- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At the age of 34, I was the oldest man in the boat. My duties at sea were those of navigator and watch-keeper, which also entailed the keeping up to date of all charts and signal-books. In harbour, I checked and corrected charts and the various signal-books in order to keep our records regarding the laying of mine-fields, clearances of minefields, suspected enemy minefields, new wrecks, information about aids to coastal navigation, and the different and constantly changing codes up to date according to Admiralty information. At sea I assisted the Captain in several ways in the control-room when he was called to the periscope. When we were submerged on a diving patrol a sailor was also on duty at the periscope so as to relieve the officer on watch, and to help him remain free of tension and to ‘keep his eye in’. Alternating the two men prevented either man from becoming stale and so less attentive.
RNR navigator/watch-keepers were not expected to learn much of the technicalities of submarines. Their worth lay in their training in their own fields and, as in other branches of the Navy, where possible, they were placed where their particular skills were of the most use. Our instruments of navigation for submarines were the same as for surface ships: the magnetic compass, sextant, and charts. We had a gyroscopic compass in H-12, but it was not reliable and after trying it once or twice we did not use it again. Submerged navigation was all dead reckoning and owing to tides, currents and other causes such as a lack of opportunity to take a sight because of bad or thick weather, of having had to dive in a hurry, or of not being able to surface for many hours, one was never certain of the submarine’s exact position and, in consequence, one had to bear that in mind at all times.
Our mother ship Vulcan, had been converted from a cruiser to a depot ship and as such had a workshop on the lower deck capable of handling any work likely to arise among the Flotilla, short of dry-docking. When in harbour, all submarine officers and crews lived on board the depot ship and during the day they worked on their respective submarines until the time came for them to go on patrol again. The very first thing we did on our return to the depot ship from patrol was to have a hot bath with frequent changes of water – from the time we left until we returned the only thing we cleaned was our teeth!
The usual patrol was of ten days’ duration, subject to an extension of several days, followed by four days in port after each patrol. This was not a leave period, but a rest and overhaul period. In between patrols, exercises were carried out, under escort, not far from base. Included in the exercise would be the running of one, or even two, torpedoes without war-heads. These were to be set to float for a short time after their run to enable them to be picked up by a trawler.
From the base of Kingstown, H-12 was engaged in a diving patrol of the Irish Sea, in which area we were more likely to sight a German U-boat from the submerged position. The submerged patrol was also of more protection to us. We had a few hours to ourselves now and again between patrols which I, and one or two others, used to spend with friends in Bray, a seaside resort to the south of Kingstown. We were fortunate to have these friends because the British were not popular in Ireland and this fact was very obvious to us when we took H-12 to Dublin for dry-docking.
In midsummer 1918, Vulcan and her Flotilla shifted base to Stornoway in the north-east of the Outer Hebrides. Stornoway was an austere burgh comprised of stone buildings and houses; curing-sheds for the herring industry were a prominent feature of the harbour, for the people depend on the fishing industry for their livelihood, aided to a degree by the making of tweed and hand-knitted garments. In our duty hours we used to play football, not far from the base, in a paddock which we were told belonged to Lord Leverhulme of the Lever Brothers soap-manufacturing complex. From this base H-12 carried out several surface patrols in the North Atlantic, this type of patrol being more practicable because of the high seas where, as the boat rose and fell, it was possible to sight a submarine at a distance of ten miles. German submarines remained on the surface whenever possible, diving only to attack or to avoid surface vessels, so the method in operation for our anti-submarine work was governed by the waters in which we had to work. On one of these North Atlantic patrols we were forced to return to base because of continuous bad weather.