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SS Alsatian, later flagship, 10th Cruiser Squadron (Photo Ships, click to enlarge)  return to World War 1, 1914-1918


with thanks to Alice Clayton, Ellenabeich Heritage Centre, near Oban, Western Scotland

In February 2015, Alice Clayton emailed to ask if we could identify the canvas pouch (right) that had been handed in to her local heritage centre. The person concerned could not tell her anything, but Alice sent me a description and a list of the contents, followed by a transcription of the six sheets it contained. It took me a while before I realised this must be the secret instructions carried by the officer in charge of a boarding party of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, lead-weighted in case it had to be thrown overboard to avoid capture.

Long an admirer of the work of the Northern Patrol, which from 1914 to 1917 played a major role in preventing contraband leaving or entering German-controlled territory, I decided to take the opportunity to present a short tribute to this famous Squadron, it's original commander, Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair, and especially the seamanship and courage of the boat's crews and the boarding parties.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to identify the name of the ship from which this pouch was issued, although it must have been in 1917. By 1918, the ships of the 10th Cruiser Squadron were escorting North Atlantic Convoys. Note that the original 10th Cruiser Squadron ships were old light cruisers that had to be withdrawn in the winter of 1914 because of the damage suffered from the often fearsome seas. Their role was taken over by converted liners and passenger/cargo liners - the armed merchant cruisers or AMC's.

There is so much that could be written about the Squadron, but only a selection has been included here. These include information on the pouch and its transcribed contents, excerpts from two well-known books on the Northern Patrol emphasising the work of the boarding parties, and links to the log books of most of the ships of the Patrol as well as the armed merchant cruisers that served elsewhere.

Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net


The Canvas Pouch is 4in x 5in (11cms x 13cms) and the “lead” plate inside measures 3in x 2in (7.7cms x 6.25cms). The plate has two holes half-way down, on either side, and the crudely stamped letters and numbers as shown. The pouch also contained six sheets of very thin, typed, paper.

1st sheet has headings “Approaches to Kirkwall”  “Lerwick Approaches” and “Submarines”.

2nd, 3rd and 4th sheets are headed “Instructions to Prize Officers”

5th sheet dated, 1917, a short typed note starting “Ships are not to be sent to Lerwick until further notice” and goes on to give instructions on routes to Kirkwall.

6th sheet dated 1916, headed “Questions for use When Interrogating Crews of Neutral Vessels”




Vessels may anchor at night in INHANESS BAY in 7 fathoms with WEETHICK HEAD bearing South. The outer pilot drifter will patrol, except in heavy weather, on the line MULL HEAD to AUSKERRY. In heavy weather she will take up her station in SHIPINSAY SOUND.

The inner patrol drifter will patrol in Shapinsay Sound in readiness to pilot ships through the obstruction.

Merchant vessels will not be permitted to enter harbour during the dark hours, and during thick or foggy weather the traffic for merchant ships is stopped.

Merchant vessels will communicate with the pilot drifter and will on no account be allowed to enter the STRING without being piloted by a drifter.


The signal “B” (Commercial Code) means submarine in sight. Merchant vessels will be piloted through the obstruction by the pilot drifter which will fly the pilot flag and is stationed between KIRKABISTER NESS and NESS OF SOUND.

Merchant vessels are not permitted to enter during the night and are prohibited from entering harbour by day unless piloted by a drifter. During thick or foggy weather, traffic for merchant vessels is stopped. Vessels may anchor in VOR OF SOUND if the gate is not open.


No resistance is to be offered by the Officer in Charge of armed guards against being boarded by German submarines.



PROPERTY OF CAPTAIN AND OFFICERS. Property (including arms) belonging to the Captain and Officers of neutral vessels is not to be taken away from the owners unless circumstances render such a course necessary.

NAVIGATION OF VESSELS SENT IN. Responsibility for the navigation of vessel sent in should never be undertaken unless absolutely necessary. The Master should be given the special route to be followed, the Officer in charge of the armed guard exercising sufficient supervision to see that this is followed and rendering any assistance asked for.

ENTRIES IN THE SHIPS LOGS. Whenever merchant ships are boarded the entry made in the log of H.M. ships should include the position where the boarding took place, and if a prize crew or armed guard was put on board, the name of the Officer sent in charge. No entries of any sort are to be made in the logs of the vessels boarded.

SAILING VESSELS SENT IN. As sailing vessels sent in with armed guards are liable to experience great difficulty in making Lerwick or Kirkwall in bad weather, they may if necessary, be sent to any other British port except fleet bases, for examination (but Stornaway is convenient).

ROUTE TO BE FOLLOWED BY VESSELS SENT IN. The route to be followed by vessels sent in to Kirkwall or Lerwick being liable to alteration will be promulgated from time to time as necessary.

PROVISIONS, RAILWAY PASSES ETC. Whenever armed guards are placed on board ships they are to be provided with :-

(a) Sufficient provisions to take them to their port of destination.                          

(b) Sufficient cash to meet contingencies for extended periods of absence. Officers in charge should be instructed to obtain vouchers for all expenditure incurred. Should any accounts, such as Hotel Bills etc remain outstanding on return of the armed guard to their ship steps should be immediately taken to settle them.                                                  
(c) Railway passes to enable crew to proceed from place of discharge to Liverpool or elsewhere to rejoin their proper ship.

RETICENCE NECESSARY. Officers and men forming armed guards should be warned that they are on no account to disclose any information as regards to the composition or position of patrols.

DESPATCH OF LETTERS OR MAILS. No mails are to be despatched by neutral vessels sent in with armed guards for examination. Members of the armed guards who wish to post letters should hand them to the Kings Harbour Master for censoring, and on no account should they post them themselves.

Attention is drawn to the fact that postal and telegraph offices are out of bounds to the fleet.

USE OF W/T BY SHIP WITH ARMED GUARD ON BOARD. When armed guards are put on board ships fitted with W/T, the officer the officer in charge is to take particular care that all precautions are taken to prevent use of the installation while the vessel is in his charge.
The wireless Office should be locked and sealed, and a guard placed over it, but immediate access should be provided for, in case of submarine attack or other emergency.
OTHER VESSELS NOT TO BE INTERFERED WITH.  Officers in charge of armed guards on board neutral vessels, are not to interfere with other vessels sighted.


BOOM DEFENCE AT KIRKWALL. In view of the necessity for disguising the nature of the boom defence at Kirkwall, Officers in charge of armed guards ordered to bring vessels into that port, are to take steps to ensure that all passengers are kept below and all scuttles closed when entering harbour. 

RESISTANCE TO SUBMARINES AND OTHER ENEMY VESSELS. The Admiralty directs that for the present, resistance is not to be offered by Armed Guards placed on board a neutral vessel, to enemy submarines or other armed vessels. It is considered that the fact of an armed guard being on board should be concealed as long as possible and in this connection attention is drawn to G.F.O. 297.

EMPLOYMENT OF MARINES. It has been noticed that some ships are employing newly joined recruits for duty with armed guards. Although these recruits may have been sent to the squadron as additional for this purpose, it is considered undesirable to use them, and older men should be sent away in preference.  

OFFICERS OF ARMED GUARDS TO OBTAIN AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE. Officers of armed guards placed on neutral vessels sent in for examination should endeavour to obtain as much information as possible likely to be of value to the Examining Officer and the service generally such as information regarding the ship’s cargo, whether there are Germans among the crew or passengers, whether German parcels or correspondence, money, securities etc, whether manganese ore is concealed in bunkers, whether faked onions consisting of rubber are on board, and any information as to enemy vessels or condition of enemy country etc.

REPORT TO BE MADE WHEN ARMED GUARDS DO NOT RETURN WITHIN A REASONABLE TIME. Whenever an armed guard has been sent away in a vessel and no news is received of them within a reasonable time, the fact is to be reported to the Senior Officer on patrol with a view to their enquiries being made regarding the arrival of the vessel in harbour.

ALLOWANCE TO SKIPPERS OF TRAWLERS WHEN ARMED GUARDS ARE EMBARKED. Whenever  it may be necessary for armed guards or other naval Ranks or Ratings to take passage in armed trawlers, the Captain of H.M. ships to which they are transferred or returned are to authorise the payment to the skipper of the trawler of a victualing allowance for each officer and man conveyed at the rate laid down in Appx.1V of the K.R. & A.I.

