Ein Geleitzug - June 7, 1915
---- Dawn, bridge of Moltke, NNW of Shetlands, course 310, speed 22 knots
The bridge and upperworks of all the ships in the force were filled with anxious lookouts. Literally, anyone with binoculars, telescopes, or field glasses were scanning the horizon. The next few hours began the first of several tests. Hanzik, himself with his binoculars pressed hard against his eyebrows, knew that he was on a cusp. He was almost sure of getting through no matter what. The RN could hardly have force enough to challenge him out here. The larger success of the mission, however, depended a great deal on continued stealth. The longer they remained undetected, the greater the impacts they could have. Also, there was the specter of re-coaling ahead. The next half-dozen hours would be crucial, he thought.
Luck, if that was what it was, appeared to be favoring him. So far. There was no threatening smoke plume anywhere on the fast extending horizon. There really should not have been, he had kept telling himself, so far out of any normal shipping lanes were they. Bad luck, though, or chance could do anything. The force gradually spread out for day steaming, and still no contacts appeared. After a happily-uneventful half-hour, Hanzik felt himself begin to relax.
"Signals Officer, hoist 280."
Hanzik knew his orders by heart, but he got them back out again anyway, as the flags went up the hoist. The plotted position reflected that they had traversed about 800 miles since entering the North Sea. Over at the chart table, he began to review options, contingencies. He measured his dividers at 22 knots for 12 hours and considered the arc it made ahead of him. Then, considering that, at this latitude in mid-June, the light would last much longer, he drew another arc for 16 hours. He nodded his head; now, if only his luck would hold. So many places contained the phrase "at your discretion" - he just hoped there'd be no reason to use most of them.
"Sir, all have acknowledged."
As the orders were called out, he continued to study the charts. His options were many, at the moment. Any sighting to the south or southwest, however, would likely drive them further north.
"Captain Stang," Hanzik called over his shoulder. "Would you get fuel state reports from the rest of the squadron, please."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Hanzik continued to study the charts for the Icelandic coast, the Griceland coast, and the Denmark Strait. Stang could hear the admiral's dividers clicking on the charts as the captain looked out to sea and waited for the fuel reports.
They were approaching the outer roads. Captain Schnell watched the many ships sort themselves out or get out of their way. Only part of his mind was on the current matter, as his XO was more than competent to the coming in-harbor maneuvering. Schnell had his eyes on the entrance of the bridge that the Baron had been using. Ah! Letters finally reappeared.
"Admiral, we're coming into more congested waters. Request we slow to 8 knots."
"Very well, captain. You may slow and maneuver at your discretion."
"Thank you, sir. Signals Officer, hoist 8 knots."
As the flags went up the hoist, Schnell turned to the Baron.
"Sir, any other orders?" It was as close to a plea for information as Schnell could manage politely.
"No, Captain Schnell. Now, we can only wait. It is in Admiral Hanzik's hands, now, and the hands of Fate."
Well, thought Captain Ehrhart, the excitement was over, for now. Such as it was.
He looked over at Regensburg, and saw that Captain Wolferein was staring back at him. Ehrhart did not recognize the other's XO, though his youth was obvious. Gott, Ehrhart thought, we're expanding too quickly. The casualties and new construction were thinning out the experience level too fast.
Looking over Regensburg, Ehrhart could almost empathize with her. The dents and hasty patches were evidence of hard use with too little time to recover. No casualties this time, though, he thought. Damn, but he'd be glad when this war was over.
The first indication that Fate was making her entrance came just as CDR Bavaria was again considering likely lunch menus 4,000 yards aft.
"Sir, signals from Imperator!"
Bavaria did not think it was a lunch invitation, though he smiled ruefully at the thought.
"Imperator is relaying from Salamis. Salamis reports a propulsion casualty and is slowing."
Salamis was third in line of the Geleitzug, but Imperator's great height made her well placed for flag relay from the others astern of her.
"Sir, Moltke has acknowledged."
"Admiral to the bridge!"
"Signals Officer," said Captain Stang, as they waited, "to Imperator for relay to Salamis: Interrogative best speed.' "
The flags went up, snapping in the wind.
"Report," ordered Hanzik as he entered the bridge a few moments later.
"Sir, Salamis has reported a propulsion casualty. I've asked her best speed. No reply yet."
"Gut," replied Hanzik, though this development was nothing of the sort.
"Flags, to von der Tann: Assume lead.' "
Hanzik chewed at his lower lip as he waited.
"Admiral, von der Tann acknowledges."
"Very well. Captain Stang, pull us out of formation, take us about 500 yards to port, and go to slow. Match speed with Salamis as she draws abeam."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Since the report did not say she had stopped, Hanzik was assuming she
had simply slowed. As Moltke came left, he began to question his
assumption but said nothing.
---- 12:25 PM, Promenade, Imperator, course 280, speed 22 knots
"This had better be important!" Hadi thundered at the man groveling before him. "This is making me miss a meal." Actually, Hadi had finished one main course already, but the point was a heartfelt one all the same.
