MoboReader > Literature > To Kiel in the 'Hercules'

   Chapter 2 GETTING DOWN TO WORK

To Kiel in the 'Hercules' By Lewis R. Freeman Characters: 38864

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


An unfailing test of the treatment the Germans would have meted out to the Allies had their respective positions been reversed during the armistice interval, was furnished by the attitude of all the enemy people-from the highest official representatives to the crowds on the streets-with whom Admiral Browning's Naval Commission was thrown in contact. This was especially noticeable in the case of naval officers, and with none of these more so than with the greater part of those constituting the commission, presided over by Rear-Admiral Goette, which met the Allied Commission to arrange the details of carrying out the provisions of the armistice relating to maritime affairs. Fully expecting from the representatives of the victorious Allies the same treatment they had extended to the beaten Russians at Brest-Litovsk, and the beaten Rumanians at Bucharest, they adopted from the outset an attitude of sullen distrust, evidently with the idea that it was the one best calculated to minimize the concessions they would be called upon to make. When it transpired that the Allied commissioners appeared to have no intention of exercising their victor's prerogative of humiliating the emissaries of a beaten enemy-as no Prussian could ever have refrained from doing in similar circumstances-but that, on the other hand, the former were neither disposed to bargain, "negotiate," nor in any way to abate one whit from their just demands, the attitude of the Germans changed somewhat. They were more reasonable and easy to deal with; yet to the last there was always discernible that feeling of thinly veiled contempt which the beaten bully cannot conceal for a victor who fails to treat him as he himself would have treated any adversary he had downed.

The opening conference between the Allied and German commissions was held in Admiral Browning's dining cabin in the Hercules, as were all of those which followed. The German officers, leaving their overcoats and caps in a cabin set aside for them as an ante-room, were conducted to the conference room, where the heads of the Allied Commission were already assembled and in their places. Most of the Germans were in frock coats (of fine material and extremely well cut), with small dirk-like swords at hip, and much-bemedalled. There was none of them, so far as one could see, without one grade or another of the Iron Cross, worn low on the left breast (or just about over the liver, to locate it more exactly), with its black-and-white ribbon rove through a lapel. Only Captain Von Müller wore the coveted "Pour le Mérite," doubtless for his commerce destruction with the Emden. Admiral Goette wore two rows of ribbons, but none of the decorations themselves.

The Allied delegates rose as the Germans entered, remaining standing until the latter had been shown to the places assigned them. At the right of the main table, as seen from the door, was seated Admiral Browning, with Rear-Admiral Grasset, of the French Navy, on his right, and Rear-Admiral Robinson, of the American Navy, on his left. Captain Lowndes, Admiral Browning's Chief of Staff, sat next to Admiral Robinson, in the fourth chair on the Allied side of the table. The Flag Lieutenants of the French and American Admirals, and the two officers representing respectively Japan and Italy, occupied chairs immediately beyond the senior officers of the Commission. At two smaller tables in the rear were several British Flag officers, with secretaries and stenographers. The official British interpreter, Lieut. Bullough, R.N.V.R., sat at the head of the table. The heads of the Allied sub-commissions representing the flying services and shipping did not occupy seats during all of the conference, but were called in during the discussion of matters in which they were interested.

Admiral Goette was seated directly opposite Admiral Browning at the main table, with Commander (or Korvettenkapit?n) Hinzman on his right, and Commander Lohman on his left. The former-a shifty-eyed individual, with a pasty complexion and a "mobile" mouth which, in its peculiar expansions and contractions, furnished an accurate index of the state of its owner's mind-was from the General Naval Staff in Berlin, which accounted, doubtless, for the fact that Admiral Goette turned to him for advice in connection with practically every question discussed. Commander Lohman had charge of merchant shipping interests, which were principally in connection with the return of British tonnage interned in German harbours at the outbreak of the war. Captain Von Müller sat at the left-hand corner of the table, and Captain Bauer, Chief of Staff, in the corresponding place on the right. At a smaller table opposite the door the eight remaining German officers were seated. These were mostly engineers, or from the flying or submarine services, and were consulted as questions in their respective lines arose from time to time.

