June 12, 1915 - Part I - Questions
---- 8:00 AM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 75 miles east of Ocean
The captain did not need the map to know where he was. He had, after
all, been here before, many times these last many months. This area was
an exceptionally active one; Baltimore possessed one of the largest natural
harbors in the world. Traffic from that port, together with a variety
of hulls emerging from several rivers with unpronounceable names, could
easily occupy the attentions of several patrollers searching for contraband.
Two, though, were all the Admiralty seemed to be able to spare for the
task. In fact, Val's Tract had been more or less alone on station
since just after dawn; her partner had departed then and was sweeping
Normally, his ship and the other would have remained off the Chesapeake
Bay for another three days or so. However, early yesterday two more AMCs
had left Bermuda, almost a week ahead of schedule, and they would soon
take the southern area of this portion of the picket line off the US East
Coast. Admiral Patey had gotten the wind up over the possibility of a
blockade runner, or even a raider.
"Bloody nonsense," said Captain Randolph Moore aloud to no
one, "or my name's not Nell."
A couple crewmen on the bridge exchanged looks, but made no comment.
"Sir, Niobe's smoke is no longer in sight."
Moore looked to the NE himself, as though he might be able to see Niobe's
smoke whilst his lookouts could not.
"Very well," he replied a moment later.
"Navigator," Moore continued, "we'll turn to follow in
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- Noon, London, outside an office of the Admiralty
"Well, well, look who just washed ashore! It's Mr. Hereford, himself!"
The lieutenant looked up, already smiling, as he recognized the other's
"Hello, yourself, Mr. Castleman, Lord of the Manor!"
"So, Mike, it's flag lieutenant to Grand Fleet, now?"
"Well," the lieutenant replied, "I guess. He just found
out about it a couple days ago, on the way back, in Marseilles. So, there's
no accounting for what'll happen with staff."
That chance remark silenced the both of them, alighting on a fresh wound
as it did.
LT Castleman was the first to break the silence.
"Jackie ran us ragged, he did - 'e was impossible to predict. Bloody
nonsense, mostly," he added not at all convincingly.
"Well, so far, it's been mad."
"It won't get be gettin' any better!"
"Oh, but it must. Surely, it must. France was right out of Wonderland.
Days and nights on a rattletrap train full of Frenchy Tweedle-Dums and
Tweedle-Dees, cold soup at every meal ...."
"I tell you, Geoff, I was never so glad to see a ship as I was to
see Arethusa yesterday! I tell you, I nearly kissed the bosun's mate ...."
This was also a sly allusion to "kissing the gunner's mate."
The two young men shared a brief grin at recollections of shared midshipman
escapades and consequences.
"But you speak French, don't you?" Castleman asked after a
"Certainment, but the Admiral gave me clear instructions not to
let on. 'Not one word,' he said."
"That's what the Boche are going to find out, too."
"That's the spirit!"
"You went to Scapa with Admiral Fisher, didn't you?" He got
an assenting nod. Their smiles disappeared. "How bad is it?"
"It's bad, mate. Not going to play you false on that score. Ships
scattered about in yards all over the bloody place. You should've been
on the Duke, though. We 'r on 'er bridge, whole starboard side of it gone
from a Hun shell, you understand."
The other paused revisiting the scene, his eyes bright. Hereford swallowed,
a side of the bridge "gone."
"There they stood," Castleman continued, "pretty as pie,
Sir Jackie was talking sortieing the Fleet again with Burney and J[ellic]oe
whilst all about yard birds 're singing in the superstructure with hammers
"His Nibs stops his speech, and he never does that. 'Cause in the
wheel, right in the bloody ship's wheel, are two metal hunks as big as
me thumb. 'Leave them right there,' says Sir Jackie, not missing a beat.
'Be a lesson to those that follow us.' "
"Right in the wheel!"
"Aye, and the Huns did come out, just as Winnie said they would,
him knowing this bloke Letters and all. And J[ellic]oe went right out
after 'em, to get some pay back, but the bloody cowards ran right back
into their hidey hole."
"De Robeck wondered about that. I heard him discussing it with Commodore
Tyrwhitt. Neither of them had anticipated anything of the sort."
"Well, Churchill did, and so did Sir Jackie."
