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Part 151
PART 1: June 6, 1915 – Somewhere in the North Sea  

---- Dawn, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 340, speed 20 knots

"We're missing a wonderful parade, captain," Baron Letters commented.

"Yes, admiral," replied Captain Schnell, "but she is so beautiful. I would not have missed this for any parade. The others are, er, interesting, as well. Well worth the trip, even if we have to turn back."

Both men had their glasses trained to starboard.

"Well," said the Baron finally, "it should not come to that. Absent monumentally bad luck, this should be the easy part. Harder by far will be the second part."

Schnell nodded in agreement, but could not escape his real concerns. A week ago, Konig had been on his bow, and 14 dreadnoughts had been astern. Today, his was the van ship, and astern was only Konig Albert, Helgoland, Posen, and Rheinland. By his own reckoning, the British could have twice that number of dreadnoughts at sea right now, just over the horizon. And a horde of torpedo craft, he added, all manned by those crazy beserkers of theirs.

---- Dawn + 1 hour, bridge of Moltke, course 340, speed 15 knots

"Admiral," reported Captain Stang, "the lookouts have confirmed that the smoke astern is from the Baron's battle squadron."

"Very well," replied Admiral Hanzik. He cast his glance around his new command. Again, he had six ships, but they were a far cry from his "Fighting Frau"s. Aboard all of them, drums and large crates were stacked and lashed down, littering the decks and lending them all a gross, distinctively non-regulation appearance. There were many fewer crates already, but the ships still were showing a lot less freeboard than usual. At least with the baron's force now in sight, his risks were lower, maybe. I wanted a fighting command, he thought once again, but Gott in Himmel, I do not want to fight right now! I never expected anything like this, Hanzik thought again. If it hadn't been the Baron himself ....

---- Dawn + 1 hour, bridge of von der Tann, course 340, speed 15 knots

"Well, XO," said Captain Dirk, "the Baron's coming out party is coming up over the horizon at us, pretty much right on time."

"Yes, sir," said Commander Bavaria, his binoculars trying to pick out details of the overtaking vessels. A part of Bavaria was wishing he were on one of the ships that was with the Baron. He licked his lips at the notion, and hid a sigh.

"Captain, the Engineer reports that the belt is still submerged, and should remain so for about another two watches at this speed."

“Very well," replied Dirk. Wonderful, essentially no belt armor for most of the entire damn day. Just wonderful.

---- Dawn + 1 hour, bridge of Rostock, course 340, speed 15 knots

Mein Gott, but he felt naked out here, thought Commodore von Hoban, the permanent-by-order-of-the-Kaiser Commodore von Hoban, that is.

Von Hoban reviewed again the heights from which he had "fallen." Just a week ago, he had commanded the main body screen from his flagship, Blucher. His command had also included six light cruisers and 33 torpedo boats, but its numbers had sunk all day such that he had returned to port with only three CLs and 16 TBs. Literally, less than half of his original 40 ships had still been in formation when they had returned to Wilhelmshaven. The only consolation was that Blucher, Stettin, Wiesbaden, and eight of the TBs had staggered back to port, crippled, and might be available again in some months.

Now, he was again a screen force commander, but his "command" was just four CLs. "Think of the adventure," the baron had suggested to him, as he'd given him an encouraging slap on the back. "Adventure!"

"Sir, Engineer says he's ready to strike another pair down below."

"Very well," replied Captain Westfeldt. He said nothing about the man's filthy attire. All below the bridge itself were little cleaner. Even the uniforms up in the lookout areas showed blotches and smudges. Someone was going to come up with a great nickname for this endeavor, once they got time to draw breath. That, however, would not be anytime soon.

"My compliments to the Engineer," added Westfeldt, "but he should clear the forward mount next."

“The forward mount. Aye, aye, sir." The sweat-soaked, blackened petty officer ducked back out of sight.

---- Dawn + 1 hour, bridge of Kolberg, course 340, speed 15 knots

"Captain," reported LCDR Dahm as he climbed up onto the bridge, "all secure. One of the drums had come adrift. Looks like a tether had become pinched, then frayed."

"Gut," replied the CO, who had feared the banging had been one of over a hundred much more serious threats to his command.

Dahm relaxed in the breeze, luxuriating in the chill it created as it worked its way under his damp clothes and across his sweat-slick skin. The day would grow hot, he knew, and this would be as cool as he'd get.