MESS CHARGES IN “GIBRALTAR” (ex-cruiser, depot ship in Scapa Flow) Officers of armed guards waiting passage to Swarbacks Minn will be victualled in “Gibraltar” and will be charged messing at the following rates:-

Messing        2s
Servants       3d
Table Linen  2d
Papers          1d

HARD LYING MONEY. Approval has been given for the payment of hard-lying money at half rates to prize crews, subject to the usual condition that the officers and men live and sleep on board the vessels but the allowance is to be granted only in cases where the attendant conditions are not superior to those obtaining on T.B.D’s. A certificate to this affect is to be forwarded by the Commanding Officer in each case for my approval and no payment will be made until it has been obtained. Any case in which payment at full rates is considered necessary is to be represented to me for submission to the Admiralty.


The allowance at half rates may also be paid under the same circumstances to Officers and men acting as armed guards in vessels under escort, but not in the case of armed boarding steamers, nor to prize crews taking passage in H.M. cruisers. The payment to prize crews (as distinguished from armed guards) is to be carefully distinguished with a view to claim being made ultimately against the prize funds.

C.I.O. 20/1916.

Armed guards in charge of vessels sent in for examination arriving at Norwegian ports owing to stress of weather, should communicate at once with H.B.M. Minister at Christiania and with the nearest British Consul, and pending instructions from either the former or the latter, they should remain on board the vessel unless she is a Norwegian, in which case they should leave the vessel if requested to do so by the local Norwegian authorities.

C.I.O. 333/1916.

A case has recently occurred where the national colours of a captured, neutral, vessel were hauled down when a prize crew from one of H.M. ships took charge of the vessel. Attention is therefore drawn to the last paragraph of section XV111(a) of Instructions for Boarding Officers in the time of war, where it is stated that when a captured vessel is being taken into port in charge of a prize crew the white ensign over the national colours of the captured vessel should be worn.

C.I.O. 431.

Boarding Officers or Officers in charge of Armed Guards should refrain from giving any assurance to the Master of the vessel boarded, that His Majesty’s Government will pay any expenses which may incur through diversion or detention in the exercise of the right of visit and search.


When a ship in charge of an armed guard is forced by weather or other circumstances into a port other than that to which she has been ordered to proceed, the Officer of the armed guard is to request the S.N.O. of the port to report the fact of her arrival to the Vice Admiral Commanding 10th C.S. by telegram in order that there may be no apprehension as to her safety.

C.M.O. 198.

Cases have occurred of neutral vessels anchoring and exhibiting brilliant lights for the purpose of safeguarding themselves from attack from German submarines. Vessels which anchor for the  night even outside territorial waters should be warned that the excessive display of lights which may serve as a guide hostile vessels will create a presumption that they are engaged in un-neutral service and they will be liable to be seized and brought before a prize court.









1. What was your port of departure, at what other ports have you called?

2. Describe the route taken from the port of departure?

3. Did you pass any minefields? If so were any vessels guarding them?

4. Did you receive any special instructions as to your route, or were any printed instructions issued by authorities or any other officials before sailing?

5. What was the condition of the beacons and light buoys sighted during the passage? Were they normal? Have any been altered or moved? Have any additional navigational aids been placed? If so, where?

6. Were any vessels sighted which were considered to be suspicious and possibly to carry a hidden armament, or to have been supply ships for submarines?

7. Have you seen any men-of-war, seaplane carriers, submarines, airships or seaplanes, patrol vessels or trawlers, hospital ships or transports of neutral powers? If so state:-

(a) Number and class of vessel seen.
(b) Date, time and position seen.
(c) If a submarine state what other vessel, if any, were in the vicinity.

8. Has your vessel been boarded or molested by any vessels belonging to the Central Powers? If so, when and where and by what type of vessel?

9. What was the nature of the visit and was any action taken as the result of the visit ie. Was vessel ordered to an examination anchorage etc.? What was the constitution of the boarding party?

10. Where did you meet the majority of mercantile traffic en route?

11. Did you see much German shipping and if so where? Were the vessels in convoys or proceeding independently?

12. What routes are taken by merchant shipping when in the Baltic and also when proceeding to and from the Baltic and north sea ports?

13. Have you seen any sailors belonging to the ships of the Central Powers in ports where you have been? If so, how many and to what ships did they belong?

14. Were any German ships in the ports at which you called? Were they trading or laid up? If the latter were there any signs of activity on board as if they were preparing  for sea or converting the vessel for other purpose than for trading.


Extract from
by Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair

George G Harrap & Co, London, 1961


page 195

During the winter months on these latitudes the sun rose at 9 a.m. and set at 3 p.m. approximately; daylight was short and the nights long. The weather was nearly always bad, with heavy gales roaring in from the south-west. Many days it was impossible to lower boats, consequently when overhauling a ship that was trying to break through the blockade my ships had to stand by her till she could be boarded. The seamen became very efficient in lowering boats and boarding ships in heavy weather. In Alsatian a strong six-oared boat was generally used, and we found it most successful to hoist her out by a swinging derrick, and drop her fully manned on the crest of a wave as the ship rolled. It was always found necessary to give the boat a lee while alongside, so that it was protected from the gale until clear of the ship's side. Sometimes I had to board another ship in rough weather, and I found the best plan for me was to stand at the lee gangway, and wait till the ship rolled towards the boat, and the latter rose to the level of the upper deck, when I would step into it, being caught by the boat's crew as it sank down in the trough of the sea as the ship rolled away. It was rather an airy feeling, and I seemed as if I were floating in air till the boat began to rise again.

The prize crews put on board the ships we overhauled consisted of a midshipman and five or six bluejackets or marines. As the Squadron generally caught about thirty-six blockade-runners a week, each ship after a time had as many as sixteen prize crews away at one time. This was found very awkward, as it took something like two months before the prize crews could be returned to their respective ships. In fine weather special steamers were engaged to bring the prize crews back; this was, however, only possible in the summer months.

Among the many reports that were continually coming in from the young officers returning from their armed-guard duties, one from an R.N.R. sub-lieutenant deserves a mention. I cannot do better than tell it in his own language:

"On boarding the blockade runner S.S. ------, I found the Captain was pro-German, and as soon as the Virginian was out of sight he informed me he was not going to stand for any interference from me in regard to the navigation of the ship.

At supper that night the Captain said, "Tell you what— there's too much God-dam red tape about you Britishers. You think you can do as you like, but mark my words you're in for a trimming, and I hope to God you get it, good and plenty. I wonder what the hell they think I am! Do they think I am going to stand for them sending a kid like you aboard my ship to tell me what to do? As far as I'm concerned, you don't exist. You hear that, Master Mate? Neither you or any of my officers take orders from this kid. You understand?"

This to his master mate who was at the same table. The mate looked mighty uncomfortable. My blood began to boil. Angry words came to the tip of my tongue. I stood up and spoke as calmly as I could, and said, "I'm sorry, Captain, that you should see fit to act as you have done. I must decline your hospitality. Please excuse me." Saying which I left the table, went to my cabin, buckled on my revolver and went on the bridge, checked the course for the Fair Island Channel. The ship was proceeding under slow speed. The Captain having finished his meal climbed on the bridge. I then took the initiative:

"Apart from your personal insults, do you intend to obey my instructions or do you not?" I demanded. "You can go to hell as far as I am concerned," he replied as he rang the telegraph to full speed ahead. I then informed him to go to his cabin and consider himself under arrest. I never saw a man so completely taken aback. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound came. I expected open resistance, but when I took him by the arm he went with me like a lamb. I locked him up in his cabin, placed a sentry at the cabin door, then I went on the bridge and took charge. Next morning we were in Kirkwall.

When I reported to the Senior Officer at Kirkwall the trouble I had had with that captain of the tanker, he had him brought to him and told him that he would be sent to Edinburgh Castle to be interned."

This young officer also reported that three Germans masquerading as Dutchmen were found among the crew when they were examined.

