Ein Geleitzug - June 8, 1915
"Yes, that's definitely von der Tann," said one LT Lionel to the other.
There were six men crouched on the crest. Two of them were squatting behind tripods, their eyes peering through telescopes. Another pair were scanning the horizon with binoculars. The remaining duo were sitting on crude pads, their cloaks drawn about them. At their feet were signal flags and flare pistols.
"I confirm that," said the other LT Lionel. "Signals, to Moltke: 'three contacts confirmed, von der Tann confirmed.' "
The men sitting down exchanged glances and one of them got up and began to gesture with flags.
Neither Lionel asked how the signalists decided who would make the signal.
Their earlier signal had simply been of approaching smoke plumes, from the NNE. Moltke was the ready ship, and she had begun to bring more boilers on line while they waited.
"June, like hell. That wind is arctic."
"Brother, you're not kidding. Would you rather be back where it was hot? Say, back in Konig with the Britishers using you for target practice?"
"No, not hardly, but it's still cold."
"Sir, Moltke has acknowledged. There are flags going up on her now."
"Very well. Are they for us?"
"Yes, sir. But they're not finished yet. Hans, swing that 'scope around and let me get a good look at her halyards."
LT Lionel (Seydlitz) gazed in the direction of Moltke. All of the ships not with von der Tann were tucked well up the inlet. Even at that distance, he could detect motion as pallets and nets were lifted out of the two big ships and down to the three CLs.
"Sir, Moltke requests an estimate of their rendezvous time."
"Very well. Well, LT Lionel," said one to the other, "what's your guess?"
"They obviously made landfall some distance from here. And they're picking their way along the coast pretty cautiously. I make it an hour before they round the point."
"Looks good to me, then, another, what, 30 minutes to drift up the inlet?"
The LTs Lionel nodded to each other.
"To Moltke: 'estimate rendezvous at noon.' "
"Captain, recoaling complete. We're tying down the last of the crates and drums now."
They had been getting drum pallets and coal nets from both sides, tied up as they were between the two non-combatants. The other CLs had been getting some in their outboard locations, but not nearly at the rate Strassburg had enjoyed.
Captain Siegmund began giving the orders to cast off lines and gently pull out of their spot between Imperator and Kr. Wilhelm. This was not a process that could be hurried. There was enough risk, as it was. Even this far up the inlet, some wave action remained, though the huge bulk of Imperator was a decent breakwater. As they cleared the huge liner's bow, a trace of choppy water could be felt.
"XO, as soon as we're tied up on her other forequarter, we can begin to send the crew over, as soon as you're satisfied." There was still considerable hosing down and other cleanup to do.
"Aye, aye, sir. The men could sure use the rest."
They'd left port almost three days ago. Both men knew that a couple watches bunking out on their make-shift tender would do wonders for easing crew fatigue. Siegmund was not quite sure why his command had been given first priority on refueling, but he was sure Hanzik had a reason. He was not, however, sure he would like it.
"Captain, the signals are for von der Tann to take Strassburg's spot, in between, and us to go shore side of Kr. Wilhelm."
"Very well." Captain Westfeldt glanced over at Commodore von Hoban, but the senior officer remained silent, his attention on Moltke's halyards. Other flags were being hoisted. There were fuel state requests, a shore party request for von der Tann, and a personal one to von Hoban.
"Captain," said von Hoban, "as soon as you're anchored ...."
The signal was for Commodore von Hoban to report to Admiral Hanzik on Moltke at his earliest convenience.
"Aye, aye, sir. XO, make ready the gig."
"Aha, we have a sighting," said LT Lionel (Konig). "At last!"
"We do?" LT Lionel (Seydlitz) responded, looking over abruptly. Save for the laggard German trio, the horizon had been wonderfully empty all day. "Where?"
"Down below, on that switchback we marked."
"Ah! Yes. I make their speed at about two knots."
"Concur," agreed LT Lionel (Konig). "Current estimate of rendezvous is 30 minutes. Should we signal that to Moltke?"
"Wouldn't that torch the admiral!" Unlikely sounds eddied about the barren windswept crags. The enlisted men hid their expressions and somewhat muffled their own amusement.