"XO," said the captain, "check with the Engineer on our draught. I'd like his estimate of when we'll be back within design."

"Aye, aye, sir," replied Dahm. Back down into the hot bowels of the ship, he thought. He hesitated just a moment in the air stream coming off the superstructure at the bottom of the ladder. Really a nice breeze, he thought, as he opened the hatch.

---- Dawn + 1 hour, bridge of Strassburg, course 340, speed 15 knots

"Sir, three on the starboard side are damaged, two of them pretty much crushed."

"Very well," replied Captain Siegmund. "Engineer is not to shift any over from port unless our list exceeds 5 degrees. Engineer is to use the damaged ones first, and then use the same ones on the port side."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Has the leaking drum been identified yet?"

"No, sir. Ensign Schmidt has a working party of eight on it now."

"Very well."

Siegmund hoped they'd find it soon. Pushing the men on the matter risked personnel injury right at the start of a sortie. The drums were lashed down pretty tightly and there was not much room to slither amongst them. He raised his glasses to scan the horizon again. Augsburg was the closest ship, but the growing plumes astern marked the nearing of the rest of the Baron's force.

---- Dawn + 80 minutes, bridge of Frauenlob, course 340, speed 20 knots

"Captain, lookouts have confirmed that the smoke is from the battlecruiser force. Von der Tann and Moltke have been positively identified."

"Very well," replied Captain Ehrhart. "Signals Officer, flags to Grosser Kurfurst, report the confirmation."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Ehrhart cast a quick look astern. His eight TBs were echeloned out to port, per his formation order. He hid a frown. His group comprised half of the screen that the Baron had taken out on the sortie. The admiral had insisted on taking only the largest ones with the greatest range and then had overloaded them with fuel. The 20 knot transit had gone through their reserve quickly. Ehrhart sure had some doubts about this, but he hid those, as well.

---- Dawn + 90 minutes, bridge of Stuttgart, course 340, speed 20 knots

Captain Odalb, in command of the other half of the Baron's screen, had worried all night that the reciprocating engines would fail at this sustained speed. The heavy load and resulting deeper draft made the current speed almost as demanding as his craft's max bell.

"Sir, Engineer reports that the starboard shaft bearing has increased by two degrees since midnight."

They'd worked hard the last week on all their bearings and steam valves. Pulling bearing casings off the shaft bearings and refurbishing them had been the highest of all the priorities. This was still just too much punishment for the design. They simply needed to slow the hell down.

"And the port third stage?"

"Sir, that was up two, but that was an hour ago, sir."

"Very well."

The key words uttered by the Baron, the ones which galvanized that elite audience and swept them along with him during the afternoon session of the Kaiser's briefing, were few and simple. They were: "Sire, we have broken the British blockade, and they are ignorant of that fact!"

--------------------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, page 744

---- June 6, Dawn + 2 hours, bridge of Moltke, course 340, speed 15 knots

Rear-Admiral Hanzik had his binoculars on the tall ships astern. They were a spectacular sight at sea, to his eyes. His mind was numb, though. He was remembering again the Baron's second "Council of Captains." The first had been just after Dogger Bank, and he had not been there, as it had been limited to First Scouting. The second had been a few days ago, and he had definitely been at that one.

There had been several British newspapers spread out on the blackened oak side tables, Hanzik recalled, when the officers had begun to arrive for the meeting. Just how British papers had made it across the Channel in only a couple days, Admiral Hanzik did not know. Though, as he considered the matter now, neutrals would probably have had little trouble using diplomatic pouch for such. He'd been one of the first to arrive, and so had spent some of those minutes looking them over eagerly, mostly translating to himself the lurid headlines. "Disaster at Sea," trumpeted one in huge bold print. "PM to Resign?" shrieked another. The word "Sacked" seemed to be a favorite word, but that did not seem to translate. Must be an idiom, thought Hanzik.

The newly promoted Vice-Admiral Rudburg was at a different side table, having arrived even earlier than Hanzik. Rudburg was looking at two other tabloids whose style appeared to be to employ questions as headlines. On the front of one, in huge black letters was "Ridiculous Fiction?" with the other, "Steward of the Slayed?" His expression was one of disappointment over controlled anger.

"Gentlemen," announced Vice-Admiral Letters a few minutes later, "refreshments are on the sideboard."

A couple captains finished filling their mugs - there were no juniors, aides, or messmen present - and sat down.

