"The Honour of Submitting" by Lieut.-Comdr. Harry Vandervell, RNVR

The Yachting Monthly, March, 1918

The submitting of countless documents is as unending as the ever-lasting patrol and the logging of "nothing to report" recurs often with long spells of monotony. But there is always the expectancy that at any moment the monotony may be varied. Whatever else the enemy has done, it cannot be said that he has robbed the sea of its mystery. By day as by night the submarine and the mine lurk unseen and add the unknown to the ordinary dangers of the sea, the navigation of unlighted coasts and wreck-strewn channels.

The routine of Naval Bases all round our coasts continues interminably-units of patrol vessels proceed on submarine hunting expeditions, mine sweeping, or convoying flotillas of merchant ships deep laden with priceless cargoes of foodstuffs, fuels and munitions.

On a dark winter's evening three or four M.L.'s with shrill blasts from their whistles and the strident bark from their exhausts echoing round the harbour quays, leave the small west country port and disappear through the light haze that hangs round the entrance. The air is still, and away from the land the stars shine brightly overhead, though, to seaward, visibility is low because of banks of mist which drift over the calm sea. i'he convoy is already under way and the three M.L.'s in conjunction with more important craft carry out their screening operations, zig-zagging on either side of the convoy in such a manner as to make the life of any lurking submarine on mischief bent one of some anxiety, to say the least of it.

M.L.*** was at the end of one of her tacks and distant about a mile and a half from the leader of the convoy. She came out of a thick bank of mist, the eyes of all on deck strained to the lookout, when through the darkness the form of a submarine was seen just 75 yards ahead in the act of submerging slowly. There is only one test of patrol work and that is readiness, quick brain-work and instant action. The Commanding Officer submits: "I immediately ported my helm with the object of crossing its path and attacking with gun and depth charges. At the same time I put on full speed."

By the fact that only the top of the conning tower was showing, the great length of the submarine was not realised, and before the small patrol boat could manoeuvre into a favourable position she had run right across the submarine, striking it with her after part with great force at a speed of 18 knots. Both propellers had struck and both engines stopped with a crash, while the hands were flung along the deck. The CO. at this moment, his own engines being out of action, was intending to drop depth charges, taking the risk of injuring his own vessel as well as the enemy, but this did not appear to be practical owing to the position of the submarine. But meanwhile the Second in Command had swung his gun round to starboard and fired a parting shot at the submarine as she disappeared in a swirl of water.

The C.O. of the M.L. had hardly had time to look aft, and notice that his after deck was awash, and that his vessel was sinking, and also catch sight of his leading deck-hand up to his knees in water, coolly setting his depth charges to "Safe" before she should sink. The two engine room chief motor mechanics with equal coolness were at their posts and had started the pumps, while signal rockets were fired to warn the convoy. This had all taken place in a few seconds round about 7.30 p.m.

Then a very unexpected thing happened. The submarine again came to the surface about fifty yards away but as far as could be seen, its stability had been deranged, as only the curve of its belly was showing above water. It was evidently on its side, as neither conning tower, periscopes, nor gun were visible. The first impression that its reappearance had given was that it was coming up to fight with its superior armament of a 4-point-something gun. Already the M.L.'s gun crew had fired six rapid shots, several of which were followed by explosions. "After this," the C.O. submitted cautiously, "the submarine submerged or sank rapidly."

The M.L. was also settling down by the stern and the skiff was smartly lowered, but the gun's crew remained at their posts, though no more was seen of the submarine.

At 7.46 p.m., after these incidentals, which were all crowded into a short quarter of an hour, and after S .O .S. had been sounded on the whistle, a trawler arrived and took the M .L. in tow, while two other M .L.'s arrived to the rescue. The thin bulkhead still kept the water from flooding the engine room and before abandoning the ship, the auxiliary engine was looked to and kept running full speed on the bilge pumps. By careful navigation for four and a half hours the harbour, thirty miles away, was gained and the M .L. beached with the auxiliary still bravely pumping. Quite a nice little bit of salvage work!

Then the sequel: -The Lords of the Admiraltv considered that the submarine was probably either badly damaged or destroyed, in view of the fact that the convoy was not subsequently attacked, and they approved an award of £1,000 to those on board the Motor Launch, while His Majesty the King has been pleased to award Lieut.----, R.N.V.R., the D.S.C. and Sub-Lieut.----, R.N.V.R., and the crew will be mentioned in the London Gazette.

It will be seen that there is occasionally some "honour in submitting."

A postscript to this story is provided here.