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Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights By Kelly Miller Characters: 32972

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

A Voracious Sea Monster-The Ruthless Destructive Policy of Germany-Starvation of Nations the Goal-How the Submarines Operate-Some Personal Experiences.

Almost the entire story of the world war is written around the development of the submarine. One can scarcely think of the terrible conflict without bringing to mind the wonderful "underseas" boat which has made infamous Germany famous. The truth is that, in so far as America is concerned, the conflict was precipitated by the ruthless submarine warfare which Germany waged as part of her plan to starve out England, France, Belgium-and all nations which opposed her.

The slinking submarine proved an efficient instrument, whose activities clearly indicated the diabolical intent and purpose of Germany to make the whole world suffer, if necessary, to the end that she might gain her point and perpetuate the Hohenzollern dynasty. It was not so much that her submarines wrought havoc-for death and disaster stalk always with war-but the methods by which Germany waged their warfare and disregarded all the rules which had been laid down for the guidance of civilized countries at war proved conclusively that even the innocent could expect no quarter from her.

The story of the sinking of the brave ocean steamship Lusitania on May 7, 1915, contains in its brief recital a typical illustration of Germany's lack of humanitarian instincts. The vessel, torpedoed off the coast of Ireland, went to the bottom of the ocean, carrying to death more than 1150 persons, many of them prominent Americans. With an audaciousness which has no counterpart in the history of civilized warfare, German agents in the United States had caused advertisements to be printed in the public press, warning citizens against sailing on the vessel, and advised that she was in danger of being destroyed.

The world stood aghast and believed it impossible that Germany should carry out her threat, but they were soon to be disillusioned. Because the handsome vessel passed through a zone of the seas which the Teuton war lords declared blockaded, they sent a torpedo from an underseas boat into her bowels. The horrors of that event are still fresh in the minds of millions. No such ruthless and wanton destruction of innocent human beings had been accomplished by a so-called civilization at war.


Articles of The Hague agreement defining the rights and duties of nations at war, and which Germany had accepted, were thrust aside and disregarded by Imperial Germany. The Hohenzollern dynasty was above rules and regulations. International law and the rights of non-combatants at sea were as nothing. That all nations had agreed that the enemy ship must give the captain of the vessel attacked opportunity to land innocent passengers was forgotten. There had not been a word of warning.

And Germany, and the adherents of the Imperial Government, expressing regret that Americans should have been sacrificed, professed deep sorrow on one hand and on the other shouted with glee. America protested vigorously, quoting the laws and demanding that Germany recognize them-not merely that she leave American vessels alone-and give assurance that no such further acts would be committed.

Contending that the sinking of the ship was justifiable, in the exigencies of war, Germany ceased for a short time her wanton sinking of boats without warning. For almost a year her underseas crafts had been preying upon the small British coasting vessels, and sunk hundreds of fishing boats, trawlers and steamships. England's mercantile marine was the object of the Teuton's attacks, and no one had anticipated any danger to Americans or American interests.

Germany had no reasons for desiring to attack American boats and she promised to mend her ways. There followed a brief period in which no vessels were sunk on which were Americans, and then without warning the campaign against all vessels was renewed. A dozen were sunk on which were American seamen or non-combatant passengers, none of whom was given warning or time to land before a torpedo sent the boat to the bottom of the ocean. Threats on the part of President Wilson to take action against Germany finally brought another cessation.


"The sinking of the British passenger steamship Fabala and other German acts constitute a series of events which the Government of the United States has observed with growing concern, distress and amazement," said President Wilson in a note on the submarine warfare. "This Government cannot admit the adoption of such measures or such a warning of danger as in any degree an abbreviation of the rights of American shipmasters or American citizens, bound on lawful errands as passengers on merchant ships of belligerent nationality. It must hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for any infringement of those rights, international or incidental.

"The objection to their present method of attack lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice and humanity which all modern opinions regard as imperative.

"American citizens act within their indisputable rights in taking their ships and traveling wherever their legitimate business calls them upon the high seas.

"No warning that an unlawful and an inhuman act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation for that act, or as an abatement of the responsibility for its commission. * * *

"The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty or the inalienable rights of the United States and its citizens, and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment."