MEMBERS OF THE ALLIED NAVAL COMMISSION, ADMIRAL BROWNING IN CENTER

THE ALLIED NAVAL COMMISSION AND STAFF, TAKEN ON BOARD "HERCULES"

Without wasting time in preliminaries, Admiral Browning got down to business at once by intimating that, since the time which he could remain in German waters was limited, it would be desirable that the very considerable number of visits of inspection necessary to satisfy the Commission that the terms of the armistice had been complied with should begin without delay. The Germans had a formidable array of reasons ready to show why all, or nearly all, of these visits would be practically out of the question. The disturbed state of the country, the uncertain situation in Berlin, the lack of discipline among the men remaining in the ships and at the air stations, the shortage of petrol, the possibility of the hostility of the people in some sections-such as Hamburg and Bremen-to Allied visitors-these were a few of the reasons advanced why it would be difficult or dangerous to go to this place or that, and why the best and simplest way would be to be content with the assurance of the German Commission that everything, everywhere, was just as the armistice terms had stipulated. Of course, at Wilhelmshaven, where things were quiet at the moment, and where they still had a certain amount of authority, there should be no great difficulty in going over the remaining warships and visiting the air-station; but as for going to Hamburg, or Bremen, or visiting any of the more distant naval air stations-that was impossible at the present.

Asked bluntly, if the search of the warships could begin that afternoon, Admiral Goette replied that it was impossible, for the reason he was not yet in a position to guarantee the personal safety of any parties landing even at the dockyard. Moreover, he would not be in position to give such a guarantee until the matter had been discussed with the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council. Of course, if the party cared to take the chance of landing without a guarantee of safety-

That was really just about as far as that first conference got in the way of definite arrangements, or even assurances. Admiral Goette was given very plainly to understand, however, that it was the intention of the Allied Commission to visit and inspect, in accordance with the terms laid down in the armistice, not only all of the remaining German warships, but also all interned British merchantmen, irrespective of where they were, and all naval airship and seaplane stations, on the Baltic as well as the North Sea side. Also, that full and complete guarantee of the safety of every party landed must be given before the first visit was made. Failing this, it would be necessary for the Commission to return to England and report that the assistance promised by Germany in carrying out the armistice terms had not been given.

The deep corrugation in Admiral Goette's brow grew deeper still when he heard this plain warning, and the corners of his hard cynical mouth drew down at the corners as the thin lips were compressed in his effort at self-control. Shuffling uneasily in his chair, he leaned over as though to speak to the sardonic Hinzman on his right, but thought better of it, and straightened up again. Then his deep-set eyes wandered to the large-scale map of the Western Front which occupied most of the wall of the cabin toward which he faced. The row of pins, which had marked the line of the Front at the moment of the armistice, but had now been moved up and over the Rhine in three protuberant bridgeheads, evidently brought home to him the futility of any further circumlocutions for the present. The muscles of the aggressively squared shoulders relaxed, the combative lines of the face melted into furrows of deepest depression, and the pugnacious jaw was drawn in as the iron-grey head was bowed in submission. His throaty "It shall be done as you say, sir," told that the first lesson had sunk home.

An undertaking on the part of the German Commission to secure, and to send off at an as early hour as practicable the following morning, the required "safe conduct," brought the first conference to a close. The kinema man, who endeavoured to take a picture of the departure from cover, in order not to offend the sensibilities of his distinguished subjects, spoiled a film as a consequence of his consideration. Observing that the galley scuttle opened out upon the quarter-deck, but not (in his haste) that the pots of beans simmering on the range were filling the air with clouds of steam as thick as fragrant, set up his machine just inside. Engrossed in turning the crank as one Hun after another went through his heel-clicking round of salutes, he failed to notice the translucent mask of moisture condensing on his lens. The natural result was that this particular reel of film, when it came to be developed, had very little to differentiate it from another reel he exposed the following morning on the men "doubling round," the latter having been taken with the cap over the lens.

The situation as it presented itself that evening was far from encouraging. Having no information whatever of our own as to conditions ashore, we had, perforce, to take the word of the Germans that many of the projected visits of inspection could only be undertaken subject to much difficulty and delay, if at all. There was not even positive assurance that a safe conduct would be forthcoming for the landing in Wilhelmshaven, where the headquarters of the German Naval Command were located at the moment, and where there had been a minimum of disorder. The wireless caught ominous fragments pointing to an imminent coup d'état in Berlin, while rioting was already taking place in Hamburg and Bremen, and Kiel was completely under the control of the workmen and soldiers. It certainly looked as though, the armistice agreement notwithstanding, we had struck Northern Germany in the closed season for touring.

