""Maggie of the Suicide Fleet"
Margaret, S.P. 527 (page 9)
as written from the log of Raymond D. Borden, Lieutenant, USNR
by Prosper Buranelli. Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1930.
She had been designed as a sailing yacht with auxiliary steam engine. Now it was planned that she run on steam alone. She had a long and exceeding narrow beam, and had a wide fantail stern and a clipper bow, all characteristic of a sailing ship. She never had been designed to go to sea in any kind of weather, but for gay, bright sky cruises along the coast.
Her burden was 236 tons, her draught 7 feet. She was 176 feet over all, with a beam of 19 feet. She might have had a beam of 30 or 35 feet and been about right for deep-sea sailing.
The engine was the same that had been intended to serve as mere auxiliary to canvas. That did not promise the Maggie would be fast, although speed was needed to chase the U-boats. The coal bunkers
were of a capacity fit for auxiliary power, and it was impossible to carry enough coal for a decent cruising radius. The galley accommodations were designed for the feeding of twenty people, about right for joyous parties set out to enliven old ocean with the sound of loud laughter. We had a crew of 61, men and officers. The water tanks were insufficient in a similar proportion. I suppose, anyway, that water had never been thought the prime beverage aboard the Maggie in her early days when she was a chipper and gay -- when you and I were young, Maggie.
Maggie was a sailing yacht converted to a submarine patrol boat.
The captain was Lieutenant Commander Frank Jack Fletcher* , nephew of Admiral Fletcher. He had had a distinguished career, and had won the congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in action with the fleet at Vera Cruz, this for supervising under fire the transfer of refugees from the revolution-stricken interior. After that he held the majestic office of disciplinary officer at Annapolis, which made him one of the greatest authorities in the world on a subject ever of profound interest on shipboard -- discipline. He was about thirty-five, and looked no older, save in dignity. His slender figure, uniformed in blue or white, was the correct ideal of naval regulations. His mouth, beneath a cropped dark mustache, was inclined to satire. He had full the Annapolis tradition of the apartness of officers and men, and when the gobs were sitting on deck playing checkers or acey-deucey and he passed they forgot the next move and jumped to stiff-backed attention. Among themselves they might talk about the former disciplinary officer at Annapolis with easy familiarity, and call him "Frank Jack," but when he was present it was the most respectful "Aye, aye, sir," here and "Aye, aye, sir," there.
This, then was the Old Man who was to take (p 17) the Maggie into the submarine war, a distinguished officer in command of a nautical rubbish heap. The boats of the Suicide Fleet most often had captains out of the Merchant Service and seldom Annapolis men, but the Old Man's one eager idea was to get across and see action, and he took the first craft he could procure for a command. Many another skipper might have reported the task of conducting a naval action with the Maggie too difficult to attempt, but not the Old Man. He was the kind of officer to say, "Orders are orders" and fight a row boat against a sixteen-inch gun, trusting to his own skill to pull him through. And that still was superb. Many a time, save for his flawless seamanship, the Maggie might have ended her career as a warship a good deal earlier than she did.
The Old Man was 32 and had just married Martha Richards in February.
USS Margaret (SP-527) Maggie
Ship's original officers, circa October 1917. Lieutenant Commander Frank Jack Fletcher, her Commanding Officer, is in the center.
Photographed by Raymond D. Borden.
Dog, Pilu. (p 19)
We had a dog aboard, the Old Man's pet French bull, Poilu. It is a part of the old tradition of the sea that a sailor loves a dog, but that was one of the many things that didn't go for the Maggie. Poilu was a dirty little beast, and was universally hated. He go occasional kicks from the men, and would have been kicked all the time if the gobs hadn't stood in such awe of the Old Man.
Commissioning (p 23)
On October 16, 1917, the Maggie was put into commission. It was a solemn half hour. The men were drawn up on deck for the ceremony, all in their dress uniforms. the Old Man, with his officers beside him, took his place on the fantail aft, which ws the nearest thing the Maggie had to a quarter deck, and with properly impressive voice and manner read the orders. Then came the august moment, the raising of the flag. ...