Apparently Germany modified her submarine policy for a period of upward of a year, or until in February, 1917, when to the astonished world she threw aside all pretense and declared her intention of destroying any vessel which attempted to cross or sailed into a zone which she established along the English coast and around English and French ports. America's further protests availed not; her citizens, many of them, went to the bottom of the seas, and some of them suffered almost unbelievable cruelties or neglect, when the captain of a German sea raider with some humanitarian instincts permitted these innocent passengers or seamen to be rescued from the torpedoed vessels on which they were.

Even the Red Cross vessels and Belgian relief ships carrying supplies and food to the maimed or sick at war and the starving children of Belgium did not escape the torpedo from the submarine. English hospital ships were attacked, and men unable to protect themselves were subjected to danger because the Germans feared that something might be carried on the boat which would prove valuable to the Allied forces in making war.

Dozens-even hundreds of vessels of all sorts-were sunk from week to week. Food and supplies for the Allied forces were destroyed, until both England and France were threatened with starvation.

All this was the work of the submarine.

One smiled twenty-five years ago when he read that highly imaginative story of Jules Verne, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," and wondered if it would ever be possible for man to create such a marvelous underseas craft as that which the famous French writer described. Today the imaginative detail of the submarine which the novelist described has been crystallized, and the world has learned that dreams sometimes come true.

Marvelous things have been developed by the war which is involving the peace and security of the world, but no single device has had such an effect upon the warfare and upon the methods of waging it as the diabolical submarine, which, like an assassin in the night, sneaks upon the great ships along the water highways of the world and sends them with their human freight to the bottom of the ocean.


A giant cigar-shaped missile, whose nose is pointed with guncotton and filled with high explosives-and which the world knows as the torpedo-launches forth from the submarine, and speeding under the drive of a propeller at the stern steers its way into the side of the battleship or great steamship. The torpedo plunges into the bowels of the vessel. There is a tremendous explosion, and the water-tight compartments of the vessel are torn open; the boat fills, and the pride of the seas is no more.

Had the vessel's master and her crew any warning? No; unless the vigilant officer on the bridge should note a thin pole with a hooked end projecting above the surface of the ocean some miles away, and turning his glasses upon it discover that it is the "eye" of a submarine-the periscope-which is protruding above the surface. Then he may turn his larger vessel and ram the submarine, or change the course of his craft so that the torpedo launched by the submarine will miss its mark, or perhaps expert gunners may turn the muzzles of their rapid-fire guns upon the underseas craft and riddle it before it can get far enough below the surface of the water to make the attack upon it futile.


The enormous inroads on the world's shipping made by German submarines during the war shows the efficiency of this diabolical device. In the first two years and a half of the war statistics were compiled to show that more than 10 per cent of the world's merchant marine was destroyed by Germany's underseas craft of the U-boat type. Incidentally, the name U-boat as applied to submarines developed because Germany, instead of naming these slinking boats, as is the custom with surface-cruising vessels, painted upon the conning tower or nose of the craft the letter U, representing the word "underseas," coupled with the numeral denoting the number of the boat. Thus those who sail the ocean highways came to recognize the fact that a conning tower or low, sharp-nosed craft bearing the mystic characters U-9 was a German underseas boat No. 9.

The statistical records at the end of April, 1917, showed that nearly 3000 vessels of almost 5,000,000 gross tons were destroyed by the U-boats in the war. More than half of the vessels sunk belonged to England. Norway and France were the next greatest sufferers from the submarine warfare. In one week after Germany announced her intention to give no quarter, but to sink any vessel which came within the range of the U-boat torpedoes, the toll of ships lost was more than 400,000 tons.

At the beginning of the war the submarine was to all intents and purposes a novelty-a boat of recognized possibilities, but existing very largely in the experimental stage. Its use was very largely ignored by naval men, although it was conceded that when properly developed it would prove a wonderful agency of destruction. The proud commanders of the great battleships, with their 10, 12 and 14 inch guns, which sent great shells miles across the ocean, looked down upon the little underseas boat, and applied to it the sobriquet of "tin sardine."

