BESIDES the direct support of the U-boats which operated
from home bases, the Fleet supplied almost the whole personnel required to
commission the new boats. It was particularly important for the U-boats to have
technical men who were well trained in seamenship. The commanders had to be
officers who had sufficient experience to navigate and handle the boats without
assistance in the most difficult circumstances. That meant a big demand for
officers of the watch, because they, by age and seniority, were best fitted for
such service. The Fleet had to train men to take their places, so younger
officers were promoted to be officers of the watch, and the training of
midshipmen was accelerated. The substitutes for the latter were taken direct on
board and received their training as naval cadets with the Fleet. This entailed
a very extensive shifting of all ranks which was bound to have a deleterious
effect upon the efficiency of the ships.
The project of a raid with the Fleet to the Hoofden in
March, 1917, to attack the convoy traffic between England and Holland, never
materialised. The weather had been uninterruptedly bad up till March 11. By
that time the clear nights were over, which were a necessary preliminary
condition for the enterprise. The weather prospects grew worse, so that we
could not rely on scouting from the air. A cruiser raid by night had also to be
given up, because it was reported from Heligoland that the wind (E.S.E., force
79) threatened to become worse.
The second leading ship of the torpedo-boat fleet was sent
with Flotillas VII and IX to the Baltic for training in mine-sweeping, as the
mine-sweeping divisions did not suffice for the work of escorting the U-boats
as well as that of clearing the routes of mines. I considered, too, that Fleet
manuvres were necessary, so that the new commanders might become familiar
with handling their ships in co-operation with the rest of the Fleet. I could
leave the defence of the North Sea for the time being to the cruisers, as it
seemed improbable that the enemy would make an attack on the Bight. Meanwhile,
the battleship Baden had been made ready as Fleet Flagship, and the
Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet had embarked in her. Flotillas III and IV could
be spared from the North Sea, while the Fleet was at manuvres in the
Baltic, and were sent to Flanders, where they could be put to better use, by
carrying on the war in the Channel from Zeebrugge.
The number of mines laid in the North Sea by the enemy grew
steadily greater. Almost daily we suffered losses among the minesweeping craft,
while among the ships used to escort the U-boats in their passage through the
mine-fields there had been so many losses that in March the Fleet had only four
such vessels at its disposal. The Secretary of State for the Imperial Navy was
asked to raise the number to twelve again, so that they might suffice for the
needs of the Fleet by working in four groups of three.
While the battleships were at squadron practice in the Bight
of Heligoland on March 5, the Kronprinz and the Grosser Kurfurst
collided and suffered damage which in the case of both ships took several
weeks to repair; before these were complete any considerable enterprise for the
Fleet was not to be thought of.
While the Fleet was practicing in the Baltic, on March 29,
the cruiser Moewe reported her return in the Kattegat, and entered Kiel
on the 22nd. During her cruise of four months she had sunk or captured
twenty-seven ships, amounting to 123,444 tons gross registered tonnage. One of
the prizes, the Yarrowdale, had been brought into Swinemunde on December
31, 1916, and had conveyed news of the success of the Moewe, from whom
we had heard nothing since she left at the end of November, 1916. The safe
return of the successful ship was greeted with great joy.
On March 29 the outpost boat Bismarck, leading ship
of the special group commanded by Lieutenant Schlieder, ran on a mine and sank;
only three of the crew could be saved. Their smart commander also lost his
life. He had won great credit by driving submarines out of the Bight.
To illustrate the demands that the U-boat campaign made upon
the Fleet, I quote below from the log of the High Sea Fleet, beginning with May
"May 9, 1917.Wind and weather in the German Bight, E.
to N.N.E., force 34; weather fine and clear. Seaplane scouting in the
Inner German Bight without result. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting
Division IV protects the operations in the west. During mine-sweeping
operations of the Ems outpost flotilla, the Mettelkamp strikes a mine
north of Borkum and sinks.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"Returned from long-distance trips. ' U 82,' ' U-B 22,' '
U-B 21,' and ' U 93.' ' U 93 ' proceeded to sea on April 13, and up to April 30
sank 27,400 tons. On April 30 had a struggle with a U-boat trap (iron-masted
schooner), in the course of which the commander Lieutenant-Commander Vohr von
Spiegel, the helmsman, and one petty officer were hurled overboard, and three
men were badly wounded. The boat, badly damaged, unable to dive properly, and
deprived of its wireless, is brought into List by Lieutenant Ziegler. ' U 46 '
is escorted to the north. ' U 58 ' reports position among mines accomplished;
two steamers sunk, three damaged, in 1 degree longitude west; a great deal of
'' May 10.Scouting by our seaplanes without result.