There were many experiences such as this, and I was extremely gratified at the general plucky and wise manner in which these young officers carried out their duties under most trying circumstances.


by E Keble Chatterton

Published by Hurst & Blackett, Ltd, London

Armed Merchant Cruiser Strength as of 24 January 1915.
Follows the withdrawal of the old light cruisers of the Edgar-class in November/December 1914.

Additional Armed Merchant Cruisers Commissioned before April 1915

Armed Merchant Cruiser Strength as of July 1915

Some of these ships were lost or withdrawn, others added after this date - see 5. Armed Merchant Cruiser log books




During this summer (1915) a Black List of neutral ships had been compiled, though it was not until the end of the following February that it was complete. The principle, however, was useful, and saved much trouble: if the intercepted vessel's name was in this category, she was sent into port without further question. At this date there was still considerable traffic passing through the Blockade to and from Archangel, and many were the stories which shipmasters brought concerning those "mystery men" and secret agents of Germany at work in that port. There was reason, also, for believing that German financiers were sending by neutral steamers to New York large numbers of American bonds, and this placed the west-bound passenger ships under a new suspicion.

During July U-boats had been working both to the east west of the Shetlands, increasing the risk to vessels that were being sent in under armed guards. This was a source of no little anxiety, for now the interceptions had risen to 115 a week. It was quite clear that the submarines had been instructed at home to find out the position of our Blockade patrols, for on July 25 a U-boat armed with two guns stopped a Norwegian steamer, ordered the Master aboard, and asked whether he had seen any British cruisers. Another Norwegian similarly stopped and interrogated by the submarine as to whether there were other steamers in Liverpool loading for Archangel.

And now there came over the Blockade a condition that was something quite new and equally alarming. It was a phase both complicating and curious.  The Motagua had intercepted the Norwegian S.S. Fimreite, and an armed guard taking the latter into Kirkwall, when, at 4 a.m. on July 23, a submarine was sighted on the port bow making for the Fimreite at high speed. The position was lat. 60°17' N., long 8°43' W., that is to say, in the locality a long distance northwest of the Hebrides, and a region where U-boats had been seen on previous occasions.


This morning the German fired a gun, ordered the Master to stop and send a boat, which was done. The situation for the armed guard was not pleasant. It was under the care of a young officer, Mr. P. B. Clarke, Midshipman, R.N.R. If the U-boat Captain should entertain even the slightest notion of the Englishmen's presence, what would happen? The midshipman made a pretty shrewd guess, and reckoned that his first duty to his King and Service was to preserve his four men; so, whilst the Norwegian Master was aboard the submarine, Clarke ordered his guard to take off their uniforms, disguise themselves as much as possible, put their revolvers in their pockets, and assist the Norwegian crew in lowering the boats. The Master returned aboard and stated that he had been questioned as to his destination.

"Where are you bound ?" the German had asked.

"Hull," came the answer.

"Going there direct ?"

"No : via Kirkwall."

(Ah! The German knew what that meant.)

"Then you have a Prize Crew on board ?"

"Yes : one British officer and four soldiers."
"I shall sink you for trading with the English. Get into your boats, but you shall not let the Englishmen get in. They are to be sunk with the ship."

Clarke, however, thought differently, and got his party into the boats. As soon as the latter were clear, the U-boat opened fire on the Fimreite with a gun. About fifteen projectiles came whizzing across, one striking the boilers, and down sank the Norwegian steamer, bow first, whilst 29 German officers and men (most of them in duffel suits) watched the incident from the submarine's deck. The latter, now fully satisfied, dived and made off to the westward. For most of that day the Norwegian's boats flicked about the lonely Atlantic, but, by the mercy of God, at 3.30 in the afternoon they were marvellously saved from dying of exposure and starvation. There came along, not a steamer, but another Norwegian, and a sailing ship at that. She was the barque Springbank, who picked them up, and eventually transferred Clarke with his men to the Caliban, who brought them safely into Stornoway.


Now, not long after this incident occurred one of the strangest sequences of the whole War. On June 23 there set from New York the barque Pass of Balmaha, once a proud possession of the British Mercantile Marine before the conquest by steam, but by this date she had passed into United States ownership, and now she was coming across with a crew and a cargo of cotton bound for Archangel. A month passed, and she approached the Blockade zone, when the Victorian stopped her, put aboard an armed guard, consisting of an officer, petty-officer, with four men, to take her into Kirkwall or Lerwick, according to the wind's decision. During the next couple of days the voyage continued, when the disconcerting sight of U-36 appeared. This evening the 26 people in the sailing ship watched the submarine torpedo and sink a steamer.
Next morning (July 24), at 6 a.m., U-36 again appeared, when she was seen to sink a British trawler and a small coasting steamer. It is not necessary to stress the suspense, during these hours, of those in the American sailing ship. For the armed guard, at least, the hand of fate could be perceived approaching with the sureness of destiny. "Our turn next!" An hour later U-36 was able to switch her attention to the vessel flying the Stars and Stripes, and came alongside. But armed guard? What to do in this predicament ?

The Victorian's officer acted quickly, burnt his secret papers, told his men to borrow clothing from the American crew, and sent his five to stow themselves in the forepeak till the submarine had finished and departed. But the submarine's Captain (Lieut.-Commander Graeff) decided to capture the Pass of Balmaha, and put on board Petty-Officer Lamm with orders to take her into Cuxhaven. Germany would be glad to receive the cotton. During these days quite a number of sinkings were being made off north Scotland by other submarines, and Graeff wirelessed through to another U-boat near Shetlands that the sailing ship was to be found and escorted.


The armed guard was in a quandary, for U-36 continued visible for a while; but the Englishmen were expecting every hour to sight one of our patrols, when all would be well. The ship would again be captured and Lamm taken prisoner. Now, the extraordinary and sad fact must be mentioned that the Pass of Balmaha somehow sailed through a "dead" zone, and to the chagrin of the Victorian's party, not one of the familiar Blockading Fleet crossed their path. Why? Because, Patrol "C" having been passed already, there was no other blockade-line south of the Faroes, and in any case the submarine menace just now required that these armed merchant cruisers should not operate too far south. The result was that, with marvellous good fortune, the Pass of Balmaha got untouched into the North Sea, past the local patrols of the Shetlands and Orkneys, thence to the southward, and eventually all the way into Cuxhaven, where she arrived early in August, having been picked up and escorted as far as Heligoland by the submarine who had been called up. The Victorian's armed guard were taken ashore as prisoners, and Petty-Officer Lamm (undoubtedly a brave and enterprising fellow) was sent for to receive the congratulations of Admiral von Pohl, Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy. And here we must leave the Pass of Balmaha for the next eighteen months, until one Christmas morning she reappeared in another rush through the Blockade. If ever a ship had an adventurous career it was this barque which made our enemies a free gift of the longed-for cotton.

 But we have not yet finished with U-36 and Lieut.-Commander Graeff. There had steamed out of Scapa Flow in the glow of a July evening an undistinguished little collier of only 373 tons, similar in type to so many of those steamers which used to bring fuel and other supplies north to the Grand Fleet. The name of this vessel was the Prince Charles, and she was scarcely worth a second glance. Away she slowly ambled to the westward, but she saw very few vessels. At 6.20 p.m. on July 24—that is to say, about twelve hours after Graeff had captured the Pass of Balmaha—the collier Prince Charles happened to be about 10 miles W.N.W. of North Rona Island, that isolated rock which lies between the Hebrides and Shetlands. She now witnessed a sight such as the Pass of Balmaha had seen too often.

Little more than two miles away, and apparently stopped, was the Louise, a three-masted Danish steamer with one funnel, and fifteen minutes later a submarine alongside was also descried.


The Prince Charles continued on her course at the slow, steady jog-trot-thump-go, jog-thump-trot-go, after the manner of her breed, when the U-boat (like the fable of the dog with the piece of meat) suddenly left the Louise, started up her oil-engines, and hurried at full speed towards the wretched collier, who hoisted her Red Ensign. A German shell came tearing its way towards Prince Charles, but fell 1,000 yards beyond; whereupon the collier stopped engines, blew three blasts to indicate her engines were going astern, checked way, andbegan lowering boats. Meanwhile there came a second shell, which passed between funnel and foremast but fell 1,000 yards over. Getting pretty well on to the target now!

