Skip to main content

Lieutenant Albert P. Niblack, United States Navy Attaché in Berlin, to Lieutenant John C. Colwell, United States Navy Attaché in London



Hamburg [Germany] April 1st, 1898.1


Dear Colwell:-

     On last Saturday, March 26th, I made the trials of the Somers on a 12.2 knot course make 22.4 knots in an hour and two minutes. The weather was very fresh and conditions unfavorable. We got back at 3 P.M. and I immediately signed for her and took possession.

     Sunday I got orders to purchase many things in Berlin so spent Monday there. I missed Knapp.2 He arrived Monday morning early. I got back Tuesday to Elbing and we made contract for M. 7,5003 to deliver her in England. Captain Pust, a German naval reserve Torpedo Officer, took the contract. He furnished himself and 13 men, all coal, provisions, oil, etc; pays all pilotage and tolls; furnishes charts and navigation instruments, and keeps crew on board two days after arrival in England, not counting first day; after that 500 marks a day or 500 for any delay en route except by weather and foreign authorities. (She has German flag and some uniforms.)

We got away at 10 A.M., Wed. Mar.30th from Elbing for     

I had the torpedo tubes boxed in heavy cases but held off putting the lids on till 9 A.M. Mar.30th. A despatch came from London asking how light she could be made. I concluded you planned to send her on board some steamer or else by convoy so I had the boxes nailed up and taken on board.

At Pillau, where we arrived at 3 P.M., we were fortunate enough to find the steamer ”Lorne”, Captain R. Bartlett, loading for London. We ran alongside, had the four cases hoisted on board and then the ”Somers” swung for compass deviation. Your telegram came announcing destination of boat. I enclose bill of lading for the two deck tubes. They go addressed to “Alusna”4 London and are numbered 1, 2, 3, & 4. She is due April 5th. I will cable you tomorrow the dock she goes to in London and the name of agents. If you want the tubes on board of something at W----- (the destination of the “Somers”)5 you will have to hustle them out. I paid the freight amounting to 167.70 marks.

     It may appear stupid to have taken off the tubes, but first Schichau advised it,6 second she can never cross with them on deck, third she needs everything for coal, fourth even up to England it is risky with deck tubes; fifth, if you have the tubes in England you can ship them to America sooner than the boat can get there: and sixth,she has no torpedoes; seventh: she still has one bow tube, and eight she has no battery anyway. The tubes are shipped as machinery.

     Knapp has 16 detonators, 20 caps, 60 cartridges for handling torpedoes, 60 primers for launching tubes, on board. The steamers here refused to take them with this consignment. I am shipping from here on Sunday. Please use your judgment about sending them home by steamer. I got them out of Germany on her as the only way possible. They are packed perfectly safely and might go by handbag with some passenger across if you can arrange for customs examination on the other side. The articles are allowed in the mails in Germany (except the cartridges).

      I have had to use couriers to send to Kiel and Hamburg and then Elbing to get the things on board the ”Somers”. I am working frantically these days to get everything “out” before they get caught in case of trouble. The luxuries of life I gave up long ago. I now go without the necessaries, sleep, eating, washing, and the like. I have had eleven nights in sleeping cars out of fifteen. I return to night to Berlin and I hate to think of the next two days work. Pardon my not keeping you better posted.

                                  Sincerely yours,       

                                           A.P. Niblack.     


I telegraphed you to-day as follows:) “Hamburg – April 2nd “Knapp left yesterday forenoon and will arrive destination April 5th latest. Obliged to ship to you from Pillau four boxes due London April 5th. Particulars by mail7

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 45, Entry 280.

Footnote 1: The word “Hamburg” was handwritten.

Footnote 2: Lt. John J. Knapp, the first commander of Somers.

Footnote 3: “M” stand for marks (German currency). Just before World War I, 4.20 Marks were equivalent to 1 Dollar, so Somers was initially delivered for approximately $1,786.00. “Historical Dollars to Mark Currency Conversion Page,” Last modified 19 April 2005,

Footnote 4: “Alusna” is the acronym for “American Legation, United States Navy Attaché.”

Footnote 5: The destination was Weymouth.

Footnote 6: Friedrich Schichau built Somers.

Footnote 7: Somers was deemed to be an unreliable vessel, so it was laid up in England for the duration of the war.

Related Content