No airship observation. Mine-sweeping according to plan. Scouting Division IV
protects mine-sweeping operations in the west. H.M.S. Hindenburg
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
' U-C 76,' while shipping mines in Heligoland harbour badly
damaged by mine explosion and sunk. Among the missing is the commander,
Lieutenant-Commander Barten. Salvage-boat Oberelbe goes from the Ems to
Heligoland to give assistance. ' U-C 77 ' back from long-distance expedition; '
U 46 ' has passed the danger zone U30 proceeded to the North via Terschelling.
" May 11.Wind E., force 45. Seaplane scouting;
nothing suspicious. No airship observation owing to easterly wind. Minesweeping
according to plan. The half-flotilla occupied in sweeping mines from the route
to the west, in following up a barrier of mines, has got north of its
prescribed route. New mines are observed, and the leading boat of the 5th
Half-Flotilla of mine-sweepers strikes a mine and sinks. Four men are missing.
Among them the commander of the Half-Flotilla, Lieutenant-Commander Beste. As
it has now been ascertained that the English have barred the approach from
Horns Reef from N.W. by mines, the officer in command has received orders to
lay mines which will bar the approach from northeast and from the west, so as
to deprive the English of this meeting point, which we can do without. A
further barrier of mines north of Tyl Lightship is to bar the way to mining
operations against Nordmannstief. At night a group of barrier-breakers goes
along the U-boat route down the Dutch coast to the west, and another group to
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"' U 30' passed danger zone; ' U 58 ' back from
long-distance trip, ' U 93' enters Wilhelmshaven towed by 'V 163.'
" May 12.Wind E., force 6. Seaplane observation
without result. Observation by airships impossible owing to weather conditions.
Mine-sweeping only carried out to small extent owing to heavy sea. Scouting
Division IV takes over protection of operations in the west. In the course of
the morning, the two barrier-breaking groups return from night voyage. No
incidents. A boat of the North Sea outpost flotilla reports an enemy submarine;
set the torpedo-boat half-flotillas at my disposal to search; submarine 'kite'
exploded; result doubtful.
"May 13.Wind N.W., force 2. Mine-sweeping according to
plan. Scouting Division IV on patrol in the west. At night the officer
commanding the division, with the auxiliary minelayer Senta, lays the
barrier of mines at Horns Reef and north of the Tyl Lightship according to
' U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"' U 33 ' leaves for long-distance trip in the west, and '
U-C 41 ' for the Bell Rock.
" May 14.Wind E. to N.N.E., force 3. For protective
scouting ' L 22 ' goes up to the west; ' L 23 ' to the north. Mine-sweeping
according to plan. Scouting Division II goes for protection of operations in
the west to the Osterems. Thunderstorm, 6 P.M. The Staff of the Fleet embarks
in H.M.S. Baden. High Sea Fleet warships clear. Scouting Division II.,
with two torpedo-boat leaders, assemble in the course of the evening in
Schillig Roads, for the intended manuvres in the Bight on May 15. No
communication from ' L 22 ' since report that she had risen. Thunderstorms in
the west. It is possible that she has taken in her wireless mast and can send
no message. In the late afternoon thick fog over the whole Bight, consequently
not possible to have search made by seaplanes or surface craft. Seaplane No.
859 noted an explosion and a cloud of smoke at 9.50 A.M.
" 7 40 P.M.The leader of the airships reports that
according to telephonic information from Borkum this observation is very
probably connected with the loss of ' L 22.' A telegram arriving at night from
the Admiralty confirms this statement. The probability is that on account of
the thunderstorm ' L 22 ' had to remain below the level where the gas would
completely fill the cells, and was shot down by British warships.
" 11.40 P.M.Orion, one of the 3rd Mine-Sweeping
Flotilla, reports that ' U 59,' which was being convoyed out to sea, and the
mine-sweeper Fulda, have struck a mine and sunk. Outpost boats of the
List Division, the mine-sweepers of the flotilla, and the 17th Torpedo-Boat
Half-Flotilla are sent out to meet the Orion. The boats receive orders
at the same time to pick up 'U-C51 , and 'U-C42,, which are west of Horns Reef
on their return journey. ' U-C 44 , and ' U-C 50 , put out to sea to the west
on a long-distance trip. ' U-C51,' on return journey, reports position.
