Sea Warfare

Notes by
Alastair Wilson

"Tales of the Trade"

Notes on the Text

the article

[September 22 2007]

The next part of Sea Warfare consists of three articles about the activities of British submarines, published in The Times, between 21 and 28 June 1916. The articles were based on the Reports of Proceedings, passed to Kipling by the Admiralty. As published in the book, they are preceded by a piece of verse, entitled “The Trade”. (See below, page 97, for the origin of the title.)

Verse 1

[Lines 1 & 2] They bear, in place of classic names, / Letters and numbers on their skin submarines were built in classes, lettered from A, onwards: and each boat was numbered consecutively. At the outbreak of war, classes B, C, D and E were in service (though the Bs were really quite outdated, although a VC was won in one in December 1914). By the end of the war, classes F, G, H (but not I), J, K, L and M had been introduced (and R, for some unknown reason). Thereafter, names were used, again. in alphabetical order by class – eight boats whose name began with ‘O’, etc.

Verse 2

[Lines 6 & 7] No flag is flown, no fuss is made / More than the shearing of a pin it is the custom for British warships to go into battle flying several battle ensigns, to ensure that they can always be identified: submarines, for obvious reasons, do not. 'The shearing of a pin' refers to the act of firing a torpedo, when the discharge of the torpedo in its tube breaks a small pin, and this allows a valve to open to start the torpedo’s engine.

Verse 3

[Line 1] The Scout’s quadruple funnel flames a “scout” was a classification of a type of warship, something between a destroyer and a small cruiser, used for eight to ten years, 1908 onwards, which became a “destroyer leader”. They mostly had four funnels (an indication of the boiler power needed to give them high speed), and when burning coal, and under forced draught, there could be flames at the funnel tops, though this was frowned upon (bad engineering practice, in wasting all that heat, instead of boiling water with it; and bad tactically, as it gave away your position).

[Line 2] from Sweden to the Swin the Swin is one of the channels running from north-east to south-west off the coast of Essex in the Thames Estuary. Thus, the phrase encompasses the whole North Sea.

[Line 3] The Cruiser’s thunderous screw proclaims Although inaudible on the surface, the noise of a ship’s machinery, and in particular the beat of its screw, is audible to the ‘naked ear’ under water, to the extent that the number of revolutions per minute can be counted, and an estimate of speed obtained.

[Lines 5 & 6] But only whiffs of paraffin or creamy rings that fizz and fade indicating that a submarine has just dived: in those days submarines of the earlier classes were still powered by ‘petrol’ engines, and the “creamy rings” are from the last of the air in the ballast tanks being expelled through the vents in the tops of the tanks, as the submarine submerges.

[Line 7] one-eyed death the submarine’s monocular attack periscope. By this date, modern submarines had two periscopes, a binocular search periscope, and a very slim (to minimise the ‘feather’ of its wake) monocular attack periscope.


This was the first of the three articles in The Times

[Page 97, lines 1 to 10] No one knows how the title of “The Trade” came to be applied to the Submarine Service. This compiler strongly suspects that the first reason Kipling gives is the closest to the truth. The old Victorian snobbery of looking down on “trade”, was still pretty well entrenched, and engineering was “trade”. Submariners, even members of the lordly executive branch, had to be more than a little competent engineers, hence they were involved in “trade”, and so, by implication, below the salt. All this was said in a good-humoured manner, but there was just the tiniest bite underneath it all.

There are two stories which illustrate this. When submarines were very new, in about 1904, the old engineering branch had been given a much greater equality with their executive brethren – new officers coming out of Dartmouth would all be trained in engineering, later to specialise in that discipline in the same way as they might in gunnery or torpedo. Said one lordly executive officer cadet to his engineering opposite number (or so it is alleged) “Equal we may be, but all I know is that my mama wouldn’t invite your mama to tea.” And later, in about 1917, there was a cartoon in Punch in which an army officer, in breeches and tunic, Sam Browne belt and all, is being shown over a submarine, and in the fore-ends is regarding a torpedo, and says to his naval officer friend “I suppose you have some sergeant Johnny who understands these things?”

