German Uboats In WWI – How we evaded them
German Uboats in WWI were a menace to lone merchant ships and fishing boats but The U.S. had a way to protect the troops crossing the Atlantic. This article published in the Washington Times in 1918, shows how the United States dealt with German Uboats in WWI by strategic sailing formations.
Here period audio below – It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary
Why The U-Boats Can’t Get Our Troops – It is a remarkable fact that the United States lost hardly a soldier through the German U-boats in transporting over 1,000,000 men across the Atlantic Ocean. One transport lost, the Tuscania, was a British ship carrying a few American soldiers. Three of our transports, almost empty, were torpedoed returning to America, and few were lost. In no case, up to that time, had the Hun pirates secured any victims they would have especially planned to get.
This splendid result was achieved in face of a fleet of German submarines which had at one time destroyed as much as 900,000 tons of allied shipping in a month.
The value of our protective measures has even been admitted by the leading German naval critic, the notorious Captain Persius, of the Berliner Tageblatt, who writes: “Every layman knows that U-boat losses are unavoidable owing to the continually increasing effectiveness and sharpness of the defense measures of the enemy, which perhaps will further increase as, the war progresses.
How have we attained this great victory for it is a real victory in defiance of what once seemed an insuperable menace. By the use of fast warships acting in efficient combination, by the employment of a great number of ingenious scientific devices, and above all by the exercise of endless courage, skill and endurance. The allied navies have closely co-operated with our own in bringing about this result.
The security of our transports is not the outcome of any one device that foils the U-boat, but of the intelligent use in combination of a great number of devices and methods, which have been proved effective. It is not permissible to state fully what all these methods are, but it is & patriotic service to describe such as the authorities do not wish to conceal, because the knowledge will increase the confidence of our people in the safety of our soldiers.
The system of convoying transports by destroyers and other war vessels has been brought to the highest degree of efficiency by the United States Navy, and is probably responsible more than any other single factor for the great security which our soldiers have enjoyed. It is now possible to give a general idea of the manner in which a convoy is formed. The formation is complicated and calls for a high degree of skill in the naval officers controlling it. The convoy steams in V-shaped formation.
At the head of the convoy steams a swift destroyer, and following this is a light cruiser, which acts as the flagship of the formation. This in the case of the American navy is frequently an armored cruiser of the Colorado or the Tennessee type. Astern of the cruiser is another torpedo boat, which tows at the end of a light but very strong steel wire a captive balloon. This craft forms the point of the “V formation and behind it are placed the two diverging lines of transports, merchant ships or supply ships, which follow each other, not bow to stern, but disposed diagonally. This arrangement is called “en echelon,” and is intended to avoid the danger of a collision. At the stern of each ship is towed a spar or buoy, which is there to tell each succeeding ship how far it is astern of the preceding one an absolutely necessary pre caution at night or in foggy weather. Down through the centre of the “V” is a line of armed trawlers, while another line steams on the other side of each column of merchant ships.
Slightly astern of the convoy and at about the center of the base of the “V” is a destroyer which tows another observation balloon. Finally, to complete the protection, several destroyers steam in a zigzag course well out on each wing of the convoy. The destroyers are of the fastest and newest type. By zigzagging they cover a large area, and are able to meet and destroy U-boats before they can come near the transports. The observation balloons flying high above the water possess the well demonstrated power of seeing U-boats beneath the surface which are not visible from the deck of a ship. There are also hydroplanes upon several of the convoying vessels.
Much interest has been excited by the announcement that enormous mine fields have been sown in front of the German ports, which menace the submarine going out and returning home. Mines had already been used largely, but they are now employed on a scale that was not dreamed of before this season. This measure was carried out by the British navy in combination with the Americans.
The mined area includes no less than 121,782 square miles in the North Sea. It is not expected to stop every Submarine, but it causes a serious amount of losses, and in combination with other weapons makes the U-boat war a losing game. The mines are stretched a distance of 200 miles across the North Sea from a point near the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, to within three miles of the coast of Norway, the limit of territorial waters. This is intended to block the northern entrance to the North Sea, the principal gateway by which German U-boats can reach the Atlantic and the outside world generally.
Another still larger field stretches north and south from the coast of Denmark to that of Holland, covering closely the entrance to the German naval ports, on the North Sea, including Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. This field measures 250 miles from north to south by a hundred miles wide. A third field of rectangular shape stretches east and west from the coast of Holland to the mouth of the Thames. This field blocks the southern outlet of the North Sea. It menaces any U-boats that attempt to proceed north from the U-boat bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend, on the Belgian coast.
A mine is a round iron affair fitted with a number of plungers which stick out all over it. When a solid object touches a plunger it drives it in and sets off a concussion charge, which in turn explodes 350 to 1,000 pounds of the high explosive called trinitrotoluene, or “T. N. T.,” within the mine. This is sufficient to blow a great hole in any ship afloat. The mines are anchored and placed at various depths beneath the surface, from thirty feet down, in that a sub marine at any depth is likely to run into one. They are constantly shifted and renewed, so that no submarine can become familiar with their position.
Those U-boats that proceed south and attempt to pass through the very narrow Strait of Dover into the English Channel run into still greater dangers. Here there are not only mines, but miles of steel netting. When a U-boat runs into one of these nets it becomes hopelessly entangled and the men die horribly of suffocation and gas poisoning. The nets stretch along the coast on each shore, and between them is a narrow passage for shipping. Beneath this passage more mines are placed.
All day aeroplanes fly over this narrow stretch of water, peering beneath the surface for traces of U-boats, ready to drop a bomb or signal for a naval destroyer. Hundreds of patrol boats cover every foot of this area by day and night, armed to attack a submarine and to wireless to other craft at night. An amazing sight awaits any one who is allowed in these waters. The patrol boats burn strong flares, so that they can detect any U-boat that comes to the surface. The under-water boats are obliged to rise after a hundred miles run for air. In any case in a mine-loaded area they would prefer to run on the surface.
Another interesting feature of the war against submarines is the use of decoy ships, sometimes called “mystery ships. Rear-Admiral Gleaves, of the United States Navy, has described one variety of these ships in a lecture. “These mystery ships were merely decoy ships with false sides and a hidden battery,” said the Admiral.” “As a rule, they represent lumbering merchant sailing vessels. Very often one or two of the crew, dressed as women, were conspicuous on the deck. The game was simple. The submarine, seeing a merchantman, would come within easy hail, ascertain the vessel’s cargo, and so forth, and then, order the crew to get into their boats. Sometimes the alleged women would show great awkwardness and in getting over the sides. Often they carried cats or bird cages.
Other forms of decoy ships are constantly being devised, in order that the U-boat pirates may not grow too familiar with any one kind. Sometimes an innocent looking tramp steamship shows a high bow apparently of steel plates. These are really wooden boards which are let down when a U-boat approaches. They then show deadly guns, which open fire on the pirate. Guns are also concealed under tarpaulin arranged to look like deck cargo and in various parts of the superstructure.
As I stated in the opening, German Uboats in WWI were a nuisance to parts of the American coast and Gulf of Mexico, but the soldiers and equipment being sent across the Atlantic were well guarded using these strategies. I hope you learned something about German Uboats In WWI and how the Navy guarded against them, because I sure did.