THE chief by-product of the Great War is the revelation made
to this generation that we associate every day with men of heroic
mould. Before the call to battle came, we had not the vision to
see the stuff of which our American youngsters were made. When
the hour for achievement struck, we discovered all about us men
who by valor and initiative and resource not only preserved all
the best traditions, but made new and glorious traditions.
The story of the President Lincoln is one that thrills, for it
is a concrete case of how Navy men meet emergencies and look death
in the face with out a qualm. Lieutenant Isaacs has told the story
of its torpedoing and of the courage of its captain and all on
board in a way to increase the confidence and admiration we have
for men in the naval service. His recital of his capture, his
rare experiences, his alertness to secure information that would
aid his country, his resolve to find or make a way to escape and
bring back the knowledge his terrible experiences had imparted,
his resourcefulness and will to overcome what seemed insuperable
obstaclesthese make a story that will live in the annals
of naval daring and naval disregard of danger.
of the U-90
THE old Hamburg-American liner President Lincoln
was one of the German ships taken over by the United States when
the President announced that a state of war was considered to
exist between America and Germany. She was considerably damaged
by the Huns before they were taken off and interned, but within
six months had been repaired and fitted up as a Navy transport
mounting four six-inch guns and capable of carrying 5000 troops
and 8000 tons of cargo. Her name, that of one of our most illustrious
Presidents, was left unchanged, and she shoved off from Hoboken
piers on October I8, I9I7, bound for St. Nazaire, France, on her
maiden voyage as an American man-o'- war.
THE morning of May 3I, 1918 broke clear and cool. We had left
the coast of France behind and were running west with a fair breeze
in company with three other transports.
The U.S.S. President Lincoln, the Navy's most useful transport,
in returning light from her fifth trip to France since America
entered the Great War, was making twelve and a half knots, although
had she been alone standard speed would have been her maximum
of fifteen knots. The escorting destroyers had left us the preceding
evening twenty-four hours out from Brest. A few hours later, as
we were running with all lights out and zigzagging according to
plan, the German submarine U-90 cruising on the surface at six
knots speed sighted us by the light of the moon. Increasing her
speed she trailed us unknown to the convoy. We were four huge
shapes looming up in the darkness and visible to her over a mile
awayshe was a small black object lying low in the water
and visible for not more than a quarter of a mile.
All night she trailed us until her captain was sure of our base
course. Then, circling around, he made a wide detour and took
up his position intercepting our course and a few miles ahead.
When we bore in sight he submerged and approached to the attack.
At eight o'clock, the gunnery officer forward and I aft, came
off watch from the control towers after a night of practically
no sleep. We were finishing breakfast. Two bells had just struck.
Suddenly the ship was rocked by a double explosion, the second
following the first with scarcely a perceptible interval between.
We instantly rushed to our battle stations, and that was the last
I saw of any of the heads of departments, for my station was aft
alone, theirs were forward.
As I ran aft another explosion shook the ship. The first two
had been forward, but this one was aft directly in my path. The
force of the explosion crushed in No. 12 lifeboat and threw it
up on deck not ten feet from where I stood, but only showered
me with water. The submarine had approached, submerged, to within
eight hundred yards of us with only the periscope showing. She
was directly ahead of the ship; on our left, but disregarded her
in the endeavor to "get" us the Big One, and on e of
the two six-masted steamers in the world," as he afterwards
said. He aimed for No. 2 mast and fired two torpedoes, and the
aiming for No. 4 mast he fired the third. All were perfect hits.
When I reached the after control tower all guns and boats were
manned and perfect discipline prevailed . This was the "green"
crew of over six hundred men who eight months before had never
seen a man-o"-war, not to speak of ever having manned one.
At ten minutes past nine I received the report that holds No.
5 and No. Six were flooded and the water approaching No. 1 deck.
I reported this over the telephone to the captain, who ordered
me to abandon ship. At nine-fifteen all hands aft were off the
ship in lifeboats and on rafts. The main deck was then within
a few inches of the surface of the sea, for we had been gradually
settling since the third explosion. In fact some waves were already
washing over the deck. I then jumped on a life-raft with my messenger,
who had never left me, and together we tied our raft to those
near by; then giving our painter to one of the boats, I ordered
them to pull away from the sinking ship. At nine-thirty we were
well clear, and the old ship, turning over gently to starboard,
put her nose in the air and went down. As the waters closed over
her we rose and gave three cheers for the President Lincoln ---
the best ship that ever carried troops in the cause of Freedom.
FOR fifteen minutes after the Lincoln went down, we busied ourselves
tying together rafts and boats in order that they would not be
scattered over the ocean and so that the survivors could be easily
and quickly picked up by the rescuing vessels when they should
arrive on the scene.
Debris of all kinds was floating about immense timbers,
broken topmasts, and other gear were being propelled out of the
water in all directions. There was great danger of some of these
striking us, but fortunately none found a mark. Finally, after
being in the water on the raft for three quarters of an hour,
a half-filled boat happened along and picked me up.
About this time, the other three ships having disappeared in the
distance, the submarine came to the surface and approached the
boat. In answer to the entreaties of the men in my boat I lay
back in the stern sheets and covered the gold stripes on my sleeves
with my body. I could not bring myself to the humiliation of hiding
in the bottom of the boat and leaving them to face alone the displeasure
of the pirates, although they begged me to do so or at least to
remove my uniform. I saw later, however, that there was no use
in trying to deceive the captain, for the submarine approached
to within fifty yards and he could at that short distance readily
distinguish every detail of uniform. I had lost my cap, but had
on an old blouse under my lifejacket. Recognizing this, the commanding
officer of the U-boat put a megaphone to his lips and sang out,
" Come aboard." We pulled alongside, and as I rose to
step out of the lifeboat, the men, realizing that I was about
to leave them, perhaps never to return, raised their voices in
protest and tried to restrain me. I turned to calm them, telling
them not to worry, that it was only the fortunes of war, and stepping
on the gunwale I grasped the hands of those nearest me in a heartfelt
good-bye and jumped on the deck of the submarine. I had endeavored
to wear as pleasant an expression on my face as I could muster
in that trying time, although, as I released the fingers of my
little gunner Cochrane, I felt I was bidding farewell to a real
friend for perhaps the last time.
As I walked along the deck a German sailor came behind me and
took my pistol. I then gave him the whole belt. Going up to the
conning tower I saluted the officer whom I took to be the captain.
He addressed me in rather fair English as follows:
"Are you the captain of the President Lincoln? "
"No, sir," I replied. "I believe the captain went
down with the ship, for I have not seen him since. I am the first
"I am Captain Remy," he said. "My orders are to
take the senior officer prisonerwhenever I sink a man-o'-war.
You will remain aboard and point out your captain to me."
At that time Captain Foote, of the Lincoln, was pulling stroke
oar in one of the lifeboats. It was his duty to remain with his
men and so be in a position to look after their safety until aided
by rescuing vessels. The manner in which he performed this duty
is one of the most striking incidents of the Great War. Of the
seven hundred souls aboard the President Lincoln only twenty-three
men and three officers were lost, and that a greater loss of life
did not result must be attributed to the grand discipline which
prevailed, for which he alone was responsible, and to his coolness
and skill in the long trying hours which elapsed before destroyers
arrived at eleven o'clock that night.
When Captain Remy finished speaking he offered me a glass of sherry,
which I took with thanks, for the water had been rather cold and
I was numb from my waist down. We then cruised slowly among the
boats and rafts. I sang out to two or three boats and asked if
they had seen the captain. Receiving negative replies I turned
to Captain Remy and told him I was sure my captain had gone down
with the ship. Thereupon he sent me below and gave me warm clothing.
The submarine then left the scene of the sinking and cruised
up and down on the surface for the next two days. Early the following
morning a radio message from an American destroyer was intercepted
and Captain Remy gave it to me to read. It said: "President
Lincoln sunk. Survivors saved. A few missing."
IN cruising in that vicinity we were merely following out what
appeared to be Remy's routine schedule. He called those waters
his cruising ground. We remained constantly on the surface,
submerging only when it became necessary to avoid ships, and
once a day to get the proper trim. I was up on deck most of
the time standing on the conning platform behind the officer
of the deck. The weather was moderate, and although we rolled
slightly it was dry and comfortable there. I had plenty of time
to look at the sea and the sky and review my novel situation.
When I was ordered to the President Lincoln from the Fleet and
realized that I would actually have an opportunity to do my
share in the winning of the war, I was pleased beyond description.
I rather expected to be wounded or killed or even drowned, for
I conjectured that if the "game" went on long enough
it was only natural that, by the laws of choice and chance,
the Lincoln would finally be torpedoed; and with her torpedoed
and sunk it was to be expected that some would be wounded, some
killed outright, some drowned, and the remainder rescued little
the worse for the experience. But never once had the thought
of being taken prisoner entered my mind; I dare say it is or
was the same with the most of us. And so I had food for thought
during those first few days, and the more I thought about it
the less I liked it. The only one taken among the seven hundred
souls on the President Lincoln! Worse still, the only United
States Navy Officer captured by the Germans during the war!
