Once upon a time, there were certain E type boats who worked the Sea of Marmara with thoroughness and humanity for the two, in English hands, are compatible. The road to their hunting-grounds was strewn with peril, the waters they inhabited were full of eyes that gave them no rest, and what they lost or expended in wear and tear of the chase could not made good till they had run the gauntlet to their base again. The full tale of their improvisations and “makee-does” will probably never come to light, though fragments can be picked up at intervals in the proper places as the men concerned come and go. The Admiralty gives only the bones, but those are not so dry, of the boat’s official story.
When E14, Commander E. Courtney-Boyle, went to her work in the Sea of Marmara, she, like her sister, “proceeded” on her gas-engine up the Dardanelles; and a gas-engine by night between steep cliffs has been described by the Lower-deck as a “full brass band in a railway cutting.” So a fort picked her up with a searchlight and missed her with artillery. She dived under the minefield that guarded the Straits, and when she rose at dawn in the narrowest part of the channel, which is about one mile and a half across, all the forts fired at her. The water, too, was thick with steamboat patrols, out of which E14 selected a Turkish gunboat and gave her a torpedo. She had just time to see the great column of water shoot as high as the gunboat’s mast when she had to dip again as “the men in a small steamboat were leaning over trying to catch hold of the top of my periscope.”
This accomplished, after a long, hot run, which did the motors no good, she went back to her beat, where she picked up three destroyers convoying a couple of troopships. But it was a glassy calm and the destroyers “came for me.” She got off a long-range torpedo at one transport, and ducked before she could judge results. She apologises for this on the grounds that one of her periscopes had been damaged not, as one would expect, by the gentleman leaning out of the little steamboat, but by some casual shot—calibre not specified—the day before. “And so,” says E14, “I could not risk my remaining one being bent.” However, she heard a thud, and the depth-gauges—those great clock-hands on the white-faced circles—“flicked,” which is another sign of dreadful certainty down under. When she rose again she saw a destroyer convoying one burning transport to the nearest beach. That afternoon she met a sister-boat (now gone to Valhalla), who told her that she was almost out of torpedoes, and they arranged a rendezvous for next day, but “before we could communicate we had to dive, and did not see her again.” There must be many such meetings in the Trade, under all skies—boat rising beside boat at the point agreed upon for interchange of news and materials; the talk shouted aloud with the speakers’ eyes always on the horizon and all hands standing by to dive, even in the middle of a sentence.
Transports, of course, were fair game, and in spite of the necessity she was under of not risking her remaining eye, E14 got a big one in a night of wind and made another hurriedly beach itself, which then opened fire on her, assisted by the local population. “Returned fire and proceeded,” says E14. The diversion of returning fire is one much appreciated by the lower-deck as furnishing a pleasant break in what otherwise might be a monotonous and odoriferous task. There is no drill laid down for this evolution, but etiquette and custom prescribe that on going up the hatch you shall not too energetically prod the next man ahead with the muzzle of your rifle. Likewise, when descending in quick time before the hatch closes, you are requested not to jump directly on the head of the next below. Otherwise you act “as requisite” on your own initiative.
When she had used up all her torpedoes E14 prepared to go home by the way she had come—there was no other—and was chased towards Gallipoli by a mixed pack composed of a gunboat, a torpedo-boat, and a tug. “They shepherded me to Gallipoli, one each side of me and one astern, evidently expecting me to be caught by the nets there.” She walked very delicately for the next eight hours or so, all down the Straits, underrunning the strong tides, ducking down when the fire from the forts got too hot, verifying her position and the position of the minefield, but always taking notes of every ship in sight, till towards teatime she saw our Navy off the entrance and “rose to the surface abeam of a French battleship who gave us a rousing cheer.” She had been away, as nearly as possible, three weeks, and a kind destroyer escorted her to the base, where we will leave her for the moment while we consider the performance of E11 (Lieutenant-Commander . E. Nasmith) in the same waters at about the same season.
E11 “proceeded” in the usual way, to the usual accompaniments of hostile destroyers, up the Straits, and meets the usual difficulties about charging-up when she gets through. Her wireless naturally takes this opportunity to give trouble, and E11 is left, deaf and dumb, somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Marmara, diving to avoid hostile destroyers in the intervals of trying to come at the fault in her aerial. (Yet it is noteworthy that the language of the Trade, though technical, is no more emphatic or incandescent than that of top-side ships.)