A ray of light in the gloom which hung over the ship that night came in the form of two British prisoners of war who managed to induce a German launch they had found at the quay to bring them off to the Hercules. Cheery souls they were, after all their two years of starvation and rough treatment in one of the worst prison camps in Germany. When the armistice was signed, they said, they had been released, given a ticket which was made out to carry them in the Fourth or "Military" class on any German railway, and told they were free to go home. This appears to have been done at a good many prison camps, and where these were within a few days' march of the Western Front, or of Holland, it probably saved a good deal of time over waiting for regular transport by the demoralized and congested railway systems. The cruelty of this criminal evasion of responsibility was most felt in the parts of the country more remote from the Western Front, where many hundreds of miles had to be covered before the prisoners had any chance of getting in touch with friends. In the cases of most of these unfortunate derelicts long delays were inevitable, and, not infrequently, much hardship. There was little interference, apparently, with the exercise of the travel privilege, but the almost total absence of authoritative information concerning the departure of ships from Baltic ports, by which considerable numbers of British were repatriated via Denmark and Sweden, resulted in an almost interminable series of wanderings.

THE PADRE OF THE "HERCULES" TALKING WITH NEWLY ARRIVED BRITISH PRISONERS

The case of the two men I have mentioned was typical of the experiences undergone by prisoners from camps in northern or central Germany. Released, as I have described, when the armistice was signed, they had broken away from their fellows, the bulk of whom were starting to drift toward the Western Front, and struck out for the North Sea coast, acting on the theory that navigation would be opened up at once, and that this route, therefore, would offer the easiest and quickest way of getting home. Well off for money and fairly considerately treated on the food score, they found travelling simple enough, but extremely tedious and full of delays. Arriving at Emden, they learned that there had been no provision whatever made for dispatching ships with prisoners from there, and that-both on account of the lack of shipping and the danger of navigating the still unswept minefields-there was no prospect of anything of the kind in the near future. Instead of crossing over the neighbouring frontier of Holland, as they might easily have done, they pushed north to Bremen and Hamburg on the chance that there might be ships from one of these formerly busy ports by which they could find their way back to England. Disappointed again, they were about to go on to Kiel, when they read in a newspaper of the arrival of a British battleship at Wilhelmshaven. Rightly conjecturing that they were at last on the "home trail," they effected the best series of connections possible to the once great naval base, where no obstacles were placed in the way of their getting put off to the Hercules without delay.

As the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council had been endeavouring to establish touch with the Commission ever since the arrival of the Hercules in German waters, and as the way the "authorities" had co-operated in getting these men put off to the ship looked just a bit suspicious, it was only natural that the latter should be put through a very thorough examination calculated to establish their identity as British prisoners beyond a doubt. This was being proceeded with by the Commander and the Major of Marines in a room of the after superstructure, when a steward came up from the galley to ask what the new arrivals would like to have for supper. There was quite a list to choose from, it appears. They could have roast beef, said the steward, or sausage and "mashed," or steak and kidney pie, or-"Stop right there, mytey," cut in one of the men, raising his hand with the gesture of a crossings policeman halting the flow of the traffic. "No use goin' any further. 'Styke an' kidney' fer mine." Then, turning to the Commander apologetically, "Begging your pardon, sir, but wot was it you was askin' 'bout wot engagement we wus captured in?" "I don't think we need trouble any further about that, my man," replied the Commander with a grin. "That 'styke an' kidney' marks you for British all right, and if you'll vouch for your mate here, we'll take your word that he's on the level too. We'll send you home by the first mail destroyer, and be glad of the chance to do it. That won't be for a couple of days yet, but I dare say you'll be able to make yourself at home in the Hercules until then."

