June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part II
--- 7:00 AM, Imperator, Promenade Deck
The two new roommates idly regarded Hadi from about 30 feet forward along
the rail whose ductile limits were being tested by the spasmodically clenching
hands of the plenipotentiary wannabe.
The younger of the pair was Maxwell Browning of the Sacramento Union-Times.
He'd come back East to celebrate his 24th birthday with his mom's family
who'd founded (and still ran) Schmidt's Delicatessen deep in the heart
of Brooklyn. No one could have been more surprised than he when the arrivals
of Imperator on June 13th and Strassburg on June 14th had
been followed by the arrival on June 15th of a telegram from his editor
assigning him to the new "beat." In fact, he had nearly choked
on one of his uncle's famed "hot pastrami on rye's" when he
first read it.
He probably should not have been that surprised, since the editor knew
that Browning had grown up speaking as much German as English. In these
last few days his earnest youth and fluency had gained him interviews
that the many local, and far more experienced reporters had failed to
get. His editor had run several of his pieces on Page 1 (below the fold,
so far) and, to the reporter's even greater delight, the New York papers
had picked up some of his stuff. Yesterday, in fact, one of the reporters
from the Times had asked to interview HIM!
Standing beside him, was Benjamin Fox, "Blue" to his friends.
Like Browning, Fox spoke a fair bit of Deutsch, having grown up literally
surrounded by Pennsylvania Dutch families in York County, Pennsylvania.
In 1900, the first thing that met the young teen's eyes when he reached
Philadelphia was a huge hot air balloon hanging high above the seemingly
endless metropolis. Nothing supported it! There were even people in it!
Waving! On the balloon was "Inquirer" in big letters, and the
photographs snapped from that aerie were printed in the paper! It was
bold, exciting! A life of adventure beckoned! His unswerving ambition
thereafter was to become the Inquirer's ace reporter, to live a life filled
with daring exploits, far from endless expanses of corn. 1
Fox's first newspaper job had been with the thoroughly mundane York County
Whig. However, he never lost his sight of his goal, and left that paper
at his first opportunity for a spot on the Inquirer. He'd been with the
Philadelphia Inquirer for six years now, working his way up, he felt.
Many of the subjects of his articles had fascinated him, but excitement
had so far eluded him. His pieces on Vaterland and her crew had
been like that - entertaining but not exciting - though they had been
modestly well received. It looked now, though, like they may have given
him his big break, for it was he who'd been dispatched to New York when
Imperator pulled in, still smoking from Niobe's shells.
Then, to the ill-concealed shock of the New York press mob, he'd been
singled out, most cordially greeted by the HAPAG officials, and given
preferential treatment by the men who recognized the tall reporter whose
tightly curled blonde hair refused to part and lay fashionably straight.
Browning and Fox had never met before, yet they were now roommates. They
had both been invited to dine aboard last night. As midnight drew near,
both realized that Imperator was making ready to leave, and both
headed for the dock to file stories. They found Herr Ballin awaiting them
at the top of the gangway. Negotiations had ensued and here they were,
at the rail, sleepless, with Browning thinking about Colleen in Seattle,
and with Fox thinking that Imperator was far more comfortable than
any hot air balloon.
---- 7:00 AM, shore end of HAPAG Terminal
"Colonel," reported the lieutenant, "sentries report a
large body of men on the dock, on the other side of the warehouse."
"What?" Anton whipped about to turn his binoculars that way.
"I don't see anything."
"They're there, sir. On the water side."
"Gunny, find out what you can. How many, are they armed, where did
they come from ... how the hell long have they been there!"
He should have known. Yes, he thought, he should have known it couldn't
be as easy as that. A frustrated crowd would start showing up in a few
hours and, unless he got new orders, he was stuck here. No ships any more,
but why was a "large body of men" now lurking out of sight on
the pier? He half shook his head as he gauged the light of the new day;
on the horizon, it made the sun dance. Who are those guys? Where'd they
Anton looked out at the slowly diminishing German ships, then back to
the warehouse that apparently "just happened" to be blocking
the line of sight from his main position to that of the unknown force.
There were pieces still missing in whatever the hell was going on.
"Damn," he muttered softly, but most sincerely.
---- 7:00 AM, U-41, surfaced, course 280, speed 9 knots, ~150 miles off
New York harbor
Today, per routine, many nervous young men scanned the horizon anxiously
as day continued to break, bringing with it thousands of yards of visibility.
"Kein Schiff in Sicht!"1
"Gut," replied the young CO to the initial report, but he kept
his own glasses up and moving.
Unlike the previous days, however, the CO really did not expect to see
any smoke plumes. They had maintained this course and speed all night,
making sightings behind them, to their east, quite unlikely. There was
virtually no north-south traffic around here, so that left ships coming
out of the west. This morning, however, it was not his command that was
out in front.
he said under his breath. Whatever it was called, it was not a proper
role for his warship, the Kaiser's third-newest U-Boat. The only consolation
he'd had was that the only two newer than his had been about the same
duties. So far.
"Sieht aus, als wären unsere Rollen heute vertauscht,"3
offered the XO from beside him, "ja?"