"Captain Mueller," the Baron began, "Grand-Admiral Tirpitz has approved. Konig is yours effective immediately. Your proposal to transfer the bulk of Hessen's crew is also approved. You are authorized 500, the others are needed elsewhere. Submit the lists and I'll sign them. Captain, you have 90 days, 120 at the outside; I need her back in the van."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Mueller. "And thank you, sir!"

The Baron nodded back and turned to Rudburg. His brow furrowed at the carefully-neutral look on the new Vice-Admiral's face.

"Vice-Admiral Rudburg," Letters continued, "will not be along on the sortie. As my deputy, he will be in command during my absence. I've gone over the lists with him, the 3-Day, 30-Day, 3-Month Lists, and have made the following decisions. Highest priority goes to making sortie preparations. The next highest priority goes to 30-Day ships. I expect we'll have to fight in three to four weeks and we must have the strongest possible force available. Of the heavily damaged ships, Konig, is to get the highest priority. Admiral Necki? Any update on Kaiser?"

"Yes, sir," answered Admiral Necki. "Bad news, I'm afraid. Unlike Konig, whose engineering compartments escaped any significant damage, the condition of Kaiser's propulsion plant and gearing is much worse than initially thought. For her, 120 days is the best possible case."

"Also," Admiral Rudburg added, "Nassau's internal damage appears worse than expected, and we may end up writing off Deutschland all together."

Hanzik had reported that last bit to Rudburg earlier, but still flinched when he heard it again. There were other battleships, though, so he still had some chance to get back to squadron strength. He loved those old ships, but had hated watching the Line steam away from him. It would be so nice to command something faster. Now, leaning into Moltke's bridge rail, he had to shake his head a bit ruefully. "Must be more careful what I ask for," he thought.

Rudburg had gone over the light ship lists next.

"Basically," Rudburg concluded, "the HSF started the battle with one fast AC and she will not be combat ready again for something like 90 days. In comparison, we faced 8 at the battle, and the British still had 3 or 4 at the end. In light cruisers, we deployed with 10, lost 2, 3 are seriously damaged, and only 1 of the other 4 escaped harm. The British have a large number of CLs and lost just 3 of them. In TBs, we deployed with 53, and ended with 15 undamaged. That the Grand Fleet lost perhaps 30 TBs is immaterial, since their numbers advantage remains so large."

"So, gentlemen," commented the Baron. "In 90 days, we may have most of the HSF ready for battle. That's too long to wait. Admiral Hanzik, the performance of your 3rd Battle Squadron brought you to the attention of the Grand-Admiral Tirpitz and the Kaiser himself. It made you acceptable to the Grand-Admiral for detached command. And that, sir, is what you're going to get."

Hanzik had worried then that he was being packed off to the Baltic. Certainly, he could not envision any purpose in sending his four remaining battleships off somewhere into the North Sea alone.

"I'm giving you Moltke, von der Tann and four light cruisers," the Baron had continued. Hanzik had had to make an effort to keep his mouth from gaping at that. "Detailed orders are being prepared, of course, but you are to use your own judgement in their execution."

Hanzik had been stunned then, and he remained stunned to this very moment, four days later. Flags going up on the distant halyards aft interrupted his reverie.

"Sir," reported the lookout section, "Grosser Kurfurst signals 'Good luck and good hunting.' Sir, they've hoisted 270."

"Very well. Hoist: 'Thank you' and 'See you soon.' " At least I hope we will, he added silently.

"Aye, aye, sir."

Even as Hanzik watched, the flags dipped and Grosser Kurfurst led the "Battle Squadron" - it was one ship fewer than the even the six Hanzik had commanded a week ago - onto their new course. Hanzik felt a bit lonely as the big dreadnoughts began to drop back. His own force's turn was some time in the future. He watched the others approach.

"Signals Officer, 18 knots. As soon as it is acknowledged, execute. Then hoist 22 knots and leave it up on the yards."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Hanzik took one last look at the approaching ships and went back to the chart table.

---- Dawn + 2 hours, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 270, speed 20 knots

"Captain," said the Baron, "I want more sea room. I became entirely too familiar with this coast a week ago."

"Aye, aye, sir," replied Captain Schnell stoically. Schnell had been slow to get used to a flag officer on his ship. Actually, he was not sure he ever would. How had Captain Theodor managed to stand it? He made a note to ask the Derfflinger CO that very question.

