While much that has been written about the use of submarines in WW1 concerns the Germans alternating between the use of restricted and unrestricted (IE, torpedoing merchant ships without warning) warfare, other nations used them too. It was actually the first war where submarines were really used on a large scale, bar the famous one in the American Civil War (which sunk itself as well as the enemy), and rumours flying about in the Russo-Japanese War. With the war bogged down on land, and a lot of the naval engagements “inconclusive” at best, both sides looked to their submariners and airmen for “good news”. This was reflected in the boys’ own adventure stories published as the war went on, with tales of air raids on Berlin, by experimental new planes able to fly that far, or submarines pulling off daring attacks against the German fleet.
One of these stories was called Buckle of Submarine V2. My copy has an inscription dated to February 1917 (though it could have been published before then). It reads like a series of shorter stories – and in December 2013 I discovered why! It was originally a series of short stories published in Young England, from early 1915.
The inscription. Is that “young news bible class”?
Each of the shorter Young England stories is broken up into several chapters in the book. I have the 1914-15 volume of Young England (containing the twelve issues from September 1914), and this contains three Buckle stories. However, the book is longer – perhaps the extra chapters appeared in the 1915-16 volume, or else were written for the book.
The book opens with some verse, which is also reprinted from the original short stories, though the one of the poems has been put in the front of the book, rather than used to open a chapter, as it was originally.
The stories themselves feature a number of incidents, of greater or lesser realism. As you can see from the cover of the book, one of these involves Buckle and his crew taking on a Zeppelin! And yes, some of the submarine’s crew are killed or badly wounded during the course of the battle. No doubt, with this year marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, we’re going to be hearing a lot of nonsense about how the “popular magazines” of the period made the war look like “fun”. But that’s an article of it’s own!
Another of the stories involves the successful sinking of a German submarine as it’s being resupplied by a surface ship. In the Second World War they’d learned their lesson and had dedicated supply subs, which traveled to their rendezvous underwater!
Another part of the story involves a large sea battle, in which Buckle’s sub acts as a scout. For most of the war, before Jutland (though some minor, half-forgotten battles did take place, such as the one near the Falklands), the British and Germans were both anxious to “get to grips” with the enemy’s navy, confident of a quick victory. But at the time, battlecruisers and dreadnoughts were the most expensive things the major powers owned, and they didn’t want to risk them coming to any harm! Even Jutland itself might best be called a draw, both fleets retreating after roughly equal losses (though it did ‘bottle up’ the German surface fleet).
The first of the short stories / chapters have Buckle on a fairly ‘routine’ (by the standards of the story, anyway) mission, to sneak up an estuary and spy on the German fleet at anchor. This involves a nerve-wracking trip through a minefield, using nothing more than blind dead reckoning! It sounds far fetched, but incredibly, an article elsewhere in the volume reports on something similar being done for real.
The submarine B11 passed through five rows of mines in the Dardanelles and sank the Turkish battleship Mesudiyeh (spelled Mesudiye in modern times). The feat is illustrated with a diagram which doesn’t make it look particularly difficult, the mines all neatly floating on the surface and the sub merely trundling along beneath them.
However, remember that the mines would have been anchored to the seabed by varying lengths of chain. In buckle’s case, V2 actually snags one of these chains and must be very gently handled, lest the mine is pulled down into the hull and detonated. The Young England episodes of the story don’t contain many illustrations, but this incident is given one.