Navy in World War OneYes, Memorial Day Weekend is here so Balladeer’s Blog will once again feature a few seasonal posts. In keeping with my blog’s theme I will take a look at more military actions that don’t get the attention that others do. The members of the armed forces who died in those battles deserve to be remembered as fondly as those who perished in more renowned clashes. The army gets more attention than the navy and World War Two gets more attention than World War One so I’m shedding light on two neglected areas at once with this look at U.S. Navy battles of the First World War.

OCTOBER 15th, 1917 – America entered the war just six months earlier and the Navy had been transporting the American Expeditionary Force under General “Black Jack” Pershing to Europe, with additional Navy craft escorting those transport ships and fighting German U-Boats. On this date the USS Cassin encountered U-Boat 61 and, after an hour’s pursuit the German submarine turned to fight the Cassin. After a lengthy exchange of torpedoes and depth charges the Cassin was battered but still afloat, while the U-61 suffered substantial damage also, including the destruction of its conning tower, forcing the sub to break off the action and flee.

NOVEMBER 17th, 1917 – The USS Fanning and USS Nicholson clashed with the German U-Boat designated U-58 when eagle-eyed sailors spotted the German sub’s periscope above the water line. Depth charges from the two U.S. ships damaged the U-58 and forced it to surface and engage in standard ship-to-ship combat. The Fanning and Nicholson sank the U-Boat, becoming the FIRST United States ships to  sink an enemy submarine.

DECEMBER 17th, 1917 – The USS Jacob Jones was attacked by U-53 and suffered severe damage from torpedo bombardment. The attack also set off the ship’s own depth charges, causing even heavier American casualties. The Jacob Jones sank and only 38 sailors survived the assault, with 66 dead.

APRIL 4th, 1918 – The USS Mercury, the USAT (U.S. Army Transporter) Tenadores and USAT Henry R Mallory were attacked by an unidentified U-Boat. The German craft launched torpedoes at the U.S. ships but alert sailors spotted the torpedo trails in the water and the ships were able to evade the projectiles. All three American ships returned fire and launched depth charges, severely damaging the U-Boat and causing it to retreat. An oil slick marked the surface but the ultimate fate of the German craft is unknown.

MAY 8th, 1918 – The USS Lydonia and Great Britain’s HMS Basilisk were on merchant convoy escort between Bizerte and Gibraltar when the U-70 attacked the merchant ships in their charge. In the long running battle that ensued the German sub sank the merchant ship SS Ingleside but the Lydonia and Basilisk sank the U-70 while simultaneously rescuing the survivors of the Ingleside.  

MAY 21st, 1918 – The USS Christabel, one of the yachts donated by wealthy families to serve as auxilliary naval craft for the war, fought two separate battles with the U-56 on this date and won both. In the afternoon the Christabel spotted and pursued the U-Boat, driving it off with depth charges.

Around 11 pm the U-56 stalked the Christabel but its periscope was sighted by sailors and the American craft opened fire and used depth charges. During the battle the German craft’s fire loosened some of the Christabel’s depth charges. To prevent a recurrence of what happened on the USS Jacob Jones the previous December Ensign Daniel Sullivan risked his life to secure the loose explosives before they could detonate and won the Medal of Honor for his actions. The U-56 escaped to neutral Spain.

JUNE 18th, 1918 – The U-151 sank the British civilian ship the SS Dwinsk (Dwinsk?) and then, as the survivors huddled on life-boats the U-Boat lingered in the area hoping to sink any allied ships who came to rescue those survivors. The USS Von Steuben (What irony!) showed up to do so and the U-151 attacked. Typically excellent American marksmanship enabled the naval gunners to destroy the U-Boat’s periscope AND the torpedo (or torpedoes, accounts vary) which the sub fired at the Von Steuben. U-151 was forced to retreat and the  Americans rescued the ocean liner’s survivors. 

JULY 18th, 1918 – U-156 attacked the port city of Orleans, MA, bombarding and sinking five civilian merchant ships and also shelling the city itself. Nine of the Coast Guard’s Curtiss Seaplanes arrived in the midst of the assault and attacked the U-Boat with bombs. The U-156 retreated.

JULY 19th, 1918 – The U-156 had been a busy little bee and on this date the USS San Diego, enroute from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to New York, tripped underwater mines laid by the U-156. The explosives resulted in several American fatalities and damaged the ship beyond repair, causing it to sink less than a half-hour after striking the mines.

AUGUST 6th, 1918 – Off the coast of North Carolina, America’s LV-71 (Light Vessel 71) was rescuing survivors of the civilian cargo ship SS Merak, when the U-140, the U-Boat which had sunk the Merak, surfaced and sank the LV-71 with gunfire. The craft surrendered and the naval and civilian survivors were permitted to row ashore.

SEPTEMBER 5th, 1918 – The U-82 attacked the USS Mount Vernon off the coast of France. The Mount Vernon returned fire and as the battle raged 36 Americans were killed and 13 wounded. The USS Winslow, USS Connor and the USS Wainwright dropped depth charges to drive off the U-82 and then saved the Mount Vernon.

OCTOBER 11th-12th, 1918 – U.S. Naval Captain Charles P Nelson led his fleet of 12 U-Boat Chasers in the Allied assault on the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s naval base at Durazzo, Albania. Nelson’s ships sank Austria-Hungary’s U-Boats 29 and 31, drove off two enemy destroyers and a torpedo boat, and plotted a course through enemy fields of sea-mines so the other Allied ships could draw close enough to engage Durazzo’s shore batteries. The naval base was destroyed and Captain Nelson received the Distinguished Service Medal.

NOVEMBER 8th, 1918 – Just 3 days before the end of the war, the USS Druid attacked the surfaced U-50 and two unidentified U-Boats near the Strait of Gibraltar. A long exchange of gunfire resulted and after the U-Boats submerged the Druid commenced using depth charges. The enemy craft were driven off. The next day U-50 attacked and sank Great Britain’s HMS Britannia, whose crew was rescued by the Druid.

CLOSING NOTE: For the duration of America’s involvement in the war (April 1917 to November 1918) the United States North Sea Mine Force laid 100,000 underwater mines to drive U-Boats out of Atlantic merchant shipping lanes. Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss, flagship USS Black Hawk, was in command of the operation, which destroyed 6 U-Boats for certain with 2 more probables. This mine field, the lowest ever laid in Naval history to that point, served to discourage U-Boats from the area and made the merchant lanes safer than they had been before America’s entry into the war.

FOR THE TOP FOUR FORGOTTEN WARS IN AMERICA’S HISTORY CLICK HERE:  https://glitternight.com/2013/05/21/the-top-four-forgotten-conflicts-in-american-history-2/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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