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Q Ships- Live Human Bait

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#1 Poppy



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Posted 23 November 2011 - 02:27 AM

Scored a second hand hardcover- Warships of WWI -published 1973 by Phoebus, London. It has a nice inscription on the inside leaf:
To Tim (edit- what a coincidence, my actual name)
Finish school & enjoy childhood. (edit- wished I saw this sooner) See you in Cornwallis.
Love (edit-can't read signature) Jerry (?)
Christmas '79
-end -

..The epic naval battles of WWI are very interesting to moi. Especially those of Q Ships. Here is one hair raising story:

...There was nothing to be done except steam quietly on, the men having already gone to their action stations at the first report of a 'suspicious object'. The submarine, on his part, would naturally expect that he had sighted us ( a fairly big object with smoke ) before we had seen him; so, if we wished to be attacked, no attempt must be made to escape - in fact, we had to pretend we had not seen him.
This was a fairly easy matter for the next 20 minutes, though it was a rather novel sensation to us all when we realised that practically for certain in a short time we should be attacked by an invisible enemy and perhaps blown sky high without the chance of a shot in reply. I think the most apt expression I have seen applied to this sort of game is 'live human bait'. It seemed strange also to think that , although we made no alteration in course or speed, yet we were really the attackers, simulated ignorance, and eventually defense in order to make our offense.
So with the guns loaded, their crews concealed beside them, the man on the bridge watching for the next move of the Germans, and all the time the disinterested crew of this tramp lounging about chatting and smoking, we waited, wondering whether we would be attacked by gun or torpedo. The wait may not have been very long by the clock, but it was terribly long to those on board.
The answer came at seven o'clock, when the track of a torpedo was seen approaching, which we made no attempt to avoid. It was fired from our starboard quarter - a bad position from the submarine point of view. The bubbles of the track passed under the fo'c'sle, which meant that the torpedo had just missed us ahead. We therefore maintained our course and took no outward notice, as a tramp steamer ( at that time) could not be expected to know what a torpedo track looked like, and in any case the 'lookouts' would neither be numerous nor very bright at that hour of the morning.
We could have escaped with ease if we had been an ordinary steamer by putting our stern towards him and steaming off at full speed. He might have opened fire with his gun, but under the weather conditions prevailing the steamer would have got away.
To the men concealed at the guns and elsewhere, this was the first great test of the discipline and drill we had been training for, as it was obvious that the submarine might fire another torpedo and perhaps successfully. All remained quiet, and the men, lounging about, continued to smoke their pipes.
One young seaman was whistling at his gun, because as he explained when asked what he was doing, 'if he didn't whistle he would get scared'. A few minutes after the torpedo had missed us,the submarine came to the surface astern of our ship and steamed up on our port side. As he came up, his gun was manned and he fired a shot across our bows as a signal to stop. After firing his shot he closed down and partially submerged again, obviously ready to dive in a few seconds if we attempted to ram. But in the meantime we had proceeded with our pantomime as prearranged, and, as soon as the shot fell, the engines were stopped, steam was blown off and the panic party got busy.
*** More to come. Wrote whole piece but last half was not included!!!****
They entered into the spirit of it with more zeal than ever- a great scrambling for boats took place, which apparently satisfied the submarine as to our bonafides, for he came right on the surface again and closed towards the ship- this before we had even got to the stage of lowering the boats. I was still rushing about the bridge and had not yet been relieved of my cap by the navigator. The submarine was evidently in a hurry to get on with the business and go after another prey, as he fired a shot at us which fell just short of the magazine, a matter of a few feet.
He was now about 800 yards off, showing full length, and although the range was a little bit greater than I wished, the time had come to open fire before he might touch off our magazines. I therefore blew my whistle. At this signal the White Ensign flew at the masthead, the wheel-house and sideports came down with a clatter, the hen-coop collapsed; and in a matter of seconds three 12-pounder guns, the Maxim and rifles were firing as hard as they could.
The submarine had been successfully decoyed to a suitable position with his lid open and gun manned. Everything now depended on the accuracy of the fire; but the target was a comparatively small one, and we had no rangefinders to help us, so that the distance of the target was reckoned by eye. The fire was accurate, and before the submarine could get closed down again we had hit him several times as he slowly submerged. In all, 21 rounds were fired from the three 12-pounders, one gun getting off 13 rounds. The Maxim and rifles wasted no time in getting off some 200 rounds at the personnel on the deck of the submarine, who were manning the gun, but now rapidly sought shelter inside.
As soon as he had submerged and there was nothing more to fire at, we steamed at full speed to the spot where he had gone down, for at the moment there was nothing actually to show whether he had been destroyed or not, although we knew we had hit him, as he had closed his conning tower before diving. Two depth charges were therefore dropped, and almost simultaneously the submarine , that had obviously been trying to rise, came up nearly perpendicular, touching our bottom as it did so. We were still steaming ahead when the submarine passed down our side a few yards off, and it could now be seen that in addition to a periscope having been shot off there was a big rent in the bows.
Our aft gun was leaving nothing to chance and put a few more rounds in at point blank range. A couple more depth charges were released and the surface of the sea became covered with oil and small pieces of wood- but there was no living soul.
This boat, it was ascertained afterwards, was U 68...

Edited by Poppy, 23 November 2011 - 03:04 AM.

#2 Poppy



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Posted 23 November 2011 - 03:51 AM

Ugh! Please put in appropriate spot like I tried originally.

Edited by Poppy, 23 November 2011 - 04:05 AM.

#3 phylo_roadking



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Posted 23 November 2011 - 10:07 AM

The tactic wasn't confined to WWI ;) It became an ASW tactic in WWII for a much more heavily armed merchant ship to lag behind a convoy during WWII, to attract a predator's attention and punish him severely for it...and I know that the two RN armed trawlers that searched the west of Ireland for u-boats in 1940 were registered at the Admiralty as Q-ships with a second full HMS-prefixed identity.

"Et Dick tracy, il est mort? Et Guy LeClair?"

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