Obscure acts of valor
#1
Naturally, many of the greatest acts of heroism and valor are well documented and often well remembered, although many others are forgotten simply out of their obscurity in the magnanimity of concurrent events, or often due to their incongruity with the normalfaggot morality of their time, or of ours, or in between. It is in this thread that I intend, hopefully with the assistance of others, to collect and present records of these obscure and forgotten acts of heroism and valor, with a special focus in warfare, regardless of whether their actions are held with contempt or admiration, by any party.

The Leopard
The German Admiralty had evidently decided that the attack upon the outer routes ought to be maintained; for, just before the Moewe's return home (March 22) another raider put to sea. The new raider was the British steamer Yarrowdale, captured by the Moewe on her last voyage, and now fitted with an armament of about a dozen guns and two torpedo tubes : we do not know the name of her captain or what his orders were.


The Admiralty had a certain amount of information as to the enemy's intentions, and had ordered the Commander-in- Chief to strengthen the Northern Patrol (10th Cruiser Squadron) and to keep a watch on the Norwegian coast. Admiral Beatty at once sent two cruisers and two armed boarding steamers to patrol to the north of the Shetlands along the meridian of 1° W., and detached the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron with four destroyers to watch the Norwegian coast between the Nord Fiord and the Sogne Fiord. Both groups returned on the 14th, having sighted nothing : they were not ordered to renew the patrol, and were soon absorbed in other duties. At some time on the 20th or 21st the Moewe must have passed through the zone previously watched by the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron.

The Moewe's relief — she was renamed the Leopard — was not so fortunate ; but her failure to escape into the Atlantic can only be explained by a retrospective glance at our arrangements for closing the North Sea.
In March 1916 the Commander-in-Chief had ordered that the Northern Patrol should be reinforced from the three Grand Fleet cruiser squadrons. His intention was to keep one cruiser watching the meridian of the Shetlands between latitude 62° and 65°; for he considered it certain that out- going and incoming raiders would cross this line. In the course of time this extra patrol became a supplementary force to the 10th Cruiser Squadron further west; and the duty of maintaining it, which, in the beginning, had been divided equally between the 2nd, 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons, had fallen entirely upon the 2nd. The business of the patrol had also increased as time went on : in March 1916 it was intended to keep one cruiser and one armed boarding steamer on the work : a year later the allotted force was trebled.

On March 11, 1917, Admiral Fremantle issued one of his periodic instructions to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. From March 10 until reliefs arrived, the patrol line north of the Shetlands was to be occupied by the Achilles and the Dundee, the Minotaur and the Royal Scot, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Fiona. The ships sailed from S war backs Minn on the appointed dates, and the week passed uneventfully; on March 16, the day before they were relieved, the Achilles and the Dundee were patrolling at the northern end of the line. The weather was as bleak and cheerless as the high latitude could make it. The sky was a mass of dull grey moving rapidly towards the northern horizon before a south- east wind ; from time to time a patch of darker colour would bring with it a snow squall or a burst of cold, biting rain, more chilling than the snow itself. Just before noon on the 16th a steamer was sighted to the eastward of the Achilles. There was nothing remarkable in this ; ships had been sighted and examined every day; it was the ordinary work of the patrol; so Captain F. M. Leake of the Achilles turned eastwards, and signaled to the Dundee to follow. The un- known steamer was evidently fast ; for it was not until two o'clock that the Achilles, steaming at 15, and later at 18 knots, came up to her. She stopped when ordered and obeyed a further signal to turn towards the Dundee, which had fallen astern. 1 As soon as these two orders had been carried out, Captain Leake ordered Commander Selwyn M. Day, R.N.R., the captain of the Dundee, to lower a boat and examine her. Commander Day was, by now, very suspicious. The steamer was flying the Norwegian flag and called herself the Rena ; it was true the name appeared in Lloyd's Register, but Commander Day could not understand why the letter N should have been painted upside down, and when the ship was bows on he realised that she was a large vessel; far larger than the 3,000 tons Rena of the register. Commander Day noticed also that all superfluous woodwork had been removed, and that she had no wireless; she had, moreover, steamed well and steadily at 13 knots for several hours, a thing of which no genuine cargo boat is capable. He spoke of all this to his assistant, Lieutenant F. H. Lawson, R.N.R., and told him that he thought the new-comer was a raider.


