WAR IN SPAIN: Submerged Pirates

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In recent months at least 25 ships of British registry have been attacked in the Mediterranean, numerous Russian ships have been sunk, French merchantmen have been fired on. Last week the British destroyer Havock was also on Mediterranean patrol, off Alicante. Shooting past her went the long white wake of a submarine torpedo. Out crackled a message for help and whooshing overboard went a cylindrical depth charge, then another and another till seven had geysered salt water up into the air. The destroyer Hasty zipped at 38 knots to the rescue of her sister ship, but by the time she got there the surface of the sea was iridescent with oil. The mystery submarine had apparently been sunk. Two days later the British tanker Woodford was sunk by two torpedoes fired at point-blank range from a submarine whose identifying number had been crudely painted out.

The Woodford and Havock incidents apparently were the last straw. Backed to the hilt by France, two long and secret meetings were held in Downing Street attended by key Cabinet Ministers, whereupon came the announcement:

A meeting of twelve nations* will be called this week to discuss piracy in the Mediterranean, and action to be undertaken to suppress it.

A full meeting of the British Cabinet, unusual for the summer, will be held this week to discuss the Mediterranean and Chinese crises.

Still more British warships will be ordered to full-time duty in the Mediterranean to protect British shipping.

Of the twelve submarines in the Spanish Navy at the beginning of the present war,' Francisco Franco controls but two, could not possibly be responsible for all the "pirate" attacks in the Mediterranean in recent months. Germany at present is anxious to stay in Britain's good graces. Almost every foreign observer agreed last week that the pirate submarines must be Italian, based at Majorca, Genoa and Sicily.

In June with the failure of the Rightist offensive against Madrid, Leftist officials predicted that one of the next moves of the Franco government and its foreign supporters would be unrestricted submarine warfare to prevent oil, munitions, food, reaching Leftist Spain. Privately last week many of them were admitting that this campaign was being uncomfortably successful.

Not for love of Spain, but fearful of their own communications in the Mediterranean, Britain and France were ready to act last week, though hoping always to avoid an open break with Italy. France, knowing Benito Mussolini's hatred of the very sound of Geneva, maneuvered to have the twelve power piracy conference held at Nyon, one of the few towns in Switzerland that has not yet profited from the crowded hotels of an international conference.

Britain as usual was ready with a plan:

1) Submarines of both Rightist and Leftist Spain to be placed under international observers.

2) All the twelve nations at the Nyon conference to register their submarines and withdraw from definite trade routes in the Mediterranean.

3) International protection for merchant ships sticking to these trade routes.

4) Concerted international action against any submarines, ships or airplanes attacking merchant men in the protected areas.

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