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.
September 9, British submarine D6 Course 168 Speed 3 knots Periscope depth, 2340 hours
Helsingör strait, North end of Öresund
Lieutenant Commander Charles Halahan was easing his submarine through the alleged Danish minefields. The squadron commander had briefed him that the Danes and Swedes had supposedly reinforced their minefields in the constriction entering the Baltic. However the Admiralty had estimated that the “reinforcement” was mostly for show. The Danes and Swedes had little mine capability. The Admiralty doubted that the Germans had just given them any real mines. Maybe some captured mines. British spies in Denmark had seen some obsolete black powder Russian artillery being dragged through Denmark. The Germans were known to have captured some Russian mines but these were of dubious quality. Therefore the minefields were – like the fields laid prior to the loss of the E13 – deemed to be a bluff.
Halahan slow walked his periscope around. It was dark as a tomb this night and all Halahan could see were the lighted mooring buoys at the end of the submarine net. The D6 was about 200 yards west of the last buoy on the Danish side of the nets. Halahan and the D6 were going to find out just how much of a bluff these minefields were.
“All ahead dead slow”
Not ten minutes later the ominous sound of chain being dragged along the sound reverberated through the hull.
Everyone held their breath and prayed hard. As the sub coasted down in speed, the chain rattle seemed to move aft along the hull. In fact, that is exactly what was happening. The buoyancy of the mine was trying to straighten out the chain and moving it along the hull as the sub slid by. The sound stopped three quarters of the way back as the sub stopped. It did not seem to have snagged anything.
“Give me ten seconds of ahead dead slow then dead stop”
“Dead slow then stop, aye”
As the submarine inched forwards the chain rattled along the length of the submarine, abrading everyone’s nerves. Then the chain slipped free. Everyone exhaled as one in relief.
What Halahan and his men didn’t know is that their submarine had actually struck one of the contact horns of the mine. It did not explode because it was a British mine (captured in Belgium) with a wooden safety cover that the German minelayer crewman had not noticed and left in place. (See Note 1) The mine had never armed In fact almost all of the mines on the first belt had the same problem.
Before Halahan and his crew could get in their fourth breath of relief, they engaged the second belt of mines. This belt exclusively consisted of German mines and they were properly laid and were jolly well armed. The next mine detonated and Halahan and his men were dead in seconds.
The half-asleep shore gun observers ordered the ready gunner to fire star shells. In the eerie glow nothing was evident on the surface.
At dawn, floating wreckage and a plume of fuel oil told the tale.
September 11, British Embassy, Copenhagen 1030 hours
The Ambassador opened a letter informing him that about midnight on the 9th an explosion was heard in Danish neutral waters and the Danish government had reason to believe the explosion was a British vessel. There were no survivors and no wreckage or remains could be recovered at this time as the waters in question were mined.
The Ambassador’s staff began writing the denial.
September 22, British Submarine E1, Course 348 Speed 5 knots, Depth 35 feet, 1645 hours.
2,000 yards West of Malmö, Sweden
After watching for four hours Commander N.F. Laurence finally saw his opportunity. The convoy that had been forming all day to run the minefields had finally gotten moving. Laurence snugged up to the last ship and was running through right behind her. To reduce chance of detection he was running deep on the same course and heading as the rear ship.
Laurence did not know exactly what was going on but he was always careful to notice the movements of the ships around him. Unlike on his earler eastbound transit, the traffic was not moving freely but seemed to be gathering for something. Laurence had ventured far enough to see construction of submarine nets. And nets mean mines. These Scandanavians are crazy for mines. Maybe the best course was to sit around and wait for an outgoing convoy. And that was exactly what seemed to be happening.
Laurence hated running this fast on batteries. He had been operating on batteries since before dawn. This spurt of speed would mean he would have to get through the net, then disengage and lie doggo until dark, surface, and recharge. Then he would wait until another convoy came by and go through the northern end.
Laurence had every reason to be confident. He had slipped into the Baltic and feasted on Swedish ore ships carrying iron ore to Germany. The E1 was the first British sub with a deck gun (not all the E class were fitted with deck guns) and he was able to conduct a successful guerre de course under the cruiser rules. The takings were never far from shore and the one that was, Laurence had towed the lifeboats to within two miles of a small port. Very gentlemanly warfare. (See Note 2)
Laurence had worked his way past the old minefields easily enough so he had every reason to be confident outbound. The presence of a submarine net told him things might be a bit sticky, but Laurence knew Denmark was a maritime nation and ships would be outbound soon. Obviously those Swedish gunboats were there to guide the merchant and fishing vessels through, so Laurence figured he would just hitch a ride, so to speak.
About an hour later, Laurence reckoned he was through the nets.
“All ahead slow. Come to periscope depth.”
Laurence ‘spun’ the periscope and quickly ordered to come right 10 degrees. He was indeed through the nets and the convoy was beginning to pull away from him.
The E1 stayed on this course and speed, checking the periscope every thirty minutes or so, until nightfall. Then he surfaced and ordered all ahead standard.
September 22, Danish Gunboat Falster, Course 185 Speed 5 knots, 2248 hours.
13 kilometers SSW of Landskrona, Sweden
“I hear something.”
“It’s your imagination.”
“No, I hear it. Shut up and listen.”
The other lookout did listen and indeed heard a thrumming sound off the port stern. The Falster had just finished its northerly beat of its assigned patrol area and was returning south. So far this new patrol had been uneventful.
“Don’t just stand there, inform the watch officer!”
“Sir. Possible contact.”
“We haven’t seen it but we hear something off the port stern. It isn’t loud but it is there.”
The deck officer looked and of course saw nothing. He went out on the wing and listened. Sure enough, there was something out there. He sent for the Captain and called the crew to action stations.
“What do we have, Hans?”
“Nothing in sight, sir but there is a sound coming from off the port stern.” The Captain took his night binoculars and looked but like everyone else – seeing nothing - did indeed hear something.”
“Let’s try out these new German fireworks. Guns, give me a star shell astern.”
The gun crew put the gun to maximum elevation and fired.
The star shell flew to its apogee and lit. Unfortunately, it was above the cloud layer for part of its descent, but it was enough for the alerted Falter lookouts to barely spot something.
“Sir! There’s some sort of vessel out about 3,000 meters, one point port off the stern.”
“Another star shell”
1.At the time mines had a safety cover made of salt to allow the minelayer and other
mines time enough to clear the mine before it armed. The water dissolved a salt cake
blocking a passage and the water pressure pressed a diaphragm which released the
arming trigger. The thickness of the salt cover determined how long it took to armed
the mine. Even the British mines armed after a while. The wooden cover was not
water-tight as it was only there to keep rain and spray off the salt cake. Eventually
(within a month) enough water would seep past to dissolve the salt cake and armed the
mine. By this point in the war both the British and Germans knew the British mines
were not reliable –even when properly armed.
2.Prior to the E13 incident the E1 had been the superstar of the British guerre de course in