Danger Zone

Date 1916 09 21(1) 1916 09 21

The previous evening, Drake manned her guns, (2) and today, as they approach the danger zone around Ireland, her captain issues the command to begin zigzagging. (1)

In addition, the best shots in the battery were called on for special duty:

We had to get fully dressed and on top of all this adjust our life-belts. All the boats were swung outboard so we piled into them and had a rifle and 50 rounds issued to each of us. We were to look for inquisitive submarines or periscopes. If we saw one we were to report to the orderly office, who in turn reported to the bridge, who then sent down a range to us. What would have happened if we fulfilled this no one can tell. We came off our first shift at 1:30 pm, cold, wet, tired and hungry. We didn’t get a shot.(3)

“On the afternoon of the ninth day,” wrote Ives, “tiny specks on horizon were seen which within half an hour were along side with the speed of express trains. Destroyers. [he underlined the word.] Silent welcome.” (4)  MacArthur, the historian of the 55th Battery, also described meeting the destroyers, and noted that “as these efficient and speedy little boats curved in and out among the lumbering transports we felt secure in the hands of the Navy.” (5)

Destroyer.JPG

Escort Ship“– almost certainly a Royal Navy destroyer

Archie Wills described the destroyers a “pretty sight:” “little wasps tearing along in a light sea … [and throwing] two cataracts from their knife-like bows.” Watching the sea wash over their decks, he thought that “the boys in these midget fighting ships must have a hard life in a heavy sea and whenever one hear [sic] of a destroyer being sunk he should shed a tear for the boys who went with her. They are real men.” (6)

Within half an hour of sighting the destroyers, Drake left the convoy for Greenock. (1) And it was every ship for herself, the Cameronia reaching 16 1/2 knots, still not quite her top speed, but enough to leave Northland a speck on the horizon as night fell. (7)

The men were under orders to wear their life vests at all times, and no one was permitted to sleep below. There were no lights on board at all. (8)

Isle of ManMacArthur described the Irish coast “moving by on our right, its green hills showing dimly through the mist, [before] we curved around, through the Irish Sea, and close by the towering cliffs of the Isle of Man.” (5) That last evening at sea, one observer experienced mixed emotions: “Beautiful phosphorescence. Silvery moonlight Broken rest. Pleasing lights of northern Ireland and Scotland.” (3)

Someone spotted a torpedo coming toward the Cameronia, its path lit up by phosphoresence, but it turned and disappeared aft, proving itself to be only a porpoise. (9)

(1) HMS Drake, Logbook, September 21, 1916
(2) HMS Drake, Logbook, September 20, 1916
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. September 21, 1916. 3: 37. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(4) Ives, Raymond Ellsworth. Memoir (manuscript). Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(5) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. Toronto, 1919. 4
(6) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 38-39. September 21, 1916.
(7) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 39-40. September 21, 1916.
(8) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 40. September 21, 1916.
(9) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 41. September 21, 1916.

The photographs are from Wills, Archie. All in a Lifetime [photograph album]. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
The image of cliffs is from the Isle of Man’s iMuseum photographic archive.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

 

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