When the submarine was only 600 yards away, she turned her broadside to the collier and resumed fire. But just then something happened, dramatic and wonderful, surprising beyond all thought; for the smoke-grimed collier hit back, opened fire with her guns, causing the German gunners to desert their post and hop down into the conning-tower quick-quickly. More shells from the Prince Charles rained down; frequent hits were registered; the submarine was holed and began to sink by the stern; two men were already killed in the conning-tower; the bows stood up into the air; the sea became black with Germans swimming for their lives; and in one final plunge the submarine disappeared to the bottom for ever. The collier rescued as many as possible, four commissioned officers, two warrant officers, and nine men out of total of 33 being thus saved and taken prisoners.

So perished U-36.

Who and what was the Prince Charles?

She had been fitted out as a submarine decoy, and this is the very first of the so-called "Q-ship" actions which opened up a new chapter in modern naval warfare. Besides her peace-time Master, Mr. F. N. Maxwell, and crew of nine, she was now carrying under the command of Lieut. Mark Wardlaw, R.N., an R.N.R. officer together with nine active-service ratings. Armed with only a 3-pdr. and a 6-pdr. on either side, her guns were cleverly concealed by tarpaulins, but their accurate and rapid fire impressed the survivors immensely. Rapidity and accuracy were essential; otherwise U-36 with her 14-pdr. gun and torpedoes would have sent the Prince Charles to join other steamers down below.


It was well that, with all these submarines now pressing north, the boom defence at Swarbacks Minn coaling-base was approaching completion, where already five colliers with 15,000 tons of fuel had arrived. But another awkward predicament of an armed guard indicated that the new peril was more than a mere gesture. It was July 28; the Hildebrand on the previous day had stopped that familiar Trondhjemfjord (New York to Bergen with general cargo) and ordered her into Kirkwall with an armed guard, when at 12.25 p.m. a submarine appeared and began shelling the Norwegian. The Master altered course to bring the U-boat astern and steamed off at full speed with the enemy following; but after half an hour the German was fast overhauling and again shelling Trondhjemfjord, so the latter had no other alternative except to stop.

As usual, the Master (Captain Bang) was ordered aboard the U-boat with his ship's papers, but he was a very fine, considerate seafarer. Equally unselfish and thoughtful was his wife, who happened to be travelling with him. Their conduct throughout was of brave independence worthy to be remembered, and not every neutral would have behaved as they. Before going off in the lowered boat, Captain Bang arranged for the disguise of Lieutenant Crawford, R.N.R., and the latter's armed guard. The good-wife provided Crawford with some of her husband's clothes, and, by that practised art of dissimulation so natural to her sex, packed the officer's uniform among her own effects preparatory for removal in one of the boats. The guard's rifles and other gear were concealed in the steamer's forepeak.

Scarcely had Captain Bang stepped aboard the submarine than the latter signalled the Trondhjemfjord to abandon ship immediately. By 1.25 p.m., only an hour after the first encounter, everyone had got into the boats, and at 130 yards the U-boat fired a torpedo which struck the steamer amidships. Over she listed heavily to port, but, owing to a large quantity of sulphuric acid in the cargo, there followed a loud explosion, scattering debris to the height of the mastheads. At 2.51 p.m. the steamship foundered. Once again did that rare thing, a ship under sail, come to the rescue; for after the submarine had taken in tow for four miles to the southward the boats containing crew and guard, the Norwegian barque Glance was met with, who received them on board.


There presently was sighted by Glance the Swedish S.S. Orlando bound for Sweden, and to this vessel all were transferred, Captain Bang and his party thus continuing their voyage; but the armed guard were again transferred, this time to the trawler Princess Juliana, and thereby reached Thurso after their many adventures. They owed their freedom from capture or injury entirely to Captain Bang, who turned out to be the most loyal friend. When the U-boat commanding officer inquired if the Trondhjemfjord had been boarded by a British patrol, or whether an armed guard had been put aboard, Captain Bang lied manfully : he would probably have been shot had the truth been discovered by the Germans.

 Captain K. S. Irgens, of the troublesome Bergensfjord, which had been stopped west-bound for New York on July 9, was reserved and courteous in manner, and used to have a typewritten letter of protest in good English all in readiness to send through the Boarding Officer for the latter's Captain.

"I readily admit your full right to visit and search my ship on the high seas (it would begin), and to bring it into port for the necessary detention, when there is sufficient evidence to believe that contraband articles are in my cargo; but if such evidence is not present, I regret not to be able to admit your right to take my ship into port. . . . In such case it will therefore be necessary that you take complete charge of my ship, and the whole responsibility for my ship, passengers, mails and cargo, until my ship is again outside of the "war zone". I shall also ask you in your instructions to your officers in charge of my ship to be aware of the extremely dangerous position in which my ship will be put if she is stopped, or signalled to stop, with a British "Prize Crew" on board."

That was his firm standpoint, and doubtless any one of us in the same situation as Captain Irgens, anxious for the charge committed to him, would have taken up the same attitude; yet the fact remains that his ship was a perpetual embarrassment to the Blockade, and no steamer gave so much trouble to the Cruiser Squadron Captain. Captain Irgens was proud of his 17 knots speed, and seemed to imagine that he could always get away from our patrols. He was wrong : even after


a long chase, interception followed, though she did her utmost to elude them. "I stopped the Bergensfjord one night," writes one of these commanding officers to me, "when she was westward-bound north of the Faroes, showing no lights except her sidelights." Sometimes even these were out, and the risk to traffic of a liner tearing about the sea at such a speed on a dark night was one of the conditions which had to be faced.

The Bergensfjord must have been highly profitable to her owners during those months, for she wasted little time in port, and on the first of August was again stopped and sent into Kirkwall, this time by the Alsatian, for a thorough inspection. Among her cargo were such items as loaded shells and cartridges, but besides her passengers and crew were 24 men working their passage. Once again, too, the Danish S.S. Oscar II, New York to Copenhagen, was sent into Kirkwall.
By the end of July the ice was leaving Iceland and a passage quite close to the north shore was being used by sealers and fishermen. It was definitely established that the Bergensfjord's favourite route, both outward and homeward, was to pass through lat. 63°N., long. 7° W. (i.e. well north of the Faroes), and she kept to schedule so regularly that she was usually at that spot about 2 p.m. on the Sunday after departure from New York. There is no doubt that Captain Irgens was a very able officer. When the officers of the British armed guards remained on board, they were treated by him with great courtesy and took their meals with the saloon passengers. On requesting to be allowed to pay for their hospitality, the British officers were informed that they were guests of the Norske-Amerika Line.

There now comes into our story one more of those tragedies which are inseparable from grim war. The reader will recollect the institution of that new Patrol "G" off the Norwegian coast for the purpose of interrupting the Narvik ore-steamers, and as recently as August 8 the Virginian captured the Swedish S.S. Vollratb Than, with 8,000 tons of this contraband bound for the Germans via Rotterdam. Other units normally patrolling this important area were the Ebro, Teutonic, and India. The approaches to West Fjord had gained an increased importance ever since the trawler Tenby Castle had demonstrated the rewards of vigilance.


But it could not be long before this tighter control of the Blockade section would be contended. German agents in such ports as Narvik and Bergen would learn all about it from shipmasters and pilots. Exact news of the patrol ships, their names, their cruising stations, would quickly reach Berlin. The latter's reply would consist in sending out either a division of light but fast cruisers to wipe out the patrol and then scurry back home before the Grand Fleet learned too much; or better still and more economical would be the very plan which Admiral de Chair had so much desired for the opposite operation of striking terror by means of the submarine. Since the War we know on the authority of the German naval historian Captain Gayer that information did reach Berlin through an agent that "an English cruiser was permanently stationed" off West Fjord, and it was now decided that the best antidote to the interference with the ore-ships was to send forth submarines.
Even on July 11, the Ebro sighted a U-boat off this Fjord in lat. 69°22' N., long. 15°15' E., but on August 3 there left Borkum for this special service U-22, which during the very first week of war had (with three others) been scouting at the southern end of the North Sea. It was a little time - a whole day and a half - before the vague fear could be established that something terrible had happened. The Virginian, on the afternoon of Sunday, August 8, was trying to pass an important signal through to the India that the German auxiliary cruiser Meteor had started out from the Heligoland Bight that morning and was expected to pass up the Norwegian coast, probably on her way to lay mines in the White Sea. Such information was more than enough to keep the India very much on the alert. Actually, however, the Meteor was not bound for the White Sea this time, though she had rushed past the coast last June, reached the White Sea, laid a series of minefields (which had disastrous results), and got safely back to Germany. Her mission on August 8 was to lay a minefield in the Moray Firth, so she never got so far north as the India. How the Meteor succeeded, and the extraordinary adventures which happened to her immediately  afterwards, I have narrated in another volume, and they need not here be repeated.