I decided it could not be.
The afternoon of June Ist, about five o'clock, as we were sitting
in the tiny wardroom sipping our "Kaffee," the officer
who had the watch on deck sent word to the captain that two
ships had been sighted. They were two American destroyers, apparently
the ones who had picked up the survivors of the President Lincoln,
and were on their way back to Brest. Remy went on deck, took
the cone, and turning away from the destroyers went full speed
ahead. Just at this time the submarine was sighted by the destroyers
who gave chase. When Remy found he was seen, he quickly submerged
and zigzagged while making about eight knots speed. We ran at
a depth of two hundred feet. All officers and men were at their
stationsI was alone in the wardroom with no companions
but Hope and Fear: hope that they would "get" the
submarine and fear of that very eventuality.
We were submerged but a few minutes when a dull concussion slightly
rocked the boat. It was the first depth bomb! Others followed
in quick succession until a total of twenty-two were counted.
Inside the submarine it was as quiet as the grave the
only sounds that broke the stillness were the frequent reports
from the petty officer at the microphones to the captain telling
him when the sounds of the destroyers' propellers showed they
were approaching or receding and in which direction.
Five of the depth bombs exploded so close that the boat was
shaken from stem to stern, and I fully expected to see the seams
open and the water rush in. At that time I did not know which
side I was cheering for. But she stood the shocks well, and
soon the sound of the propellers grew fainter and fainter, and
finally could be heard no more. We remained submerged an hour
longer and then came to the surface finding all serene and calm
During the "show" I looked into the control room to
see how officers and men were taking their medicine. There was
one cool person among the five officers and forty-two men and
he was the captain. I saw two of the officers shaking their
heads over the affair, and the blanched faces of the crew told
better than words what their feelings were. Remy afterwards
told me there was one part of his business he dreaded more than
what I had just witnessedand that was the passing through
unknown mine fields.
The following morning, June 2d, we sighted another American
destroyer. This time Remy took no chances of being seen, but
The U-90 was built in 1916 and was commissioned in I9I7. She was
about two hundred feet long and mounted a four-inch gun forward
and another aft of the conning tower. The guns were rigidly fixed
to the deck and so were in the water whenever the ship submerged;
but all the more delicate parts were covered with a thick coat
of tallow, and as far as I could tell the salt water did little
damage to the guns. Extending up through the top of the conning
tower were two periscopes about twenty feet long which housed
inside, but could be extended at will; so the submarine could
cruise along submerged to a depth of fifteen feet, and at the
same time, by running up a periscope, see everything that happened
on the surface. The submerged speed was eight or nine knots, but
on the surface it was fully sixteen knots. She carried folding
radio masts which were hoisted every night, until one night they
were damaged in a storm and from then on dependence had to be
placed in the aerial stretched between the heavy cables running
from stem to stern over the conning tower. These cables passed
above guns and conning tower in such a way that all projections
on the submarine were protected from nets and the like. At the
stem the cables were made fast to saw-edged steel bars which were
expected to cut the strands of wire whenever a net was encountered.
Right below the conning tower was the control room where there
were always two men on watch and where were controlled all devices
In good weather all the navigating was done from the top of the
conning tower while the steersman was inside the tower; but in
very rough weather the officer of the deck went inside and the
hatch was closed. With the hatch closed the U-boat could submerge
immediately by simply tilting the horizontal rudder. The descent
was very gradual and the submarine, instead of dropping like a
heavy weight, was forced through the water by the propellers at
a very slight incline. With the hatch open it took about ninety
seconds to shift from the internal combustion or Diesel engines
to the storage batteries, close the hatch, and submerge.
Just forward of the control room were two very small compartments,
one to starboard and one to port, with a passage between. The
starboard compartment was used as a cabin by the two youngest
officers. It was probably seven feet long by four feet wide. The
port compartment was somewhat smaller and was used as the radio
room. Forward of these two compartments was the wardroom, about
seven feet long and six feet wide, on one side of which were two
bunks, one over the other, used by two of the officers, and on
the other side a washstand and some lockers built against the
bulkhead in which was kept the wardroom food. A collapsible table
occupied the center of the roon1 and on this our food was placed.
In the evening after the food was put away a hammock was swung
in the center of the room and in this I slept every night I was
Forward of the wardroom was the captain's cabin, a room of about
the same size as the former. He had a bunk, a desk, and a chair,
and no place for anything else. Two other compartments were forward
of the cabin: the large sleeping compartment for the crew (in
one corner of which was the officers' toilet) and the forward
At the stern was the after torpedo room, but these two compartments
I was never allowed to enter. However, I learned that the U-go
carried eight torpedoes. She had sunk two twenty-five-hundred-ton
ships before she torpedoed the President Lincoln. Three torpedoes
were expended on us and one each on the others, so she still had
three left. It was to get an opportunity to fire these remaining
three that Captain Remy stayed two days longer on his cruising
ground after sinking the Lincoln.
Abaft the control room was another large sleeping compartment
for the crew, and here also was the galley where all the food
for both officers and men was prepared. Between this compartment
and the after torpedo room was the engine room with its two Diesel
Although the quarters were cramped and there were many inconveniences
to be put up with, life aboard was not so unpleasant as people
are likely to imagine. We had only sufficient water for washing
our hands and faces once a day, and the crew had hardly that much.
The submarine rolled considerably in a heavy sea, but when submerged
there was absolutely no sensation of being in motion. The air
in the boat was very good and seldom did it become disagreeable.
Besides "Kapitan-Leutnant" Remy, the commanding officer,
who was a "regular," and who had entered the German
Naval Academy in 1905, there was a young engineer lieutenant who
had graduated from their Engineering School and who was responsible
for the efficient condition of the machinery; a young lieutenant
who had entered the Naval Academy in I9I3; and a reserve lieutenant
who had been in the merchant fleet before the war. Then there
was another officer of the same rank as Remy, who was making the
cruise preparatory to taking command of one of the new submarines
Germany was building.
The crew was composed of young men, happy and in good physical
condition. They seemed to like the duty aboard, but I found out
that the reasons why it was so popular were: first, after about
three round trips they were given the Iron Cross; second, they
had the best food in Germany; third, half the crew were given
leave of absence every time they were in port; and, fourth, they
received the highest rate of pay in the Navy and this was further
increased by a certain sum for each day they submerged. So for
all these reasons the Germans were able to keep their submarines
manned by voluntary enlistments, at least until the last months
of the war.
Captain Remy treated me with extreme consideration and politeness.
He tried to make things as pleasant for me as possible and his
officers took their cue from him. I messed with them at their
little table and took part in the conversation which, for my sake,
was often in Englishfor nearly all the officers could speak
English fairly well, the " regulars " being required
to study it at the Naval Academy.
We had many sociable evenings, and they helped me to forget for
a few hours at least the trying position in which I found myself.
I had played bridge in English, French, and Spanish, but it was
not until my sojourn on the U-go that I learned to play it in
German. Every evening when the remnants of the last meal were
cleared away we gathered around the little table in the wardroom
and played cards. I was agreeably surprised when one evening after
I had learned how to play a real German game, Captain Remy suggested
that we play bridge. And a very interesting game they made of
We had four meals every day: breakfast at 8 A.M., which consisted
usually of canned sausage ("vorst," as they called it),
canned jam, canned bread, canned lard, and coffee; dinner at twelve
o'clock noon consisting of soup and the rest the same as at breakfast;
"Kaffee" at 4 P.M., which was coffee and bread with
the lard (they called it marmalade) spread over it; and supper
at 8 P.M., when we had potato pancakes, or some such delicacy
of the cook's, together with the same old standbyssausage,
bread, lard, and coffee.
Occasionally we had tea and a few times cocoa. Twice we had eggs;
but the usual menu was what I have just described. This could
hardly compare with the food of the President Lincoln nor with
the Navy ration; but as Remy warned me, it was decidedly the best
food in Germany and so very much better than I should be likely
to see that he begged me to eat while I had the opportunity. God
knows he spoke the truth.
HAVING sighted so many American ships in those waters, Remy decided
that things were getting too warm for him on his cruising ground,
so he turned northward and began the trip home. He did not try
to run through the Straits of Dover, " for," as he said,
" the English have finally sewed them up," but instead
took the northern route. The weather was fine, and we ran most
of the time on the surface at from eight to ten knots speed. Several
days it was so calm we shipped no water over the deck, so I sat
out in the sunshine and watched the waves roll by.
We zigzagged continually, making sharp turns and large angles
with the base course. For four days we ran along the Irish coast
and northward without sighting a ship, and finally one morning
about four o'clock they awoke me to go hunting.
We were then near the Arctic Circle and being June it was daylight
all night long. When I came on deck I found that we had approached
to within a hundred yards of what looked to be a barren cliff
rising straight out of the water. It was North Rona, one of the
little islands lying west of the Scottish Main, and Remy knew
it as the abode of a few hundred half-wild sheep for he
had been there before. He told me that years before a hermit had
come to live on the island and had begun the raising of sheep.
