of the weather barricoes, hid the palpable thing from the periscope's view, though to us, crouched aft, it was plainly evident.
We were still woefully un. certain, and it W&8 very
evident the men
in actual the detonation sounded the concealment were feeling the C.O. said, "Up guns, open strain. Number One had dropped his own periscope in obedience to instructions, and this instrument was now nothing but a simple mushroom ventilator; and as it was no longer possible to keep communication with the gunpositions by means of the voice-pipe, the men below were utterly in the dark as to what was transpiring. They bore up under the strain extraordinarily well.
Fritz came to the surface at about 800 yards' distance from the brig and opened his conning-tower. As soon as his gan-deck was above water he recommenced firing, and lobbed two shells clean into us. One burst in the mess-deck and did a lot of damage; the other was a dud, and passed olean through the hull without exploding. The little "Q" shook to her keel at the shell's explosion, and the effect was that of a velcano. But whatever we felt was set aside, as almost as
The range had been given at 800, and it was a good approximation. With a tremendous erash the after deckhouse fell apart, and the 12-pounder looked into the firing position. But the forward gun was up first: its mechanism was simpler. This weapon simply bent over down the open fore-hatch, and when down was covered with a tarpaulin that could be plucked aside in a twinkling. The jar of the forward piece looking sounded an appreciable second before that of the after one, and as good luck would have it the U-boat was attacking from the port side, on which side both our 12pounders were trained when housed. Certain seconds are lost in swinging a gun's chase round from port to starboard.
Through the jar and shudder came the whip-like reports of the breech-workers of the guns -"Ready!" The two gunlayers had accustomed their eyes to the range by sighting through the bulwark slits; they leaped to their places at the sighting telescopes with a clear impression of the target on their retinas, No one thought to time the interval between giving the order and the stunning crack of the forward gun's discharge, but I am of opinion that not more than six seconds elapsed. At the moment of "Up guns!" being given, the signalman snatched at the signal halliards and broke the White
Ensign, letting the Italian flag down by the run, so that the first discharge was fired under our legitimate eolours, and the laws of war were thus obeyed to the letter. This shows the result of constant training: I know that so far as I myself am concerned all thought of the colours we were to fight under had escaped my notice, and the C.O. confessed to the same forgetfulness; but the signalman had been told that, whatever happened, it was his duty to break the White Ensign at the given order, and he did it as nonchalantly as though hoisting colours in port at eight o'clock.
One shot of the first two hit the U-boat fairly on the conning-tower and burst beautifully, and the forward gun elaimed that hit, as did the after gun. It was quick work after that, and only certain impressions stand out clearly in the mind. One was of the CO. leaping to the after-gun platform like a cat, and snapping out a range-correetion before he steadied; another was of Number One slipping out of his control like a monkey out of a cage, scurrying hotfoot along the deck to the forerigging, swinging himself aleft to obtain a better view of the fall of shot; of myself ringing the bell as a signal for the engine to start up, and then standing upright at the wheel again and handling the ship as she felt the thrust of her propeller and moved ahead. And chief impression of all is the tumultuous oursing of the gun-layer of the after 12
pounder. Black curses simply spouted from his lips; he damned everybody's eyes and worse. The C.O. was cursing too, and his flights of language would have aroused admiration at any other time,-now they passed unnoticed.
The submarine was undoubtedly taken by surprise: survivors admitted that afterwards. But even so he made an attempt to submerge, only our second salvo got him in the hull below the eonningtower; one shell actually burst beneath his fore-deck gun, and tilted it at such a sick angle that it was obviously out of action. And our Lewis gunners swept the summit of the eonning-tower and the fighting decks with a very hose-stream of bullets, so that had any one appeared to handle the gans certain death must have been their portion. But on our first opening fire the gun crews had disappeared-jumped overboard in sheer panio so far as we could tell.
Once we disclosed our true colours, Fritz made ne attempt to put up a fight: he was all right in attacking an apparently helpless merchantman; a war-vessel put the wind up him very badly. And if he had only stayed to fight it out the odds were still in his faveur: his ene remaining gun was heavier than ours; he had torpedoes, and he had speed for mancavring far in excess of what we possessed.
As it was, he elected to take it lying down. It may be that our fire so damaged
him internally that further resistance was put out of the question : we got no clear account of what happened from the survivors. We, remembering certain things we had endured, and certain other things we had seen, were not disposed to show excessive mercy; and then, too, we had no assurance that Fritz was not up to some dirty work. There was only one place for an enemy submarine, according to our theories, and that at the bottom of the Mediterranean; and we did all in our power to get him there quickly. A German U-boat, however, does not, as some theorists believe, erumple up like a kicked sardine - tin at the impact of a single 12-pounder shell: it can withstand quite a good deal of punishment. It was necessary to fire many rounds before Fritz had received sufficient to ensure his destruction; but as our gunlayers had now got the range to a nicety, it was merely a question of time. Shell after shell found the target precisely, and we knew a bit of a feeling of exultation, as was inevitable. There had been some antagonism shown to our desire to indulge in prolonged target practice by certain veterans of the older school; there had even been whispers of "cold feet," because we did not rush to sea as soon 88 our stores were aboard, on the off-chance of finding a submarine sitting waiting just outside the Base. But our insistence of
going out on the hunt was well justified by the result.
And the work of our gunlayers was not easy when once Brig X was under her motor-power. A big internalcombustion engine, working at full speed in a very small ship, can make more noise and vibration than seems credible: our "Q" was jerking and trembling like a wind-blown aspen, or worse. It seemed to me, standing there at the wheel, as though she must inevitably shake her timbers apart, and throw herself abroad on the waters like rubbish; but her builders had built with a conscience, and when she was pumped out later, she showed no mere than the usual amount of water in the bilges.
It was not the easiest thing in the world to maintain a perfectly accurate course, and the
need to attend to the steering kept my thoughts concentrated away from much of the actual engagement. Fortunately, Brig X steered like a witeh, despite the drag of the propeller. As the event proved, however, there was really no need to start the engines, though the principle of so doing was good. Fritz made no attempt to give us another torpedo, and we should have been as immune had we remained stationary. But we were not to know this; and, anyhow, it was no bad thing to give our gunners practice in firing under the most adverse conditions.
We could not always rely on finding a Fritz in per