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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Attack of WWI Submarine/Barrel

One of the Lawrence Post-American Legion members gave the WWI story published in the Lawrence County News May 7, 1931. Unfortunately, the speaker is not named in the article. He describes his experiences during WWI and the first shots he remembered being fired.


“We left New York city on October 17, 1917, loaded with 10,000 tons of war freight, which included everything from locomotives to mules, medicinal alcohol to iodine. It was the first trip across for most of us. We considered the trip lightly, little thinking of what it might mean. However, strict watches were kept at all times for enemy submarines. When, within 300 miles of the French coast, the bow watch yelled “periscope on starboard bow”. Immediately every ship in the convoy was signaled. Every man was called to battle position, guns were trained on the spot where last was seen the submarine’s periscope. Naturally everyone watched with almost baited breath for the “thing” we had been warned about- that stick like object so feared by merchant vessels -representing disaster and death from below the waves. Every minute we expected to see the spouting of water from some ship’s side as the deadly torpedo reached its mark. Yet all was still.


“The object appeared and reappeared as the rolling waves brought it to view at about a mile. Finally, from our port side a ship fired- right across our bow-the shot created pandemonium, as naturally it would. We could see nothing to shoot at-yet every ship that could point its guns at or near the object without hitting one of its own convoy blazed away. The firing was terrific. The naval guns, which were mostly 5 inch 51’s mounted on the merchant ships, placed shot after shot into the water where the “target” was seen. No submarine could be expected to stand such shellfire- and the main idea was to keep “him” down until we could break convoy and scatter to meet later at rendezvous.


“Darkness came and the long line of American ships gradually reformed. Then it was one of our sister ships reported by signals, that the “submarine” had turned out to be a floating barrel with one of the staves sticking up. But the nervousness of one gunner on our sister ship whose trigger finger fired the first shot-which caused a barrage of continuous firing from every ship- was the cause of one of the most interesting battles of the years we sailed the Atlantic.


“But after all, the barrel was demolished-which at least gave us confidence in our combined ability to hit the mark.”


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