As the first of the hundred or more prisoners for whom the Hercules ultimately acted as a "clearing house" in passing home to England, these two men were very welcome on their own account, but especially so for the news they brought of conditions ashore. It was quiet everywhere they had been in Northern Germany, they said. Nobody was starving, and where the people took any notice of them at all, it was-since the armistice-invariably of a friendly character. "W'y, 'pon my word, sir," said one of them, where I found him that night in a warm corner of one of the mess decks, the centre of an admiring circle of matelots, who were crowding in with offerings of everything from mugs of bitter beer to cakes of chocolate; "'pon my word, all you 'ave to do is to tyke a kyke o' perfumed soap to the beach when you land, an' they'll all come an' eat right out o' yer 'and. W'y, the gurls-"

Although the Allied Naval Armistice Commission could hardly be expected to smooth its way with "kykes o' perfumed soap," yet all these men had to tell, in that it went to prove how greatly the officers of the German Commission had (to use a charitable term) exaggerated the difficulties to be encountered in getting about ashore, was distinctly encouraging. Indeed, it left those of us who talked with them quite prepared to expect the "guarantee of safety," which came off in the morning, with word that arrangements had been made for parties to land at once for the inspection of warships and the seaplane station. It even forecasted the message received in the course of the afternoon, to the effect that conditions now appeared to be favourable to the arranging of visits to Norderney, Borkhum, Nordholz, and the other seaplane and Zeppelin stations which the Allied Commission had expressed a desire to see. The Hamburg visit was still in the air, pending the receipt of guarantees of safety, but there was no longer any doubt that it would be arranged, and, moreover, as promptly as the Commission saw fit to insist upon.

For the purpose of the search of warships, and the inspection of merchant ships and air stations, the staff of the Allied Commission had been divided into several parties. The senior party, which was to confine its work entirely to warships and land fortifications, had at least one member of each of the Allied nationalities represented in the Commission. The head of it was the Flag Commander of the Hercules, and the technical duties in connection with its work devolved principally upon the British and American naval gunnery experts which it always included, and at least one engineer officer.

There were two "air" parties, one for the inspection of seaplane stations, and the other for that of airship stations. The senior flying officer was Brigadier-General Masterman, R.A.F., who was one of England's pioneers in the development of lighter-than-air machines, his experience dating back to the experiments with the ill-fated Mayfly. His interest was in Zeppelins, and he had the leadership of the party formed for the inspection of airship stations. This party included one other British officer and two Americans.

Colonel Clark-Hall was the head of the second "air" party, which had charge of the inspection of seaplane stations. He had flown in a seaplane in the first year of the war at Gallipoli, and more recently had directed flying operations from the Furious, with the Grand Fleet. Having sent off the aeroplanes whose bombs had practically wiped out the Zeppelin station at Tondern, near the Danish border, the previous summer, he had an especial interest in seeing at first hand the effects of that raid, though otherwise his interest was cent

red in seaplane stations. Two American flying officers, and one British, completed the "seaplane station" party.

The Shipping Board, which had in hand the matter of the return to England of the two score and more of British ships in German harbours, was headed by Commodore George P. Bevan, R.N., the Naval Adviser of the Minister of Shipping, who had distinguished himself earlier in the war as commander of the British trawler patrol in the Mediterranean. With him were associated Commander John Leighton, R.N.R., who had achieved notable success in effecting the return to England of the numerous British merchant ships in Baltic ports at the outbreak of the war, and Mr. Percy Turner, a prominent shipbuilder and Secretary to the Minister of Shipping. The actual inspection of the ships in German harbours was to be done by Commander Leighton, with such assistance as was needed from officers of the Hercules.

It fell to the lot of the senior of the warship-searching party to make the first landing. As this party, with at least one member from each nationality, was more or less a "microcosm" of the Commission itself, it was decreed that it should make its visits in state, in the full pomp and panoply of-peace. This meant, one supposed, frock coats, cocked hats, and swords, but as all the former had been sent ashore, by order, early in the war, and as none of the Americans had even the latter, it was evident at once that there was no use competing in a dress parade with the Germans, who were operating at their own base, so to speak. The best that could be done was to borrow swords-from any of the ward-room officers chancing to have theirs along-for the Americans, and let it go at that. The "International" members, whose principal duty, in connection with the searches, was to walk about the upper decks and look dignified, managed to wear their swords from the time they left the Hercules to their return; the others, who had really to look for things, and, therefore, to clamber up and down steel ladders of boiler rooms and the "trunks" of turrets, after numerous annoying trippings up, had finally to "stack arms" in order to get on with their search.

