Comrades of the Mist

The involvement of the American army, led by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, in World War I is well documented. However, many people do not appreciate that the U.S. Navy also played a significant role in that conflict. 

The United States declared war on the German Empire on April 6th 1917 and initially concentrated on anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic ocean and on protecting convoys transporting men and materiel to Europe.

 The Royal Navy needed more than this and the Admiralty approached the US Department of the Navy and requested an American  contribution to the Grand Fleet. They felt that the presence of an American Battle squadron would allow them to scrap some of their older, more vulnerable battleships, thus freeing up to 4,000 officers and men who would then be available to serve aboard new light cruisers and destroyers in the battle against the U-boats.

As a result, the Americans sent the United States Battleship Division Nine, under the command of Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, to serve with the Grand Fleet. They became the 6th Battle Squadron within the Grand Fleet. The Battle Squadron was made up of five modern battleships and four of them, USS New York, Florida, Wyoming and Delaware arrived at Scapa Flow in December 1917. USS Texas arrived in January 1918 and USS Arkansas replaced the Delaware in July 1918.

USS Texas

Although they were not involved in any actions, they played an active part in providing escorts for the important Scandinavian convoys on a couple of occasions in April 1918 and  took part in the surrender of the German Fleet in November 1918. 

Other ships of the United States Fleet (under the overall command of Vice Admiral William Sims) laid some 70,000 mines at an unprecedented depth between Scapa Flow and Norway, creating an enormous and costly minefield designed to stop German submarines from entering the Atlantic via the northern route.  An official investigation into German submarine losses held in 1919 concluded that the minefield accounted for 4 certain sinkings, 2 probable, 2 possible and a further 8 submarines damaged. 

The presence of the Americans in the Forth was felt in other ways. They held baseball matches ashore in Rosyth and played golf too. In September 1918 the 6th Battle Squadron donated a trophy to Dunfermline Golf Club, The US Navy Cup, which is competed for annually to this day.

The American ships left for the USA on 1st December 1918, as this rather poor image shows. The ships are said to be USS Wyoming, Arkansas and Florida.

In 1919, Commander Eugene Wilson edited and published a collection of verse written by serving US sailors (most of them anonymous) entitled “Comrades of the Mist”, and dedicated to their British counterparts. The verses had all originally appeared in a “newsletter” printed aboard the USS Arkansas. They cover events such as the Surrender of the German Fleet and the arrival and departure of the American Fleet. One in particular seems relevant to South Queensferry.

     “Peggy of the Pier”

Peggy, a wee, smiling, bonnie scotch lass
Who lived at the end of the Pier
Where it thrust its stone length from the front of the bluff
With the Bridge of the Forth towering near,
Owned a novelty shop where she sold to the men,
Who landed from the grim fighting craft –
“Penny thrillers”, the papers, tobacco and such,
While she jollied and bantered and laughed.

From the Admiral down to the lowest “A.B.”
Who stopped at her counter to buy,
All held in respect the wholesome young miss,
With the gleam of a smile in her eye.
And though many had wooed with ardour and fire
She mocked them and sent them away,
Till a smart yankee gig swung into the Pier
One sunshiny, sparkling day.

As the bronzed coxswain swung his brass steering wheel
And backed up smartly alongside,
‘Tis rumoured that Peggy glanced softly his way,
And opened her blue eyes so wide,
That she took in the cut of his jib at a glance,
And her heart skipped a flutter or two
At the stranger who promptly gazed back with a smile
Like any good sailor would do.

And in the long months that the big Yankee ships
Lay anchored down east of the Pier,
There followed a courtship in true yankee style,
At least that is what we all hear;
‘Till Peggy gave in and married the chap,
Thus showing the cordial relations
‘Tween the rank and the file who fight on the seas,
Defending the great allied nations.

 

Only one of the Battleships that took part in the surrender of the German fleet is still afloat – USS Texas. She took part in the D-Day landings in 1944, her 14 inch guns providing artillery support for the American troops and was later retired. She is now a floating museum at Houston, Texas, although her condition is causing some concern.