Random Recollections
by FQC Gardner

Copyright, all rights reserved


There are a couple of other incidents involving German submarines that I recall from World War I. One of these I shall call


In 1915 or 1916 I had occasion to visit many times the E. W. Bliss Co. plant in Brooklyn in connection with the manufacture for the Torpedo Depot of 20 submergence controllable mines for test to determine their suitability for use at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.

The Bliss Company manufactured torpedoes and much other equipment for the American and British Navies, and there were several British Reserve Naval officers on duty at the plant as Inspectors of Ordnance. One of these, with whom I became acquainted, told me of one of his experiences while serving as 1st Officer on a Naval Destroyer engaged in doing experimental work and operating in the vicinity of one of the large British ports.

The ship had gone out of the harbor early in the morning, and the crew had been hard at work all day in a mixture of cold rain and fog. On its way back into the harbor, in the late afternoon, they passed by a big peg top navigation buoy anchored outside the harbor entrance. As they passed it the Captain looked at it casually and then examined it carefully. He turned his ship about and, returning to the buoy, he ordered two of his divers to put on their diving suits, in which they had been working all day.

He then directed them to go down the mooring chain of the buoy and to report if they found anything out of the ordinary that would account for the buoy's being so low in the water.

The two men, who were anxious to get home to a warm fire and a good supper, were not very enthusiastic about the Captain's orders, but they, of course, complied with them. In a short time they came up, and, on boarding the Destroyer, they reported that, much to their surprise, they had found a large gasoline drum shackled to the mooring chain. The Captain sent them down again, and had them bend a line from the deck onto the drum, which he then had brought onto the deck. Upon opening it it was found to contain high grade gasoline of the type used by German submarines. The Captain had the contents of the drum emptied into his own gasoline tank.

It was obvious to all aboard that the captured drum explained how it had been possible for a German submarine to operate practically continuously in the approaches to the harbor and to sink a large number of ships entering or leaving the harbor, the drum being taken aboard the submarine and being then emptied and replaced on the mooring chain to await replacement, at a suitable time, by a filled tank attached by another submarine.

The members of the crew were much interested in the operation, and were preparing to take the drum back to the dock with them.

To their surprise, however, the Captain ordered the drum filled with salt water, and then had the divers reattach it to the mooring chain.

The Captain, an old merchant seaman, had been working out of the harbor for many years and was very familiar with its conditions of tide, current, etc. He had noticed that the peg top buoy was much lower in the water in the late afternoon than it had been in the early morning when he went out, although the current observed in the afternoon was much less than it had been in the morning.

I should be very glad if I could tell you just what happened when the German submarine tried to use the salt water for gasoline. My friend could only tell me that it desisted entirely from its depredations

The action of the Captain in emptying the captured gasoline drum into his own tank was perhaps a normal one. His action in filling it with salt water and then replacing it in its original place was a finishing touch which, in my opinion, went to prove that the British do have a sense of humor -- or of something like humor.

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