Breakdown the first day at sea (pg 37)
The Maggie was having her first breakdown the first day out. ...
The Utawana drew up and wigwagged an offer to take us in tow, but the Old Man, with a sourly humorous set of jaw, refused. He was the kind of skipper to sail a shingle in a hurricane and not lay hold of a line until he was swimming. The Utawana stood by to see how we fared. Storm coming and ship without a helm, it was a rum lookout. The other boats kept their course and disappeared on the horizon.
Into the storm. (p 42)
The Old Man surveyed the hurly-burly with a mocking curl of his mustached upper lip. His slender young figure kept its stiff formality. He was a skipper to preserve his quarter-deck dignity in no matter what storm of riot. His orders were given as imperturbably as if he were commanding a battleship in action.
Gunnery practice (pg 54)
The Old Man called me onto the bridge and gave orders for gunnery practice -- our first. He was my chance, as chief gunnery officer, to perform. I felt important as I opened with my artillery. The forward gun went of with a fine bang. The backward rush of air blew out the door of the fo'c'sle lockers. Then the after gun. The repercussion blew away part of the rail. we fired each gun three times and then stopped, afraid the boat would fall apart. Nineteen leaks were sprung i the fo'c'sle deck. After that bit of gunnery we wondered what we should do it we ever saw a submarine. Were we to shoot at it we would probably sink ourselves.
The commissary steward had no winning ways (p60)
Every mess time, by god, and it's more abuse for the commissary steward.
"Get out of here, you son of a gun!"
"Don't talk to me like that,I'll tell the captain, I will."
"Get out of here, or I'll sock you in the jaw, you lousy son of a gun."
And the commissary steward slinks out, still muttering that he's gong to complain to Frank Jack. But he never does. He's too much afraid of the gobs, an then he's afraid of Frank Jack.
Ventriloquist (p 62)
it's funnies when Johnson's working away on deck, and from the direction of the bridge comes Frank Jack's snappy voice -- perfect.
" On the bridge, Johnson.'
"Aye, aye, sir," and the Pirate hotfoots it u on the bridge and pops up in front of Frank Jack.
"What the devil do you want, Johnson?"
"I think, sir, you said, "By Gott, Johnson, come up on the bridge."
"I didn't say anything of the sort," replies Frank Jack in his chummy way; "go back on deck."
And Johnson bumps back on deck growling.
"By Gott. I was sure I heard him."
"Sure you did, Johnson. We heard him, too."
And the rest of us, in on the joke, gave the Pirate all the encouragement in the world. "Frank Jack piped up with that hail all right. He's kidding you."
That happened several times and Johnson was beginning to believe that Frank Jack was really kidding him, and the old Pirate was ready for a mutiny. Then he found out it was McNamara talking out of this stomach who was doing the kidding. He swore he'd lay around him with a marlinspike and the ventriloquist kept out of his way until he cooled off."
Harbor of Hamilton (p 67)
The leaks in the Maggie's fo'c'sle deck gaped wide and free and, as it began to rain, the fo'cisle bunks were something like an aquarium. The Old Man sent Navigation Officer Henderson ashore to get caulking material form the British dockyard. Skitchy went, and on his way the dory broke down That little bucket seemed bent on coping in a miniature way all the faults of its mother, the Maggie.
Skitchy was towed ashore. He reported to the dockyard, made his request for caulking materials, and returned to the Maggie empty handed. The dockyard officials looked with a high Britannic contempt on the Suicide Fleet. Why waste anything on that lot of junk ? Skitchy made his request in his best Scottish burr, but they would not give him anything, not a caulking hammer or caulking iron or shred of oakum.
The Suicide Fleet was the joke of the port, Maggie.
