The Great War Part 108, September 9th 1916

War Work o f the Mercantile Marine 199 PLEASURE YACHTS ON SECRET SERVICE. Much work of a serious kind was done for the Admiralty by little sailing yachts once attractive features of summer-time regattas. for its protection against mines and submarines. Rudyard Kipling once put into his inimitable verse the forecast that when the time came for the British Empire to reassert its claim to the dominion of the seas our great liners would be ordered to preserve themselves in the security of safe harbours while the Navy would have to “up and fight ”for the cargo-boats upon whose coming and going we depend for our daily bread. The liner never for a moment succumbed to the stay-at-hom e idea. Those that did not put on war-paint in one shade or another were called Upon to redouble their energies in the carrier service on the high seas and if here and thereon the map of the world the Royal Navy was called upon to settle an account with the enem yon behalf of the “little cargo-boats,” the debt was surely repaid a thousandfold. W e have it on the authority of Mr. Balfour that when war came there was not a single harbour on the East Coast of Great Britain where the Grand Fleet could lie in safety from submarine attack. It was a defect Lack of East Coast that was quickly remedied in various harbours ways with which Germany doubtless be­came familiar as speedily but from the very first day of the war the Fleet found itself most severely handicapped not only b they absence of protected harbours, but b they serious lack of small craft capable of countering the only methods b y which Germany was able to carry on the war in the North Sea. Our enemy showed his hand very clearly on the first day of hostilities when the disguised mine-layer Konigin Luise was discovered pitching mines over her stern within a relatively short distance of the East Coast. B they indiscriminate scattering of loose mines and the surreptitious laying of anchored infields areas likely to be traversed b your warships a great part of the North Sea was rendered altogether too perilous for our heavy vessels toe ten rand when at the end of three months of war our losses through mine and submarine in the North Sea alone had run up to ten ships with a death-roll of close Upon 2500 there were many who felt that we were confronted with a state of affairs which might conceivably bring disaster in its train. But the men who man the smallest of our “little cargo- boats ”—the hard incomparable fishermen of the English and Scottish coasts— were already getting the situation well in hand. A few years before the outbreak of war Lieutenant (afterwards Captain) Donald Munro— himself an ex-merchant service officer— had laid before the Admiralty a plan for utilising steam-trawlers for dealing with the menace of the mine which he could see was bound to arise in the event of a war with Germany. Lord Beresford, then in command of the Channel Fleet was ordered to carryout the Jessary tests% and he reported on the scheme most favourably. A few trawlers were bought and attached to the Fleet and a number of old gunboats adapted as mine-sweepers and in 1911 a special branch of the Royal Naval Reserve was formed with the object of putting at the disposal of the Admiralty in time of war a large body of seamen inured to the handling of small craft in all sorts of weather and in particular, expert to the last degree in everything Great rally of that appertains to the handling of nets fishermen and the trawling up of submerged objects. The Trawler Section of the Royal Naval Reserve was not a great success to begin with and in the three and a half years from its establishment at the beginning of 1911, to the outbreak of war only one hundred and eleven “skippers ”enrolled themselves but whatever may have kept them back it Was certainly not lack of patriotism, for with the first blast of war the crews of the fishing fleets all round the coast began to roll up to the naval recruiting offices in their hundreds. The Admiralty hired or purchased the trawlers and drifters from their owners they parcelled off the North Sea into areas and to each area they allotted a division or a group of these little patrol craft to trawl up the lurking mine and ensnare the elusive submarine. In the whole theatre of naval warfare there was none in which monotony was so subtly combined with ever-present danger. The light draught of the trawlers enabled them to steam in safety over the average mine-field but their MINE-SWEEPERS “AD AMIR L"IN TH EVAN. Flotillas of mine-sweepers were led by ”an “admiral the ship carrying the officer in charge usually a lieutenant of the Royal Navy.
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