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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 16, 1915 - New York, New York! - Part V

---- 7:00 PM, Wilhelmshaven

"Good evening, gentlemen," said Letters, to the pair of men waiting for him. His aide remained outside in the dimly lighted corridor with Rudburg's aide.

"Good evening, admiral," both replied. Both were anxious to learn how it had gone at Vulcan.

"Well, I have been away for almost three days," Letters began, as he eased himself into one leather backed chair. "Progress?"

"Ostfreisland will be done early," began Vice-Admiral Karl Johann Rudburg, commander of the HSF Main Body. "I expect her to be back in the water tomorrow. Coaling and stores will be several more days, of course, though we probably could make it quicker if needed."

Like most of the other dreadnoughts, Ostfriesland had offloaded all munitions and other stores. Rudburg really did not want to rush loading the ammo back aboard. Letters did not reply, so he continued, willing to take that as acceptance until ordered otherwise.

"Kronprinz also will rejoin within the week. As will," he paused almost unconsciously, for effect, "Prinzregent Luitpold, it seems."

Letters lifted an eyebrow at that. She had been thought to require almost two months for repairs. It was almost like magic.

"Captain von Heinz has been working like a demon," Rudburg added, "and driving his men and those from the yard hard. I don't know when he sleeps. He's been reported to be at the yard at all hours."

Letters snorted. "If it's something in his diet," the Baron said, "maybe we should all try it. What of Markgraf? Ah, thank you," added Letters to an aide, as a steaming cup was put before him.
"And Kaiserin?"

"Still looks like mid-July or later for both. End of July for Frederich der Grosse." That drew a brisk but resigned nod from Letters.

"Theodor?" Letters sipped at the hot fluid, his eyes shifting to his flagcaptain.

"Seydlitz is almost finished. Nik said he'd have her in the water the day after tomorrow and start getting her loaded immediately. They'll be able to finish what's left while they load. I regret to inform you that my own command is at least a week behind Nik's. The high speed, well, we had some buckling in the flooded areas. A week, maybe, but ten days is more likely."

"I don't know if we have ten days," said the Baron tiredly. "What of the flotillas?"

"I didn't see Captain Ehrhart when I came in," Theodor said. "He may be out there with the others by now."

The three turned their heads as the door opened.

"Good evening," offered Admiral Necki, nodding to the group as he entered. He had a thick folder under one arm.

"Josef," Letters nodded back. The others also responded.

"Baron," said Necki, "there are some cables you need to see."

Previously, this had been flag-level material. As the Baron turned towards him, Theodor realized this set was not going to be an exception.

"Theodor, if you'd check on the others?"

"Sir," agreed Theodor, as he got up to leave.

The first thing he noticed when he opened the door was the stare from the Baron's aide. Once the young man realized it was not his principal who was emerging, he visibly relaxed. The next person he noticed was Captain Nik, just coming in the other side of the conference room. A short staff officer had opened the door for Nik and the Seydlitz CO gave the man an odd look as the other went to close it. What was that about, Theodor wondered. The two BC COs exchanged nods across the room, and then Theodor looked about for Ehrhart.

Captain Schnell (Grosser Kurfurst) was watching bemusedly as Captains Wilhelm (Kronprinz) and Siegfried (Markgraf) were deep in some spirited discussion, each finishing the other's sentences, as was usually the case. Their hands fluttered about like gulls.

"Theodor," said Captain Skorpion (Kaiserin), "I saw the Baron arrive. Any new information?"

"I'm not sure. Necki came in with some new overseas cables, apparently 'Flag Rank Only,' and they sent me out here to do a roll call. I don't see Captain von Kroon (Thuringen)."

"He and Mueller (Konig) are still down at Krupp. Rudburg knows all about it. There seems to be a problem with the availability of 15 cm guns. The CL refits ...."

Both of those dreadnoughts had had several secondaries destroyed at Die Kaiserschlacht.

"... and crew replacements are a problem for almost all of us."

The dreadnought CO's voice was a bit ragged. Nearly 150 of Skorpion's crew had died in the battle, with another few dozen not likely ever to return from the hospitals. Skorpion knew others had suffered far worse, but that did not help him crew his ship any. Not counting the poor devils on the battleship that exploded, Konig, Kaiser, and Frederich der Grosse were the only ones that had suffered more casualties. Theodor once again knew just how kindly fortune had treated him that day, even though Derfflinger had yet to return to the fleet.

"Theodor!" It was Captain von Heinz (Prinzregent Luitpold). His skin seemed pale for one whose life had been so much at sea. Its pallor hinted at long work days spent below decks, urging on the men, and longer nights out searching (and likely scavenging) for needed parts. "Any word on when next we sail?"

The flagcaptain knew little at this point and admitted as much.

"Necki just brought fresh cable traffic, though," Theodor added. " 'Flag Only' stuff. The Baron was delighted at the news of Prinzregent Luitpold, though, I can tell you that."