The leaks on the fo'c'sle deck continued to leak. The Old Man looked at me. On my bosom I wore two brilliant stripes, save for the Old Man's Congressional Medal the only decorations aboard. One stripe was for service as a seaman in the Spanish-American War. The other signalized the fact that I had been in action -- that sunny day in '98 when our craft, a converted Morgan Line steamer, sank an unfortunate Spanish gunboat off the coast of Cuba. The insignia on my coat didn't mean so much, but they looked great. The Old Man remembered the historical fact that the British have a large regard, not to say reverence, for epaulette's, medals, and other signs of station and high rank.
Mr. Borden, you go ashore and see if you can get the caulking materials at the dockyard."
"Aye, aye, sir." And I took the dory ashore. It broke down and we were towed ashore.
My Yankee twang for Skitchy's Caledonian burr. Those glowing stripes on my breast did their bit. The dockyard officials gave me all the caulking materials I wanted.
The musical ring -- and it really rings musically -- of caulking hammer on caulking iron resounded through the Maggie.
Officers and petty officers compiled a list, and a long list it was, of articles needed aboard, all the way from engine parts to a sea-cook's apron. The Old man handed the document to me.
"Mr. Borden, go aboard the supply ship Hannibal and put in a requisition for this list." My success with the caulking materials made me the logical candidate.
I took the dory over to the supply ship Hannibal. The dory broke down. We were towed over.
If the Suicide Fleet was the joke of the port, Maggie, you were the joke of the Suicide Fleet.
There was some confabulation about leaving her behind at Bermuda, some talk of having her surveyed to see if she ought not to be condemned. The Maggie on the junk pile -- but she eased right by it. The Old Man swore he would carry on if he had to sail the old girl under water like a submarine. Were the boat condemned at Bermuda, he would have to go back to the United States and wait for another ship, an he was determined to get across to the war as quickly as possible, no matter what came.
General Quarters Drill (p 86)
During the morning watch a loud clanging, the alarm bell, general quarters. Every man to his station for battle, and there was a lively scurrying around -- gun crews to the guns fore and aft, magazine crews forming a chain to pass shells up from the hold, a gang breaking out the fire hose and manning it. Doc Johns laying out his instruments in the sick bay, the shipboard sanitarium, and all thinking one common thought -- U-boat. It was only practice, ready-for-action drill. The men were kept at their stations for a few minutes and then dismissed. The Old Man said there would be frequent general quarters. Disciplinary officer at Annapolis he had been, and general quarters it was, two or three times every day. You never could tell when the bell would ring out, calm or storm, and the men would drop everything and go swarming.
No water, all grow beards (p 88)
The weather was fine for three days, and the Maggie navigated successfully at the end of her towline. The other boats were here and there on the sea. We had only one mishap, and that was when the steering engine, which for want of a better place was situated in the officer's pantry, broke down. The sun was blazing hot. There was litle water for drinking aboard and none for washing or shaving. Everybody was thirsty. The men waited for rain to bathe, and all hands, from the captain to the cook grew beards. The Old Man looked off his dignity with a couple of day's growth, but then waxed more stately than ever with a dark Vandyke. Executive Officer Gary bloomed with a silken growth, jet black and priestly. With his long legs and exotic whiskers he looked more like an Egyptian priest than a Baltimore society man. Skitchy cultivated a straggly red. Chief Reid and Doc Johns covered thin jaws with quite a respectable crop, and I developed a nondescript kind of spinachh. The men waxed hairy and fearsome. Roth was the worst. He had the lower half of his face hidden with a bristling bush of red, as fierce, piratical as sight as was every beheld on the hight seas.
About garbage (p 93)
The Old Man's orders were that nothing was to be thrown overside. It was reported that the U-boats often followed floating stuff left in the wake of ships and thus tracked them down. In the fo'c'sle was a phonograph that Roth had brought aboard for the gobs. The gobs kept it going all the time. Their favorites were half a dozen of the most raucous records, which they played incessantly. Of these their prime and preeminent delight was "Cohen on the Telephone." You heard Cohen's voice day in and day out, until you wanted to murder the old Hebrew. One night Roth and a couple of his mates picked out Cohen and the other offending records on the sly and, despite the Old Man's orders, scaled them out to sea. Cohen went sailing high and far away over the deep. The gobs wondered about what had become of their phonographic favorites, but nothing much was said.
