Chapter XI: Armistice
The barrage was very mild after Durazzo and time dragged most heavily, as subs. were seldom heard and more seldom seen.
At length rumors were rife that Austria had followed Bulgaria in asking an armistice, and when word was received November 5th that she had given up the fight, there was great rejoicing. The news was first received by wireless on the mother ship, which sent out the following signal to the chasers: "Armistice has been signed between the Allies and Austria-Hungary. Do not sink any more enemy submarines." This signal sounded as though it had been our custom when in a bad mood to run out in the straits before breakfast, sink a couple of subs., then come back and eat. It was a beautifully worded message, and gave a most fitting finish to our Adriatic endeavors. With the receipt of this signal all chasers and the Leonidas blew their whistles until air was exhausted. Few lunched that day as all cooks were up on deck rejoicing with the rest of the crew. Armistice night we had a glorious shore liberty in Corfu, where we met some of the Jugo-Slavs who had come down under the white flag to arrange surrender details. These men were representatives of that faction of the Austrian navy which, being Slavic, had mutinied and succeeded in destroying the efficiency of the Dual Monarchy's sea forces.
The day after the news of the armistice with Austria was received a national salute was given to the French fleet which was in the harbor of Corfu. Twenty-one chasers in column formation wound its way among the anchored ships, and on passing the flagship each fired the propulsion charge of its Y gun. Grease was put in each barrel of the gun to make smoke rings. It was a very novel though not noisy way of acknowledging respect for our Allies. The French replied in customary fashion, and we heard played for the first time since we had come to Corfu, for we had had no time during the war to make up a band, the glorious old Star-Spangled Banner.
I had been relieved of command of 128 and made executive officer of the 215, which was the flagship of Unit B and under command of Lieutenant Ott. It now became my duty to receive, and try to be pleasant to, all the officials who honored us with visits of investigation for information and just idle curiosity. Of course, all the Americans came to give us their best wishes and congratulations, and the natives and foreigners as well, who were there, treated us handsomely and with a great deal of respect. It was not strange nor infrequent to see an ensign hobnobbing with a naval officer of many stripes.
It was now rumored that we would proceed to England since Germany was still game. The chasers were made ready for sea and preparations for abandoning our base were begun. On November 11th came word that Germany too had signed the armistice. [See Note 1]
The chasers being the only ships under the American flag in the Adriatic it was thought necessary to send them into every port of any importance. At the signing of the armistice the Italians sent ships and men all along the eastern coast of the Adriatic. The Jugo-Slavs were resentful at this landing of troops and there were frequent outbreaks of hostility, for they were aware of the rumored treaty between England, France, and Italy to give Italy the Dalmatian Islands and other desired portions of the eastern coast of the Adriatic as compensation for entering the war on the side of the Allies.
Since the Jugo's were basing their hopes for their future on President Wilson's idea of self-determination, the presence of the American flag even though on a 110-footer was able to quiet things down.
Three chasers entered the harbor of Roga Znica at night shortly after the armistice. The channel being tortuous and unmarked, considerable attention was attracted by their searchlights and the noise of their engines. On approaching the wharf it was found the townspeople had assembled there in an attitude of antagonism. When lines were put ashore they were immediately thrown off, and even guns were pointed at the boats, till suddenly a searchlight discovered to the townsfolk the American flag; at once, the attitude of the people changed. Their welcome equaled their former displeasure. A torchlight procession was formed and the officers were escorted through the town walking between the Mayor and Chief Priest. Two small boys preceded them bearing torches with the townsfolk following. The women leaned from the windows and threw flowers on them. The choicest wine cellars were opened for their benefit and a most royal welcome was given. The first unwelcome exhibition was explained to the Americans by their boats being taken for Italian.