It was no wonder to Schnell, at least now, why Theodor had declined becoming just a flagcaptain, even one to a Junkers vice-admiral. Derfflinger had been rendered a yard queen, though, so he'd been left behind. He and Captain Nik were both been livid when they'd realized the Baron's sortie would be too soon for their commands to join. Nik had contained himself well at the Baron's Captains' Council, but Schnell had seem him practically exploding in one side room. The lieutenant, who was with Nik, headed off disaster by quickly closing the door to the room.

"Once they're out of sight," continued Vice-Admiral Baron Letters, "come to 235 and drop to 15 knots. Put Frauenlob and Stuttgart on our distant forequarters. We'll hold that course and speed until about noon, unless something turns up."

Letters stepped away as if to leave the bridge, then stopped and turned back.

"Oh, and captain, I want a tight watch on that wireless for any transmission from Admiral Hanzik. Also, you can report to Wilhelmshaven when we're steady on 235. I'll be in my sea cabin."

"Aye, aye, sir."

In his "sea cabin," thank heavens, thought Captain Schnell.

---- 11:15 AM, bridge of Birmingham, course 180, speed 12 knots

"Sir, smoke, bearing 130."

There should not be anything there, the bridge officers realized.

"Helm," ordered Captain Dull, "come to course 130."

"Sir, my rudder is coming left ...."

"Ahead flank, make turns for 21 knots. Engineer, prepare for maximum RPM."

"Ahead flank, 21 knots, aye, aye, sir."

"Signals Officer, report our sighting to Commodore Nott. State that we're proceeding on intercept.

"Sir, Engineer reports ready for maximum flank in five minutes."

Jacobson glanced at the bridge chronometer.

"Very well."

---- 11:30 AM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 235, speed 15 knots

"Captain, lookouts report smoke, bearing 330."

"That is a suspicious bearing!" Captain Ehrhart commented.

"I agree, sir. It's too far abaft the starboard bow to be a merchant."

Too fast. No 8-knot merchant would be showing up on that bearing. That other ship had to be going much faster than any merchant to be spotted first that far off the bow. Well, if the Baron had wanted to find something or to be found by something, it looked like he'd been successful. Now, it only remained to survive the encounter.

"Signals Officer!"

---- 11:50 PM, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 235, speed 15 knots

"Admiral," Captain Schnell reported, as Letters entered the bridge, "Frauenlob is reporting smoke just abaft their starboard beam. The contact appears to be closing the range."

"Very well," replied the Baron. "Your guess?"

"Almost certainly a light cruiser or other patrol craft."

"Yes, I wonder just what force is nearby."

Schnell forbore to comment.

"It is of no matter (machts nichts)," Letters decided. "There is far too little to gain and we're too far from home." The Baron was tempted, Schnell realized with a slight shock, as the silence lengthened.

"Captain, bring us to 150 and increase speed to 18 knots. In ten minutes, go to 20 knots."

"Aye, aye, sir."

---- Noon Meal, Officers' Mess, von der Tann

Commander Bavaria stared around the spartan compartment and the even more spartan fare. Just 4,000 yards astern, he knew full well that things were quite different. He glumly looked into his mug, and mostly hid a sigh.

He was right. Very, very right.

---- Noon Meal, Imperator, Captain's Table, 4,000 yards astern of CDR Bavaria

Now, THIS was the way to go to sea, thought Hadi Pasha. He had a wonderful suite - two, in fact - with his own servants, the ride was swift and smooth, and the dining room was sumptuously appointed. Yes, Hadi thought again, taking another sip of something that was too good to be alcoholic - he was sure of it! Yes, THIS was more like it. No leprous British curs barking their gray muzzles at him. He refrained from spitting on his host's plush carpets, though they were not the equal of the Glories of Islam. No, the only noise was from brightly uniformed musicians. Just as it SHOULD be, Hadi now realized, though the music seemed a bit flaccid. Perhaps it was the absence of dancing girls. He started to glance again up table at the almost-veiled figure.

Ah! His attention had been rewarded! Hadi was delightfully diverted by the sight of the liveried waiters bearing another course. He decided to put off the further development of his music criticism in favor of additional Epicurean studies.

Why, there was even mystery! Who, for example, WAS that striking and exotic woman deep in conversation up near the head of the table with the man who, Hadi seemed to recall, claimed that he owned the entire ship? As Hadi daintily dumped another platter onto his plate, he cast another furtive look towards her. Her dark shawl had, so far, kept even her hair color hidden. Was it red? Hadi could not escape the feeling that he had encountered her before. His two shipboard chance encounters with her, though, had not been auspicious. Between the maneuverings and posturings of his servants and the piratical entourage she seemed to favor, there had been time for only a quick exchange of nods.

