Chapter I: Submarine Chasers
In the early part of 1918 there were two large submarine chaser bases on our Atlantic Coast; one was at Charleston, S. C., and the other at New London, Conn.
The one-hundred-and-ten-foot boat built by private shipyards as well as in some of the largest U. S. Navy yards was the result of the next step taken in purely offensive submarine work after the seventy- and eighty-foot type of boats turned over to the Allied governments. The British contract for small eighty-foot motor launches (M.L.'s is the name they go by) was extensive, but after they had been given a fair trial, before we entered the war, the one-hundred-and-ten-footers were considered nearer the ideal. Their cost was small in comparison with the steel destroyer class, and large numbers could be put out in a short time, owing to the fact that almost any private pleasure-boat concern could accommodate them on their ways.
The United States submarine chasers are wooden vessels, 110 feet long, supported by steel bulkheads and one fore and aft steel beam. Starting from the bow aft, they are divided into a forepeak used as a paint locker and stowage space for lines and other deck gear; then comes the crew's head and forecastle, berthing twelve men, three to a side, in two tiers. Beneath the forecastle deck most chasers have built a coal bunker aft of the chain locker, and then there are two water tanks of six hundred gallons capacity. In the center of the forecastle is a folding mess table, and two thirds of the way aft a coal-fed stove which supplies a hot water heating system for the entire ship. Next to the after bulkhead is a sink and water pump with dish racks above. There is also a ventilation system run by electric fans from the engine room.
The next compartment is the magazine. Most all of the ammunition is stowed below this deck, and there are two bunks, one on each side, built for the extra war complement. Amidships are the listening devices. These are the S. C. and M. B. tubes. They are inverted T's with ears at each end of the horizontal. Sound is transmitted to these ears from the water and follow tubing to the listener, who wears a stethoscope head apparatus. When this lower part is turned perpendicularly to the bearing of the sound, the noise is transmitted binorally, of the same intensity in each ear, or centered.
Aft of this magazine comes a compartment divided into three sections by light wooden bulkheads. Forward on the starboard side is the wireless room, in which are installed the wireless telegraph and telephone and the operator's bunk; on the other side is the officers' wash room, and behind these two compartments their sleeping quarters.
A steel water-tight bulkhead separates the officers' quarters from the engine room, theoretically; actually its main use seems to be to prevent passageway. The holes drilled along the sides for engine annunciators allow streaks of light to fall on the pillows of the bunks, especially early in the morning. When under way the gas fumes come through the bulkhead as readily as they do through the deck ventilators, and it is often a question in the officers' minds whether they should not change their service records from deck to engineering duties. The engine room itself is a beautiful example of compactness. There are three main engines of 220 horse-power each, Standard make. These are started by compressed air generated by a 20 horse-power auxiliary, and stored in three metal tanks under pressure of 250 pounds. This auxiliary also drives a generator which supplies two sets of batteries of six cells each, used for lighting, telephone, and numerous other things. Bilges are pumped by the auxiliary power; also water for scrubbing down decks and in case of fire. This engine is the most overworked piece 0f machinery aboard, and being of nasty temper, becomes obstinate very often. The gasoline for these engines is supplied from tanks of 2400-gallon capacity placed under the officers' quarters.
The after magazine used for storing depth bombs comes next, in which are also two 150-gallon water tanks, followed by the engineers' or black gang quarters, and a compartment with a folding mess table, commonly designated as mess hall. There are four folding bunks in each of these last named quarters. We then have the galley, fitted with a small coal stove, sink, a couple of drawers, a small ice box and coal bunker. A wooden bulkhead separates this from the lazaret, a compartment for storing dry provisions. Lazarets are generally filled with water in this type of craft, and the wooden bulkhead acts as an admirable filter.
On the topside, or deck forward, we have the anchor davit with two anchors of 150 and 250 pounds. Also a small V-shaped breakwater two feet high. Behind this is mounted an anti-aircraft 3-inch, 23-caliber gun with open sights, elevated by wheel and worm gear, and trained by shoulder movement. If this gun were fired with all windows of the chart house closed, from the concussion an entire new set of glasses would be required. The chart house sets on a deck raised two feet. This is the commanding officer's station. In one corner he has the three engine annunciators, wireless telephone receiver, dial plotting instrument, bell to engine room, general quarters' alarm, speaking tubes fore and aft and to the bridge and crow's nest. There is also built a lighting arrangement so that he can read detailed instructions from the senior ship while operating all other contrivances, as well as giving steering directions and watching that his boat does not go astray. Amidships there is one wherry put overboard by a boom and tackle. Directly over the black gang quarters is the Y-gun, a device which, by the explosion of black powder, throws a depth bomb of 350 pounds of TNT approximately sixty yards on both sides of the ship. On the stern are three parallel bomb racks built on an angle so that the bombs resting on them can be dropped over the stern by either pulling a toggle or cutting a lashing. There are also two large drums of copper wire that can be trailed over the stern. By means of an electric attachment a bell rings in the chart house when this wire comes in contact with the metal 0f a submarine lying on the bottom.
On top of the chart house is a pelorus, arrow, searchlight, and blinker key. There is a crow's nest ten feet above this on the mast. Four separate halyards for hoists run from the bridge to the yards, making it easy to carry out complicated systems of signals.
The above described 110-foot submarine chasers began to go into commission about December, 1917, and by the end of March, 1918, a sufficient number had been equipped with the latest listening devices, wireless telephones, and Y-guns to warrant sending them to the other side. A number were turned over to the French, and by the middle of April submarine chasers began to arrive at Bermuda from both New London and Charleston.