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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 12, 1915 - Questions of Identity - Part III

---- 4:15 PM, Bermuda

"Commander," Yeoman Butler very nearly burst into the office, "Val's Tract has sighted Imperator! They're engaging."

"Imperator? The runner! Of course! Where is she? And what's the time on that?" The commander was already out of his seat and approaching the map.

Butler read out the location and time.

"Just off the Delaware Bay. Of course," he repeated, this time pointing, " trying for the HAPAG terminal there, no doubt."

He stared at the map. If a German spy had been in the room, perhaps he could have deduced the patrol patterns from the map's many perforations, but only Butler was there, peering past the officer's shoulder. Both men looked over the various pins that marked ships who might potentially become involved.

"Need to tell the admiral," the commander said after a moment. "Go check for a followup, if you would. Oh, and make sure Jamaica has acknowledged receipt. If you can't be sure, see that it's resent from here."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The two men left at a good clip in different directions.

---- 4:15 PM, Imperator, Promenade

"Master, they say that the British dogs cannot catch us now."

"Hmmph," grunted Hadi unmollified. That gun going off had bothered him. He'd become much more nervous around guns after his adventures of two weeks ago. The clenching and unclenching of his fists at his sides were serious warning signals to his servants.

"Lord," the boldest offered in attempted appeasement, "only one is trying to follow, and they do not seem to have the speed of this vessel."

Hadi continued to stare suspiciously back at the threatening, but dwindling forms just below the horizon. The servants looked amongst themselves, each hoping another would find the words to soothe their master.

"Ah, Captain Hadi," came a melodious voice from behind them. "It's my pleasure to see you again."

It was the man Ballin, who was said to own the ship. Hadi was furious that the other had managed to come upon him without warning, but he smiled and bowed, shallowly. His servants winced.

"Greetings to you, as well," Hadi replied. He gestured to the southwest and the British curs. "They bar our way?" Hadi asked.

"This is a mighty steed we ride, sir." Ballin's pride was genuine. "Very few ships could hope to catch her on the open sea. Few indeed, on this side of the Atlantic. We are safe. Indeed, I expect we will be docked before dawn again breaks."

Hadi glanced pointedly at the ships in their distant wake.

"Ah," said Ballin with a smile, concealing his concern with long practice. "There are many ports along this coast. We need only find one opening." This Spring, he had begun to despair that his fine ships would remained mired in ports, moldering to ruins, until this unending war was done. The Baron had gotten them back to sea and offered him some real hope. Ballin had everything riding on this throw of the dice. There was no way, however, he was going to try to explain all that to this would-be potentate.

Ballin continued to stand there. Hadi's servants feared for when he would leave.

---- 5:00 PM, Bermuda

"So," the admiral commented as he and the commander stared at the great map on the wall. "It's a runner, after all, and Imperator, at that! That explains all the smoke, I suppose. And I'd've put good money on her being Kronprinz Wilhelm, out to raid again. Just goes to show I should stay away from the tracks, eh what?"

"Yes, sir," the commander agreed in reflex, but was appalled instantly by how that sounded. He searched for a quick recovery. "But, sir," he essayed after just a moment, "couldn't she herself have been converted into an armed merchant cruiser?"

"Yes, well, ah-hmmm, that's certainly possible, I suppose." The admiral, who had begun to frown, appeared mollified by the possibility. "We'll know soon enough, I expect."

"Yes, sir. I just ...."

There was a noise in the outer office area. The two men turned to face the entry port.

"That sounds like Yeoman Butler, sir. I sent him after an update. He may have news. May I ... ?"

"Yes, yes, of course, by all means. I am as eager as you, commander."

The young rating came into the office, message pad extended. His eyes were bright with excitement.

"Yeoman Butler, sir, begging your pardon. This just came over. There're two of them, sir!"

