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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part I

---- 6:30 AM, Imperator

Hadi had jerked upright in his bed even as the echoes of the blast of Imperator's great steam whistle were still reverberating about New York's harbor. Casting covers then servants then passengers aside in a frantic bow wave, the Ottoman captain and self-confessed plenipotentiary had virtually launched himself out of his suites. Now, he stood quietly at his favored location on the promenade deck, his hands threatening the structural integrity of the dark, polished rail. His entourage huddled as far away from the great man as they could discreetly manage. More than one face among them displayed the puissance of their master's wrath. Two others had literally been trampled by him as he'd rampaged down the passageways.

The gap between ship and pier grew steadily as he stared aft. The city itself soon began to get smaller as the liner moved out into the outer harbor. An entire metropolis of buffet tables was receding in their wake. Hadi's breath rasped deep in his formidable gut as he thought of the seven dinner invitations that he had already accepted for the next three evenings.

The miserable group a few feet distant shuddered at the sound.

---- 6:35 AM, USN Shipyard, New York

Vice-Admiral Stennis lowered the telescope as he lost line of sight to the last German ship. He had not even reached his office when Imperator had blown over this political house of cards with one blast of her whistle. A deep scowl on his face overlaid a myriad of tumultuous thoughts. At the core of them all was surprise at the Germans' actions. And there was a thread of fear, no, more like concern. This was most definitely NOT what Washington had predicted that the Germans would do. Expected them to do. Was depending on them to do. Stennis abhorred surprises, but Washington esteemed them far, far less.

Some there might suggest that Stennis had perhaps been less than explicit as to what the Germans' options were, per the position of the host Neutral Power. Even as they politely ventured those words, however, those same men would surely be harboring suspicions that he had indeed been quite clear and explicit, but had taken advantage of the situation and had not followed orders. They might even be silently theorizing that he had taken a leaf out of Admiral Mayo's book at Veracruz, or even from Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson's tome on dealing with foreign leaders. Suspicions of that sort, once spoken, or even clearly hinted, would have dire consequences for all, including their authors. Thus, nothing of the sort would be said, but the ether would be thick with unvoiced skepticism.

Stennis kept his frown firmly emplaced as he mentally reviewed the dialogue from his last meeting with the German commodore and the text of the message he had delivered. His conscience was clear, and he thought his words had been, as well. He hoped the record would be equally clear, but he accepted that this sort of thing came with that third star. As did, he sighed to himself, having to depend upon others, on men far junior to himself who were "in the trenches" - just as Washington had had to rely on him. If anything, the scowl deepened.

The admiral handed the brass tube to an aide and turned to head on into the building. It was up to Alton, now. Him and young Leverret.

"Any report from Aylwin?" Stennis asked the duty officer, as they reached his outer office suite.

"No, sir."

"Very well," he answered calmly, but the scowl remained.

---- 6:40 AM, bridge of Aylwin, 5 degrees right rudder, Ahead Slow

"Well," said Commander Leverett, his eyes on Strassburg, "they're sure taking their sweet time answering us." At his side, the XO nodded in silent agreement. Leverett looked briefly at the two liners with their attending tugs, but his gaze soon returned to the empty halyards of the German warship. He'd sent a short message to the HQ of Vice-Admiral Stennis, simply notifying them of the Germans' actions and his own getting underway, but he knew he'd need to send many more messages, and soon.

"Signals, to Wyoming and Montana: ‘Strassburg, Imperator, and Kaiser Wilhelm II underway, time 0610. Will advise.' "

"Aye, aye, sir. Copy to CINCLANT?"

"Yes, rudder amidships," ordered Leverett. He took another couple "look-arounds" to check his passage clear, but he kept coming back to Strassburg.

"Dammit," he muttered, "talk to me, commodore!"


"Officer Of the Deck, sound our own whistle, one long, please."

---- 6:45 AM, bridge of Strassburg, [3 degrees left rudder], Ahead Slow

"Commodore," commented Captain Siegmund, "the American light cruiser has raised anchor and is underway." There was a note of grudging respect in his voice. He'd stared at the bit of white showing at Aylwin's stern for a long minute before his comment.

