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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 18, 1915 - Surprises - Part III

---- 7:10 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots

Captain Siegmund kept his attention hard on the slowly converging Aylwin ahead and off their starboard bow.

While he considered his next step, Von Hoban was taking what he expected to be his last look at the Statue of Liberty. France was dear to a great many Americans; this he knew. Placing such a visible reminder in the heart of the greatest city of their would-be-allies had been a surpassingly shrewd stratagem. The Americans had obliged the French and had already enthusiastically integrated the huge copper figurine into their national identity. Just one bit of evidence had been certain pictures he'd seen in the home of Thomas Fortune Ryan. There, on the wall of one study, were photographs of flying machines that had apparently taken part in an air race in 1910, one for which Ryan had put up a $10,000 prize. The race began and ended at a packed stadium, looping around the Statue of Liberty.

The winner, per one photograph, had been Count De Lesseps of, naturally, France.1

And his nation was at war with France.


"Yes, Captain, send the following ...."

---- 7:10 AM, bridge of New York

"Admiral, Montana reports flags going up on Sydney and that the British seem to have begun closing up."

"Thank you," Admiral Alton replied politely, wishing for more detail but knowing there was none to be had just yet.

His lookouts could just pick out Montana at this distance and catch occasional glimpses of her escorts. Captain Peace had reported in almost an hour ago, but Alton had picketed Peace's group well offshore to keep an eye on the British. Alton had kept his own dreadnought force at the three mile limit. This let Peace, who'd already had gotten the testy Brits somewhat used to him, be the one who directly monitored their movements. The British, however, had responded by edging even further out into the Atlantic, their instructions perhaps stemming from the "British blockade" comments in the US press.

Were the British just drilling? Alton was accustomed to seizing every opportunity for such, but would the RN feel the same after almost a full year of war? Or had something happened?

"Admiral, from Aylwin, the Germans cast off from the pier at 6:10. They may have begun their sortie."

The Germans were trying to cross them all up, went the flash behind Alton's eyes, but that was hardly any surprise. The spark, however, ignited a rush of anger.

"Very well." But it wasn't. He reigned in his temper with some effort. "Did Montana get that?" Alton asked evenly. His flag lieutenant turned his head sharply at the tone of his principal's voice.

"Yes, admiral," said the Signals Officer, unaware of the admiral's state. "I confirmed that before I came up."

"Very well."

The other nodded and left. The British had known before he did. Well, the Germans would be a couple hours or more coming down and out of the harbor, he knew. It might well take that long for him to calm down.

---- 7:10 AM, bridge of Val's Tract, course 180, speed 6 knots

"Right standard rudder," ordered Captain Randolph Moore, upon the execution signal, "come to course 300."

Moore listened to the helmsman's acknowledgment with half an ear as he frowningly noted that the other ships in the distance might already be into their turns. His AMC was the furthest to the SE of the force off New York, having remained on station ever since chasing the Germans all the way into the arms of the all-too-welcoming Americans.

"Ahead Full," he added, as he felt the gap to the others begin to increase.

Moore raised his glasses to scan the horizon again. Towards the coast, there was already a plume in the coastal lanes, probably a half-dozen miles off the New Jersey coast. He couldn't make out any other details from his current location. There was nothing in sight on any other bearings except far to the NW, where the other members of Patey's force were. The twists in the smoke could have been winds, but Moore increasingly decided that it was that they had made their course changes more quickly than his own command. Had it taken his crew that much longer to interpret and report the wireless message? It could have been that the others had been in sight of Sydney - flag signals were faster than wireless - but Moore flushed at the sight anyway.

"Reservists," he muttered under his breath, wishing once again for the command of a real warship, crewed by regulars. He brightened after a moment, putting the best gloss on the events of six days before. After the Germans were dispatched, perhaps the part he'd played would get him the post he so coveted.

---- 7:10 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 285, speed 22 knots

Admiral Hanzik still saw no plumes anywhere on his bow.


"Jawohl," agreed Captain Stang, who cast a quick glance up into the superstructure at the many lookouts.