"Lord of the Desert, look at Salamis. She has slowed! Already she falls behind."
"Hah! When did this happen?" Yes, a gap was growing, though the other ship still showed plenty of coal smoke. Hadi did not at all care if Salamis sunk. In fact, he would welcome that development. Salamis slowed, however, was another matter. The rigid Germans would doubtless slow them all for the worthless Greeks.
"And my Lord, look at the lead ship. She has slowed, as well. See, she is nearly abeam this vessel even now."
"Yes, yes. When did she slow?"
"Great Lord, be merciful! I am not sure. But Lord, wait! It could not have been but a hand or two of minutes after Salamis cried out her troubles."
Of course, thought Hadi, and he lowered his hand. Our dear Admiral Hanzik is dropping back to find out what has happened. He gazed down at the battlecruiser. It was an unusual perspective. He was well above the warship's bridge and could clearly make out the men there all staring astern at the stricken vessel. It was as though he were on a flying carpet, staring down on them all.
"You did well," Hadi admitted gruffly. It was a delightful view. Yes, as from a flying carpet, just as Scheherazade would have told it. Far better than being up in one of those infernal air machines. He cast a quick glance skyward and spat noisily over the rail.
The servant sagged in relief.
"Go now to the kitchen," Hadi ordered, his eyes fixed on the ongoing drama. "Bring me my dessert. One of each, in fact." After all, there was no reason to hunger while he watched.
"Wait! Bring me that deck chair. Then go."
Yes, thought Hadi as he settled into the cushions, sea travel was wonderful.
"Commodore! Signals from Moltke." The flagship was about 14,000 yards off their northern sternquarter.
Von Hoban tried to read the flags, but the younger eyes higher up were quicker. They also had telescopes, von Hoban told himself.
"Join Moltke. Sir, the same signal is being relayed to von der Tann."
"Very well, Captain Westfeldt ...."
"Ja," replied Westfeldt. "Helm, right 3 degrees rudder, come to course 330."
"Sir, my rudder is coming right ...."
"Signals Officer," called von Hoban. He gave orders to readjust the screen to cover the hole their departure was creating.
Captain Dirk looked again at the diminishing hulls. The four knot differential had already put the others something like 15,000 yards ahead. Doubtless his expression reflected his concern. His countenance, though, hardly matched the woe on CDR Bavaria's, as the seasoned, nobleman gourmet watched several grand dining rooms steaming away from him.
Salamis, one shaft trailing, was 2,000 yards astern. The report was that the failed feed pump was only one of her woes. That engineering problems would slow Salamis came as no surprise to anyone. She had not, after all, had more than a cursory shakedown period and no at-sea time at all. They might be able to fix the pump, they had claimed, but there were many other problems aboard her. High shaft bearing temperatures, repeated boiler difficulties, steam leaks, vacuum leaks, vibrating pumps, stuck valves, and other hardware items had plagued her from about 100 miles into the North Sea. Without the shipyard workers aboard her, she might have had to slow, or turn back, or scuttle long before now. The pump was only the latest problem, but it was one whose repair could not be attempted underway. In fact, she'd need time at anchor.
Von Hoban, 6,000 yards to the SW of Bavaria's grumbling tummy, was regretting any wishes he might ever have had for an independent command. He had one now. He had command of von der Tann and Rostock, with both tied to an 18 knot (assuming Fate did not strike again) hulk.
"Commodore," said Captain Westfeldt, "we've run the plot several times. We should rejoin them before noon."
"At this speed," Westfeldt amended, after a moment. And, he continued silently, assuming no storm, fog, Brit, or any of a host of other things.
"Ja," von Hoban replied. "Each hour we fall 15 minutes further behind."
Yes, thought the commodore, though Hanzik will have to slow a bit before dawn, pick the spot, and anchor. That means they would be four knots faster for about 15 or 16 hours. With decent light all the way in, however, von Hoban's force would have to slow less. However, they would have to find Hanzik.
"Captain, your views, bitte."
"Perhaps we could make a dog leg here. Come north a point or two, then turn west near dusk."
Was this the same man, wondered Westfeldt, who had kept jumping into meatgrinders all day long just a week ago?
"Sir, flags going up on Rostock."
What, wondered Captain Dirk, does our new commanding officer want now?
"Sir, new course, 315."
"Very well, acknowledge."
"Cautious," CDR Bavaria commented. " Very cautious, this von Hoban. The commodore has apparently wants a little more distance from the northern entrance to the strait."
"Not a bad thing," replied Dirk.
"Sir, Rostock has given the execute."
"Very well," Dirk answered. "Helm right 2 degrees rudder, come to course 315."
"Not a bad thing, indeed," Dirk repeated, as the battlecruiser gently altered to the NW course. "It is one thing to bash ahead at 22 knots with a full squadron, and it's quite another for just the two of us stuck at 18 leashed to that."
Bavaria growled in agreement, though it might have been just his stomach.