Although none of the officers of the Commission had taken part in the search of the German ships interned at Scapa, they had heard enough of their filthiness and lack of discipline to be prepared to encounter the same things when the inspection of the ships still remaining in home waters was undertaken. In spite of this, the conditions-the dirtiness, the slothfulness, the apparent utter disregard of the men for such few of their officers as still remained-were everywhere much worse than had been anticipated. This may well be accounted for by the fact that the surrendered ships were manned entirely by volunteers, and these, naturally, being the men less revolutionary in spirit and more amenable to discipline, had taken better care of themselves and their quarters than those who remained behind. At any rate, every one of the ships remaining to the German Navy was an offence to the eye, and most of them to the nose as well. If it was true, as had been said, that sloth and filth are the high hand-maidens of Bolshevism, there is little doubt that these twin trollops were in a position to hand the dregs of the ex-Kaiser's fleet over to their mistress any day she wanted it.

We had, as yet, no definite hint of what attitude the men of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council were going to take toward parties landed to carry out the work of the Allied Commission, and that was one of the things which it was expected this first search of the warships in the Wilhelmshaven dockyard would reveal. The beginning was not auspicious, for in the very first ship visited the whole of the remaining crew were found loitering indolently about the decks, in direct contravention of the clause in the armistice which provided that all men should be sent ashore during the visits of Allied searching parties. The captain, on being appealed to, shrugged his shoulders and said that he was quite helpless. "I ordered them to leave half an hour ago," he explained to the interpreter, "and here they are still. I have no authority over them, as you see; so what is there to do? I am sorry, but you see the position I am in. I trust you will understand how humiliating a one it is for an officer of the Imperial"-he checked himself at the word Kaiserliche, and added merely, "German Navy."

"And, believe me, it was humiliating," said one of the American officers in telling of the incident later. "I had to keep reminding myself that the man was a brother officer of the swine that sank the Lusitania, and so many hospital ships, to stop myself from telling him how gol darned sorry I was for any one that had got let in for a mess like that."

The situation was scarcely less embarrassing for the officer at the head of the Allied party than for the Germans. Fortunately the Flag Commander was fully equal to the emergency. "If these men are not out on the dock in ten minutes," he said to the captain, "I shall have no alternative but to return at once to the Hercules and report that the facilities for search stipulated in the armistice have not been granted me." Glancing at his wrist-watch, he sauntered over to the other side of the deck.

The effect of the words (which appeared to have been understood by some of the men standing near even in English) was galvanic. Blue-jackets were streaming down the gangways before the orders had been passed on to them by their officers, and the ship, save for a few cooks in the galley, was emptied well within the time-limit assigned. It had evidently been an attempt upon the part of the men to show contempt for their officers, and was not intended to interfere with the work of the searching party. Although we observed countless instances of indiscipline in one form or another, on no subsequent occasion did it appear in a way calculated to annoy or delay one of the Allied parties. On the contrary, indeed, the men-and especially the representatives of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council-were almost invariably more than willing to do anything to help. This spirit, it is needless to say, made progress much faster and easier, and a continuance of it boded hopefully for the completion of the Commission's program within the limit of the original period of armistice.

It seems to have been the strong-and, I have no doubt, entirely sincere-desire of both the German naval officers and the members of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council to get the inspection over and the Allied Commission out of the way that led to a co-operation between the two which I can hardly conceive as existing in connection with their other relations. The representatives of the Workmen and Soldiers appeared quite reconciled to the ruling of the Commission that the latter was to have no direct dealings with them, and they exhibited no evidences of ill-feeling over the failure of their attempts to establish such relations. The Naval authorities and the Council had evidently come to an agreement by which the latter were to be allowed to have a representative-"watching" but not "talking"-with every Allied party landing, in return for which privilege the Council undertook to prevent any interference from the men remaining in ships or air stations visited. Later, when journeys by railway were undertaken, and a guarantee of freedom from molestation by the civilian population was required, a second Workmen's and Soldiers' representative-a sort of a "plain clothes" detective-was added. Both white-banded men were there to help, not to interfere. Indeed, the men seemed fully to realize the need of a higher mentality than their own in the conduct of the more or less complicated negotiations with the Allied representatives, and were therefore content to support their officers in an attempt to make the best of what was a sorry situation for both.

