1918 | April 20

Destruction of Submarine Devices

As the new chaser fleet headed overseas to hunt U-boats, the posibility of capture by the enemy had to be considered. On 20 April, 1918, the chaser commanding officers received written instructions titled, "Prevention of Submarine Devices falling into the hands of the enemy."

In the event that capture by the enemy should be imminent, everyone on board from the CO to the ship's cook had orders to participate in destroying the secret devices and documents on the chaser. For example, the commanding officer's duty was to destroy all confidential books, papers, and instructions, either by throwing the entire locker overboard, or by putting all the documents into a weighted canvas bag and throwing that overboard. The exective officer was responsible for tearing out the radio telephone and throwing it overboard. Crewman had assignments from cutting the K-tube lines to discarding the breech block of the Y-gun. The cook, who would be at the stern anyway, was assigned the task of destroying the trailing wire—by breaking it up with the tiller, if necessary. Listeners below decks were to detach the listening tubes and allow them to slide through the bottom of the boat.

Several days later, an addendum was circulated, indicating that "the dismantling of the vessels must never be begun until the specific orders to that effect have been given by the Commanding Officer, who will be the sole judge as to the necessity of giving such an order." No over-excited cook was to start hacking at the trailing wire with the tiller at the first sight of a submarine.

Hunters of the Steel Sharks: The Submarine Chasers of WWI

Hunters of the Steel Sharks: The Submarine Chasers of WWI
Woofenden, 2006. Softcover, 224 pages. $23.95. Available on Amazon.com

In 1918, a war time fleet of 303 U.S. submarine chasers formed a new offensive against the enemy, armed with depth charges, deck guns and an array of new, top secret submarine detection and pursuit devices.

These miniature wooden war ships, the smallest commissioned vessels in the American navy, were the first major deployment mechanism for early antisubmarine warfare equipment, and were remarkable in their capabilities and service: Chasers crossed the Atlantic Ocean on their own power; performed submarine hunts and attacks from bases in Plymouth, Queenstown (Cobh) and Corfu; assisted with post-war diplomacy along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea; helped facilitate troop evacuation in northern Russia; and participated in the clearing of the North Sea mine barrage.

This is the history of the submarine chasers of the Great War, extensively illustrated with period photographs and diagrams, and rich with personal anecdotes, an up-close account of the early days of ASW based on rare, unpublished documents.