Beef overboard (p 96)
Before the Maggie put out from Bermuda the commissary steward had brought a load of beef aboard and put it in a vat of brine in the forward hold to make corned beef. He may have set the stuff to corn correctly enough, but he didn't reckon with the Maggie. As she rolled day after day, the brine splashed out until there was little if any left. The weather was hot until there was little of any left. The weather was hot and the boilers made the hold hotter. The brineless beef followed the laws of Nature. A slight, evasive odor appeared, and it grew and became magnified until from stem to stern the boat was filled with a foul effluvium.
The Old Man ordered the decaying beef thrown overboard. It was against his own orders, but we couldn't keep the stinking mess on board. Splash into the sea ! Then a gang was detailed to go into the polluted hold and swab it out. They nearly mutinied. They seized the commisary steward and with murderous threats made him go down into the gas and, himself, clean out the hold. Strictly speaking, it was mutiny.
Line loose (p 103)
Our towline consisted of two lines which, made fast on our starboard and port, ran out and met and were joined to a single line, this running on to the stern of the Cytherea. With heavy weather running, our port chain parted, and thirty fathoms hung from the shackle and down in the water. The Maggie slid off. The whistling of the dead engine died away as the Cytherea hove to and we came to a stop. The Maggie danced a hornpipe on the boisterous waves. Everybody was seasick. The whole world seemed seasick.
"Haul in the line," said the Old Man, and the men jackassed in the hawser, reeling it in by turning the dead donkey engine with handspikes.
Then something went wrong with the starboard line and it started to pay oout. Before we could stop it seventy-five fathoms was run out of the hawser pipe. And now we had one hundred and five fathoms of chain hanging in the water.
"Haul in the line," said the Old Man, and the men jackassed in the line.
It took morning and afternoon before the towline was made fast again. The men were exhausted, some of them almost in a state of collapse. At mess there was little food, beans and goldfish, and less water.
Our little towline fleet was alone on the sea now. The other boats had gone on, while we were hauling in chain, and left us behind.
Take a hammering (p 108)
... The five boats were weaving a drifting course, like an entangling net, when the chaser on our stern towline came bearing down on us. Her engine had broken down, and the wind was driving her, and the long chain from her bow to the Maggie's stern, hanging deep in the water hauled her on with its heavy weight. She rammed us amidships and began to punch holes in our port rail. She would back away and hit us again. All hands with oars and boat hooks undertook to fend her off. The men were crowded in the narrow space between the deck house and the rail. They pushed and heaved, and oars and boat hooks were shivered. The sweep of the wind and the drag of the chain were too much. The chaser stayed there, hammering us. Our port lifeboat was stove in, our port anchor cradle carried away, and the rail smashed in half a dozen places. It look as if she might pound us to pieces and sink us.
You saw a slender figure in swift action. It was the Old Man. He gave no orders, but jumped up on the Maggie's rail and caught hold of the bow of the chaser. In perilous danger of being thrown overboard and crushed between the two boats, he balanced himself thus and reached for the pelican hook that held the line of chain to the chaser's bow. He snapped off the hook, and the chain splashed down into the water. With the weight of the line no longer dragging her, the chaser drifted away.
"Haul in the line," said the Old Man. There were two lines to be taken in, one fore and one aft. The men jackassed in the forward line with hand spikes and the after line with tackle.
U-boats (p 110-115)
At midnight of December 6th the wireless gave warning that an enemy submarine was operating in our vicinity. It had been sighted on the previous day not far from our course. Since December 1st six ships had been sunk by U-boats in these waters.
"Clear the guns and all hands keep a sharp lookout," said the Old Man, and the maggie made ready to be towed into action.
I immediately cleared the forward gun. Shells were brought up, and I kept the gun crew waiting to open instant fire. It was a moonlit night, and ahead you could see the vague bulk of the Cytherea and her baby at the forward end of our towline.