On Sunday, at 8 a.m., the India had reported her position, but during the early hours of Tuesday Virginian (senior ship in Patrol "G"), after calling her up by wireless for nearly three hours, could get no answer. It was quite certain now that the India had met trouble some time between Sunday afternoon and 2.15 a.m. of Tuesday. The full story may now be presented as follows:

It was a mere coincidence that two sad losses - one an armed merchant cruiser, the other an armed boarding steamer - should both occur within twelve hours of each other yet at different parts of the North Sea. It was even still more strange that the Meteor, herself an improvised warship, was to suffer such a dramatic fate, and to become so curiously concerned with another submarine, U-28. These, again, were just the chances of war. The commanding officer of India was Commander W. G. A. Kennedy, R.N., and he was very busy during Sunday patrolling off the West Fjord through a line which may be described with accuracy as along the parallel of 67°30' N., from as far west as 11°30' E. to as far east as 13°30' E., which brought him very close to the Norwegian coast. The armed trawlers Saxon and Newland were also hereabouts.
The first incident occurred about 8.30 a.m., when these two trawlers were sighted to the north with the Swedish S.S. Gloria. The India stopped and sent an officer aboard to examine Gloria, but after a most thorough search, lasting an hour and a half, she was allowed to proceed. At 11 a.m., whilst steaming at 14 knots and zigzagging for fear of submarines, India closed the Swedish S.S. Atland in order to identify her. The latter was keeping carefully inside the three-mile limit. At noon came an urgent wireless message from Virginian to send the Gloria into Kirkwall, so speed was raised to 16 1/2 knots and search was made to the north; but the steamer had vanished, and India now eased to 14 knots, but resumed her zigzagging. At 3 p.m. a British steamer in ballast bound for Archangel was spoken, and presently the trawler Saxon.


The summer afternoon began to wane, a steamer of sorts was reported coming up from the south-east, and Commander Kennedy altered course to try to intercept. He had just left the bridge temporarily to give the wireless operator an order, leaving Sub-Lieut. E. W. Alltree, R.N.R., in charge, the time being 5.40 p.m. Suddenly the look-out man on the fo'c'sle reported : "Submarine on starboard bow!" Looking in the direction indicated, Alltree saw the white feathery track of a torpedo approaching from only 300 yards away. Commander Kennedy had barely left the wireless-house and reached the next (hurricane) deck, when he heard the alarm gongs sounding.
Running back to the bridge, he was in time to witness the torpedo track foaming at an angle of about 30 degrees from the bow.

"Full speed ahead! Hard aport!"
The order was obeyed promptly, and at first it looked as if danger had just been averted, for the track seemed to have reached the ship and nothing to have happened. Evidently the missile had gone under the hull!

Then came that ominous thud, with the explosion. A hit!

The torpedo struck its target below No. 3 starboard gun, and immediately the ex-P. & O. liner began to sink by the stern, heeling 10 degrees to port. The Commander ordered messages requesting assistance to be sent out, and then came, "Abandon Ship!"

Seven boats had been kept in a state of readiness for such an emergency, and swung out. In spite of the appalling swiftness of the catastrophe, the most perfect discipline and behaviour continued till the end. Boats were being lowered, life-rafts being prepared, extra lifebelts being served out, whilst down below water was rapidly rising in the engine-room, where a like stoic calmness prevailed till the sea swept the staff away. Unfortunately, as many readers well know, there are few occasions more difficult than that of trying to lower boats from a sinking merchant steamer with the old-fashioned davits. Over and over again it happens that one of the falls (the ropes by which a boat is lowered) runs out with a rush and shoots its people into the water. But especially awkward is the lowering when the ship has a heavy list.


Thus the starboard boats never reached the water, being hopelessly thrown into confusion because the first lifeboat's foremost fall freed itself, ran out, and so made the boat to swing round, fouling two others, whilst the fourth (and last) got stove in against the steep-heeling ship's side. On the port side, however, three out of the four boats were safely lowered and got clear; but - again an accident which had so often occurred in peace-time to big steamers - the fourth boat capsized as she touched water, just because the stricken vessel had still got so much way. The result was that, notwithstanding all the efforts to save life, there perished nine officers and 107 men, only 189 officers and men surviving, but 157 of these had either dived off the ship or, having gone down with her, came up again.

There is no sadder sight for a sailor than a sinking ship -  many of us can never forget the pain during those war years of seeing some noble vessel lurching and wallowing helplessly before the final plunge - yet for the Captain who has nursed his ship through gales and danger zones, only to find her suddenly slipping from under his feet, there is a particularly poignant grief, which is no more capable of being described than the distress of a mother weeping for her firstborn can be expressed in words. Commander Kennedy had neither the time nor the chance to readapt and react to the quickly changing conditions. Five minutes before he was on the bridge; then he was trying to save his men; another swift spasm and he found himself going down with the India, clinging to the foremost port davit, till he eventually floated up alive among the wreckage and was hauled into a boat.
Sub-Lieut. Alltree was able to leave in one of the boats that was already about full, and only with difficulty on touching the water could she get away from India, which was going ahead at 10 knots in spite of the change in trim. A horrible spectacle then presented itself to him who a few minutes ago had been officer-of-the watch. He saw the vessel's stern go deep down, her bows lift right out of the water, the guns on the fo'c'sle carry away, the hull break in two - and then nothing remained of the 8,000-ton liner that had made so many safe voyages during the last nineteen years, only a confused, meaningless mass of spars, rafts, and broken wreckage floating this way and that. Already 35 men were in the boat, whilst another was dangerously deep, having shipped so much water in the act of being lowered.


Some men were still struggling in the swell to anything that floated, but now a Swedish steamer from a couple of miles away had observed their plight and was coming to their assistance, though the present danger existed in the overcrowded boat being likely to capsize. Sub-Lieut. Alltree, after heading for the steamer, finally decided to make the land, which was some seven miles E.S.E. of Helligvar. He saw the Saxon going to rescue those still in the water, but he saw also (after going a couple of miles) the periscope of the submarine. It came towards the boat and dived only when some thirty yards away. At 8.30 that evening Alltree's party reached Helligvar, where the Norwegians received them with kindness, giving them food and rooms for the night. Early in the following morning three bodies were brought ashore by local motor-boats. A Norwegian gunboat took the survivors and bodies to Bodo. Other survivors were picked up by the Saxon and the Swedish steamer, thus reaching Narvik together with eleven more bodies. With full honours, and attended by Norwegian naval, military, and civil authorities, the sad funeral ceremonies took place, flowers, evergreens, and wreaths from the kindly Norwegians being placed with the White Ensign, Union Jack, and Red Ensign picked up from the India.
But now began a dismal period for eager warriors snatched out of war and death into inactivity. No more chance of toiling for victory against the enemy; no more days and nights on patrol. They were transferred to an internment camp near Lillehammer, and three long years in a strange land must pass before the War should finish.
Thus did U-22 make matters temporarily easier for the ore-ships, though the Patrol "G" still continued, and on August 13 one of the units intercepted the S.S. Gotaland bound for Middlesbrough. This was the Swedish vessel which had picked up 88 of India's crew, and she brought news that the Saxon had rescued 46. The trawler patrols (including Tenby Castle) were now moved some distance south, but still continued their risky and lonely vigil in lat. 64°18' N., long. 1O° E., to intercept shipping in the neighbourhood of Kya Island, whilst submarines continued to operate, and one even stopped a Norwegian steamer and seized mails addressed to the Allies.


