Friday, May 11, 2018

WWI U.S. Navy First-Hand Account

The last post includes Major Allworth's description of his experiences in the Meuse Argonne Campaign while the subject of the April 26 post was the role of the U.S. Navy during World War I.  The Benton County Historical Museum's collection includes a number of other first-hand accounts of resident's experiences during World War I.  The following account includes portions from the transcript of an interview of R. C. Dickinson, U.S. Navy, by Jane Van Sickle. (2013-073.0001)

...when I was still in training in Key West, Florida, the only backdrop they had for bullets that we were shooting at the target was just the ocean.  So we were shooting at targets at 600 yards with an old Springfield rifle, and they put me on the stand down there...and [the officer] said, “If you see any fishing boats come by, the command is cease fire” so you don't want to shoot the fishing boats.  So I'm up there and sure enough here comes a motor boat towing six fishing boats and a man in each one and he's coming right—the boats were splashing out there in the water.  So I yelled, “Cease fire!”....He didn't hear me. “Cease fire.” Nothing happened.  So I was    getting pretty desperate so I hollered, “Hey, cut it out!” So...the drill officer, comes running down there...he said, “The command is cease fire.” I said, “I know that, but you couldn't hear me.” ....So he put another man up there that was more voice than anything else.
A 1903 Springfield model rifle, standard equipment for the U. S. armed forces in World War I, from the BCHM collection.
I became an engineer office in the black gang they call it—the engine room—and on the   submarine I just kept the diesel engine going and if they said to stop it I knew what to do, and if they said half speed I knew what to do.  I didn't need to know very much but I couldn't have used a voice in the engine room anyway because the diesel engines were making so much  noise nobody could hear so it wasn't necessary....

They put us in a shipping out company.  Here'd be the name of they ship—they wanted 300 men or so. I didn't want on a battleship cause that's too many men in one place.  You have to get in    line for everything, from washing your teeth to eating to washing your one day the bulletin board said, “Two men wanted for dangerous duty in the North Seas on U. S. Submersible K-7” It didn't say submarine, it said submersible, and, well,it knew what it was, there was nobody there.....[So he signed up]

In the Caribbean Sea there was a German ship they called a Q boat. That's a freighter with eight-inch guns that are not visible...if you look at the ship.  But we knew the Q boats were waiting for us because it was going from Germany to Old Mexico to get supplies that Germany couldn't get anywhere else. This was when the war was getting critical...there were 800 men on there, and we're just traveling at periscope depth, and the only man  that can look outside is the captain.,,,he sees the Q boat and ...he calls these figures and the man that's navigating heads the boat in that direction.  Then he says, “Fire #1 torpedo.” They fire and immediately after you make what they call a crash dive—that is done not by taking on ballast but by turning the horizontal rudders, ... the tail of the submarine comes up—you really go down quick....then we wondered what happened to the ship....But you can walk up and see what they wrote on the log book.  Then you know you killed 800 men....

[another time] We were down at 200 feet—ashcans (300 pounds of TNT) began to drop around us and explode.  And the ship would tremble so it was terrible. I was young—I was 17 so I look at these regular Navy men and they're not bothered a lot but one of them came up to me and he said, “Have you got a sharp knife? “
            I said, “Well I have this knife they issued me when I joined the Navy.”
            “Oh,” he said, “you should keep one blade razor sharp; it's better than smothering.”

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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