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Commander Norman Lewis RN was Captain of the Q 12 The Tulip when she was sunk by the German Submarine U62 in April 1917. For nineteen days he was help prisoner whilst the U-Boat continued her unrestricted campaign against British shipping. Here he recounts those nineteen days of capture aboard the U62.

    Life aboard the Tulip was becoming a trifle humdrum. Our ever vigilant look-outs hadn't yet had so much as the sight of a German U-boat. The Tulip, I must explain, was neither as beautiful as her name implied nor as harmless as she looked.

She was one of the deadly “Q " or mystery ships which were brought into commission by the Navy in 1915 to combat the intensive submarine campaign being waged by the enemy against Allied shipping. And her crew looked a somewhat rag-tag-and-bob-tail lot of seamen. It was all part of the scheme to hoodwink the Germans.

Originally built as a 1,500-ton sloop, Tulip in 1916 was given a false stern and several other minor alterations in her design carried out until she closely resembled a merchant vessel in almost every detail. But for all her innocuous outward appearance, she was equipped with a hidden armament of three guns, and her crew were ever ready to play their subtle part of leading the Germans into thinking they were members of the non-combatant mercantile marine.

It was several days since we had left Queenstown in April 1917, and these had been mostly spent cruising off the south-west coast of Ireland, for it was upon the western approaches to the British Isles that the enemy had been mainly concentrating. However, as I have said, the days had passed without even seeing the “eye "-the popular name for the periscope of a submarine of enemy craft.

Time was beginning to drag. Inactivity aboard a “Q “ship is particularly trying. The conditions of perpetual tenseness and suspense under which one lives aboard these vessels tend to fray the nerves.

On the fourth day, a lovely spring afternoon, I remember, with the sun shining brightly on the scarcely moving water, I was on the bridge shortly after lunch when I heard a shout from the second look-out

“Periscope on starboard bow, sir."

I saw the “suds ' where the periscope had broken surface about 400 yards away and immediately gave the order

Port the helm," with the idea of making for the enemy craft and ramming; it. But before we had turned my officer reported “Torpedo fired." I saw its frothing wake as it scudded towards us-an interminable time coming, it seemed. I recalled all the stories I had heard told of freak torpedo shots. One torpedo I remembered had bounced right over the deck of the vessel at which it had been aimed without even exploding. But this one hit the Tulip (or Q 12) fairly amidships, just below the water-line.

     It almost split her in halves. She was, I think, only held together by one fractured steel beam. Debris of every kind was flung into the air and splashed into the sea. One of the lifeboats crashed on to the deck. The bridge crumpled. The wireless apparatus came down. The boilers below blew up with a terrific roar, killing every man in the engine-room-twenty in all. And worst of all the disguise of my armament was destroyed, revealing the true nature of this innocent-looking merchant vessel.

As the canvas covers of the guns fluttered into the water it was indeed a case of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

I knew now it would be futile to follow the customary tactics of “Q " ships, that being to feign surrender to the U-boat, to launch a " panic party " in the lifeboats, leaving sufficient of the crew aboard the ship in charge of the guns to attack the submarine when she came alongside. I gave orders, therefore, for everyone to abandon the ship, which was sinking fast. I then threw overboard the iron safe containing the confidential books and papers.

The sea around was a mass of floating spars which had become detached from the Q 12. Shortly afterwards the ' eye of the submarine, which was still submerged, could be seen circling round the spot. Meanwhile our three lifeboats, packed to capacity, were rapidly drifting, and when the U-boat eventually broke surface like a great whale we must have been a mile away.

    The U 62-we could plainly see the number painted on her grey hull-now moved slowly round until we were between her and the Q 12. We watched her crew come out of the conning tower. The German ensign was run up and her guns were then trained on what we thought at the time was ourselves, but which I afterwards learnt was far from the German commander's intention. The boom of one of her guns sounded across the water. The first shell hit the wreckage of the Q 12. She seemed to crumple up, and down she went vertically, in two halves. Shortly afterwards the U-boat drew towards us, and when within hailing distance an officer asked for the Tulip's captain.

     My crew in their disguises as merchant seamen looked a sorry enough collection, in dirty clothes, rakish caps and with unshaven chins, but none presented such a disreputable appearance as myself, the " skipper "-collarless, tieless, coatless and hatless, wearing only a grimy jersey, a pair of old blue trousers and slippers-and it was with shamefaced reluctance that I admitted to being the captain of the ill-fated vessel.