When he died the sheep continued to thrive. From my position on
deck I could count about one hundred and fifty, but I got no closer,
for when the little bateau was brought out from its place between
the inner and outer hulls and an officer and two men with their
guns had taken their places in it as it lay alongside the ship,
the captain decided it would be better for me to stay aboard.
My binoculars had not been taken from me, so through them I watched
the "sport." The boat pulled up to a small inlet where
the occupants were able to make a landing. They tied up the boat
and the three of them climbed up the rocks to a grassy plain in
the center of the island. Then they drove a large number of the
sheep up to the top of the cliff on the west side of the island
and proceeded to shoot nine of them. One little woolly lamb they
caught alive and brought back aboard. We named it Rona, and from
that time on Rona and I, being companions in misery, were the
best of friends. One of the sheep they shot fell over the side
of the cliff into the water. Remy slowly backed the submarine
to within three feet of the base of the cliff, where a sailor
with a grapnel reached over the stern and caught it up. When the
hunting party returned the sheep were dressed on the deck of the
submarine by the ship's cook and every day thereafter we had fresh
Proceeding on our way we rounded the Shetlands and headed south
into the North Sea. I had now been aboard a week and already had
collected some information. I glanced at the charts whenever I
had an opportunity; I also borrowed an atlas from one of the officers.
In this way I learned as much as I could about our course and
the habits of the U-boats.
We ran down the coast of Norway, then across to the Jutland coast
through the Skaggerack and into the Cattegat. One night in the
North Sea we met another German submarine that was short of oil.
The captain came aboard, talked awhile with Remy, and then returned
to his ship lying a few hundred yards away. He decided it was
too rough to take oil and said he would try to make it to Kiel
with what he had. Two nights later in the Cattegat we had another
meeting with him, and this time he asked Remy for enough oil to
make sure of an adequate supply for the run to Kiel. The two submarines
had exchanged recognition signals and approached. The oil was
then pumped through a hose from the U-90 to the other submarine.
This took about an hour, and we then continued the cruise.
The following day, June 9th, we ran on the surface until 9 A.M.,
and then submerged and rested on the bottom in water less than
a hundred feet deep. We stayed there a short time and then came
to the surface. At noon we submerged again, this time to a depth
of over two hundred and twenty-five feet, and at five knots speed
approached The Sound, the narrow waters lying between Denmark
and Sweden. Great care was taken to avoid the mine fields which
are strewn through the Cattegat. We remained submerged more than
ten hours, coming to the surface at II P.M. The air was rather
disagreeable toward the last, but not unbearable. Several tanks
of oxygen were carried to replenish the supply of fresh air whenever
it became necessary.
When we came to the surface at eleven o'clock all the officers
including myself went up on deck for a smoke. It was barely dusk,
for in those latitudes and at that time of year there is practically
no night, or at least no real darkness. I found that we were in
a small bay with the lights of Sweden on one side, the lights
of Denmark on the other. We were probably four miles from land.
A few minutes later another submarine came to the surface about
a quarter of a mile away, and then another. The three of us slowly
cruised up and down in the middle of the bay for perhaps an hour.
It had become a little darker. Suddenly I resolved on a break
Many times during my stay on board the submarine I had planned
to escape. I racked my brain for ideas. I searched the ship for
"escape material." I ransacked the drug locker in my
efforts to find something to aid me in either capturing the submarine
or taking my leave of it. On the plea of wanting to clean my pistol
I got it back again. I cleaned, oiled, and loaded it, and not
to arouse suspicion, I put it on the captain's desk, where, however,
I could get it at any timebut I had only twenty cartridges
and my captors numbered forty-seven. The odds surely seemed against
me. At last, however, I felt that the long-awaited opportunity
My lifejacket had never been taken from me, and with that on I
was sure I could swim to the shore, or at least remain afloat
until picked up by one of the little fishing boats common in those
waters. But it was still too light for the attempt, and it would
be worse than useless to get into the water and then have the
submarine pick me up again, which would surely happen unless I
could lose myself in the darkness.
I waited until twelve-thirty, and although it was not so dark
as I would have liked I decided the time had-come. Just about
this time a German destroyer bore down upon us from the eastward
making high speed. She was undoubtedly keeping the rendezvous
for the purpose of escorting us through Danish waters into the
Baltic. I was now sure that I knew their rendezvous and I could
trace again their course, if only I could get back with my information.
I casually wandered over to the edge of the deck and made ready
to jump. Just as I was going over the side Remy, who had never
been far from me, caught me by the arm. Resistance was useless.
He ordered me below, but before I passed through the conning-tower
hatch, I took one last look around and saw that the destroyer
was placing herself at the head of the column of submarines and
heading west toward the channel into which I had seen several
small fishing boats disappear earlier in the evening. I am sure
in that direction lay Copenhagenperhaps not far distant.
The following morning I arose early and was allowed to go up on
deck. I feel positive Remy never held against me my attempt to
escape, and to this day has not reported it. I found we were in
the Baltic and our companions of the night before were nowhere
to be seen. It was a beautiful day and the water was like glass.
I sat down on deck with my binoculars and viewed my surroundings.
There was great activity on the U-90. Breech-blocks were being
taken out of the guns and cleaned; the "bright work"
was being polished, and all preparations were being made to enter
port. This was June 10th, the eleventh day of my enforced visit
aboard. Three or four merchantmen flying the German flag passed
us going east. Later in the morning, near Fehmarn Island, which
lies north of Lubeck, we passed the battle cruiser Hindenburg
and two other battle cruisers of the same type. Farther on were
four smaller cruisers maneuvering individually.
We continued past Fehmarn to Kiel, where we arrived and tied up
to the landing at the entrance to the locks at 3 P.M. There was
a net across the entrance to the harbor, and outside we passed
six or seven small destroyers and four or five submarines. The
latter were probably on practice trips. Inside the harbor there
were seven seaplanes engaged in making landings near the bathing
beach, where many women and children played in the chilly water.
On the other side of the harbor from us were two of the new submarine
mine-layers. They mounted a six-inch gun forward and looked to
be about three hundred and fifty feet long. They appeared to be
still in the "shaking down" stage. In the government
docks farther down I could see about ten light and armored cruisers
looking real new in their coats of fresh paint.
One of the officers took me ashore for a short walk after I had
rid myself of the two
weeks' growth of beard with the aid of Remy's razor. I saw little
of the town and was soon back aboard. At 7 P.M. we shoved off,
entered the locks, and then proceeded down the famous canal at
nine knots speed. Another submarine followed us, and Remy told
me it was the one that torpedoed the Celtic and the Tuscania.
I stayed up on deck until after midnight and made mental notes
of the canal. It is rather narrow except in a few places where
it has been widened to allow of the passing of large ships. The
shores are cemented part-way up the slope, and it is in every
respect neat and clean. Every hundred meters there is a bollard
to which ships may tie, and powerful electric lights are hung
at frequent intervals making the canal at night-time almost as
light as day. The shores at the top of the slope are patrolled
by sentries, and every few kilometers there is a small ferry and
a guardhouse filled with soldiers. A very few bridges, and these
with high arches, span the canal.
When I awoke the following day we were in Heligoland Bight, heading
south toward the mouth of the Jade River, up which a few miles
is Wilhelmshaven, the base of the High Seas Fleet. Overhead at
a height of about two thousand meters patrolled a huge Zeppelin.
Repair ships, small destroyers, and thgs were everywhere. A division
of three battleships, of which two were the Kong II and the Grosser
Kurfurst, passed us at high speed heading north and escorted by
a division of four large destroyers. We entered the locks at 10
A.M. and after passing through went alongside the "mother"
ship Preussen. My joy-ride was over.
THE old battleship Preussen, now dismantled, small destroyers,
and used only as the "mother" ship for six or eight
submarines, lay in a backwater from which none of the city could
be seen. When the U-90 had tied up, I was sent aboard and was
immediately placed in a room with a barred port, the door was
locked, and an armed sentry took up his post outside. The commanding
officer of the Preussen came to the room later and I asked for
a toothbrush, a comb, and permission to take a bath. A few minutes
later he returned with a new toothbrush and a broken comb. I saw
him no more, and he apparently left my entertainment to my guards.
Later in the day I prevailed on the guard to let me take a bath.
He took me to a sort
of laundry, and there in a tin tub I finally got clean again.
That noon I had had a plate of soup and a large piece of sour
black bread. I could not eat the sour dough on the inside of the
loaf, and the crust which enclosed it was over half an inch thick
and as hard as a rock. I tried to chew that, but broke one of
my teeth on it, so decided that further attacks would be useless.
" Anyway," I consoled myself, " this is the small
meal of the day and I will have a genuine repast to-night."
About five-thirty that evening my guard brought me a cup of colored
water hot and with some dregs in the bottom. I tasted it
and found that it was nothing more nor less than plain hot water.
It just did not "taste," that was all. I waited for
supper or dinner or anything else they cared to bring me, but
as nothing materialized I grew sleepy and went to bed. My room
contained, besides the bed, a washstand, a table, and a chair.
In the morning I was up early and ready for a mammoth breakfast.
