June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part IV
---- 7:15 AM, bridge of Augsburg, course 285, speed 22 knots
Captain Martin Speck took his eyes off the western horizon just long
enough to check their spacing from Moltke, 400 yards ahead and
to port. Highly focused, he paid little attention to the beauty astern,
where the rising sun was daubing the high cirrus clouds with light crimson
strokes. He had had a warrior's disappointment at missing the Dogger Bank
victory and Die Kaiserschacht, but he expected his crew's wait
for battle experience would soon end. Eager as he was, he had a hundred
reasons to be wary, though the pair of powerful battlecruisers to port
provided solid reassurance.
Speck's family raised fine Arabians, so it came as no surprise to him
that he placed this morning's events in an equestrian context. In a magnificent
twist of fate, he found himself partaking in a splendid pale-red dawn
cavalry charge of great, grey steeds, a tale he hoped to relate to his
daughter someday, should he survive it.
But where were those they thought they were charging?
---- 7:15 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 285, speed 22 knots
Captain Westfeldt, on the south edge of the "charge" found
himself again missing the presence of Kommodore von Hoban. The unshakeable
senior officer had shifted onto Strassburg ten days ago and had
taken with him Westfeldt's channel for inside information. He had no first
hand knowledge of Admiral Hanzik, aboard Moltke, three ships to
starboard. There was no telling how things might soon go. The very absence
of RN ships where they'd been reported to be late yesterday afternoon
suggested the RN had concentrated, and might be waiting for them in force.
They were certain to be outnumbered. Again.
He looked towards von der Tann, about 400 yards off his starboard
bow, and Moltke just beyond her. This time, at least, his Rostock
would not be leading the charge as the largest ship. He'd been lucky that
day, so very lucky.
Westfeldt still got chills when he thought of that crazy reciprocal track
they had taken, those last dark hours of Die Kaiserschlacht, as
Rostock headed a half-flotilla of torpedo boats into the attack
against six or eight times their number. Yes, he knew how cool or even
imperturbable the Kommodore would be when a fight turned desperate. All
he knew about Hanzik was that the admiral had managed to lose about half
his ships that day, even though his battle squadron had been at the tail
of the Line all battle long.
Yes, he expected to be greatly outnumbered again, but the sea was empty.
Where were the British?
---- 7:15 AM, bridge of New York
Admiral Alton had a surfeit of British. Per his lookouts and the eminently
reliable Captain Peace, the count of British combatants nearby was nine.
Besides Sydney, Melbourne, and Niobe, there were
six AMCs beating up and down this section of coastline. Nor was Alton
sure that the British didn't have another few patrolling further out.
In fact, he would bet that they did, including at least one fast warship.
"Admiral, confirmation from Montana. Admiral Patey has signaled
a general recall to the flagship."
"Very well, thank you," replied Alton, not lowering his own
glasses. "Confirm that CINCLANT got it."
He went over yet again his orders from Vice-Admiral Stennis and the conversations
with Vice-Admiral Patey. They didn't help. He lowered his glasses and
rubbed his forehead. He was perhaps two hours away from a naval disaster
far beyond any precedent in US history. I have Germans outbound from
New York harbor, he considered again. They are heading for our
position: a warship escorting two unarmed liners carrying hundreds of
Americans, even women and children. And I have British warships waiting
for them, one of which had fired upon and hit one liner last week. British
warships. Lots of warships.
It would take far more, he knew, than his tough words to Patey to secure
their free passage.
US waters, along with their Neutral Power duties, and rights, ended at
the three mile limit. Right here, in fact, directly under the keel of
this dreadnought. Vice-Admiral Stennis had been most clear on that point,
presumably under instructions from Washington. And there were even additional
disasters possible. Captain Snepp, in command of the half-division with
Montana, enjoyed a reputation as something of a hot head. Snepp
was cholerically anti-British, so much so that even Stennis apparently
knew of it. And Snepp, though nominally reporting to Peace at the moment,
held the same rank as the more dependable Montana CO. Liners with American
women and children. What might Snepp do if ....
God, his stomach hurt.
"Signals Officer, to Montana: 'Recall, expedite.' "
"And, Commander, I want visual confirmation that those ships are
"Aye, aye, sir."
When the other left, Alton raised his binoculars and resumed his study
of the crowded waters. Damn, it was crowded out here!
---- 7:20 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 070, speed 7 knots
Ah, thought Commander Leverett, as more flags went up on the halyards
of the determinedly taciturn Strassburg.
"Sir, they're requesting permission to come alongside."
"Very well," answered Leverett, "hoist: 'affirmative.'
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Helm, come right to course 110. Slow to 5 knots. I expect to be
slowing to steerage way shortly."
"Captain," asked the XO, "what do you think they intend?"
"It looks to me like they want to parley."
---- 7:25 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 110, speed 8 knots
"Gut," said von Hoban as they interpreted the signals from
the American light cruiser. "Captain, ease up along side her."
"Signals Officer, ask if they're willing to receive me on board."
"Ready the gig," Siegmund ordered, in between commands to the
helm. "Do you plan then to go aboard the American yourself, Kommodore?"
