Daily Event for March 18, 2009

The phrase "Fear God and Dreadnought" was one that brought pride to the people of England and to the Royal Navy. However the quote "Fear God and Dread Nought" came in a correspondence from Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone in 1900, six years before the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought was launched. This was the ship that was supposed to rule the sea, mounting ten 12" guns with a secondary armament of twenty-seven 12 pounders and five 18" torpedo tubes. She would start an arms race as she was designed to be able to stand off and sink just about anything on the high seas. However much like later battleships she would never engage in the type of battle she was designed for.

By the time the Great War was being fought Dreadnought was no longer the best of the best, being out gunned by a number of newer ships, but she was still a formidable enemy. Her only combat victory came on March 18, 1915 when she engaged, not a large warship, but a little 685 ton submarine, SMS U-29. To say the ship engaged U-29 is a little misleading as the battleship ran the boat down and no gunfire was exchanged.

U-29 was not a famous boat like HMS Dreadnought, but her commanding officer was. Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen was known in Germany as a hero, and in England as a villain. It was he and his SMS U-9 who on Sept. 22, 1914 sank three British cruisers, HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy. He sank a fourth cruiser, HMS Hawke on Oct. 15, 1914 and with them the took lives of over 2,000 British sailors.

Weddigen, in a conversation with an unidentified American official, supposedly told him that he almost spared HMS Cressy due to the appalling scene he saw through his periscope. He could see hundreds of men in the water and the only hope they had of survival was Cressy. Seconds before he made his decision to leave the ship afloat his second in command reminded him "You know we have four navies fighting us" after which he sent Cressy to the bottom. Whether this was just a good PR move or was a genuine recollection of the facts I can not say for sure.

Weddigen himself had survived a sinking when on Nov. 17, 1911 SMS U-3 sank during a training exercise. The crew were trapped in the boat for twenty-seven hours before rescue came. For anyone trapped in a submarine this is a kind special of hell, a kind of hell that can not be understood by anyone other than those who have been there. He survived, but three of his fellow crewmen did not. Perhaps his own near death experience had caused him to show a little more compassion to his enemy than some of his comrades. It may also have been why he gave a second thought before sending Cressy to the bottom.

On Mar. 12, 1915 Weddigen again made a triple play when he sank the merchant ships Andalusian, Indian City and Headlands these would be his last victims. However this time there was no loss of life, he even aided the survivors by towing some of the lifeboats toward land. Later some of them would say of him that he was a "Polite Pirate" even expressing regret at having to sink their ships and treating them with great consideration.

There was great sadness in Germany after his loss, however it took some time before the German navy even acknowledged that he was gone. At first they denied the loss, the Admiralty did not even announce the loss until Mar. 26 and even then it was only speculation that the boat was in fact U-29, but they seemed pretty sure it was. Finally on Apr. 7 the German navy admitted that the U-29 had indeed been lost with all hands.

In June the Germans tried to claim that the British had not played by the rules and that the U-29 had been sunk by a British tank steamer flying a Swedish flag, a strange charge and apparently one made from whole cloth as there were no survivors from the crew of U-29 and no other German witnesses to the sinking. They further stated;

"It is proof of the British abuse of neutral flags, and that the illegal course followed by ships of commerce compels the commanders of German submarines to consider their own safety first and sink such ships without warning."

A tidy little way of attempting to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the terrible loss of life that occurred due to submarine attack. Germany was constantly under attack in the press because of the conduct of the submarine war, people had not yet figured out just how terrible this relatively new weapon really was, or how it was going to be used.

The Admiralty denied this claim and said only that the U-29 was sunk by "one of his Majesty's ships," but did not mention which one. In fact I was unable to find a single reference in the press that did identify Dreadnought as the ship that sank U-29. One would think the London press would rejoice and revel in the fact that Weddigen, the man who had caused so much grief, was dead. On the contrary, they treated his loss with a modicum of respect. One reported wrote;

"There seems to be no doubt therefore that Captain Weddigen's career has come to an end with that of his new boat. Our satisfaction with the occurrence is mingled with some regret at the death of a man who, so far as is known, behaved bravely and skillfully, and where it was possible displayed to his victims the humanity expected of seaman, but which has not been characteristic of all his brother officers."
© 2009 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Remembrance
Zum Gedenken an die Gefallenen des SMS U-29
"In the memory of the fallen crewmen of SMS U-29"

Rank / Rate
Barandon, Karl
Oberleutnant zur See
Bergmann, Friedrich
Bruns, Otto
Leutnant zur See
Brzenk, Johann
Faust, August
Friedrich, R. A.
Grossmann, P.
Grundmeier, H.
Gurnik, Felix
Marine Ingenieur
Harck, Hubert
Heidel, Friedrich
Henke, Heinrich
U-Obermaschinist Anw
Heyne, Arthur
Kagel, Karl
Kaiser, Ernst
Krähe, Ernst
U-Maschinist Anw
Lauth, Johann
Libprius, Walter
U-Matrose d.Res
Malz, Peter
Michalsky, Otto
Nabitz, Walter
Paulssen, Hubert
Pinnow, Emil
Schmidt, Karl
Obermatrose, Kriegslotse
Schneider, Wilhelm
Schröder, Wilhelm
U-Obermaschinist Anw
Schulze, Wilhelm
Schumann, E.
Simon, Paul
Sliwinski, Johann
Waldow, Max
U-Maschinist Anw
Weddigen, Otto
Commanding Officer

Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen.


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2008 Daily Event