Commander Ernst Hashagen, who happened to be serving in U-22, has recently published in his experiences the German version of how the India was sunk. "For months past", he writes, "reports had been coming in repeatedly that a British auxiliary cruiser was operating off the Lofotens and disturbing the German ore traffic from Narvik. We were to put a stop to this business by attacking and sinking the ship." The torpedo was fired at 1,200 yards, and, after hitting India, the submarine dived to 10 fathoms. When again she was sighted it was because she returned "to the scene of the wreck after about two hours to fish up buoys or other flotsam which may reveal the ship's name, which we do not yet know". But U-22 was frightened by the British trawler and Norwegian, ''so we abandon our intent and retire again submerged". Not till the submarine got back to Germany was it learned that the victim had been the India.



The reader will not have failed to observe in the preceding chapters that the essential and indispensable features of the Blockade were the interception, stopping, and boarding of ships. This was so much more than a mere routine affair, yet it occurred with such regular daily frequency during three long years that it is well to set down for all time exactly the procedure which took place in order that we may perceive the toil and hazard of boatmanship, whilst leaving for posterity a complete record that may be of value. I have in the following pages endeavoured to present a composite picture of exactly what went on, the details having been supplied to me by a number of officers, each an expert in his own department.
We shall view the subject as seen respectively by the Admiral, the Captain, the Second-in-Command, the Examining Officers, the boatmen, the sullen neutral ship-master.

 Let us imagine ourselves aboard the armed merchant cruiser. From the crow's-nest high up the mast the smoke of a ship has been sighted by one of the look-outs, who kept two-hour watches only, since that was quite long enough when ultra-vigilance was so important. Course would be altered and speed quickened to intercept her before the stranger could sight the patrol; but then the neutral would usually turn away and try evasion. By this time the cruiser would be working up to full speed, and presently the two converging courses would nearly reach the point of contact; but before coming within gun range the merchant cruiser's buglers would sound off "Action Stations", men would come rushing forth, and the ship be cleared for an engagement, with guns trained on the neutral, magazines opened, stretcher-parties and first-aid parties at their posts, fire-hose connected up, and everything ready for a fight. Who could say offhand that this was not a raider in disguise f


Flag-signals have  been hoisted ordering the vessel to stop immediately; if this was not complied with there would be first a blank charge fired, and then a live shell across her bows. The next duty was to manoeuvre towards the ship, zigzagging and keeping outside of torpedo range, lower the boarding boat, then turn away and signal the stranger to approach the boat, whose examining officers would then climb aboard. Sometimes during a gale, says Admiral de Chair, "I have witnessed the boarding boats capsized and sunk alongside the craft they were boarding. The way we generally managed to get alongside was to order the ship to steer a certain course at right angles (if the weather was not too bad) to the wind and sea. Then we would go round ahead of her and, with our ship pointing in the same direction, lower our boat under our lee, then steam ahead, ordering the other craft to steam ahead too.

The latter would come up to the boat, so there was less need for rowing, the stranger giving the boat her lee. The intercepting patrol would then steam round and come up astern ready for the boarding boat to return."
That was the general principle in the Alsatian and others, but some commanding officers modified the method according to their own ideas and the different handling which each ship required. Whilst the general practice was to steam very slowly ahead, bringing the seas just on one bow, lowering the boat to leeward, the Alcantara acted as follows. This somewhat flat-bottomed vessel had been built for the River Plate trade, so that her draught was light in proportion to her top-hamper: in a wind she drifted fast to leeward. Admiral Wardle (her late Captain) tells me that he therefore lowered his boat to windward, left her, and then went astern, to clear the boat. Even when it was blowing hard, this unusual seamanship exactly suited Alcantara.

Vessels of the 10th Cruiser Squadron had orders to stop the stranger at about 5,000 yards. In very bad weather the Alcantara would keep the wind about four points on the bow before going astern. "In Almanzora", says Commander W. C. Tarrant, R.N.R., "we had single wires through the davits to the boat. This meant no awkward fall-blocks to hook on or unhook. These wires met inboard at a buffer spring attached to a single threefold purchase. The travelling block of the purchase ran on wheels on deck."


"I much preferred my way in Alcantara," says Admiral Wardle, "of having a double-ended boat on No. 2 hatch, so that I could hoist out on either side."
Such a boat carried only six men, whereas the thirteen or fifteen would be in the normal Service cutter. The latter, whilst bigger, was less handy when arriving alongside a tall steel side, and disaster came when the cutter, having drifted under a ship's counter, was crushed by the steamer's heavy roll. Captain John Kiddle, who was in the Alsatian, informs me that "all our boats were of the ordinary Merchant Service pattern, stowing inboard on the boat-deck. The foremost boat each side was kept permanently turned out and secured in (naval) Service fashion, with gripes and griping spar. The reason for this was that they were rather larger than the others and blocked the gangway badly if kept turned in. We had not a seaboat proper, as understood in the Service, but a small double-ender was stowed on the fore-deck, being hoisted out and in by two derricks and winches. One of these derricks was topped to plumb the boat in the inboard-position, and one to swing out for lowering into the water."

Boarding Officers and crew of the Flagship about to be lowered into the water

In the accompanying photograph (above - click to enlarge) will be seen the Alsatian's boat swung out ready for lowering. This particular one was sometimes fitted with an outboard motor, and is just taking the Boarding Officers Lieut.-Commander J. W. Williams, R.N.R. (photograph below), and Paymaster Sub.-Lieut. J. Barton, with a crew of seven, to examine a steamer. No patent dropping gear was fitted. "An eye with a lizard( a wire or rope having a thimble fitted at one end. This will be recognized in the photograph.) was used to steady the boat as far as possible", says the latter, "when lowering in a seaway, but, considering the height above water of the Alsatian's foredeck, the boat was apt to bump badly if the ship had any movement. Fenders were used, of course, to obviate this. When the boat was nearing the water, the winch had to be let run, and I can assure you it had to be smart work unhooking. The way in which the boarding boat's crew - officers and men - carried out this evolution in all sorts of weather was beyond praise. As you can imagine, the slightest fault would have meant the boat capsizing; but during the time I served in the ship we were lucky. It was the only method that could be used, as the boat deck was some 25 to 30 feet further up."

One of the most experienced Boarding Officers. Now Marine Superintendent of the White Star Line


Sometimes the boat would hoist sail for the run down to the stranger's lee side; at other times she would be rowed. It was ticklish business coming alongside a hull whose rivets stood out like domes and had a nasty habit of catching against the boat's gunwale. When a capsize followed, or the boat became swamped by the backwash, not rarely were the crew rescued by the ship to be boarded. The admiration by the Royal Navy for the way the Royal Naval Reserve handled these open boats remains one of the abiding results of the Blockade. Captain Kiddle describes it as "absolutely superb". "The handling of these boarding boats", says Admiral de Chair, "became a fine art, and it was inspiring to see how they were hoisted out and sent away in the heaviest sea, with the ship rolling heavily; yet the appliances were of the simplest - just an ordinary span and heavy hook - the boat being lifted out of its crutches and dropped over the side on to the crest of a wave, disappearing the next moment as the ship rolled away and the boat sank far down in the trough of a sea below the bilge of the ship."

Admiral de Chair was experiencing conditions that belonged to the old days of oak and canvas. On several occasions he had to visit his ships in heavy weather, and the method was thus: Having brought the strange ship 200 yards astern, the boat would be hoisted out, the Admiral stepping in from the lee gangway as the boat rose level with the upper deck. Then both ships steamed ahead, the stranger giving the boat a lee; and the process would be repeated on the return trip. "The boats' crews in my flagship were mostly composed of Newfoundland fishermen, who were marvellous boatmen, accustomed as they were to handle their little dories on the Banks of Newfoundland."

"We had about 25 of these Newfoundlanders," adds Captain Kiddle, "and they were sterling seamen." Those Who remember Kipling's Captains Courageous need no reminder of the hard conditions under which these men had been brought up to work line-fishing on the Banks from open boats that often get lost in the fog, leaving the men to die of cold and starvation. Accustomed to boarding their own schooners during terrible weather, which sometimes get driven right across from America to Europe, this hard school of gallant men were the world's greatest experts for the
Blockade job.


