June 14, 1915 - New York,
New York! - Part II
---- 10 minutes before noon, HAPAG Terminal, New York harbor
Kommodore von Hoban and LT Lionel headed down the gangway to the pier
and the waiting Americans. All around them, the working parties were hard
at recoaling, supervised by a skeleton crew from Strassburg herself.
The rest of Strassburg's complement had remained aboard Imperator
overnight, after the orchestral music, lavish buffet, and brief party.
Sleep, relaxation, and limitless fresh water were theirs, for a day or
so and von Hoban and Siegmund intended to waste neither a drop nor a minute
There were several automobiles, and the American captain waited in front
"Good day, Kommodore, Lieutenant," said the American. Other
uniformed American officers remained just out of introductions' reach.
Enlisted men with immaculate uniforms and white holstered side arms lingered
just beyond the junior officers. The junior officers studied the Germans;
the enlisted men focused their attention outward. The Americans obviously
wanted no incidents, and were taking substantial precautions against any
Captain Siegmund was, arguably, the one most relieved by the actions of
the Americans. He had taken over from his XO about 10 AM, sending the
other off to sleep. Siegmund could still hear von Hoban's words, when
they were with the consular officers.
"Captain," he had said, "truly, I expect no problems with
this meeting. If an accident or anything else occurs, though, I have laid
out our orders on my bunk. If I or we are detained, you are to make no
effort to achieve our release."
That would be the duty of the consulate, Siegmund knew, based on their
meeting. Many press releases had been drafted, dealing with what contingencies
they and the others had come up with. Now, watching the Americans' deference
and security, Siegmund felt a small, but measurable, lessening of tension.
---- Noon, in an American car
LT Lionel tried desperately to appear nonchalant. This was difficult
and his disquiet began as soon as he felt his feet lose contact with Strassburg's
German steel. He was on foreign soil with only a passing command of the
natives' language. Either he had overestimated his command of English,
or Americans just spoke differently from the Britishers. For example,
"h" seemed to replace "r" in many of the American
"Is this your first time to the States?" The American captain
apparently felt a need for conversation. Lionel translated.
"Once before came I to the United States. In Norfolk, Virginia, was
my ship overhauled. But that was before the war, of course."
There were other efforts at small talk, and Lionel felt he'd managed them
well enough. The ritual at the gates to the naval base had been familiar
but different, though his pulse rate had spiked when the armed sentries
had first approached the car. He had hidden his reaction to that, but
his eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets when they emerged from their
car. He had a decent vantage and he could see the full extent of the yards.
They looked to be nearly the equal of Wilhelmshaven and were crammed with
warships under a pall of coal smoke. They had several such yards, he marveled,
with another entire navy on their other coast, just like Russia.
"This way please," said the American. Lionel noted that most
of the gun bearers had stayed with the vehicles.
"Thank you for coming over," the tall American flag officer
said, as they entered his office. The stars on his shoulder boards indicated
that he was a vice-admiral. This was a man of no little importance; Letters
himself held no greater naval rank.
Handshakes were exchanged, along with the normal small talk. After a moment,
they went in to a small conference room in which three other American
officers waited. They stood as the group entered. Lionel was a bit surprised
but grateful that the American captain remained out in the corridor with
his extra "h"s.
"May I present Commander Leverett. In a manner of speaking, you have
already met him."
"Jah," Lionel flushed at his slip, "Kommodore von Hoban
says he recognizes Commander Leverett. Through his binoculars, he saw
"Ah, and this is Colonel Anton, who's in charge of the security forces
guarding your pier." The officer was one of their Naval Marines,
and his sidearm looked like it had seen use. From its size, it might be
one of those "Colt 45" pistols Lionel had heard reference to.
The soldier looked quite formidable to the young German officer; Lionel
concluded that anyone confronting the good colonel would doubtless emerge
"For your efforts, on behalf of my sailors and their families, I
The colonel mostly hid a surprised expression. Did he not, Lionel wondered,
ever consider that Germans had families? Von Hoban had hit the mark there,
"And this is Lieutenant-Commander (LCDR) Houseman, who speaks some
German. I've asked him to sit in, just in case we have some language problems.
I confess that I do not speak it at all. French I can get by in, after
a fashion, but not German."
"Commander, are you from Germany, originally?"