"Ja," agreed the CO. Then, he could not help it and chuckled.
The image of Hanzik's force today sweeping the Atlantic ahead for HIM
was irresistibly funny. "Richtig!"4
The XO smiled back and the mood lightened along with the dawning horizon.
Hanzik's command, however, could hardly submerge, let contacts pass,
re-surface, and send contact reports, as the three U-Boats had done during
most of their crossing. The other two had sprinted ahead a few days ago,
leaving his U-41 alone in the nearer, but still quite distant, "van."
Still, it was not impossible that some ships could have passed Hanzik
during the low visibility hours of the night. He and his lookouts kept
up their scans. The horizon continued to extend minute-by-minute and,
so far, no sightings. The CO began to relax, as much as any U-Boat CO
could relax this far from home.
Even before the successes of Kptlt. Otto Hersing and Kptlt. Otto Weddigen,
the warships of the enemy's fleet had been the target of the Untersee-Boote.
Extending the target set to include enemy merchants, well, that was reasonable
and, in fact, had commenced with Kptlt. Feldkirchner's sinking of the
British steamer Glitra the previous October. But who would have
imagined such a role as their trio had performed this last week? Who would
have dared to leash a wolfpack to a surface squadron, turning them into
Many times had the COs tamely watched through their periscopes and snarled
under their breaths as a fat target steamed past. Then, once the merchant
was out of sight to the west, they'd surfaced and "barked" on
the short range wireless so that Hanzik could alter course to avoid detection.
It was a degrading role for wolves, but the carnivore eyes of the Kaiser's
admiral had cowed them all. The other two Kptlts. had speculated that
it was the baronetcy, the rank, and the Kaiser's favor, but the U-41 CO
knew that it had been success - two victories so massive as to inspire
poets and painters both - that had made the man with the blackened-iron
hair the alpha wolf.
But, whatever it'd been, they all had felt it. Their "Jawohl, Herr
Baron"s had been the submissive neck-baring of pack allegiance.
And so watchdogs they'd become, watching plump pullets waddle east as
their own fuel tanks drifted south. They had each gotten about ten tons
of diesel from Kronprinz Wilhelm. More would be suspicious, they'd
been told, whatever that meant. Enough to get back, but they'd likely
need more before they were done. Well, he thought, lowering his glasses,
at least the horizon was clear this morning.
That was only a little reason to relax but, for now, he'd take it.
he declared, and lowered his glasses to rub at his eyes.
After a moment, he smiled. If the U-Boats had been watchdogs or "little"
warning bells, what did that make Moltke and von der Tann? Alarmglocken6?
---- 7:05 AM, Imperator, railing aft of bridge
Several of the more privileged or high-ranking passengers had been invited
onto the bridge during the harbor egress. Among the few lounging at the
rail to starboard, were the Countess Marina and one of her "lieutenants,"
a studious but muscular individual. The freshening offshore breeze caught
at her red strands and the grey sleeves of the man's shirt.
"My, Gavilan," said Countess Marina, "what a lovely dawn."
"Heavenly, 'missed it for the world," agreed Gavilan.
"I thought to be trying to catch sight of Roosevelt," Marina
continued, "listening to him, trying to get his measure. Instead,
it's likely the Germans and the British whose measure I'll see today.
I'd feel better if it were the Baron instead of von Hoban 'board our escort.
And the admiral, I don't know him at all."
"Ah, but, Countess, if it was someone you were wanting to stir up,
who better than the Salamander?"
"Yes," Marina agreed with a smile. "If Letters had wanted
to spur the Americans on, to make them face the fact that the British
are blockading them, again ...."
The risks were high, they both knew, but the stakes were just simply
---- 7:05 AM, Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots
Von Hoban heard the commands being relayed aft on the bridge for the
next flag signal reply to the American light cruiser, but his attention
was on the large copper figure off the starboard bow. Was it a sculpture,
or a statue? It was hollow and tourists ventured up in it to look out,
so did that make it a building? He would have little time to relax like
this again during the hours ahead, and so he tried to savor the moment.
He might not ever get back here again, he thought. Von Hoban laughed again,
but at himself. Listen to me! Hell, he might not live out the day!
If he did, though, what would he tell Admiral Hanzik of his experiences
here? Or Baron Letters? Somehow, he had a feeling Letters must have known
full well what they'd find here. Many in the Kaiser's court thought little
of America, it seemed, now that that rogue Roosevelt and his hand-picked
successor had been replaced by Wilson. Not so, the Baron. Yes, he thought,
Letters had been here several times, while von Hoban had made it here
only once, and then only to the Newport News area. The base there had
been impressive, but he'd been much less interested in strategic implications
then, and more interested in the flesh pots of this young land. The commodore
looked again in the direction the USN facility, but it was now out of
view behind a skyline jammed with just some of the buildings of this great
city. All around them was powerful, convincing evidence that this country
was a rising titan, poised to leap onto the world stage. He understood
now the Baron's imperative to avoid any errant thrusts. No Mercutios to
motivate the Romeo in the hearts of America! And tragedy had loomed so
near when he'd almost fired on Aylwin!