In winter the ice on these schooners' bulwarks rigging, anchors, and so on at times becomes seriously weighty and even the seas which leap aboard become solid frozen masses, so that the ship settles down deep in the water beyond her correct waterline and  she  founders.  Even since the War there have been cases where several of these fine schooners bereft of chart, compass or sufficient food and water, have fought death during week after week before getting home again.

No sons of Empire did better work during the Great War than these seafarers. Without such specialist boat-handlers, together with the English and Scottish fishermen, it is difficult to imagine the Blockade could have been a practical combing of neutrals. Rehearsals still went on; every time an armed merchant cruiser entered Busta Voe to coal, it was "Abandon Ship!" and away went all boats for an hour's sail or pull round.

Two of the ablest Boarding Officers in the whole Blockading Fleet were Lieutenant-Commander (now Captain) J. W. Williams, R.N.R., and Paymaster Sub-Lieut. J. Barton, R.N.R. (later Lieutenant R.N.V.R.), both of whom served in the flagship, and their co-operation was ideal. They raised ship-visiting and examination to such a standard that it can never be beaten, combining the qualities of physical courage with tact and personal dominance over all the bluffs and reticence of evasive foreigners. Captain Williams brought to his task a strong, independent character that had been moulded by long years of hard service and stern discipline under the Red Ensign. The respect of these two officers one for the other was typical of what was existent in other units of the Fleet. "I had the great fortune to have with me John Barton, an ex-amateur champion boxer of the Midlands," says the former. "John knew not personal fear. Day and night, gale or calm, he was always the same - full of go. In spite of my warning, he would attach to his person a heavy Service revolver and bandolier full of cartridges : sufficient weight to sink an ordinary man 'without trace'. On one occasion this practice was nearly his undoing.


 "We were boarding a very awkward ship in a rather nasty gale, with high seas running. The ship was rolling badly, and there were many projections from her side which would have sunk us had we been unable to keep our boat clear. John made a spring for the ship's side - caught the ropes and ladder - but our boat hove up under him and he very quickly found himself, as it were, turned into the sinker of a deep-sea lead. He managed, however, to slip his armoury, and came to the surface, having absorbed quite a quantity of the North Sea, and swearing that his 'Gieve's' waistcoat was wonderful.
"Sailing ships were the most difficult to board, and we were very nearly washed right on board - boat and all - on several occasions. Experience, self-confidence, and nerve were required by the Boarding Officer. I had two years' experience, and it was astonishing how we soon found that we could board ships in nearly all weathers. At any time, day or night, we were called away, assisted in the darkness by our search-fights, running before the wind under a small lugsail towards our prize, which would be lost to sight in the trough of each sea, and eventually rounding up to leeward of the ship for examination. The dark hull of our own ship (with her searchlight ever watching) was always near with guns trained on in case our prize turned out to be a raider. It was always understood that in such a case fire was to be opened and the boarding boat with crew sacrificed."
"Personally," Lieutenant Barton informs me, "I rather enjoyed the boarding stunts in daylight, but on a dark night with a really heavy sea running it was really poisonous. In putting my boat alongside, it was always necessary to anticipate the skipper being a hostile neutral, in which case it was not difficult to run me down 'accidentally'. I often think of the many times when I have been waiting, keeping my seaboat head on to the seas, for the good old Alsatian to pick me up. Then I would see her coming along, showing fifty feet of her forefoot—as she often did in heavy weather. Those were great days!"

Proud of one's ship! But proud, also, of the boat's crew! In the photograph Lieutenant Williams is sitting, Cox'n Leslie is standing at his left, and Michael Lynch next to them. Lieutenant Barton (in Paymaster's uniform) is standing holding the hook, which had to be disconnected. "Michael Lynch was my stroke oar from August 1914 to the end of the War, and he was plus ten at his job. A man of great strength and staying power, he never got rattled, and in fending off with the butt of an oar he repeatedly saved us all when alongside small tramp steamers with flush deck-ports, which, as we came up on a big sea, would have caught our gunwale and capsized us."


This officer's personal narrative of being lowered from the tall deck of Alsatian is full of interest as we glance at the photograph and think of the boat hanging as high as a big house. The crux of lowering or being hoisted was the act of connecting or releasing the massive steel hook. "I always took charge of it myself, both when leaving and returning. Although I am pretty strong physically, it was just all I could handle. In leaving the flagship, we would be dropped while she had way on (about two knots), and the instant we touched water the stroke oar would unship the after of the two lizards, and I would unship the hook. The cox'n would put the helm over, and then the bowman would let go for'ard. This would put us clear of the flagship. It was very much more difficult returning, as the flagship would have considerable speed on because of the submarines; and in heavy weather the baring of her underfoot was most impressive.

 "I had to place my seaboat so that, as she passed us, the long steadying-line from the deck would just trail over us. I would then sing out : 'All hands on steadying-line!' The fore-and-aft lizards would then be made fast to the fore-and-aft thwarts, and the hook would come down with a run, which I would grab and jamb on to the ring. Then the job would be to keep it engaged while the winches were taking the weight. It was just a gamble whether I hooked on while the seaboat was on the crest of a sea or in a trough : if the latter, we would quickly have a heap of slack - both chain and fall - so I had to see we did not become disengaged.

 "On the instant of engaging the hook I would roar out: 'All fast!' The officer on deck in charge of hoisting and lowering would pass the word to the winch controlling the outboard derrick, and the winchman would give it full steam. The instant we were clear of the water (and often before!) the signalman watching from the bridge would sing out: 'Boat clear of water!'' The commanding officer would instantly give the order : 'Full ahead all four [propellers]!' and the ship would begin to feel the impetus."


It was an unforgettable sight for this boatload of men to be sitting poised on a great wave watching and waiting for the Alsatian some four miles distant with all her guns trained on the suspect. Then the short quick suspense, the strain on connected gear, the rattle of the winches. Never once occurred  the slightest hitch, and this was due to the smartness of the seaboat as well as of Lieut.-Commander Alfred Freer, R.N.R., on deck, who was responsible for the whole evolution of "Away Seaboat's crew!"

Up the neutral's rope-ladder would climb the two officers with their signalman, leaving the boat dancing about below in charge of the cox'n and four oarsmen. The reception aboard the neutral varied. In the case of Holland and Denmark there was little cause for complaint, but the Swedish shipmasters were truculent and difficult, who had to be addressed in unmistakable terms. Immediately would begin the examination, the first duty being to look at the steamer's boats. For what purpose?  Well, to ensure that they were not mere camouflage of guns. Having at last been satisfied that this was no raider, one Boarding Officer would get what information he could out of the Master, whilst the other British officer did the same with the steamer's Chief Officer, the signalman having a yarn with one of the ship's company.

The ship's papers were examined - certificate of registry, bills of lading,  manifest, bill of health - from which were extracted such items as her  nationality, tonnage, owners, ports bound from and to, passengers, crew, cargo, consignees of the latter, and so on. Next (if everything was all correct) would be semaphored back to the armed merchant cruiser:

"Holds and crew examined. Nothing suspicious to report."

"If you are satisfied, return on board and let her proceed," would come back the answer.
"Boat leaving," the Boarding Officer would then flap back.
The stranger would be given the flag of the day, good for the next three days. This, on being hoisted, would allow her pass the next patrols unmolested.
"Flag of day till noon Thursday N for nuts P for pudding Q for queen."

So with this message from the cruiser the neutral would flutter her bunting, start her engines again, and pass on. The flagship was in wireless touch with the Admiralty, and if an armed guard had been put aboard, further instructions would soon come out of the ether.