"Gut. But our opportunity is now," said von Heinz, with great intensity. "Six months is too long. Even three months more may be too much."

"Matthias," said Skorpion, "some are arguing that we must wait until all our damage is made good. That'd be another three months, at least."

"The time is now! Not three months from now! Surely the Baron will not wait so long."

"With Hanzik's force running free in the Atlantic," inserted Theodor, "it sure seems something will happen soon. They've been gone, what, ten days now? We know Strassburg and Imperator are in New York, but that's it. Have you seen Captain Ehrhart?"

The three looked about.

"Nein, said von Heinz, and Skorpion shook his head. "I wonder what's keeping him?"

"Excuse me," said Theodor, as he walked away. "Joachim?"

"Yes?" Captain Wolferein replied, turning from his position facing out the window.

"Have you seen Captain Ehrhart?"

"No," replied Regensburg's CO. "But I do know that he spent the afternoon going over Stettin with a yard official."

"Yes," added Captain Odalb (Stuttgart) who had joined them, "that's correct. I spoke to him as he left her. He said he was on his way to look in on Jeff Lantz, at the hospital, and brief him before coming."

"Ah, that may explain ...."

"Gentlemen," came the familiar voice from behind him. The three flag officers had emerged from whatever the closed-doors conference had been about.

"Affairs in America may be coming to a head," announced Letters. "The time for decisions approaches. Senior American officials have arranged a clever opportunity to look over our emissaries and interview them. We know our options close by, and they have improved markedly, thanks to Captain von Heinz getting his ship ready ahead of all schedule. However," Letters added with a frown, "until the rest of First Scouting is ready, I've been reluctant to approach the Grand-Admiral for another sortie."

Letters looked about, then found Theodor's eyes. His flagcaptain just shook his head slightly to indicate Ehrhart's absence. The Baron hid his frown this time, and gestured to an aide. The young officer came forward with rolled up charts.

"The operations plan and orders," Letters continued, "that I gave Admiral Hanzik had many options, based upon his level of success in evading detection. The arrival of Strassburg with Imperator ahead of schedule in America, in New York, well, it is not what I most expected. It means that Hanzik remained undetected until they re-coaled, but that he did not think he could make a full crossing undetected. For some reason. I don't know what it is, but the British still seem not to know he is at sea. His present position is not known, even to the Grand-Admiral." The Baron paused, and the others could well imagine certain closed doors meeting had not been easy for the HSF CO. Theodor, who had witnessed the June 1st confrontation on the pier between Letters and Tirpitz, swallowed hard at the thought.

"Based on information from our embassy in America, I think it likely that Strassburg will be sent out tomorrow, or the 18th. The embassy will make every effort to contact Admiral Hanzik by wireless at that time."

Heinz nodded to himself. What Letters had NOT said was if the embassy had made any contact already. Cagey, he thought, filing that bit away to chew on later.

"So, gentlemen," Letters continued, "I seek your reactions and thoughts on the matter. I hope to predict just what Hanzik will do under the present conditions, and what we might want to communicate to him, if we get the chance."

The aide rolled out the charts, and the captains and admirals came closer.

They had just began to orient themselves on the unfamiliar coastline displayed, when the door opened behind them. Not unsurprisingly, it was Captain Ehrhart, who Theodor hoped had a very good reason to be so late for the Vice-Admiral's scheduled meeting. What WAS surprising, though, was that there was a second officer with the main body screen force commander.

"Your Excellency," said Ehrhart, as Letters turned to face the pair. "This is Korvettenkapitan Vogel of the cruiser Frankfurt. He has brought his ship to join 2nd Reconnaissance Group."

This was a favorable development, thought Wolferein. Frankfurt was arriving quite a bit early. Captain von Heinz also was impressed. What methods had this man Vogel employed? He looked the new officer over carefully, with a small smile. Theodor, however, wondered why Ehrhart, who'd been so proud to have been awarded the force commander post, would have allowed himself to become so tardy over the arrival of one light cruiser, no matter how unexpected it had been.

"His ship," continued Ehrhart almost serenely, "was attacked by a submarine in the Bight, and he has some interesting things to tell us."

Well! This was another matter entirely!

Vogel had obviously told his tale before, but certainly not to an audience such as this. When he related the British captain's remarks about von der Tann and Moltke obviously being missing, and so presumably sunk, there were many sharp looks.

Letters considered the situation briefly, then turned to his aide. "See that Captain Vogel's prisoners," Letters instructed, "are held somewhere where they do not have the chance to talk to anyone else for a few weeks."

The Baron regarded Vogel for a long moment. Theodor could almost hear some of the thoughts going on in the Vice-Admiral's mind. A new cruiser, recently fitted out, presumably in builder-fresh material condition ....

"Well, Vogel, since you are here, join us," Letters said, gesturing to the chart-laden table. "We are discussing the operation in hand.

