The Royal Navy's "Montreal Boats"
In October of 1914, shortly after the Great War broke out, the British Admiralty secretly asked Charles M. Schwab, founder and president of Bethlehem Steel, to pop over to London for a conference. Now the outbreak of the war had greatly profited Bethlehem, as orders from Britain and France rolled in, so Schwab quietly crossed the pond, to see what the Brits had in mind.
In London, Schwab met with Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and other senior officials of the Royal Navy. They asked him if he could build 20 submarines for the fleet. Now while the sale of guns and ammunition by a neutral to a belligerent during wartime was legal under international law, selling warships was not. Nevertheless, seeing an opportunity too good to pass up, after a brief consultation about technical matters with some of his managers back home, Schwab willingly accepted the deal He agreed to deliver the first boats within six months.
Alas, soon after Schwab got back to the U.S., word of the deal was revealed to the press by the Germans, who apparently had a spy in the Admiralty. Pacifist Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan called Schwab to Washington, and on December 2nd, informing him that building submarines for Britain was a violation of American neutrality, told him to cancel the deal. Schwab was non-committal. He certainly didn’t want to lose such a lucrative contract, but how to get around the limitations of the law?
Well, he had an idea; suppose the boats were built in prefabricated sections in the U.S., and assembled elsewhere? A quick trip to Canada revealed that the Vickers shipyard in Montreal would be able to do the final assembly. Two days after Bryan read Schwab the riot act, Schwab got on the phone to the Secretary and announced that he ''would not build submarines for any belligerent country for delivery during the war.'' And the very next day he sailed for Britain, to secure permission from the Admiralty and Vickers Limited for use of the Montreal yard.
In London, Schwab encountered an irate Winston Churchill, who had just heard that Bryan had nixed the submarine deal. When Churchill finished his tirade, Schwab explained how the deal could still go through. Aftrer Churchill held a quick consultation with Admiral of Fleet Lord Jackie Fisher, Schwab was told, “start back at once and take the yard.''
Back in New York by the end of the month, Schwab announced that the sub deal had been cancelled. Naturally the Germans knew otherwise, and Ambassador Johann von Bernstorff promptly protested to Secretary Bryan. When the Secretary inquired as to what the heck Schwab was up to, he was told that Bethlehem was manufacturing certain types of goods for sale to Canada, which was perfectly legal since the items in question would require considerable additional work before they could be turned into submarines. Amazingly, that seems to have satisfied the Secretary, and the deal went through.
Production began on January 15th, the first boat was completed in May, the tenth in July, and the last of the 20 in September, a remarkable achievement. But Schwab had tried to cut too many corners, by building ten of the boats in Fore River, Massachusetts, thinking that he could complete them except for armament before transferring them to Canada. That did violate the neutrality guidelines, and the State Department impounded the vessels. They were delivered to the Royal Navy after the U.S. entered World War I, and the British surprisingly agreed to keep to the terms of the contract. As a result, Schwab made $4 million in profits and bonuses.
Officially known to the Royal Navy as the “H” Class, Schwab’s submarines were informally known in the service as the “Montreal Boats.”
Not surprisingly, soon after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Schwab was appointed “czar” of the nation’s wartime emergency shipbuilding program.
Scipio Africanus and the Pirates
After many years of public service, in 185 B.C., having come out on the losing side in the convoluted familial politics of the Roman Republic, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (236–183 B.C.), victor over Hannibal, retired to a villa at Liternum, on the coast of Campania, about 20 miles north of Naples.
It was a pleasant spot, well watered and fruitful, and the great general could invest his energies in managing the estate.
Then, one day, several pirate ships were seen approaching off the coast. Assuming the pirates intended no good, Scipio promptly made preparations to deal with them. He put his household into a state of defense, fortifying the villa and arming his retainers, among whom were a number of old soldiers who had attached themselves to his service, as well as some of the local citizens and even his slaves.
What happened next was quite unexpected.
When the pirate captains landed on the nearby beach, they immediately sent their boats and men back to their ships. They then ostentatiously deposited their arms on the shore and approached Scipio’s villa in a dignified, even suppliant manner. At the front gate a spokesman for the pirates declared that they had come to pay their respects to the great commander, considering it an honor to met someone so favored by the gods.
Seeing them disarmed, and outnumbered, Scipio ordered the pirates admitted. The men paid homage to the household deities, greeted Scipio with great emotion, some even kissing his hand, and presented expensive gifts.
After a brief visit, during which they exchanged pleasantries with Scipio, the pirates returned to their ships, declaring how fortunate they had been to meet so great a man.