Random Recollections
by FQC Gardner

Copyright, all rights reserved


This Depot was responsible for the design, procurement and supply of all Submarine Mine equipment and supplies to the Submarine Mine Service (which, as I remember it, consisted then of about 150 Companies). I held this dual assignment for two years. During this time I devoted my time until noon to my Mine Company, and the time from then until midnight to my Torpedo Depot work. It was necessary for me to visit a number of factories to inspect mine materiel under manufacture, and, under the provisions of the law it was possible for me to do this only by taking leave of absence and by paying my own traveling expenses -- which I gladly did in order to gain the experience.

During the time I commanded a Company at Totten, Captain P. P. Bishop (who had recently been married to Grace Calvert, of Portland, Maine) also commended a Company there. He and I regularly walked twelve or fifteen miles each Sunday. Once a week the three of us would go to New York for dinner and a show. He and I alternated as host, and the host was supposed to select a place to dine that we had never previously dined at, and not to order any main dishes that we had ever had before.

Upon completion of my two years' tour of duty with the 135th Company (my first command, and the one I enjoyed most) I was relieved from assignment thereto, and for the next three years I devoted full time to the Torpedo Depot. (I might inject here that the word Torpedo, in the title, was derived from the fact that, under the Engineers, who had charge of all submarine mine work until about 1904, when this was transferred to the Coast Artillery, submarine mines were known as torpedos).

Among the projects that came up while I was in charge of the Torpedo Depot I recall the following:

(1). Redesign. The redesign of practically all submarine equipment, including power panels, operating boards, mine transformers, mine cases, mine planter equipment (davits, catheads, snatch blocks, grapnels, etc.)

(2). Specifications. Practically no specifications had ever been prepared at the Depot for the numerous items of tools, paints and oils, for mine cases, planting equipment, power panels, operating boards, transformers, casemate generator, storage batteries and other casemate equipment. Such specifications, based upon a study of Navy, Army and other standard specifications, where applicable, and upon many conferences with the manufacturers concerned, were prepared.

(3). 19 conductor cable. While I was on duty in the Chief's office I discovered that most of the 19 conductor cable supplied to the Philippines for the mine project in Manila Bay had, within two years, become unserviceable. I began a study of the design of submarine cable which continued during the five years I remained at the Depot, and which involved my spending much time in practically every factory in the country making such cables. I went to Washington and enlisted the cooperation of Dr. Stratton, Chief of the Bureau of Standards, in determining the cause of the deterioration of the 19 conductor cable in the Philippines. We had two reels shipped back to this country, one of which was sent to the Bureau of Standards and the other to the cable manufacturer (The Safety Insulated Wire and Cable Company, Bayonne, N.J.). The cables were cut in 100 foot lengths and each length was subjected to every chemical, physical and electrical test we could devise. They were illuminating. They indicated that the deterioration of the rubber compound had been due to two causes: to the solvent action of the tar (due to the creosote it contained) with which the jute filler (the bedding between the armor wire and the conductors) had always been saturated; and to the deformation of the insulation of the individual conductors due to the radial compression resulting from the application of the armor wire. Accurate tests made, for the first time, of all the submarine cable in the service, made it become apparent that, irrespective of climatic and other local conditions, this cable had undergone a rapid and serious deterioration throughout the service. Steps were taken, in cooperation with the Bureau of Standards, to prepare new specifications, in consultation with the experts of the various cable manufacturers, which would embody all the lessons learned in the tests and studies made during the previous four years, and which would be agreed to by all as representing the highest standards in the manufacture of 19 conductor cable attainable. These new specifications were issued early in 1917, and a considerable amount of new cable was ordered.

It was a great disappointment to all concerned that this cable also deteriorated in storage. It became apparent that, in spite of all the precautions taken to minimize the distortion of the conductor insulation (jute spirals had been laid in the interstices between adjacent conductors to fill up this space) it was not practicable to make a 19 conductor cable with only 1/16 inch of insulation without compressing this insulation at spots to such an extent as to ground the conductor. Since the thickness of the insulation could not be increased without increasing the outside diameter of the cable to such a point as to reduce materially the length of the cable that could be placed on the maximum sized reel that could be handled on the planter, I very reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that, due solely to the impracticability of manufacturing a reliable 19 conductor cable, our mine system, which otherwise was the most reliable in the world, would have to be completely redeveloped to permit a group (of 19 mines) to be tested, controlled and fired over one single conductor cable (which could have sufficiently thick insulation to make it very durable and reliable), using, in general, the principles and methods employed in automatic telephony.

