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"The Commanding Officers of the submarines are of the opinion that it is impossible to single out individuals when all performed their duties so admirably, and in this I concur...."
That description of the submarine sailor held good throughout the war, as in 1914.
There is another despatch of 1914, which gives a clear picture of Heligoland patrol work in the winter months:--
"During the past week these submarines have experienced very heavy westerly gales ... a short steep sea which made it impossible to open the conning-tower hatch, vision limited to that obtained through the periscopes (_i.e._ only a cable or two between the seas that continually broke over them). The submarines were thus an easy prey to any surface vessel falling in with them, and it was therefore necessary to keep submerged; also, to make an offing, as there were no means of obtaining the position except by sinking to the bottom and obtaining soundings. There was no rest on the bottom even at a depth of 22 fathoms, as the submarines were rolling and b.u.mping there in spite of considerable negative buoyancy, and it was therefore necessary to keep under way at a depth clear of the keels of possible ships. At this depth motion was considerable, and pumping (_i.e._ vertical motion) was 20 to 30 feet. When battery-power became low, it was necessary to come to the surface, as lying on the bottom was dangerous. On the surface, it was necessary to keep a ventilator open to run the engines, in order to keep head to sea; through this ventilator much water was shipped.... No good purpose can be served in maintaining the close blockade of the Bight in such weather. Even if the enemy emerged, which is unlikely, it would be almost impossible to bring off a successful attack."
I have in this history only quoted typical despatches and incidents in the work of our submarines. It would take many books to quote them all.
I feel that I have dealt with a great story in an inadequate way, but only a great writer could deal with it faithfully. Trying to sum up impressions of four years of war, I find that two memories stand out and hide the rest: one is of the face of a hydroplane man as he sat leaning forward to watch his gauge--his whole attention fixed on the movement of the needle and on his own job--oblivious of the rushing sound of turbine-driven propellers as German destroyers pa.s.sed overhead; the other is of the salvage of one of our boats three weeks after she sank, when we found each officer and man at his station as they had died after every detail of their drill had been carried out, and of the feeling of respect--even, perhaps, of envy of men who had pa.s.sed such a test without a failure--with which one raised and carried them away. One wanted to be able to tell them so, but I think they did know, at any rate before they died, that their fellow-craftsmen would approve, as the men of Major Wilson's patrol must have known at the Shangani river in '93, that those who came to bury them would recognise that they had died well.
The Submarine Service was good before the war. The many who have died in the boats since have given it a tradition that will ensure its standard being always maintained: such men have given the survivors a high code to live up to. I will conclude by quoting a message from the Commodore of Submarines, which was promulgated to all the boats after the Armistice:--
_12th November 1918._
"Now that a General Armistice is in force, I wish to lose no time in tendering my personal tribute to the officers and men of the Submarine Service.
"Having had a good deal to do with this Service in its early stages, it has been a great honour and a great pleasure to command it in war, and it must be a source of great pride and satisfaction to you, as it is to me, that our peace organisation and training have withstood the supreme test, and that you have so splendidly carried out the many and varied services demanded of you.
"Submarines were the first at sea on the outbreak of war, they have been continuously in action while it lasted, they will be the last to return to harbour.
"You have, in addition to the invaluable outpost, patrol, mine-laying, fleet duties, and other services, the sinking of 54 enemy warships and 274 other vessels to your credit, and you have done more to counter the enemy's illegal war upon commerce than any other single means; at the same time you have been called upon to man new and intricate types of submarines, demanding the highest standard of knowledge and efficiency. Your steadiness and grit, whilst the toll of your gallant fellows was heavy, has been beyond all praise, and will form glorious pages in naval history when this comes to be written.
"You have established a magnificent record of strenuous and gallant service, of clean fighting and devotion to duty that must always be a source of keen satisfaction to you for the rest of your lives, as it will be a great tradition to hand down to those who follow you.
"It is inevitable, from the nature of submarines, that your senior officers cannot lead you into action as they would wish. It has been my duty to try and get you the best material, to maintain fairness and equity on the sole ground of personal efficiency, and to maintain your reputation for efficiency and modesty.
"In this I have been so ably and loyally a.s.sisted by all without distinction, that I can never sufficiently express my grat.i.tude and admiration for you. The result was certain. We leave the war with a record as proud as any that war has ever produced.
"S. S. HALL, "Commodore (S.)."