Operations among mines completed; about 4,000 tons sunk; travels 5 knots only
(nature of her damage not made out owing to defective wireless).
"May 15.Wind N.N.W., force 23. ' L 16 , and ' L
37 , go up for aerial observation. Thick fog forces them to return. Slight
visibility at times only. The tactical manuvres in the Bight are
therefore postponed to the 16th; the First Leader of the Torpedo-Boats reports
that some of the 1st Torpedo-Boat Flotilla, with auxiliary engines, have broken
down, and that the rest are not fit for use outside the Bight. Consequently the
1st Torpedo-Boat Flotilla is instantly dispatched to Kiel for repairs. The
officer in command had sent ' U 59 , to take note of the place of the accident
the List Division of the North Sea Outpost Flotilla, a pump steamer and a tug,
to assist the Orion; and a torpedo half-flotilla to control the U-boat
route out to sea. The reports of the boats sent to assist do not give a
definite idea of the degree of danger to be apprehended from enemy mines in the
north. While trying to get into communication with ' U 59 , by tapping, the
outpost boat Heinrich Rathjen strikes a mine and sinks; missing, one
petty officer and three men. Officer in command receives orders for the time
being to stop the work of breaking through the belt of mines in the west and to
clear or test the U-boat route out to sea in the north, with all craft at his
disposal. In view of the interruption of the work of breaking through in the
west, any considerable enterprise of the Fleet must be postponed. I therefore
decide, in order to make use of the time immediately after the evolutions, to
send Squadron III, and, on the return of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla II, Torpedo-Boat
Flotilla V to the Baltic for manuvres. Both are badly in need of
' U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
" ' U-C 42 ' and ' U-C 51 ' return from long-distance trips.
' U-C 41,' which put to sea on May 11 for the west coast, had to break off
expedition owing to engine trouble.
"May 16.Wind N.E. to N.N.W., force 36. Seaplane
observation without result. Airship observation impossible owing to fresh
north-east wind. Tactical manuvres by the High Sea Fleet in the Bight of
Heligoland. On completion, sent Squadron III to the Baltic. In the absence of
Squadron III, Squadrons I and IV to take outpost duty in turn. H.M.S. Kaiser
sent to Kiel harbour for repairs. The officer in command of the Scouting
Divisions to discover the cause that led to the loss of ' U 59 ' has ordered
minesweeping flotilla to test and clear Squares 132, 117, 133, 116. One
torpedo-boat half-flotilla is to sweep Squares 13484. The auxiliary
mine-sweeper flotilla is to mark the spot of ' U 59's' accident and try to get
into communication with ' U 59' by tapping. In the course of these operations,
' M 14 ' strikes a mine, and in the attempt to save ' M 14,' Torpedo boat No.
78 does likewise. Both boats sink. The attempts to get into communication with
'U 59' must consequently be abandoned.
" U-BOAT CAMPAIGN
"In the night, ' S 27 ' of the Ems Outpost Flotilla strikes
a mine and sinks while convoying ' U 86 ' on a long-distance trip to the west.
' U 86 ' thereupon returns with the rest of the convoy to Borkum Roads.
Wireless reports received: ' U 62 ' left on April 21, position; in April 10,000
tons sunk; in May, 13,000; on April 30 captured commander of U-boat trap ' Q
12.' ' U-C 55 ' left April 28 for west coast, position. ' U 40 ' left May 5.
Minesweeping operations completed, two explosions heard, nothing sunk. ' U 21 '
left April 19, position; 13,500 tons sunk ' U-C 49 ' left May 2, position;
mines laid, 3,365 tons sunk.
"May 17. Wind E. to E.N.E., force 36. No airship
observation. Seaplane scouting without result. Reports hitherto received about
the mines laid by the enemy south of Horns Reef do not yet give a clear idea of
the condition of affairs. It seems as if new enemy mines were lying south of
the Senta barrier, direction east to west. Consequently, all efforts must be
made to clear up the situation and keep this important waterway clear. It is
once again apparent how short we are of mine-seekers and sweepers. We shall
therefore once again approach the Admiralty and demand that the 'M-boats , (new
mine-sweepers) that have been allocated to the Commander-in-Chief of the
Baltic, should be handed over to the High Sea Fleet. As a substitute, we will
offer boats of the North Sea Outpost Flotilla or trawlers of the Auxiliary
Mine-sweeping Flotilla. To make the position of the lightship at List more
reliable and easier from the point of view of navigation, a buoy will be placed
to mark the position which will be occupied at night by an outpost boat.