A slight hitch which occurred in the arrangements of the "seaplane station" party one morning, when the officer who was to have accompanied it failed to turn up on the landing at the appointed hour, showed how slender was the thread by which the authority of the once proud and domineering German naval officer hung. After cooling their heels in the slush of the dockyard for half an hour, the party returned to the Hercules to await an explanation. This came an hour later, when the officer in question, very red in the face, came bumping up to the gangway in a madly driven motor-boat, and clambered up to the quarter-deck to make his apologies.

"I am very sorry," he ejaculated volubly, "but it was not understood by the Arbeiter und Soldatenrat that it was I who was to go with you today. In consequence, the permit to wear my sword and epaulettes and other markings of an officer was not sent to me, and so I could not be allowed to travel by the tramway until I had made known the trouble by telephone and had the permit sent. It was even very difficult for me to be allowed to speak over the telephone. You must see how very hard life is for us officers as things are now."

It appears that even the officers going about with the Allied naval sub-commissions were only allowed to wear their designating marks for the occasion, and that, unless a special permit from the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council was shown, these had to be removed as soon as they went ashore. The constant "self-pity" which the officers kept showing in the matter of their humiliating predicament was the one thing needed to extinguish the sparks of sympathy which would keep flaring up in one's breast unless one stopped to think how thoroughly deserved-how poetically just-it all was.

With one or two exceptions, all the best of Germany's capital ships were known to have been surrendered, and this applied to light cruisers and destroyers as well. The U-boat situation was somewhat obscure, but it was supposed-incorrectly, as transpired later-that a fairly clean sweep of the best of the under-water craft had also been made. The most interesting ships which the Allied Commission expected to see in German waters were the battleship Baden, sister of the surrendered Bayern, and the battle-cruiser Mackensen, sister of the surrendered Hindenburg. The Regensburg and K?nigsberg, which had been left to the Germans to "get about in," were also considered worthy of study at close range as examples of the latest type of German light cruiser. The Mackensen, still far from completed, was in a yard on the Elbe at Hamburg. The others were inspected at Wilhelmshaven.

I think I am speaking conservatively when I say that all of the Allied officers who saw them from the inside were distinctly disappointed in even these most modern examples of German naval construction. After the extremely good fight that practically every one of them-from the Emden and K?nigsberg and the ships of Von Spee's squadron at the Falklands to the battle-cruisers of Von Hipper at Jutland-had put up when it was once drawn into action, it was only natural to expect that some radical departures in construction, armament, and gunnery control would be revealed on closer acquaintance. This did not prove to be the case, though it is only fair to say that, in the matter of gunnery control, there was little opportunity to pass judgment, owing to the fact that, in every instance, the Germans-as they had a perfect right to do-had removed all the instruments and gear calculated to give any indication of the character of the installation.

The German ships were found to be extremely well built, especially in the solidity of construction of their hulls, the fact that they were not intended to be lived in by a full ship's company all of the time making it easy to multiply bulkheads and dispense with doors. But there was nothing new in this fact to those who knew the amount of hammering the Seydlitz and Derfflinger had survived at Dogger Bank and Jutland. Even so, however, there was nothing to indicate that these latest of German ships would stand more punishment than any unit of the Grand Fleet after the stiffening all British capital ships received as a consequence of what was learned at Jutland.

In several respects it was evident that the Germans had merely become tardy converts to British practice. The tripod mast, which dates back something like a decade in British capital ships, and which has, since the war, been built in light cruisers and even destroyer leaders, was only adopted by the Germans with the laying down of the Bayern and Hindenburg. Similarly, the armament-both main and secondary-of the respective classes of battleship and battle-cruiser to which these two ships give the name, is a frank admission on the part of the Germans that the British were five years ahead of them in the matter of guns.

Gunnery control, the one thing above all others which the British Navy was interested in when it came to an intimate study of the German ships, is, unfortunately, one of the things upon which the least light has been shed. The German, since he had to disarm, did the job with characteristic Teutonic thoroughness. The transmitting stations in all of the modern ships-the one point where there would have been a great concentration of special instruments of control-looked like unfurnished rooms in their emptiness. So, too, the foretops and what must have been the director towers. One moot point may, however, be regarded as settled. There have been many who maintained that, since the German fire was almost invariably extremely accurate in the opening stages of an action, and tended to fall off rapidly after the ship came under fire herself, the enemy gunnery control involved the use of a very elaborate and highly complicated installation of special instruments, many of which were too delicate to stand the stress of continued action. The British and American officers who went over the latest of the enemy's ships, however, are agreed that all the evidence available points to this not being the case-that the German gunnery control, on the contrary, was undoubtedly as simple as it was efficient, and that the fact that it had not stood up well in action was probably more due to human than mechanical failure.

