THE LiTTLE PiGS That Went to War
Stover, Rusti, Sea Classics
Hard riding, wet, and cramped, the "L" boats of World War One were afar cry from today's spacious nuclear submarines. A veteran of the early submarine service recalls what it was Uh aboard a "Pig Boat" more than 90-years ago
On 6 December 1917, 4000-tons of TNT exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was the result of a grain boat colliding with a munitions ship in the harbor. Two thousand died and 20,000 were injured. Until the atom bombs of World War Two settled on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this horrendous explosion was called "The worst in world history."
A number of years ago, Drew Collett recalled the news of the Halifax horror with thanks for his narrow escape. Twoor three-days before this occurrence, the little fleet of World War One submarines on which he was a radioman was docked in Halifax Harbor. He had mailed a postcard from Halifax to his mother, who thought he was the the cataclysm.
About 49-hrs or so before the explosion, the fleet was ordered to sail for Bantry Bay, Ireland, and their involvement with the Great War.
Spared from the fires of Hell at the start of his journey, Drew wondered what trials awaited him and his crewmates.
The fleet of Tig Boats," so called because their sanitary facilities consisted of galvanized bucket toilets and cramped accommodations, had not long to wait. Originally slated to cross the Atlantic tethered to their mother ship, the USS Bushneil, they soon found their passage in this manner barred by an Atlantic storm. The wraps were cast off and the little submarines were told to go it alone. Twenty-six-days later, after subsisting on crackers and ketchup in the final days of their journey, the weary men and flotilla of subs reached the Azores.
When the L-boats limped into these Portuguese-held islands about two-thirds of the way to their destination, they were a welcome sight; German U-boats had been lobbing shells over the seawall and into the town, and any help was appreciated.
After weeks of repairs and replenishment in the island port of Ponta Delgada the L-Il and her six sister subs once again took to the seas. Their next stop was Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, in Cork Harbor, County Cork. Again the ships needed repairs and supplies, and finally made the last leg of their journey, about 100-mi up the west coast to Berehaven in Bantry Bay. The L-boats became a permanent war installation here, used for antisubmarine patrols.
They soon became confused with British submarines, which had also been classified as "L-boats," so the letter "A" (for American) was added to the designation, and our ships became the AL-boats. Drew was assigned to the AL·!! for his tour of duty.
The patrol assignments took the subs out from the harbor on eight-day shifts where they would listen, submerged, during the day and watch for enemy subs from the surface at night. They had to surface at night to recharge their underwater batteries with the 650-hp Nelseco diesel engines, which also aired out the stuffy quarters.
Sometimes during the day, if there were no enemy vessels in the area, they would go topsides to get some fresh air circulating. Drew remembered one harrowing experience that mades him chuckle.
"During the day, we didn't want to come to the surface, we would be vulnerable. The air got so bad, and we couldn't do anything about it submerged, so we had to surface. Part of my duty was to use the listening device to detect moving propellers in the water. Our radio didn't work while we were submerged, so I listened with T-Tubes/ which were sort of like large stethoscopes. This particular time, it was all very quiet; this meant there weren't any ships in the area. I said 'all clear' and the captain said to take her up for air.
"Well, we came up right alongside a destroyer just sitting there in the water. It was one of ours, fortunately, but they didn't know we were an American submarine. In those days, whenever you saw a submarine, you assumed it was a U-boat, there were so many, and only seven of us. …