July 26, HMS Orcoma Course 133 (changing), Speed Nine knots (increasing), 2124 hours
86 nautical miles NW of Derry
“There’s another one!”
The City of Cambridge got off distress rockets as they abandoned ship.
“They’re getting slaughtered like sheep!”
“Has anybody seen anything?”
Cavendish was appalled. His helpless merchants were being massacred and his escorts could do nothing to help against an invisible enemy.
“Signals. Convoy scatter. Repeat scatter. Proceed independently. Use wireless and rockets.”
Ships comprehended the signals very unevenly. Six ships never figured it out and kept on chugging along on the original 120 heading right on toward Liverpool. Inevitably there were collisions. Most resulted in various degrees of damage. One 2,700 ton steamer was damaged badly enough that she sank before dawn.
“Escorts rally 25 miles to the north.”
July 26, U-39 Course 300, Speed one knots, Periscope depth 2150 hours
154 kilometers NW of Derry
Forstmann spun his periscope.
“Alarm!” A steamer was headed right for the U-39.
The U-39 just barely missed being rammed by a ship that probably never saw her periscope. The crew of the U-39 heard the sound of the steamer’s screw through the hull as it passed over the U-39. Once he got to 30 meters, Forstmann brought her right back up to periscope depth. After a quick scan to assure himself that the U-39 was in no immediate danger he looks for a last victim.
Here was a nice steamer.
“Tube one target – range, mark”
“1,700 meters” (A very long shot by Forstmann’s standards)
Forstmann had targeted the steamer.
“Speed six knots”
Torpedo one los!
“Close outer door. Down periscope”
“Alarm! Thirty meters. Come right thirty degrees”
The torpedo missed the ship Forstmann had targeted. Eighty-five seconds passed with no explosion, but it kept on going and hit another ship crossing behind the original target. The SS Ciboure, a 2,100 ton French steamer bound for Cherbourg with a cargo of mules was hit in the aft hold/shaft alley. A single-screw merchant ship cannot withstand such an insult. The crew got off in their boats but the mules brayed helplessly into the briny deep.
Forstmann was now completely out of ammunition other than a couple of rifles. He stayed deep and eased off to the west. About 0200, he found the horizon clear and surfaced and made a contact report en clair, begging U-boats to join the feast.
“Convoy fifty ships course 120 speed five knots making for North Channel.”
Unfortunately for the Central Powers, there was not another U-boat within 150 kilometers.
July 27, UB-2, Course 175, speed Two knots, Surfaced 0245 hours
Nine kilometers WNW of Zeebrugge
There she was!
The UB-13 had sent a wireless to Zeebrugge, and Zeebrugge had called the UB-2 to find her. A tug (the same one that had brought in the minelaying barge) would be dispatched at first light. These UB-I boats were of no value as tugs, so he would just hang around until the tug got there.
Fürbringer was bored, so he got out his megaphone and yelled over to Becker. After a few details of what was going on Fürbringer just had to ask:
“How was the hunting?”
“Unbelievable! Dozens of ships just sitting at anchor.”
“How many did you get?”
“Two, and Wenninger and I have to argue over a third”
“The French shore battery got another one shooting at us. Who gets the credit?”
That just left Fürbringer in more of a funk. Stuck here running in circles while the happy hunting ground lay unmolested.
July 27, HMS Orcoma Course 165, Speed fourteen knots, 0315 hours
105 nautical miles NNW of Derry
Cavendish had collected the escorts at the rally point and had turned back to the south. He intended to go find what he could of the convoy and at least look like an escort, even though he had abandoned his convoy.
Cavendish had also sent a coded report to the Admiralty about the massacre of the convoy. This message would have several effects, but Cavendish guessed one would be the end of his career as a naval officer once and for all.
Cavendish stood out on the starboard bridge wing. The accusing light of the ship brightly burning had finally gone out on the horizon.
Smith went out to the Commodore.
“Sir. The attack seems to be over.”
“How many did we lose?”
“We don’t know yet. Only a few of these ships have wireless. Two of those who do have wireless have not answered.”
“Ikeda and Anteros.”
“What were they carrying?”
“Ikeda carried small arms, mostly rifles for Russia. Anteros carried artillery ammunition for France. She was probably the one that exploded.”
“Any of the trawlers hit?”
“Did anyone see anything?”
“I’ve never felt so helpless.”
“Nor I, sir.”
“How many submarines attacked us?”
“We don’t know, sir.”
“We don’t even have any way of knowing, do we?”
“Should we stop convoying? Are convoys just leading the sheep to slaughter?” (See Note 1)
“Maybe the enquiry will bring more facts to light.”
“I dread the Board, but you are probably right.”
July 27, Zeebrugge Harbor 0910 hours
The tug pulled the UB-13 through the breakwater. The tug had left before dawn and found the U-boat a little later. Good weather aided the safe return of the out-of-fuel boat. Already the UB-10 and UB-17 were in port. The UB-17 had made it in running on the last of her batteries. The UB-10 was down to the last of her fuel. All three boats would have to have their fuel systems purged before they set out again. (See Note 2) In addition, all three boats had to be inspected for cracking around their gun mounts. This was a good opportunity for the crews to get a shower and a decent meal or two. They did not know it but lunch today would be the cooks’ attempt to replicate Rikarda’s peach cobbler.
The engineer’s men were busily setting up his mine-handling racks and hoist. Now the minelayers would not need to go all the way back to Wilhelmshaven to reload.
July 27, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker 1330 hours
After lunch, Bartenbach had called the three Kommandants to the bunker for what would today be called a debrief.
When the three men described the situation in the Mouth of the Seine. Bartenbach was astounded. In the earlier trip there had been a few anchored ships, but Bartenbach assumed common sense would have the French and Englisch disperse their ships. Apparently, he had over-estimated them.
“Fifty ships at anchor?”
“Jawohl. At least that’s what I could count.”
“Becker, you tell me you got a patrol boat next to a salvage vessel?”
“Jawohl. I had planned to try to board the salvage vessel and sink her quietly but that patrol boat showed up and I sank her instead.”
“You other two say you get four ships in a matter of minutes?”
“Jawohl. After Wenninger sank the torpedo boat, there was nothing to stop us. As recommended, we hugged the kisten to keep the shore batteries from shooting. After three ships were sunk they fired anyway and hit the fourth ship.”
“How many shore batteries were there?”
“As best we could tell there was only one and it seemed to be on the south shore of the estuary. They were medium-small caliber guns, maybe twelve pounders, but they sure did put out a lot of shells. Not that their aim was anything to worry about. All they hit was the fourth ship.”
“Very well. We have to wait and see what the inspection of your boats indicates. The UB-2 and UB-6 had developed leaks in the pressure hull around the gun. If your boats have leaks, the gun has to be removed. If not, I’ll send you back the Mouth before the entente wises up.”
1.This was the first U-boat attack on an escorted convoy in the North Atlantic. Nobody in the convoy had ever seen a U-boat attack.
2.Diesel fuel tends to support a microorganism that makes a thick sludge in the bottom of fuel tanks. If this sludge gets sucked into the fuel system (as it would in a running-out-of-fuel situation) the fuel pumps, filters, and injectors had to be cleaned. Today, one would simply pump some B100 through the system, but in 1915, this job was completely manual.