After leaving Corfu the main body of chasers and the Leonidas went to Catarro as temporary base. This is a very beautiful harbor half way up the east side of the Adriatic. There are three immense harbors one behind the other and protected from the sea by high mountains that leave but a narrow entrance to the first of these. At Catarro are enormous submarine machine shops. The chasers made for these the first chance they got and loaded up with tools both useful and useless. There were many souvenirs to be gotten, such as pistols, rifles, and other army and navy equipment, for much had been abandoned by the Germans at the signing of the armistice. Horses were running about with no one to claim them and these were about the only souvenirs the chaser men did not take.
The navy predisposition to take everything not fastened down, whether useful or not, became rampant. The S. C. 130 seems to have been the first boat to discover the largest machine shop and ammunition depot of the Germans in the harbor. On tying up to the wharf Jugo-Slav soldiers were seen on guard. A scholar of the black gang force went ashore to try out the German he had learnt ten years before at the Podunk high school. We were all watching from the chaser and saw him wander up to the guard and offer him a cigarette and a light. He held a few minutes' conversation apparently in the sign language, then pulling three or four cigarettes from his pocket he gave them to him. The guard, taking these, immediately unbuckled his ammunition belt and handed it to the sailor together with his rifle, then sauntered off, while the machinist brought back to the chaser his trophies of war, to the great interest of all. This performance was encouragement enough. The Jugo-Slav officer in charge was invited aboard for lunch, where he had sugar, coffee, potatoes, and white bread and butter for the first time in three years he said. It was a very short time before all the crazy wild men on the boat started out for souvenirs.
The officer, to show his appreciation for our supplying him with the first square meal since the beginning of the war, not only gave our men free access to everything on the base, but judging from the captain's sign language that he desired a gun larger than a rifle, sent five of his men over a nearby hill for it. Soon these men reappeared dragging a field piece with mount and fittings big enough to sink the chaser. They seemed much disappointed that this cannon would not do and hurried off and brought back a number of machine guns, which were gladly accepted The officers now had to keep careful watch that the enthusiastic sailormen as souvenir hunters did not sneak on board with loaded hand grenades, for there were plenty of them lying about. When officers of the new state would come aboard it was the custom to exchange little gifts as proof of good feeling. They would give us swords, pistols, or the iron crosses that were issued by the Emperor Charles, and the Americans in return would present them with pictures of New York or, what was most cherished by these Jugo-Slavs, photographs of President Wilson. The Wilson electioneering buttons were most sought after. The Reserve officers, now that the uniform was changed, would give the discarded collar insignia of the force; these the Jugo-Slav officers would proudly sew on the lapels of their coats and then parade through the town with their new decoration.
All the boats drew a good two feet more water when they left with their spoils. Jugo-Slavs had taken over the big Austrian battleships, and it was very pleasant to go aboard these for dinner, as the supply of food on the ships was really larger than our own. Since we had been away from the shipping lanes our food variety had been small. The poverty of the inhabitants on shore was pitiful, however. In many cases a family of five or six, children and old people, as the young men had been forced to war, would own but a single chicken. They would have a small and poor-looking garden and they themselves were dressed in the scantest of old garments.
From Catarro we went to Spalato, Dalmatia, which is famous for its maraschino. This town had not felt to a big extent the more cruel side of the war. It is back from the main coast line, and is principally a trade port. Here I had the good fortune to attend the first concert ever held there at which the Jugo-Slavs were allowed to use their own language throughout. It seems incredible that in this enlightened age such a ban should have been put on so harmless a thing. The audience was of course Slavic, and was very well dressed. The evening dress of the women made one think of New York's theater district, but to hear their talk one thought of Ellis Island.
In the harbor were two battleships, Zerini and Radetsky, which we had taken over, and tried to man with men from our base at Corfu. Many amusing incidents occurred, as a large part of both men and officers had never been on a big ship before.
__________Subchaser.org Editor’s Notes:__________
Note 1: Photos from this period, including a shot of the chasers celebrating in Corfu may be found in the Chasers section.