But the "tin sardine" has grown up, and the commander of the monster war vessel is at the mercy of the little craft which he ridiculed. A short time ago Holland, the American inventor of the modern submarine, died of a broken heart. His type was necessarily an experimental one. He built five boats before he was able to sell one to the United States Government, and this latter one, after being bought by a junk dealer, who intended to break it up for its metals, was finally rescued from such an inglorious end by the city of New York, which has placed it in her municipal museum.


Germany has developed the highest type of submarines, which she has used to the fullest advantage. The principle of the submarine is that of a floating bottle. An empty bottle, as every one knows, will float on the surface, but submerges as soon as it is filled with water. The submarine has, as part of its constructive features, a number of compartments which, as they are filled or emptied of water, enables the craft to submerge or rise.

At the bow and stern, respectively, there are two horizontal rudders, and as these are manipulated at various angles so the bow points either upward or downward, and with a steady gliding motion the submarine slides under or is brought to the surface.

This, in brief, is the story of the submarine. Its history is another matter; its radius of action and results achieved one of the marvels of the ages. A long-sheathed body, the shape of a cigar with the butt end to the fore, the inside filled with machinery and compactness the order of the day, might be regarded as a fair description from a physical standpoint. It has spread terror to all corners of the earth, and, taken in proportion to its size and steaming radius, may well be said to be the superior of the super-dreadnought.

The manner in which the submarine is operated is difficult to describe. It leads a sort of dual existence. When cruising along the surface "awash," it is propelled like a motorboat, the power being provided by a gasoline engine; but when it dives or submerges it is operated underwater by electric motors, and the steering, pumping, handling, loading and firing of the torpedoes is done pneumatically and electrically. The interior of the submarine is a marvel of mechanical complexity and scientific detail. There are gauges to show the water pressure, to indicate the speed, to show the depth; sensitive devices by which the commander can tell of the approach of vessels; wheels, cranks, levers and instruments which are used in driving and controlling this almost human mechanical agency of the seafighter.


The submarine is the sudden and amazing problem of the naval world. While naval men assert with confidence that it can never win the mastery of the seas, in the same breath they will admit that it may easily prevent the older and better known types of ships from establishing the mastery that was once theirs. It is an anomaly in warfare.

Many are the tales of horror told by survivors of ships which have been torpedoed by the undersea boats of the Teutons. The lordly Lusitania, on board of which were some of the leading lights of literature and some of the world's wealthy men, was sent to the bottom without the least warning. Neutral shipping has been devastated, and men, women and children have been murdered by the hand of the Kaiser, as exemplified in the lurking submarine.

One of the dastardly tragedies of the war was the sinking of the Lars Kruse, a ship flying the Danish flag and which had been chartered by the Belgian Relief Commission. This was sunk in the early part of February, 1917, and the crew of nineteen men, together with the captain and other officers, with the exception of the first mate and Axel Moeller, the first engineer, perished in the bitter cold sea. No warning was given by the attacking submarine; indeed, no sight of it was had by the crew. Delivering its torpedo as it lay submerged, it silently stole away into the night after the murders had been done.

In the maritime court in Copenhagen Mr. Moeller tells of the sinking of the ship. Dressed as the regulations of the German autocrat demanded, with the balloon, flag and bunting displayed at each of the mastheads, together with other marks of identification, the ship was steaming along in the bright moonlight when she was struck, according to the testimony of the engineer.


The fact that the ship was hit near the fourth hatch alone combats the theory that she was struck by a mine. In this latter case the mine would have struck her nearer the bow. The ship was near the mouth of the English channel when hit. In an instant she started to settle, and the crew at once lowered away the single lifeboat.

The boat had hardly started over the side, however, before the ship lurched, and with a mighty heave went down stern first. She seemed to turn a back somersault, according to the engineer, and because of the fact that the lifeboat was not clear it was dragged under. The men succeeded in cutting the ropes, however, and the lifeboat came to the surface, alt

hough bottom side up. Engineer Moeller was struck on the head as the boat came to the surface, but, although he was momentarily stunned, the icy water quickly revived him.