"Yes," von Hoban answered, as he turned to check the liners
astern. "Signal Herr Ballin to slow and, once the Americans agree,
inform him that we will be sending a boat over to Aylwin."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Oh," added the Kommodore, "and pass the word for LT Lionel."
---- 7:25 AM, New York, shore end of HAPAG Terminal
"Colonel, we've got trucks inbound," the marine private reported.
"Looks like three of 'em, sir."
Colonel Anton turned to look at the outermost road block.
"Sir," asked the lieutenant, "coming to pick up those
men, do you suppose?"
"No," answered Anton. "They're definitely not buses or
transports. In fact, I think one of those was here earlier. Yes, it looks
like the grocer's back."
The "grocer?" The lieutenant wondered.
Sergeant Fideles came over after a few minutes, with a civilian in tow.
The man had taken off his hat, kneading it a bit nervously with thickly
calloused hands. His hair was black, but his moustache showed salt-and-pepper.
"Sir, this is Franz Mitterman."
"Good morning, Mr. Mittermann, how can I be of service to you?"
"Good morn, Colonel. Be asking you to pass us. Here coming we are
with breakfast for Mr. Rigos and his men."
" 'Mr. Rigos?' " The lieutenant's almost involuntary question
drew a sharp glance from Anton. The younger officer closed his mouth,
with an almost audible clack, and nodded to his superior officer.
"And where would you be going, Mr. Mittermann? The warehouse there,
"Yes, sir. That be where Mr. Ballin said to come. That one right
there," he added pointing.
"Well," said Colonel Anton, smiling easily, "I see no
problem with that, as soon as my men are done with inspecting your trucks,
"Sir," the grocer nodded.
"By the way, Mr. Mittermann," added Anton, "how many men
will you be feeding?"
"All I be knowing, Colonel, is that Mr. Ballin paid for me to bring
enough to serve 250."
"Very good, thank you." Anton gestured back to where the trucks
had begun to roll forward. "I see that my men ...."
"Ah, thank you, sir. An hour we will be, perhaps a bit more."
He didn't put his hat back on until he boarded the lead vehicle.
"In the warehouse," said the lieutenant, after the trucks had
headed down the pier, "so there must be doors pier-side."
"Correct, lieutenant. Fideles knew that, even if the sentry didn't.
There's no way a warehouse wouldn't have freight doors facing a pier."
Yes, thought Anton, the question had never been where they'd
gone but, rather, where they were going. Well, and just who they were,
of course, he amended to himself.
---- 7:30 AM, Imperator
"They DO have blueberry muffins!" Fox exclaimed, as he and
Browning sat down.
"Yes, good guess, that," commented Browning. "Thanks for
backing my play." He extracted one muffin and passed the rest to
"'Twas my privilege," said Fox, as he accepted the warm, cloth-topped
basket. As he reached in for one, he continued. "I have a question,
though. Have you seen Ballin this morning? He promised to ... ah, here
he comes now."
"Good morning, gentlemen."
"Good morning, Herr Ballin," answered Fox. Browning, his mouth
full, nodded politely.
"I trust you found your stateroom satisfactory? Good, I see you
made use of the kits that were provided. In case you are concerned about
not having luggage aboard, we do have suitable attire available and free
of charge, of course. And tailors to make any, er, adjustments. Is that
the right word?"
"You mean 'alterations'?"
"Yes, alterations, thank you."
"That's all fine," said Browning, "and I'm sure we will
make do." This time it was Fox who nodded. "But, Herr Ballin,
what about film? And how we will we get our stories back?"
"And ourselves, for that matter," added Fox.
"We have film, I assure you. If not for your cameras, then for ones
we will loan you. As for your stories, you have my word on it, as I told
you last night. And you will be offered your choice as to how to return,
at my expense, that I promise, as well."
"Okay, but why the continued secrecy? I mean, it's not like we can
jump off and swim back, or anything."
"And just what IS the story?" Browning added.
"There are reasons. I beg you to be patient a bit longer. As for
the story, it will be a surprise, several surprises." Even for
me, Ballin carefully did not add.
---- 7:35 AM, bridge of Montana, course 280, speed 16 knots (increasing)
Peace had a glut of ships in general. A few days ago, civilian pleasure
craft and other less certain vessels had begun day-sailing out to stare
at all the divers men-of-war. Brightly painted ketches, sloops, schooners,
and even a brig or two had been plaguing the COs and OODs watch after
watch. The numbers of both types of vessels had grown with each passing
day and so, of course, had the risks. Collisions had been only narrowly
averted several times. Stern blasts from warship whistles had oft solicited
no more than nonchalant waves from men in white duck trousers and jauntier
ones from women in bright scarves. Discipline was threatening to go to
"Sir, all ships on 280."
"Very well," answered Captain Peace. He studied the British
ships carefully, trying to divine their intentions. For the moment, they
were shaping for Sydney, Patey's flagship. However, Sydney had
altered course and appeared to be coming onto a westerly heading. What
was Patey up to?
"Sir," said CDR Alexander, "we may have to dogleg a bit
to the north. We have two steam yachts ...."