---- 5:15 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 330, speed 23 knots

A few minutes before, Captain Siegmund had had to order a few more RPM when it had become clear that Imperator was beginning to reach on them. Ballin, but more likely the Brit gun, he thought wryly, seemed to have further motivated the stokers.

The North American coast extended increasingly out into the Atlantic, generally followed a NE line in this area so, together with their new course, they were quickly approaching US territorial waters. All they needed was an hour or so more, he thought. Or rain, he added to himself, or fog, or anything at all. There were heavy clouds far to the west, but the horizon was clear beneath them. All the clouds were doing were giving them a bit of shade.

"Sir, from Imperator, new contact. Well to the east, sir, like the others." The shade, if anything, served to increase visibility to the west, warding off as it did the potential glare from the sun, beginning to get lower on the horizon. It would not set soon enough, however, as something like three more hours of daylight remained.

"Heavy traffic, sir," commented Captain Siegmund. "That's the third in the last 15 minutes."

"Yes," agreed von Hoban, after a moment. "The benefits of peace. And one we sorely miss." Could it be this easy? Commodore von Hoban did not think so. "The contact that I'll worry about will be more on our bow," he added.

---- 5:15 PM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 340, speed 18 knots

Captain Randolph Moore had had to remain content just with keeping the plume in sight. His turn to bring all his guns to bear had had the effect of opening the range much faster than expected. Instead of engaging on what surely would have been terms advantageous to the Hun, however, they had turned away at about the 20,000 yard mark and used their four knot speed advantage to avoid battle. Even the huge liner had gone hull down in under an hour.

Perhaps he'd been a bit slow to turn to pursue, but he'd fully expected to be fighting not to go down under the guns of that cruiser --- a cruiser who had seemed to appear right out of thin air, a product of some sorcerous act! There were still several hours before dusk, so perhaps not all was lost.

"What's the current range estimate?" Moore asked.

"Sir, the plot shows it as 35,000 yards, but it could be more."

"Yes," said his XO, agreeing with the Navigator. "The two of them are putting out a huge column of smoke. Poor coal, or I miss my guess."

"We'll keep them in sight a bit longer, that's certain. Send another update," Moore ordered.

"Aye, aye, sir."

---- 5:30 PM, Bermuda

"Commander, have there been any new sightings?"

"No, sir. Not yet, but all our ships in the area have acknowledged."

"Have we word from Vice-Admiral Patey?"

"No, sir. Butler did confirm that Sydney had acknowledged, though."

"Yes, well, the admiral is probably ashore. So, we have a runner AND a raider. I have no doubt what their game is now. They may slip through, but the Huns can hardly expect to get Imperator, or any of the others back out through the blockade from this direction. Cruiser or no cruiser!"

"Yes, sir."

"So, commander. This so-called escort makes a United States port, the Hun captain flogs The Hague around, refuels, and goes a-raiding with full bunkers, leaving the liner to rot in port with the rest of them!"

"It makes perfect sense, sir."

"Well, we've things to be about. First, alert Melbourne. They're to make ready to sail. They'll have their orders within the hour.

"Aye, aye, sir!"

---- 5:30 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 330, speed 23 knots

"Sir, from Imperator, new contact, bearing 350."

"Very well," Siegmund acknowledged.

The captain and the commodore looked at each other. Von Hoban's words of just 15 minutes before still echoed in their ears.

The next couple minutes seemed to pass with excruciating sloth.

"Sir, contact is a warship on a southerly heading."


"Signals! Hoist 270."

"Sir, Imperator acknowledges."


Captain Siegmund, put us 500 yards off her starboard bow." Whoever this new enemy was, Strassburg's presence could hardly be a secret now.

"Aye, aye, sir." A warship? Not another armed merchant cruiser? Captain Siegmund hoped the civilian lookouts aboard Imperator had gotten it wrong.

---- 5:40 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 270, speed 23 knots

"She's on an intercept course, sir."

