British Origins – World War I When the U-boats were at their worst in World War I, the British Admiralty approved and authorized the conversion of merchant vessels to heavily armed raiders which would have her guns disguised or concealed in such a way that the merchant vessels might serve as decoys which would encourage U-boats to attack them. Then, provided the disguised merchant vessel had been given sufficient buoyancy, so that one or two torpedoes would be unable to sink her, the disguise was to be thrown off, the guns brought to bear, the U-boat sunk. The entire effectiveness of the enterprise depended on the successful use of surprise, and once the U-boats were aware of the ruse, the chances of success were so greatly reduced that only a few ingenious Commanding Officers were able to conduct Q-ship campaigns throughout the remainder of World War I with any distinction. American Q-Ships – World War II USS Atik - A Bad Start Along with her sister USS Asterion, USS Atik was the very first of the American Q-Ships. They were former cargo ships of 3,209 tons, 318 feet in length, and were armed with four 4-inch-fifty calibre guns, four .50 calibre machine guns, six single depth charge throwers and a miscellaneous collection of small arms. Their holds were packed with pulpwood to ensure maximum floatability in the event of a torpedo strike. Again, the hope was that on sighting a lone, lumbering, seemingly defenceless ship, a U-Boat commander would decide to surface and attack with its deck gun, rather than wasting valuable torpedoes unnecessarily. However, three days into its first cruise as a Q-Ship, the Atik was attacked and sunk by a U-Boat. The Q-Ship had attracted the attention of U-123, on her second war patrol off the eastern seaboard. The U-boat, on the surface, began stalking Atik at 1700, and at 1937 fired one torpedo from 700 yards away which struck the ship on her port side, under the bridge. Fire broke out immediately, and the ship began to assume a slight list. As U-123 proceeded around under her victim's stern, her captain, Kapitänleutnant Hardegen, noted one boat being lowered on the starboard side and men abandoning ship. U-123 Crew Posing With the Deck Gun Because such attacks were a regular occurrences at this time and because all available surface craft were on patrol the emergency radio dispatch from Atik produced no immediate action. The Duty Officer in the Control Room had not been informed as to the secret nature of Atik, and consequently his only action was to forward the dispatch to Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet. But Atik was not out of the fight. After U-123 turned to starboard, Atik gathered steerage way, paralleling her course by turning to starboard as well, and dropped her concealment, commencing fire from her main and secondary batteries. The first shell dropped short of the U-boat, as she made off presenting a small target; the others were off in deflection. A hail of .50-caliber machine gun fire, though, ricocheted around the U-boat's decks as she bent on speed to escape the trap into which Hardegen had fallen. One bullet mortally wounded a midshipman standing watch on U-123's bridge. Gradually, the U-boat pulled out of range behind the cover of a smoke screen emitted by her straining diesels, and her captain assessed the damage. As he later recorded, "We had been incredibly lucky." U-123 submerged and again approached her opponent. At 2129, the U-boat shot a torpedo into Atik's machinery spaces. Satisfied that this blow would be fatal, U-123 stood off and watched as Atik settled by the bow, her single screw now out of the water. U-123 Attacking a Merchant Ship Once again, Atik 's crew could be seen embarking in her boats, as their ship clung stubbornly to the surface. U-123 surfaced at 2227, confident that Atik was no longer a threat, and continued to watch until 2250 when a cataclysmic explosion blew Atik to pieces. Ten minutes later, U-123 buried her only casualty -- the midshipmen killed by Atik's machine gun fire. Atik 's entire crew perished -- either in the blast or during the severe gale that blew up soon after the ship disintegrated.