"Yes." It went unspoken that both were gone.
"How're the men taking it?" LT Hereford asked cautiously, after
"Low they were at first. Roarin' like lions when we went back out
on the 6th. But, like I said, the Huns would have none of it. For the
last couple days, though, the rags 'been going on about the Red Cross
lists. Now, well, now I don't know."
Across the corridor, the door opened and LT Hereford saw Admiral De Robeck,
and several others, emerge from the closed rooms. He stood up quickly,
Castleman forgotten. He didn't notice any of the others, having eyes only
for his principal.
LT Castleman tried to hide the pang of the loss he suddenly felt. A week
ago, the intent, purposeful countenance of his friend had been a mirror
to his own. No longer.
---- 2:30 PM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 64 miles east of Cape
May, New Jersey
Captain Randolph Moore was staring west. The west-bound American freighter
they had let by two hours ago was one they had seen twice before, on other
deployments. The plumes from two other ships were already visible to the
west, likely having come out of the Delaware Bay. The times were right
for an early morning sailing from Wilmington, Delaware, and several other
embarkation points up along the coasts towards the great port of Philadelphia.
If today were typical, they could expect several additional ships to emerge
from Delaware Bay in the hours ahead that had left from the docks further
upstream during the morning hours.
"Sir, lookouts report another contact, bearing 295. The vessel appears
to be going SSW."
This was routine. Coastal traffic was heavy along the seaboard in this
area. In fact, it was not uncommon to have as many as 10 plumes in sight
at one time all along the broad western arc, as the neutral United States
prospered in its disgusting, isolationist peace with heavy north-south,
intra-national commerce. Minutes before, a plume had left their sight
south-bound that they'd watched for hours as the vessel worked its way
down the coast. They'd never seen the ship, just her smoke. That, too,
was quite common. Admiralty orders were abundantly firm on the matter
so as not to offend the former colonials. The new contact to the NW was
probably on a similar route.
"Very well," Moore replied.
"Sir, lookouts report new smoke on the eastern horizon, bearing
Moore turned to face the newcomer who obviously was on her final leg
of a crossing, like the American freighter a couple hours earlier. At
this point, there was only the faint line threading into the afternoon
sky to betray her.
"Sir, new contact, smoke bearing 240."
This one was probably making her way northward along the coast. It looked
like it was going to be a busy day.
"Sir, the contact that bears 275, appears to be heading in this
---- 2:40 PM, corridor, Admiralty
Admiral De Robeck halted and turned to his flag-lieutenant. They edged
into a small alcove of sorts that was at a bay window that overlooked
nothing more than a shrubbery, best Hereford could tell. A small pedestal
stood in the center of the bit of open space, upon it, in the position
of honor, was the bust of some notable (the lieutenant had not looked
to see just who) staring triumphantly into the hallway.
"Michael, 'tis hard to say how long this lot will carry on, so do
go get a bit to eat, will you."
Hereford began to demur, but the admiral would hear none of it.
"There's no advantage to having you rot out here," De Robeck
said. "And, while you're at it, find out what you can about what
the watcher types have come up with on Letters and Rudburg."
"Aye, aye, sir," said the lieutenant, concealing most of his
"I want to know where they are - the both of them - and where they've
been every day since they last came out."
"Use my name, if you must, but find out all you can. Nothing's too
The junior officer watched as the admiral went through another set of
doors that were not for him. He glanced at the bust, shrugged back at
the empty marble eyes, and went on his way.
---- 2:45 PM, bridge of AMC Val's Tract, 65 miles east of Cape
May, New Jersey
"Sir, she's altered course." The report was in reference to
one of the contacts they had watched working their way down the coast.
"New heading puts her directly into the Bay approaches."
Moore walked across the bridge and looked again at the in-bound contact.
"Any more on the contact on 095?"
"No, sir. She's still hull down."
The navigator drifted over to where the captain was standing. Both officers
had their binoculars up.
"She's showing a lot of smoke. Don't you think, sir?"
"Yes," Moore agreed. The distant plume did seem unusually thick
for the arrival still to be hull down, but Moore was confident that it
was not without precedent. "That Italian ship back in March, I cannot
seem to recall her name. She showed a lot of smoke. At one point, the
lookouts feared she might be on fire."