Junior officers of all nations are pretty much the same. The timeless rule is that JOs most MAKE their own fun. Often, out of the flimsiest of materials.
"They're late," added LT Lionel (Konig).
"Yes, but we underestimated the climb, too."
"Good day, gentlemen."
"Good day," said the newcomers, panting just a bit from the last of their ascent.
The young men had looked each other over during the last several minutes the others had been making their way up the rock slope. They were all LTs, and all had confirmed that fact. Junior officers, in the absence of seniors, enjoy much reduced formality.
"We're off von der Tann. We're your reliefs. Which of you is LT Lionel?"
"We both are."
"Both? And you're both on Moltke?"
"Well, Konig's my permanent ship..."
"And mine's Seydlitz."
"... but neither of them is going anywhere right now and ..."
"And, let me guess," interrupted the lead newcomer. "You're both multi-lingual with extensive small boat experience."
"Yes, correct, and you two are?"
"I'm LT Siegfried, and this my cousin, LT Wilhelm."
"I'm LT Wilhelm, glad to meet you."
The young men shook hands all around. Behind them, the five enlisted men who had been just behind the arriving LTs began to introduce themselves to the four men who had already been there. A couple of the fivesome stared suspiciously at the rough pad that the signalists had fashioned and set in the small recess just below the lip of the crest. Heated from the climb, they did not feel the chill for a few moments. After a minute or so, a small gust of wind tugged at their cloaks and, with small frowns, they drew them tighter about them.
"Our mothers are sisters," said LT Wilhelm. "Sieg's father is captain of Markgraf and mine commands Kronprinz Wilhelm."
"This is turning out to be a real family affair," commented one LT Lionel, as the young men half-listened to their enlisted teams discussing signal protocols and bearing references. There was some pointing and gesturing, but the JOs pretty much ignored the turnover activities behind them.
"Small boat and multi-lingual, eh?"
"Uh-huh," answered LT Siegfried, a trace of surprise in his voice. "Both of us. It's our grandfather's fault. His place is on the Mosel north of Sierck."
The cousins both raised their binoculars and scanned the horizon.
"So, we're all supercargo," said LT Wilhelm, his glasses still raised. "You two on Moltke and the two of us on von der Tann. Damn, it's cold up here!"
"And so," agreed LT Lionel (Konig), "here we are, up on a hill in the middle of near-arctic no where."
"Uh-huh, well," said LT Siegfried, getting a nod from his lead enlisted, "we relieve you."
"We stand relieved. Someone will be up here to relieve you at midnight. Probably us."
"Yes," agreed the other Lionel sadly, "probably us."
The two JOs from von der Tann watched the Moltke team edge down the slope for a few moments. LT Wilhelm turned to his cousin. "Damn, it's cold up here," he said.
"Gentlemen," began Rear-Admiral Hanzik, "as you know, my original intention had been to anchor earlier elsewhere and to up anchor this evening. I decided to change the operations plan. My orders allowed considerable discretion if we remained undetected. We were and are, so I have exercised some of that discretion. After such a successful breakout, I saw no reason to conduct a hasty and partial re-coal, and then force a quick passage through the strait."
Hanzik sipped thirstily from his glass.
"Crew fatigue mounted faster than expected, and coal consumption was slightly less than expected. Those points were suggestive, but Salamis' problems were the deciding factor. With a day or so at anchor here, she may be able to effect repairs and regain 22 knots. Even if she does, however, I can not trust her to be able to maintain it, so I have had to adjust my plans accordingly."
Hanzik asked for recoaling time estimates. Imperator had almost offloaded the excess coal and other stores that had graced her holds and after deck. That would slow the stores transfer rate by over a third. It would be the next afternoon before the last ship, Moltke, would be finished. Von der Tann was to replace Moltke as sentry ship once the smaller BC had re-coaled.
"So, gentlemen," concluded Hanzik. "Finish coaling, keep one set of boilers hot, but stand down the rest. Have your crews make full use of the empty cabins on Kr. Wilhelm. Get some sleep yourselves, and I'll see you all back here at noon."