... (more) ...
To Harbor (pg 128)
The Old Man stood on the bridge. He was as stately as ever of mien and bearing, and his beard was a stately black. With the manner of some admiral of romance commanding a golden armada, he navigated the sick, disgraceful Maggie to Harbor [of Horta, Azores, about the second week of December 1917].
With the Old Man's disciplinary genius there was bound to be nothing much but work. -- pg 132
We enter the war (pg 137)
The next day the Maggie was ordered to stand as guardship at the entrance of the harbor,
. . .
"Submarine ahoy !" Mid-afternoon and the call rang out.
A conning tower had popped out of the waves a couple miles out. The Maggie signaled, but there was no response. General Quarters sounded. The gobs stared out at the enigmatic craft and there was a lot of chatter in French aboard the chaser.
"Mr. Borden," aid the Old Man, "go aboard the 348 and put out to that submarine and investigate her."
. . .
Just then the distant submarine replied to the Maggie's signals. She was an American K-boat. And my chance to cover myself with glory was scuppered.
We exit the war (pg 140)
There we tried to carry on again, but standing on guardship duty in a storm when you haven't got enough anchor chain is no go for any kind of craft. We kept on drifting. The Maggie wouldn't stay anchored, and finally the Old Man had to give it up. The harbor of Ponta Delgada might be an important U.S. Naval Station, but it would stay unguarded that day, so far as the Maggie was concerned. We drew in behind the breakwater and anchored in shelter.
It was blowing little short of a typhoon now, and even in the sheltered bay the Maggie's anchor would not hold. We were dragging down on the Winona, which was moored near by, and were threatening to sink her.
. . .
And so ended our first try at active war duty, Maggie.
They never sent us out as a guard ship after that, nor did the Supply Department ever think it worth while to give us any anchor chain. The Maggie continued her belligerent career under the disadvantage of not being able to come to anchor in a gale. You were always out of luck, Maggie.
Chips (pg 144)
An epilogue -- the downfall of Chips, our seasick ship's carpenter. The Old Man ordered repairs to be made on the rail, where the chaser had smashed it. That task naturally fell ot he lot of Chips, who knew no more about the art of ship's carpentry than a dry-goods salesman, which, indeed was his profession back in Poughkeepsie. Many previous task with chisel, hammer, and saw should have been accomplished by Chips, but either he was so seasick that the Old Man could see he was not fit for work, and Johnson did the job, or the Old Man was not around to witness the fact that Chips couldn't drive a nail and Johnson had to do the job anyway. But this time, while the Maggie was swinging at her mooring, Chips was only moderately green around the gills, and the Old Man was standing right there while the repairing of the rail was supposed to be accomplished. There was nothing for poor Chips to do but to start in. He got a hammer and stood there staring helplessly at the broken planks.
The Old Man was gazing idly on, trimly slender and of a stiff-backed stateliness, his face impressive with that imperturbable dignity that seemed the very sole of Annapolis discipline. And Chips finally had to do something. He made a pass at the rail. The hammer slipped out of his hand and went flying into the water.
"So you're a ship's carpenter !" The Old Man's sarcasm had fishhooks in it.
And then and there he broke the dejected Chips and demoted him from petty officer to common sailor.
The dignities and extra pay of ship's carpenter devolved on one of the gobs, an Italian named Benicassi. He was a bright young chap and , besides, a carpenter by trade. He never was honored with the name Chips, though. That title stuck with old Seasick Hopeless, a pathetic reminder of his former glory.
Search for K-6 (pg 152)
We had to buck a head wind and towering, swift-driving waves. . . . With that kind of navigation we weren't getting ahead at all.
My God what a ship !" muttered the Old Man. He seldom showed anything in his face, but this time he looked discouraged. Curses on you, Maggie !.
It was mid-afternoon, and the weather was getting worse. The water in our hold was rising, and the Maggie began to show serious signs of turning turtle under the sweeping impact of the combers. The Old Man was not the kind of officer to throw up a job in the face of danger, especially when the job was that of looking for a comrade ship, but it seemed as if the Maggie might flounder.