Striking out for the lifeboat, the engineer soon had a tight grip on her side. A man struggling in the water grasped his wrist, but by a quick movement he wrenched himself free, and then, climbing upon the boat, reached out and caught the man by the hand. Then began a slow struggle to get him aboard, but the men were unequal to the task, and the man in the water sank. Part of the skin and flesh of his hand remained in the fingers of Moeller, showing the desperation with which he had clung to the man's hand.

Three other men, who were fast becoming exhausted, were assisted upon the boat, where they lay sprawled across its bottom. Four others were in the water, making a total of seven who were alive.

Water and air were freezing cold, and Moeller, who was in the water, together with three others, held to the gunwales with stiffened fingers. Within the hour one of the sailors gave up the struggle, and with a farewell to the others slid quietly into the depths.


Finally Moeller climbed upon the upturned boat, where he lay listening to the shrieks of his companions. He said that their cries were most pitiful. The cabin boy was the next victim. He cried pitifully for a time, but finally became silent and slid into the water. One after another, the men died of exposure and slipped into the peaceful sea.

After a time the only persons remaining, besides the third mate, were the two who had thrown themselves across the bottom of the boat. Finally one of them gave up the struggle, and the other, in an effort to combat the cold, pulled the clothes from his dead body and wrapped them about himself. The boat settled a little, and finally both were corpses, lying with feet and hands dipping into the sea. The engineer said that he did not have the heart to push their bodies into the water, although he knew they were dead.

Finally the third mate was the only other man alive. The clothes of the engineer were frozen fast to his body, and he felt that he was dying of cold. The third mate started to get a sort of bluish black from the cold, and with a gasping cry he attempted to sit up straight. Then reason left him, and for a couple of hours he shouted and shrieked, and, as the sun began to streak the sky and dawn brought slight comfort, the demented man raved and swore.

Then a flash of reason seemed to return to him and he spoke to Moeller.

"I'm going," he said. "Give my love to my wife."

The man had been married just before starting on this ill-fated voyage. With this farewell message on his lips he died. When Moeller returned to his home he found that it was impossible to deliver the message to the wife of the dead man, because of the fact that worry had driven her insane.


Shortly after the death of his companion Moeller saw the smoke of a steamer on the horizon. Summoning all his strength, he tore the trousers from the limbs of one of the dead men, and, using them as a means of signaling, swung them about his head to attract attention. As the engineer made every effort to attract the attention of those aboard the steamship, he saw a sneaking submarine slowly edging toward her. This made him shout all the louder, thinking thereby to warn the captain of the ship of his danger. His efforts were vain, however, and in a short time the ship had gone to the bottom and the crew was adrift in the lifeboats. The sunken ship proved to be a Russian steamer.

In his efforts to attract the attention of the intended victim of the U-boat, the drifting man had attracted the attention of the captain of the submarine, and it was this boat to which his cold-stiffened body was hauled a few minutes later. It was a time before his numb body could be thawed out.

Seeming to know from which ship he had been cast off, the engineer was closely questioned by the captain of the submarine. As the captain talked he made motions, as though to shut out from before his eyes a horrible sight. He told Moeller afterwards that the most horrible sight he had ever seen was the overturned boat with the two corpses laying on it, and the lone man signaling for help. The victim was black from cold, and his legs were rubbed by members of the crew. Port wine was given him, and later food and coffee.

Then the captain continued his questioning. He knew the name of the boat on which Moeller had been engineer, and from his intimate knowledge of the sinking of her, the engineer felt sure it was his submarine that had done the work.


Turning his attention to the lifeboats of the Russian ship which he had just torpedoed, the captain of the submarine promised to tow them to the French coast. He had been towing them but two hours, however, when he came below and told Moeller that he had sighted a French destroyer, and that he would have to make his escape. He gave the engineer his choice of staying on the submarine, in which case it would be fourteen days before he touched port, after which he was promised his freedom, or the privilege of getting aboard one of the lifeboats, and taking his chances of rescue by the destroyer.

Electing to take his chances in the lifeboat, Moeller was fitted out with new clothing, the outfit being topped off with a fur-lined overcoat. It turned out, however, that the captain had taken this clothing from the stores of the Russian steamer before sinking her, and the engineer learned when he got into the lifeboat that he was wearing the greatcoat of one of the shivering Russians.