(4). Single conductor mine system. Through the cooperation of the Bureau of Standards, I was able to secure the full and invaluable cooperation of Dr. Jewett, the head of the Western Electric (AT&T) Research Laboratories, one of the outstanding scientists in the country, in the study of the problems involved. After some months of intensive study and experimentation, it was decided that the project was practical, and the equipment for one group was manufactured and sent to Fort Mills (Corregidor) for test. (Note. I left the Depot shortly after this. The development work was carried on by my successors at the Depot, using, however, equipment secured from another manufacturer, and the one-wire system replaced entirely the old 19 conductor system. It was used with remarkable success in World War II.)

(5) The Mine Planter Graham. In 1915 the Chief of Coast Artillery considered it essential that a new mine planter and also a new cable ship be provided for the Coast Artillery. Funds were available, however, for only one vessel. The Quartermaster General (who was responsible for the design and purchase of all ships and boats for the Army) was requested, by the Chief of Coast Artillery, to design one vessel that would serve as a combined mine planter and cable ship. The QMG, after considerable discussion, finally stated that it would not be practicable to design one vessel that would serve both purposes satisfactorily. The office of the Chief of Coast Artillery (Colonel R. P. Davis, Executive) bundled all the papers up and sent them to me with instructions to design a combined mine planter and cable ship. While I had had occasion to design mine planting equipment for a mine planter, I had never been on a cable ship, and I knew nothing about ship design.

I spent some months studying the problem, during which time I conferred with Naval Constructors in the Navy Department and with the various manufacturers of winches, windlasses and similar equipment and with the officers of the Signal Corps Cable Ship "Joseph Henry" and of the Western Union Cable Ship "Western Union", both of which I visited and examined in detail.

As I knew nothing about the design of the shape and dimensions of the hull, I went to the office of the Chief of Coast Artillery, examined the Classification Cards of all 2nd Lieutenants, and finally found one pertaining to a Lieutenant K. T. Blood, who had graduated with credit from the Naval Architecture course at M. I. T. I had him assigned to the Depot as my Assistant. (He later commanded the Depot and he became a Major General in World War II.)

The composite design was effected by doing away with the forepeak used on all cable ships and employing a Torpedo Boat type windlass, thus leaving the rails forward and the deck clear for mine work. This vessel, which was built in 1916, was named the "Graham" and remained in effective use as long as the submarine mine service existed -- although a number of similar vessels in which the design had been changed somewhat were put out of service before that time.

Having gotten into the business of designing boats, we next designed a nonsinkable 24 foot power mine yawl, which replaced the old rowboats previously used in all mine companies, and later we redesigned the Distribution Box boat and its equipment. I was amused one day, when I was in the office of the Quartermaster General, to have a Naval Constructor from the Navy Department come in and say that the Navy was in a hurry to procure 50 power boats for harbor work, and that he wanted to get copies of our specifications for power yawls, as they were exactly what they wanted. I never knew of another instance of the Navy's using an Army specification for boats for its own use.

(6) Experimental work in the Race. In August and September, 1915, I spent two months on a Mine Planter, conducting experimental work in the Race (eastern entrance to Long Island Sound) where the depth was 40 fathoms and the current at times was 6 knots. This work, which was most interesting, was for the following purposes:

(a) To secure data to enable a new automatic anchor to be designed. The then existing automatic anchor (Model of 1910) weighed but 1350 pounds. It had proved to be too unreliable in its action to warrant its use. We had, furthermore, increased the size of the mine cases and the weight of the explosive charge, and this necessitated the use of an automatic anchor weighing about 3000 pounds.

The experimental work involved the design and use, under the difficult conditions of current and depth existing in the Race, of delicate laboratory apparatus designed to secure, during the planting of a large number of mines, and anchors, accurate data, at every two foot interval in the descent, as to the velocity of the anchor, the tension on the distance line and the tension on the mooring rope. These tests showed conclusively that the unreliability of the 1910 anchor resulted from the fact that it tumbled about in its descent, instead of maintaining a constant vertical axis. They also showed, somewhat to my surprise, that a 1910 anchor attained a vertical velocity of about 15 feet per second within the first ten feet of its descent, and that this velocity remained constant throughout the remainder of its descent, irrespective of the depth.

The data secured in these tests enabled us to design and procure the 3000 pound, Model 1916 Automatic Anchors in time for them to be used throughout the service by the beginning of World War I.

(b) To secure accurate data as to the actual submergence of one of the largest mines when planted in the Race. This data was obtained by designing a continuous-recording pressure (submergence) gauge that was attached to a No. 50 mine case which was then planted in 40 fathoms of water. These tests showed conclusively that this case (the largest then in use), under service conditions in the Race, would have a depression of not less at any time than 20 feet, and of from 75 to 120 feet for current velocities of from 3 to 5 1/2 knots. These tests established the fact that Buoyant Mines could not be used effectively in the Race or in Admiralty Inlet (entrance to Puget Sound), and led to the abandonment of the submarine mine defenses of these two localities.

