Off the Dogger Bank

May 4, 1917: 5.30 P.M.
I WAS in the midst of letter-writing when the bugle sounded ’Action,’and I dropped my pen and ran to my station. It’s very funny to think that I had just been writing what a dull sort of a picnic we were on, and how peaceful everything was — and then suddenly there was the deafening roar of the guns, and the columns of water thrown up by our shells, and peace turned into pandemonium, and the calm oily sea of a few minutes before changed into innumerable small breaking wavelets, — running in all directions, — caused by the wild twisting and turning, at utmost speed, of the two light cruisers and four destroyers that comprised our squadron.
The first cause of this activity was the sight of a long, cigar-shaped, aluminum-colored body, apparently poised in mid-air; the second cause, submarines: a very popular combination with the Boche. The Zepp does the scouting, and then the submarines do the dirty w ork. He was a long way off when we sighted him; but the air was so clear and the visibility so good, that we at once turned and attacked him, just on the chance of getting a lucky hit, though the odds were twenty thousand to one against it, and, as we expected, the odd chance did n’t come our way.
Submarines were being continually reported, — though I personally can swear to seeing only one, — and our fire was distributed impartially between the Zepp and the periscopes, or anything that looked as if it might be a periscope. Also, we dodged this way and that, and all ways at once, and did n’t give them a chance to torpedo us. The submarine Boche likes a nice sitting shot, with no one to harass him — shooting at him seems rather to discourage him.
My station was on the after-control platform; but there was nothing to do there, so I bustled round for a bit, helping to fuse the shells, and then went up to the fore-control bridge, where one could see what was doing. After a while, finding that the Zepp would n’t let us close him, we turned and ran away, hoping that he would come after us, which he did; so we again turned and engaged him.
After a while — I suppose about an hour and a half from the time we sighted him — our Zepp friend thought that he would do a bit of attacking; and it was really fascinating to watch him manoeuvre over the ship, to drop his bombs. I suppose he was actually traveling about fifty or sixty miles an hour, but he was so high up (never less than 15,000 feet) that he seemed to be crawling, and he did n’t like to come lower as we were strafing him hard all the time, which, I suppose, discouraged him.

Well, he got nearly overhead, looking like a huge aluminum cigar, with a strip of silver paper (the propellers) flapping in the breeze each side, and then — a long-drawn-out sort of whistle, getting louder and louder, till suddenly a sharp crack, followed immediately by a tremendous crash, and a huge column of dirty-looking smoke and water, and the first bomb had fallen, about 100 yards off our port beam. A moment or two to note the fall, and, I suppose, correct his sights, and brother Boche let go another big fellow, neatly halving the distance this time, and too close to be pleasant! Then another pause, — of what seemed like minutes but I suppose was really only seconds, — and the third bomb arrived, just missing us on the other side. Then he let us have it good and hearty, and another nine came down in quick succession, several landing practically simultaneously. But we were no longer there. Acting on the principle that no two shots ever go through the same hole, we whipped round as soon as the third bomb fell, straight for where the first two had fallen — but for that, he would have got us, I think. As it was, we were well peppered with splinters, and a chunk of metal about a foot long landed on the bridge, quite close to us; but we had no casualties and no damage was done.

He then left us and turned his attention to a destroyer that was pumping shots at him from a pompom, and dropped a salvo of three, about ten yards from her; but again there were no casualties, and our sausage friend, either discouraged by the gun-fire, or lacking more bombs, made no further attack and started sailing away.

At this stage another Zepp appeared on the scene; and the pair of them hung around for half an hour or so, without trying to attack and keeping well out of range, and then made off, leaving us in possession of the field, though we were bitterly disappointed at not being able to bring them down. Of course we are not exactly built for fighting things in the air higher than Mont Blanc! All is now peace and quietness once more — no Zepps in sight, and the last submarine was reported more than half an hour ago.

The whole thing was great fun — and I mean that quite literally. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think that nearly everyone else felt the same.

So far as the submarines are concerned, the result is doubtful — it is almost impossible to tell for certain unless you can stop and search the spot, and that would have been a somewhat unhealthy proceeding!

I was rather interested in analyzing my feelings during the occasional lulls in the show. I don’t want to seem too egotistical, but it was the first time anyone had really, definitely tried to kill me, and so I suppose it was natural to think about it! For the first few minutes, until the first gun was fired, I was excited and had to hold on to myself tight to avoid showing it; after that, my feeling was one of enjoyment, intense exhilaration, and keen interest in all that was going on; and I thoroughly appreciated the beauty of the scene. Blue sea, cloudless sky; columns of white water and foam; the Zepp sailing, apparently peacefully, overhead; and all round him, above and below, tiny rings and spirals and balls of pure white smoke from our bursting shells.

The waiting for the Zepp to dispose himself nicely overhead, and, after t he first bomb, the waiting for the successive ones to fall, was not a very pleasant sensation, especially as they came closer and closer; and they seemed to take such a long time to arrive! One could hear them coming, without knowing in the least where they were going to fall! The submarines left me cold: they did n’t affect me one way or the other; and when it was all over, I’m glad to say, I found my hand as steady as before it started. Not that there was anything in it to affect one’s nerves; but it was my first show of any sort under fire, and I did n’t know a bit how they would behave!

As for the sailors, it might have been a Brock’s benefit put on for their especial edification and amusement! When the bombs began to get close, I ordered everyone down below under cover (none of our guns would bear then); but I literally had to climb off the bridge and shoo them down myself !

Altogether, friend Zepp dropped fifteen bombs, each, I should think, containing about 100 pounds of high explosive, — twelve at us, and three at one of our attendant destroyers, — before he gave up; but why his mate did n’t try and do us in, I can’t imagine. We were going to attack if he gave us half a chance, but he never came within about 20,000 yards, if that, the brute! The Boche is a good fighter when his plans are all cut and dried, but he’s an unenterprising blighter.

One thing made me laugh in the middle of the proceedings: I had a distinct feeling of grievance against the people in the Zepp for wanting to do us in — it seemed so unfeeling of them! And all the time I was doing my damnedest to strafe them, which seemed quite all right to me!

And this is a rough idea of the ‘peaceful’ day I started writing about this morning! !