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.


100 Years ago This Week: Leaving on the Q.T. for an Unknown Location

Background:  More than one month after arriving at the American University in Washington, D.C. My grandfather and other soldiers of the 20th Engineers are packed up and ready to move.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Nov. 11th, 1917 – Everything packed up.  Left American Univ.  At 5. P.M. Marched to Rotin (?) yard.  Everything done on the Q.T.  Rode all night.

Monday Nov 12thArrived Jersey City 6 A.M.  Took ferry to transport Madawaska  formerly Koenig Wilhelm II.  Confined to quarters not allowed on deck.

Tuesday Nov. 13– Very quiet day.  Slightly seasick could not eat anything.  New York Harbor great sight last night

Wednesday Nov. 14We are escorted by one Battle cruiser and two torpedo Boat destroyers.  One other transport.  Weather fine.

Thursday Nov. 15– Acting as orderly for Maj. Hartwick  I am getting very well acquainted with the boat (?) weather still fine.

Friday Nov. 16 – Very rough sea today.  Everybody seasick.  Meals are served at 7AM. 11:30 AM and 4:P.M.  No one eats much.

Saturday Nov. 17Several still seasick.  My appetite has been lost altogether.  I certainly will be glad to get to land.

In a family album this picture is labelled “JRJ in Uniform in 1917”

On Sunday, November 11th, 1917  my grandfather, along with the other soldiers of the First and Second Battalions of the 20th engineers, left Camp American University where he had been since since October 4th.  Imagine what the soldiers must have been feeling as they left camp “on the Q.T.” .  They did not know where they were going but they must have suspected that they were about to join the war in Europe.

Sometimes it is difficult to read his handwriting in his journal.  It appears that he writes they marched to “Rotin” yard.  Here is a copy of that entry.

Journal entry for 11/11/. What is “Rotin Yard”?

Since they “Rode all Night” I assume they were on a train. But what is the “Rotin yard”?.  Do you have a better reading of the phrase?

Update:  Mystery solved!  Thank you to Michel Boquet for pointing out that in the book Twentieth Engineers, France 1917-1919 it was reported  that other units which trained at American University left from Roslyn (not Rotin).

Rosslyn Virginia is about 3.5 miles from the camp at American University and just across the Potomac River.  It seems reasonable that the soldiers might march that distance to board a train for Jersey City.  Although it doesn’t look like Poppa was trying to write Rosslyn it is likely that was their departure point.   Possibly he did not know the name of the place, or had not heard it correctly.

Monday November 12, 1917– Jersey City, New Jersey is 222 miles from Washington, D.C. and across the Hudson from New York City.  In nearby Hoboken there is a memorial ‘boulder’ commemorating the city’s role as an embarkation point for WWI service men and the three million troops passed through the port.

The Hoboken Memorial Boulder
The Hoboken Memorial Boulder

The Madawaska had previously been the German liner “Konig Wilhelm II.”  According to Wikipedia she was a steel-hulled screw steamer launched on 20 July 1907 at Stettin, Germany.   It was built by Germany for the transatlantic passenger trade, and travelled  between Germany, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, until the outset of World War I in 1914. Voluntarily interned at Hoboken, New Jersey, to avoid being captured by the Royal Navy, the passenger liner was seized after the United States entered the war on 6 April 1917, as were all other German vessels in American ports.

Before agents of the U.S. federal government took possession of the ship, her German crew attempted to render her unusable by cracking her main steam cylinders with hydraulic jacks. Following repairs to the damaged machinery, Konig Wilhelm II was commissioned on 27 August 1917.

The Madawaska

She was renamed Madawaska on 1 September, 1917.   During World War I, she conducted 10 transatlantic voyages in which she carried nearly 12,000 men to Europe. After the armistice of 11 November 1918, Madawaska made seven more voyages, bringing 17,000 men home from the European theater.

It appears that Poppa travelled across the Atlantic on what was built as a passenger ship.  Do you think it was more comfortable than other troop carriers?

Thursday November 15– Major Edward E Hartwick was commander of the First battalion of the 20th engineers.

Major Edward E. Hartwick


Next Week: Watching for German Submarines


Thanks to Michel B for pointing out errors in a draft of this episode


Gobetz, Wally. “NJ – Hoboken: World War I American Expeditionary Forces Memorial Boulder.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 10 June 2006. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.