100 Years ago this Week: Watching for German Submarines

Background: My Grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, and other soldiers of the 20th Engineers quietly left Camp American University in Washington, D.C. on November 11, 1917 aboard a train.  Upon arriving in New Jersey they boarded the Ship Madawaska for parts unknown.  The voyage continues.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Nov. 18, 1917 – Much better today.  Weather better and appetite fair.  I am sick of a transport.  Hope I can go back in a better manner.

Monday Nov. 19 – Still going.  We have no lights on this ship on account of danger.  Go to bed at about 6:30 P.M.  and get up at 6:30 A.M.  Weather rather rough.

Tuesday Nov. 20 – We have made very slow time throughout.  Today we have been going very slowly in a circle.  Looks like we are waiting for something.  

Wednesday Nov. 21We were met today by supply boats with convoys who gave our destroyers oil and during the night we started forward.  One destroyer crippled.

Thursday November 22– Quiet weather good going.  No subs yet.  One destroyer towed by cruiser.  Stood still all night.  

Friday Nov 23 -At 6:30 this morning we were met by 6 more destroyers as escorts.  Weather is ideal for submarines.  We are very carefully guarded.

Saturday, Nov 24– Very carefully and steadily we have moved forward all day through the heart of the danger zone.  Weather excellent.


Poppa indicated that he and other soldiers  did not have a good appetite due to seasickness.

Here is the kitchen (galley) of the Madawaska. Maybe these cooks weren’t very busy because no one was hungry due to sea sickness?

On Monday November 19, 1917 my grandfather reported that they were going slowly with no lights on “on account of danger”.  Presumably they are worried about German submarines since he mentions them again on November 22nd and 23rd.  They were correct to be concerned.

Although submarines were used before before World War I the Great War was the turning point where submarine warfare took place on a global scale.

Two years earlier on May 7th, 1915, the British liner Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine.  Nearly 1,200 people died including 128 Americans when the skip sank. Within a year the U.S. would become involved in the war.

Prior to 1915 Germany had agreed to adhere to rules of submarine attacks.  Since freighters and tankers were not military boats and the crew were usually not military, the submarines were to come to the surface, search the ship, give the merchantmen the option to leave via lifeboat, and then sink the ship.

However, earlier in 1917, Germany announced a new policy known as unrestricted submarine warfare. As the name implies, this meant the German Navy was going to sink any and all ships it deemed threatening without warning.

German Submarine U-14


Poppa indicated that they were escorted by a cruiser and 2 destroyers.  The Cruiser was the USS San Diego.  The San Diego was built in 1907 and originally named the USS California.  She made several trips across the Atlantic safely escorting US soldiers to Europe. It was sunk on 18 July 1918.  Officially it was determined that it hit an underwater mine laid by the germans although the captain believed it was struck by a torpedo.


The notation on this picture says it is the Madawaska in a convoy in November 1917. Was my grandfather on the ship when this picture was taken?

The Madawaska went on to serve the military through both WWI and WWII.  It was sold for scrap in 1948.  Other transport ships were not as lucky.  Another ship that transported soldiers on the same route was the President Lincoln.  This ship made five voyages from New York to France safely delivering over 23,000 soldiers.  She was sunk on May 30th, 1918 while returning to the US.  26 of the 700 men on board were lost.

Next Week:  Our Destination is Finally Revealed


“U-boat Campaign (World War I).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2017. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.

“Submarine Warfare – WWI Unconventional Naval Strikes.” Totally History Submarine Warfare Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2017.

20thEngineers.com – World War 1 – 1st Battalion. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.


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