It is considered as by no means improbable that the good shooting of the German ships was largely traceable to the excellence of their range-finders and the special training of those who used them. Whether it is true or not that France and England have succeeded since the war in making optical glass equal to that of Jena, there is no doubt that the latter was superior in the first years of the war. The German ships unquestionably had more accurate range-finders than did the British, and it is also known now that the Germans took great care in testing the eyesight of the men employed to handle these instruments, and that much attention was given to their training. It is believed that upon these simple points alone, rather than upon the use of a highly complicated system of control, the admitted excellence of German gunnery was based. There is no reason to believe that they had anything better than the British for laying down the "rate of change," and keeping the enemy under fire once he had been straddled.

Although it was known to the British sailor in a general sort of way that the Germans only spent a comparatively small part of their time aboard their ships, the tangible evidence of this remarkable state of affairs-in the vast blocks of barracks at Wilhelmshaven and the very crude, inadequate living quarters in even the most modern of the ships searched-gave him only less of a shock, and aroused in him only less contempt, than did the filth and indiscipline of the German sailors. The German officer who assured one of the searching parties that their ships were made "to fight in, not to live in," told the literal truth, and it only accentuates the bitter irony of the fact that, when finally they refused to fight, they had to begin to be lived in willy-nilly.

"You can't tell me there isn't a God in Israel, now that we've got the Huns at Scapa living in their own ships," said an officer on coming off to the Hercules one night after his first day spent in going over some of the remnants of the German Navy at Wilhelmshaven. That same thought is awakening no end of comfort in the breast of many a British naval officer this winter, who would otherwise have been down on his luck for having still to stand to his guns after the war was over. In a previous chapter I have told how we intercepted a wireless from Admiral Von Reuter, saying that he had "gone sick" at Scapa and asking to be relieved. That was not the last by any means that we were to hear of the "hardships" of life in those German "fighting ships" at good old Scapa. The veritable howls of protest rising from the Orkneys were echoing in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel during all the time the Commission spent in German waters. Some mention of the "sad plight" of the German sailors there was made at every conference, and it was at the final one, I believe, that Admiral Goette said that the "cruel conditions" under which the men in the interned ships were being compelled to live at Scapa Flow was alone responsible for the fact that it had been so far impossible to find a crew to man the Baden, which he had agreed some days previously should be delivered in place of the uncompleted Mackensen.

Except for the several modern ships I have mentioned, the search of the naval units remaining in German ports resolved itself into a more or less monotonous clambering over a lot of obsolete hulks-from many of which even the guns had been removed-to see that no munitions remained in their magazines. There was always the same inevitable filth to be waded through, always the same gloweringly sullen-or, worse still by way of variation, cringingly obsequious-officers to be endured. The sullen ones usually improved when they found that no "indignities" were to be heaped upon them, and that they had only to answer a few questions and show the way round; but you had to keep a weather eye lifting for the obsequious ones to prevent their helping you up ladders by steadying your elbow, rubbing imaginary spots of grease off your monkey jacket, and-the invariable finale-offering you a limp, moist hand to shake at parting. The latter, like the ruthless U-boat warfare, was dangerous principally on account of its unexpectedness. When adequate "counter measures" were devised against it, it became less threatening, but had always to be looked out for. I don't recall, though, hearing any one confess to having been "surprised" into shaking hands after the first day or two.

The search of the warships at Wilhelmshaven was finished in a couple of days, while the few old cruisers and destroyers at Emden were inspected in the three hours between going and returning railway journeys, taking about the same length of time. At Hamburg and Bremen there were principally merchant ships and U-boats, and the search of-and for-both of these is a story of its own. The remainder of the work on the North Sea side consisted in journeys-by train, motor, destroyer, or launch-to, and the inspection of, Germany's principal seaplane and airship stations, and of these highly interesting visits I shall write in later chapters.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares