Thursday, October 18, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: U-Boat Deck Gun Cartridge Case, c. 1917

UC-44 Deck Gun Cartridge Case
The Naval War College Museum has many artifacts which at first glance do not appear to be closely tied to the college or the region's naval history. While relocating some artifacts in a museum storage area, I came across this cartridge case. A brass plaque tells us this tube was recovered from UC-44 by divers of the USS Melville in 1917.

During the First World War, the German Imperial Navy employed the now famous u-boats to assault allied merchant shipping. UC-boats were a class specifically designed as coastal minelayers to disrupt traffic in Allied harbors. In 1917, British intelligence agents transmitted a false report that the area off Waterford, Ireland had been swept for mines. As expected, the Germans intercepted the message and ordered another minelayer to the harbor to deploy new mines.  The plan worked though not as intended. SM UC-44, the u-boat ordered to Waterford, was sunk on 5 August 1917 when one of its own recently dropped mines exploded.  The explosion killed all on board except the ships commander Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns.


The following month, the Royal Navy raised the wreck to gather intelligence. In addition to recovering documents and equipment, divers recovered the bodies of nineteen crew members.

Besides mines and torpedoes, UC-44 carried an 88mm deck gun. After the initial salvage, divers from an American destroyer tender, USS Melville (AD-2) also recovered items from the remaining wreckage including several mines and this cartridge case used to carry ammunition for the deck gun. The case is made of copper and possibly lead, two non-ferrous metals which are resistant to sparks that could ignite black powder.


USS Melville (AD-2) in 1915
USS Melville  had many ties to the Narragansett Bay region. She was stationed at Newport, Rhode Island in 1916 before departing for Ireland when the U.S. declared war on Germany. During the war, the destroyer tender was commanded by Captain Joel R.P. Pringle. Pringle would graduate from the Naval War College in 1920, serve as chief of staff from 1923-1925, and finally as president from 1927-1930. Melville also served as the flagship of Admiral William S. Sims. Sims was President of the Naval War College in 1917 when he was dispatched to England in advance of America's entry into the war. He was appointed Commander-in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the war and resumed his presidency at the college after the hostilities ceased. Though we do not know exactly how the cartridge case came to Newport, it was part of a large donation of items related to the naval service of Lieutenant Commander Dallas Wait, a student at the war college during Pringle's administration.


Gift of Mrs. Dallas Wait                                                                                                               85.17.09

Image of USS Melville courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command

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