"Damn," said Peace in a voice too low to be heard, even by
his XO a few feet away. And it was early; it would get a lot worse, he
knew. Already, he could see a couple distant sails to the SW.
---- 7:40 AM, bridge of Aylwin, course 110, steerage way
"Sir, confirmed, on the small boat, that's Hoban's pennant, sure
"Very well," said Leverett. "Standby to receive Kommodore
von Hoban. XO, you said Seaman First Henkle spoke some German?"
"Some, per the First Lieutenant."
"Good enough. I want him there, right there, but on the sly. A side
boy, or something. I'm damn sick and tired of ...."
"Sir, lookouts report that the liners appear to be holding station,
about 1000 yards astern of Strassburg."
"Your cabin, sir?"
"I think not, XO. I don't want to draw this out any more than I
have to. We'll do the whole thing right there on the quarterdeck. You
go ahead, I'll join you shortly."
The bosun whistle signaled the arrival of the Germans. Leverett lingered
another few moments for a last scan about the channel, suddenly a bit
crowded with large ships.
"Officer of the Deck, I'll be down on the quarterdeck."
---- 7:45 AM, bridge of Berwick, course 230, speed 20 knots
"Sir, contact bearing, 245. Looks like a merchant, sir. Or a merchant
"She's on a northwesterly course, sir," added another voice.
"On that course, likely she's one of Patey's merchant cruisers."
"Yes, looks like Val's Tract, or I miss my guess."
The CO looked back at Otway, some 3,000 yards off their port stern
quarter. The big AMC had been dropping back slowly, limited by their 18
knot maximum speed. The slower Patia would be further back still.
"Any word from Patia?"
"Yes, sir. Just got her latest. She's at flank on course 230. The
fog must be beginning to lift where she's at; she reported visibility
at 4,000 yards and improving. The plot on her is a bit sketchier than
I'd like," the navigator continued, "but I make her about 25,000
yards to the NNE, but that's a bit chancy."
The CO looked to the north, binoculars raised. They never had gotten
a visual on her that morning, what with Patey's "immediate expedite,"
so there was considerable margin for error.
"More than 'a bit,' I'd say," the CO commented. He saw no evidence
of a fogbank on his navigator's bearing. "Her best is about 16 knots,
"Yes, sir," answered the navigator. "A couple tenths under,
"Sir, lookouts confirm contact to be Val's Tract."
"Very well. That should put Sydney a bit more to the north,
Patey, decided the CO, had almost certainly begun the process of edging
inshore, in towards the harbor outfall, even as he began to gather his
"Yes, sir. Recommend coming a few points to starboard. We should
catch sight of them shortly."
"Helm, come to course 270."
Otway did the same within moments.
---- 7:45 AM, quarterdeck of Aylwin
LT Lionel had hoped he was done with this sort of thing. The Americans
had been polite, but quite crisp.
"... and the Kommodore says that we will be proceeding per your
Admiral Stennis' orders, and in compliance with The Hague."
"Your commodore is within his rights to leave when you did,"
Leverett stated. "There's no question there. And, lieutenant, I am
beyond caring why you did not wait, and leave at dusk."
"Lieutenant, I just want to know his current intentions. And I want
"The Kommodore says his intention is to proceed to international
"That's all very well, lieutenant, commodore, but you know damn
well that the British, your enemies in your all's war, have got a whole
flotilla of ships just waiting for you. What are you going to do when
they form up just outside our waters, waiting for you?"
"Leere Hände locken keine Falken," commented von
Hoban in a low voice, as he considered his response.
Leverett looked at Henkle, and got a tiny nod back.
"We will see then, the Kommodore says."
"Lieutenant, that's just not good enough. You tell your commodore
that. Do you expect the United States Navy to fight the British for you?
If you do, you're sadly mistaken." Even as he said it, however, Leverett
thought of the passengers on the liners. Why in hell were the Germans
doing this in broad daylight?!
"Captain," answered Lionel to Commander Leverett, "Kommodore
von Hoban says that the liners are innocent civilian ships. It is his,
our, duty to escort them. To fight for them. And, if we must, to die for
them. To use the words of your Indians, 'It is a good day to die.' We
know our duty. Yours is your affair."
"Commodore, I can respect that. I really can. But my duty ends at
the Three Mile Limit, and you've got American women and children on those
liners. They have no 'duty' - what of them?"
Lionel caught von Hoban's eye. There were several of the American Marines
at the edge of the quarterdeck. They all were armed.
"Captain, Kommodore von Hoban promises that no harm will come to
your women and children. Herr Ballin's orders are clear on that. Unless,
of course, the British violate your Three Mile Limit. As to what precisely
we will do, we will not know that until the time comes."
Leverett pressed, but got no more. As the Germans were whistled off,
he turned to Henkle.
"Did you get anything out of that?"
"Most of it, sir. There weren't much discussion."
"You mean, like they had it all rehearsed, or something."
"Yes, sir. Something like that. Exceptin' for that one thing the
"Yes, did you get that?"
"Yessir. It's a saying. One of my Gramma's favorites. It means,
'Empty hands "gather" no hawks.' "