Further, to help the U-boats on their outward voyage, a number of outpost boats
are to cruise continually west of the position of the lightship. During the
night two groups of barrierbreakers go out, one to the north and one from the
Ems to the west.
"' U-C 49 ' and ' U-C 41 ' back from long-distance trip; ' U
86 , leaves under convoy for Flamborough Head; via Bruges comes a wireless
report that ' U-C 75 ' has sunk 3,500 tons and the English warship
Lavender. Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla XVII puts to sea to meet the
damaged 'U-C40 , and to bring her home through the subsidiary waterway of
And so it went on from day to day. Owing to the pressure of
the demands made upon them during the war, the organisation of the
mine-sweepers was developed in the following manner:
At the beginning of the war three mine-sweeping divisions
existed and were stationed at Cuxhaven. Of these, Divisions I and III took up
their activities in the North Sea and Division II in the Baltic. Each division
consisted of a leading boat, eight sweepers and twoincreased to four
laterbuoy-boats. (The buoy-boats marked the channels swept by the
mine-sweepers for the groups of larger ships that followed.) The boats were
without exception small, old torpedo-boats, of the class ' V 30 ' and ' 80.'
Their speed was 1718 knots with a draught of 2.7 m., their armament one 5
cm. gun. In command of the flotillas were Commanders Bobsien and Wolfsoin;
later the North Sea Auxiliary Mine-sweeper Flotilla under Commander Walter Krah
was added. It consisted of trawlers and small torpedo-boats.
At the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916 the small old
torpedo-boats were gradually replaced by the "A "-boats and "U "boats which had
been built during the war. The "A "-boats had a speed of 2325 knots, a
draught of 1.9 to 2 m., a displacement of 210 to 345 tons and an armament of
two 8.8 cm. guns. The "M "boats had a speed of 16 knots, draught 2 to 2.2 m.,
displacement 450 to 520 tons, armament three 8.8 cm. or two 10.5 cm. guns.
On September 1, 1916, the Mine-sweeper Divisions I and III
were divided into the 1st and 2nd, and 5th and 6th Half-Flotillas respectively.
On October 6, 1916, what had hitherto been Minesweeper Division II was divided
into the 3rd and 4th Mine-sweeper Half-Flotillas. These Half-Flotillas were
still grouped under their original Flotillas.
In May, 1917, Mine-sweeper Flotillas I and III were both
augmented by a third half-flotilla, consisting of "M" -boats.
In June, 1917, Mine-sweeper Division II with the parent ship
Ammon and ten motor-boats left the Baltic and joined the North Sea
warships. These motor-boats ("F"-boats) have a speed of 11 knots, draught 1 m.,
length 17.5 m., displacement 19 tons, and an armament of one machine gun. Later
on, in January, 1918, the Mine-sweeper Divisions III and IV formed the 3rd
Minesweeper Flotilla. Mine-sweeper Flotilla II was also augmented by a third
Half-FlotillaNo. 9. The Auxiliary Mine-sweeper Flotilla of the North Sea
was denominated from the beginning of 1918 onwards Mine-sweeper Flotilla IV,
and the trawlers of which it originally consisted were for the most part
replaced by new mineboats. All the mine-seekers and mine-sweeper groups were
then placed under the command of one officer, and Captain Nerger, well known as
the commander of the auxiliary cruiser Wolf, was appointed to this post after
his return from his cruise. Further formations were: Mine-sweeper Division II,
consisting of the parent ship Ammon and twelve boats, and the
Mine-sweeper Flotilla VI, one leading boat and two half-flotillas, consisting
of an "M",boat as parent ship, six boats, eleven "U-Z "-boats (small, fast
motor boats) and three large motor-boats. The " F-M "-boats (shallow draught "M
"-boats) had a speed of 14 knots, draught 1.3 m., displacement 170 tons, length
40 cm., and an armament of one 8.8 cm. gun. The "U-Z "-boats when towing their
apparatus had a speed of 18 knots, draught 1.5 m., displacement 20 tons, length
2630 m., and an armament of one 5 cm. quick-firing gun.