At eight o'clock my guard brought me a cup of "warm Kaffee,"
as he said. I thought I had better drink it at once before it
got cold instead of waiting for the rest of my breakfast. But
one taste was enough. The night before I had made the acquaintance
of "ersatz" tea made out of strawberry leaves which
at least had the redeeming virtue of being tasteless. Now I was
face to face with friend "ersatz" coffee made out of
burnt acorns and barley, which, however, could not boast of any
virtue, and the taste was so bitter that even quinine would have
been far preferable. Of course, had there been sugar and cream
I might have been able to drink it, but it was sacrilege even
to mention those luxuries. Well, that was my ration. No more breakfast
came, and at noontime the same routine began again.
I used to look out of my barred port (about ten inches in diameter)
and see the ship's crew carrying their food from the galley to
their messing quarters. I was an officer, but could I have had
even the food the crew was eating, which was infinitely better
than what they gave me, I should have been perfectly satisfied.
Of course, had I been a German naval officer on an American man-o'-war
I should have been messing deluxe in the wardroom and being treated
with all the courtesy and consideration due my rankin fact,
as an equal. Yes, even had I been guilty of the murder of innocent
women and children I should have been treated as the officers
of the U-58 were treated by the officers of the American destroyer
Fanning when the U-58 was damaged and forced to surrender. But
being an American officer on a German man-o'-war, I was locked
in a small room in solitary confinement with nothing to read,
and given food we should have been ashamed to feed an animal.
Captain Remy, of the U-90, came in to see me once before he went
on leave. I had found a five-dollar bill in my pocket, which was
everything I had in the world after the ship went down, and this
I asked Remy to change for me into German money, which he kindly
did, also buying me some toothpaste and toilet articles. The officer
who was on the U-go for training purposes also came in to see
me in my prison room. He came to say good-bye, for he had just
received orders to proceed to Kiel and take command of-one of
the new submarines. It was then that I first realized the un-German
character of the treatment I had received on the U-90. While there,
all the officers had tried to make things pleasant for me, and
although we had many arguments on the war the discussions were
friendly. I could not help contrasting this with my treatment
on the Preussen.
The second day of my stay on the "mother" ship, a young
officer came to take me to the Wilhelm II, flagship of the High
Seas Fleet. We entered a waiting launch and shoved off, passing
by several docks where ships of all kinds were tied up. I counted
fully twenty-five destroyers apparently with no steam up, but
partially manned, also six or seven battleships and a few cruisers.
When we arrived alongside the Wilhelm II, I noticed that she was
partially dismantled and had her upper works enclosed in sheet-metal
to form temporary quarters. She was merely the port flagship I
learned, and a new superdreadnought was used as the seagoing flagship.
I was taken to a room marked "Chief of Staff," and there
met an officer who spoke perfect English, having lived twelve
years in England, as he told me. He began by being very courteous
and talked about everything except the war. Then he commenced
asking questions and tried to get information about our Navy and
what it was doing, and also about the Armyhow many troops
we had in France and how many we were sending over every month.
I rather frightened him with the tales I told of the two million
men we had in France and the twenty million more who were on the
way, until finally he lost his temper and demanded to know why
America had entered the war: that it was none of her affair, and
that it was all bosh to talk about "making the world safe
for Democracy" and other altruistic motives, since no nation
ever went to war except for gain; and the only reason why America
could have possibly entered the war-was to safeguard the millions
she had loaned to England and France.
"Why!" he exclaimed, "we expected you to come in
on the side of Germany."
Now all this was old news to me, for it had been the argument
of all the officers on the U-90, and I recognized it as the propaganda
issued by the Government which is taken as the absolute truth
by every German high and low. It finds an echo from the lips of
every one of themthey all read the newspapersfor with
practically not an exception I heard these same ideas expressed
by each German I met during my stay in Germany.
Needless to say the Chief of Staff and I no longer agreed. It
took me but a short time to set him aright as to America's reasons
for entering the war.
"Do you think America will ever forget the Lusitania?"
I asked him; "or ally herself with the authors of the famous
'Hymn of Hate'?"
And then, with the most biting sarcasm of which I was capable:
"But then even had we joined with you we could not have.
entered the alliance on an equal footing. We had nothing to offer.
We had no reputation established in the realms of pillage and
rapine. We had not murdered any women and children. We were not
Whereupon the interview ended. I had heard, and I have since proved
to my own satisfaction, that the most scathing remark one can
make to an educated German is to call him a "Hun."
Another day of my solitary confinement on board the Preussen,
and then about dusk a warrant officer and four armed enlisted
men escorted me through the streets of Wilhelmshaven for three
miles to the Commandatura group of buildings surrounded
by a high stone wall. Here I was placed in a small room opening
off a corridor. A guard with a loaded rifle was outside my window.
Another stood in the corridor outside my door which was kept locked.
The prison building itself was locked and the place was full of
jailers. The adjoining buildings were barracks for sailors and
recruits; and the courtyard in the center was patrolled by several
guards. I thought of escaping, but I knew that even were I able
to get out of the Commandatur, which was practically impossible,
I could never get out of Wilhelmshaven, the most intensely guarded
city of Germany.
At the prison I was searched and my identification disk taken
from me. I was given the same kind of food (?) I had received
on the Preussen. Fortunately I was there only parts of three days,
so I was not quite starvedbut I lived an eternity in that
About 4 A.M. the morning of my third day at the Commandatur, I
was called and told to be ready by five o'clock to leave the prison.
Exactly at five an officer and two sailors came for me and I was
marched to the station and on the train for Karlsrnhe. We went
by way of Hannover and Frankfort-on-the-Main.
Outside of Wilhelmshaven I saw large herds of cattle apparently
for the Fleet. These were the only cattle I ever saw in Germany.
It was haying-time, and through the fields were scattered women
and children (even infants) and old men. Occasionally I saw a
prisoner helping and sometimes a German soldier. There was some
grain growing, but very little. I came to the conclusion that
the soil was so poor nothing but hay would grow.
In passing through the large cities there were many people at
the stations, but although the German armies were advancing in
France, nothing but sorrow could be seen in their countenances
and there was a certain lack of noise and activity that was appalling.
Of course I had had no breakfast and by noontime I was nearly
famished. It was then that we arrived at Hannover where we changed
trains. I noticed the young officer go out and apparently get
dinner in the station cafe. I waited to see if there was any food
forthcoming for the prisoner, but nothing appeared. Finally I
asked if any arrangements had been made for my entertainment besides
the free ride on the train. He must have understood, because he
countered with " Have you any money ? " I remembered
the remainder of my former five-dollar bill. I had several marks
left, so I told him if he could arrange a modest meal the contents
of my pocket were his. With this incentive he quickly accomplished
the impossible. I had some potatoes and string beans and a very
tiny piece of meat. But no banquet could ever compare with that
About dusk we arrived at Karlsruhe where the officer and his men
turned me over to the Army authorities.
(Back to Contents)
THE LISTENING HOTEL
NOT far from the station of Karlsruhe there is a hotel which before
the war was probably like any other of the thousands of cheap
hotels in Germany. Now, however, it had been taken over by the
Government and all the rooms stripped of everything-they formerly
possessed. The windows had been frosted over and locked, and for
furniture they had placed several beds of shavings, stools, and
tables in each room. It was to this hotel I was taken by the Navy
guard and was immediately placed in one of the rooms alone.
The next morning a British warrant officer was placed in the same
room with me. Here they made no pretense of giving us breakfast.
We had nothing until noontime when we were greeted with soup and
a plate of black, frost-bitten potatoes. After "dinner"
I was ordered down to the intelligence office on the ground floor
where I was interrogated by a German Army officerI had seen
my last of the Navy.
The intelligence officer asked me questions from a typewritten
sheet and I saw him covertly write in the answers. "How many
troops in France?" "Two million, and twenty million
more ready to come." "How long will the war last?"
"At least five years."That always hurt their feelings
terribly. They were always hoping for peace in a few months, and
every German would say, "Oh, yes; the Allies cannot hold
out more than two months longer."
Four months later the common people were still being fed the same
propaganda each month was to see the end of the warbut
when it did not end what did they do: lose confidence in the Government?
No, indeed! They would go on believing forever if the Kaiser or
any one in authority told them to. I could see some hope of the
people rising up and demanding a changebut it was to be
by the few leaders such as Liebknecht, Erzberger, Scheidemann,
and the like; never the mass of the people themselves.
When this officer had received my answers to his questions, I
was sent back to a room, but not to the same room from which I
had come. Here I found seven Frenchmen. They made me welcome and
we sat around and talked in French. They had been captured at
different points of the front and all had interesting stories
to tell. As the day wore on one of them who was so fortunate as
to have a razor decided to shave himself. There was a small cracked
mirror on the wall which he took down to place in the light. As
he did so, one of the others noticed that the wall where the mirror
had been hanging was scratched as if with a sharp instrument and
upon approaching closer he deciphered the following:
"Beware of the dictaphones." Investigating further,
we found the same warning in all the Allied languages, sometimes
scratched in the plaster of the wall and sometimes written in
pencil on the under side of tables, chairs, and bunks. That day
for our supper we were given the same kind of soup as at noon
and this completed the day's refreshments.