"Yes, her captain must have known our position, course, and speed well before sighting us, and then anticipated our turn."

"She's slower. Several knots slower!" Siegmund turned to his navigator. "Get me a speed estimate on her!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

Commodore von Hoban went to the other rail, to look south. Strassburg had turned just after Imperator and had not yet worked their way up along her hull. Thus, von Hoban still had a line of sight back along their former track. Those other AMCs were still back there, or at least one was by the smoke. The single plume, vice two, was no surprise. If the two AMCs had closed up to better face Strassburg, as he expected, then one plume would be all he would likely see at this range. He turned his attention towards the coast. There were no signs ahead, but that could change at any moment. The damn British seemed to be conjuring up ships out of every wave.

"Sir! We have her. She's a Diadem class protected cruiser."

"A ‘protected cruiser'?" Siegmund said aloud. "That must be Niobe, Canadian, she was in the mission package. She's got, what, 6-inch guns?"

"Yes, sir. Sixteen 6-inch, range about 16,000 yards."

That was, they knew, about 1,500 - 2,000 yards more than their own recently-installed guns could reach, given their 20 degree elevation limit. Sixteen, Strassburg had seven.

Von Hoban had rejoined them and had his binoculars on the distant ship angling in on their starboard bow. "The Diadems were originally rated at 21 knots. I wonder what she can do now."

---- 5:45 PM, bridge of Niobe, course 225, speed 16.7 knots

"Do we have that cruiser identified yet, XO?"

"No, sir. We can't seem to find her in The Book. She looks something like a Magdeburg or Karlsruhe, but that's not a match."


"Sir, she's got four stacks all right, but the superstructures are too full. And, sir, the guns are wrong."

"Let me see."

"Yes, sir. Look. There. And there. And on the stern, none of them have a gun that far aft."

"I see, quite right, that. Who is she, then? A new class?"

"Also, both those classes have 4.1's. Those are bigger, sir. They look like 5.9 inchers to me."

"What the devil ship is that, then? Well, no matter. Whoever she is, she's a Hun. And we'll be able to try a ranging shot in just a few minutes if they hold that course."

---- 6:00 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 270, speed 23 knots

Von Hoban realized that they were committed now. His ships were driving at maximum speed through what he hoped was a gap in the British blockade between the Delaware Bay (the approaches to Philadelphia) and the southern approaches to the great harbor of New York City. His last glance to the south, before Imperator's bulk had obscured his line of sight, was that the AMCs they'd left behind were still in pursuit. Should he jog back to the south towards them? They were both likely faster than the old protected cruiser that barred their path north. Engaging the ones to the south would also force Strassburg either to split her fire or to give one Brit uncontested target practice.

"Sir, we're getting a blink from the NW. A lighthouse, sir."

"Do you have a position?"

Could they be that close to the territorial waters already? He wished he had Captain Westfeldt with him. Westfeldt had grown up near the great lighthouse outside Rostock. He'd probably know how far that put them off the coast.

"Sir we're getting another! To the SW."

But what lighthouses were they?!


"Sir! Niobe has opened fire!"

A jet jumped out of the sea, short. About 800 yards short. Niobe was not yet at the closest point she'd make. He needed to change course to something like 240 or more. Otherwise, Niobe would get in several salvos before they slipped past, assuming they were not slowed. Even 240 would probably expose them somewhat.

Maybe he should swerve toward Niobe and distract her?

"Sir! New contact, bearing 235!"

This was not from Imperator, but his own lookout section. He jerked around, feeling like a marionette with twisted strings.

"Range to new contact?" Siegmund demanded.

New splashes arose 500 yards short.

"Navigator," demanded von Hoban. "Where the hell are we? What's our position?"

"Sir, from Imperator. Light cruiser sighted on bearing 240."

A light cruiser!

"Sir, range to new contact 20,000 yards."

There was no avoiding this one.

Splashes shot out of the water just 200 yards away. He needed to buy time.

"Signals, to Imperator: ‘Course 240, Immediate.' "

"Captain, come to 240, maximum speed."

They would take this Britisher head on, no matter what ship she was. There was no choice!

"Aye, aye, sir!"

---- 6:30 PM, bridge of Niobe, course 225, speed 16.7 knots

"Sir, she's broken off!"

They watched, in total surprise, as the still-unidentified German light cruiser dashed across the massive wake of the big liner to the unengaged side. This took her out of range, but it left the runner to their mercy. She would be at extreme range in moments.

Never would he have imagined it. Never had he thought the Germans to be such cowards. He hated to do it, but the great and beautiful ship was the enemy.

"Shift targets."

The guns spoke again, after a brief pause.

"Short 300 yards," came the report.

---- 6:40 PM, Imperator, Promenade

Captain Hadi did not know what to think. From his lofty vantage, he could see the scrofulous British dogs to the south, and another to the north. He'd fully expected the German cruiser to make quick work of the enemy, or at least to occupy their attention and draw their fire. What were they doing? What were they thinking?! Allah be merciful! The dogs were now shooting at HIM!

Suddenly, he lurched against the rail. The big ship's wake curved slightly behind them.

"Lord! Another warship! Ahead, sir!"


The splashes began again to draw near.

---- 6:45 PM, bridge of Strassburg, course 240, speed 24 knots (increasing)

"Sir, range to target: 16,000 yards."

"Standby, Guns!"


"Commodore, the light to the NW is Barneget." I think, he added to himself.

"The hell with that! Where are we?"

"Sir, that makes the one to the SW the Absecon Light."

At the expression on von Hoban's face, he hastily continued.

"Sir, best I can tell, the coast is 10 - 15 miles away on bearing 300."

The navigator wanted to ask how could he expected to do better. Here they were, bouncing around at something like 25 knots in strange waters. Hell, he'd almost gone into the scuppers when they crossed Imperator's wake while he was trying to get a bearing line!

Von Hoban wanted to bite the other's head off. They were not ON a 300 course.

"Sir, Imperator's straddled!"

"Range to target 15,000 yards."

"Captain, we've no time to maneuver. Straight at her. Guns and torpedoes."

"Aye, aye, sir! Standby for torpedo attack!"

"Contact has turned, new course appears to be 030."

"She's turned her broadside to us," said Siegmund, "crossing our T."

"Sir, Imperator's been hit!"



"Why haven't they opened fire?"

"Gott in Himmel! Hold your fire! Hold your fire!!"

---- 7:00 PM, bridge of Aylwin (Destroyer No. 47, USN), course 030, speed 20 knots

Captain Leverett had his glasses on the oncoming German cruiser. Her guns were now trained fore-and-aft. He let his breath out in a gush.

"Sir, the British have broken off. They lost the range and pulled up."

Leverett shifted his glasses briefly to the Niobe. She was now on a course due South, as though daring the Germans to retrace their route. His destroyer had been recommissioned just three weeks ago, and this was his first patrol aboard her. If this near-incident was any omen, Aylwin's second commission would be a lot more eventful than her first!

He glanced at the large liner. There was a bit of a fire in her superstructure aft, but she was unslowed, best he could tell. Her bow cast wide white sheets to both sides.

"Very well," Leverett replied. "Signals, to the German cruiser: ‘Interrogative.' "

---- Dawn plus one hour, June 13, 1915, New York harbor

Ballin watched as the tugs took over the task of getting Imperator into her berth. He looked aft at the blackened spots where the two 6" shells had landed. The total casualties were 25. Of the six dead, four were Germans, one was a Greek national, and the last was one of the Irish supporters of the Countess Marina. Among the lightly injured was one of the servants of that odd Ottoman captain, or whatever he called himself.

Well, he thought, the easiest part is done. So much was left to be accomplished.

jim (Letterstime)

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