Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, Commander, Destroyer Division Eight
It has been two days since I wrote in my diary on the morning of the 8th. The generally fine weather which is unusual has been with us, but there have been so many interruptions day and night I have been unable to get any steady sleep. I stay on the bridge half the dark hours every night (luckily at this time of the year there are only 6 dark hours altogether)- either from 10 pm & 1 a.m. or from 1.a.m. to 4 a.m. When things happen in the other half I must be up then Also. . . .
At a quarter to five I was awakened by the officer of the deck (Falge)1 reporting that what looked like a submarine on the surface was sighted. On looking through it with my glasses I was sure it was a submarine, sounded to general quarter, and ordered the forecastle gun to commence firing. The boat was a long way off and the shots fell short untill a range of 12000 yards was given. The boat then began to show signs of life- flashed searchlight, hoisted flags and make smoke. We ceased firing and read the searchlight message which was the proper challenge for the forenoon. We then approached each other and before long I found that we had been firing on the British Patrol Boat P 14.2
This vessel looked like a submarine even after it was fairly close aboard. I signaled the Captain: “I am sorry I fired on you but thought you were a German submarine on the surface”.3 He signaled: “I am sorry I stopped you”! Then: “Good bye and Good luck” and we were off. . . .
At five o’clock I reported the Wadsworth’s position and requested instructions. A little later we sighted a big airship to the northward. This I reported by wireless.4
About 8 a.m. received orders to patrol F station. This is the patrol that extends from the Fastnet to the Blasket, past Mizen Head, the Bull, and the Skellig.5 It is a busy place as a rule, as most of the ships for Liverpool make the Irish Coast somewhere between Blasket and Fastnet. At about noon we passed off Queenstown. There were then five large merchant vessels in sight headed to the eastward. Two destroyers were escorting them. The Wadsworth arrived on station about 4 p.m. and stood along the full length of patrol which took until nine o’clock. Then went back6 and at 1:30 am were off the Fastnet when received a SOS call broadcasted from British Steamer Fernleaf stating that he was being chased by a submarine. . . I sent a wireless, “Am coming to your assistance” And immediately started ahead at 22 knots which was all we could stand in the head seas. I did not expect to pick him up before daylight, but at a quarter to three we sighted him- I ran close. . . He said the submarine had not been sighted for three quarters of an hour. So I proceed to escort him. A little later the Captain of the Fernleaf signaled: “My gunner is confident he hit the submarine,” To this we answered “good work.”7 . . .
At half past five this morning we were again off the Fastnet, and the Nicholson coming along, we turned the Fernleaf over to him, and the Wadsworth continued on her patrol station. We have seen only a few ships today and our own patrol vessels once or twice. But the coast is very picturesque and always worth looking at. The little Fastnet with it tall light house is a fine mark in clear weather, but very difficult to find in the hazy and thick weather which is frequent. The Bull, the Cow and the Calf are conspicuous marks, and the white light house on the crest of the Bull with its white surrounding wall is most picturesque. But the most conspicuous islands are the Skelligs with their serrated outline. The Great Skellig on which the light house sits half way up is the most noteworthy point on this section of the coast. The Blasket islands with a fine light house on Tearaght marks the end of our present beat.8 There is no mistaking when we get there. . . .
A short while ago intercepted a message from Wainwright that condenser was leaking and he was returning to port as soon as relief came for ship he was convoying-
But we are not surprised at anything at anytime anymore, as things are coming in over the wireless all the time.9
Source Note: D, RNW, Joseph K. Taussig Papers, Mss. Coll. 97, Naval Historical Collection. The diary is written on ruled paper with a vertical line one inch in along the left margin. The place and date are written in that space and, as in this entry, often repeated when the diary entry continues beyond the first page.
Footnote 1: Lt. John H. Falge.
Footnote 2: The Patrol boats were anti-submarine boats that were built to look like submarines from a distance. Later P boats were designed to look like small merchant ships. Chatterton, Danger Zone, 198n.
Footnote 3: Such cases of mistaken identity were not rare. In his memoirs, Charles Blackford describes that on one occasion his ship, McDougal, unwittingly provided an escort for a U-boat for an entire evening under the mistaken impression that it was a coasting vessel. Blackford, Torpedoboat Sailor, 81.
Footnote 4: Historian William S. Still writes: “Undoubtedly this was a British blimp” as the British had established a number of air stations along the English coast and used them for antisubmarine patrol work. Taussig, Queenstown Patrol, 195n.
Footnote 5: Fastnet is a small islet in the Atlantic Ocean and is the most southerly point of Ireland. Mizen Head, Dursey Island (the location of the Bull, Cow, and Calf rocks), the Skelligs, and Blasket Islands extend in a northwesterly direction from Fastnet along the coast of Ireland.
Footnote 6: American seaman Blackford was highly critical of this method of patrolling, writing:
Each destroyer was given a certain area to patrol, running back and forth along an invisible fence, useful only in picking up survivors and indicating to German subs where not to cruise. They would sink ships at one end of our patrol while we were at the other. The stupidity of the system was evident to every gob, but we supposed it was in the grand old tradition of the British Navy and that was that. Blackford, Torpedoboat Sailor, 77.
Footnote 7: There is no evidence that Fernleaf hit the submarine.
Footnote 8: Tearaght (Inishtearaght) is the westernmost of the Blasket Islands and the westernmost island in Ireland. It is off the Dingle Peninsula.
Footnote 9: Undoubtedly, Taussig is expressing surprise that Wainwright would broadcast such information in a manner that could be easily intercepted.