The following day I was sent to a room where there were three
British officers, and in this room a search revealed the same
warning. While I was at the "hotel" three dictaphones
were found by the officers. They tore them out and destroyed them.
I am sure the Germans gained very little information from us,
but they undoubtedly learned a few of the many choice ways in
which we habitually spoke of our "friends," the "Huns."
By comparing the stories of other officers, whom I met in the
prison camps to which I was afterwards sent, I learned how the
system works. Ordinarily an incoming prisoner is placed in a room
alone. He stays there for a day or two and is sent to the intelligence
officer, who plies him with questions. If he refuses to answer,
or is otherwise obstreperous, he is sent back to his solitary
confinement. When it is considered that he has been alone long
enough and will be anxious to talk with the first person he meets,
he is placed in a room with officers who speak the same language
and are, like him, prisoners. By means of the dictaphones it is
hoped to obtain information of value which one is likely to let
fall in his eagerness to talk again. Sometimes the officers he
is placed with are spies, but this is not resorted to now as much
as at the beginning of the war, owing to the prevalence among
prisoners of the idea that all "companions" are enemies.
The fourth day at the "hotel" the British officers
in my room were sent away to the prison camp. I endured the solitude
for a few hours and then asked to see the intelligence officer.
When he came I asked why I was undergoing solitary confinement,
and why it was being drawn out so long. He assured me that I should
that day be sent to the camp which was only a few blocks away.
Accordingly, a few minutes later, the guard lined up outside the
hotel and I was escorted through the streets to the Zoological
ABOUT the second year of the war, while Hagenback's Circus was
playing in the Zoological Gardens at Karlsruhe, a British aeroplane
squadron came over and dropped bombs on the city, one of which
fell in the midst of the people who were attending the performance.
Several hundred people were killed or wounded. In retaliation
the Germans built a prison camp at the scene of the disaster,
planning this as a safeguard against further bombing. As a matter
of fact, the railway station a few blocks away from the camp was
bombed by the Allies' aero squadrons on an average of two or three
times a week, but no bombs ever fell near the camp.
When I entered the camp I found a group of wooden shacks in the
shape of an irregular polygon with a court in the center and surrounded
by three fences. The inner fence was of wire only seven feet high,
but the middle fence was of boards surmounted by barbed wire to
a height of twelve feet. The outer fence was of wire like the
inner and in certain places there was a fourth fence outside similar
to the two just mentioned. The distance between the fences was
perhaps eight feet. Inside the court there were five armed sentries
constantly patrolling and outside the last fence a line of sentries
spaced about thirty yards apart who had more or less stationary
posts. The whole camp occupied a site about half as large as a
I was taken to one of the shacks where I was searched and everything
except my clothes taken from meeven my binoculars. In the
pockets of my trousers and blouse which I was wearing when the
President Lincoln was torpedoed, I had a few religious articles,
a bunch of keys, and some letters. All went as contraband. When
the search was finished, I was sent to another hut where I found
seven Frenchmen and eight beds. This was to be my home.
The building was constructed very much like a barn. Partitions
divided it into four rooms in each of which were eight beds of
wood shavings, eight small stools, and a table. When I had made
the acquaintance of the Frenchmen I went out into the court and
there found many British officers, several of whom were Canadians,
waiting to greet me. I was the only American. The Germans were
still advancing in France, but were those British lads downhearted
? Decidedly no! As they shook hands with me (I noticed that nearly
all were wounded), they wanted to know just one thing: "America,
are you with us?" Fortunately I could assure them that America
was with them to the end. They did not propose to give up the
fight until the Huns were whipped, they said, but they knew America
would have to see the thing through with them or they could not
win. France had already given her all.
There were about one hundred British, sixty French, fifteen Italian,
and five Serbian officers at the camp when I arrived, but the
number fluctuated. All the Allied officers were first sent to
the "listening hotel" at Karlsruhe which was the headquarters
of the intelligence department. Then, while awaiting transfer
to the permanent camps throughout Germany, they were temporarily
placed in the camp in the center of the Zoological Gardens. I
was there three weeks, and in that time saw two or three times
the capacity of the camp arrive and depart. Some, however, stayed
months and others came in one day and left the next. There seemed
to be no intelligent system followed in transferring prisoners:
at least I came to this conclusion after seeing several prisoners
shifted from one end of Germany to the other for no apparent reason.
After becoming acquainted with the British officers I met most
of the French. They had a committee which was in charge of all
the food the French Red Cross sent to the camp, and the chairman
of the committee took me under his wing, saying he had orders
from France to take care of any Americans who should come through.
They had very few supplies, but I was treated like one of their
own and given whatever they had. Among the first things they gave
me were a few very necessary articles of clothing. They also had
some dried beans on hand, a little coffee real coffeeand
some hard biscuits. The French hard biscuits have saved many lives
in this war. We used to cut a hole in them, pour in water, and
soon they would swell up, become soft, and closely resemble white
I quickly became accustomed to life in the camp. We had no breakfast.
At noontime we had a plate of soup made out of leaves. This was
followed usually by a plate of black potatoes (the good potatoes
were saved for the German Army) or horse carrots or some similar
vegetable. At 6 P.M. we had another plate of soup and sometimes
there was dessert: a teaspoonful of jam. It was terrible tasting
stuff and for a long time we could not tell what it was made of;
but a few months later we saw peasants gathering the red berries
of the mountain ash and they told us they made them into jam.
That accounted for the taste.
That was our ration from the Germans with the exception of the
black bread. Once a day we were given a piece of this bread about
as big as a man's fist. It weighed about two hundred and forty
or two hundred and fifty grams. Now half a pound of white bread
makes a relatively large bulk; but the small size of this half
pound is easily understood when I describe the ingredients. We
tried to analyze it one day and this is what we found: first,
water and potatoes; second, sawdust and chaff; and third, sand.
As for the soup, in all the time I was there it was never changed.
It looked and tasted like water; and the leaves with which it
was filled were, of course, not edible. Were it not for the food
I obtained from the French committee I should never have lasted
out those three long weeks.
The canteen sold cider and so-called wine, and once in a while
some dried fish. No other foodstuffs could we buy. They had safety
matches for twenty-five cents a small box, "ersatz"
cigarettes and tobacco at exorbitant prices, the ten-cent variety
of granite-ware plates and utensils for from one to three dollars
each, oil-cloth at seven dollars per yard, and a few other articles
that I have forgotten. They told me that the tobacco must contain
seventy-five per cent of hops, by order of the Government. It
looked like wheat chaff, but we bought it just the same, rather
than have nothing to smoke.
Our orderlies were British "Tommies" and French "Poilus."
Some had been captured at the beginning of the war, others more
recently. My little "Tommy," to whom I became greatly
attached, used to tell me about his home in "Blighty,"
and how much longer he would have to wait to see it. One day he
told me how he was taken. His battalion was cut to pieces and
the remnants captured. After terrible hardships they found themselves
in the rear of the German lines. They were then lined up and counted.
Three officers and less than a hundred men were left. The officers
were ordered to step to the front, and there before the eyes of
their men they were shot down in cold blood. I cite this, not
as anything extraordinary, but as a sample of the tales told by
officers and men alike, who, knowing that land warfare was new
to me, a Navy man, used to recount their experiences and then
ask to hear mine.
One day six or seven "Tommies" came to the camp to replenish
the supply of orderlies. I was near the gate as they came in,
and of all the terrible sights I have ever witnessed that was
the worst. The poor lads were absolutely skin and bones: I called
them walking skeletons. They came in dragging their feet along
and were so weak they could hardly stand. They had no shoes nor
stockings, but instead had some rags tied around their feet. In
fact the only clothing they had consisted of ragged trousers,
and a few strips passed over their shoulders and tied to the tops
of the trousers.
I learned their story. Since their capture they had been held
at St. Quentin, where, although the Germans had accepted the terms
of the agreement whereby all prisoners of war were to be kept
at least thirty kilometers behind the firing line, they were forced
to repair roads under the fre of their own batteries. Their food
was only one plate of soup a day. Some of the officers who had
just come in assured me that they had seen these same lads a few
mornings before under their prison windows at St. Quentin waiting
for it to become light enough so they could search the ground
for crusts of bread, cigarette stubs, or anything else the officers
might have discarded the night before.
PLANS OF ESCAPE
I HAD been at Karlsrnhe but a few hours when I made a tour of
the camp and sized up my chances of escape. Realizing my ignorance
of the subject and knowing I could get good advice from the other
prisoners, I let them know I had information which I was anxious
to get back to the Navy and that I proposed to escape at the first
opportunity, or failing an opportunity that I intended to make
one. The British and French officers immediately offered me money
and food, maps and a compass.
Karlsrnhe is about one hundred miles from the Swiss frontier.
A good map was almost a necessity and the compass would be my
only guide in the long night marches. The trip would take at least
fifteen days and food to last that long would be difficult to
escape with. But with concentrated food, such as sweet chocolate,
loaf sugar, and French biscuits, a very little would keep a man
going indefinitely.- Those of the officers who had been taken
prisoner a long time before were receiving food of all kinds from
home; and from them I got what I needed.