At the time the Armistice was concluded the following boats
were available for the mine-sweeping service in the North Sea: 17
torpedo-boats, 27 "U ',-boats, 71 "M ,'-boats, 4 "F-M "-boats, 23 trawlers, 58
motor-boats, and 22 " U-Z "-boats, 4 parent ships and a repair ship, whereas at
the beginning of the war there were only 33 small, old torpedo-boats
|Map of the North Sea minefields,
showing English and German mines as well as cleared routes.
At the beginning of the war we had three forms of mines,
with a charge of from 70 to 150 kilos, capable of use at a depth of from 90 to
115 m. The newest of these existing types of mines could ultimately be used at
depths of 345 m. During the war the following types of mine were added: 1. A
defence mine against submarines, with a charge of 20 kilos and effective to a
depth of 95 m.; 2. A mine in the form of a torpedo that could be shot out of a
U-boat travelling under water, with a charge of 95 kilos, effective to a depth
of 200 m.; 3. A mine to be laid by U-C-boats with a charge of 120 to 200 kilos,
effective to a depth of 365 m. The U-C-boats could carry 12 to 18 mines; 4. A
mine for the first big minelayers which, however, was not made after the
construction of the U-C-boats.
Mine-sweeping tackle was improved to such an extent that the
area swept increased from 45 to 300 m.; the depth to 30 m.; and the speed of
sweeping, when the new boats were used, to 15 knots.
As a defence against minesin the first place for the
minesweepers, and later destined for all classes of shipsspecial
apparatus was invented. This was attached to the bows and was intended to cut
the mine-cables before the boat struck the mine. It was found of great use.
For defence against submarines a depth charge was made which
could be thrown from a boat on to submerged submarines. The charge weighed
about 50 kilos; it was detonated under water by an adjustable time fuse.
In addition to this there was a submarine "kite" with an
explosive charge of 12 kilos. It was towed by boats on a cable which served at
the same time to indicate the direction of the current. It was electrically
exploded as soon as the "kite," while being towed, struck a submarine.
To keep off submarines nets of various kinds were made,
which were moored to buoys to bar the submarine's path, and lighter nets,
provided with gas buoys, which indicated the path of the boat and the spot
where it had broken through if a submarine ran against the net.
The convoy service for U-boats demanded large numbers of
light craft; about 100 torpedo-boats and smaller steamboats were used for this
purpose. They were divided into two convoy flotillas:
1. Commanded by Commander Faulborn, consisted of three
half-flotillas, each comprising two groups of five torpedo-boats.
2. Commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Hoppensledt, consisted
of six half-flotillas, each of ten to twelve steamboats.
The mine-sweepers and convoying craft deserve great credit
for making it possible for the U-boats to carry out their campaign. They
suffered many losses which would otherwise have been inflicted on the U-boats.
That, however, did not prevent them from performing their dangerous service
year in and year out with the greatest trustworthiness in spite of the
inclemency of the weather. The officers and men of this service surpassed all
others in the Navy in their intrepidity and skill as seamen.
The most successful part of the activities of the Fleet fell
to the lot of the U-boats; the battleships, together with the cruisers and
torpedo-boats, and especially the mine-sweepers, assisted in overcoming the
enemy's defence. Their efforts were primarily directed against the belt of
mines which England had laid in the North Sea to prevent our boats from getting
out. The accompanying plan shows how the Bight was made to bristle with mines.
It was impossible, in view of its great extent, to clear the
whole area. We barely had sufficient ships to ascertain where mines were laid.
Our efforts were confined to getting two or more paths through the mines, and
keeping them clear; one to the west, following the coast, one in the middle
between Terschelling and Horns Reef, one to the north along the Danish coast.
This last had the advantage of making it easier for the U-boats to find their
way home on their return, as they could feel their way to the coast of Jutland
while they were still outside the area sown with English mines, and seek the
route that had been cleared, which led along the coast into the Bight. The
route off the Dutch coast was the shortest for those boats which chose the
Channel passage to get to their station west of the British Isles. It certainly
was the shortest route, but also the most dangerous, because of the strong
defence in the Channel, and the various obstacles there in the shape of nets
and mines. These cleared paths had to be so wide that the boats could find them
even in bad weather, when they were unable to determine their position with
accuracy; and also they had to be wide enough to allow freedom of movement to
the auxiliary boats which accompanied the mine-sweepers; for the mine-sweeping
operations were in all probability observed by the English submarines, and if
the cruisers in the auxiliary groups had only been able to move slowly up and
down in the narrow area they would have presented an easy and welcome target.