Just before submerging the U-boat set off a couple of red-light bombs, for the purpose of attracting the attention of the crew of the destroyer, and submerged. The drifters were picked up by the destroyer, which steamed for France. The captain of the U-boat had promised Moeller that he would not attack the destroyer, although he had been trailing her for two weeks. The U-boat was sunk before she reached port, and all perished.

An American importer who, because of his German name and the intimate relations he enjoyed with certain important men in Berlin, had been taken to the hearts of some of the leaders, became a factor in pro-German activities in Cuba. He was taken into the confidences of many of the officials and learned the plans of the Tirpitz group.

Deciding that his allegiance was American, he returned to the United States. In his possession were many of the inner secrets of the German Government, and these were given to the officials in Washington. His information with reference to the submarine has been of great value to the government.

For the sake of convenience we will call the man Johann Schmidt. This is his story:


Germany's most successful and highly developed class of submarine has been, of course, the U-boat type of submersible. These are the terrors of the sea which have succeeded in crossing the Atlantic, and have been developed both as the fighting and as the commercial U-boat.

Herr Schmidt reported that Germany was constructing submarines 25 per cent larger than anything the United States had ever seen or heard of. His information was to the effect that Germany had a building capacity for ten submarines a week. The ability to produce these boats with such rapidity is due to the process of standardization-the practice of modern efficiency which has made it possible for American factories to turn out such big quantities of automobiles in a limited period.

All parts of the German U-boats are made in standard sizes and from the same original pattern. Consequently, these parts are turned out by machinery in replica, and the building of the finished boats is merely a matter of assembling them at points to which the various parts have been shipped. The Diesel oil engine, which is regarded as the ideal power-producing engine for submarines, has been developed to its highest state of efficiency by Germany, and is made at the famous Krupp gun works, the great engine works in Augsburg, Emden and Nuremburg, and other less well-known places in Germany.

It has been estimated that Germany has anywhere from 250 to 500 submarines, and it is said that the aim is to produce 1000 of these craft, to absolutely destroy the commerce of the seas and starve into submission England and France.


According to Herr Schmidt, the submarines work in groups of four. Because of the limited capacity of the boats for carrying provisions, supplies and fuel, it is necessary for them to have supply bases, to which they can return and secure torpedoes. In operation each group consists of four submarines, traveling along in a diamond-shaped formation, one in front, one on either flank and one in rear. Eight miles separate the boats. The leading submarine carries the extra gasoline and supplies and acts as a scoutship; she sights a vessel, reports its speed and direction and then submerges-her task is done.

The two torpedo carriers on either flank immediately change their courses so as to converge on the prey, and they arrive one on either side of her-they get her in between them. The boat in the rear keeps them informed as to the doomed ship's progress, and submerges at the last moment. She carries the extra crews for the fighting pair. The U-boats are fairly well protected against the onslaught of the light torpedo-boat destroyers and chasers, because the decks are protected by several feet of water at almost all times, while the commanding tower is covered with from two to three inches of the best steel armor plate.

It is related that at the outset of the U-boat menace, England ordered its commanding officers to ram the U-boats on sight. The length to which the Germans will go in an effort to win is illustrated by the fact that, in consequence of this order, a Von Tirpitz council presented this answer: Attacking submarines were equipped with explosive mines containing 300 to 400 pounds of nitroglycerin or guncotton. To the top of this mine was fastened a fake periscope. This devilish device was attached to the submarine by a light cable, and towed along the surface of the water 1000 feet or more behind the submarine. The result that would follow any attempt on the part of a commander to run down one of these decoys is readily imagined.


The periscope is distinctly a submarine device which is worthy of brief description. It is, in effect, a long tube, with an elbow joint at the top and a similar one at the bottom. At the elbow joints at both ends are arranged reflectors. The reflector in the upper end catches the object which comes within the range of vision, and reflects the image down the tube to the mirror at the lower elbow, where the pilot sees it. The principle of the periscope is the same as that of the "busybody," familiar to householders, and which is placed on the sill of an upper window, so that a person inside the house may see who is at the front door.