"A fresh pair of eyes may provide some useful insights," Letters added.

--- 10:55 PM, New York, on the HAPAG Terminal pier

The Germans had remained noncommittal during their return trip in their host's "Locomobile 48." Now, walking up the pier and back within the guarded perimeter, they began to discuss the evening events.

"What was that you asked Ryan," inquired von Hoban, "there at the end?"

"The building he tore down," confessed Lionel. "If it'd been in bad shape, or ...."

"And what did he say?"

"He said it'd been just 10 years old and in fine condition." The young officer's voice was troubled.

"He said a lot more than that," Siegmund observed. "He went on for at several minutes with you. The interpreter could hardly keep up."

"Yes, that is true," the young lieutenant admitted, and related it as best he could.

"Son," Ryan had said after looking Lionel right in the eye for a long moment, the interpreter had interpreted it as "young man," but Lionel knew what he had heard.

"Son," said Ryan, "y'all really don't understand us over here. This is 'Millionaire's Row' we're on, so they're calling it now. There're no titled gentry here; never will be. All of us here built and own railroads, mines, ships, banks - we're builders and businessman. We make our mark in our business, not our damn houses.

"Yerkes made his money, he'd failed and gone to jail once but that's another story, building the Loop. That's an elevated railroad going all around the city of Chicago. He tore down more buildings doing that than I ever will. Well, Charles died 10 years ago, and I had his place down in months. That Loop of his, though, it'll still be there a century from now, mark my words. Same for JP's banks and Ford's cars.

"This is a fine place I've got here," Ryan paused for a moment, looking about fondly. "But someone'll come along after me and tear it down, and build something else within a decade - two at the most - after I'm gone, of that I have no doubt. This is a new land, son. We're busy making our history right now. A hundred years or two from now, well, maybe folk then will have the time to study and collect stuff we're making, but we've got no time for such foolishness right now.1

"We don't do things just because our grandfathers did it. Times change, and we're changing with it. Building and inventing are in our blood, and our blood runs hot. Our fathers rode horses, but we drive cars, more and more of them every year, thanks to Henry Ford. There's no inheriting trades and if you don't like the way things are, change it, or go West - there's always been free land out there for anyone willing to make it his own. And, son, when we build things, we build the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, and the meanest there is.

"Take this war of y'all's," Lionel had flinched at that - for the second time some American had blamed the war on him. "We're trying to stay out of it but, mark my words, if we do get dragged in, we'll be coming across the Atlantic with dozens of battleships and millions of men armed to the teeth."

"Yes," said Siegmund. "The men I can well believe. Did you see how many young men there were about on the streets? And almost none of them were in uniform."

This was in stark contrast with the streets of Berlin.

And they had all seen the shipyard and knew there were several others. We don't want to fight these Americans, thought Lionel again. We really don't.

"Ryan reminds me of the Baron," offered Ballin, as they neared the gangway to Strassburg. He smiled as three pairs of eyes looked at him in disbelief.

"No, really. Consider it. Energy, vision, determination, seeing and seizing opportunities. Ryan was born an orphan and built his fortune with it. Letters was born Junkers and his older brother - now deceased, of course - went to the Army. So our good Baron came to the Kaiserliche Marine."

"Perhaps," nodded von Hoban, who'd watched the Baron brief the Kaiser himself.

"He offered to buy my ships," Ballin revealed.

"The Baron?" The navy officers were stunned, yet it would have made a kind of sense.

"No, that's just it. Ryan. When he took me upstairs after the meal."

"Mein Gott! What did you say?"

" 'No,' of course. But don't you see? Both of them see their achievements as tools, to be used and risked. Letters his rank and title and ships, Ryan his money. Both ready to use their tools, risk them, even to sacrifice them to gain their goals."

Kommodore von Hoban swallowed at that. It had the ring of truth. Especially when he recalled Letters taking First Scouting Group across the vans at Die Kaiserschlacht.

jim (Letterstime)

Author's Notes

1. Thomas Fortune Ryan died in November 1928. This residence (in the story) of his (at approx. 860 Fifth Avenue) was, in fact, torn down in 1948. See this url:

An excerpt from the above article:

In 1950, this 20-story cooperative apartment building replaced the Thomas Fortune Ryan mansion of 1895 designed by William Schickel & Company and an adjoining, colonnaded garden that was the former site of the Charles T. Yerkes mansion. By then, 'Millionaires' Row' had already been substantially decimated by other post-war demolitions that were inexcusable, though economically understandable, actions in a city that did not pass a landmarks law until the 1960's. Imagine, if you will, if most of the great mansions, and the Ryan fortune was one of the city's greatest, had remained and the new high-rise residential construction pushed to Madison Avenue or further east!

By the way, the Yerkes mansion was torn down, except for its famous marble colonnades and staircase, just as described in the story, and for the precise reason stated!

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