Consequently we tried to keep a large basin free of mines, situated to the rear
of about the middle of the belt, so that it lay in a central position for all
the routes. Even this did not guarantee absolute safety, so the boats were
always accompanied by an escort capable of clearing away any mines which might
after all be encountered.
In July, 1917, the English had extended the area which they
had announced to be mined, to the north up to the latitude of Hanstholm
(north-west coast of Jutland), in the west as far as four degrees longitude
east, in the south to 53 degrees latitude north. By this means the path which
had to be kept clear by the boats of the High Sea Fleet was lengthened at the
narrowest point by 20 to 25 sea miles.
Up to the end of June, 1917, despite months and months of
work, the mine-sweepers at our disposal had not succeeded in breaking through
the old danger zone. The demands which, in consequence, were made upon the
U-boat convoyswhich had to take the U-boats through the mined area into
free waternaturally impeded the actual mine-sweeping. In case of need,
recourse might be had to the torpedo-boat flotillas, but, after all, they
represented material as valuable as that which they were to protect; and in
particular the new boats had too much draught to pass through the mine-sown
areas except at great risk. (The lighter the draught the less the danger for
the mine-sweepers, in the construction of which this point was particularly
considered). The new boats constructed in the last months hardly made good the
losses, and the number fixed by the commanders of the Fleet as the minimum
required had not been attained. These clear routes were not needed for the
U-boats alone, but also for communication between Rotterdam and the Elbe and
Ems respectively. In the middle of July, 15 to 20 steamers lay at Rotterdam
waiting for the word that they might safely cross. It was the Fleet's duty to
guarantee that the waterway along the coast was free and to convoy the ships
with outpost craft to safety.
In spite of all the difficulties we managed to prevent
anything from stopping the U-boats from going out. There were altogether very
few days when for safety's sake we had to avoid the direct route into the North
Sea and take the roundabout way through the North Baltic Canal and the
Kattegat. The small loss of time was of no importance compared with the
increased safety that was thereby gained. As the boats could replenish their
fuel supply in Kiel, they were able to stay in their field of operation for
comparatively a long time. But it was not unknown to the English that our boats
used this way to get out, especially later when the U-cruiser flotilla had been
formed at Kiel; these boats mostly took the route through the Kattegat for
their outward and return voyages. That forced the Fleet to extend it's
mine-sweeping to the Kattegat, and to take counter measures when the English
mines were laid from Skagen across to the Swedish coast.
It is obvious on what a large scale English mine-laying was
carried on, when it is considered that they set about mining the whole of the
North Sea between the Shetland Islands and Norway. As we learnt afterwards it
was chiefly American mines that were to be used and American craft to do the
work. If they had really succeeded in sowing mines sufficiently thickly in that
area the Fleet would have found it an exceedingly difficult task to clear the
necessary gaps there. However, the great depth of the water in this part of the
North Sea made it possible for U-boats to avoid the barrier by travelling at a
sufficient depth below the surface. So far as we could ascertain, we suffered
no losses in U-boats from these mines.
The boats, when going out, and before their return, reported
their position, so that the commanders of the Fleet and the officers in command
of the U-boats knew for certain that the first difficulties had been overcome,
and that the boat was making for her actual field of operation; or, as the case
might be, was on the homeward voyage after accomplishing her work. Thus it was
possible to establish with great accuracy in what period of time boats that
were missing must have met with misfortune.
The Fleet considered it its most important task to place all
its strength at the disposal of the U-boats on their outgoings and incomings,
so as to protect them from the dangers of this part of their voyage. Plenty
more awaited them which they would have to cope with alone, once they were in
their particular sphere of activity. This was essentially the point of view of
the mine-sweepers; they suffered ever greater losses, yet did all that was
possible to take upon themselves the main dangers that threatened the U-boats.
In August, 1918, H.M. the Emperor announced his intention to
visit the Fleet. Shortly before his visit there had been signs of
insubordination among the crews of some of the ships of Squadron IV.