Money would buy many things. In an emergency, a hundred-mark note
dangled before a guard's eyes would probably mean the difference
between recapture and freedom. Of course I had no money, but I
knew that I was entitled to some, so I asked for an interview
with the commandant, got it, and told him that in my understanding
of international law I was entitled to at least a part of my salary
as an officer of the United States Navy. He informed me that his
Government had no agreement with America and therefore he had
no authority to pay me. When he heard, however, that I had no
money at all, he agreed to pay me the same as the British officers
with whose Government there was an agreement. The lieutenants
were paid sixty marks a month and the captains and above, one
So he ordered the paymaster to give me one hundred marks, since
my rank corresponded to that of an Army captain. Then the paymaster
deducted sixty marks for my "board" and gave me the
balance. This money was never paid in good specie, but always
in the form of camp paper money, good only inside the camp, at
the canteen, and for similar purposes.
I could hardly hope to buy my way to freedom with forty marks,
but several of the officers were able to secrete good French,
German, and British money in their clothes in such a way that
it escaped detection in the search which every one had to undergo
when entering or leaving a camp. One French major came in with
twelve hundred francs in good money and hearing my plans he came
right over and handed it all to me.
Among my fellow prisoners were several who like me wanted to
escape. We talked over the many plans that had been tried since
the beginning of the war, and in this manner I learned what to
do and what not to do. Allying myself with two French aviators
and some British officer prisoners, I planned my first Karlsruhe
Working at night we were able to loosen some staples that held
the wires of the inner fence to the posts. In this way we made
an opening large enough to pass through, and then quietly attacked
the board fence. It took several nights of painful work with the
sentries only a short distance away, but finally we had one board
loosened in such a way that a single wrench would tear it off.
By judicious use of money and French biscuits we had acquired
two friends among the sentriesone of whom was a young Swiss
boy who had run away from Switzerland and been impressed into
service by the Germans. Through him one of the French aviators
communicated with friends he had met in Karlsrnhe before the war.
One of these, his fiancee, a German girl, was preparing her basement
for us to live in for a few days after we should escape from the
camp and while the search was still hot. Then, when the uproar
should have died down, we would crawl out under cover of darkness
and begin the march to the frontier.
For sentimental reasons I chose the 4th of July as the day for
the attempt. When the sentries on the inside of the camp were
properly disposed, we were all to slip through the inner fence
and line up near the loosened board, the first man was to wrench
it off and go through, and the rest were to follow. Then we were
to storm the outer wire fence and climb over, feeling sure that
the size of our party would so frighten the guards that they would
be unable to fire until we were safe behind a row of trees and
bushes which grew only fifty yards from the camp. After that it
would simply be a case of running through the town to the forest
beyond. On the way four of us would drop out and make our way
to the basement mentioned before. The others would divide up into
twos and threes and scatter.
All plans were completed, our food, maps, and compasses assembled,
and all was in readiness by the morning of July 3d. The last letter
to friends in town had been given to the Swiss guard and we waited
only for the darkness of midnight. As the guards were relieved
at rr A.M. I noticed a commotion of some kind at the main gate.
Hastening over I saw that our guard had been searched and the
letter found in his clothes. Things happened rapidly then. The
young aviator who had written the letter was sent for, but he
refused to tell the names of the rest of us. The commandant immediately
telegraphed to Berlin asking for instructions and the guard was
doubled both inside and outside of the yard. Of course that plan
was ruined, but we did not lose hope.
The next day was the 4th of July and we celebrated as best we
could. Five American aviators had just come in and with them I
observed the Day. We collected as much food as we could find,
except, of course, the reserve for escape purposes, which was
never touched no matter how hard-pressed we were. One of the aviators
had brought in a tiny silk " Stars and Stripes," and
with this waving over the table we had our banquet.
The next morning orders came from Berlin to clear the camp of
all officers. That day nearly all the French and British officers
were sent to camps in Northern Germany. Two British generals,
some Serbian and Italian officers, a few French aviators, and
I were left. With one of the aviators I planned to get away that
In one corner of the camp there was a large tree which had very
thick foliage and one limb of which extended out over the three
fences. I conceived the idea of climbing the tree before "Taps,"
which was at eleven o'clock, hiding in the foliage until about
1.30 A.M., then crawling out to the end of the big limb, making
fast a line, and sliding down outside. A scheme similar to this
had been planned a few nights before by one of the American aviators
and myself, but we were unable to climb the tree before "Taps"
sounded and the sentries ordered us inside our barracks.
I had some trouble in getting a line which would hold our weight,
but after searching the camp thoroughly I finally found an electric
wire in the little theater which the prisoners had built years
before in the center of the camp. This wire was heavily insulated,
and upon testing it we found that it would hold our weight.
That night after dark we placed our reserve food in knapsacks,
made from pieces of an old shirt, and strapped them to our backs.
I wrapped the electric wire around my body, and then, draping
blankets about our shoulders in the manner of German officers
with their cloaks, we donned caps furnished by some of the other
officers and left the barracks. This disguise would aid us after
we were outside the camp and in getting out of the city. We walked
directly to the tree, found the coast clear, and climbed up. Soon
the sentry in that part of the yard walked over and took up his
position directly under us. He was relieved at eleven o'clock
and the next sentry never moved out of his tracks. He in turn
was relieved at I A.M. and the latter again at 3 A.M., but for
some unknown reason they all refused to leave that spot. We could
not move for fear of making a noise.
It was cold and we were terribly cramped; and it was not until
after sunrise that we were able to climb down and mingle unnoticed
with the other officers inside the yard.
THE BEST EFFORT
A FEW mornings later I was awakened by an interpreter at six o'clock
and told to be ready to leave the camp in half an hour. Rising
hastily I dressed and then looked around for some way of hiding
my compass, money, and maps. The food would excite no suspicion;
but I knew I should be searched for contraband articles, as was
customary, and that, unless I could secrete these things in a
way that no one else had ever tried, they would surely be found.
I had a jar of lard that the French committee had given me, and
in this I placed my compass. My money I put in a jar of shaving-cream.
For my maps only could I find no hiding-place. I had several detailed
accounts of how French officers had escapedtheir itineraries
with notes and planswhich had been smuggled back in loaves
of bread and bars of soap and in other innocent-looking packages.
But all of these I had to destroy. I put my faith in one large
general map, and finally hid it in a box of cocoa that a British
officer had given me. I took out the paper lining of the box and
placed my map folded to the correct size inside. I then dusted
some cocoa over it and replaced the lining which, bag shaped,
contained the rest of the cocoa. Then with my knapsack full of
food I reported to the Mess Hall.
I was told to take off my clothes. One interpreter searched my
knapsack while another went through my clothing. The latter took
each garment separately, kneaded it between his fingers, listening
the while for the rustle of paper, turned it inside out, and finally
cut open the seams in places where it looked suspicious. Even
my insignia and gold stripes were cut open, but of course nothing
But in the meantime the contents of the knapsack were having troubles
of their own. As soon as the interpreter espied the jar of lard
he reached for it. I was ahead of him, and talking volubly, I
thrust my finger in the jar on the side away from the compass,
showing him it was only lard, and explaining that I was taking
it to the next camp because I did not know if I should find any
thereand, of course, it was very valuable, there being so
little in Germany, etc., etc. I talked in this strain until he
reached for something else. Soon he came to the box of cocoa.
With a long steel needle he began feeling inside. I took this
opportunity to slide the jar of shaving cream back into the knapsack;
and then, as beads of perspiration slowly gathered on my brow,
I watched and prayed that he would overlook the map. After what
seemed centuries to me he made one final jab with his needle and
put the box down. I had won the first skirmish.
When the search was finished I was marched by two guards to the
railroad station. On the way out of the camp I noticed that the
Serbian officers and some Frenchmen who had come in during the
night were lining up to be also marched away. There were about
thirty of them and they had four guards. A lone American usually
had two. We arrived at the station and boarded a train, and then
the guards told me we were bound for Villingen in the Schwarzwaldor
Black Forest, as we call it.
I was unfortunate in having to travel in the daytime, for at Karlsruhe
we had always considered a passage on the train the best time
for making an attempt to escape, provided the traveling was done
at night. The darkness would render it next to impossible for
the guards to find a person if he jumped from the train, even
though he might be wounded. Of course I did not want to force
the hand of Fate, but it seemed that most of the opportunities
had been closed against me up to this time and Fate therefore
needed a little moral persuasion to open up those doors to me.
So I planned to jump from the train when the time looked propitious,
but preferably when we had reached the point nearest the Swiss
All the way down to Offenburg, which we reached about noontime,
the guards watched me like hawks. There we changed trains; and
leaving the main line behind, our train headed southward up into
the mountains. We were in a fourth-class carriage filled with
German soldiers back from the front on furlough, who obstructed
the passageway in the center of the coach and thronged around
the door. Little wooden benches about three feet long jutted out
from both sides of the car toward the center.. On one of these
I set with one guard beside me, the other on the next bench facing
me. Each held his gun pointed toward me and I took pains to see
that the guns were loaded.