If there was any aspect that troubled Hadi, it was that there were so many Greeks aboard. Hadi Pasha did not trust them. He knew that most of them were on that curious ship of theirs, but there were still too many Greeks running around. Scurrilous creatures, all of them. He had taken to keeping only his largest servants with him as he strolled the decks, and to keeping his hand always decorously upon his jeweled pommel, even as he lavished them with his broadest smiles. He could not understand their language, but he was sure they would understand the Arm of Islam!

---- 1:24 PM, bridge of Birmingham, course 130, speed 26 knots

"Sir, lookouts report the smoke is from heavier ships. Dreadnoughts, sir, no doubt about it! At least four, and maybe more."

"Range?" Captain Dull inquired.

"About 25,000 yards, maybe a bit more."

"Signals Officer, to Commodore Nott: 'Have sighted dreadnought force, division strength or greater. Am maintaining contact.' Add the course, speed, and position."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The High Seas Fleet back at sea again? Had they not been hurt bad after all? It simply could not be so! Dull, himself, had seen some of the hits on those grim ships. Yet, the reports would have had him believe the Germans could not sortie more than one or two and, yet here they were, in division strength or better.

---- 2:00 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 335, speed 22 knots

"Sir, lookouts report another smoke plume on the horizon. They think it's a merchant."

"Very, well," replied Captain Siegmund. "Signals Officer, flag the report to Commodore von Hoban, on Rostock. Add that we're altering away."

"Helm, 2 degrees ...."

---- 2:30 PM, Imperator, Grand Ballroom, course and speed (Hadi does not care)

"Sire," said the abjectly kneeling man, "this worthless slave has only been able to learn part of what you demanded."

"Speak," said Hadi, belching contentedly and reaching for another fig. He looked around; one was SUPPOSED to show appreciation of the host's cuisine. As for the insulting looks he'd gotten at lunch, well, he should not expect this lot to understand proper politeness. No matter.

"Sire, I hid in the passageway as you instructed and overheard part of one conversation before those dogs pushed me away, may the lice of camels ... "

"Yes, yes, go on."

"They called her 'Countess' and showed her great respect. Indeed, they were in fear of her, O Lord of the Sun, but they spoke in some strange dialect that I could not understand."

"You could not understand English? You ..."

"Oh no! Be merciful to me, your worthless slave! It was not English. I swear it! Nor German! Not even Italian!"

"Greek?" Hadi felt his anger begin to grow. "Could it have been Greek?"

"No, O Lord of the Desert, may your camels multiply forever! I swear it!"

"Hmmm, anything else?"

"Yes, Great Lord, they called her 'Marina.' "

--- 2:45 PM, bridge of Rostock, course (changing), speed 22 knots

"Commodore," reported Captain Westfeldt, "the fuel consumption is actually running a bit under our projections. We should still have some reserves at our stop."

"Excellent! Extrapolating at the deeper drafts contained many guesses. Glad am I to see that they were conservative ones. We must keep good records, though, for later."

"Aye, sir." A week ago, Westfeldt would have resented that last remark by von Hoban. Steaming headlong into overwhelming odds with a man - and winning! - had changed things a lot.

---- 3:00 PM, bridge of Kolberg, course (changing) speed 22 knots

"Sir, lookouts have lost the contact."

"Very well. Helm, rudder amidships."

"Captain," commented LCDR Dahm, "that was probably another merchant. And probably British."

"Yes," agreed the captain, "but our orders are to avoid contact if at all possible until we leave Iceland."

"Aye, aye, sir," agreed Dahm. "Coaling from her is going to be a bitch. Sure glad we tried it for a couple hours that last night in port, but we could have benefited from a lot more. But the men understand: time and spies."

"Indeed," replied the CO, "and prizes would be nice, but the last thing we need is a bunch of those crazy Britishers chasing after us before we're done."

They both looked for a moment at the strange vessel 15,000 yards away that was almost one thing and almost another, and which had almost been left to decay to neither. Even at that distance, her silhouette troubled a seaman's eye. The forward two-thirds and more, well, that was okay. It was that last third or less that offended. The crates on the stern helped conceal the minor mutilations she'd suffered, but they were heaped too high to let her lines flow. And, of course, the stumpy cranes were an abomination. They would welcome both at Iceland.