Lieutenant Lawson at once volunteered to take charge of the boarding boat : an act of deliberate courage which cost him his life. At a quarter to three it was put into the water, and was rowed across towards the Rena : it was soon out of sight on her lee side. While Commander Day was waiting for the boarding party to give him a sign or a signal he maneuvered his ship so as to keep her on the stranger's weather quarter, ready, if needs be, to rake her with his two 4-inch guns. If he was right in supposing that she was a disguised raider his position was most dangerous, for a broadside from her would blow him out of the water, and his only protection against it was to keep her from getting him on her beam. He therefore kept his ship in movement and noticed, after a few minutes, that the enemy was continually turning, as though trying to out-maneuver him.
1 The Dundee was an armed boarding steamer of 2,187 tons, with two 4-inch guns.


Commander Day kept his guns' crews closed up and waited. At twenty minutes to four, nearly an hour after Lieutenant Lawson had left the ship, the stranger's Norwegian flag, painted on her port quarter, fell out-board with a crash. Commander Day waited no longer but at once gave the order to fire; almost as he did so, two torpedoes passed the Dundee's stern, hardly twenty yards away. The Achilles was four miles away in the east-north-east, so that the Dundee was now in the greatest danger. The enemy raider at first steamed away ; as she did so Commander Day steered across her stern and raked her with his 4-inch guns; as the range was very close every shot went home, and in a few minutes volumes of smoke and steam rose from the enemy. After a few minutes the German captain put his helm over and turned to starboard, but Commander Day was ready for him ; he ported his helm so as to keep the enemy behind him and so dodged the deadly broadside. When the turns were completed the Dundee had fired over forty shells, and tremendous clouds of smoke were being carried north-west- ward from the burning raider. Almost simultaneously the Achilles opened fire. Commander Day had now opened the range as much as he could, and decided, most unselfishly, that he must now risk everything to give the cruiser a clear line of fire : he therefore steered straight for the Achilles down the lane of smoke. As he did so, the enemy sent down a broadside; fortunately her firing was wild, and a few minutes later the armed boarding steamer was under the shelter of the Achilles.

About five minutes after the first gun was fired by the Dundee the Achilles 's gunnery officer was recording hits upon the enemy. The raider was now a doomed vessel. She was often hidden from view in clouds of black smoke, and several times the gunners in the Achilles had to check their fire. For nearly an hour the Germans stood up against the stream of shell which poured into their ship ; her internal fires, and the bursts of the heavy shell from the Achilles, started explosions and sent up jets of flame through the smoke clouds which rose out of her : when she began to settle down it seemed to some that the whole of her fore -part was red-hot ; others thought that it was melting; but the Germans fought on without any sign of surrender. They could certainly have yielded without dishonour before the end came. It was thought both in the Achilles and the Dundee that the raider fought under the Norwegian colours. This may or may not be so; it would be easy enough to make a mistake on such a point in the confusion of an action; and men who fought with such courage would be hardly likely to go to their death under a foreign flag. Just after half-past four the raider sank. There were no survivors ; Lieutenant Lawson and his crew perished with the Germans : he was doubtless made a prisoner when he went alongside the raider. He knew what he was doing when he volunteered to board so suspicious a ship, and he would never have wished his friends to hold their hands for his sake. He and his men must have spent their last moments of life in full knowledge of the success which they had bought.


Directly copied with minor formatting and typo correction from: Naval operations : Corbett, Julian Stafford, Sir, 1854-1922 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Also of note: In addition to Lt. Lawson, the boarding party consisted of four Shetland Islanders, favoured for their skill in the handling of small boats, Henry Anderson, his brother Robert, and their distant cousins, Henry James and Magnus John Anderson; the fifth member, Alfred Burchall, was a Liverpudlian. I also found the official action report: HMS Achilles, Dundee v SMS Leopard 1917, Despatch, Killed and died, Medals (naval-history.net)


[-]
Quick Reply
Message
Type your reply to this message here.

Human Verification
Please tick the checkbox that you see below. This process is used to prevent automated spam bots.



Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)