helm laid hard on the stern

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Mr Bones

Senior Member
España - Español
Hello, everybody.

I'm reading an article about the attack on Scapa Flow in WWII. A German submarine is trying to get into a small bay to carry out an attack and has to avoid some sunken ships which are there as protection. The following passage contains one line I don't understand:

Next to Kirk Sound, things had very nearly gone wrong. Prien [this is the captain] passed the blockship Soriano at a distance of only 15 metres.The tidal flow forced the submarine against Soriano, and just at that moment the captain spotted an anchor chain in front of them. The helm laid hard on the stern, but too late. With a screaming sound, the hull hit the seabed and the submarine became stuck.


Could someone explain to me the meaning of the sentence in bold?

Thanks a million,

Mr Bones
 
  • Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    The helm laid hard on the stern,
    The "helm" here refers to the helmsman, who steered the submarine. The stern is the back of the vessel and where the rudder is located. He tried to make a sudden and hard, or significant, turn but there wasn't enough time. I'll let someone else explain what exactly he might have done.
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Thank you, Barque.

    I hadn't understood that "helm" was the person, I thought it was just the object. Apart from that, your explanation si more or less what I got (a sudden movement to avoid the anchor), but I can't understand what this movement consists of, especially what "laid on the stern" means.

    Thank you very much.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    I believe it means the helmsman tried to use or operate the rudder to turn the stern (the back of the vessel) one way, so that the submarine would point in the other direction, and so get the submarine past the anchor chain. The term "laid on" here means, roughly, "operated (the rudder/turning mechanism)".
     
    Last edited:

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Thank you, Bark.

    The source is a magazine called Bringing History to life. Special Operations

    It is Danish, but published in English, and translated from Danish into English by English native speakers (supposedly). I also find this sentence really strange.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you. It seems to be a mistranslation. An attempt to prevent a collision could be to "go hard astern". That is, to reverse the rotation of the propellers at high power to slow the boat down and stop. At the same time the helmsman could "put (or lay) the helm hard over". I don't know how a U-boat's engines were controlled, but I doubt they were controlled by the helmsman.

    From Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
    'Lay the helm hard over! Make full astern!'
    That is, of course, also a translation.
     
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