First Experience of Our Navy with the German U-Boat—Arrival of Captain Hans Rose and the U-53 at Newport—Experiences of the German Sailors in an American Port—Destruction of Merchantman by U-53 off Nantucket—Our Destroyers to the Rescue—Scenes in Newport—German Rejoicing—The Navy Prepares for War
How many of us who love the sea and have followed it to greater or less extent in the way of business or pleasure have in the past echoed those famous lines of Rudyard Kipling:
"'Good-bye Romance!' the skipper said.
He vanished with the coal we burn."
And how often since the setting in of the grim years beginning with August of 1914 have we had occasion to appreciate the fact that of all the romance of the past ages the like to that which has been spread upon the pages of history in the past four years was never written nor imagined. Week after week there has come to us from out the veil of the maritime spaces incidents dramatic, mysterious, romantic, tragic, hideous.
Great transatlantic greyhounds whose names evoke so many memories of holiday jaunts across the great ocean slip out of port and are seen no more of men. Vessels arrive at the ports of the seven seas with tales of wanton murder, of hairbreadth escapes. Boat crews drift for days at the mercy of the seas and are finally rescued or perish man by man. The square-rigged ship once more rears its towering masts and yards above the funnels of merchant shipping; schooners brave the deep seas which never before dared leave the coastwise zones; and the sands of the West Indies have been robbed of abandoned hulks to the end that the diminishing craft of the seas be replaced. And with all there are stories of gallantry, of sea rescues, of moving incidents wherein there is nothing but good to tell of the human animal. Would that it were all so. But it is not. The ruthlessness of the German rears itself like a sordid shadow against the background of Anglo-Saxon and Latin gallantry and heroism—a diminishing shadow, thank God, and thank, also, the navy of Great Britain and of the United States.
For more than two years and a half of sea tragedy the men of our navy played the part of lookers-on. Closely following the sequence of events with the interest of men of science, there was a variety of opinion as to the desirability of our playing a part in the epic struggle on the salt water. There were officers who considered that we were well out of it; there were more who felt that our part in the struggle which the Allied nations were waging should be borne without delay. But whatever existed in the way of opinion there was no lack of unanimity in the minute study which our commissioned officers gave to the problems in naval warfare and related interests which were constantly arising in European waters.
It was not, however, until October of 1916 that the American Navy came into very close relationship with the submarine activities of the German Admiralty. The morning of October 7 of that year was one of those days for which Newport is famous—a tangy breeze sweeping over the gorse-clad cliffs and dunes that mark the environment of Bateman's Point the old yellow light-ship which keeps watch and ward over the Brenton reefs rising and falling on a cobalt sea. From out of the seaward mists there came shortly before ten o'clock a low-lying craft which was instantly picked out by the men of the light-ship as a submarine, an American submarine. There is a station for them in Newport Harbor, and submersible boats of our navy are to be found there at all times.
But as the men watched they picked up on the staff at the stern of the incoming craft the Royal German ensign. A German submarine! Be assured that enough interest in German craft of the sort had been aroused in the two years and eight months of war to insure the visitor that welcome which is born of intense interest. The submarine, the U-53, held over toward Beaver Tail and then swung into the narrow harbor entrance, finally coming to anchor off Goat Island....