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Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, Commander, Destroyer Division Eight


May 12 [1917]


     Until this morning we have been patrolling our area, and have seen plenty of wreckage, several boats adrift, oily streaks and oily areas. We have not seen a submarine, but went to general quarters at least a half dozen times on sighting suspicious objects. If a submarine succeeds in torpedoing us it will not be because we do not keep a good lookout.2 I feel sure that at present the submarines are avoiding the patrol vessels and are going after unescorted merchant ships where there is very little danger to them in the attack. If this is so the best defense will be to have so many patrol vessels that all valuable ships can be escorted as soon as they get in the danger area, which according to Germany begins at 20° west longtitude, although only a few submarines have worked beyond 15° West longtitude. If enough patrol vessels become available to keep the submarines down or makes it extremely dangerous for them to attack merchant vessels, then their operations become a failure from their point of view, and in order to get at the merchant ships they must first destroy the patrol vessels. Perhaps the conditions will require this action on their part before very long.

     Yesterday we fell in with the British Merchant Steamer Middleham Castle, loaded with shell and hay and bound for Liverpool- She was not on the list of ships to be escorted, but as he was going my way I escorted him until dark- I then left him in order to proceed to Berehaven in accordance with our schedule.

     Captain Evans was anxious to get the morning train for Queenstown and was not sure at what time it left Bantry, so instead of going into Berehaven I called by and proceeded fifteen miles farther up Bantry Bay to the town of that name, where we anchored about eight o’clock.3 This is a picturesque harbor with plenty of water and room for many destroyers. After breakfast we said good bye to Captain Evans and Lieutenant Alston-4 It was a great pleasure to have had them on board and I think Captain Evans enjoyed the trip- Lieutenant Alston was sea sick the entire time so I know he did not enjoy it.

     Arriving at Berehaven we went alongside the oil ship and refuelled immediately. The McDougal had arrived shortly before us and was refuelling. The sloops Snowdrop, Laburnum and Poppy are in port also. An officer from the office of the Senior Officer Present came on board and offered me5 a steam launch to make a trip to Castletown to call on the S.O.P. whose offices are there. Castletown is about five miles from the Anchorage. Fairfield6 came on board, and the commanding officers of the Snowdrop, Laburnum and Poppy (Lieutenant Commander Sherston, Lieutenant Budgen and Lieutenant Hastings also called.)7 Then Lieutenant Commander Sharp R.N., the King’s Harbour Master called. He recently sprained his ankle and was on crutches- When we finished oiling shifted berth to Lawrence Cove-

     After lunch I wrote letters and attended to official mail for a couple of hours. We were much disappointed at not receiving any mail from the States-

     At 3 o’clock the steam launch called for us - and we Fairfield and I proceeded to Castletown – It rained most of the way, so the trip was not a pleasant one. We passed by four steamers which had been torpedoed at various times and successfully towed into Berehaven where they are run aground, patched up sufficiently to pump the water out and then taken to Queenstown or some other place for permanent repairs. One of the steamers was a special service ship.8 After she was torpedoed all hands abandoned ship except the captain and gun crews. When she was apparently deserted and sinking the submarine came to the surface close aboard. The captain pressed the button, the sides of the deck houses concealing the guns fell away, the guns opened fire and before the submarine could submerge she was destroyed- The special service ship was then towed into port, her cargo of lumber holding her up- I hear that the Captain, Commander Campbell R.N.,9 has destroyed three submarines by means of these ships, and that he is the only British Naval Officer who has been awarded both the V.C., and the D.S.O.10

     We found the Senior Officer’s office in the hotel. We were cordially received by him (Commander Odairne U. Coates, R.N. (Retired). After a short visit we walked through the town, Comdr. Coates accompanying us in spite of the rain. Castletown looks to me as if it must have the same appearance as it had several centuries ago. I do not think it has changed much with the passing years.

     When I returned aboard ship I found the ward room full of officers from the barracks on Bere Island. Lieut. Colonel S.F. Kirkwood, Cork R.G.A., was the senior one and is in command of the Garrison- Many of the officers had been wounded at the front and are now doing instruction duty at this post. When they left the ship we were requested to take supper with them at the Barracks tomorrow night, but I declined on the plea of having too much to do- With the tiresome and fatiguing term of duty at sea, I want to do all the resting I can during the two day stay in port.

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 date is written in that space. It is repeated when the diary entry continues on a second and third page.

Footnote 1: Taussig initially wrote “Tuesday,” but crossed it through and wrote “Saturday” above it.

Footnote 2: According to an account he wrote in Proceedings shortly after the war, Wadsworth typically kept one man aloft at the highest point of the ship, two on the forecastle belonging to the ready gun crew, two on the bridge including a chief petty officer, and two on the afterdeck house. In addition, everyone on the bridge kept lookout. Either Taussig or his executive officer was on the bridge whenever Wadsworth was underway in addition to the officer of the deck. Therefore no fewer than twelve pairs of eyes were constantly scouring the sea. Taussig, “Destroyer Experiences,” January, 1923: 53.

Footnote 3: Of his first visit to Bantry Bay, Seaman Charles Blackford wrote: “Bantry Bay. . . a place made dismal by low clouds and rain. The wind, strong and gusty, swept in between the dark, barren hills and mountains. I have seen few places that looked so gloomy and hopeless as a place of human habitation.” Blackford, Torpedoboat Sailor: 78.

Footnote 4: For more on these officers and their reason for being on Wadsworth, see: Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 8 May 1917.

Footnote 5: Taussig originally wrote “us,” but then crossed it through and wrote “me” above the line.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Arthur P. Fairfield, commander of McDougal.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. George P. Sherston, commander of H.M.S. sloop Snowdrop; Lt. Douglas A. Budgen, commander of H.M.S. sloop Laburnum; Lt. Edward G. Hastings, commander of H.M.S. sloop Poppy.

Footnote 8: “Special service” or “Q” ships were typical tramp steamers fitted out as decoy craft. Made to appear as innocent merchant ships or coastal steamers, special service ships sought to lure U-boats to approach and surface and then would finish off the submarine with concentrated gunfire. To reinforce the deception, a “panic party” would abandon the ship when attacked; the remainder of the crew would remain hidden behind wooden or canvas screens, which concealed deck-guns and torpedo tubes. If a submarine captain approached, his vessel stood an excellent chance of being sunk.

Footnote 9: Lt. Cmdr. Gordon Campbell, the most famous of the “Q” boat commanders.

Footnote 10: “V.C.” was the Victoria Cross and “D.S.O.” was the Distinguished Service Order, both British military decorations.