WHH Short Fiction: “A Fight with a Submarine”

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Review: “A Fight with a Submarine”, William Hope Hodgson, 1918.

This is one of only three Hodgson stories directly touching on World War One.

Presumably Hodgson didn’t have a lot of time to after World War One broke out. He and his wife moved from their home in France back to England when war broke out. I’m not sure when he joined the British Army, but he was commissioned as a lieutenant in June 1915. He was assigned to the Salisbury Plain Royal Field Artillery training facility where he trained men in moving large artillery pieces with horses. In June 1916, he was thrown from a horse, suffered a severe head injury, and was discharged from the army. He rejoined the Royal Field Artillery Service in March 1917, and his unit was sent to the Western Front in October 1917.

Still, he found time to write some fiction and poetry.

This story was published in the January 25, 1918 issue of Canada in Khaki. I looked this magazine up on line. The magazine mainly had articles celebrating Canada in World War I. I suppose this story might have been presented as a true account though it was, in fact, fiction by Hodgson though it features Canadians and set in the North Sea.

Their ship, the Narcissus, is stopped by a German submarine and is boarded. The captain understands German and knows, from hearing them talk, the Germans plan on using the vessel to get into the middle of a British Battle Squadron and unleash a bunch of torpedoes, and the crew will be shot once the squadron is sighted. (Information has been provided to the Germans by a traitor who voyaged to Hartlepool and sold his information to German agents in Holland.)

There is a gunfight, and the Canadians retake their vessels when the bulk of the Germans go after some sailors who have “escaped” (actually a diversion), and some Canadians die.

Hodgson also uses an element from his “The Mystery of the Missing Ship” in having the repair of a cylinder cover be a major plot point. Another similarity to that earlier story is that the sub is sunk when it looks like all is lost though, this time, by an Allied sub. The captains of both stories even say they regard their rescue at the last minute as miracles.

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