"No, sir. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh," the thickset
American LCDR answered. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My grandparents
were born in Hamburg, though." The question and answer both had been
"Speaks some," like hell, both Germans thought. The man sounded
practically fluent. Well, the consular officer had predicted as much.
This simply meant they had to be more careful than ever. "The Americans
pride themselves on their nation being a melting pot' of nationalities,"
the official had said. "Within a few tens of meters in this city,
I could probably find you men who could speak a total of a dozen languages.
Assume every word you utter will be heard, understood, and reported."
Thinking back to the taciturn pilot, Lionel realized the man had spoken
only the truth.
There was a tiny break as black stewards in white coats made an entrance.
A coffee service was brought in and steaming dark fluids were poured into
cups. Strong it was, and very hot, Lionel discovered, as he burned the
roof of his mouth with his first sip. Across the table, the Americans
were taking great quaffs, apparently their mouths had been seared into
insensibility long ago, he thought. Looking at the stewards as they made
their exit, Lionel wondered if they represented a flaw in the melting
pot' the Americans were so damn proud of.
"Kommodore, the American admiral resumed, "I believe that yours
is the first warship of the Kaiserliche Marine to port in the United States
since the war began. I admit to some confusion over your intentions. I'm
hoping you can dispel some of the concerns that have been brought to me."
"Dispell?" Lionel turned to Houseman, whose forebears almost
certainly had been "Hausmann." If America took so much pride
in being a "melting pot," he wondered, why had they felt it
necessary to change their name?
Houseman explained "dispell."
Lionel nodded seriously. Such small delays had been their backup plan,
but he had been instructed not to overdo it, especially early. Yet, he
honestly had not known how to translate that word.
Von Hoban repeated the same assurances he had made yesterday from the
quarterdeck of Strassburg. The Americans clearly were not satisfied
by von Hoban's words. Looking at the scowl on the American vice-admiral's
face, Lionel would have far preferred being back aboard Strassburg
at that very moment. Preferably out on the high seas, with full bunkers.
"Kommodore, let me be frank," said Stennis.
He wants to start using first names? Lionel looked incredulously at Houseman,
who clarified, with a grin. Already, this was not going well, Lionel realized.
The admiral was using odd words and idioms. Was this deliberate? Was he
actually trying to make them uncomfortable, or to get them to be or act
offended? Just like yesterday, he could feel his underarms and the small
of his back dampening. He thought again of that huge naval yard, and swallowed.
"The British have made a number of serious allegations against your
ships and your intentions, Kommodore," Stennis continued. "I'm
hoping you and me can come to some arrangement on them. To put them to
bed, so to speak."
Lionel got that one without the help of the re-named American with the
"At war we are. They would say anything. What is the difficulty?
Would you like us to make some allegations against them? I am sure my
embassy would be more than pleased to provide you with as many as you
The LCDR's residual smile was erased at that.
"Well, I'm sure they could, but that's not the point. The point is
that I have to deal with these claims. Like I said, yours is the first
German warship we've seen here all war. No German liner has made a crossing
since the war started, either. I've got British ships coming in here every
hour or two."
"Very well, admiral. Tell me of these claims."
"Well, first, the British claim some of their merchants have disappeared.
They say Strassburg may have taken them and that you may be keeping
prisoners out of sight on your cruiser. They want your ship inspected,
"The Hague does not allow prisoners from prizes to be kept in a neutral's
port. Comply with The Hague I said we did. What other claims make the
"Well, there're quite a number, actually," the admiral said.
"The only other one that causes me a real problem, though, is that
the liner you came in with is actually an Armed Merchant Cruiser, with
her guns out of sight. That and that she might have prisoners tucked away
on her, too."
"The British, they have great fantasies. In war, they desire that
you suspect our troth."
" 'Troth'?" This time it was the admiral who looked at Houseman.
To Lionel's delight, the LCDR shrugged in ignorance. Von Hoban coughed,
his hand over his mouth.
"Oath, admiral," spoke up the up-to-now-silent Commander Leverett.
"It's an old English word. It means 'oath'."
"Yes, well, you've cited The Hague 1907 a lot, Kommodore von Hoban.
The United States of America is a neutral in your war and, as such, that
same treaty means we have duties as a neutral power to look into these
sorts of allegations."