(c). To derive, if possible, an accurate Formula for computing the probable submergence of a mine under hydrographic conditions similar to those obtaining in the Race.

The formula deduced by General Abbott, one of the most remarkable officers in Army history (He developed the original submarine mine system in about 1872. His "Professional Papers No. 23, Corps of Engineers" is a military classic. He also invented the Pressure Gauge, established the first formula for determining the effects of subaqueous explosions, and first proposed the use of mortars for coast defense weapons. When over 80 years old he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as Chairman of the Board of experts to decide whether the Panama Canal should be a sea level canal or a lock canal) was based upon the assumption that the current velocity at all depths is practically the same as at the surface. In our tests simultaneous tests were taken on three Gurley Current Meters suspended in tandem at different depths. These tests demonstrated conclusively that this assumption, (or any other assumption as to a definite relationship between depth and velocity) and hence any formula based upon it, is necessarily incorrect for localities like the Race. We observed that, in the Race, a velocity of (say) 3 knots on the surface in one direction would correspond to a velocity of a quite different amount in an entirely different direction, at a different depth below the surface, and that the relationship between the two readings would differ materially from day to day.

(d). To test the "Leon Mine". (A submergence controllable mine developed by the Depot, on the basis of patents of Captain Leon, of the Swedish Navy.) to determine its practicability for use at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal and in the Race. These tests demonstrated the impracticability of the use of such a type mine where the depths and currents were similar to those existing in the Race.

I recall one matter, during the time I was at the Depot, which later assumed some importance. About a year before I became Disbursing Officer, as a result of extensive tests conducted by the Coast Artillery Board, it had been decided to adopt TNT (then a newly developed explosive) to replace guncotton as the explosive for submarine mines. It was not then manufactured in the United States. However the DuPont Company took a contract to make it for the Torpedo Depot. Upon my arrival I found that no deliveries had as yet been made and that considerable liquidated damages had, under the contract, accrued against the Company. They stated that they had had several accidents, involving the loss of several lives, that they had been unable to develop a safe manufacturing procedure, and they requested that, on humanitarian grounds, the contract be cancelled and the liquidated damages be waived. After much correspondence, I declined to agree to this, and they then appealed to the Secretary of War. The matter was referred to Gen. Crozier, the Chief of Ordnance (Ordnance Department procedure was followed in Torpedo Depot contracts) and I was ordered to Washington for a conference with him. He was disposed to recommend to the Secretary of War that action be taken as desired by the DuPont Company. During the considerable period of correspondence between the Company and myself I had managed to place an order for a considerable amount of TNT with a German manufacturer and this TNT had been received and found, by tests made in the Ordnance Department Laboratories, to be of the very highest quality. I took the position that it was essential, in the interests of National Defense, that TNT be made in this country and that if the Germans were able to make it safely and cheaply in large quantities the DuPont Company should be able to do so, that it behooved them to develop a satisfactory procedure, and that they should be held to their contract (although probably at considerable loss to them). After much discussion Gen. Crozier accepted that view. The DuPont Company strongly resented my "unreasonable" attitude, but they were forced to make such improvements in their manufacturing procedure as made it a safe and satisfactory process for the manufacture of TNT in large quantities, and, after a long delay, they eventually completed their order satisfactorily.

Within about a year World War I broke out. While it was necessary for DuPont to build new plants, by the end of the war these plants were producing over forty million pounds of TNT per month for the Allies. I have an idea that, had it not been for my "unreasonable" attitude, this important contribution to the Allied cause probably could not have been made in time to become fully effective. However, I never had occasion to discuss this aspect of the matter with the DuPont Company.

I recall one experience, during this period, that may interest you on account of its melodramatic possibilities.

One day shortly before we entered the war there came into my office a man of about forty, with heavy black hair, and an olive complexion, expensively but flashily dressed, with no particular accent. He introduced himself, in not particularly grammatical English, spoken with no particular accent, as Mr. J. Muller (I do not now recall the name he actually used, but this will do) and said he had been referred to me by the office of the Secretary of War, upon whom he had called to offer, as a contribution to the National security, plans for a new type submarine mine. He then told me, in some detail, his history, that he was a Swiss; that his family was an old and prominent one, his father having been President of the Swiss Republic; that he had been a Captain in the Engineers of the Swiss Army, and had, among other things, been in charge of installing a system of mines in the Simplon tunnel to destroy it if need be in time of war; that he had, for four years, been the Swiss military attache in Washington; that he had later resigned his commission in the Army, had gone to Mexico, had become the trusted advisor of President Diaz and had been in charge of the procurement of all the arms and equipment for the Mexican army; that upon the fall of the Diaz government in 1911 he had been arrested with several of his associates, had been lined up and ostensibly shot; that, by intrigue he had escaped being killed, another body having been substituted for his; that he had finally escaped on a tramp steamer and had come to the United States; and that he had the greatest admiration for the United States, had become a naturalized citizen, and desired, in every way possible, to help strengthen the defenses of this country. He showed me a number of newspaper clippings recounting his capture and execution.