---- Dawn, Scapa Flow

Captain Smith, USN, had known something was up long before he could see into the harbor. The shriek of multiple steam whistles and the heavy pall of smoke both had been obvious as he made his way out of the boarding house in which he had quartered himself. Now, as he made his way down the cobblestoned street, he could clearly see that the harbor was in a paroxysm of preparation for a sortie. He paused to count smoke plumes.

"Two squadrons and one flotilla are already underway, and have reached the outer roads," commented a voice on his left.

Smith nearly jumped out of his shoes, so rapt was he in picking out which dreadnoughts were trying to get up steam. It was, of course, Captain Loureiro. Smith had agreed to meet the Brazilian attache at this corner, known to both as providing a decent vantage. The other had his binoculars focused on the distant shapes whose wakes seemed to flicker in the first bit of light. If he had noticed Smith's startlement, he made no sign of it.

"Well, we'd better pick up our feet, then," Smith said.

The other looked down quickly at the slick and grimy stones. His brow furrowed briefly and he turned quizzically to the American.

"Our invitations authorize us to go aboard Warspite at first light, to look her over," observed Smith. "Do they not?"

The British had leapt at anything resembling an opportunity to shore up their potential allies' belief in continued RN naval superiority. So, when Smith had voiced a desire to see the Grand Fleet's newest and most powerful addition, he and Loureiro instantly had found themselves invited aboard her. J[ellic]oe's aides had gotten their principal to sign passes to that effect with little delay.

For Smith, it had been a wonderful gambit, since he could use it also to delay further finishing his battle report to Washington. His preliminary notes had only whetted the appetite of the USN hierarchy. He was getting pressure to transmit his report, but this excursion could buy him a day or so more extension.

"Even now?" Loureiro asked, gesturing at the beehive below.

"Especially now! We need to get there and aboard her before anyone high enough shows up who could tell us 'No.' "

The Brazilian shrugged his shoulders and the officers walked briskly down to the piers.

"I saw Queen Elizabeth's sailors already taking up the after gangway," Smith stated as they were striding down to the water. "Marlborough has steam mostly up as well, as did Agincourt. Did you see any others?"

"I was looking mostly at the ships already underway. I think I saw a plume over Vanguard, though."

"That's five, then. There should be at least another one or two."

They fell silent as they were directed to identify themselves again by sentries.

"Captain Smith, United States Navy, and Captain Loureiro, from the Brazilian Embassy, reporting aboard as directed by these passes signed by Admiral J[ellic]oe." Both uniformed officers had opened their light cloaks to show themselves as they approached the officer's gangway. As Smith spoke, they held up their documents in the growing light. "Permission to come aboard?"

There was a tense moment and Smith thought they were about to be refused after all, but it turned out only to be the time needed by the harried quarterdeck to secure the right number of sideboys. It was as easy as that.

Oh, no, of course they did not mean to make things difficult! Yes, they understood that there were other duties ... could they just get a look at the wondrous oil-fired propulsion plant? Well, of course they could, and an eager engineering JO was soon showing them down the scuttles. Loureiro, whose principal interest had been on the 15" turrets, and not the propulsion plants went along stolidly. Smith commented, at one platform, that the deeper they were in the ship, the better chance they'd have to remain. Nonetheless, Smith kept expecting Captain Swafford, the Warspite CO, to show up to usher them politely the hell off his ship, but it did not happen. Admiral J[ellic]oe's signature had gotten them on, that signature and their shoulder boards had gotten them below, and the Warspite CO's preoccupation may have allowed them to stay.

Captain Swafford's absence was explained a few minutes later by a shrill whistles, saluting the arrival of the Grand Fleet Commanding Admiral. Nuts, thought Smith, sure that now they'd get sent off for sure. Bad luck, he thought, as J[ellic]oe would be most unimpressed by his own signature.

---- Dawn + 2 hours, bridge of Warspite, underway, approaching outer markers

It was a sheepish pair of non-RN captains that found themselves face-to-face with Admiral J[ellic]oe.

"Well, captains," said J[ellic]oe in a cool voice. "You seem to have chosen a most unusual time for an engineering tour. We may well be facing battle today."

"Yes, sir," both captains replied, standing at respectful attention. They were on his ship, after all, on his bridge. Yet, thought the born Yankee in Smith, J[ellic]oe had damn well signed those passes. The worst he could do was to put them both off on a pilot boat or something.

