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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

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 of it.

There were several automobiles, and the American captain waited in front of them.

"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 such.

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 officer's words.

"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."

"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 him."

"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 wearing lead.

"For your efforts, on behalf of my sailors and their families, I thank you."

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, he decided.

"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 in German.

"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 insufferable smile.

"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 require."

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, thoroughly."

"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 British?"

"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 all.

"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 translate.

"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."

" 'Objected'?"

"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 attendance."

"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 to Lionel.

"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.

jim (Letterstime)

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