Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Captain John R. Edie to Lieutenant Commander William R. Sayles, United States Naval Attaché at Paris

Marseille, June 2, 1917.

From: Captain John R. Edie, U.S.Navy, Ret.

To:   Naval Attache, Paris.

Subject:  Visit to Steamship Silver Shell, and report on her

engagement with submarine.

     Went on board the Silver Shell at noon today and received the following account of her engagement with the submarine on May 30th 1917. Account given by her Captain John Charlton and Chief Turret Captain W.J.Clark, in charge of the armed guard.

     Sighted submarine 5.30 p.m. (G.M:T.) in Lat. 39.30 N. Long. 5.40 E.1 She was standing to N.W. at full speed.

We were standing N. 17 E. mag. speed 10 knots.

I let the two vessels approach as I knew that we could not reach her with our 4 inch guns.

When estimated distance was 7,000 yards; opened fire for trial shot with stern gun set to range of 4,000 yards. Shot fell about half way.

Submarine fired the moment our gun flashed and shell fell on our starboard beam close aboard, showing that she had our range very closely.

Put helm hard a starboard and set course W by S.

Increased our speed to 14 knots and screwed down on our safety valve.

Sea was rough.

Submarine fired about 32 to 35 shells and shrapnel, her shots being good as to range but falling on the starboard and port of us as though the submarines was yawing in the sea.

We fired slowly, as it was at first impossible to reach her; the fire being controlled from our midship bridge by the Chief Turret Captain W.J.Clark.2

The fight lasted from 6 to 7.30, our shots not reaching until about 7.25.

Our 24th and 25th shots were hits, and immediately after the 25th shot, the submarine’s bow seemed to be lifted high out of the water; she then plunged down with her stern high in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees and disappeared.3

     We continue on an hour longer to make sure, and then went back on our course for Marseille.

There was no flag on submarine. We flew U.S.flag.

Saw no number of submarine.

Saw one large gun forward and a smaller on aft (not two forward as first reported).

We have two 4 inch 40 calibre guns, one forward and one aft.

2. Chief Turret Captain W.J.Clark says that he needs 150 rounds of 4 inch if they can be obtained for him in Europe. He does not expect the ship to return to the U.S. before September. She leaves for Cette4 tonight and will be at Cette for six days. He has only 155 service rounds and six target practice rounds, which are not so good for long range. The empty cartridge cases were thrown overboard by the sailors of the merchant crew by mistake. They were assisting the regular gun crew. (25 shell cases lost).

3. Submarine was grey in colour with large conning tower. Men were visible moving between the conning tower and the gun.

4. The last range which we used was 2500 yards.

/s/   J.R.Edie.    

6. Ship was going to Sumatra via Suez Canal and leaves France June 8th. Please report this to Department.5

Source Note: TDS, DNA, RG45, Entry 517.

Footnote 1: In the Mediterranean Sea between the Balearic Islands and Sardinia. “G.M.T.” stands for Greenwich Mean Time.

Footnote 2: In an additional report dated 3 June, Clark stated he purposely kept his shots short because he was anxious to draw the submarine closer. Ibid.

Footnote 3: In the 3 June report, Edie stated that there was “Strong evidence submarine was sunk.” He also stated that the space of time between the last shot from the Silver Shell and the submarine submerging was “entirely too short for a gun’s crew to have gotten back into the submarine.” Clark said it was, “scarcely long enough to count ten, possibly between 5 and 10 seconds.” However, there is no evidence that any German U-boat was sunk in the Mediterranean at the time of this encounter.

Footnote 4: That is, Sète, France, which until 1928 was known as Cette.

Footnote 5: After the attack the United States charged that a Spanish ship, the S.S. Barcelo, willfully confused the “S.O.S. signals sent out by” the Silver Shell. The matter was referred to the U.S. State Department with the expectation that they would raise the issue with the government of Spain, a neutral nation; see, Naval Intelligence Division to William S. Sims, 16 November 1917, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517; Giovanni Alabandia to Societe Anonyme Internationale de Telegraphic sans fil, undated, ibid. Furthermore, this report was released to the press and three New York newspapers violated the “voluntary censorship” agreement between the United States Navy and the American press by printing the name of the vessel involved. See, Roger Welles to William D. MacDougall, 25 June 1917, DNA, RG 45. Entry 517B.

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