The UB-88 lay moored in the “Trot,” Harwich Harbor, from the date of her surrender, November 27, 1918, until March 13, 1919. On the latter date the UB-88, UB-148, UC-97, U-117, U-140, and the U-111 were allocated to the United States by the British Admiralty. The first five named were at Harwich, the U-111 was at Plymouth. On March 11, 1919, six officers and 100 men from the Submarine Base at New London, Conn., and about thirty other men detailed from the various U. S. naval stations in the British Isles, arrived in Harwich to take over these boats. Several officers were already in Harwich, having been sent there from the U. S. Naval Headquarters in London.
About fifty percent of the men had had previous submarine duty, while all the officers were experienced in submarine work. The problem before us was to learn the boats, train the crew and sail under our own power for the United States at the earliest possible date. As these vessels were to be used in connection with the Victory Loan campaign, it was desired to hasten their arrival in New York. With the above problem in mind, we set about to solve the task allotted to us.
The German submarine is, naturally, a distinctive type. True, all submarines are built upon the same general principles, in that they have ballast and trimming tanks, diving rudders, motors, engines, etc. Still the arrangements and installation of all this material may be such as to present to a person who has had experience operating one type, a vessel in which everything will appear entirely different. Our previous experience was to be sure, of great value to us, but on account of the design of the German submarine it was necessary "to learn" these boats in every particular. For example: it is a very simple matter to blow tanks on a U. S. Submarine - but the problem was, how to blow them on the UB-88. First it was necessary to learn the operation of the German type of air compressor. Next to learn the air distribution system to the different parts of the ship, then the leads to the air flasks or accumulators, then the leads from the flasks to the manifolds and from the manifolds to the tanks. This would put air into the tanks but it was further necessary to learn the operation of the ballast Kingston and the ballast vents. Then if you had been successful in following out the leads and valves, the problem was solved. This appears, no doubt, simple, and under ordinary conditions it would be, but the German arrangement of piping has not that beautiful symmetry found in our boats and a pipe may wind in and out among its fellows in such a way as to present a veritable Chinese puzzle. Blue prints and drawings were luxuries we did not enjoy, for all these had been very carefully removed.
The cleaning, repairing where necessary, tracing out fuel oil lines, lubricating oil leads, air lines, water lines, ventilating pipes, battery leads, lighting circuits, took up a great deal of time allotted before the moving parts could be tried. All the name plates, naturally, were in German. We found that the German phraseology used in engineering was not the same we had learned in school. The amount of work necessary was apparent and the conditions under which we worked can be imagined.
The UB-88 was in a filthy condition. Food had been left aboard after she had surrendered. The remnants of the last meals had been thrown in the bilges. The stench from the galley was unbearable. Rust covered all the piping. The engines were one mass of corrosion. The torpedoes had been pulled from the tubes and thrown on the torpedo room deck. The air flasks and after-bodies were coated with rust and badly pitted. The storage battery was almost run down, not having had a charge for over four months. The bilges were full of oil and water. Many parts of the boat had been taken by souvenir hunters while she lay moored in Harwich. The eye-piece on the forward periscope had been broken off and the reflecting prism and lens removed. The stabilizer had been taken from the gyro compass, as had also the azimuth motor. The magnetic compass had disappeared. Out of the dozen cooking utensils on hand, only one would cook, the rest had been smashed or the coils burned out. There were no mess gear, mattresses or blankets. There were no spare parts for the engines. Parts of the radio set had been stolen and the rest smashed in with a hammer. The repeaters for the gyro compass now decorated the homes of the British as souvenirs of the war.
So many parts of the equipment were out of commission that it was decided to find out first what would work, then go after the parts that would not. This system was followed out. Every thing was tested and report made whether or not it was in running order. If not, what was wrong, and what was needed to fix it. In a very short time we had a good estimate on just what we had to do.
To illustrate our method; The radio set, as stated, had been demolished. The motor generator was there and would work, but sending and receiving sets were almost completely wrecked. By rummaging through about a dozen of the submarines still remaining in the "Trot," which were going to be sold for junk, we collected enough material to complete a sending set. We were unable to find a detector, however, so that had to be purchased in London, and with parts of a receiving set "stubbed out" from the U. S. S. Chester, the radio outfit was complete, but not efficient. Probably it was the lack of harmony, due to the combination of English, German and American parts. Who knows? It was impossible to improve on the set until the arrival of the U. S. S. Bushnell. She had on board six complete out fits. By the addition of a quench gap and an audion bulb to what we already had, the outfit from one of these sets was connected up and tested. Our reward was a set with a hundred miles radius, which was sufficient for our needs.