"Alert, these Americans," ventured Strassburg's XO, who'd been among the group who had received the reciprocal "tour" of Destroyer No. 47.

"Yes," agreed von Hoban. Then, as the fourth whistle of the morning was heard in the harbor, he added, "And impatient, as well."

He actually had hoped not to surprise, let alone startle, the American CO, and had more or less counted on Aylwin's captain having his vessel at a high state of readiness. Now, he nodded in appreciation as the trim USN craft changed in aspect to point down harbor, presumably to prepare to pace the German warship.

"Send the agreed signal," he ordered.

---- 6:50 AM, bridge of Aylwin

Still nothing, thought Leverret.

"Bosun, he called, "load blank rounds and make ready the saluting battery."

"Aye, aye, sir."

That would end any fiction of not noticing Aylwin's signals, he knew. Discharging cannons deep in New York harbor was, however, quite akin to shouting out vulgarities in church. He grimaced at the comparison, then had a sudden chilling image.

"Blanks, bosun. Make damn sure they're blanks!"

"Blanks. Aye, aye, sir," the senior enlisted man replied, barely keeping the "of course, sir" tone out of his voice. "Ready, sir, standing by."

"Very well. Bosun ...."

"Sir! Flags going up on the Strassburg."

"Very well." Finally! Leverett thought, as he raised his binoculars again.

---- 6:55 AM, bridge of Berwick, ~22 miles off NY, course 270, speed 6 knots

The cruiser captain wasted little time. The signal from Vice-Admiral Patey was terse and clear.

"Ahead Full. Navigator, bearing to Sydney?"

"Sir, plot shows her laying on 230, distance about 28 miles."

"Very well. Helm, come to course 230."

"Sir, engineering acknowledges Ahead Full. My rudder is coming left, coming to course 230."

"Very well."

"Signals, confirm receipt by Otway and Patia."

Those were the two armed merchant cruisers operating with the RN cruiser in the "distant blockade" force. Otway had been sighted just as the pre-dawn gloom first began to lift about 30 minutes earlier when an early shaft of light had caught the top of her yards. She was a bit over 10,000 yards to the south. Patia was likely not much more distant, but to the north. The practice had developed that they would spread out and steam slowly east during the day, and then close up somewhat and steam west during the night.

"Sir, lookouts report Otway is altering course."

"Very well." The much smaller Patia was still beyond visibility. She might not be far, though, as the early morning mist seemed to be heavier to the north and east.

The plan had been the same as yesterday's. That is, they would re-establish visual contact with both AMCs, place them at the very edge of visibility - Otway to the SSW and Patia to the NNE - and to sweep East at 6 knots. He had, in fact, expected to hoist 090 shortly after 0700.

"Sir, steady on course 230."

"Very well." While he waited, the captain began to wonder why Patey had called them in. The obvious reason would seem to be that the Huns were coming out, ahead of schedule, counter to the expectations of all.

"Sir, Otway and Patia have acknowledged receipt and report they have altered course and gone to Full."

"Very well."

Almost in reflex, he raised his glasses and swept the northern arc again. Patia was still not visible. Marvelous gadget, that wireless, he thought, for something like the 10,000th time.

---- 7:00 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots

"Boom, boom!"


"Yah," agreed von Hoban at Siegmund's low-voiced vulgarity. "The young American captain grows petulant." The commodore switched his glasses from Aylwin to Imperator to Kaiser Wilhelm II and back to Aylwin.

Their earlier flags signal to Aylwin had merely been their course and speed. He had known full well that that was not what the other had wanted re their "Interrogative." Minutes were diamonds just now, or should be, and he would be expected to draw this out. This was choreography, and all parties must know it. He repressed his chuckle, but a smile still showed below the lenses of his large black binoculars.

"Ungeduldig,"1 said von Hoban dryly, as he watched the smoke rings float out from Aylwin. "Ungeduldigste."2 He could see Imperator fairly well, but the other liner was harder to make out.

"Has Kaiser Wilhelm left her tugs yet?"

"No, Kommodore."

"Very well. Send the second signal."


1. Ungeduldig - impatiently.
2. Ungeduldigste - most impatient one.

by Jim

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