"It was generally with the greatest respect, and some trepidation," says Captain Williams, "that we were received by the Captains, crews, and passengers of the ships examined. All hands were first mustered and their identities checked off on the manifests and crew lists. The description of wanted people (as supplied to us by the Naval Intelligence Department) was carefully checked off also. Next holds and cargo manifests were examined and a report signalled to our Captain, who made the decision as to whether the ship had to be taken in for examination. If this was found necessary, a prize crew, consisting generally of one officer and five or six men - all of course armed - was sent on board."
Nor was this escort into port always devoid of humour when those in charge were lacking in experience. "The R.N.V.R. officers of the prize crews taking our captures into Kirkwall and other ports were at the beginning more full of zeal and the 'will-to-win' spirit than experienced in the ways of the sea. Once, when entering Kirkwall, the naval shore-station was throwing signal after signal - International Code, semaphore, etc. - into the ship, which was a Dutchman. The Captain was entirely baffled, but our R.N.V.R. hero, not to be beaten, put the naval signal station out of action by hoisting every flag he had in the ship, and came to anchor before the astonished yeoman-of-signals had recovered from the shock."
It was impressed on officers that they were to perform their difficult work whilst showing every courtesy to the neutrals. "Soon after commissioning the Calyx," recollects Admiral Wardle, "I told the senior R.N.R. Lieutenant to have a yarn with the young R.N.R. Sub-Lieutenant who would be the first to go in charge of a Prize Crew. It was a necessary precaution, for the senior Lieutenant came back later to say he had given him a good twenty minutes on the subject of tact, and had then tested him with the following question: 'Supposing, when you get on board, the neutral Captain does not ask you to use his cabin ?' The answer came pat :  'Then he'll b-----y well have to lump it!' However, this young officer did very good work later."


Admiral Wardle also relates the following two incidents, which illustrate the elusiveness of the neutral skippers. "One dark night, blowing a full gale, I intercepted one of the Danish East Asiatic liners, and, as we could not board, because of the weather, Admiral de Chair signalled me to keep her till we could. Later on, while I was below, the officer-of-the-watch reported she had switched off all lights and disappeared. An anxious moment, after the Admiral's signal! A brain-wave caused me to steer along the course she would have to go to the Cattegat, and I was much relieved about two hours later to see a light in the distance. It was the liner! She had by now considered herself safe and switched on her navigation lights!"

Through the same over-confidence did another evader fall into Admiral Wardle's hands. "I caught a Swedish ship with ammunition on board in much the same way. I was patrolling near the Norwegian coast, well inside or to the east of the main patrol line. She had got through the main line, and, thinking herself quite safe, had switched on her navigation lights. The Captain was very annoyed. I sent him in with an armed guard under an R.N.R. Midshipman. I think it was on this occasion that the Captain put a revolver on the table and the Midshipman took it up, unloaded it, ' and pocketed it!"

  Whilst the Boarding Officers each carried a revolver, the men of the armed guard had rifles and bayonets. The food they brought on board consisted of bully-beef, biscuits, and water. "Anyone acquainted with ships," explains Commander Tarrant, "will at once recognize that to examine and search thoroughly even a small cargo vessel at sea is an impossibility. To discover contraband it is necessary to remove and search the whole of the cargo, and when it is stated that the vessels dealt with carried anything up to 15,000 tons of cargo, this point will be readily appreciated. For this reason, as far as cargo was concerned, the Boarding Officers were only able to carry out a comparatively superficial examination."
How wideawake both Boarding and Customs Officers had to be may be understood from some of the blockade-runners' tricks. I have come across instances of rubber being made up as coffee-beans and enclosed in bags; whilst other bags containing mails to or from Germany would be secreted in private cabins. The Captain's "wife" might be in reality a German  courier  travelling  backwards  and forwards  from America.


"Hollow masts", says Admiral de Chair, "and double bulkheads filled with contraband; forbidden metals (riveted to the ship below the waterline); sections of honeycomb filled with rubber solution; macaroni covering sticks of aluminium" -were all tried and discovered. The Customs Officers obviously could not pull every package of (say) a 10,000-tons steamer to pieces; for there was a standing order that the neutral was not to be detained more than a short time. But X-ray photography was found of immense assistance.

When a neutral was ordered into port, it was the duty of the armed guard's officer to ensure that she steered a proper course.  Before starting off, this officer would receive by semaphore from his mother-ship the present exact position, so he could be independent of the neutral skipper's reckoning. The latter was not suffered to interfere with the allotted course into the examination port, for which reason both day and night the British officer was on the bridge protected by a couple of the armed guard. From the time of first boarding to that when she was either allowed to proceed or be sent into port varied according to circumstances, but it might last an hour or less. All sorts of amusing and strange incidents would crop up unexpectedly, as, for example, when the Dutch S.S. Amsterdam, outward-bound for Halifax, even had the temerity to ask the Alsatian if the latter would kindly supply the steamer with a chart "from Cape Race to Halifax". Back came the signal: "Very sorry cannot spare chart."

Another stranger would send a message : "Tell Captain that Norwegian S.S. Augusta, carrying timber for Iceland, has sprung a leak and requires assistance in lat. 61°33' N., long. 14°40' W." It was a fact that two Dutch trawlers from Ymuiden were in these waters spying for Germany, but their names and fishing numbers were known to the Blockaders. On the other hand, when any British trawler was fishing the Iceland grounds, or on passage, and had urgent information to communicate to H.M. ships, she used to hoist a basket over her fishing burgee. Finally, as a measure of further isolating Germany, it was insisted that all vessels trading with Iceland, or fishing in those waters, must have either a declaration (attested by one of the British accredited agents in Iceland) that she was working from an Iceland base and would not take her catch thence to Scandinavia or Holland, or else a declaration, attested by the British consular office in Norway, that the catch would be sold to British Government buyers.


The most difficult examination problem to the end of the War was how to intercept the letters which were being carried aboard neutral ships individually by members of the crew or passengers on behalf of Germany. But the busiest time was during the herring season off northern Iceland, when one armed merchant cruiser might have to send in ten or more fish-carriers to port with a corresponding number of guards, thus seriously depleting that ship's personnel. All these items were different in kind from the navigational dilemmas, which were as real as they were brilliantly overcome. In ordinary peace-time procedure a steamer advances directly from one position to another, keeping a steady course. But for vessels of the 10th Cruiser Squadron the courses were frequently being altered, "dead reckoning" (after much zigzagging, stopping to board, and so forth) was of little help, the frequent fogs shut out sun and stars; whilst, between Iceland and Greenland in particular, the navigators had to contend with unknown currents and considerable magnetic attraction. A wireless direction-finder was fitted to the Alsatian, but originally to no other units; yet, in spite of every conceivable drawback, the navigational standard continued to the end remarkably high. Perhaps it has never been surpassed in the whole history of seafaring.


Armed Merchant Cruisers that served with the 10th Cruiser Squadron

Log books are available for - Alcantara, Almanzora (served from 8.15), Alsatian, Ambrose, Andes, Arlanza, Artois (ex-Digby, transferred to French Flag, 11.15-7.17), Avenger (served from 12.15), Cedric, Changuinola, Columbella, Digby, Ebro, Eskimo, Gloucestershire (served from 12.15), Hilary, Hildebrand, India, Kildonan Castle (served from 3.16), Mantua, Moldavia (served from 11.15), Motagua, Orcoma, Orotava, Orvieto (served from 5.16), Otway, Patia, Patuca, Teutonic, Victorian, Virginian

Log books are not available for the following listed by Chatterton, and for the reasons given - Bayano (lost 3.15), Caribbean (foundered as accommodation ship 26.9.15), Calyx (withdrawn 6.15), Clan McNaughton (mined 2.15),  Oropesa (to French flag 12.15-7.17), Viking (as Viknor, mined 1.15)

Armed merchant Cruisers, with transcribed log books, that served elsewhere -

Armadale Castle (Cape etc)Avoca (Pacific), Calgarian (NA&WI), Carmania (S Atlantic), Caronia (NA&WI)Celtic (S. Atlantic),  City of London (China)Edinburgh Castle (South America), Empress of Britain (mid-Atlantic, withdrawn 5.15), Empress of Japan (China/Egypt, withdrawn 10.15), Himalaya (China/Indian Ocean/Cape),   Kinfauns Castle (Cape), Laconia (Cape), Laurentic (Indian Ocean, NA&WI), Macedonia (South America)Marmora (mid-Atlantic), Morea (Atlantic), Ophir (mid-Atlantic/China), Orama (South America), Orbita (Cape/Pacific)Otranto (Pacific), Princess (Cape)

Note: NA&WI - North America and West Indies Station

For some idea of life on an armed merchant cruiser, although not one on the Northern Patrol, see

"HARRY RUSSELL, later OBE, Executive Chef of the Cunard Line and his service on HMS CARONIA, 1914-16


From "History of the Great War - The Merchant Navy" by Sir Archibald Hurd

return to World War 1, 1914-1918

revised  11/7/15