Simon’s Sub Counter

Russian Protector

The Protector Goes To Russia
by Simon Lake

   (The following excerpt is from Simon Lake's book, The Submarine In War And Peace, 1918, which is a description of the adventurous journey of the Protector submarine from the United States to Cronstadt, Russia.)

     At the time of the Russo-Japanese War the Protector was being tried out in Long Island Sound, and representatives of both warring countries sent officers to witness her perform and to make propositions for her purchase. Russia secured her, however, and it then became a problem to get her out of the country without evading the neutrality laws. We discovered that we were being watched by spies, and had reason to believe that if it became known that Russia had purchased her, and that we were planning to take her out of the country, an injunction would be secured against us. We had secured high legal advice that if she were shipped incomplete we would not be evading the United States laws, but that she might, notwithstanding this pre caution, be captured on the high seas or held in this country by injunction as contraband. We .therefore removed her battery and sent it to New York, ostensibly for repairs; from there it was later shipped to Russia via steamer. The agents of the Russian Government then chartered the steamer Fortuna to carry a cargo of coal from Norfolk, Va., to Libau, Russia. While loading coal, heavy timbers to form a cradle on the deck were also shipped on board, and while coming up the coast this cradle was assembled and the Fortuna's decks strengthened sufficiently to carry the Protector, which had been stripped down to about one hundred and thirty tons by the removal of her battery. The plan was that the Fortuna should come into Sandy Hook at mid night on Saturday and proceed to Prince's Bay, a cove back of Staten Island. There the Protector was to be picked up by the powerful floating derrick, the Monarch, and the Fortuna, with the Protector on her deck, was then to get outside of Sandy Hook before daylight and pass the three mile limit on Sunday morning. None of my crew was in the secret that an effort was to be made to get the Protector out of the country before legal proceedings could be taken to prevent her going; and, as she had no batteries on board, they were much surprised to be informed on Saturday— the morning of the day set to make the attempt—that they were to bring their suitcases and a change of clothing with them, as I was going to give the Protector a trial under her engines alone and we might be away a day or two. When we left Bridgeport I headed the Protector away from New York, and our men thought we were bound for Newport, but as soon as we got out of sight of the shore, in which we were assisted by a fog, I ran over under the Long Island shore and headed for New York. We remained in hiding during the day and passed through Hell Gate, the entrance into the East River, at about nine o'clock, and reached Prince's Bay according to schedule; but the Fortuna did not appear until eight o'clock on Sunday morning. Fortunately for the enterprise, a very heavy rainstorm came up and shut out all view of us from the shore until the Protector had been loaded and was out to sea. Before she sailed I called my crew together and told them that the Protector had been sold to a foreign country, and that, although I could not tell them to whom or to what port she was bound, I should like some of them to go with me to assist me in training the foreign crew to operate her. Every man volunteered and was anxious to go, so I selected those I wanted and they took their suitcases on board the Fortuna. It was seven years before some of these men returned to America.

     The Protector was covered with canvas and she was sighted but once on her way across. To prevent suspicion I returned to Bridgeport for a few days and then took the fast steamer Kaiser Wilhelm II to Cherbourg and was met by the Russian Ambassador in Paris, who gave me Russian passports under the assumed name of Elwood Simons, as the Russian Government did not wish it to become known that it had purchased the Protector or that the builder was coming to Russia to instruct their officers and men in the use of submarines. This traveling about under an assumed name brought about some amusing complications and experiences later.

     I arrived at Libau by train the morning the Fortuna and Protector arrived off that port, but the government had decided to send her on to Cronstadt, the principal naval station and defense of St. Petersburg, now called Petrograd, so orders were given accordingly. On the way up the Baltic the coverings over the Protector had been removed, and a Russian torpedo boat, seeing her, made off at full speed, soon to return with another torpedo boat and a larger gunboat and beginning to fire blank shots for the Fortuna to stop. The captain did not stop quickly enough, and then they fired solid shot just in front of the Fortuna's bow and she was forced to stop. It developed that one of the officers had recognized the Protector from having seen the pictures of her, but, not knowing that she had been bought by his own government, suspected that the Japanese Government had purchased her, and that she would probably be launched somewhere in the Baltic and attack the Russian fleet. He then sent an armed prize crew on board the Fortuna to take her into Cronstadt as a prize—which incidentally was where she was bound, anyhow.

     On arriving at Cronstadt we were met by a number of officers of the Russian Navy, among whom were Captain Becklemechief and Chief Constructor Bubonoff, who were the joint designers of the Russian submarine Delphine, which had recently been completed. While sitting in the Fortuna's cabin exchanging congratulations upon the safe arrival of the Protector, a telegram was brought in to Captain Becklemechief which, I noticed, caused his hitherto cheerful face to assume a grave aspect. He handed it to Constructor Bubonoff with a word in Russian which I could not understand. A little later, on our way to Petrograd, he informed me that the Deiphine had sunk and drowned twenty-three officers and men, a number of whom were in training to be transferred to the Protector to make up her crew upon her arrival. We passed her on our way into Petrograd. She lay just off the Baltic works dock, and divers were then recovering the bodies.

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