"Well, what's done's done, and I seem to recall you were aboard a week ago, at that. Very well."

Smith translated that to mean mostly that the British admiral had no intention of slowing down for anything, anything at all.

The Grand Fleet commander eyed them hard, as if to caution them to stay out of the way, nodded brusquely, and turned back to his business. Wait! Had there been a faint twinkle in the admiral's eyes?! Smith realized with much chagrin that J[ellic]oe had known all along that they were aboard. A strange and subtle man, thought Smith, ruefully.

"Sir, we're clear and Hercules is approaching the turn."

Hercules! Smith thought - that was six. He looked around to see if there were others.

"Very well. Signals Officer, hoist 20 knots."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Lourreiro nodded at another hull. It was Colossus. Smith counted them again. Somehow, J[ellic]oe had gotten seven dreadnoughts out of Scapa Flow and into the North Sea just two hours after dawn. But why?

"Sir, all ships have acknowledged."

"Very well. Execute."

"Ahead flank", ordered Captain Swafford. "Make turns for 20 knots."

"Admiral, to you from First Sea Lord: 'Am expediting Harwich Force, per your request. Good hunting. Churchill.' "

"Very well."

---- 10:00 AM, bridge of Queen Elizabeth, course 150, speed 20 knots

Captain Dave had his eyes on Warspite. She looked powerful and deadly. Quite trim, actually, and she rode well. Just like his command, he felt with a bit of satisfaction. He chafed a bit, though, since both of them could go a couple knots faster than this.

"Captain?" CDR Moyer, the XO, had come onto the bridge.

"All's well below," reported Moyer. " Six hours at 20 knots and the engines still purr like big cats."

"Is that what Gates said?"

"His words exactly."

"You know," continued Moyer, "it's too bad Warspite and us couldn't just operate together. The two of us could be another 25 - 30,000 yards to the SE by now."

"Agree. Perhaps the Admiralty will consider it when we have three or four in service.'

Dave paused to nod to CDR Boy as he joined them.

"I suspect the Admiralty won't let us operate away from the main body with just the two of us for fear of running into the four or five battlecruisers the Germans have. They're faster than we are and it's clear they shoot well and can take punishment."

"Ah, the two of us against five battlecruisers!" Boy sighed in pleasant thought. "Now that'd be a bonny fight, indeed! But, they've nae felt the weight of OUR metal, captain! Nay, m'beauties would send them packing in short order; I'd lay odds to it! Though pretty Warspite may no shoot ae well."

"Yes," commented Moyer, after working out a translation of sorts. "It's true they've had precious little work up time."

"Well," noted Dave, "no few ships have fired a lot of shells and torpedoes into those battlecruisers, apparently without much effect. If you read the press, you'd think those damn ships were invulnerable or something."

---- 10:30 AM, Warspite starboard wingbridge, course 150, speed 20 knots

"Apparently," reported Captain Loureiro, "the British picked up some RF transmissions during the night that suggested the Germans were sending a force into the North Sea."

"Ah, so that's why ... ," began Smith.

"Yes, it seems to have started rumors of all kinds!"

"Such as?"

"For one thing, that the claims of damage to the HSF were grossly inflated."

"I can see that," Smith commented. "After the battlecruisers they claimed to have sunk at Dogger Bank showed up to sink Sturdee."

"Yes, and to slaughter the Grand Fleet screen and even pound on the van! They almost crossed their T!" Loureiro added.

"Maybe it's only light cruisers," said Smith, "a patrol or sweep."

---- 10:45 AM, bridge of Agincourt, course 150, speed 20 knots

"I sure hope it's not just light cruisers," said Captain Hawke.


"It's nothing, XO. Well, it is, actually. This is our chance to avenge ourselves! We MUST not let them get away. The Huns will see just seven ships, but between the two 15" superdreadnoughts, Marlborough, our seven turrets, and the others we could handle anything they're likely to have at sea. I'm sure of it! The Queen and Warspite would outrange them handily, and we've got enough firepower for two dreadnoughts!"

"Yes, sir," the other answered, but added, "and the armor of only half a dreadnought." But he added the last part only silently to himself.

---- Noon, bridge of Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

"Admiral, contact report from Commodore Nott. Birmingham has sighted smoke, bearing SSE. Sir, I'm plotting it now."

"Very well," J[ellic]oe replied and he moved to the chart table.

Smith and Loureiro edged unobtrusively to distant points with some sort of line of sight. They could see that the potential German force was well to the SSE.

