Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
[London, after 30 December 1917]
FROM: Force Commander.
TO : Chief of Naval Operations.
SUBJECT: U.S.S. SANTEE, Torpedoed.
1. There is forwarded herewith advance information of the torpedoing of the U.S.S.SANTEE. The damages of the ship will probably require at least two months of repair as serious injury occurred to the engines.1
2. It is recommended that the general allowance, including rations, be the same as those for a destroyer.
3. It is considered that the crew of this ship should receive extra pay as allowed for diving, aviation and so forth. The men on such duty are required to constantly keep out of sight which makes their life a difficult one. As it is their mission to actually invite attack, and to submit to it in the hopes of engaging the submarine even while the ship is sinking, their duty is undoubtedly more hazardous and trying that that of other craft.
WM. S. SIMS.
SUM OF MILITARY INFORMATION IN WAR DIARIES RECEIVED Dec. 23-30.
U.S.S. SANTEE – Torpedoed – December 27.
SANTEE, (Cmdr. D.C. HANRAHAN), was torpedoed by an enemy submarine at 8-45 p.m., in Lat. 51-23 N., Long. 8-38 W. It was a cloudy moonlight night, visibility good, speed of ship 8 1.2 knots, zigzagging. Wind was northwest, sea moderate. We were en route to BantryBay, for training, having left Queenstown at 4-00 p.m.
The torpedo struck the ship on the port side, just abaft the engineroom bulkhead in #6 hold, and at a point about 6 or 8 feet below the waterline, extinguishing all lights on the ship. The engineroom watertight bulkhead was blown in on the port side, engineroom and fireroom filling immediately, water leaking into #4 hold. Hold #6 and 7 filled immediately, #4 had 18 feet of water in it when we arrived at Queenstown.
There were no injuries to the personnel, and the behavior of everyone was most excellent, all hands going to their stations when signal was given; guns and torpedoes were ready in regular drill time. There was a total absence of noise or confusion; the interior of the ship was black, lights being out, and the “Panic party” got away in fine “panicy” style.2
The lookout on the port bridge reported the following day that he saw the wake of the torpedo a short distance from the ship, apparently coming from abeam, but before he could report it the explosion took place, he immediately going to his gun station. Another man who was standing on the deck just above where the torpedo struck saw the wake of the torpedo a short distance from the ship, and coming from a direction one or two points abaft the beam. He was knocked down by the explosion, but not injured, and went immediately to his gun station. At the time of the torpedoing there was a lookout on each end of the bridge, and a lookout aft. The officer of the deck, quartermaster and helmsman, were the other people on the bridge, at the time. The ship had changed course 15° (zigzag) five minutes before being struck.
I immediately sent the crew to the stationsand called away “panic party” to abandon ship. The port after lifeboats was destroyed by the explosion, the panic party leaving in the other three boats, in charge of Ensign (T) A.D.WARWICK, and Pay Clerk J.P. KILLEEN, and took their prearranged stations on our port quarters. Close aboard, Ensign WARWICK taking station with his boat about 400 yards on the starboard beam, where he remained.
We remained at stations at the guns for over five hours, keeping a lookout all around for a sight of the submarine. Visibility was so good that we could have seen a periscope four hundred yards to windward, and about 600 yards to leeward. The submarine was not sighted by anybody. After 2 1.2 hours waiting for the submarine’s appearance, I recalled the starboard lifeboat (Ensign Warwick) by prearranged sound signal. When this boat came alongside, the officer in charge came aboard and received instructions from me; made inspection of the ship, called all of his men out of the boat, and started fire in the donkey boiler.3
I then sent a radio to the Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland,4 and informed him of the damage done and the condition of the ship at the time. This signal was sent about three hours after we were torpedoed. I then attempted to recall the other two boats of the panic party, but they were to windward and did not hear the signal. The CUMMINGS arrived at this time (about midnight), and I gave instructions to search for our two boats. Pay Clerk KILLEEN, after circling the ship several times, finally pulled alongside. The other boat was picked up by the STERETT, having taken a position to windward of the ship and in sight of her. All these boats reported no sign of the submarine.
The tug PALADIN II joined about 1-00 a.m. (Dec. 28) , and took us in tow immediately. The tow line parted, she got out another line, and took us in tow again 2-30 a.m. Arrived at Queenstown noon on the 28th, escorted by CUMMINGS, STERETT, TRIPPE, McDOUGAL, H.M.S. VIOLA and BLUEBELL, and in tow of tugs PALADIN II and FYLDE.
Part of a torpedo air flask and other small parts of a torpedo were found after ship was docked, the portion of the air flask5 being found in the wrecked lifeboat on the after deck-house.
(Note: Some members of the crew thought that they saw a periscope about 400 yards astern, three hours after the ship had been torpedoed.)
Source Note: Cy, RG 45, Entry 517B. The date was taken from the closing date of the war diary summary that is enclosed with Sims’ letter. The location from the location of Sims’ headquarters. Identification number at the top of the first page: “5910 – 43.4.1B./AC” and in columnar fashion on the right side of the page: 1/3/C/H/J/7.” There is also attached a report from Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan to Sims, dated 29 December 1917, that repeats almost verbatim the war diary summary.
Footnote 1: For background on SANTEE (formerly the British Q ship Arvonian), see Sims to Lewis Bayly, 20 November 1917. The damaged SANTEE was towed to Plymouth, England, for repairs in early February 1918, however, because of the extent of the damage and the length of time it would take to return it to service, Sims decided to take the vessel “out of commission” and return it to the British Admiralty, particularly as Q (or mystery) ships were no longer considered effective and worth the resources required. See: Hanrahan to Sims, 7 February 1918, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B; and Sims to Daniels, 20 March 1918.
Footnote 2: In order to decoy the submarine into surfacing in order to sink the mystery ship by gunfire or explosive, a portion of the crew evacuated the vessel giving the impression that the entire crew had abandoned the ship. Meanwhile, a number of men remained hidden on board, prepared to engage the submarine should it approach the “stricken” ship.
Footnote 3: A “donkey boiler” was an extra or auxiliary boiler generally used while the ship is in port.
Footnote 4: Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N.
Footnote 5: The torpedo’s “air flask” was the part of the torpedo that housed compressed air, fuel, water, and chemicals, which, when combined, formed its propellant For more information, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 29 December 1917.