The Fringes of the Fleet

Submarines I

Rudyard Kipling

THE CHIEF business of the Trawler fleet is to attend to the traffic. The submarine in her sphere attends to the enemy. Like the destroyer, the submarine has created its own type of officer and man—with a language and traditions apart from the rest of the Service, and yet at heart unchangingly of the Service. Their business is to run monstrous risks from earth, air, and water, in what, to be of any use, must be the coldest of cold blood.

The commander’s is more a one-man job, as the crew’s is more team work, than any other employment afloat. That is why the relations between submarine officers and men are what they are. They play hourly for each other’s lives with Death the Umpire always at their elbow on tiptoe to give them “Out.”

There is a stretch of water, once dear to amateur yachtsmen, now given over to scouts, submarines,destroyers, and, of course, contingents of trawlers. We were waiting the return of some boats which were due to report. A couple surged up the still harbour in the afternoon light and tied up beside their sisters. There climbed out of them three or four high-booted, sunken-eyed pirates clad in sweaters, under jackets that a stoker of the last generation would have disowned. This was their first chance to compare notes at close hand. Together they lamented the loss of a Zeppelin—“a perfect mug of a Zepp,” who had come down very low and offered one of them a sitting shot. “But what can you do with our guns? I gave him what I had, and then he started bombing.”

“I know he did,” another said. “I heard him. That’s what brought me down to you. I thought he had you that last time”

“No, I was forty foot under when he hove out the big ’un. What happened to you?”

“My steering-gear jammed just after I went down, and I had to go round in circles till I got it straightened out. But wasn’t he a mug!”

“Was he the brute with the patch on his port side?” a sister-boat demanded.

“No! This fellow had just been hatched. He was almost sitting on the water, heaving bombs over.”

“And my blasted steering-gear went and chose then to go wrong,” the other commander mourned.

“I thought his last little egg was going to get me!”

Half an hour later I was formally introduced to three or four quite strange, quite immaculate officers, freshly shaved, and a little tired about the eyes, whom I thought I had met before.

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