The author does not speak Danish, German or Swedish, and rather than offend those who do speak those languages, the dialogue is rendered up in American English with a few local words mixed in.
August 15, British Submarine E13, Course 195 Speed 4 knots, Surfaced 0315 hours
500 yards east of Saltholm Island
Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey “Luckless” Layton was trying to change his nickname. After months of fruitlessly watching the approaches to Wilhelmshaven with nothing more than a close call to show for it, the Eighth Flotilla had decided to send the E13 to the potentially lucrative Baltic for some better hunting.
Layton, like all submariners, regardless of nationality or time, firmly believed there were only two types of seagoing vessels: submarines and targets. Layton had had a couple of good glimpses at the German fleet but had been forced down before he could get off a shot. It was believed that the High Seas Fleet used the western Baltic for training. Layton intended to intrude on their training with some fish.
The E13 had been preceded into the Baltic by the Goodhart and the E8. Goodhart intended to give the Germans a taste of their own submarine medicine. In Layton’s opinion that was like a big-game hunter shooting pigs. No sir! A gentleman would never stoop to such practice. A warship’s natural prey is another warship, and the blasted Baron’s ships were what Layton wanted. Goodhart could have his precious ‘guerre de course.’
The fly in the ointment is that the Danes and Swedes took their neutrality very seriously. In addition to heavily patrolling the straits, they had thoroughly mined the Öresund to keep warships out.
Layton had already squeezed through the minefields and dodged the patrols at the narrows at Helsingborg. By clinging to the coast of Saltholm Island he hoped to slide through the neutral mine field bottle neck.
Making such a transit was nerve-wracking under the best of conditions, but the E13’s gyro-compass (See Note 1) was haywire. It would sit nicely for a while and then spin crazily, finally stopping at a heading that might or might not be believable. Already twice this night the E13 had had to take a sighting of the Pole Star to correct the gyro compass. As a result, E13 was farther west than Layton thought.
What Layton had not anticipated was that the Baltic in general and the Öresund in particular has sharp haloclines (variations in salinity) near the surface. Layton was in less salty water and thus was drawing more water than he thought.
With a soft grrrrronch, he had run aground on the mud flats. No amount of reversing and blowing ballast seemed to help. The E13 was stuck fast.
Layton’s blasted luck! If he had no bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.
At dawn the Danes’ old gunboat Falster found him. By 0800 the area was filled with Danish naval craft and ominously, a German torpedo boat stood offshore as well. Danish naval authorities had informed Layton that if he did not leave the area within 24 hours, he, his submarine and his crew would be interned for the rest of the war.
August 15 Danish Foreign Ministry Building, Copenhagen 1300 hours
“The German Ambassador”
Having announced the German ambassador the functionary withdrew and the Ambassador entered the Foreign Minister’s office.
“Please sit down. How may I be of service?”
“I am here on the matter of the Englisch submarine currently anchored at Saltholm Island. We both know the provisions of The Hague. What are Denmark’s intentions in this matter.”
“I can assure you sir, that Denmark intends to fulfill its commitments to the letter.”
“And if the submarine does not depart?”
“If the submarine does not depart our waters within 24 hours of notification, the submarine, its crew and officers will be interned for the balance of the war.”
“Has notice been served on the Englisch submarine?”
“Indeed it has.”
“That is as it should be. When was noticed served?”
“Our Lieutenant Thiele of the torpedo boat Narhvalen officially informed then as of 8:15 A. M. this morning.”
“I see. So the Englisch submarine is in violation as of 8:16 A.M. tomorrow?”
“That would seem to be the case. If the submarine is not out of our waters by 8:15 Lieutenant Thiele will be ordered to board the submarine and take the officers and crew off the submarine and Danish forces will assume control of the vessel – all according to The Hague. Is that course of action satisfactory to your Government?”
“Ja, Herr Foreign Minister. All we ask is adherence to the agreement. Would it be acceptable if one of our diplomats observes the proceedings – from a safe distance, of course?”
“Your diplomats may do as they please, but we suggest they stay at least 100 meters from the submarine and if weapons are seen our naval personnel may react…ah, vigorously.”
“As you suggest, Your Excellency, you have my assurance my people will remain more than 100 meters away and weapons of any kind will not be carried by any of them.”
August 15, British Submarine E13, Course 195 Speed 0 knots (hard aground), Surfaced 1900 hours
500 yards east of Saltholm Island
“Luckless” Layton had given up on getting the E13 off the mud flats. He had tried everything he could think of - reversing one screw alternately with the other, trying to “wag” her off the mud, having all the crew stand on the deck at the stern, moving everything movable, blowing ballast – nothing worked. It was going to take a pretty good tug to pull her off.”
His stranded boat had attracted a crowd. Apparently, His Majesty’s submarines don’t run aground just every day around here. Not only were there Danish naval vessels but also a number of civilians looking at him. One was a good sized tug. Her master studied him intently. No doubt a salvor preparing his bid for towing him off and to the Danish naval yard. There were a couple of nice-looking steam launches with men rather oddly dressed for a day on the water – German spies no doubt.
Layton went below to begin finalizing the destruction of code books and manuals. Lieutenant Eddis (the First Officer) and the wireless operator had been working on those for a while and Layton’s log book would be next. Targetted for early destruction were charts showing his progress through the mine fields. No point in alerting the Danes and Swedes about weak spots he had found. After midnight he would put the little fire vessel the engine room crew had built on the deck and begin burning his documents.
August 15, German Torpedo Boat G-132, Course 344 Speed 5 knots, 2300 hours
2,500 meters SE of the southern tip of Saltholm Island
Oberleutnant Wilmot Schnell patrolled about watching the proceedings around the stranded British submarine. At first, the flotilla commander wanted Schnell to attack the submarine, but the G-132 was not into position before the order was countermanded. His orders were changed to simply watching the submarine. If it left before 0815 tomorrow under her own power, he was to attack. If it was still there by that time Schnell was to report what happened. It seems the Danes have promised to intern the submarine. Schnell hoped it got off the beach by it self. He wanted to attack it.
August 16, British Submarine E13, Course 195 Speed 0 knots (hard aground), Surfaced 0830 hours
500 yards east of Saltholm Island
Well, here they come.
The Narhvalen eased up to the E13 and threw a line. A Danish officer and four ratings carrying Mauser carbines came aboard.
“I am Lieutenant Carstenson, First Officer of the Narvhalen. Your submarine is in Danish waters and has not departed as The Hague Treaty demands. I am ordered to take you and your men into custody and we will leave a man here to watch your craft. You, your men, and your craft are hereby interned by the Government of Denmark. My men will escort you to the Narvhalen which will then take you to the Copenhagen Naval Base.”
Layton had been expecting this. All his sensitive documents had gone up in smoke in the wee hours of the morning. His men had all their sea bags squared away and they had eaten a triple ration.
“What will happen at the base?”
“I know not. My orders end at that point. If you will Captain…”
Layton ordered his crew to go with the Danish. At least one thing about neutral internment, one will probably survive the war. Layton and his crew and his rotten luck boarded the Narvhalen and went off into internment. One of the Narvhalen’s crew stayed behind on the submarine.
1.The value of degaussing was not known at that time. The steel hulls of the submarines
rendered magnetic compasses useless. They had to rely on gyro compasses. These are normally fairly reliable – they are still used on some aircraft – but they tend to precess
with every change in heading. They then have to be set against either a magnetic
reading (aircraft) or a celestial reading (steel ships). Decades later, ships would
routinely have their magnetic fields minimized by degaussing and magnetic compasses
would again work, and the gyro compasses could be reset as often as needed.