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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great War Syndicate - Web page 12
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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 12 Post by :Anthony_Ellis Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :3233

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The Great War Syndicate - Web page 12

The most important object was to provide a defence
against the screw-extracting and rudder-breaking crabs;
and to this end the Adamant had been fitted with what
was termed a "stern-jacket." This was a great cage of
heavy steel bars, which was attached to the stern of
the vessel in such a way that it could be raised high
above the water, so as to offer no impediment while
under way, and which, in time of action, could be let
down so as to surround and protect the rudder and
screw-propellers, of which the Adamant had two.

This was considered an adequate defence against the
nippers of a Syndicate crab; but as a means of offence
against these almost submerged vessels a novel
contrivance had been adopted. From a great boom
projecting over the stern, a large ship's cannon was
suspended perpendicularly, muzzle downward. This
gun could be swung around to the deck, hoisted into a
horizontal position, loaded with a heavy charge, a
wooden plug keeping the load in position when the gun
hung perpendicularly.

If the crab should come under the stern, this
cannon could be fired directly downward upon her back,
and it was not believed that any vessel of the kind
could stand many such tremendous shocks. It was not
known exactly how ventilation was supplied to the
submarine vessels of the Syndicate, nor how the
occupants were enabled to make the necessary
observations during action. When under way the crabs
sailed somewhat elevated above the water, but when
engaged with an enemy only a small portion of their
covering armour could be seen.

It was surmised that under and between some of the
scales of this armour there was some arrangement of
thick glasses, through which the necessary observation
could be made; and it was believed that, even if the
heavy perpendicular shots did not crush in the roof of
a crab, these glasses would be shattered by concussion.
Although this might appear a matter of slight
importance, it was thought among naval officers it
would necessitate the withdrawal of a crab from action.

In consequence of the idea that the crabs were
vulnerable between their overlapping plates, some of
the Adamant's boats were fitted out with Gatling and
machine guns, by which a shower of balls might be sent
under the scales, through the glasses, and into the
body of the crab. In addition to their guns, these
boats would be supplied with other means of attack upon
the crab.

Of course it would be impossible to destroy these
submerged enemies by means of dynamite or torpedoes;
for with two vessels in close proximity, the explosion
of a torpedo would be as dangerous to the hull of one
as to the other. The British Admiralty would not allow
even the Adamant to explode torpedoes or dynamite
under her own stern.

With regard to a repeller, or spring-armoured
vessel, the Adamant would rely upon her exceptionally
powerful armament, and upon her great weight and speed.
She was fitted with twin screws and engines of the
highest power, and it was believed that she would be
able to overhaul, ram, and crush the largest vessel
armoured or unarmoured which the Syndicate would be
able to bring against her. Some of her guns were of
immense calibre, firing shot weighing nearly two
thousand pounds, and requiring half a ton of powder for
each charge. Besides these she carried an unusually
large number of large cannon and two dynamite guns.
She was so heavily plated and armoured as to be proof
against any known artillery in the world.

She was a floating fortress, with men enough to
make up the population of a town, and with stores,
ammunition, and coal sufficient to last for a long term
of active service. Such was the mighty English battle-
ship which had come forward to raise the siege of the
Canadian port.

The officers of the Syndicate were well aware of
the character of the Adamant, her armament and her
defences, and had been informed by cable of her time of
sailing and probable destination. They sent out
Repeller No. 7, with Crabs J and K, to meet her off the
Banks of Newfoundland.

This repeller was the largest and strongest vessel
that the Syndicate had ready for service. In addition
to the spring armour with which these vessels were
supplied, this one was furnished with a second coat of
armour outside the first, the elastic steel ribs of
which ran longitudinally and at right angles to those
of the inner set. Both coats were furnished with a
great number of improved air-buffers, and the
arrangement of spring armour extended five or six feet
beyond the massive steel plates with which the vessel
was originally armoured. She carried one motor-cannon
of large size.

One of the crabs was of the ordinary pattern, but
Crab K was furnished with a spring armour above the
heavy plates of her roof. This had been placed upon
her after the news had been received by the Syndicate
that the Adamant would carry a perpendicular cannon
over her stern, but there had not been time enough to
fit out another crab in the same way.

When the director in charge of Repeller No. 7 first
caught sight of the Adamant, and scanned through his
glass the vast proportions of the mighty ship which was
rapidly steaming towards the coast, he felt that a
responsibility rested upon him heavier than any which
had yet been borne by an officer of the Syndicate; but
he did not hesitate in the duty which he had been
sent to perform, and immediately ordered the two crabs
to advance to meet the Adamant, and to proceed to
action according to the instructions which they had
previously received. His own ship was kept, in
pursuance of orders, several miles distant from the
British ship.

As soon as the repeller had been sighted from the
Adamant, a strict lookout had been kept for the
approach of crabs; and when the small exposed portions
of the backs of two of these were perceived glistening
in the sunlight, the speed of the great ship slackened.
The ability of the Syndicate's submerged vessels to
move suddenly and quickly in any direction had been
clearly demonstrated, and although a great ironclad
with a ram could run down and sink a crab without
feeling the concussion, it was known that it would be
perfectly easy for the smaller craft to keep out of the
way of its bulky antagonist. Therefore the Adamant
did not try to ram the crabs, nor to get away from
them. Her commander intended, if possible, to run down
one or both of them; but he did not propose to do this
in the usual way.

As the crabs approached, the stern-jacket of
the Adamant was let down, and the engines were
slowed. This stern-jacket, when protecting the rudder
and propellers, looked very much like the cowcatcher of
a locomotive, and was capable of being put to a
somewhat similar use. It was the intention of the
captain of the Adamant, should the crabs attempt to
attach themselves to his stern, to suddenly put on all
steam, reverse his engines, and back upon them, the
stern-jacket answering as a ram.

The commander of the Adamant had no doubt that in
this way he could run into a crab, roll it over in the
water, and when it was lying bottom upward, like a
floating cask, he could move his ship to a distance,
and make a target of it. So desirous was this brave
and somewhat facetious captain to try his new plan upon
a crab, that he forebore to fire upon the two vessels
of that class which were approaching him. Some of his
guns were so mounted that their muzzles could be
greatly depressed, and aimed at an object in the water
not far from the ship. But these were not discharged,
and, indeed, the crabs, which were new ones of unusual
swiftness, were alongside the Adamant in an incredibly
short time, and out of the range of these guns.

Crab J was on the starboard side of the Adamant,
Crab K was on the port side, and, simultaneously, the
two laid hold of her. But they were not directly
astern of the great vessel. Each had its nippers
fastened to one side of the stern-jacket, near the
hinge-like bolts which held it to the vessel, and on
which it was raised and lowered.
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In a moment the Adamant began to steam backward;but the only effect of this motion, which soon becamerapid, was to swing the crabs around against her sides,and carry them with her. As the vessels were thusmoving the great pincers of the crabs were twisted withtremendous force, the stern-jacket on one side wasbroken from its bolt, and on the other the bolt itselfwas drawn out of the side of the vessel. The nippersthen opened, and the stern-jacket fell from their graspinto the sea, snapping in its fall the chain by whichit had been raised and lowered. This disaster
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When the two vessels were abreast of each other,and at a safe hailing distance apart, another signalwent up from the repeller, and then both vessels almostceased to move through the water, although the enginesof the Lenox were working at high speed, with herpropeller-blades stirring up a whirlpool at her stern. For a minute or two the officers of the Lenoxcould not comprehend what had happened. It was firstsupposed that by mistake the engines had beenslackened, but almost at the same moment that it wasfound that this was not the case, the discovery wasmade that the crab accompanying the
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