The Germans have recently devised a new form of periscope, designed to make the device invisible to the lookout of approaching boats. This device consists of two mirrors, put together like a "Y" lying on its side, the wide part in front. These skim through the waves and converge the image upon the low periscope's lens, which shoots the light down the tube to the receiving apparatus below. When looked at from a distance the mirrors reflect the surface of the sea, so that a lookout sees nothing but the waves as they are reflected in the mirror.

The Germans use the bottom of the sea as regular "land" for their supply bases, and when the submarines go to the surface it is precisely like an aeroplane mounting the air. The submarine fleet boasts also of "mother boats." They lie on the bottom of the ocean, in designated places, and rise at night to hand out their supplies. Crews are changed and tired men go back to the bottom to rest up, while fresher comrades take their places.

So, too, the submarine, with its ability to rest on the bottom of the sea, has become an efficient boat for mine laying. The mine layers work from the undersea boats without fear of disturbance, the divers walking out from the submarines to the floor of the sea without being seen or without ever coming to the surface.


American citizens landed from vessels sunk by German submarines tell remarkable tales of the strenuous exploits of the U-boats. In one case three undersea boats appeared simultaneously alongside the ship, one being a submarine cruiser, 800 feet long, and the others old-fashioned submarines, with a length of about 120 feet.

In another case a German submarine wore an elaborate disguise of a fishing boat. This submarine carried a gun which had a range of nearly five miles.

In at least two cases the crews of vessels sunk by submarines were rescued from open boats by passing ships, only to suffer a repetition of disaster when the ship on which they had taken refuge fell prey to an underwater boat.

A seaman from Pensacola, who was a member of the crew of a Swedish sailing vessel, said:

"We were almost within sight of land late in the afternoon when we observed a Norwegian sailing vessel in an encounter with a submarine eight miles away. Apprehending that our turn would come next, we prepared a lifeboat. A 300-foot submarine came up to us in due course and fired three warning shots from its heavy gun.

"We pulled our boat over to the lifeboat from the Norwegian ship previously sunk, and a dozen hours later were picked up by a British steamer. We had only a brief stay on the British boat, as she was torpedoed the same morning. After a few hours in the boats we were found by a British patrol and landed."

A Baltimore seaman from a Danish sailing vessel said:


"We abandoned ship in response to three shots from a submarine. Thereupon the submarine fired twenty-two shots into the hull of the ship, sinking her. We tried to speak with the submarine commander, but he told us he was in a hurry, as he had to attend to a Norwegian bark which was waiting a short distance off.

"We pulled for the nearest land, and all our twenty-five men got ashore safe, although both lifeboats were badly smashed up in the surf as we were beaching them."

A Philadelphian described the manner in which his steamer escaped being sunk.

"We were attacked by a submarine disguised as a fishing vessel," he said. "She opened fire on us at five miles, sending fifteen shots at us, and smashing our wireless. She pursued us for an hour. We did not use our gun. Finally a British patrol boat appeared. The submarine submerged, disguise and all, presenting a ludicrous sight as the carefully prepared equipment simulating a fishing boat sank beneath the waves."

The captain of an American sailing ship which was sunk said:

"Submarines are lying along the sea lanes in regular nests. They keep well under the water most of the time, coming up now and then for periscopic observations, or on hearing the approach of merchant craft, which often can be identified readily by the sound of the engines. By thus conserving fuel the submarines are able to remain away from their base a long time, and also they find means of renewing their stores from ships which they sink.

"The U-boat which sank us had been out for six weeks. She had one British captain on board. She renewed all her supplies from our boat and took all the nautical instruments. The submarine gave us a sharp signal to halt, with a shell from a distance of two miles. It was good marksmanship. The shot hit the ship squarely, but caused no casualties. We stopped and took to the boats. The submarine came up in leisurely fashion, sank the ship with bombs and passed the time of day with our boats. She had a crew of thirty-seven, and was 250 feet long."

"We were picked up by a Norwegian sailing vessel, on which we spent six days. She was then attacked by a 120-foot submarine. We all took to the Norwegian's boats. The submarine commander declined to look at the Norwegian captain's papers. We had another twenty-four hours in open boats, and then were picked up by a British patrol and landed."

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