It was ironic, actually, both knew. For the last dozen days or so, they'd prayed each dawn that the horizon ahead would be clear. Twice it had not been thus but the other, and much more dismayed, parties had not been among the few merchants to have wireless aboard.

Today, however, was different, yet the western horizon remained stubbornly clear as daylight extended visibility.

---- 7:10 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 290, speed 18 knots

The CO of the German light cruiser, on the other hand, was very glad that the horizon was clear, at least what horizon there was. They were in the midst of a bank of morning fog that was slow to lift. Visibility remained low, perhaps 4,000 yards. It was if they were alone in the ocean, they and their charge.

"Captain," reported LCDR Dahm, "she's slowing again."


There was no denying it, however. The CO realized that as he looked back at the vessel 3,000 yards off his starboard stern quarter. Salamis must have suffered still another casualty of some sort. Last night, all the efforts of the shipyard workers had come undone quickly. She had been able to hold 22 knots for only a few hours. Now, it appeared 18 knots was beyond her. Still, the smoke from her stacks continued black and heavy, hinting at the labors deep within, and the waves off her bow still showed white and frothy.

"Slow to 15 knots," ordered the captain. It would not do to leave the other behind, as they themselves had been left behind.

Dahm tried to see through the curtain of mists that surrounded them, but without success. It was much brighter behind them, but that was the only evidence that the sun had risen. Just hours ago, they'd been part of the greatest trans-oceanic battle force that Germany had ever sortied. Then Salamis had faltered, Hanzik had made a "battlefield" decision, and now they were the only warship in sight.

"Answering 15 knots."

"Very well."

---- 7:15 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 285, speed 22 knots

"Per the charts, we should have had visuals five minutes ago, captain," noted Commander Bavaria.

"Jawohl," agreed Captain Dirk. "If we're where we think we are, if they're where we thought they'd be, or ...." Dirk hesitated for a moment. "Nein," he continued, "even if we'd been detected, or they knew of us, the British still would have sent their fastest ships to make contact. Out here, in the open sea."

"What if they learned early of von Hoban's departure?"

"Yes!" Dirk looked at his XO with respect. "Yes, that might explain it."

"But only," continued Bavaria, "if their spies were on the wireless almost the very instant that Strassburg cast off from the pier."

"Das ist gut möglich",* said Dirk, looking again at the empty eastern horizon. "Möglichste," ** he muttered under his breath.

[* ("That is quite possible.") *]
[**("Most possible.")**]

---- 7:15 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

"Colonel, Gunny reports that the men are no longer on the pier."

Beside Anton, the young lieutenant involuntarily looked around, as though looking for ways the men could have gotten past them.

"Private," said Anton tightly, "did Sergeant Fideles indicate where this ‘large body of men' may have gotten themselves off to?"

"No, sir." At the look on his colonel's face, the Marine continued. "But they were there, sir."

"Did you see these men yourself, Marine?"

"Yes, sir. I did."

"How many, would you guess?"

"Not really sure, sir, guessing ‘em at over a hundred, though, maybe two."

"So, a ‘hundred, maybe two' men have disappeared off the end of this pier we're guarding?"

"Sir." The young soldier squirmed at his commanding officer's scorn.

"Go back to Sergeant Fideles. He is to investigate. Personally, if necessary. I want answers, Private."


"Did they jump, you think?" The lieutenant wondered aloud, after the private left.

"No, I suppose there may have been some small boats there, but I cannot imagine they could have gotten anything like that many aboard them."

"Colonel, should we be telling the Navy, or the Coast Guard?"

"No, lieutenant. It's obvious where they went. Fideles knows better than to send a report like that."

Anton chuckled at the other's expression. Actually, it was a good stress relief.

"No, the good Gunny and I go way back. He just decided to teach some newbies the importance of careful observation, making the sentry repeat to the colonel the same dung he tried on him."

Had Gunny sent the private to get his colonel to lighten up, Anton wondered, as he tried to keep a straight face at the lieutenant's struggle not to ask where the men had gone?

by Jim

Author's Notes

To see the photo that Kommodore von Hoban saw, go to:

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