Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral Austin M. Knight, Commandant, 2nd Naval District, to Rear Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

 

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U.S. NAVAL STATION, NARRAGANSETT BAY,

NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND.

COMMANDANT’S OFFICE.

October 7, 1916.

FROM:     Commandant, Naval Station, Narragansett Bay, R.I.

TO  :     Navy Department (Operations).

SUBJECT:- Arrival of German Submarine U-53.

     1.   I have to report that the German Submarine U-53 entered this port at 2:15 P. m. to-day, flying the German Man-of-War ensign and the commission pennant and carrying two guns in a conspicuous position.

     2.   Upon approaching the anchorage the U-53 signalled the BIRMINGHAM, Rear Admiral Gleaves,1 requesting that a berth be assigned.  Rear Admiral Gleaves assigned Berth No. 1.

     3.   I sent my Aid2 alongside to make the usual inquiries, but with instructions not to go on board, as no communications had yet been had with the health authorities.

     4.   At 3:00 p.m., the commanding officer of the U-53. Lieutenant Hans Rose, came on shore in a boat furnished by the BIRMINGHAM and called on me officially. He was in the uniform of a Lieutenant in the German Navy, wearing the Iron Cross and stated, apparently with pride, that his vessel was a man-of-war, armed with guns and torpedoes. He stated that he had no object in entering the port except to pay his respects; that he needed no supplies or assistance and that he proposed to go to sea at six o’clock. He stated that he left Wilhelmshaven seventeen days ago, touching at Heligoland.3

     5.   Shortly after the visit above described, I was called up by telephone from Providence by the Collector of Customs,4 who asked for information as to the visiting submarine. I gave him all the particulars and stated that the boat was going to sea this afternoon and that she had undoubtedly been at sea for many days since touching at any port. He stated that under the circumstances it would not be practicable for himself or the quarantine officer to visit the ship.

     6.   Following this conversation I sent my Aid to return the call of the commanding officer of the U-53, and to request that no use be made of the radio appartas of the vessel while in port.

     7.   The U-53 got under way at 5:30 and stood out to sea.

     8.   From my Aid (Lieutenant Puleston) and other officers who visited the U-53, I gathered the following details, all of which, with others, will doubtless be reported upon by the Commander of the Destroyer Force, many of whose officers visited and inspected the vessel.5

     9.   The vessel is much larger than our L class, but I have no exact figures as to displacement or length. These figures will doubtless be supplied.6

     10.  She has two torpedo tubes forward and two aft.

     11.  Carries ten torpedoes.

     12.  Carries one gun forward, thought to be about 4-inch, and one aft thought to be about 3-inch. These guns do not house within the superstructure.

     13.  Has radio poles on starboard side, fitted to fold down on deck where they stow compactly.

     14.  Carries 3 periscopes, one of these, leading to a compartment forward of the engine room, for the use of the Chief Engineer.

     15.  Carries gyro-compass, with repeaters.7

     16.  Carries crew of 33, with 4 officers.

     17.  Has two engines, Diesel-Nuremberg type, 1200 H. P. each.

     18.  Speed 16 knots surface, 12-14 knots submerged.

     19. Radius at economical speed 5,000 knots.

     20.  All officers who visited the ship were much impressed by the youthfulness of the personnel, their perfect physical condition, and their care-free attitude. One or two observers thought that the Captain seemed serious and rather weary, but all agreed that the other officers and the crew seemed entirely happy and gave no indication that they considered themselves engaged in any undertaking involving hazard or responsibility.8

     21.  The freedom with which officers and crew conversed with visitors, and their willingness to show all parts of the ship were very surprising. They stated that they were willing to tell all that they knew and to show all that they had, - this to officers and civilian alike. As a large number of officers from the Destroyer Force spent much time on board, I assume that full and very instructive information will be received by the Department.9

     22.  I learn that a letter to the German Ambassador at Washington10 was entrusted to a newspaper representative and by him posted.

     23.  I have nothing upon which to base an opinion as to the real object of the Commander in entering this port.11

Austin M. Knight

Source Note: TCy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 20.

Footnote 1: RAdm. Albert Gleaves, Commander, Destroyer Force.

Footnote 2: Lt. William D. Puleston.

Footnote 3: Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose of U-53 had orders to sink British ships that his U-boat encountered on its voyage to the United States, make port at Newport, drop off prisoners, and display the technological superiority of German U-boats to American naval officers there. Rose was to leave Newport before the Americans could find “any pretext” for holding U-53. He was then to remain off the American coast and “wage mercantile war” following the international “Prize Ordnance” so as not to be in violation of international protocols and then return to European waters. Hadley & Sarty, Tin Pots: 150.

Footnote 4: Frank E. Fitzsimmons.

Footnote 5: According to RAdm. Gleaves, Rose, “stated that he would be pleased to have any officer visit his ship and would show them around. This privilege was taken advantage of by a number of officers from the Destroyer force. The Captain, officers and large percentage of the crew spoke English.” Gleaves even brought both his wife and daughter on board the submarine. Both he and Cmdr. Henry B. Price wrote detailed reports of what they saw and learned while on the submarine. Rose enjoyed the chance to show off his ship and wrote, “the diesel engines awakened in them envious enthusiasm. Then followed a great many officers with their ladies, civilians, reporters and photographers, The crew received all kinds of small gifts.” See, Gleaves to Henry T. Mayo, 7 October 1916, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 20; Henry B. Price to Gleaves, 7 October 1916, Ibid; Marc W. Larimer to Gleaves, 6 November 1916, Albert Gleaves Papers, Box 8; and Hadley & Sarty, Tin Pots: 155.

Footnote 6: According to Cmdr. Price, U-53  was: “sixty-five meters long and appeared of circular cross section about twenty feet outside diameter, with double shell up to the surface cruising water line. The flush wood deck, about ten feet wide amidship, extended the entire length. . .” Henry B. Price to Gleaves, 7 October 1916, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 20.

Footnote 7: Gyrocompass, or repeater, is a compass that uses rotating discs instead of magnetism to find direction and is used on ships because they are not affected by the metallic hulls.

Footnote 8: Reports of Rose’s weariness were not recorded by Gleaves or Price. But it was clear the crew of U-53 were in excellent spirits and even jocular. U-53’s engineering officer was asked if he spoke English, he replied, “No, I speak American.” The German sailors not giving tours remained on the deck listening to a phonograph and waving at passing ships. Price to Gleaves, 7 October 1916, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Box 20.

Footnote 9: In addition to the propaganda success of demonstrating the advanced state of German submarine technology, Rose learned that the British generally kept a warship off New York Harbor in a de facto blockade of German shipping and that steamers could be readily found in Ambrose Channel near Block Island. Hadley, Tin Pots: 162. For reports see, Footnote 5.

Footnote 10: German Ambassador to the United States Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff.

Footnote 11: U-53 remained in Newport for only a few hours. It then proceeded to the waters off Nantucket, where it sank five Allied ships carrying war material for the Entente nations. For Gleave’s report on U-53’s attack and the United States Navy rescue efforts, see: Gleaves to Mayo, 2 November 1916.

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