I told him that I would be very glad to examine the plans for his mine, which, he said, was of the same type as those installed in the Simplon tunnel. Some days later he visited me again, but without the plans, which, he said, were being made up by a draftsman. He was much interested in the details of our mine system and he asked me many questions about it. I told him that they were electrically controlled, but that I regretted that I could not give him any further details. Eventually he brought out his drawings. The mine was of a simple type. To my surprise, however, it was controlled by air pressure, a separate lead pipe being required to connect each mine with the shore. He said this was the method of control that was used, most satisfactorily, in the Simplon tunnel. It was so obviously a totally impracticable system for use for submarine mines that I marvelled that a trained Engineer should seriously propose it. Upon discussing his drawing with him I was puzzled at his apparent ignorance of some rather elementary principles, but I made several suggestions as to how I thought his design might be improved. A few days later he reappeared with new drawings embodying all the suggestions I had made. I told him definitely that his mine was not adapted to our use.

Several weeks later he returned, told me that he had made a contract with the German Government to supply it with a large number of his mines, that he was preparing to build a large plant in New Jersey to manufacture them, and that he wanted me to resign from the Army and take charge of his plant, that he expected to make about a million dollars; and that I could name my own salary and terms. I explained to him that I had been educated at West Point at government expense, that I had spent many years as an Army officer, and that, particularly in view of the fact that war had broken out, I could not consider resigning from the Army on any terms. He urged me at least to visit his home and look over the plans for his factory. The plans were very sketchy and obviously had not been prepared by competent engineers. I met his wife, who was a tall, angular, uncommunicative person, of apparently a very limited education. They showed me several large family albums, with pictures of their ancestral palace, and cordially invited me to visit it if I was ever in Switzerland.

Later he came to me, said the German government was much interested in securing some of his mines at an early date, and that Captain Boy Ed, the German Military Attache, (also, as was found out later, the head of the German espionage and sabotage organization in this country) was anxious to arrange a conference with him. He urged me to accompany him to a secret meeting place, at night, in a very disreputable part of New York City, in order to meet Boy Ed. I had no desire or intention of meeting Boy Ed, and I decided that the time had come to drop Mr. Muller from my list of acquaintances.

A few months later I learned his real history. There had been a Captain Muller, who had been and done everything I had been told, with the exception that, as a matter of fact, he had been killed as had been recounted in the newspaper clippings I had seen. My Mr. Muller had been his valet and his wife had been a maid in the house. Upon the death of his master he had assumed his name, appropriated all his papers and personal effects, and embarked on a career of -- I have never been sure of what.

About this time I had another little experience that now comes to mind. I had had occasion to go to the Babcock and Wilcox Boiler plant at Bayonne, New Jersey, to confer with Mr. J. P. Snedden, the General Manager, with reference to the best method of welding a new design of mine case. I found him to be a very attractive man and a thoroughly competent engineer. It developed that he had a son at M. I. T. and he asked me many questions about M. I. T. He was greatly worried about how much of an allowance he should give his son. He explained that as a poor boy he had never had any money, that he was all wrapped up in his son's future, that he was able to give him any reasonable allowance and that he wished my advice as to what would be best for the son. He discussed this and other matters on several later trips that I made to the plant, and we became quite good friends.

One afternoon he called me on long distance and asked me to join him for dinner at the Engineer's Club in New York that evening, saying that he wished to discuss with me a matter of urgent importance, which he could not discuss over the telephone. I joined him and during our dinner (in a private dining room) he told me what was on his mind. He said that, as a young man, he had been associated with Mr. Edward R. Stettinius, a young lawyer, in the management of the Sterling Boiler works, in the midwest; that later Mr. Stettinius had reorganized the Babcock and Wilcox Boiler Company and had brought him there to run it; that the two of them had been close friends for many years; that Mr. Stettinius was then a member of the firm of J. P. Morgan and Company, in Wall Street; that the Allied governments were preparing to place tremendous orders for guns, ammunition and explosives in the United States and had selected J. P. Morgan & Co. to take charge of all their procurements; that Mr. Stettinius had been placed in charge of all this work; that he had agreed to do so provided he was able to have Mr. Snedden as his confidential Engineering advisor; and, finally, that he wanted me to resign from the Army and become his assistant. I told him the same thing I had told Mr. Muller.

This is the only bona fide offer I have ever had to resign and accept a position, on practically my own terms, in civil life. I have, perhaps, occasionally wondered a little what might have happened -- or, perhaps what might not have happened -- if I had become associated, at that time, with the firm of J. P. Morgan & Co. However, I have never regretted my decision.

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