"Yes, sir. I remember her now. Red trim, peeling badly, green stripe
on her stack. Sparks. Sparks were showering onto her decks."
"Just so." Moore nodded in agreement. "Some ship captains,"
he observed with distaste, "will burn anything, so long as it's cheap."
The smoke continued slowly to grow and the bearing remained steady on
---- 3:00 PM, Admiralty office
"The problem, Mike, is that Letters claims kin to Kaiser Wilhelm
"I've heard that, but how is that a problem?"
"Just like here, mate," the other junior officer said, looking
around. "Rank hath its privileges, and rank goes to the privileged.
Who commands the regiments, eh?"
"Meaning what, you get of a goat?" Hereford retorted, coming
from more than a bit of privilege himself.
"Nice! Been to Egypt, have we? Aide to an admiral, perhaps?"
"Look, Harvey, I don't have to stand for this."
"Maybe you do and maybe you don't. If you don't, though, maybe you
should ask yourself why not."
"Damn your eyes ...."
"Look, Michael," the other lieutenant interrupted in an intense
tone of voice, "I don't begrudge you it, not a whit of it, or anything
at all, for that matter. But you know it's rather hard making any sense
of muddled agent reports and tripe in the foreign press. Damn near impossible,
really. Ignore basic cultural factors like noblisse oblige and privilege,
and there's really no point in it. No point at all."
They met each other's eye. For a moment, it looked as neither would back
up. Then Hereford sighed, breaking the sharp tension, and what had promised
to become a stalemate, or even a confrontation.
"You're right, Harvey. I lost my head, there. I ..."
"No call for that. Not with me, Michael. Never."
Another moment of awkward silence prevailed. This one, though, had no
edge to it.
"Let me continue, then," said the one from humbler roots. "Look
at it this way. Scheer gets the vapors or something, we can't tell when,
by the way. Letters takes command. The Huns win big. So, who gets the
credit? Letters, kin of the Kaiser, that's who."
"Lord in heaven! Do you think?"
"Well, no, actually I don't. The commander does, though. And he'd
be singing it from the altar, too, except for that 'Montrose's Toast'
"The what?" The other explained.
"The problem in interpreting that bit is if Letters was behind it
all from the start, or just took advantage of what Scheer or this Rudburg
"But, what you're saying is that it'd be Letters getting the glory
"Precisely, and Rudburg got Vice. That's two edged, the same. The
Germans themselves, other than the toppers, wouldn't know. No way we could
from across the Channel."
"Indeed. And it makes all the difference in the world, in predicting."
"Yes, no wonder the admiral told me to check on the both of them."
"Yes, he must have seen all this ...." His voice trailed off.
"But, then why don't you?"
"The Dogger Bank business. Hipper bought it. But when? We don't know
that one either. Letters got the garland for that, too."
"But, Harvey! That'd fit, too!"
"Yes, it would. I just don't believe in coincidence. Not ones that
big, at any rate."
"I see the problem."
---- 3:05 PM, bridge of Val's Tract, 66 miles off Cape May, New Jersey
"Sir, the contact on 275 appears to be flying French colors."
"Very well, what's the range?"
"Sir, estimate is 18,000 yards."
The French vessel couldn't be doing 10 knots, Moore thought. He walked
over to the other side of the bridge.
"That's a lot of smoke," said Moore aloud, looking east. There
was no one standing near him.
"Sir! Contact bearing 095 appears to be a liner!"
Moore did not acknowledge. "That's a lot of smoke," he repeated.
His good friend commanding Rollonot, Hawkins, had reported a lot
of smoke ....
"Yes, yes. A 'liner.' Very well." Damnation, he thought, hell
Minutes passed. He continued to stare at the oncoming pillar of smoke.
"Yes, well. Damn me, but that's Patey's runner, or my name's not
Across the bridge, one young man, only recently assigned as messenger
turned to his buddy. "But, his name ain't 'Nell,' is it?"
"Naw, but he's a way of talkin' to 'imself when he gets upset, he
does. It's a quirk of 'is. Callin' 'imself Nell, and others, too."
The messenger would have asked further, but stilled at a glare from the
"Inform the Engineer I'll be ordering All Ahead Flank shortly, I