Lionel tried not to react, "your war," indeed! Sensing that
von Hoban might want another minute or two, he decided to react after
"Admiral, LCDR Houseman, I beg your indulgence, but what does it
mean, 'your war.' How is it my war?"
The look in the admiral's eye suggested he might have gone too far.
"It's seems plain enough to me, lieutenant," rasped the man
in the golden epaulettes. "Your Germany and some others are at war
with France, Great Britain, and some others. The United States is not
in it. Yet. It's your war, not ours."
"I have a proposal," began von Hoban. Lionel hastily began to
"How about an exchange of courtesy visits? Commander Leverett is
welcome to pay us a visit on Strassburg. He can bring his choice
of other American officers in uniform along. I will direct that they be
given full access to our spaces. In return, could a group of our own officers,
including LT Lionel here, visit Destroyer 47?"
Admiral Stennis nodded briskly. "That works for me," he said.
"A fine and even-handed move. And the liner questions?" The
admiral glanced at Leverett, who, in any event, clearly was in no position
to object. The commander nodded.
"I do not own the Hamburg American Line," von Hoban reflected.
"However, I can recommend to Mr. Ballin that the same delegation
be invited aboard for a meal. I see no problem there. Mr. Ballin is quite
proud of her, actually. I'm sure he would be pleased to give them any
tour they would like."
Stennis agreed, and seemed to be ready to end the meeting.
"Admiral," von Hoban inserted, "I expect we will need to
do these things this afternoon. Our 24 hours expires around 9 PM. We and
our charges will be readying for our departure."
"Oh, yes," agreed the American. "I regret to inform you,
Kommodore von Hoban, that the British have objected to your sailing time."
"Yes, they have several merchants who had already given notice of
their sailing times this morning and afternoon. Your departure has been
delayed until at least 4 PM tomorrow. That's in The Hague, too. They are
to have 24 hours head start."
"I see. Yes, in The Hague it is. I trust there will be no additional
delays. We have given notice, as well."
The American vice-admiral made a polite noise, but no promise.
"This delay. It raises new matters, admiral."
"Earlier I said none of my men would leave the dock. Now, with this
delay, I would like to send a delegation of my officers and crew to the
funeral and burial service of Mr. Constantine Kallikantzari today. When
our departure was imminent, I had declined requests made to us for our
"To attend a funeral?"
"Yes, sir. He died while his well-being was my responsibility and
that of my command. I've lost others in this war of mine,' but his
was the first civilian death. I want to acknowledge our failure and honor
to the dead. That is all now I can do for him. My men think our crossing
was a great success, admiral. But Mr. Constantine Kallikantzari is dead,
and there will be other deaths in the days to come. We have not got our
charges safely beyond the British warships who lie just off your coast
in wait for us and other Germans. The time you grant them to gather will
cost more lives, I fear, Admiral Stennis. I have been to too many funerals,
these last few months. It is my duty to attend, but I find funerals to
be terribly depressing events."
"Like I said, Kommodore von Hoban, it's your war. How many would
you want to be sending?"
"Decimate. One in ten, I would think. Let me say, 25 men. I would
like all departments to be represented. I would welcome some Americans
in uniform to help them find their way."
"Colonel Anton, can you support that?"
"Yes, sir. Should be no problem, sir."
"Very well. Is that it, commodore?"
"No, I fear not. There are still two other matters. First, this delay.
My embassy instructed me to get any such in formal writing, signed by
the cognizant official."
"Well," the admiral replied, "I agree that you are entitled
to that. Fair enough. I'll see that it is delivered to your cruiser this
afternoon. The other?"
"With our stay in your country extended, I owe it to my men to get
them some shore leave. Today they recoal and rest. Tomorrow, before we
leave, I'd like them to get ashore and see some of New York. Perhaps buy
a few things for their families and loved ones. That sort of thing. I'd
keep the numbers to about twice as go to the funeral. The embassy office
here has offered to provide guides."
"Hmmm, I see no basis or reason to object to any of that. Consulate
guides are a good idea, though. New York's a big city." The implication
was that it might not be friendly. At least not to Germans. Or so it sounded
"Yes, they mentioned Macy's."
"Well, they'll certainly be able to find something there, all right.
Now, if that's all?"
It was. Within another 10 minutes, they were back in the car heading for
Strassburg. Lionel could not wait to get back aboard.