(Prinzregent Luitpold and Friedrich der Grosse); this bore the
character of mutiny, but thanks to suitable measures taken by the officers it
was nipped in the bud before it had assumed considerable dimensions or had
injured the efficiency of the ships. Inquiry into the matter, however, revealed
that behind these comparatively unimportant outbreaks there lay a movement
which must be taken very seriously, and which had as its aim the forcible
paralyzing of the Fleet as soon as the political wire-pullers deemed the moment
ripe. The judicial inquiry established the fact that there was a connection
between the members of the Independent Social Democratic Party and the leaders
of the movement in the Fleet. Their first aim was to get a sufficient number of
the crews to allow their names to be put on lists which were to prove at the
forthcoming Congress at Stockholm that the crews at the front had grown weary
of fighting and were ready to join in the political movement. This movement
aimed at bringing the war to an end in all countries by overthrowing the
existing forms of government. Very cleverly had the leaders sown discontent on
certain ships; they had made the most of supposed abuses, especially in the
rationing, and had not even shrunk from influencing their comrades by threats
of forcible measures. The whole network of the plot was laid bare and those who
had stirred up the trouble were punished. In certain cases the court-martial
pronounced sentence of death, which was carried out so far as the most guilty
parties were concerned. Most of those implicated had not realised the
consequences of joining the organisation; to many it had not even been
explained. Compared with the total numbers of the crews, those who had joined
the movement were very few.
The great danger which lay in this unrest, stirred up in the
Fleet by conscienceless agitators, could not be overlooked. Conditions on the
big ships in particular unfortunately provided fruitful soil for such
activities, as the crews were all the time in close communication with their
homes and could, therefore, not be kept immune from the prevailing depression.
These men performed the same service on the big ships all the year round, and
they lacked the refreshing stimulus of meeting the enemy in battle. On the
other hand, they had a daily supply of newspapers and pamphlets which teemed
with war weariness and the condemnation of our war leaders. Thus it was
unhappily possible to influence their views and make them forgetful of their
duty. The Secretary of State for the Navy arrived in Wilhelmshaven on August
17, the day before the Emperor embarked. I made earnest representations to him
that it was the duty of the Government to protect the Fleet from this
Socialistic organisation, as otherwise the efforts of the officers to shield
the men from these disastrous influences would be of no avail. Admiral von
Capelle was very doubtful whether it was possible, with the sentiments then
prevailing in the Reichstag, to call the leaders of a party to account for
their political agitation which, so far as it was subversive of order, was
carried on with the greatest circumspection. But he quite admitted the gravity
of the situation and promised to see that the necessary protective measures
were taken by the Imperial Government. He spoke to His Majesty to that effect
the next day, after I had reported these incidents in the Fleet to him.
Unfortunately at the discussions in the Reichstag, which followed shortly
afterwards, it appeared that the Government was not sufficiently firm to take
radical measures and secure the consent of the majority of the people's
representatives to them.
The Fleet had to depend entirely on its own efforts to
shield the crews from the devastating influences which were brought to bear
upon them. The best distraction certainly was active warfare. The crews had
never refused to obey the call of this necessity; courage and the joy of battle
still prevailed in their old, original form. They were so deeply rooted in the
character of the German people that they could not cease at the first onslaught
The influence of enemy propaganda was turned to account by
the Independent Social Democratic Party to achieve its own ends. It could be
counteracted to some extent but not entirely removed, and its disastrous
effects were apparent later. There is a widespread view that the crews had
justifiable grounds for complaint in the differentiation in treatment between
the officers and men; this is totally unfounded. Service on board makes at
least the same demands on the officers, and indeed much greater demands, than
on the majority of the members of the crew. On watch and on every other form of
service, the proportionate number of officers is employed with every group of
men, and they have no alleviations as compared with the crew; on the contrary,
they are much more exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and far greater
demands are made upon their vigilance when at sea. Even in the unpleasant
process of coaling, all the officers co-operate, and there is no difference
then between them and the men in respect of their "get-up " and their
unavoidable condition of dirt. This practice, introduced in time of peace to
attain the greatest possible efficiency in coaling, was of necessity continued
during the war, when the unpleasant work of filling the coal-bunkers had to be
undertaken much oftener.
His Majesty embarked in the flagship Baden, and took his
first trip to sea during the war. On this occasion, he visited the Island of
Heligoland to inspect the fortifications and harbour works there. He landed
again at Cuxhaven, where he spoke to the crews of the mine-sweeper flotillas,
and was able to confer decorations upon some of the leaders and crews who had
had a brush with enemy destroyers a few days before, in which they so
successfully warded off the attack that we did not have to record the loss of a
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