About two o'clock in the afternoon we reached a place called Sommerau,
where I noticed an engine was switched back. Then we made higher
speed, and of a sudden I realized what had happened. Up to this
time we had been making only ten or twelve miles an hour and were
on the upgrade. At Sommerau we reached the crest of the mountains
and from then on were on the downgrade. Had I known this before
I should have taken my chances with the low speed, but it was
now too late.
At three o'clock we were nearing Villingen. The train was making
about forty miles an hour and we were passing through a valley
which was rather thickly populated. The guns of the guards were
still pointed toward me and they did look ugly; but the window
near our seat was open and I was sure that I could reach it at
a bound, so if they fired they would be just as likely to hit
one of the other passengers as me. It was warm and close in the
carriage and one of the guards was dozing. I waited until the
other slightly turned his head to answer a question put by one
of the soldiers with whom he had been talking. Then, jumping up,
with my knapsack hanging from my neck, I leaped past both guards
and tried to dive through the window. It was small, probably eighteen
inches wide and twenty-four inches high; and as there was nothing
on the outside of the car to hold to, I had to depend on my momentum
and the weight of my head and shoulders to carry the rest of my
body along. My head and shoulders went through nicely; and then
with the shouts of the guards ringing in my ears I simply fell
and all went dark.
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WHEN I disappeared from view the guards must have pulled the bell-rope,
for the train came to a stop about three hundred yards farther
along. In the meantime I had landed on the track that paralleled
the one on which the train was running. The bed was of crushed
rock and the ties of steel. My head struck one tie and I was stunned,
but rolled over and over; and the shaking up must have brought
me again to my senses, for by the time the train had stopped I
was struggling to my feet.
Then I made a terrible discovery: my knees had apparently struck
the tie next to the one that damaged my head, and when I tried
to run I found they were so cut and bruised that I could not bend
them. My feet, too, had been cut across the insteps, my body was
all bruised, and my hands and arms had small pieces of rock ground
in; but in spite of all this no bones were broken. Had it not
been for the condition of my knees I should have been able to
make my escape; but by the time I was on my feet trying to shuffle
away, the guards had descended from the train and were rapidly
advancing toward me firing as they came.
I tried to run, but could make very little headway, and soon
I was exhausted. My breath came in gasps and I finally fell to
the ground. I was dragging myself along by pulling on the grass
when the last shot passed between my ear and shoulder and buried
itself in the ground in front of me. The guards were then less
than seventy five yards away, and I just had time to turn over,
raise myself to a half-sitting and half-lying posture and elevate
my hands above my head as a sign that I surrendered, before they
were on me.
With fiendish fury the first guard, turning his gun end for end
and grasping it by the muzzle, rushed on me, and dealt me a smashing
blow on the head. It knocked me unconscious and I rolled down
the hill. When I came to my senses I was lying in a
shallow ditch at the foot of the hill and the guards were cursing
and kicking me trying to make me get up.
Many of the people from the hayfields near by had gathered to
watch the fun. Among them I noticed many women and children and
a few old men. One old veteran with a pitchfork in his hands came
running up and offered his services to the guards in case I should
become dangerous. No one in all that crowd offered a word of sympathy
or tried to remonstrate with my captors in the punishment they
were administeringand these were the best people of Germany,
the pious, church-going Baden peasants!
And I must have made such a pitiable looking spectacle! The blood
was streaming down my face from the wound in my head where it
had struck the railroad tie; my trousers at the knees had been
ground into the flesh; and my hands were torn and bleeding.
After a few minutes I was able to pull myself to my feet; but
I had no sooner done so than one of the guards knocked me down
again with a blow on the back of the head. With their heavy boots
they kicked me, and with their fists they pounded me. Each time
when they got me to my feet, they would knock me down again with
a blow of their guns. The seventh or eighth time I was felled
to the ground, one guard had passed behind me and raising his
gun full length had struck me on the back of the head above the
left ear. The fact that the leather sling was between my head
and the gun and acted as a cushion when the blow was struck undoubtedly
saved my life; for the force was so terrific that I was knocked
several feet away, the gun broke in two at the small of the stock,
and for several days I was totally deaf in the left ear
Now all this time I had not even tried to protect myself. Had
I done so, it would have given them the opportunity they wanted
of shooting me, and they would have had many witnesses to testify
that I had resisted arrest. But a cold-blooded murder in the presence
of so many civilians was a dangerous business; for if the truth
ever leaked out, as was likely to happen under those conditions,
it would go hard with the guards and perhaps with the military
authorities if it were taken up by my Government and reprisals
ordered. Things like that were common enough behind the lines
at the front where there were no civilians to tell the tale and
where many dark deeds could be done under the plea of military
After the gun was broken I lay for a few minutes on the ground
unconscious. The next thing I knew I was being beaten over the
neck and shoulders with a saw-edged bayonet and driven back to
the railroad track. Better care was taken of the remaining rifle,
but there was little danger of breaking the bayonet or the wooden
soles of those heavy boots. The train had not waited, so we marched
back to a signal station a few hundred yards up the track. There,
while the guards inquired about the next train, a woman in a farmhouse
near by was sent to fetch some bread and milk. When she returned
the guards paid her, took the food, and compelled me to stand
at attention while they refreshed themselves. Then, deciding they
would not wait for the next train, they turned me around and,
prodding me with their bayonet and gun, started me for Villingen
and the prison camp about five miles away.
As I shuffled along they would kick me trying to make me go faster.
Of course I was walking practically stiff-legged, for I could
not bend my knees, and so did not make the speed they desired.
My knapsack with all the food was still hanging from my neck and
before I had gone far the weight began to tell. I had to march
at attention and could not raise my hand to ease the strain.
Occasionally, in a burst of rage, one of the guards would run
up behind me and knock me down with a blow from his gun or fistprobably
when he would remember how close he had come to losing me. That
would have meant for him at least two weeks' solitary confinement
or a trip back to the trenches, which was much less desirable
than the easy garrison duty he was performing at Karlsruhe.
During one of these little spasms, when one of the brutes had
just struck me down with his gun, two women and a man came running
out from a farmhouse and scolded him roundly. Both guards answered
very insolently, but they desisted from their brutal treatment
while we were in sight of that house, and then later on continued
the beating. This was the only time any German ever said a word
in my defense.
I shall never know how I bore up under that torture. During
the last mile I was choking for breath and so weak I could barely
stand, but still I was prodded onward. In my mind were two thoughts
contending for supremacy: that this was my road to Calvary and
I should bear my cross like a man; and that I must live to ask
God for the privilege of being the instrument of his vengeance
against the German people. Anyway, I refused to die. And then
between five and six o'clock we came to the camp.
More dead than alive I staggered inside the gate and fell in a
heap on the guardhouse porch. I do not know how long I lay there;
but later, when I became conscious, I found myself on a bed in
a cell of the guard-house, with the commandant towering over me
and bellowing in German that if I attempted to escape again I
should be shot. An interpreter told me what he said, although
he condensed in one sentence what it took the Oberstleutnant Ehrt
five minutes to deliver.
Ehrt, the commandant, was a fat, porkish, scowling individual,
the very image of Ludendorff. When he had exhausted his vocabulary
(such words as " Schwein " were by this time familiar
to me), he left the room and a doctor came in. We were told later
that he was a sophomore at a medical college and had just been
impressed into the service. He treated my wounds, covered my body
with wet dressings, and finally wrapped me from head to feet with
paper bandages. "Ah, you will live to be hanged," he
said, as, shaking his head, he left the room.
My knapsack and clothes were then given to the camp guards, and
I heard later that they had found my compass and money very easily,
but could not find the map. So they tore open all the seams of
my clothing and ripped off the soles and heels of my shoes; but,
finding nothing more, finally gave up the search.
When the doctor left me the door was closed and locked, and I
quickly passed into a deep sleep from which I did not wake until
late the following day. Imagine my horror to find on awaking that
my body, which was one mass of cuts and bruises, had been still
further lacerated by untold numbers of vermin with which the cell
was infested. And I was helpless! I could move neither arms nor
legs trussed up as I was like a mummy. For three days I endured
this agony, but it was almost unbearable. Of all my sufferings
in Germany I believe this was the worst. There is probably in
this little world of ours one thing more poisonous than the German
fleasand only oneand that is German propaganda!
After the bandages were removed from my arms and upper body (I
was young and my wounds healed rapidly), I was able to keep away
most of the vermin, at least while I was awake; but when finally
time had erased the worst marks of my beating, my body was still
covered with large red eruptions. I shall always bear these scars.
Two months later my knees were entirely healed, although I was
able to walk within three weeks.
About my sixth day in the cell I was given a sort of court-martial
at which were present three German officers and an interpreter.