I stated before that the magnetic compass had been removed. Search was made through all the German submarines lying in the "Trot" and none could be found. A U. S. Naval Vessel donated one, but it had been lying idle for so long in one position without any liquid in the bowl that the magnets had lost practically all their directive force. There was not much hope in getting good results from this compass, but nevertheless it was installed, and after filling the bowl, an attempt was made at compensation on one heading. That night before turning in I looked at the compass and it showed the heading NNW 1/4" W, which was about correct on magnetic North. I looked at the compass the next morning with the ship headed in the opposite direction (having swung with the tide) and it still showed us headed NNW 1/4" W. All the compensating magnets were removed but true to her straight forward aim in life, the compass never moved a fraction of a degree and for aught I know she still heads NNW 1/4" W. A call was made on the Senior Submarine Officer at the British Submarine Base, and after a "search" he supplied us with a compass which had been taken from one of the German submarines. This was installed but on account of the binnacle being placed inside the chariot bridge, its operation was slow and sluggish. A make-shift stand was then installed between the periscopes on the periscope sheer. A block of wood placed directly under the center of the compass and bored with several holes at right angles, served admirably as a compensating rack and in this "rig,” we placed our hopes. True the steering wheel was about ten feet from the compass, but I don't think we worried much about that at the time.
The German (Anshutz) type of gyro compass was a source of mystery. The stabilizer had been removed as had also the azimuth motor. By again visiting several of the boats up the "Trot," an azimuth motor was found and connected up. Also on the same trip we were fortunate in getting three repeaters in good condition. A stabilizer, however, could not be found. There was no one aboard who knew the interior construction of this type of gyro and in consequence no one knew how to operate it. By tracing up the leads from the compass, we found the motor generator and the power leads from the switch boards. That much settled, we went after the compass and by a process of trial and error, it was finally started, and much to the surprise of everyone, it worked satisfactorily. A four degree easterly deviation was removed by balancing the rotors with sealing wax placed in the compass levels to compensate for the loss of alcohol from the levels, which had been broken. The compass is still running perfectly. It has never shown any tendency to "get off" the Meridian even in the roughest weather.
The drainage system was of course, a vital problem, although a simple one. Trouble was experienced with the after trimming line pump and it has never been in good condition. The adjusting pump, just abaft the central control room, was working and as it could be connected up to all the bilges through the manifolds, full confidence was placed in this pump. If it had broken down completely the novel situation of bailing out a submarine with buckets or the use of a handy-billy would have resulted. Nothing else could have been done.
As the safety of the boat on the trip from England to the United States was a paramount factor, it was thought advisable to dock the boats at Harwich before sailing. The underwater hull and all tanks were minutely examined. New Kingston gaskets were installed where necessary. The trustworthiness of our late enemies was never mentioned, still I do not doubt that it was in everyone's mind during the period of preparation. However, let credit be given them where it can, for we found no tampering of any kind. The boat was in dock two days, during which time very little opportunity was had for any progressive preparation. After undocking, however, we again turned to.
The engines were the most important part of the equipment to prepare for operation. I think that everyone who worked on the engines did so with the determination to make them run as well or even better than the Germans had done. It was this or admit that the German crew was the better of the two. Look ing at it in that light, the determination to succeed in the preparation of them was to everyone a matter which touched the most delicate spot in the human make-up - Pride.
In beginning to learn the engines and auxiliaries, we were in the dark, except for our general experience with Diesel engines and the intimate knowledge of a few types which are used in our own service. As all engines of this type operate upon the same principle it was chiefly necessary to locate the supply, the discharge, if any, and the power of delivery of the circulating water, the air, and the lubricating oil. In the case of the fuel oil, the tanks were first located, then the leads, to the gravity feed tanks, and then the valves and pumps controlling the delivery to the engines. At the same time the fuel compensating system was traced out. The lubricating oil system was followed out and tested in the same way as was also the cooling water. In order not to forget the thousand and one valves with their German names, shipping tags were placed on each valve and gauge. On these were written the use of the valve and how to operate it. The explanation of this procedure is brief and to the point and one would judge that we were occupied probably one or two days in this work of tracing out lines and tagging them. But so complicated and intricate was the German system of piping and valve arrangement that the time consumed before we were ready to start the engines was fourteen working days. When everybody had been properly prepared for our first trials of the engines, they were jacked over by hand to insure that everything was clear. The engine clutches were then thrown in and they were turned over slowly with the motors. All looked well. A signal was given to the electrician at the switch board to "speed her up."
Slowly the lubricating oil built up the required pressure and the discharge pipes into the sight box on the side of the engine showed abundant supply to the piston heads. The circulating water pressure started to climb and was soon up to the required mark on the gauge. The spray air pressure was slow in building up but finally arrived at the proper mark. The oil supply was then opened and the cylinder try-cocks closed, and as the engines had run under the care of the Germans who had built them and studied their operation, so they ran then. There was not a hitch, nor had anything been forgotten. That day we charged batteries for four hours without stopping the engines, in order to be assured there would be enough power in the battery to turn the engines over the next time they were needed.
After the crew had demonstrated their ability to run the engines, all hands "turned to" to provide the necessities of life and what few comforts we could gather. The subs up the "Trot" were ransacked for cooking utensils. We found plenty; terribly dirty and rusty. These we took, and after cleaning them and forgetting the condition in which they were found, the food prepared in them tasted very good. Plates, knives, forks and spoons, and the thousand and one things needed in the preparation and serving of food were purchased in London. Blankets, mattresses, pillows, life belts, sheets, etc., etc., were obtained from the Naval Depot, London. The Red Cross, always on the job when needed, provided us with woolen goods, pajamas, under wear, candy, chocolate, cigarettes, etc.
Fuel, lubricating oil, provisions and water were taken from the U. S. S Bushnell and the UB-88 was ready.
April 4 was the date set for sailing.