[Page 98, lines 2 to 4] they disappear for a while and return changed to their very souls allowing for a bit of journalistic licence, this is quite a fair statement: once a submariner, always a submariner; there was something slightly different about their approach to life, born of their total reliance on and trust in the other members of the team/crew. (And, for a period of some seventy years, a smell. Submariners’ wives will tell you that those who served in the diesel boats brought home with them a smell of diesel oil which was all-pervading! Nuclear power does have its merits)

[Page 99, line 17/18] Commander Max Horton Later Admiral Sir Max Horton, G.C.B, D.S.O., the winner of the battle of the Atlantic, as C-in-C Western Approaches, 1942-45. He was a very distinguished submariner in WW I, earning three Distinguished Service Orders. His submarine, HMS/M E.9, had been in the Baltic since October 1914, operating against German shipping from Russian bases.

[Page 104, line 20] “a three-funnel ship, of either the Deutschland or Braunschweig class it was, in fact, the armoured cruiser Prinz Adalbert, and she didn’t sink, but had to be beached: she was later recovered, and repaired, but was out of action for four months at a crucial time. She came out after repairs, and was promptly sunk by HMS/M E.8.


[Page 112, line 8] till they had run the gauntlet to their base again. To operate in the Sea of Marmara, British submarines had to pass through the narrows at Chanak – more or less where Leander is supposed to have swum to reach Hero. The channel makes two right-angled turns in quick succession, and is extremely narrow, while the rate at which the current flows through reaches eight knots or more. Making the passage through to the Sea of Marmora was bad enough, but having achieved your aims inside that sea, they had to be passed again on the way out – with the only advantage that the current was with you.

[Page 112, line 16] Commander E. Courtney-Boyle He was a Lieutenant Commander at the time of the events which Kipling is about to describe. The Navy List refers to him throughout his career as “Boyle, Edward C”. He received the V.C. and was specially promoted for these exploits, and rose to be a Rear-Admiral

[Page 112, line 19] on her gas-engine It is not quite clear why Kipling should use the phrase ‘gas-engine’. The engines were diesel engines (she had two) and were known as such at that time – a gas-engine certainly existed, but, as its name implies, was fuelled by gas – usually the ordinary coal gas supplied by the local gas-works, which limited its use to where such a supply existed.

[Page 115, line 19 met a sister boat (now gone to Valhalla) this was the Australian submarine AE2. The Royal Australian Navy had been formed in 1911, and had started to build a balanced fleet: this included two submarines, and HMAS/M AE2 had been sent to the Mediterranean. At this date, virtually all officers were Royal Navy officers, but about 50% of the ratings were Australian. AE2 had the misfortune to run aground shortly after this meeting, and had to be abandoned.

[Page 118, line 6] The diversion of returning fire … at this time (early summer 1915), submarines in the Mediterranean were not fitted with a deck-gun, but merely carried some rifles.

[Page 119, line 13] She had been away, as nearly as possible, three weeks, after he had expended his torpedoes, he had been instructed to remain on patrol “because the moral effect of your presence is invaluable”.

[Page 119, lines 17/18] Lieutenant Commander M.E. Nasmith this was Lieutenant Commander Martin Nasmith, who had earlier been foiled in an attempt to enter the Baltic at the same time as Max Horton (see pp 99 et seq). He, too, earned a V.C. for these exploits, and retired in 1946 as Admiral Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith, V.C., K.C.B. (The Dunbar- was added on his marriage in 1920.)

[Page 121, line 23] a lieutenant by the name of D’Oyley-Hughes this was Lieutenant Guy D’Oyly-Hughes (no ‘e’ in D’Oyley), D.S.O., D.S.C. whose career ended when he was Captain of HMS Glorious, sunk off Norway in 1940 in circumstances which cast doubt on his professional judgement.


[Page 129, line 5] Lieutenant Commander K.M. Bruce he earned a D.S.O. and promotion to Commander for this patrol, but seems to have left the Navy shortly after the war.

[Page 130, line 5/6] her six-pounder submarines entering the Sea of Marmora were now armed with a small gun, on the recommendation of Boyle and Nasmith.

[Page 136, line 13] shaitan the devil, in the Mohammedan faith.

[Page 138, line 23] chief engine-room artificer, James Hollier Hague it would seem that their Lordships were unable to accede to the suggestion of warrant rank for Chief ERA Hague, who is recognisable as a real-life incarnation of Mr. Hinchcliffe from ‘Their Lawful Occasions”. It is to be hoped that he received some recognition. The paragraph which follows would be echoed by generations of submarine captains in the next ninety years.

The tone of all three articles is somewhat facetious: Kipling speaks of the reports on which they are based as being “understated”. But it must be remembered that these articles are journalism, written for an audience which wanted to be reassured, particularly after the battle of Jutland.


©Alastair Wilson 2007 All rights reserved