He looked again towards the light cruiser, whose captain he knew was
going to like the second signal even less than the first.
---- 7:05 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 110, speed 7 knots
"Sir, best I can tell, they're asking us OUR intentions."
"Very well," Commander Leverret replied.
Inwardly, he seethed. Time was passing and he had reports to make and
the Germans damn well knew it.
"He's stalling, sir?"
"I'm afraid so, XO." There did not, however, seem to be much
they could do about it, he did not add aloud.
Leverret looked around the harbor. He could feel the absence of Entente
merchants, today there was more open water in this normally congested
area. The two liners and the two warships were nonetheless gently converging
for the next bend. He greatly preferred it this way, and that started
him thinking. He considered it while he watched the next marker pass along
their beam. Off in the shallows, a ferry had cast off and was making its
way towards the lanes, its rails dark with watchers. A few barges with
their attending tugs were just coming into view, but they must have come
from nearby up-river and were shaping for terminals on the other side
of the harbor. The next arm on the starboard side was almost opaque with
coal smoke and early morning fog, but there seemed not to be any craft
that might pose any obstruction to their passage.
Like any ocean-going master, he distrusted confined, shallow waters.
Surely, the Germans, being in unfamiliar waters and at war would be even
more sensitive. Leverret gazed astern.
The German warship had gotten ahead of the liners and seemed to be gradually
overtaking the Destroyer, with the two massive liners not far astern.
Good, there was room and opportunity.
"Helm, come left to 070."
"Sir, my rudder is coming left ...."
The XO half-turned to Leverret, one eyebrow raised. The signals chief
awaited his captain's response to the German's "Interrogative."
"As you were, Chief."
---- 7:05 AM, Imperator, Promenade Deck
Perhaps it was the obvious distress of the Ottoman's retinue, but it
could have been just his own hunger pangs that led Fox to act. The young
reporters could, perhaps, have resented being saddled with each other.
Last night, however, each had realized that it behooved him to cultivate
the other to take the best advantage of this fine twist of fate. By 1:00
AM, they were already fast friends.
"Well, Max, I don't think much is going to happen for a while. Feel
up to some breakfast?"
"Yes, absolutely! Lead the way."
"Excellent, but let's make a sidestop, first."
"What do you have in mind, Blue?"
"Play along," answered Fox, with a smile. The younger man nodded
back and, with that, the two reporters sauntered towards the burly figure
at the rail.
"Greetings of the day, Captain Hadi."
The Ottoman started, turned, and glanced reproachfully at his servants.
Browning followed that look and was shocked as the group, some of them
with hulking physiques, were cringing in response.
"And greetings to you, as well," Hadi replied in thick but
serviceable English. He smiled at the two Americans, and Browning's hand
instantly went to secure his wallet.
---- 7:10 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots
"Sir, the American has altered course."
Captain Siegmund had his glasses on the Destroyer's bow, and he did not
like what he saw. "She's making to cross our bow, close aboard."
"Ja," von Hoban agreed. There were several small boats not
far to starboard. They appeared to be fishing boats. He cast a look astern.
Two very large and ungainly moving objects were not very distant in his
wake. He turned back to the American.
"Mutig," he muttered. "Sehr mutig."7
---- 7:10 AM, Imperator, Promenade Deck
Several minutes of stilted pleasantries had left Max wondering where
Fox was going with this.
"... we were just on our way," he heard Fox say, with a small
tell-tale glance towards him, "to partake of first meal. I was told
that this morning the griddle cakes will be served with fresh strawberries,
and that there will be strawberry syrup and compote, as well."
The pleasant and patently false expression on the Ottoman's face was
wiped clear, as though a broad eraser had been rubbed across a chalked
"I heard that, also," Fox spoke up, barely concealing his grin.
"And I understand that we may have taken aboard some blueberries
this morning," he added. In Washington, blueberries would still be
weeks away, he recalled, but surely some came to market sooner here. It
was the first thing he thought of.
"Yes," Browning picked it up like a trooper, "there may
even be blueberry muffins."
Fox nodded, with a smile, but had nothing more to add.
"Well, perhaps we'll see you there, sir," Max concluded. "We
want to be sure to get there before the strawberries are gone."
Behind them, before they'd taken a score of steps, they could hear Hadi's
heavy tread, and his demands to his entourage to hurry.
1. Kein Schiff in Sicht - No ship in view.
2. Alarmklingel, Stolperdraht - Alarm bell, trip wire.
3. Sieht aus, als wären unsere Rollen heute vertauscht - Looks as
if our roles will be exchanged today.
4. Richtig - Correct.
5. Entwarnung - 'all-clear' signal.
6. Alarmglocken - Alarm gong
7. Mutig. Sehr mutig - Bold. Very bold.
1. The sensational hot air balloon and photographs
that so motivated Blue in the story were quite historical. See the following
url, excerpted below: Philadelphia
Elverson believed in promotion. In 1900, a hot-air balloon tagged
"Inquirer" could be seen in the skies above Philadelphia as
Elverson helped to sponsor flights by octogenarian aeronaut Samuel King.
Accompanying King was The Inquirer's William Nicholson Jennings, who snapped
aerial photographs for the paper.