"No use," he said. We didn't even try to put back into harbor at Horta, but took a nearer shelter. The Maggie beat her way through the storm around tot he lee of Mount Pico, where she lay in the shelter of the mountain.
At about five o'clock we picked up a wireless message from the K-6. She had made Horta, and was safely at anchor. Later on we learned that, with the storm too much for the comfort of any low-decked submarine, she had dodged it by diving to a depth quiet in any weather and had gone loafing along snugly beneath the wind and wave. Her slow, under-water speed delayed her and below the surface she was without means of wireless communication.
Before we lost sight of her she had signaled us with her blinkers that she was going to proceed submerged, but we had missed the signal.
USS Margaret (SP-527) :
Ship's officers stand by her binnacle, while Margaret was at Ponta Delgada, Azores, circa December 1917.
Lieutenant Commander Frank Jack Fletcher, her Commanding Officer, is in the center.
Photographed by Raymond D. Borden.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
We fired a shot Pg 158
Message from a U-boat Pg 159
Christmas Pg 160
Mrs. Skipper Pg 166
Around the Azores Pg 183
Painted Pg 185
Concord Pg 191 January
U-boat died Pg 191
Cargo of Portland Pg 209
POWs Pg 213
Ship's officers and crew posed on board while she was at Ponta Delgada, Azores, in February 1918. Lieutenant Commander Frank Jack Fletcher, her Commanding Officer, is in the center of the second row.
Photographed by Raymond D. Borden.
FJF leaves Maggie for duty on destroyers, 01Mar'1918. Recommends SP-527 be scrapped.
Link: FJF Pictures
The Old Man leaves (p 215)
At mess time a few days later the Old Man spoke up. He was lucky; everybody knew he was lucky; they knew he was lucky; and, Maggie, you weren't proud, and you knew he was lucky.
"Well, I've go my orders," There was the curl of a grin around the corner of his mouth.
Not without influence in the Navy, he had pulled every wire he could lay hands on to get away from the Maggie.
"I am," and under the cropped mustache the smile broadened a little, "to take command of the Benham."
We looked at him enviously. Oh, Maggie, he was lucky" U.S.S. Benham was a destroyer and as neat a fighting ship as you will find in any navy. She was stationed at Brest, and the Old Man was to sail within a few days and join her there.
The Old Man left on March 1st. As is the custom, the men lined the rail and gave him a cheer as he went over the side. He looked happy when he left you, Maggie. The Gary had the gobs called aft and read his orders. He was the Old Man now, but never got the name. After Captain Frank Jack Fletcher, former disciplinary officer at Annapolis, there could no other Old Man. The gobs called Gary "Jesus Christ" because of his sacerdotal beard.
Not like it was (p 217)
"Not like it was when Frank Jack was navigating this bucket,: mused Mulcahy. "He certainly loved his discipline, but I'd like to see him run up against Doc Johns."
"Got to have discipline on shipboard." Roseboom waxed talkative for six words.
Roth turned up a bottle of beer and a long, loud gurgling sounded on the silence of the night. Then he said :
"So far as the bums on this bucket, are concerned, Frank Jack's a big load off their minds. Jesus Christ ain't there when it comes to throwing the fear of God into them and making them go easy with the hell raising."
"Yes, indeed, since Frank Jack has departed,": crooned Covert, "the blithering bums are getting away with blasted murder, the blithering, blasted sons o'guns."
Amen," said I.
The end (p278)
I wrote the Navy Department and asked about the Maggie. I was informed that in 1920 she was sold to an Italian firm that dealt in old ships to be converted into scrap. She was towed across to Genoa -- and there the junk pile.
The Maggie on the junk pile -- we had often wished her there, and there she had gone in literal fact. But, Maggie, I wish I could put a foot on your leaky decks once more.
About this page: Maggie.html from the log of the Maggie with emphasis on skipper FJF.
Created March 15, 2014. Last updated on March 21, 2014.