Then she goes towards Constantinople, finds a Turkish torpedo-gunboat off the port, sinks her, has her periscope smashed by a six-pounder, retires, fits a new top on the periscope, and at 10.30 A.M.—they must have needed it—pipes “All hands to bathe.” Much refreshed, she gets her wireless linked up at last, and is able to tell the authorities where she is and what she is after.
“Simultaneously with the sinking of the vessel,” the E11 goes on, “smoke was observed to the eastward.” It was a steamer who had seen the explosion and was running for Rodosto. E11 chased her till she tied up to Rodosto pier, and then torpedoed her where she lay—a heavily laden store-ship piled high with packing-cases. The water was shallow here, and though E11 bumped along the bottom, which does not make for steadiness of aim, she was forced to show a good deal of her only periscope, and had it dented, but not damaged by rifle-fire from the beach. As he moved out of Rodosto Bay she saw a paddle-boat loaded with barbed wire, which stopped on the hail, but “as we ranged alongside her, attempts to ram us, but failed owing to our superior speed.” Then she ran for the beach “very skilfully,” keeping her stern to E11 till she drove ashore beneath some cliffs. The demolition-squad were just getting to work when “a party of horsemen appeared on the cliffs above and opened a hot fire on the conning tower.” E11 got out, but owing to the shoal water it was some time before she could get under enough to fire a torpedo. The stern of a stranded paddle-boat is no great target and the thing exploded on the beach. Then she “recharged batteries and proceeded slowly on the surface towards Constantinople.” All this between the ordinary office hours of 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
Her next day’s work opens, as no pallid writer of fiction dare begin, thus: “Having dived unobserved into Constantinople, observed, etc.” Her observations were rather hampered by cross-tides, mud, and currents, as well as the vagaries of one of her own torpedoes which turned upside down and ran about promiscuously. It hit something at last, and so did another shot that she fired, but the waters by Constantinople Arsenal are not healthy to linger in after one has scared up the whole sea-front, so “turned to go out.” Matters were a little better below, and E11 in her perilous passage might have been a lady of the harem tied up in a sack and thrown into the Bosporus. She grounded heavily; she bounced up 30 feet, was headed down again by a manœuvre easier to shudder over than to describe, and when she came to rest on the bottom found herself being swivelled right round the compass. They watched the compass with much interest. “It was concluded, therefore, that the vessel (E11 is one of the few who speaks of herself as a ‘vessel’ as well as a ‘boat’) was resting on the shoal under the Leander Tower, and was being turned round by the current.” So they corrected her, started the motors, and “bumped. gently down into 85 feet of water” with no more knowledge than the lady in the sack where the next bump would land them.
In due time E11 went back to her base. She had discovered a way of using unspent torpedoes twice over, which surprised the enemy, and she had as nearly as possible been cut down by a ship which she thought was running away from her. Instead of which (she made the discovery at three thousand yards, both craft all out) the stranger steamed straight at her. “The enemy then witnessed a somewhat spectacular dive at full speed from the surface to 20 feet in as many seconds. He then really did turn tail and was seen no more.” Going through the Straits she observed an empty troopship at anchor, but reserved her torpedoes in the hope of picking up some battleships lower down. Not finding these in the Narrows, she nosed her way back and sank the trooper, “afterwards continuing journey down the Straits.” Off Kilid Bahr something happened; she got out of trim and had to be fully flooded before she could be brought to her required depth. It might have been whirlpools under water, or—other things. (They tell a story of a boat which once went mad in these very waters, and for no reason ascertainable from within plunged to depths that contractors do not allow for; rocketed up again like a swordfish, and would doubtless have so continued till she died, had not something she had fouled dropped off and let her recover her composure.)
An hour later : “Heard a noise similar to grounding. Knowing this to be impossible in the water in which the boat then was, I came up to 20 feet to investigate, and observed a large mine preceding the periscope at a distance of about 20 feet, which was apparently hung up by its moorings to the port hydroplane.” Hydroplanes are the fins at bow and stern which regulate a submarine’s diving. A mine weighs anything from hundredweights to half-tons. Sometimes it explodes if you merely think about it; at others you can batter it like an empty sardine-tin and it submits meekly; but at no time is it meant to wear on a hydroplane. They dared not come up to unhitch it, “owing to the batteries ashore,” so they pushed the dim shape ahead of them till they got outside Kum Kale. They then went full astern, and emptied the after tanks, which brought the bows down, and in this posture rose to the surface, when “the rush of water from the screws together with the sternway gathered allowed the mine to fall clear of the vessel.”
Now a fool, said Dr. Johnson, would have tried to describe that.