They asked me what I had to say about my attempt to escapewhere
I had obtained the money and compass and if I had a map. As usual
I gave them very little information. I did tell them, however,
about my treatment at the hands of the guards and the complaisance
with which it was viewed by their good people of Baden. I told
them that the inhabitants of Southern Germany no longer enjoyed
in my estimation any higher pedestal than the Prussians: and I
pointed out that the people of the Allied nations and especially
of America were just about correct in their opinion that the Germans
were a brutal beast-like race, when their civilians so plainly
showed themselves to be as bad as their military. This one little
incident amply proved it, I said.
A few days later they told me that my two guards were to be court-martialed
and asked me to make a deposition as a witness. I did so, but
as they translated it into German I am not sure that I signed
my name to the exact truth. Anyway, I never found out if the guards
were really court-martialed, and if they were whether it was for
inhuman treatment or for breaking the gun" destroying
government property," as we say in the Navy.
After my court-martial, I was notified that I had been condemned
to two weeks' solitary confinement in my cell as punishment for
attempting to escape. Those days were terribly long and I should
have starved had it not been for the food sent in to me by the
American officers at the camp, who asked for and obtained permission
to do so. By this time several of them had been in prison over
three months and were regularly receiving parcels from the Red
Cross. They even sent me cigarettes, but these I was not allowed
to receive. What a comfort they would have been in those hours
At last my prison term was served. I took one parting look at
my hard bed, my table and stool, and finally at the little barred
window high up in the wall through which a few rays of light sometimes
found their way, and without any regret followed the guard to
the court and the barracks of the American officers. I had lost
thirty pounds weight and was very weak, but I walked those fifty
yards with a light step. Hope had come again.
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THE AMERICAN CAMP
WITH almost my first breath of fresh air, I vowed that I would
surely escape the next time. If I had been lukewarm in my intention
before, I was determined now.
I found the camp to be a rectangular shaped enclosure about
one hundred and fifty yards long and fifty yards wide. Low,
white barracks ran along the outside of the rectangle; and a
large assembly hall, a canteen building, a small music room,
and a library shack occupied the ground in the center of the
camp. There was space enough left around this group of buildings
and between them and the barracks for a tennis court, a volley-ball
court, and a sort of track around which we walked or ran to
get the exercise we needed.
Each barrack building was partitioned, making the rooms about
twenty-five by thirty feet; and twenty prisoners were supposed
to occupy each room. The outside windows of the barracks were
covered with iron gratings, and a few feet beyond was a deep
ditch filled with barbed-wire entanglements and surmounted by
a four foot barbed-wire fence. About eight feet beyond the ditch
and fifteen feet from the windows of the barracks was a barbed
wire fence about ten feet high, whose upper wires were bent
inward out of the vertical plane of the rest of the fence in
such a way as to prevent any one from climbing overa simple
matter with wires straight up and down. Patrolling outside the
fence was a line of sentries armed with rifles. They were at
first spaced about fifty yards apart; but later there was a
sentry every twenty-five or thirty yards, and they formed a
regular cordon around the camp. Inside the yard or court formed
by the barracks was one sentry who patrolled up and down continuously.
The barracks were made of some kind of stucco and were one
story in height. They sat on the ground and had no foundation,
although there was a cellar under each barrack, built with the
evident intention of making it impossible for the officers to
tunnel out under their rooms: for this made access possible
from the outside, and six or eight times every day and night
guards with flashlights inspected each cellar looking for evidences
of tunneling. Since the building of the camp at the beginning
of the war (or before) five or six tunnels had been constructed
by the prisoners and many had succeeded in escaping in this
manner. I say "before" advisedly, for the furniture
in the barracks, which consisted of an iron bed, a wooden locker,
and a small wooden stool for each officer, was all marked "K.
G. 1913," which stands for"KriegsGefangenenlager 1913,"
and which translated means "Camp for Prisoners of War."
As the world knows, war was declared in 1914.
Before we entered the war, the prisoners at Villingen included
Russian, French, and British officers; but at the time of my
arrival there were only Russians and Americansabout one
hundred and fifty of the former and forty of the latter. The
Russians, many of whom had been there since 1914, were terribly
emaciated. Even then they were as a class of larger stature
than the officers of any other nationality. Most of them were
excellent men, well educated, and represented the best Russia
could produce; but there were a few Bolsheviki among them. Since
the defection of Russia, the fall of the monarchy, and the rise
of the Bolsheviki, parcels from home had ceased coming, and
the prisoners were forced to depend almost entirely on the ration
from the Germans.
The Americans used to share their food with the Russians, but
at times the supply ran very low. There were weeks when no parcels
from the Red Cross would get through, perhaps owing to transportation
troubles, and then several parcels for each officer would come
together. Often the boxes were plundered; but enough food came
through to make us independent of the German ration.
The French and the British allowed parcels to any number to
be sent to prisoners in Germany; and these, coming from relatives
and friends, usually contained great quantities of candy and
other luxuries, while the Red Cross committees sent the necessities.
We, however, used to wonder why no luxuries came from home until
one of the officers received from his family in New York a list
of the things that could be sent from Americaas somebody
laughingly said, "one pair of shoe-laces per month."
As a matter of routine we "paraded'' in the assembly hall
at 9 A.M. and 7 P.M. for muster. As each one's name was called
he stepped out of ranks and marched out of the hall. A German
reserve officer was always in charge, and he was assisted by
an under-officer who called the roll. The Germans had on duty
at the camp four officers, one of whom, the commandant, was
a "regular"; also sixty or seventy soldiers, who were
there for guard duty principally, but who were also called on,
when off duty, for any emergency that might arise.
We received no breakfast from the Germans, but at noontime soup
followed by a vegetable was served in two small rooms one at
either end of the yard, and the officers
ate there in two shifts. At first we had only Russian soldiers
for orderlies and some of these acted as waiters. A knife, fork,
and spoon were furnished every officer when he arrived at the
camp and we carried them with us to meals; but the plates that
we used were kept at the mess halls. At 6 P.M. supper was served:
soup again with sometimes a vegetable and sometimes a bit of
3am. I have already described this most unpalatable stuff, and
in fact nothing that was ever served to us could truthfully
be called palatable.
Every Wednesday and Sunday noon, except during meatless weeks,
which came every third week, we were given a tiny piece of meat
which had had the blood squeezed out of it, and which by actual
measurement was one inch wide, two and one half inches long,
and one eighth of an inch thick. One day I got a ruler and verified
these measurements, so I know they are correct.
Every week the Germans hung up a menu in the mess halls, showing
an elaborate programme for each day of the week. Once, to satisfy
my curiosity, I looked at it and found that for supper we were
to have soup, barley, potatoes, carrots, and cabbagea
veritable function. That night when the supper was served I
found our old stand-by soup, with half a dozen grains of barley
in it, and a dish of mush that might have been at one time the
three vegetables mentioned above; but that menu would be strong
evidence of the humanitarian way in which the Germans treat
Two of the barracks next to the main gate were used as the guard-house
and the office building respectively. The first one, the guard-house,
had a room for the officer of the day, a room for the sergeant
of the watch, two cells, one of which I had occupied, and a
few small rooms for the relief watch. The next barrack building
had several rooms used as offices by the commandant and his
assistants; also a large dormitory used by the guards off watch;
and one other room in which was kept the food we received from
the Red Cross.
At the end of one of the barracks was the latrine for officers
and orderlies. It was the dirtiest and most insanitary place
I have ever seen. Why all of us were not ill from it is incomprehensible,
for the orderlies were frightfully unclean and most of them
diseased. They were all Russians of the most ignorant class
and only a few could read and write. Whenever word was received
that visitors were coming, such as inspecting officers and embassy
officials, the latrine was cleaned; those were the only times.
The lighting at the camp was by electricity. There were many
lights inside the yard and a complete row ran around the outside
of the barracks perhaps twenty-five feet above the ground. Also
a few very powerful lights were on high poles outside the camp
and lighted up the fields in the immediate vicinity.
The prison camp was situated on the western outskirts of Villingen.
There were no houses of any kind near it, except the caserne
of the Villingen battalion, which was across the street. It
was filled at the time of my arrival with about five hundred
seventeen-year-old youths, and every day and night they were
engaged in drill and target practice. Many times at 1 and 2
A.M. we were awakened by the singing as they marched down the
road to or from the practice trenches a mile or so away. "Sing!"
would shout the drill sergeants as they whacked one lad here
and another there with the flat of their swords. And all would
burst out with " Die Wacht am Rhein," or some other
patriotic German air.
One day in August away marched the "Ersatz" battalion
as the Villingen newspaper, the " Schwarzwalder,"
called it. They were escorted to the train by a band; and the
townsfolk gathered to throw flowers in their path and to bid
At KarlsruDe also we had often seen youngsters marching past
the camp on their way to the station; and, attracted by their
singing, the Frenchmen and I would mount tables and peer over
the high board fence that obstructed our view of everything
outside. "Ah," the Frenchmen would say, "they
sing to forget their hunger!"
When the older boys left for the front the caserne at Villingen
was immediately filled with a new classthe sixteen-year
olds, as the guards told us. And then their military training
So this was the place where I was destined to spend three months
of my existence; fortunately the armistice put an end to the
taking of prisoners, or more of our officers would have come
to know it as a place to be left with little regret.