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- The Boy Allies Under Two Flags - 6/39 -
speed, the protection of torpedo boats and the weakness of the periscope -- there has been no protection yet devised against the attack of a submarine."
"But the torpedo nets --?" interrupted Frank.
"There is of course," the lieutenant went on, "a crudely defensive measure called the torpedo net. These are meshes of strong steel which are dropped down from the side of the warship and are supposed to catch the torpedo before it hits the side of the ship."
"Well, don't they?" asked Frank.
"In theory," said the lieutenant, "the torpedo explodes within the net and the force of its attack is more or less diminished. As a matter of fact, however, torpedo nets are not dependable. Why, most of our submarines are equipped with a formidable device for cutting these nets. This device, in one form, resembles an enormous pair of sheers which cut through the nets like paper. In another form they are equipped with powerful tearing arms which drag the net away and expose the sides of the battleship to the deadly messenger from the torpedo tube. Am I tiring you?"
"I should say not," replied both lads in one breath, and Frank added: "I don't just understand how a submarine sinks and rises."
"It's very simple," said the lieutenant, "and at the same time I'll tell you something else. The submarine is unaffected by tempests, and for this reason also is more deadly than a battleship. The submarine can dive down into the depths where there is no movement of the waves, and it can remain under water for fourteen hours continuously. This is accomplished by tanks which can be filled with water and, overcoming what is known as the 'margin of buoyancy,' submerge the vessel. The air is replenished by special purifying devices and by tanks of oxygen. When the vessel wants to rise, it simply pumps out the water from the tanks."
"It certainly is a wonderful invention," said Frank, when the lieutenant had concluded his explanation.
"Indeed it is," agreed Jack.
"You should be aboard when we are in action," smiled the lieutenant. "I am sure you would be greatly interested."
"I don't doubt it," said Jack, "although from what you have told us regarding the deadliness of submarines, I believe that I should rather witness action on a British submarine."
"Nevertheless," said the lieutenant, "you are likely to see action aboard the X-9, for I do not believe Captain Von Cromp will return to port until he has at least tried the effect of his torpedoes, on a ship or so of your countrymen."
"May he go to defeat if he tries it!" said Jack fervently.
"In which case," said the lieutenant with good natured tolerance, "you would undoubtedly go with us."
"Even so," replied Jack, "I still could not wish to see you get away."
The lieutenant glanced at him admiringly.
"I believe you mean it," he said. "You are a brave lad. But come, we had all better turn in now."
"I guess you are right," said Frank; "and thanks for the trouble you have taken to explain all this to us."
"It was a pleasure, I am sure," was the lieutenant's reply, and they all made their way to the officer's cabin, where they prepared to retire for the night.
UNDER THE SEA
But there was to be no sleep for any aboard the German submarine X-9 that night. As the boys were just about to tumble into their bunks, there was the sound of a sudden commotion on the vessel.
Lieutenant Stein sprang to his feet, hastily donned what few clothes he had removed, and dashed from the cabin. With all possible haste, the boys followed suit.
Men were rushing to and fro and no one heeded the boys' presence, although they were rudely thrust aside by hurrying members of the crew several times.
"Wonder what's up?" said Jack.
"Don't know," replied Frank, "unless they have sighted one of our ships."
"By Jove! Let us hope not," breathed Jack.
But this was indeed the cause of the excitement aboard the submarine. A British battleship had been sighted in the distance, and Captain Von Cromp was preparing to attack the unsuspecting vessel, which had failed to sight her enemy, although the latter was fully exposed to view.
Frank and Jack approached the foot of the periscope, where they stood awaiting developments.
Outside a sudden storm swept the water of the North Sea in angry waves. The water lifted up the little vessel with the regular motion of a high-running sea. All was pitch dark.
The fact that men were hurrying about on deck, was only shown by the somber figures who now and then passed in front of a single lantern. From out the engine room, already under water, arose the pound of heavy pounding and the weird crackling of the engines, as they were tried out.
Jack glanced at his watch. It was 10:30. Suddenly there came a shrill whistle from the little bridge of the submarine, standing high above the vessel, and covered with heavy canvass. The officer in command, Captain Von Cromp himself, dressed hi heavy oilskins, raised a hand, the signal to go ahead.
A short, sharp signal to the engine room, a loud whirr of the motor, and the X-9 was speeding ahead. On both sides of the ship long waves formed, shimmering with light foam in the blackness of the sea. The X-9 moved westerly -- toward the still unsuspecting battleship.
The heavens were covered with clouds. Not a star was visible. It was impossible to see more than a few feet away from the strange craft. Captain Von Cromp, with his experienced eye, tried in vain to penetrate through this wall of solid blackness. The wind kicked up the sea and the bridge was entirely flooded with water. There was hot a sound to be heard, save the heavy droning of the motor and the swish of the water passing along the sides.
Suddenly, in the near distance, loomed up a great gray bulk, swinging high above the submarine upon the water. It was the British battleship.
And now submarine X-9 had been discovered. A heavy boom rang out, but the little craft was not damaged.
Another signal came to the ears of the two boys. Men rushed upon deck and soon the submarine was prepared for action. The flagpole was taken down. Part of the bridge was folded together and securely fastened. The periscope was fixed at its proper height. Then the entrance through the combined bridge and conning tower was hermetically sealed. A moment more and the tanks were opened, telling the lads that the submarine was about to submerge. The gasoline motors stopped their endless song. From now on electricity would drive the vessel forward.
Near Frank and Jack, at the periscope, stood Lieutenant Stein, looking at the British ship. The sailors took their stations near the torpedoes. The interior of the boat was now lighted with two small electric bulbs. They made the darkness visible, but gave no light outside. Everywhere was the stale smell of oil. The boys found it impossible to speak to each other because of the noise of the engine and the water. The heat was oppressive.
From time to time the officer in command of the three torpedoes looked at his watch or at the compass, both of which he carried around his wrist. Intently the men all watched the signboard on the wall in front of them. The storm without made itself felt even in the depth. Every motion of the water caused the submarine to rock up and down and up and down again.
Jack found himself thinking of the advantage of the man on board a warship. He, at least, could go down with a last look at the world about him. Below, nothing could be seen, nothing could be heard. If the submarine went down, all would suffocate in the darkness beneath the water.
It was plain to Jack that Frank, as well as all the sailors and officers, was thinking along similar lines. The expressi6n on all faces was plain proof of it.
Suddenly the sailors sprang forward, forgetting in an instant heat, bad air and discomfort. Following the gaze of the sailors, the lads turned their eyes to the signboard. There, as if by magic, had sprung up the word:
The officer in command of the torpedoes had his hand on the lever which would release the first deadly projectile already in the tube. The sailors made ready to launch the second as soon as the first was gone.
Several seconds passed. Frank and Jack stood in deathlike stillness. Both realized the tragedy that was about to be
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