     However, I was taken aboard after bidding farewell to my men in the boats and led down through the conning-tower and into the presence of the captain-Captain Ernst Hashagen. I began to wonder what my fate would be as I faced this tall, clean-shaven, pleasant-looking officer with the Iron Cross.

     One was well aware in those days that the operations of “Q "ships were proving a very painful thorn in the flesh of the Germans, and that little mercy had been shown to the personnel of Q “ships on those few occasions recently when they had fallen into the hands of the enemy.

I was not a little surprised, therefore, when, having asked me if I bad either papers or weapons on my person, the U-boat commander said

“Have a drink?”

     Now I am, and always have been, a teetotaller. But since even in face of this unexpected hospitality I might still be an intended victim of enemy vengeance, I thought in the circumstances that discretion might prove the better part of valour-and tactfully accepted. I was allowed to go on deck again and a second time bid farewell to my crew, of which there were sixty survivors. I heard the U-boat commander ask them if they had sufficient provisions in the boats to carry on for a time until they were picked up-they were all, as a matter of fact, taken aboard a British destroyer the following day and after an assurance that they had, and many cheers and hand-wavings, the U-boat, with myself aboard as enforced " guest," drew off. And now began for me an epoch that surely must have been almost unique in the experiences of the commanders of British ships.

     Day and night, the U 62 carried out her orders of unrestricted warfare on merchant vessels in pursuance of the Imperial policy to cut England off from traffic by sea, and to starve her into Submission. Sometimes I would be lying quietly in my bunk, reading a magazine-a batch of American literature had reached me after a successful raid by the U 62 on a U.S. vessel bound for Liverpool when the noisy clang of the submarine's alarm would galvanize the crew into swift action. I would feel the boat sinking, sinking. The engines would stop. A long wait. Again the hum of machinery. The U-boat was manoeuvring into position. A staccato order and a slight lurch of the boat would indicate that a torpedo had been released. A few seconds later there would be a distant explosion. Sometimes its repercussion would set the boat swinging crazily in the water. After a while I could hear the tanks being blown out, and we would rise. Followed the confused sounds of voices, shouting, more shots perhaps, and after a while the captain would come below and mix himself a drink. And then I knew he had claimed another victim, and added another pennant to his mainmast.

     On several occasions I was on deck when a ship was sighted-just a curl of smoke on the horizon. But the Germans were immediately alert, ready to scurry back through the conning-tower, myself among them, and submerge in a matter of seconds.

     Once we ran across a British destroyer and had hastily to dive.A few minutes later there was the unpleasant sound of depth charges exploding all round us. We were all badly stirred up but eventually all was quiet again, and it was with tremendous relief that we heard the whirr of the destroyer's propellers growing fainter as she steamed away. I could not help but wonder if the charges had been made by my own wife, who at the time was helping to manufacture T.N.T. at a munitions factory in Ireland.

     For nineteen days U 62 cruised off the coast of Ireland and England, sinking an average of one boat each day. The week during which I was captured proved to be the one in which the Allies lost more tonnage than in any other during the whole four years of the war.

     My own wife had by now given me up as lost, for it happened that the day after I was taken prisoner a merchant ship was held up by another IT-boat at almost exactly the same spot as the Q 12 had been sunk, and while the Germans had been engaged in questioning the captain and crew of the vessel, a British submarine had crept up behind and, releasing a torpedo, had blown the U-boat to smithereens.

As the Germans bad already told some of the crew of the merchant vessel that they had a British commander prisoner aboard, when the news reached the Admiralty it was assumed at once that it was I who had gone down in the U-boat that had been destroyed. It was not until six weeks later, when a letter I posted in Germany upon the arrival of U 62 at her base reached England, that it was known that, after all, I was safe and sound.

    The treatment I received aboard U 62 during my involuntary three weeks' undersea trip was irreproachable. Nothing but kindness was meted out to me by men and officers alike.

The doctor lent me his fur coat to cover my shabby garb; the officers lavished cigarettes on me. I dined with the officers, and they pressed wine and liqueurs on me. Captain Hashagen, who was one of the aces of the German U-boat service, behaved in the friendliest possible manner.

U 62 returned to Wilhelmshaven via the west coast of Scotland and the Orkneys, reaching her base on April 20. I was immediately dispatched to a prisoners of war camp at Karlsruhe, and later transferred to Freiburg, where I remained until the end of the war.

     I have met Captain Hashagen on several occasions since the war, and regularly each year my wife and I receive Christmas cards from himself and his family.

COPYWRITED TO THE GALLERY SOLACE

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