Seward Johnson and the Submarine Chaser
Seward Johnson, 1928
I received a comment on my last post from Todd Woofenden, who’s the editor of a fascinating website, The Sub Chaser Archives, which details the stories and history of U.S. sub chasers in World War I. Sub chasers were heavily armed wooden hulled boats that were built to hunt down the German U-boats, or submarines, that dominated the seas and caused heavy losses to shipping and merchant convoys carrying supplies. Given the destructive effectiveness of the U-boats, this was dangerous work.
I had mentioned in my last post that Robert Wood Johnson’s younger brother, John Seward Johnson, was on a sub chaser during World War I. In fact, he was the second in command on Submarine Chaser 255 when he was 21. Here’s a photo of the subchaser Seward Johnson served on, courtesy of The Subchaser Archives. According to the Subchaser Archives, these boats had two commanding officers and typically had around 22 crewmen. Here's a photo from 1917 of sub chasers under construction at the New York Navy Yard, which gives an idea of their size...which, according to the Archives, was 110 feet.
Here’s a quote from Seward Johnson about his sub chaser days from a 1969 Company publication in our archives:
“ ‘Our orders were to bottle up German and Austrian submarines that were making disastrous forays on our shipping in the Mediterranean. This is where my experience with signaling helped me considerably as a commanding officer. As soon as the flagship broke out their signal flags, I was the first in the fleet to understand the message. I would break out my answer immediately, before any other vessel.’ ” [Johnson & Johnson Bulletin, in-house publication, April, 1969, pp. 2-3.]