Blogs > Cliopatria > NAVAL LETHAL NONSENSE IN 1916

Nov 11, 2009 8:23 pm


On this post Fort Hood massacre sad Veteran's Day, it seems appropriate to recall that political correctness and excessive legalism are nothing new. During my recent visit to the Newport U.S. Naval War College Museum I came accross the amazing story of the October 7, 1916"visit" of the German submarine U-53 to Newport, RI. Then, as today, not only the American politial authorities but also it's armed forces refused to confront dangers staring them in their face. You see, the US was still neutral:

. . . stunning was the visit of the U-53, a new German vessel with its ballast tanks modified to accept extra diesel fuel. It surfaced one October afternoon in 1916 at Newport, R.I., where its commander paid his compliments to the USN Commandant and calmly picked up the local papers. A train of curious naval officers, journalists, and photographers accompanied him aboard the U-53 for a tour of the vessel's appointments; then, scrupulously observing the protocol for a belligerent visiting a neutral port, Capt. Hans Rose upped anchor and motored to the vicinity of the Nantucket Lightship.

Hovering just in international waters, he began picking off the ships he had identified in the shipping news of the papers he had purchased in Newport: by day's end he had dispatched 7. Though no lives were lost, the episode inspired helpless outrage in Americans and rage among the British -- rage largely directed at the Americans, whose destroyers picked up the lifeboats but failed to interfere with the sub's grisly operations.

On October 18, 1916 the NYT reported -

Agents representing the Neutrality Bureau have been here for some time investigating the visit of the German submarine U-53 on Oct. 7. Their inquiry is distinct from that conducted by the navy . . .

Colville Barclay, Counselor of the British Embassy, also has collected data relative to the visit of the U-53


It should be noted that the Germans did not share the American navy's legalistic attitude towards war. Not only had U-53 sink 4 British boats (including a 5000-ton Red Cross liner Stephano with 83 passengers including many Americans) but also two neutral ones, one Dutch and one Norwegian. for neut The British pretended to be appeased. They had no choice. The role US destroyers played in helping to rescue the victims of the U-53 helped. But the American too ended up paying a stiff price -

NYT reported on January 27, 1919 -

Submarine that visited Newport sent American destroyer to the bottom. . . .

The report, made public tonight by the navy department showed also that the German officer commanding the U-53 when the Jones was destroyed, Captain von Schraeder, was aboard the boat when it was in Newport. He there saw commander David Worth Bagley, a brother of the wife of secretary Daniels, who commanded the Jacob Jones. Von Schrader told the captured American officer that he recognized Bagly in the dory of the sinking of the destroyer . . .

Many Americans were not as lucky as Bagly -

The Ticonderoga, which was going to France with a cargo of railway cars and 113 army personnel, in addition to her naval crew, had fallen behind her convoy in misty weather , when she was attacked by shrapnel fire from the U-152, which fired forty shots demolishing the radio house and killing four members of the 6 inch gun crew before the cruiser Galvaston hove in sight and drove the enemy off.

More than an hour later, the U-152 reappeared and pounded the Ticonderoga with forty more shots, which finally reached the engine and fire rooms. The order to abandon ship was given, but a sheet hoisted in the rigging as a sign of surrender was not heeded by the submarine, and, according to the report, Fulcher"waved a pillow slip from the deck."

The captain of the transport had been wounded, as had Fulcher and Muller, the executive officer, and Fulcher, who was first assistant Engineer, agreed there was nothing to do but surrender, as many of the man aboard had been killed.

Will we ever learn?!

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