"Admiral, confirmation on the Harwich Force. They slipped their moorings at 10:15 and passed the outer markers at 11:00."

"Very well."

---- 1:50 PM, bridge of Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

"Admiral, Commodore Nott reports the following: 'Have sighted dreadnought force, division strength or greater. Am maintaining contact.' I'm plotting the position now."

As the words sunk in, Smith thought to feel the tiniest vibration in the air, from shock. Almost as if someone had tapped a small tuning fork.

"Very well."

Omigod, though Smith. They could be steaming right at eight or more German dreadnoughts! Add in those damn battlecrusiers, and it could be 2 -1 against them! Smith sensed more than heard Loureiro exhale a low comment. Perhaps the Brazilian interpreted the emotion in the air differently, because Smith would have sworn the attache had uttered the word "melancholy."

---- 3:00 PM, bridge of Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

"Admiral, Commodore Nott reports that Birmingham remains in distant contact with the German force. Enemy screen forces, numbering at least two flotillas, have prevented them from closing. The enemy remains on course and appears to be maintaining 18 - 20 knots."

"They must have left the Deutschlands in port this time, admiral," commented Swafford.

"Yes, very well," said J[ellic]oe.

Several heads atop heavily braided uniforms came perilously close to collision over Warspite's chart table.

"Admiral, if they maintain that course and anything like 20 knots, we're not going to catch them."

"Thank you, captain."

Swafford hid his grimace, but not very well. Once again he had stubbed his toe with a superior officer. This time he had stated the obvious, the unwelcome obvious. He stared at the charts so as to keep his face hidden. It would be a moment or two before he trusted himself to J[ellic]oe's scrutiny. With his past encounters with the powers of the Admiralty, the last thing he needed was to needle J[eelic[oe, however innocently it may have been. In trying to divert himself, he gave the enemy's plotted track some study. Something bothered him about it, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He looked up and stepped away, back to the bridge rail.

--- 3:30 PM, bridge of Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

Swafford was back at the chart table, for the third time in the last half-hour.
He had realized just now what had been teasing at him. The Germans had first been reported on a SSE heading; it was as simple as that. Where the bloody hell had they been? But the real puzzle was that the times did not match up, or at least they sure did not seem to. If J[ellic]oe were not there looking over his shoulder, he'd've asked his navigator to check his calculations. No, he realized after a few more minutes, his math was right. The HSF could have done it, maybe, barely. Hmmm, what exactly would they have had to do.

Swafford put the dividers' points onto the outfall from the German egress point and walked them carefully up to a point somewhat north of their first reported location. Hmmm, somewhat over 200 miles total, call it 215. Okay, he concluded, yes, they could have done it after all. That is, if the Germans had maintained 18 knots starting from a little before midnight and kept it up all night long until nearly noon, then turned around and went back south again just as they were sighted. He scratched his thinning hair absently. If this was a classroom exercise, it'd be labeled ridiculous! He put down the dividers and went back to the rail, feeling the eyes of J[ellic]oe or his staff following him. Even that bloody American interloper seemed to be staring at him.

He put his binoculars to his face and scanned the empty waves all around. Admiral Burney, aboard Marlborough had been silent all day, ever since forming up his four-ship division off Warspite's starboard bow. Wonder what he is thinking? Why would the Germans make such a risky sortie? After all, they were spotted even north of last week's battle site! Colossus and Vanguard remained astern, in tight formation, he noted looking aft. This sortie by the Germans would cause a great uproar in Britain, especially once the HSF was "allowed to get away," as they most clearly were going to do. But was that sufficient reason for the Germans to risk their few remaining seaworthy dreadnoughts so far away from port? If they'd had many, they'd be out offering battle, not running away. It was so unlike the Germans, though the Germans had been making a habit lately of behaving completely unlike any Germans Swafford had ever heard of.

What if the Germans had been sighted well AFTER they had turned back? He lowered his glasses, almost in shock at the thought. He went back to the chart. He drew mental circles on the chart to the north and northeast of the first sightings. Make it 20 knots and 13 hours, he postulated and put his right index finger tip at those points. There was nothing up there. Nothing at all!

"Captain," asked Admiral J[ellic]oe, coolly, "is there something the matter?"

"No, sir. I was just checking the plot again." Swafford moved away from the chart table. The plot was clear and he had no conclusions worth mentioning. He kept his mouth discreetly shut.

"Very well."

jim (Letterstime)

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