200 Plus

U-117 Claims Another Victim

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 08, 2018

In mid-August 1918, as the Allies were beginning the big push that would eventually bring the war “over there” to an end, the people at the Jersey Shore were experiencing it in their own backyard. On Aug. 12, the U-117 had sunk the Norwegian steamship Sommerstadt, northeast of Barnegat Light, and on the morning of Aug. 13, the U-boat was fired on by the British steamer Pyrrhus. Later that day, the U-117 was laying mines off Barnegat Inlet when a target was sighted.

Capt. C.H. White was prevented from talking to the press due to wartime censorship, but he told naval intelligence, “My ship, the Frederick R. Kellogg, was torpedoed 12 miles north of Barnegat and 5 miles off shore. … I was steering at the time of the attack north by east magnetic … carrying a cargo of oil for the United States Government. It was coming from Tampico, Mexico, bound for Boston.”

White told the Navy, “There were moderate southerly winds, water smooth. No sign of a submarine, no periscope, nothing suspicious before the attack was seen. Nothing was seen until after the torpedo exploded, and then … the wake of the torpedo was seen by me. No warning was given, and for about an hour after the attack I looked for some trace of the submarine, expecting that the bow would be shelled, and absolutely nothing was seen. The ship went down in less than 15 seconds in shallow water, stern first, and it looked as though the stern were resting on the bottom.”

The oil-laden tanker never had a chance.

“The torpedo struck the ship in the engine room in the after part of the ship on the port side, and I attempted to give the signal to clear the engine room, but communication had already been cut off, and stepping out on the fly bridge I pulled the whistle until the steam was out, and turning my head once more toward aft I saw the ship completely under water and sinking rapidly by the stern. The engine room and fireroom were together. The torpedo must have been close to the water for the reason that it blew up two steel decks and a wooden deck and a lifeboat on the port quarter clean into the air. There was one engineer, the third assistant, one fireman, and one oiler on watch, and all three were killed. Four others were killed or drowned. These men were in the vicinity of the engine room. They were the second engineer, one mess boy, and two cadets.”

On Aug. 15, The New York Times was able to interview some of the crew.

“Walter J. Deyburg, an able seaman who had served twelve years at sea, said that the bridge was in charge of First Officer John Quigley when the torpedo struck the Kellogg on the port side by the engine room. … The men tumbled up on deck, Dreyburg continued, and jumped over the side and swam around until the two boats picked them up. … Like most of the motor boats supplied to ocean-going steamships, he added, ours could not be made to go, so we had to tow it with the lifeboat which was slow work. The mate rigged up a lateen shaped sail like they use in the Mediterranean, which helped us a little. Most of our fellows were in a hurry to get off the tanker because they were afraid the Hun boat would turn his guns on us, but we saw no signs of him until we got clear away.”

Once in the lifeboat, the crew, aware of stories of U-boat atrocities, anxiously waited.

“As the rail of the Kellogg was just awash we saw a periscope appear above the surface of the calm sea close to her side and then the whole of the U-boat came into sight. There was no one on deck and I suppose the commander was enjoying a look at his work from the conning tower. A minute or so later the submarine disappeared. After about two hours’ drifting we saw a steamship coming up from the southward and we were taken on board.”

One of the cadets on board was a former Rutgers University student, Class of 1920, from Long Branch.

“Chester C. Cubberley, one of the seven men killed when a German torpedo sank the oil tanker Frederick R. Kellogg, was 21 years old on April 8 last, and his mother expected him home today, when a telegram from Lieutenant Charles Mann, Jr., was received this afternoon announcing that Chester was missing, and that he was ‘endeavoring to secure further details.’”

The Lakewood Journal added a few heartbreaking details.

“He was a cadet and this was his first trip. His mother, Mrs. Isaac Cubberley, had received a postal card from him, mailed at a Mexican port, saying that he would be home August 14. Mrs. Cubberley was expecting a telegram announcing his arrival, but when the messenger arrived it was with a notification of his death instead of news of his homecoming.”

On Aug.15, the Asbury Park Press reported, “The Bradley Beach fishermen were out in their 25-foot power boat and were within three or four miles of the spot where their lobster pots are located when they came across a lifeboat marked Frederick R. Kellogg. … The fishermen took the boat in tow and continued to the lobster banks. At a point 20 miles southeast of Asbury Park they saw, less than a mile and a half away, the submerged tanker, with airplanes and a dirigible hovering over it. … Without approaching nearer the torpedoed ship the fishermen turned and started on the home trip.”

The Navy was now out in full force, “… on the way meeting up with a tug boat, whose captain they notified of the Kellogg’s plight. In the distance the fishermen saw a four-stack destroyer steaming up and another naval vessel with a big balloon in tow, 100 to 150 feet in the air. Six miles from shore the fishermen encountered a submarine chaser, No. 57, in command of Ensign Bertram Berger, who took charge of the Kellogg’s lifeboat and gave them a receipt for it.”

Newspapers played down the sinking of the tanker so close to the New Jersey beaches because it was bad for morale, but there was another reason. It was mentioned briefly in an article appearing in the Aug. 23 New Jersey Courier.

“U-BOAT ATTACKED TANKER DIRECTLY OFF OUR BEACH. Heavy crude oil, about the consistency of tar, has washed on the sand from below Barnegat inlet up to Long Branch, and made in many places bathing and surf fishing almost impossible, and at least unpleasant.”

The article also told of Chester Cubberley’s last moments.

“He was a naval cadet, and is said to have gone down into his cabin to get his papers on which he was working for his final examination for an ensign’s rating and to have been caught by the inrush of water.”

Luckily for the tourist trade of the Jersey Shore, tankers in 1918 were not as large as today, and the fact that the Kellogg was sunk in shallow water allowed her to be refloated. The Frederick R. Kellogg and the oil-soaked beaches would be gone by the summer of 1919, and it would again be safe to go back in the water.

Next Week: In – flew – enza.


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